Considering “Personal Learning MOOC” – aka. #NRC01PL

As part of the "The Artist as (Film School) Teacher" project, I intend (time permitting!) to take the Personal Learning MOOC offered by Stephen Downes starting February 22. While taking a course like this is personally interesting to me given my longstanding interest in connectivism and MOOCs, the particular insentive for this course is the focus on the "personal learning environment".

In the intro to the course, Downes writes:

Course objectives: participants will develop an appreciation of different models of online course delivery, ranging from the traditional LMS through connectivist MOOCs to potential future models of personal learning and performance support. (my emphasis)

This is a key as I see it in developing a distributed course for Nordic filmmakers. We are attempting to create a learning environment that not only will give filmmakers working as teachers the formal competence they require in order to teach at higher educational institutions, but more importantly provide filmmakers in 4 countries (and 8 film schools in 7 cities) with a peer network for ongoing discussions and support.

There are some premises to be considered:

  • Given the geographic and linguistic challenges involved, online technology is a necessary element.
    • Given the increasing requirements for formal qualifications imposed by European education bureacracies, some form of standardised outcomes are necessary
    • Given the vast gap between individual experiences and pedagogic competencies among the filmmakers teaching at the different schools, a focus on creating a personal (as opposed to personalized) learning environments as well as fostering the development of PLNs is key.
    • Given the lack of formal expertise in this area – film school pedagogy – the course will in large part have to rely on peer learning. To me, this is an advantage rather than a handicap, as I have previously elaborated on.

Structurally, the course will end up being a bit of a hybrid between a personalized and personal environment. We will design modules with pre-defined learning outcomes and leading to some form of assessment that yields standardised ECTS points. This may be easier if we start with some pre-determined "content" the particpants have to "master". On the other hand, the actual need is for an ongoing framework of peer support, where the participants can build their own personal learning environment.

Our challenge will be to marry the two. I don’t know if the Personal Learning MOOC will help me towards this goal, but even if it doesn’t I am sure it will provide interesting new insights and, hopefully, connections along the way.

What is “theory”?

Recently I attended a one-day conference at Lillehammer University College, arranged to mark the launch of the Film Studies programme’s new centre for audio-visual media research. There were 4 presentations covering different topics, but a common theme for all was the tension sometimes found between theoretical film studies programmes and practical filmmaking programmes.

The final session made this theme explicit, with the title (my translation) “Can theory and practise be reconciled?”. The discussion, between filmmaker/writer Morten Hovland, tv-producer Eda Syvertsen and film studies professor Søren Birkvad was interesting enough, but the whole day left me wondering: what do we mean when we use the word “theory”?

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (iOS version) defines theory as:

theory [noun(1)]
1. A mental scheme of something to be done, or of a way of doing something; a systematic statement of rules or principles to be followed. l16.

2. Mental view, contemplation. e17–e18.

3. _
a. The knowledge or exposition of the general principles or methods of an art or science, esp. as distinguished from the practice of it; Math. a set of theorems forming a connected system. e17.

b. A system of ideas or statements explaining something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the things to be explained; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment and is accepted as accounting for known facts. m17.

4. (The formulation of) abstract knowledge or speculative thought; systematic conception of something. Freq. opposed to practice. e17.
A. Dillard A terrifically abstract book of literary and aesthetic theory. in theory according to theory, theoretically. loosely.

5. An unsubstantiated hypothesis; a speculative (esp. fanciful) view. l18.

In general, I think it would be fair to say (though, of course, an oversimplification) that traditional academic education tends towards definition no. 3 when discussing theory, somtimes including no. 4.

At the Norwegian Film School, however, when we speak of theory, it is almost exclusively in the sense described in definition no. 1. We could possibly be better at flagging this; theory is important for filmmakers, but it is an approach to theory that is distinct and different from the approach to theory favoured by academic programmes. In fact, we have found the term so problematic that we tend to use other terms, preferring instead to talk about constraints, intentions, critical reflection and the like.