POOC Yourself: The University Beyond the Classroom

By Paul Muhlhauser and Daniel Schafer

POOCs Ask Students to Make their University

In making a university students are empowered to be more than skeptics, to be more than doubters in a world being called post-truth, where emotions outweigh facts by a wide margin and persistence in seeking truth is met with incredulity. And if a post-truth perspective can be considered a result of rhetorical training in doubt, which is certainly important, then a POOC (Personal Open Online Course) works within a post-fiction context, and offers a way to balance doubt with trust. POOCs, in other words, ask students to rhetorically doubt and rhetorically trust–to rhetorically balance appeals to emotion and appeals to reasoning.

Read on and see how a POOC mentality is trust enabling. Read on and see how POOC assignments enable students to step in and out of different important economies that interact in a post-truthy world: the attention economy (engaging viewers with content), information economy (finding info to create the university), reputation economy (developing ethos), and trust economy (learning how to trust others by vetting).

Read on and get inspired. See how we describe POOCs and their relationship to MOOCs. See how we incorporate POOCs into classes and discuss POOC benefits and drawbacks. Trust and doubt and see what a POOC has to offer your classroom. Read on and enjoy our remixes and recontextualizations of WPA posters, which help describe our educational values.

Part MOOC Part PLN: Joining the Conversation about Learning Online

Year of the MOOC to Death of the MOOC

Open online courses can help students learn wherever they are.

The New York Times declared 2012 “The Year of the MOOC.” And composition scholars responded, critiquing MOOCs and offering suggestions for “good” MOOC practice (e.g., Krause and Lowe, 2014; Monske and Blair, 2017). Recently, there has been another declaration: History professor and MOOC critic Jonathan Rees (2017) made the observation that MOOCs are “dead” because they “are no longer competing against universities for the same students.” He observes Coursera has shifted its MOOCiness towards corporate training. This shift, he argued, occurs in part because an online course with many students makes meaningful interaction with an instructor difficult.

Regardless of the criticism or the declarations, we feel MOOC ethic is in the right place. They try to provide access to the “best thinkers” on a given subject to more people. We argue, though, that MOOCs need to be translated—adjusted and added to—to be more effective. We argue for POOCs.

POOCs excel in providing students with many instructors who can all (at least potentially) offer feedback or encouragement—and this can occur whether a POOC takes place in a formal classroom or not. While one must sign up for a MOOC, a POOC can take place any time because it’s driven by the student. POOCs are inspired by PLNs. They remix PLNs with MOOCs.

What's a PLN?

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are about finding a community of experts on a given topic and learning from them. By finding blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook groups, and more, someone can work toward expertise in a given field by learning from numerous authorities in several mediums.

POOCs are a little different because they ask students to insert themselves into the conversations and move beyond “lurking” to ask questions and fill in gaps in knowledge by not only conducting research, but by asking questions. POOCs also ask students to integrate sources from across disciplines by writing blogs, for example, and create their own learning communities by encouraging dialogue between both experts and those who are striving to become experts alike.

Our Goals for POOCs

The Trust Economy: To equip students with the skills and know-how to trust sources and think self-reflectively about what makes something trustworthy.

To encourage student skepticism of sources by providing them with the skills for reflecting on what makes something mendacious.

We hope students learn not only how to negotiate trust and skepticism and balance the two.

The Information Economy: To encourage students to connect with experts in the field they are researching and continuously learn from them.

We hope students learn to integrate sources and use them to join an existing conversation by becoming an expert in a niche area of interest.

The Reputation Economy:To create opportunities for students to build their own reputations as experts and learners in a niche area of interest through their design, research, writing, and social media skills.

We hope students will build a reputation and continue to build upon it throughout the semester and after the class assignment ends.

The Attention Economy: To facilitate creative making in which students generate compelling content that builds a community of learning around their niche topic.

We hope students will give readers reason to seek out their content: that it is carefullyresearched, well written, and visually appealing.

A Pooc Is...

A way to leverage social media for research

What POOCs Do

POOCs ask students to invent their university by curating resources and connections with experts. [These charts aren't exactly post-truthy. They just mean to visually emphasize what we thought went well when practicing POOC.

Increased Knowledge: 107% of students experienced increased knowledge Students learn through POOCs. Not just about their topic, but also about writing, research, and design.

Student Agency: 98% of students experienced increased agency Control over research topics, art decisions, and other factors increases student engagement.

Active vs. Passive Learning: 106% of students learned actively POOCs promote a more active form of learning, encouraging participation in the learning process.

POOCs Respond to MOOCs

A POOC, a type of PLN asks students to access information and create their own online educational spaces—their own online college.

By selecting a niche topic to study, students seek out experts in a given field and gather multimodal resources to read and respond to, while building composition, design, and research skills that will be applicable and available to them during and after their time in the college or university.

What MOOCs Are Good For

POOCs ask students to take what is good about MOOCs, but move beyond their limitations. MOOCs allow people to learn remotely, use digital technology to enhance interactions with experts and peers, and encourage both multimodal composition and reading.


They’re a Response, a Dialogue, and a Play: Comparing POOCs and MOOCs

MOOCs encourage students to “stand on the shoulders of giants” as they research, write and design. POOCs offer the freedom to go beyond these “giants” and investigate research topics more thoroughly.

More POOCy

Read write culture (Lessig, 2008)

Citizens (students) add to the culture they read by creating a re-creating the culture around them.

Students seek out experts

Use search engine results, locate tweeters, bloggers, and rss feeds for those giant shoulders to stand on and learn from.

Students create a curriculum

Follow, subscribe, read, write blogs, comments, like, retweet, respond, set your own goals.

Students practice coveillance

Stand on more than giant shoulders. Stand on peers, stand next to them—any preposition you like—and learn through many-to-many style.

More MOOCy

Read only culture (Lessig, 2008)

Citizens (students) viewers absorb information in the exact form it is presented to them, complete with biases, context, and agendas.

Experts are provided for students

Giant shoulders are already available, along with approved spaces for locating more giants to learn from.

Curriculum is provided for students

Read what’s there, write reader responses, discussed planned conversations, meet the goals of the course.

Students practice surveillance

Stand on and behind giant shoulders. Look for more giants. Learn through one-to-many style.

How to POOC

Master the Four P’s of a POOC

Get Personal

Select a narrow topic you find interesting

Aim for a niche topic. Many have written about NASA, but a look into vintage design and drawings from NASA may be unique.

Ensure you will have access to experts via blogs, social media, and other sources.

Consider topics that require primary research: product test fountain pens, or learn about knitting. Use a combination of research that is not necessarily dependent on the Web.

Get Professional

Find your university

Here students begin working in the trust economy. Read about your topic to determine who the “experts” are. Then, follow as many as you can on Twitter and use information from their profile and feed to see if they write a blog or otherwise compose online.

Build your university

Here students engage in the information economy. Create spaces to share research and writing, as well as spaces for connecting with experts and others who are interested in your niche.

Create a consistent brand and maintain across Web platforms

Here students engage in the reputation economy. Students accomplish this by: Maintaining consistent use of images by using a similar logo and art style across platforms. Using the same colors for texts, backgrounds, and any graphics. Consistly using typefaces for titles, subtitles, and body text. Ensuring consistent sizing of text and images across platforms.

Get Participatory

Make connections with others talking about your topic.

“When search and the Web enable us to find the experts and teachers we seek, and when others can find us to learn from too, the practices of independent learners in the era of paper text are morphing and multiplying through online social networks and knowledge repositories” (Rheingold, p.228).

Ask questions, make comments on the work of others, share your own work and research. Here students engage in the information and the reputation economies.

Get Points of Presence

Use platforms like Wordpress, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, and Scoop.It.

Determine appropriate platforms for a topic and learning network. Use these points of presence to build your community.

Remember, keep branding consistent! Pay close attention to colors, typeface, and images.

Here students engage in the attention economy and the reputation economy.

Students should make themselves visible to their co-students through these points of presence so they can learn from each other, and so they don't need a periscope to keep track of what their classmates are up to.

Our Favorite POOCs from this POOCY Assignment

The Millennial Knitter The Pensive Penner McDaniel Bathrooms Selfishly Indulgent

nichepertise assignment

POOCy Problems

Reflections on missed goals, or before you drink the Kool-Aid

There are some issues we’re working to resolve

Projects discontinued (105% of cases): Most students discontinue their niche work at assignment’s end. Missed goal: post-class POOCing.

Tweets tweeted last day (75% of cases): Many students tweeted all required tweets the last night before the project was due. That’s not how Twitter works. Missed goal: POOC like a pro.

Lots of lurking (50% of cases): Student participation was mostly limited to lurking rather than engaging. Missed goal: variety of participation.

Why the hell didja use that source? Sometimes you’ll wonder at this—that even with training in crap detection, you’ll get some sources that are questionable.

Even more issues

Posts are often not value added: just “check it” plus link. A few students get tired of their topic and want to quit. If a student is poocing your institution, they should talk to the institution because of trademark issues. A couple of students never really got the “niche” idea. Beware. You’ll read about coffee and the school cafeteria every semester.

POOCing is Worth It

Even with kinks, it’s got value

As we’ve graphicked about in previous sections, a POOC is useful because it’s an autodidactic pedagogy allowing students to traverse a few of the economies being discussed in media literacy today: the attention economy, the information economy, and the reputation economy. Students learn to generate attention through branding niches; they inform: they find, curate, and add value; they build a reputation as a growing expert. A POOC even introduces students to the trust economy. If post-truth can be considered a result of rhetorical training in doubt, then a POOC assists students with rhetorical training in trust, in learning to negotiate post-fiction. POOCs empower students to read, research, and write in a post-truth landscape.

We end with two posters that are explicitly implicit and implicitly explicit about our feelings on POOCs. The calls to action from these WPA posters still reverberate today. And POOCs ansewr these calls in transformative ways.

If you have questions or would like to chat about POOCing, please contact us through Twitter or email.

Contact & References

Talk teaching and POOCing with us

Paul Muhlhauser: Twitter - @DoctaMuhlhauser | Email - pmuhlhauser@mcdaniel.edu

Daniel Schafer: Twitter - @TheSD | Email - daniel.f.schafer@gmail.com


Krause, Steven D. & Lowe, Charles (Eds.). (2014). Invasion of the MOOCs: The promise and peril of massive open online courses. San Francisco, CA: Parlor Press.

Lessig, Lawrence. (2008). Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. London: The Penguin Press.

Monske, Elizabeth A., & Blair, Kristine L. (Eds.). (2017). Handbook of research on writing and composing in the age of MOOCs. Hershey, PA: IGI GLobal.

Pappano, Laura. (2012, November 2). The year of the MOOC. The New York Times. Retrieved March 31, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html

Rees, Jonathan. (2017). MOOCs: A postmortem. [Blog post] More or Less Bunk. Retrieved March 31, 2017, from http://moreorlessbunk.net/technology/moocs/moocs-a-postmortem/

Rheingold, Howard. (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Works we POOCed with for inspiration

Bartholomae, David. (1986). Inventing the university. Journal of Basic Writing, 5.1, 4-23.

George, Diana. (2002). From analysis to design: Visual communication in the teaching of writing. College Composition and Communication, 54(1).

Hart‐Davidson, Bill. (2014). Learning many‐to‐many: The best case for writing in digital environments. In Steven Krause & Charles Lowe (Eds.), Invasion of the MOOCs: The promise and peril of massive open online courses. San Francisco, CA: Parlor Press.

Luckie, Mark. (2012). Best practices for journalists. Twitter. Retrieved March 20, 2016, from https://blog.twitter.com/2012/best‐practices‐for‐journalists

Muhlhauser, Paul, and Kachur, Robert. (2014). Readymade rhetoric: Love the one you’re with. Computers and Composition Online, Retrieved June 12, 2017, from http://cconlinejournal.org/fall14/readymade/

NCTE. (2007). Summary statement: Multimodal literacies. National Council of Teachers of English. Retrieved March 16, 2016, from http://www.ncte.org/governance/MultimodalLiteracies

Rheingold, Howard. (2011). Robert Scoble on online curation. YouTube. Retrieved March 17, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMn‐cJHzF8A

Tenderich, Burghardt, & Williams, Jerried. (2015). Transmedia branding: Engage your audience. Los Angeles, CA: USC Annenberg Press.

Our imagery

WPA Posters. [Digital image]. (n.d.). Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC). Retrieved February 14, 2017 from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/wpapos/