Friday, December 18, 2015

A reflection on the GROOC : What Universities do

• Before joining the PhD I worked for almost 10 years in all sectors (non profit, government, and a private company). I can say that it’s actually the university the only institution when, really, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. 
• The mandate of the university is to explore the boundaries of human knowledge, get new insights, and then make them public, teach them and apply them into potential solutions for society’s problems.
• Within a university, EVERY IDEA DESERVES AN OPPORTUNITY. At least, a discussion or an experiment. This is the only institution in which, as a member of it, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO TEST YOUR IDEAS, no matter how crazy they are. If there is a place for crazy ideas, it’s here.
• That’s what we are doing here. We had an idea and we tested it. Now, we need to take an appreciative and a critical perspective on our experiment: What original assumptions were mistaken? What things we didn’t payed enough attention to? What surprising gems we found in the process? And how can we refine the things that worked well?
• This is what we will do next. Refine this approach UNTIL WE MAKE SURE IT WORKS - AND WORKS WELL. Then, we give it to society (a non-profit, the government, or a private company) for them to find a sustainable business model and to spread it as much as possible.
• Then, we, here at the university, will move into our next exploration, our next crazy idea. For me, that’s the beauty of working on a university.
• But for now, let’s make this work, and really well. Stay tuned for GROOC 2.0

A reflection on the GROOC: A culture of learning

• Probably the most powerful pedagogy (or method of learning) is immersing yourself to experience a culture. A culture teach us what is valued, what is possible, and what behaviors are accepted and encouraged. A culture teach us how to be in the world. We tried to create a culture of ‘Social Learning for Social Impact’. So, what was it?
o In the GROOC, some degree of subversiveness was required, starting from ourselves, here at McGill.
o In the GROOC, the hierarchy of the one who knows & the know who doesn't know doesn't exists. Here, everyone learns and everyone teaches.
o In the GROOC, the learners’ process of acting in the world is ‘the path’, the real ‘course’. Not the syllabus or the bi-weekly sessions.
o In the GROOC, learning is also emergent. It, can come from any source any time.
o In the GROOC, we came to develop relationships. Connections, colleagues, friends, and partners in crime. Relationships that will bring more learning, more action and even more relationships.
o In the GROOC, you don’t have to be a student to learn, and you don’t have to finish school to give to the world. Here, learning and doing good are two sides of the same coin, the same action.
o In the GROOC, the internet is a tool not just to connect, but to develop meaningful relationships to work and to solve real problems in society.
o In the GROOC, we develop communities, not just groups.
o In the GROOC, anything is possible. We dreamed, we tried, we gave, and we learned.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Forget the Expectations

I had always been slightly skeptical about online jobs but I’ve never been so sure about the influence of the Internet until now. This course has made it possible for thousands of people from around the globe to connect, regardless of age, social background, pre-requisites, and location.

This Group Open Online Course (GROOC) follows the idea that if similar people with similar interests get into a group and put their ideas together, a great social initiative can come out of it. Therefore, the course is pushing for group learning and group brainstorming at all times. The teams on the GROOC range from environmental to educational and health initiatives. We have groups approaching ocean trash, others approaching human rights and more. There are people from separate sides of the globe connecting over this one website to discuss making a change on this planet. The world once seemed enormous to all of us; now, we are able to connect with others who are just as passionate as us through this one medium.

I started realizing that this whole course was bigger than anything I had ever imagined. Our expectations were blown out of the water. Everything we thought would happened took a left turn. The field of “Communications” once seemed so distant to me and now a taste of it lies in the palm of my hands. I have been able to see the impact that making conversation with others throughout the globe has. Better yet, all you need is a little bit of internet. This is becoming more and more possible every day as NGOs take on missions to supply poverish countries with computers and internet, realizing the possibilities that come with these implementations. This GROOC is a perfect example: it is one of millions of courses of free education taught through a top university…offered to everyone, everywhere.
There are two things I wish to convey to readers:
  1. If you ever have the chance, take an online course offered through or Before this course, I was taking “Marketing in a Digital World” through Coursera over the summer. These websites are a chance for you to take courses outside of your field of study. It’s a chance for you to explore classes and careers for FREE. 
  2. Take on an online job at least once. These jobs are flexible and all it takes is a reasonable commitment to stay connected over social mediums or E-mail in order to stay up to date. I recommend this for the school year especially when you feel as though you can’t take several hours out of your day to go to a job. I also recommend this for the summer if you’re traveling but would still like to be getting some experience under your belt.

Let’s try to take the stigma off the internet and social media by transforming it for the better. Let’s start using it productively. Find people throughout the globe who think just like you. Network, create connections. Build relationships. The internet has the power to make a good change, a good community; all we have to do is put it to proper use.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Butterfly Effect

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. I have always loved systemic theories because they in essence allow me to simultaneously be part of something greater than myself and disengage me from crushing culpability when faced with any situation that I feel is substandard in relation to my perfectionist nature vis a vis all things humanitarian. I have always been fascinated with butterflies as they are original, free and symbolic of deep transformation. What does this have to do with the GROOC?  
I joined the GROOC initiative as a way to heal the collateral emotional damage that I accumulated working for a large scale health care organization. It was a very selfish reason for joining a social change effort. I needed to evolve, to neutralize the negative mind frame that was destroying my ability to engage in a constructive way. I was a wounded warrior and I wanted to regenerate but I did not know how…
The first day as a GROOC facilitator I was introduced to my colleagues and interestingly I found that many of the bright young professionals in the room were also searching for a way to redefine themselves, their professional paths and their mission in life. It was refreshing to be surrounded by people who were as open about their failures as their accomplishments. It was difficult to determine the difference between our moments of strengths and our moments of vulnerability.
As the GROOC initiative gained speed I realized that I was mostly in the dark when it came to gaging the impact of my interventions and the benefits of the program. I had moments of connection and moments of rejection. I made new friends and I lost possible collaborators. I surprised myself in my knowledge and my inability to transfer that knowledge into actionable results. Almost none of my predictions or expectations were validated and I was left puzzled most of the time.
Within the chaos, the uncertainty and the darkness; flashes of colourful moving light emerged at the most improbable of moments.  The deepest of greens, corals, violets and yellows flying in my unconscious bringing me great joy, courage, inspiration and hope. Sometimes they would inspire me to continue and other times they would guide me to rest. Eventually they told me to stop measuring the impacts stop calculating my value. As I did this I noticed that the linear expectations I had for a team or idea had fallen and given place to a beautiful mess; a personalized mess with an identity all of its own. The ideas, the people, the teams had created their glorious individual wings, non-replicable and non-predictable. This is when I knew I had done my job.
As I put on my winter jacket today I took an accidental look in the mirror and for a split second I saw a colourful mix of shadows on my back.  It was the butterfly effect of this experience that was pushing me out of my home, out of my old perspectives into a new world that we had co-created.      

Sylvia Papazian M.A

Monday, November 30, 2015

Our feelings about the GROOC ... Our GROOC learning

Laura Cardenas and Cristiane Bonezzi are both part of the group of 31 online facilitators of McGill’s MOOC for groups (GROOC): Social Learning for Social Impact. This EdX online course is being developed with the collaboration of the department of Teaching and Learning Services, as well as well-known academics from the Desautels faculty.

Cristiane Bonezzi, an environmental and international cooperation specialist with twelve years experience in managing relationships with stakeholders in the public, private and academic sectors and who is deeply concerned about social justice, educational and environmental issues.

Laura Cardenas, a solutions-driven Industrial Relations student at McGill University who is eager to find new opportunities that contribute to the community. She is passionate about working in team environments where the main goal is to learn from each other; always aspiring that the only and greatest possible outcome is to become a better version of ourselves to offer the world.

Cristiane’s reflections:

“I feel that this initiative started having an impact on my life one year ago, when I was invited to take part in the taping sessions of the course. First of all, it was for me enlightening to discover not only that there were so many like-minded people, but also that they were at our reach, in the same room, learning together and having discussions about common concerns and possible solutions for our world. The exchanges we’ve had with those people, both attendees and professors, filled me with hope.

Just to give you a brief overview of the extent to which it has reshaped our lives, after the tapings, Lucas (my husband, who also joined the taping sessions) and I decided to rent our house, quit our jobs and go on a six month road trip in a campervan with our little dog, Neo. The idea behind it was to disconnect – or should I say reconnect, with our soul, with each other, with nature – to visit and learn about social and environmental initiatives, to do voluntary work along the way and simplify our lives. In the process both of us also ended up deciding to go back to school. All that started because we’ve been questioning ourselves about so many issues, habits and beliefs, and we thought each of those actions would give us answers. The fact is that we haven’t been getting any answers, but even more questions. What’s more, I’m actually excited about not having THE right answer, but acknowledging that we learn as we go and that there are several possibilities!

Now that we’re back and volunteering as a facilitator for the GROOC, once more, I felt the power of the connections on refilling my energies and hope. I’ve noticed that the more I meet other facilitators in person, either on facilitators meetings, at working hours at the GROOC room or even just for a coffee at the end of the day, the better I feel, the more connected and ready to take action I feel. That’s why I immediately accepted the suggestion of joining forces with Laura in our facilitation duties. We’re now co-facilitating 12 teams and the opportunity of having someone to interact with, exchanging ideas on the groups, being listened to and listening to another point of view is very enriching. Besides the practical benefits for this social initiative purposes, meeting and sharing with others makes me feel more alive and happy overall as a person.”

Laura’s reflections:

“This initiative has a spillover effect on many different socio-cultural aspects, as such being concise becomes complicated. Starting on how I perceive the cultural impact, what a better way to explain it than by giving an example of my own experience. As a brief note, I was born and raised in Colombia for the majority of my life, a country I adore and a culture to which I identify myself. Recently, for the sake of excelling on my facilitation duties, I have joined forces with Cristiane; a Brazilian facilitator with whom I have had the pleasure of exchanging ideas, being listened to and listening to other points of view. Besides the chance of practicing my Portuguese during our meetings, I have learned a great deal from her perception of the world. Having the opportunity to work together has been a very enriching experience that I am fully enjoying.

Being a member of this project has allowed me to explore myself, to share myself with others, and on the macro and societal level, it has given me hope! Being able to grow as a person is directly influencing my behavior towards my surrounding. At this point, I am proud to say that I am able to perceive how the power of interconnectedness within like-minded individuals is the biggest reward that this volunteering position could have offered me.”

Facilitating the Social Learning for Social Impact GROOC

One of the aspects of the facilitation team of the Social Learning for Social Impact GROOC which I've appreciated is these strong affinities which facilitators have been exploring since our 3 day get-together in late August 2015. and the unexpected creations which this has since led to - even before the course launch.

 Our facilitators are 30+ individuals worldwide who, outside of a few had not had any prior contact. As far as makeup is concerned, they are a veritable representation of the stakeholders we hoped to engage in the GROOC: socially aware individuals including both seasoned field veterans and students for whom this is an initial exploration. They come from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds, spanning multiple cultural context (networked across 52 countries, collectively speaking 16 languages). This was quite a difference from the primarily undergrad McGill Management makeup I had half-expected when we sent the callout.

As a group, they now echange as a team across a variety of platforms, both real and virtual. Our 3-day training was one such temporary space, through which a common role was defined and shared values were named. These affinities are now being followed up on in a shared Googlegroup platform, and in real time at the small shared office in the Bronfman building of the Faculty of Management at McGill- where half a dozen of our facilitators reclaimed a dissused utility closet and turned it into something they are thrilled to be in and which has acted as ground zero for explorations of our GROOC's educational content.

In many ways, this is taking me back to my own MA thesis and Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger's work on communities of practice. Out of social disconnects, we have seen emerge clear cultural boundaries to our facilitator team (our shared mandate in the course, the EdX platform, the Googlegroup and the shared office) in relation to which the work is situated. In that regard, if the goal was to foster engagement in our facilitators, we were on the right track, given the extent to which they owned the community and to a variety of unexpected new ideas and initiatives. Some examples of this: 1. A PhD researcher facilitator studying educational technology expressing interest in integrating our publicly available course transcripts in a cross-referenced public access wiki, in order to promote access to non-English speakers, 2. a facilitator based out of Toronto attempting to form regional course hubs in Toronto and Buenos Aires and 3. A Human Systems Intervention student based out of Montreal proposing a journaling project to reflect on the experience. Although these sorts of ideas and initiatives are occuring outside of the scope of our immediate mandate, they were a large art of the emerging culture of our group in so doing, strenghtened the sense of ownership the facilitators had in this project and their vested interest in suporting the learners.

This rich and unexpected set outcomes resulted from social learning and the creation of live- relationship-based networks. My hope is that ultimately, our facilitators have fostered even a fraction of this excitement amongst the EdX learner community!

Our facilitators taking part in a 3-day peer training session

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

from MOOCs to GROOCs... to SPOCs?

After scaling, we could think about what is the end game for the GROOC, according to founder of Alice Gugelev, in this article we could think of 6 possible end-game scenarios:
1    1)   A break through idea easy for organizations to share/adopt/integrate
2)    A breakthrough product/model
3)    Potential service provider to govt, integrate public programs
4)    Profit potential that addresses market failure, risk or uncertainty: commercial delivery
5)    Defined and achievable outcomes for eradication of a problem
6)    Strong organizational filling gap in commercial or public service

I share this interesting article to also frame the question above and think about the future of MOOCS, perhaps rather than large GROOCS it is SPOCS (small private online courses) to leverage on engagement, commitment and participation.