MOOCs & Performance Studies: an Introduction #DukeHP

By in pedagogy on November 13, 2012

While looking at MOOCs could start with an analysis through media, even when I do that, I go somewhere else.  The media I frame I find most helpful to begin thinking through things, the McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message”, even takes me immediately out of media.  In MOOCs the medium seems to be performance more than anything else I can pinpoint.  While yes, there is a screened device between the individuals, the second I begin thinking about what is actually happening, and how it can be useful, I end up right back in Performance theory.  When I look at what happened in Twitter vs Zombies, that connection is even clearer.  Rather than go to a whole lot of sources, I will name one that covers all the bases around MOOCs: The Sage Handbook of Performance Studies.

I know, I know. A text book! But it talks about everything and it is a fantastic primer for those outside of Performance Studies and those new to Performance Studies.

In Della Pollock’s chapter, part of the “Performing History: A Politics of Location”  “Memory, Remembering, and Histories of Change: A Performance Praxis” the “not not me” and you being “not not you” seems to be central to the performance of MOOCs.  When a student or professor enters the MOOC world, they are re-presenting a version of themselves that, if taken in conversation with the whole, can never be completely representative of who they are.  When we put our bodies/beings in conversation with others on the in MOOCs, we open ourselves up to a certain type of interpretation that is us, but not us.

I should stop. I won’t give you a blow by blow of the book and how I think it relates to MOOCs because I think half the fun is discovering the connections we can make on our own and then entering into conversation.  I would like to point out the two main areas though that, in my opinion, absolutely need to be incorporated into our conversations about MOOCs.  The first is Critical/Performance Ethnography.  The introduction to this section in the Sage Handbook of Performance Studies states the following:

“Performance ethnography embraces the muddiness of multiple perspectives, idiosyncrasy, and competing truths, and pushes everyone present into an immediate confrontation with our beliefs and behavior. Body-to-body, we are less able to retreat into the privacy of our own limited self-serving thinking, our stereotypes and biases. We have to acknowledge the validity of another viewpoint, because it is living right there in front of us. In this way the embodiment and action that is inherent in performance ethnography makes this a methodology that reflects, in Conquergood’s visionary phrasing, a “critical genealogy” that can be “traced from performance as mimesis, to poesis, to kinesis, performance as imitation, construction, dynamism” (1992, p. 84).” — Part V: Introduction: Performance and Ethnography, Performing Ethnography, Performance Ethnography, Olorisa Omi Osun Olomo (Joni L. Jones)


I also shared a Conquergood Essay that appears in the handbook via twitter yesterday in PDF format, “Rethinking Ethnography: Towards a Critical Cultural Politics”.   I think one of the most important things we need to do as we pull students into these experiences and environments is provide them with a toolkit to help analyze and understand what is going on, what their role in all of it is, what everyone’s role is, and, most importantly, what the stakes are in terms of the class and the world outside of the classroom.

The second area that I think is so important for us to examine, especially as MOOCs are a model that sees student-as-teacher to a degree, is Performance and Pedagogy. My offering to all of this is, rather than trying to create a new framework about how people are “performing” in these environments, instead of looking for ways to analyze the co-performance that is taking place, locate political stakes, etc, why not just go to the place where it has been going on for a while now, Performance Studies?  There is even a whole area that specifically speaks to Performance and Pedagogy.

“[A] performative epistemology makes us responsible for how we inhabit the world. There is no recourse to foundational claims. The world, here, is always-already pedagogical, always being articulated and rearticulated. How we choose to enter this back-and-forth is the key to the ethical dimension of performance. In particular, the performative decenters our taken-for-granted assumptions about pedagogy—where it happens and with what texts.” (Dimitriadis, Pedagogy on the Move: New Intersections in (Between) the Educative and the Performative)

Even more in line with some of the things that were said yesterday around the purpose of MOOCs is the following:

“Many performance studies classes involve performance as a way of knowing; they further the objective “to understand performance as a method of inquiry” (Pelias, 2001, p.1). While some performance scholars focus on performances as a subject of study, others view performance as epistemological. “ (Stucky, Fieldwork in the Performance Studies Classroom: Learning Objectives and the Activist Curriculum)

And finally, the big giant quote”

“Performance as pedagogical discourse signals students to engage both their critical and creative skills as well as their enfleshed knowledge in order to display and present their understanding of complex concepts grounded in social, cultural, and political issues through the body—and maybe more importantly through their experience. Their performances serve as products that evidence their understanding and their resistance. These performances also serve as demonstrations of how they came to their understanding, as well as critical dialogic engagements with those who witness the performance. In constructing the notion of performance as a pedagogical discourse, I am suggesting that it offers the opportunity for a critical engagement of issues that go beyond pedestrian notions of experiential learning to a form of critical performative pedagogy.


A critical performative pedagogy also offers teachers and other students in the class (the audience), the opportunity to see themselves again through the performances of others; performance as a barometer of truth or reality. The performance can serve as critical reflexive lens in order for teachers and students to see and realize their own resistances, stereotypic assumptions, habituated responses, and experiences relative to particular issues related to the theoretical arguments that frame the assignment and the person in performance. This is especially important when teachers and students explore the complex intersections of race, sex, class, gender, and privilege; and how the politics of these embodied practices blend and bleed the borders between school and society.”
Introduction: Performance and Pedagogy, Bryant Keith Alexander

Hamera, Judith, and D. Soyini Madison. The Sage handbook of performance studies. Sage Publications, Incorporated, 2005.

4 thoughts on “MOOCs & Performance Studies: an Introduction #DukeHP

  1. Pingback: MOOCs & Performance Studies: an Introduction #DukeHP « Performing the Digital | Twitter vs. Zombies: The Library |

  2. 1

    I really appreciate you writing this up. I’m interested in performance in my academic research (performance and auto/biography-autofiction-alterbiography, in particular as is crosses through media platforms). But I agree with you about the connect of TvsZ and performance (I mean, we were performing the role of ourselves as zombies or fleeing humans).

    Thanks again for the resource. I’ve already requested it through ILL!

  3. Pingback: MOOCs & Performance Studies: an Introduction #DukeHP « Performing the Digital | Hybrid Pedagogy Reading List |

  4. Pingback: Orality, Performance, and Laferriere « Chasing Laferrière – An Academic Odyssey

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