Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions


In the summer of 2012, Hybrid Pedagogy (my colleague Jesse Stommel is one of the editors) sponsored a MOOC-MOOC, a MOOC on MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses). a MOOCification MOOCathon (love the quote from Moocthulu: “It is the end of the university as we know it”).Mooc-Large

Here’s a series of posts I made about my experience:

George Siemen’s tweet of the MOOC lifecycle:  intro . . . chaos . . . self-organization. . . sharing images/artifacts . . .subnetworks . . . frustration . . .dropout……core left –

I can’t even find my place in this lifecycle, it doesn’t list sorrow and a sense of failure.

Here’s what the MOOC-MOOC has felt like to me.

Where’s the door? How do I get in? [struggle with site, find dashboard, maybe this will help . . . nope. Lost again]  Who else is here? Do I know anybody? [read through introductions, post mine,  try to find it again because there were some pretty good questions in there, can’t find it. Keep reading to get some sort of sense of who’s here too many posts, can’t make sense, can’t connect.  I’m lost again.] (How do I get to know anybody?) What can I do here? [cool idea, massively crowd-sourced writing, whoops, the deadline is past. I’m still lost, can’t find my way in.]  What are people thinking and saying, maybe I can just lurk. [Wander around from blog post to blog post, twitter post, not sure why some of this stuff is here, it seems there are intimate conversations going on, I really feel like an outsider here.]

What I looked forward to, I have come to dread. Tonight I found myself sitting in front of my computer, my head in my hands, feeling like an utter failure.  Saying for the 10th time, that’s ok, you are learning how to do something new, and that means you don’t know how to do it. Keep trying. Just another half hour. Realizing ten minutes later that I’m standing in front of the refrigerator, thinking about making some cinnamon toast – my version of comfort food.

Out of my research language, I would say – I don’t feel a sense of place (there’s no there, there, for me), there is no social presence here for me (no people who greet me when I enter), I don’t have agency or a sense of personal power so I feel invisible, and I can’t figure out how to collaborate. I am bereft of a sense of presence. Yet I know that some of my favorite people are in there. Somewhere.

Twenty-four hours later . . .

Ah, what a pitiful post. Got it out of my system.  Thank you Sheila and Jesse for reaching back.

I asked myself a lot of questions last night. Why did I feel such a strong sense of disappointment? What were my expectations? What was I hungry for that I haven’t been able to find?

Maybe it is that I was looking for the bar at a conference, and there were people there that I knew, and who were glad to see me. I sat down, had a beer, and re-entered an impassioned, lively discussion that we had started earlier. Some of us disagree, and sometimes it goes beyond impassioned into conflict, but that’s ok – I know these people, I’ve gotten to know them slowly and deeply over time, and those relationships will still be there after our conversation. I’m not paralyzed by  “fear of exposure, of appearing ignorant, of being ridiculed.”

Last night I discovered a wonderful short article by Parker Palmer that had that description of fear that resonated for me. The article (Community, Conflict and Ways of Knowing)  is about the communal nature of learning, but oddly enough, it was also about conflict, fear and love. He said “Healthy community . . . includes conflict at its very heart, checking and correcting and enlarging the knowledge of the individuals by drawing on the knowledge of the group . . . in the context of a supportive community.” This MOOC has the first part, but I haven’t been able to find the second part. Maybe I was hungry for an OOC, and its the “M” that is in my way right now –  feels massive, manic, and monolithic.  I don’t know how to “do” MOOCS, which is all right, learning is about not knowing, and that’s good for me. But right now, its not much fun.

So, what about the love part?  I can’t say it any better than he has:

“The kind of community I am calling for is a community that exists at the heart of knowing, of epistemology, of teaching and learning, of pedagogy; that kind of community depends centrally on two ancient and honorable kinds of love.

The first is love of learning itself. The simple ability to take sheer joy in having a new idea, reaffirming or discarding an old one, connecting two or more notions that had hitherto seemed alien to each other, sheer joy in building images of reality with mere words that now suddenly seem more like mirrors of truth – this is the love of learning.

And the second kind of love on which this community depends is love of learners, of those we see every day, who stumble and crumble, who wax hot and cold, who sometimes want truth and sometimes evade it at all costs, but who are in our care, and who – for their sake, ours, and the world’s – deserve all the love that the community of teaching and learning has to offer.”

He’s talking about students, but I think we are in each other’s care in any learning community – love of learning, love of the learners.


Parker, P. (n.d.). Community, conflict, and ways of knowing. Center for Courage and Renewal. Retrieved from


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