Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Meet the social change agents - An interview with Katie Cleary

MOOC Campus is a non for profit providing a location for students studying online. Students get to learn what they want to, when they want to.
The Good MOOC interviews Community Director +Katie Cleary.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

I'm the Community Director at Black Mountain SOLE. I pursued my passion for personal development while attending Maharishi University of Management and in the process discovered my passion for creating social change & alternative education. As the Community Director at Black Mountain SOLE, I am responsible for reaching out and connecting with our local community and designing structures and processes that help to build a maintain the sense of community at Black Mountain SOLE.

MOOC Campus represents the part of Black Mountain SOLE that is for self-directed lifelong learners. We are actually considering changing the name to reflect the larger scope that MOOC campus really represents. Each participant will first go through a process to determine where they are and where they want to be. They will then work with a coach to develop an agile learning plan. The learning plan is agile because the reality of learning is that when we take a step down a certain path we often unlock new treasures and roads that we didn't know existed before - in a self directed learning environment participants are supported to take a new and unplanned path if it inspires them. They will always have access to a coach to consult with as they adjust their agile learning plan to reflect their new insights. I just described the individual aspect of what we are doing. The other core aspect & one of my passions is the community aspect. Based on our experiences and those we've spoken with, some of the most valuable experiences from  college and higher- ed institutions come through the community experience. In the community experience we  gain contrast to learn who we are and who we aren't. We run into situations that help us become better leaders, communicators and citizens. We learn the value of connectedness and gain greater senses of empathy. Community is the environment that encourages personal development and a desire to impact a greater whole. So the second core aspect of the Self Organized Learning Environment is the community. When a well supported & healthy community combines with a self-directed learner (we view learning in the most expanded way - really its just becoming good at life) a fertile ground is created where accelerated transformation can occur on both the individual and collective level.

  • How did the team come up with the idea and what are you hoping to achieve?

We all have our unique story (which you can find on our profiles here) which led us to these ideas and a desire to create this place. Consistently we all had experience in the traditional education system that seemed to misaligned with our view of what education should be. For ourselves personally, we see the role of education as one where individuals are empowered to pursue their passions, gain the skill needed to realize their vision and grow into healthier and more fulfilled versions of their selves. In October we will actually be holding an un-conference on what the role is of higher education. We want this conversation to happen. We don't think we have all the answers. Black Mountain SOLE is an experiment. We are learning about and creating new models of learning and living together with the community and the larger community who is seeking better models.

  • How are you financed?

When formed in November 2012, Geronimo Education Corporation (GEC) was funded by the Executive Director and co-founder, David Dobias. David started the non-profit organization with roughly $5,000 dollars. Geronimo Education Corporation is our legal business name, and Black Mountain SOLE is our "Doing Business as Name".

In 2013 the organization was approached by an unsolicited charitable trust that expressed a deep interest in funding GEC’s vision for higher-education alternatives. The Trust funded GEC with an initial funding commitment of $700,000 contributed in installments over 12 months. Contingent upon the demand and success for the Geronimo Gap Year, MOOC Campus and other self directed learning programs, the Trust has committed up to $5M in cash donations.

  • Has the experience yielded any surprising findings so far?

I have personally been surprised and inspired by the variety of people who are resonating with our ideas. From academics,  entrepreneurs, makers & hackers, artists to health and wellness enthusiasts. People who I would never think would be into or resonate with a totally new alternative to higher education are!

  • What's your analysis of the current state of the online learning?

To me online learning is an element that should be pushing educators and students to re-evaluate what value learning institutions are providing. The classic model of higher education was one where motivated individuals could go to learn information and gain knowledge not readily available in any other environment. That is no longer the case. I'm not saying higher education doesn't have a role - I just think a radical reexamination of that role is needed - and perhaps radical shifts.

  • Where do see higher education going in the medium to long-term future?

Honestly, I don't know. I think there will be major shifts and I'm hopeful they will be very positive shifts.

  • There's a fair bit of MOOC skepticism out there... Do you have anything to say about that?

We see MOOCs as just one piece of a much larger landscape of online resources for self directed learners.I think many MOOCs are still the lecturer in front of the classroom model - a very large classroom. This is an old model of education with new technology. So in that way - I think there is still a lot of development for the MOOC model as it's known today. However, MOOCs have done wonders in terms of sparking a new conversation in the higher ed space and about the higher ed space. A critical conversation and for that I am thankful.

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