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). Continue reading

Why deal with the “hard stuff” in class?

Or, the danger of sterilizing education (Reblogged from UMinn Techniques in Teaching and Learning)


“So, what did you learn?”

I asked this recently of a former student become a friend as we were sitting together in my office. She was catching me up on her previous semester, specifically an interesting class on the history of science.

“You know, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton… How science changed through all of those things.”

“Sounds interesting. Did you learn about eugenics?” I ask.

This question has been present on my mind as soon as she started talking about the course. Maybe it was growing up Jewish that made me particularly attentive to this question, or maybe it was my education in ethics. Either way, it felt like an important thing to learn about in a course purportedly training our future scientists about their historical roots.

“No, what’s that?”

“The scientific movement that provided the ammunition for Hitler’s attempted extermination of the Jews and the forced sterilization of mentally ill people in the United States and indigenous people in Australia.”


“Yeah. Did you learn about IQ? How it was used to justify racism?”


Social Darwinism?”

“No… We probably should have learned these things, huh?”

Yeah. Probably. Continue reading

Learning from Early Childhood Education – Two Pedagogy Nerds Contemplate What Higher Ed Might be Overlooking

Co-Written with Marisol Brito. Originally posted at the University of Minnesota’s Techniques in Teaching and Learning blog.

Learning from Early Childhood Educational Practices

My son has just turned three and, as a self-proclaimed pedagogy nerd it is not surprising that I currently geek-out by reading up on Magda Gerber or the Reggio Emilia approach to childhood education  or checking out similarly-minded counterparts in the blogosphere.

While reading a recent post by preschool blogger extraordinaire TeacherTom – who advocates for alternative, engaging educational practices that emphasize his status as a co-equal with his students – I was struck by parallels between his pedagogy and the kinds of things I teach my University-level ethics students about how human beings ought to be treated.

Although I originally came to these resources as a parent, I have been thinking about how deeply ideas from early childhood education have resonated with me as a teacher in Higher Education. These ideas include:

  • valuing young people as equals regardless of age or experience,
  • helping young people acquire an internal sense of accomplishment as opposed to responding to extrinsic rewards, and
  • caring for young people as whole persons. Continue reading

“The Educative Committee”

I was sitting this evening with a small group of students that are working as TAs for one of the classes I am teaching this Fall semester. On one of our many tangents, we spoke about one of our students and talked about how we had each relayed information about our interactions with this student to each other. The interaction reminded me of a paper I wrote a while back which I called “The Educative Committee.” My idea was that every student, every young person, should have a number of different people looking out for their learning and growth from a number of different perspectives. These people should be in constant communication, updating, supporting, and challenging each other to help each individual student grow.

At the time I wrote the paper, I recall feeling like something of an idealist. Yes, it was a great idea, but honestly, how could this ever happen? The simple logistics of having such a conversation are impossible, not to mention all the work that would be done to have to convince anyone that this was worthwhile. Impossible. Yet, here we were, doing just that. I quickly realized that this is what we do in our program generally. Once you are a student, you are welcomed into our community, and then each of us is looking out for your growth and development as much as possible.

So, why not do this more broadly? Maybe teachers should act less as instructors and more as conveners — bringing together the people necessary to move each person forward in their own learning trajectories. Certainly, there are many adults (and youth) interested in helping in our classrooms. Why not bring them in as learning mentors? Why not start building “educative committees” (though I suppose I like the term learning committees more).

I also find this inspiring because it puts everyone in the position of being an educator. If we are in someone’s life, we are also a part of their “learning committee”, and therefore are responsible for thinking about how they might grow, or what we might teach them.