Monday, October 26, 2015

When the MOOC Became a GROOC, We All Became Change-Makers

By Ruchika Arora

Remember the first time you heard about a 'MOOC'? Maybe it was through a sponsored ad on Linkedin. Or a friend's Facebook post urging you to enrol - along with her and 160 000 other participants - in Stanford's Artificial Intelligence (AI) MOOC (those are real numbers!). Maybe it was during the "post-launch" phase, let’s call it, when academics and journalists began to write about the Massive Open Online Course asking: "Are we or are we not in the midst of an educational revolution?” Over the last few years, respected periodicals like The Atlantic Monthly and The Guardian have been taking up that question with increased vigour. If memory serves me correctly, it was an ex-crush's enthusiastic social media posting in 2011 that brought the 'MOOC' to my attention. He was one of those tens of thousands of eager participants set to learn about AI from Stanford University's renowned scholars. He was billing the course as the season's "must-do" event. I started to think that like a protest march, weekend music festival, or flash mob, a MOOC could create the kind of human synergy that so many of us deeply crave. (Maybe we were on the cusp of a revolution.) Yet it wouldn’t be until this fall that I would witness first-hand the creative sparks generated by online group learning. When people come together around a common cause they create a definite boom that sometimes even surprises them. 

This fall, I’m serving as an online course facilitator for McGill University's Social Learning for Social Impact group MOOC or GROOC. While I can’t say whether or not the Stanford MOOC revolutionized people's lives (perhaps you can?), McGill's GROOC is certainly challenging established practice with its emphasis on group or team-based learning. Thus far, MOOCs have focused on independent learning. If you’re an active GROOC participant, you’re probably in the midst of building your team while distilling your social mission. You’re also part of history-in-the-making. By providing the digital and intellectual space where people converge knowledge and capabilities to address the needs of the underserved, McGill's GROOC is facilitating high-impact learning. With potentially hundreds of missions in the offing, there are potentially tens of thousands of people who stand to benefit right around the world from social learning for social impact. Okay, allow me to be more measured, which is my usual habit: that boom - signalling team momentum, progress, synergy - may not be heard across all team discussion fora, but it is building. The October GROOC live session highlights this reality from minute 1:40 to 21:40. It’s well worth watching.

As soon as McGill's call for facilitators went out, I responded. It helped that the "call" came through a campus Professor who’s also a friend because I wanted reassurance that the GROOC Team was "kosher" (click link for meaning). I like working with people who are as genuine as they are smart. And, for someone who had just returned to Montreal after a long absence, and briefly attended McGill twenty years earlier, I was eager to reconnect. More than that, I was looking to meet people who were not necessarily like-minded but were driven to nurture human creativity. I suppose not being a teacher anymore did nothing to dampen my desire to help people realize their potential. (Once a teacher, always a teacher, it’s been said.) 

Co-facilitators, Paola and Ruchika, participating in a
virtual GROOC Meeting from Toronto
With my application approved, I too would become part of history-in-the-making as a member of the first-ever GROOC facilitation team. After two months of working alongside one another, I know this prospect continues to excite my co-facilitators as well. With each passing week - and facilitation meeting! - the boom is gaining in intensity. Our common cause, I dare say, has become the very making of the GROOC. While we didn’t initiate or design the McGill GROOC, which has been two years in the making, everyday we are considering ways to improve the course - to make the doing and trying easier for participants. This makes the GROOC itself a kind of social initiative, if you think about it (the four co-designers already have!). The GROOC Team's mission is to empower others to transcend boundaries and make change, together. At once a MOOC and a social initiative, this GROOC isn’t just "kosher" but revolutionary, wouldn’t you agree? Hold on to your response because you just might need it for that journalist who comes knocking on your classroom door (don’t worry, I know it’s connection you crave and not fame!). 

About the Author: Ruchika is a former International Baccalaureate teacher and social justice advocate presently pursuing sustainable development research and advocacy. She blogs at:

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