Friday, February 22, 2013

What do I do? What is a MOOC?

I’ve written many articles in the past about learning and network building and since mid January I’ve been part of an Education Technology and Media MOOC #ETMOOC where more than 1600 people are gathering on-line to share ideas about learning, digital story telling, on-line collaboration, etc.

Education Technology and Media which you can read about here While I could write a summary of everything I’ve learned, this recap by Paul Signorelli does a great job of showing the value of the ETMOOC.

Paul’s article includes this statement. “Outside of the course, on the other hand, I continue to see snarky comments from those who either haven’t had or aren’t willing to seek out these opportunities and the benefits they offer.”

I have this same problem. This week I was interviewed by a local newspaper reporter doing a story about mentoring. The reporter asked ‘what do I do” and expected a short, easy-to-understand response. I responded, “I collect and share information that is intended to help volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs grow in high poverty neighborhoods. I try to bring people together to look at that information. I encourage the learning they do that supports their own actions and decision making.”

“What does that mean?” the reporter said.

I was not able to provide an easy answer in one sound byte.

When someone says MOOC, I immediately know what it means, because I’ve been following the growth of this process for more than 10 years. Others don’t know what I’m talking about or why I place so much value in the process.

I created this page to announce the 20 year anniversary of Tutor/Mentor Connection which I formed in late 1992 and launched in January 1994. I included a 2003 quote by Mr. Tim Wilmot. Chief Knowledge and Evaluation Officer, Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation:
"When nonprofit and community leaders share ideas, insights and information in ways that promote social impact...knowledge-sharing can improve organizational effectiveness. When we share what works and what doesn't... it results in accelerated learning, less reinventing the wheel, better service, and measurable results."

To bring people together to share ideas means someone has to build a list of people a) who have ideas to share; and b) who might come to an event, or an online space, to connect with these ideas.

Since 1975 I’ve been building a list of volunteer based tutor/mentor programs, researchers, reporters, business and philanthropy leaders, etc. for over 30 years and have used this to share ideas via print and email newsletters, conferences, and in one-on-one mentoring of different people who are looking for help in finding a tutor/mentor program, starting a program, improving a program, etc. I formalized this process when launching the Tutor/Mentor Connection 20 years ago. I created the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC in 2011 to continue this work.

This information collection/sharing process requires constant updating. It’s no small task. Writing newsletters, blogs, maintaining a Twitter and Facebook presence, organizing conferences twice a year, meeting with people to expand the network, etc.are also time consuming, This has been no small task, especially in the third largest city in the US and with less than 2.5 full time staff devoted to the project at its peak. Yet this work is necessary to support the learning of much larger groups of people throughout the metropolitan Chicago region, and the nation, who are also concerned with the well-being of inner city youth and the productivity of our labor force.

In the ETMOOC there has been a lot of discussion about “content curation”. Here's one article.

In the Tutor/Mentor Connection links library I point to numerous web sites talking about “knowledge management” such as this article. To me these are versions of the same idea. Someone has to be collecting and organizing information so that others can use the information to support communities of practice and collective efforts intended to solve social problems.

I’ve been building a knowledge library for more than 20 years, intended to support the involvement of youth, adults, business, media, faith groups, philanthropy, political leaders and anyone else who wants to be part of the “village” needed to help kids in poverty move through school and into jobs and careers.

I’ve been learning from the ideas of people throughout the world and as I learn a good idea or find a good resource, I add it to my library and share it via my blog, email newsletter, or in one-on-one mentoring of other people.

The ETMOOC focuses mostly on how traditional classroom educators might use these ideas to engage k-12 youth in more effective and motivated learning. My target is adults, not for adult literacy, but to educate them on more ways they might use their own resources to build birth-to-work systems of support in inner city neighborhoods.

Yet the people I’m trying to engage in this MOOC-like learning and action planning process are people who have busy full-time lives. That means the first MOOC we need to build is one where many people are sharing ideas for engaging busy people in on-going learning intended to solve social/environmental/health problems that plague many different parts of the US and the world.

Knowledge Management and Content Curation involve collecting and making sense of information. However, there’s also a marketing process involved, intending to constantly increase the number of people to become involved in this learning, and who then become involved in supporting the growth of birth-to-work mentoring, tutoring and learning programs in local communities.

Using the internet we can gather information that helps us better understand a problem, and that shows how people in other places are working to solve the problem. Instead of constantly reinventing the wheel, or starting from scratch, we should be able to innovate ways to apply good ideas from other places to the work we do in our own communities.

This requires content curation, knowledge management, marketing, information facilitation and many other skills.

As I said to the reporter I spoke with, “Solving the problem of inner city poverty, youth violence, poorly performing schools and showing the role of mentors in volunteer based tutor/mentor programs is more than a sound byte and one media story”. It requires in-depth learning, thinking and planning that continues over many years with thousands of people involved.

I’m trying to support that process through the work I’ve been doing for the past 20 years. Until others spend time learning about the process and understanding its benefits to their own work and lives I’m not sure how I can explain the value to them, or describe what I do, in a few words.

That’s a problem.


Tutor Mentor Connections said...

What are universities thinking about MOOCs? This from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges is worth reading.

Paul Signorelli said...


Great summary of the challenges all of us face in attempting to form, nurture, and sustain effective community collaboration in an onsite-online world. I believe #etmooc is providing a great model; I think we have plenty of potential partners out there (e.g., Peter Block and John McKnight at Abundant Community--; and I believe that tutoring and mentoring are an integral part of the process we're all attempting to foster. Looking forward to our continuing conversations and exchanges as we all take those small but very important steps toward achieving something meaningful within the communities we serve.

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Thanks Paul, I've hosted a Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference in Chicago every six months since 1994. I've been on the ABCD list serve and in other forums where I've sent invitations to members to participate. If you look at the conference maps at and the attendee list at you can see who has, and has not, responded. Maybe through the MOOCS we can build stronger relationships that increase face to face interaction if we're in the same geography and focused on the same issues.