Expert insights, MOOCers and Shakers

The Great (MOOC) Adventure

It was an early, nippy morning in August 2019. After I entered the office, having greeted everyone in my path cheerily, and probably forgetting to swipe my ID card at the reception, I received the news.
I was going to be a parent!
To a new course, of course.

It might be a strange comparison, but working on a MOOC is like giving content life online. And I was so lucky to be on this journey with excellent co-parents on board.

The Essence of Leadership: Explorations from Literature, or EoL as we fondly call it, was born several months before it landed on my lap. I missed the entire process of the shoot and took over completely from the course-build stage by a series of happy accidents. I would go into detail, but a good storyteller never overdoes the flashback sequence.

Now, how does someone who gets flustered by technology build an entire course, from scratch?

Turns out, I just had to trust my experience and ask the right people for help.
This sounds easy enough, given that I work in one of the most reputed Digital Learning departments in the country, but what made me jittery was that EoL was so unique. Here is a course which flows beautifully in the classroom as a weave of stories from classic literature and discussions on leadership. How do I capture the same vibe online?

Everyone loves stories, and for a unique reason. I personally love them for the many ‘aha’ moments – a single word that can ignite my imagination. The first step had me slaving over weeks of raw footage with our editor to add visuals and amplify the narrative. You may say it is organic to envision stories as videos, but are there other media that lend themselves to this format?

Here comes in one co-parent. I have kept her awake on many nights for her inputs on Instructional Design. Honestly, I was terrified by how much she trusted me – someone with close to zero experience storyboarding, writing edit notes, and designing an online course in general. Her ID magic wand helped me conjure up a spell which kept our learners enchanted through 7 weeks. Our 7 stories were made unique with visuals as vivid as Don Quixote’s imagination, readings as precise as Galileo’s orbital calculations, and memes that inspired much debate like Tughlaq’s decisions.

I admit, I am not great with technology, but am forever willing to experiment. I mean, what is the worst that could happen? I couldn’t accidentally the entire course, right? I could. My other co-parent, the Content Development expert helped me stitch a beautiful tapestry of studio-elements on which we carried the course till the end.

Every creator works with deadlines. However, sticking to them can become a work of fiction. Who are we, if not creatures of the last minute? With a foot lagging behind, and the other unsteady, we set out to launch our course and plunged into the deep waters of learner engagement.

With each story we explored, we had learners from all over the world discussing their love for literature, and we quickly gathered a large repository of books which they all took leadership inspiration from. Our excitement fuelled us to be more creative with each passing week.

Of course, all stories worth telling have a plot-twist. Ours just happened to be a disruption experienced globally: COVID-19.

It is surreal how things changed so fast. Our process of co-parenting now had to transgress physical boundaries and enter the online space. As much as we wished for this to be a long vacation, the show had to go on. The ray of hope that kept us going was this: In the weeks of lockdown, there was close to a 70% increase in enrolments for EoL and our discussion forum exploded with the most insightful comments from all over the world.
You may be wondering if there is a moral to this long narration, and even though I hate clichés I will indulge you. A lot of us are still on lockdown, have faced a lot of challenges and uncertainties during these cruel times. For our EoL course team, the digital world gave us the possibility of our happy ending, albeit very different from what we had originally imagined.

While we had planned a huge closing party, the course ended quite silently as we spent time in the comfort of our homes, book in hand and a mug of coffee.

[This blogpost was written by Deepika Ganesh, Pedagogical Research Associate in Sustainability at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore.]

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