As a part of the team that works on a MOOC, let me tell you, there are many interesting things that happen behind the curtains. Most of these, our leader doesn’t have an inkling about. This blog is a sneak-peek for people working in online learning (as well as our team-leader) to get an insight into what happens in the ‘green-room’ to put up a show that the world calls an ‘engaging MOOC’.
For starters, we are a team of 7 Teaching Associates (TAs) coming from different parts of the country, with different fields and experiences. I had worked with the team leader- the course instructor — Dr. Sameer, earlier on different projects, so we have a certain comfort level. He is one of the rare people with whom I have loved working with. For, his working style is exactly what anybody like me -looks forward to- Focused, Democratic, Full of Adrenalin rush. I joined the team on one phone call from him – ‘I want you in the team. And this is the MOOC and this is….’. He knew I wouldn’t refuse. Ever. So, here I was, in the team, supposed to handle the ‘learner interaction’, probably because of my research interest in the area of social media. (I never asked. He never explained.)
Now, to handle the discussion forum, that too of the magnitude of the MOOC- which means a handful thousands of learners, all of us need to be working in unison, having one voice and most essentially work as a team. My first day on the project and I was tracking the learner interactions. I could sense, if we don’t distribute things among ourselves, there would a heap of work big enough to bury us all. I wanted to call the other two who were on duty that day. I hesitated for a moment. ‘Will they think, she is asking for too much?” and so many questions rushed through my mind. I wanted to ask Sameer but I didn’t. I knew he would say “Since when did you start asking me such things! Figure out yourself.”
Having no other option, I just dropped a two liner in the group asking for anybody who is free to lend a helping hand. And came two! A blind man asks for one eye, he gets two! One from Punjab (Daisy) and the other from Kerala (Ambily). Quickly talking to each, we decided the strategy in less than 2 minutes! Wow! We could beat Maggi, it seemed. And the strategy -our ‘Maggi’ worked! Through the day we were texting each other, calling each other whenever needed, testing waters. We were new. To the MOOC and to each other. By the end of the day, we knew what we had found. A comfort level and transparent communication. Three Musketeers with a ‘Maggi’ formula! We didn’t realise when we started communicating as if we knew each other since long. Soon, we were four, with Natasha from Goa! Aha! The Fantastic Four! It didn’t stop at that. Soon, we were sharing our ‘Maggi’ with 3 more people- Jatin, Vijay and Ilavenil. We were communicating, frank enough to tell each other when we could not be available- even if for pursuing a hobby!
MOOCs is the pinnacle of multi-tasking. We -the Secret Seven – were working like madmen- err- madwomen too, at all unimaginable hours, taking turns so that one of us could have dinner till the other defended the fort. Unbelievable? Oh! this could beat Ripley’s Believe it or not! This was exactly like a Symphony. The men in the Secret Seven were (and still are) bit distant and careful. Understandable. But I am sure, our Maggi Masala will change them! 🙂
And then, lock-down happened! New challenges, but we seemed to tide with our Maggi. Now our texts converted into phone calls. Late evenings. Soon enough, much to the Sameer’s surprise, we would vouch for each other. If he would ask, ‘find who is available..’, we would answer before asking each other. We not only knew when we had online classes to conduct or meetings at our respective institutions but also who was busy with yoga or music or a baking course! We knew if somebody’s machine was not functional or even if there was a power cut. We also knew of our fears and our fun moments! At work, we were filling up for each other in whichever way possible. And finishing the tasks? Hah! If Sameer was trying to be like Big Boss, giving us tougher tasks to be completed in a shorter duration of time, we were not playing Big Boss! We were in this as thick as thieves. No eliminations here, boss!
We were trying to better our ‘Maggi’, adding vegetables (the new DFMs added) and one day, Sameer called. “We have to write a process protocol/prototype (I am still not familiar with these terms in the industry)…You, me and…” I didn’t even know what he was saying. In the conference call, he said “Our team has done what is exemplar! Now let’s document it!” I was gawking and I am sure so was Daisy. All three of us wondered how do we write this! It was all about blurring the boundaries of what makes professional communication. This was highly professional and yet it was not just professional alone. There was a desire of playing a part in a successful MOOC, but there was something else too. How do we formulate it! But we did! And we know how. Didn’t take long either. By the end of the call, our prototype- our guideline document was ready! To be uploaded on the website of Ed Tech Dept of IIT Bombay.
So, what are the secret ingredients of the masala? The first important thing if you plan to be a part of MOOC, is to be pro-active, a go-getter. But it has to be coupled with transparent communication. That is TRUST. That none of us are shirking from work. Sounds easy? Somethings are better experienced than mere hearing/reading. There are boundaries that you have to cross. From professional communication to a companion level communication. That is where the spice adjustment matters. You have to be aware and accepting. Of each other. You have to be a part of the Symphony not a Jugalbandi.
Working in online education, especially MOOCs is like entering ‘Alibaba’s den. There is a treasure in there, but we never know what can happen-lot of unprecedented things just seem to be waiting to happen. And we had discovered what was the ‘Khul jaa simsim’ for the interaction within a MOOC!When you love the WORK, unbound by time; view it as a teamwork- a symphony, the treasure in the den is all yours ! Your MOOC is super-hit!