Using MOOCs to Build Peer Groups

Today’s post is from Mark Radcliffe, Director of Professional Development for the Blended Schools Network.

bsn_logo_250The Blended Schools Network is a not-for-profit company that empowers schools to teach and learn online by providing K-12 curriculum, learning technologies, professional development and a professional network for teachers.

I like to say that we’re a small organization with a wide reach. In the last 11 years Blended Schools has grown from a staff of two to a staff of ten. In that time we have grown from servicing a few hundred teachers to servicing over 10,000. In short our staff has grown five-fold but our teacher base has grown almost hundred fold.

This creates a lot of challenges for Blended Schools. As a not-for-profit company we want to position ourselves as a thought leader in education. To have real success in changing education you have to work teacher-by-teacher, a process that is clearly impossible with a 1 to 1000 staff to teacher ratio.

I’ve always been a believer in the power of others. While managers and team leaders certainly need to “pull rank” from time to time, I’ve always felt that the job of a leader in the professional realm is to help others shine. In essence making those above, below and on your level look good and hopefully feel good too. Throughout the years I’ve had many successes and many colossal failures with this approach.

Since I started as director of professional development for Blended Schools in July 2012 I’ve been working to apply this process to the way we run our training programs. I’ve spent most of the first six months building and building, and building, and it’s finally starting to come together. The first seedlings of this new program have just started germinating in one of our new member schools.

As I was getting my program going in late January our CEO sat in our staff meeting and said “I think we need to do a professional development MOOC.” While I’d thought of doing a MOOC many times I’d successfully procrastinated on it for six months. I looked at this as the excuse I needed to get going with the idea.

Then came the sweats. I have less than three months to build an execute a MOOC with a team of people that are already over 100% capacity. How can we build content in that time? How can we even decide what the course will be in that time and how can we do that without adding time to an already burdened staff. I spent a day researching MOOC horror stories (lest history repeat itself) and I spent time thinking while driving (the one time I get to sit and think). Finally it occurred to me that I was forgetting the idea that I’ve spent so long trying to bring to fruition.

So while we have some good solid content for the MOOC, the MOOC is more about the participants. We’ve chosen two platforms to make this happen. 1) Softchalk Cloud and 2) Google Plus. I wanted the content to be delivered in a simple, mobile friendly way, that would support 1000s of views at a time, that’s where SoftChalk Cloud came in. I also wanted the participants to be quickly able to build peer groups that would persist beyond the course, that’s where Google Plus came in.

I’m truly excited to get this process going. We have the content just about ready, it’s content about Blended Learning. We are now starting with the curation and creation pieces of the course. In all honestly the next four weeks are going to be a lot of work, but I have faith in the fact that what will truly make this MOOC successful are the people that participate.

So put the M in MOOC, sign up now for Today’s Blended Teacher: A MOOC made for Community and Curation and tell your friends.

SoftChalk is sponsoring a free Innovators in Online Learning webinar on April 3rd entitled “Building Peer Groups with a MOOC.” In this presentation, Mark Radcliffe and Dan Lucas from the BSN network will discuss their goals for the MOOC as well as the week-to-week agendas and strategies.

Register for the free webinar: Building Peer Groups with a MOOC.

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