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Oooooh Mr. Kotter, engage me! Engage me!

November 25, 2011








I’ve really enjoyed week 11 in the #change11 mooc with two great live sessions faciltated by Jon Dron.  In the back channel of the synchronous sessions, and in the handful of blog posts visible in The Daily this week, I am joining in the debate about engagement.  Mostly, I have a prickly cactus feeling and I’m not sure what it’s all about.

Ok, so participation has dropped as usual in this stage of a mooc (by whatever measurable standards of visibility we have).  Some participants are complaining about the lack of responses on blogs and FB, which feels a bit like Arnold Horshack to me.

Are Stephen, George, Dave and the guest speakers still expected to be the Mr. Kotters of the world, responsible for setting the lessons, deciding on the activities, putting us into rows, and calling on us when our hands are raised?

If people aren’t responding to me, I ask myself if I have established enough connective tissue to warrant a response.  Did I make enough relevant noise to be heard within the chaos?  Did I follow Jaap’s good advice about writing blog posts?

If I didn’t like the proposed activities, did I try to start one myself?  And if I was the only ‘participant’ in the activity, what can I learn from that?

On today’s session, I posted on the whiteboard:

1. Why do ‘high’ levels of engagement matter?

2. And to whom do they matter?

And I’ll add a third question now: 

3. Who decides what ‘high’ engagement is?

Everything I love about moocs (and I do *love* the ones I’ve been in), is that they are all about me.  I am in the driver’s seat.  I set the pace of participation, I decide what tools to use or not, I decide to make time for things or not.  Me.  My choices.  There is nothing that engages me more than letting me be the boss of my own learning.  I have a hard time understanding why I would need someone else to help me with that.

Please debate, critique, comment!  🙂


From → Smarter worker

  1. Haha, I like your posting today, Brainysmurf1234! This is what I have been waiting for: the devil’s advocate. I love your picture of the cactus and I have a picture ready for you but somehow I cannot paste it into this posting……too bad 🙂
    In any case, it is me on top of a mountain (and in the background the most beautiful Pacific Ocean). That’s me: on top of the world, with a smile :-). That is how I see myself: on top of everything, and I don’t need anybody (except my husband) and I have the perfect life……I don’t need Mr. Kotter, whomever he is (I don’t do TV). Once you start to join stuff, then you have expectations that cannot be answered sometimes…..or you just have disillusions without having any expectations…..In any case, they offer, you criticize :-). I like to play the devil’s advocate. Not only that, I love going against the regular comments and say something else. I don’t do very well with people that are constantly in line………So, in this Mooc, I like to stir up the pot. That’s one reason I posted my latest entry in my blog.
    The other reason is that I truly am disappointed. I don’t like making my feelings public. I don’t like to write a blog entry. I already ditched Twitter and Fb so I told myself to at least keep a blog during this Mooc. I really don’t have the need to share anything at all. But when I do it, I want damn well a response! Ha, I laugh about myself the way I wrote it but that’s more or less the way I feel it. I don’t NEED anybody, I just don’t want to do it for nothing (and believe me, I don’t need the blog entries to learn)…..I don’t need anybody to tell me what to do, how to feel or to behave or think. I’m just making a lot of effort (writing a blog is a huge effort for me) to connect to something out there, for the sake of the course……I’ve had fun with the blog posts, I appreciate each and every one of the comments and I treat them very seriously; they do make my day.

    And since I like stirring up the pot: why are you writing under a pseudonym, Brainysmurf1234?

    And who cares about high engagement? The leaders of the course I presume…..(I would too if I were one). Not me, just comments on my blog 🙂 haha

    Oh, and have a look at my blog for the picture that was supposed to go in here…..
    Have a great weekend!

    • Right on, Irene, thanks for weighing in! Someone said recently that blogging can feel like shouting into the wind (maybe it was Jenny?) In any case, since blogging is so new for me, I find myself looking closely at why I bother blogging and what it means when I shout into the wind and do get comments (admittedly quite thrilling). I notice when I don’t get comments, and I admittedly wish every post had at least one, but that’s ok. Maybe my writing wasn’t that great. Maybe no one gives a s**t what I write. Maybe it’s all been said before and more eloquently than I’d put it. Maybe they do care and don’t make time to respond. Maybe I should write for me (but I don’t…I can write in a journal just fine if that’s the case). Maybe I write for recognition, for validation, for connection. And are those good reasons or not? The jury’s still out…

      The not knowing, the prickly stuff, seems to be appropriate to push me further. Although I don’t have much of an agenda in this mooc, perhaps pushing myself further is why I’m here.

      As for pseudonyms, it’s just my way of staying within a comfort zone of privacy and still be able to offer a contribution in my own limited way. It’s also quite fascinating to figure out how to bypass all the ‘regulations’ of FB and other platforms to keep my real name out of it. 🙂

  2. Shouting into the wind, I like that. It feels indeed like that (why can I never come up with something like that?). I must say, you followed Jaap’s advice and used a title that is very inviting (I thought, what are you writing about, now?). Yeh, I recognize what you’re saying and I do understand why you don’t use your own name (I was just in a rebellious mood :-)). With me, what you see is what you get. That’s why I use my own name….I can’t do it any other way…..And I cannot write without my whole life behind me, that’s why I relate things to my previous (sailing) life…..That life formed me so much, much more than anything else, that I cannot “be” without it anymore…..

    I wanted to leave a comment on a blog once and the only way I could do it was either through ID, which is not me but once was my husband’s blog…..So, I thought that was not a good idea. I opted for the anonymous ID (since I could not log in through my blog), but then it said it could not do the anonymous one…..Pffff. I gave up on that one and didn’t make the comment….too bad……I can just imagine how much fun it must be to use a pseudonym in this world…..
    Thanks for your comments, I like them!

    • Thanks, Irene, I really enjoy your posts and your comments and I hear you about the frustrations of Blogger IDs and so on. You’re one of those folks who “calls a spade a f***ing shovel” (quote from a bass fishing partner of a friend) and we need so much more of that straightforwardness in all sectors.

      Your sailing tales captivate me. I’ve only had one such experience and it was phenomenal – took a motored cataraman off the shore of the Dominican Republic (I sat in the mesh part with the water rushing over me the whole time, best way to do it), went snorkelling and then we had enough tail wind (?) to sail back. Brilliant!

      • Hi Brainysmurf, You’re pritty straightforward yourself……I like down-to-earth people 🙂
        And the Dominican Republic, yeh, great sailing, we were there 11 years ago……but when we sail we try to stay dry 🙂

  3. Brainy Smurf, your pseudonym is open and honest. Smurfs are honest people. Do you know my real name? Could be anybody.

    • Good point, Jaap, I just assumed that was your real name! 🙂 I had a South African friend who went by the same and it was short for Jacques.

    • Hi Jaap, I looked you up on your school website 🙂 Nice name! 🙂

  4. Melanie Marttila permalink

    So … feeling prickly about engagement? I’m glad somebody finally said it! All this drive to create engaging learning, deliver engaging learning … we can put all the bells and whistles on/in a course we want, but in the end, it’s the learner who gives us permission to engage them, and heck and darn (to use more polite words) if there aren’t just some training situations that really shut down the learner …
    Here you go, learn THIS if you want to remain employed … so motivating, sooooo engaging 🙂
    But seriously, how do we legitimately engage, in our business, brainy?
    I wish I knew about MOOCs before and could have gotten in on this course 😦
    Well darn it, I’m lurking, and learning vicariously!

    • Thanks for weighing in, Melanie! I’m really feeling like someone else’s engagement is in their control and not mine. I could bedazzle a course all I like and it won’t be any good if it’s not relevant or the right fit or the learner is just having a crappy day. I’m not even that keen on the word ‘course’ anymore. Eek what have moocs done to me??? 🙂

  5. The cattle are dying… 😉

    And what does “engaged” mean, anyway? It seems to be related to motivation and enthusiasm rather than cognitive effort, which may be unpleasant.

    I have had a sneaking suspicion for some time that engagement is not that significant when it comes to learning, and some day I’ll go out hunting for studies showing that learning outcomes are better achieved when it’s shown that students are “engaged”, and I suspect those studies might not be so convincing. Yes, we can all be engaged and enthusiastic, but are we learning what we’re supposed to learn? And yes, you can sidetrack me for awhile by talking about whether we really need to learn what *they* think we need to learn, but eventually I think there are things we need to learn so I’ll turn the car around and come back.

    I learned a lot in classes where I was neither motivated nor enjoying my learning. Yesterday I went to the gym, which I hate doing, then realized on my drive home I had to clean toilets when I got there. Was I motivated? Were these tasks “engaging”? No. But I had to do them, and a lot of tasks at work are like that.

    I don’t mean that I tell my students to “suck it up”. But I’m wondering whether the “engagement” thing will go the way of the “learning styles” thing, or morph into something closer to emphasizing reasonable designs that will enable cognitive effort to produce good results. Though I also have a sneaking suspicion (don’t tell anyone) that pedagogy isn’t as important as we think it is, unless it’s really bad. I’ve had a lot of classes where almost everyone was totally “engaged” and enthusiastic and really into the work, and the grades were pretty much the same as for sections that were less involved and excited.

    Is it really my responsibility to “engage” them? I had a student ask me once, on the first day of class, what I was going to do to make History interesting for him. I said that I hoped that the resources I was offering would pull him in and help him see how interesting it is. He looked doubtful, but by the end of the semester he said I was right.

    What happens if they expect me to engage them, as your post implies? Then motivation becomes my responsibility instead of theirs. If their future boss doesn’t do that, will they have the skills to engage themselves?

    Oh, and in a MOOC, I can tell you because I’m running a small version of one that it’s the facilitator who cares. Evidence of engagement (as I said in the session, we can’t measure engagement, only the artifacts of engagement) shows that the facilitators have designed something engaging. Or not.

    Guess I’d better blog on this some day…

    • Right on, Lisa, thanks for this! I am starting to see newcomers to the workplace who have been spoon fed with ‘engagement’ and extrinsic motivation throughout their lives (at home and at school) and they are terribly disillusioned, demotivated and disengaged when the workplace isn’t fun and exciting for even part of the day, let alone the whole day. The difference seems to be rather soul-crushing and makes me think we aren’t setting them up for success if we perpetuate engagement as someone’s responsibility other than our own.

      I have no doubt that facilitators care about engagement, I just wonder why. Is it an assumed measurement of the faciltators’ success? Does it help secure the budget for the next learning event? I do hope that engagement gets challenged the way learning styles have recently!

      I also wonder what would happen if your response to a History student goes something like this “I’m going to offer you lots of ways to look at History. What are *you* going to do to make it interesting/relevant for yourself?” 🙂

  6. I have been thinking about this, and wonder whose job it is to engage (and whether engagement precedes, moves along with, or follows learning and meaning making). While ultimately I believe (at least with adult learners) we are responsible for our own learning, I am not sure if we alone are responsible for our own engagement. If anything, I have a responsibility to my limited time to leave the MOOC if I am not engaged, as I simply have too many things of value to do otherwise.

    Let me push this a bit more, as it seems we have been speaking a lot about our own personal engagement. To what extent do we have some collaborative sense to help engage one another, at least those who we have started to connect with?


    • Thanks for this nudge, Jeffrey. I was literally, ten seconds ago, logging into WP so that my identity would be pre-filled for someone’s blog on which I’ve never posted a comment before. In doing so, I was wondering if part of my mooc practice should be to intentionally seek out new places to leave comments so as to ‘share the wealth’ of good feelings about receiving comments and furthering the conversation. I wonder if this fits with your ‘collaborative’ sense of engagement?

      On leaving a mooc if you’re not engaged: absolutely, vote with your feet (or with a click of a mouse)! 🙂 I believe that the choice to leave or to stay (to engage or disengage) is entirely personal, regardless of what any designer, facilitator or fellow participant may or may not have done to contribute to engagement.

      Maybe it’s an equation?

      Engagement = sum{my actions + my beliefs + my time commitments} plus or minus the value I assign to the design and the actions of others

      • @brainysmurf Yes, either leaving a message to reach out and share the enagement, along with reaching out to people we may know who may have quietly vanished; out of sight is so readily out of mind online.


  7. Hi Brainsmurf,

    What about the old adage, “lead, follow or get out of the way”. Could apply to engagement is some form. Engagement is just another word for participation really, and applying knowledge does help some of us learn. So you can either lead if there isn’t sufficient activity going on, or you could follow other people’s activities/posts. Or even just lurk! It’s all participation at some level.

    Well! there you have it – my two cents worth. 🙂

    • Thanks, Lucky, I agree (and no worries about name typo)! You reminded me of an expression about being either the steamroller or the pavement. 🙂

  8. Sorry about the typo in your name!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Oooooh Mr. Kotter, engage me! Engage me! | MOOC collection |
  2. GT MOOC Week 12: Advanced Learning Strategies with Clark Aldrich | The Georgia Tech MOOC

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