by Moyan Brenn

A vision for a PARCMOOC (pronounced: PARK MOOC)

Okay, yes, the name is ridiculous. But I think there’s something in this idea. I want to mashup Participatory Action Research (PAR) and a Connectivist MOOC (cMOOC). I have a few topics in mind, but the organizing idea is actually most important to me at this point. The fact that it could be called a “PARC MOOC” makes me think of getting out, being outside, being with others in public, and I think that’s good imagery to start with.

I see Participatory Action Research as a methodology that has ethical implications for research practice. Ethically, it shifts social research from being about other people to research as an everyday practice we do with other people to change the political, social, cultural, and economic circumstances of our lives. It’s not empowering, it’s offering tools to be self-determining. There’s tons of writing that supports this shift on the grounds that it is a kind of research that really respects people. I also added the phrase “everyday practice”, because I think in the world we live in (especially in the West) requires research to skillfully and effectively navigate it. I agree with Arjun Appadurai’s assertion that research can no longer be considered a skill that scholars gain over time, but a right to which we all have access (See Appadurai – the Right to Research).

Connectivist Learning supports this idea, shifting from a paradigm of thinking about learning as “what we know” or “how we know” to one of “where to find what we need to know and how to connect it to other things we know.”  This is the kind of education that technology makes possible online. But in my mind, it’s also often how we learn in the world. I feel as though–more often than not–I lack answers to things I’m trying to do. How do I cook this? How do I change my oil? How do I switch out this laptop part? Sometimes I ask Google. But I also often ask friends, especially when the answer is as much a matter of opinion as it is “hard” fact. At the core of connectivism is connection, and a huge part of how I get things done in the world (including how I construct knowledge) happens through my connections to others and to other ideas. What’s important to connectivist learning is knowing how to connect and how to nurture future connections. Like PAR, connectivist learning requires building skills around research, connection, synthesis and application. It too requires an ability to build relationships.

This site lists the following principles of Connectivism:

  • “Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.”

Here’s where the PARC MOOC comes in as a combination of the two. I propose that a PARC MOOC shares these characteristics:

  • Learning and research are combined enterprises. These two enterprises are often separate in academia. Faculty teach classes, leave the room, and then return to separate research projects. In a PARC MOOC, learning is always conducting research on subjects of interest. The research conducted can only be conducted by this group, at this time, in this location — the knowledge generated is local, specific, and contextual. It is also used to connect, compare, and synthesize with other local, specific, and contextual knowledges from others.
  • Local (in person) and global (online). No learning happens entirely online–nor will it ever–and all learning occurs through building connections outward. Therefore, a PARC MOOC always has local and global components. Because research occurs in local places, participants are connecting and working on problems at least partially in a geographic area. However, they use the same kind of knowledge generated in other locales as well as more general knowledge in other media and literature to connect, synthesize, and compare knowledges in order to extend what is learned.
  • Occurs individually and in (local) groups. Much xMOOC learning happens individually. As an individual, I interact with lecture content. Sometimes I will get to participate in discussion groups or even get to work with others on projects. In a PARC MOOC, we work individually to accomplish goals, but also must work in local groups as community researchers and organizers. We don’t accomplish these projects without partners, so we gather with others in our local community to learn and research together. The OLDS MOOC “Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum” encouraged learning through this kind of model.
  • Builds connections and networks. Because groups meet in person and online, networks and connections between people and organizations are extended. Participants meet other participants as well as people relevant to solving the action research challenges they take on. Therefore, the result of a successful PARC MOOC is that local and global actors around specific subjects and projects are connected to each other in new ways.
  • Generates new knowledges, perspectives, and connections between ideas. PARC MOOCs exist at the intersection of teaching and learning. In a PARC MOOC, we are all teachers, learners, and researchers. Therefore, while PARC MOOC organizers might have a specific kind of knowledge — scholarly for example — participants will be adding local and other kinds of knowledges that PARC MOOC organizers can’t possibly have. This knowledge will by its very nature remain at least partially in the people who generate it, but some of it will also be used to build collaborative knowledge about a subject online in ways that didn’t exist before.
  • A local, context-specific challenge stands at the core of all PARC MOOCs. The “AR” in PAR stands for Action Research. These two words combine to indicate that the research conducted leads to action of some sort. Parents participating in a PAR project might research why their school keeps failing to graduate minority students. The parents will use that research to advocate on behalf of their children. Therefore, every PARC MOOC is part scholarly enterprise, part practical research, and part community organizing and advocacy.

With these as the operating principles, a PARC MOOC might:

  • Organize around a specific subject or idea (Civil Rights Movement History, International Social Work, etc.).
  • Ask and assist participants to find others in their community interested in exploring this subject together.
    • Optionally, a PARC MOOC may also organize across multiple organizations and institutions. This might make it easier to gather groups that share something in common. For example, multiple University institutions might agree to work together. Or multiple non-profit institutions.
  • Work online to teach and learn about this subject in more detail in a general sense.
  • Work together in a group to research this topic in a way that includes local knowledges, contexts, and challenges in the communities they are part of.
  • Contribute research generated back to the PARC MOOC to share with other participants and build an online, open resource around this subject.
  • Synthesize, compare, and contrast these ideas together with others participating in other contexts.
  • Use local and global resources to organize for change around problems addressed.

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