Why I am excited about #MFLearn19

#MFLearn19 is a Connectivist MOOC.

I am told by my good friend and colleague Steve Jackman who has designed the #MFLearn19 program that the plan is for participants to collaboratively develop and design the content through participation, blogging, sharing and networking. I like the sound of that because I think successful CPD relies hugely on bringing in and learning from the experiences and thoughts and ideas of those who participate-a bit like Musical Futures’ approach to informal learning on which the core content of #MFLearn19 is based.

The way it works is that guest presenters get things started by making a video that introduces the weekly topic and what happens next depends entirely on the participants.

Hopefully they will take something away and try it in the classroom. Maybe they will jump onto the discussion forum and talk about it with others. Perhaps they will write and share a blog. But there is no guarantee that any of this will happen.

It doesn’t matter. This really is a case of ‘you get out what you put in’. It’s free, open and with the exception of a framework of weekly topics, a completely blank canvas.

Part of the reason that I am excited by it is that it reminds me a bit of what became known as #MFPilot2013, an initiative that I devised for Musical Futures UK as part of the Find Your Voice pilot back in (unsurprisingly) 2013.

At the time, our Musical Futures colleague and mentor David Price was writing his book, Open-how we’ll work, live and learn in the Future. Over dinner he told me about the origin of MOOCs-open collaborative online courses that at that time were expanding out of universities in the USA. Musical Futures had just put out a call for pilot schools to try out some new ideas for singing in the classroom and we ended up with over 100 applications for just 15 places. I wondered if it might be possible to ‘open’ all the content that we would be providing for the ‘official’ pilot teachers to use and let anyone who wanted to be part of it do so and create a mini MOOC of our own.

It was a huge risk. The main content we had available consisted of some videos of a face to face training session led by practitioners where the pilot teachers took part as learners and had opportunities to work together to devise ways to try the ideas in their classrooms.

First of all, we had no idea if the approaches themselves would work. Would they engage the students in the pilot classes? Would teachers be happy to deliver them? Would the material need to be refined, edited, designed, given the once over by objective experts in the fields of singing and classroom vocal work to ensure that it was good enough?

Then we didn’t know if videos could be sufficient to get across what the approach and tasks were. We knew that they couldn’t replicate a face to face CPD experience where you meet and talk and make music together. Would videos be enough to get people excited about taking part and give them enough material presented in the right way to be able to use it in their contexts?

The structure of #MFPilot2013 was really simple.

  1. I live blogged and tweeted live from the training so that people could see what was happening from the very start and feel part of something even if they weren’t there
  2. The videos from the training were then shared on the MF website. There was no sign up or log in needed.
  3. People were asked to register on a google form so that we could get an idea of how many people were engaging and where they were in the world
  4. We agreed that we would hold a Twitter chat every Wednesday for people to check in and share how things were going and encouraged those who had attended the face to face training to join in. Core team members also participated so that we were immersed in what teachers were saying and doing, ready to offer support or new resources if needed. I then archived the tweets so that there was a constant record for those who couldn’t attend live but who wanted to catch up afterwards and a record of how the project developed
  5. The #MFPilot2013 hashtag would be used for all posts related to the pilot and this became how the community was known on Twitter
  6. We created a Padlet Wall, an open space onto which people could pin video, lesson plans, comments, photos etc.

Here’s what happened:

So why did it work?

  1. There were a core group of ‘official’ pilot teachers who connected at the face to face training and were regular contributors to chats and the Padlet sharing space-it’s always easier to talk online to people you have met! Incorporating social time into the 2 days of workshops built relationships which continued in the online spaces.
  2. There was an excitement about everyone being in it together. I was teaching and using the approaches with year 7 as well as hosting the weekly chats and monitoring the hashtag and it was good to feel less isolated with a community of teachers across the world. We were all trying out the approaches and sharing ideas for what was working and what wasn’t
  3. It was all open so there was never a feeling that this was only for a closed group of practitioners or only appropriate for certain type of school or teacher-anyone, anywhere could be part of it
  4. We were honest that this was very raw and that there was a willingness from the team to take a risk in putting out something that was unfinished into a public arena and be honest about our reasons for doing so
  5. #MFPilot2013 grew its own identity away from the more central Musical Futures brand and eventually became #MuFuChat, a weekly Twitter chat about general aspects of music education that ran on Twitter until 2016. It has since morphed into #MuFuOzChat, a weekly discussion led by Musical Futures Australia Champions taking place every Wednesday on Facebook. 

The one thing I learned from #MFPilot2013 was that when developing and nurturing online communities of practice for music education, doing the same thing twice is unlikely to work. #MFPilot2013 was ‘of its time’. So I am excited to see where what Steve has developed for #MFLearn19 might lead and what all of us in #MusicEd can learn from each other.

It’s also exciting that Musical Futures International are supporting the project as it is a wonderful way to gain a better understanding of how the informal learning principles that have underpinned Musical Futures since its inception continue to transfer into the classroom.

Anyone can join in with #MFLearn19 any time. Follow this link to find out more…

And if you fancy writing a blog, using the #MFLearn19 hashtag, watching the presenter videos, joining in with a weekly chat, or just posting a hello on the welcome page, then it would be lovely to meet you!

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