So for the second year in a row, for the Class Central blog, I’ve posted a fictitious article on April Fool’s Day. Last year, it was making fun of Coursera, edX, and other MOOC providers by describing a shameless product they introduced to make money.
This year’s was much more interesting. It posited that Michael Scott of ‘The Office’ (played by actor Steve Carrell) took MOOCs and was interviewed by his experience. It was a spoof on the (entirely admirable) phenomenon of “learner stories”, that is the personal anecdotes of ordinary people taking MOOCs who used them as a fulcrum to lever themselves into a new, more promising career.
As I’ve no doubt the stories are true, they are inspiring, and the stories should be spread widely. The only one teensy thing that feels slightly exasperating is that the learner stories (across Coursera, Udacity, and edX) were very formulaic: the individual (usually male) had not done well academically, worked in a less than promising career, and found the MOOC platform and started to take courses at night, and then–applied and got a job as a web programmer! This pattern is completely fair, however, given how much technology skills can be a great ticket to a lucrative job & career, and the relative straightforwardness of teaching them via an online program. But still, learner stories were ripe for spoofing.
It was great fun spoofing Michael Scott because almost nothing he says could be too ridiculous. I’m a HUGE fan of The Office (I still watch re-runs whenever I can). And so as I was writing, I was hearing his voice in my head–so much so, that while I wrote the original post in about 3 hours, I spent the next day making dozens of small adjustments to it, to get the tenor of the dialog just right.
Also, as another point, I love the fictional dialog form, I had tried it once long ago. The original master of that form was Plato, of course, with his dialogs, and a modern favorite of mine is Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft, who writes many of his books brilliantly in dialog form (e.g. Socrates Meets Jesus). It has some distinct pedagogical advantages, because you can deliberately show misunderstandings, the natural flow of a conversation, and show how people are trying to direct the discussion. Sort of ironic for a verbose writer like me to appreciate this form, but it can sparkle when done well. And whatever others may think, I enjoy this piece immensely…