Why is Teaching Open Courses so Rewarding?

I’ve been in the field of education since 1993. I’ve taught middle school, high school, community adult education, undergraduate students, and graduate students. I’ve led faculty,  and administrator workshops as well as corporate training. I’ve led webinars for a few and webinars for close to a thousand.  I’ve presented to small boards of a dozen as well as provided keynotes at full conference centers.  Chatting with a friend the other day, I realized that, apart from classroom teaching, I’ve given over 400 speeches or presentations in the last twenty years.  Out of these “teaching” experiences, facilitating open online courses has been among the most rewarding.  Why is that? I’m not sure, but I suspect that it has something to do the following items.

1. It is an open course.  – I’m one of those idealists who believes in online learning partly because it promotes increased access and opportunity.  When I design and lead an open course, I believe that I am contributing to that vision of open learning, education that is more than a product or service for which someone pays a formal organization.  I have no problem with tuition, but I have to confess that I am continually drawn to the vision of open education.

2. It is a global learning experience.  The global diversity in open online courses is unlike almost any other learning community. I love teaching and learning beside elementary, secondary, and tertiary educators (and administrators) from well over a dozen countries…all exploring a topic of shared interest.  That is an aspect of the web that continues to fascinate me, and it is delightful to see the ways in which we can learn from one another, encourage and challenge one another, and stretch each other to consider current and emerging possibilities for life and learning in a digital age.

3. The topics are my “dream topics.” When I design an open course, it comes from a topic of personal passion and extensive research.  I have run two large open courses and both came from two or more years of personal research and study.  Essentially, the course is an extension of my research. It is like getting to teach that odd niche course that you don’t usually get to design and teach in a traditional school.

4. I let my convictions drive the design of these open courses.  These are not neutral academic enterprises for me.  These are topics about which I have begun to develop increasingly strong convictions, and I openly share those convictions, while welcoming and embracing the chance to learn from diverse perspectives and to challenge my own ideals.

5. I play with the course designs.  Each open course (I have three more beyond the current one at some stage of planning) is an experiment.  The first was an experiment with crowd-sourced knowledge generation and blending traditional and connectivist approaches to online learning. My current open course is an experiment in a more developed badging system, the mixing of self-paced and scheduled events, the design around Bartle’s psychology of gamers, and the vision (largely by necessity) of leading a course out in the open (not hidden behind the walls of an LMS).

6. It is a team design effort.  I don’t build or lead these courses alone.  I work with a wonderfully gifted team at the CUW Office of Continuing and Distance Education, and I love designing in a team. The give and take, leveraging each other’s gifts and interests, and the social element of accomplishing something together is tremendously rewarding for me.

7. I meet new and interesting people.  When I lead an open course, I try to pull in at least a few guest speakers, and I’ve been humbled by the quality of volunteers to step forward. We’ve had the world’s leading scholars and practitioners in several cases. Even as I might play the role of “teacher”, I am just as much a co-learner (the phrase was adopted from Howard Rheingold).

8. It is a public good. There is something about finding a topic that I believe has enormous implications for 21st century education and gathering a group of interested people to explore it.  We are collectively sharpening the ideas of one another and empowering each other to be change agents in our local communities.

9. It isn’t about credits, degrees, grades, and programs.  My life’s work is in education, but there is more to education than schooling, and open education allows me to explore a bit of that uncloistered part of education. I’m not against credits, degrees and programs; but I see education as much more than that.

10. Every course is an experiment.  I know that I already included this above, but it is worth a second point. Experimenting is part of teaching any course, but as I noted before, I see open courses as a chance for really pushing the boundaries and trying out models and approaches that I don’t always try in more formal courses. And who doesn’t enjoy a good experiment?


Posted in education, MOOC, Open Learning

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is a President of Goddard College, author, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education; leaner agency, educational innovation, and social entrepreneurship in education.

2 Replies to “Why is Teaching Open Courses so Rewarding?”

  1. Dave Black

    So what would you say are some of the top things you have learned for the future leading these open courses?

    • Bernard Bull Post author

      For me, every course is new and different, and so much depends upon the audience. The course design is an art as much as a science. What works great in one course may not in the next. I am putting together a paper that deals with lessons learned that I am scheduled to present next month in Florida. With that said, here are a few things: keep it open (leaving an opportunity for the course to grow by itself and for the conversation to continue beyond the scheduled end), design elements for different types of people (like Bartle’s Gamer types: killer, achiever, explorer, and socializer), use the knowledge of the group and beyond rather than thinking of yourself as the teacher and main provider of knowledge, allow your personality to show, invest in the connections with people, and have fun with it…tapping into your personal gifts and abilities.

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