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TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Redesigning a MOOC as an Event and an Experiment

Richard Edwards (Ball State University, USA)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 1:30pm
Open, Global, Mobile
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Theory/Conceptual Framework
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Asia 3
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 7

This presentation analyzes a MOOC, originally taught in 2013, that was redesigned as an online learning experiment in conjunction with a unique programming event.

Extended Abstract

This presentation shares objectives, strategies, and lessons learned in developing and refining open and online learning innovations in order to experiment with what is possible in a massive and global open online course. The Ball State University course, "TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir," collaborated the Canvas Network (Instructure), a learning management provider, and a corporate partner, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), to develop a unique and powerful opportunity for online film studies and the study of the Humanities in general.

In June and July 2015, TCM broadcast "The Summer of Darkness" film festival every Friday on its cable network. For nine weeks, TCM had a 24 hour marathon of film noir on its stations--showing 120 films during the run of the festival. This was an unprecedented televised curation of film noir movie titles running from major important films to some of the lesser known films of the noir canon. In parallel with "The Summer of Darkness" festival, Ball State University launched the "Into the Darkness" course, which benefited from having at its disposal those 120 films for a global community of online learners. TCM also made available its abundant web resources, including original archival photographs, film essays, and the TCMDb (TCM's online film database of cast, crew, and movie information). Canvas Network provided support on its LMS platform for delivery of the course. "Into the Darkness" was a redesign of a successful 2013 MOOC, also taught by Ball State and instructor Richard Edwards. The original course was the subject of a presentation at Sloan-C's 19th International Conference in 2013 entitled "From Massive Open Online Courses to Meaningful Open Online Communities." The focus of that talk was on the use of social media to enhance collaborative learning in a MOOC, as well as strategies to bring a seminar-style discussion into extremely large online courses.

MOOC as Event and Experimentation:
The 2015 version of the course benefited from collaborating with a major viewing event. Design considerations included how to leverage the crowd-sourced knowledge of students in the MOOC with access to an abundance of films noir. Typically, access to the copyrights of the films themselves is a problem in online courses, one solved in this instance with the generosity of a corporate partner. The presentation discusses the issues that arise from such a higher ed/corporate hybrid, and the advantages of pursuing such collaborations, as well as some of the issues and clearances involved.

The course was designed to leverage the wisdom and knowledge of its students to push the creation of new knowledge around film noir, curate new resources for the sharing of film noir, and engage in discussions on film noir informed by an unusual amount of source material. As such, the course design considered how this MOOC could embrace both formal learning inside the course and the critical-creative informal learning opportunities generated from a major broadcasting event. However, ultimately it was not the content of the films that was most decisive learning factor, but the discussions that could be built around them and the learning relationships that could be furthered by their presence and availability. The course also benefited from pushing Ball State's 2013 discoveries around social media (as well as other research in this area in the intervening 2 years) in new and innovative directions in collaboration with the social media guidance of a corporate partner like TCM. The presentation will cover the sharing of a single hashtag (#NoirSummer) to bridge the educational and promotional goals behind this collaboration and the use of experienced digital media influencers to guide and react to online conversations and engagement.

Design and Results:
This presentation will detail the framework and operation of the 2015 MOOC, as well as lay out how the learning strategies were conceived and carried out to maximize the educational potential of the course. The course used a custom-designed video annotation tool to annotate major public domain films noir as an act of public scholarship and as a online knowledge archive. The course experimented with difference kinds of pathways inside the Canvas network to help personalize the learning in such a large course, as well as foster peer-to-peer mentoring and knowledge sharing events that leveraged the benefits of a large, and frequently knowledgeable, group of engaged students.

One major takeaway of the presentation will be to push the idea that a MOOC should be considered a valuable and fertile learning laboratory and that we still have much work to do to figure out how to best utilize the power of open and online learning on massive scales. Every time we teach a MOOC is a chance to try something different, to push the boundaries of what we know about effective online learning, and to take chances blurring the boundaries between formal and informal learning that can activate the passion and curiosity of global networked learners.

Lead Presenter

Executive Director, iLearn Research, Division of Online and Blended Education, Ball State University. Co-author, The Maltese Touch of Evil: Film Noir and Potential Criticism (Dartmouth College Press, 2011).