Learning online; Nyan cats and other web-animals

There are many things I love about the web. One of them (naturally) is cats.

So when last week this video  called “Catsplosion” - showing how you can make a cat fountain in Minecraft - (extract below) hit my radar it got me ( and many other Minecraft fans) really excited (and partially dizzy).

271kochu created a “fountain of cats” in Minecraft by building a structure that extended to the top of the world, then exploiting the game’s simple flocking rules for virtual cats to entice the sprites to form a never-ending fountain that is a joy to behold.” from boing boing

271kochu’s video not only displayed a hilarious cat fountain (purring effect included) but also went through explaining to others how they can build a cat fountain in Minecraft themselves. As a result there have been different style cat fountain videos posted on youtube this week and some intense discussion involving terms like “despawning” (cats in outter space).

There are about 365,000 Minecraft tutorials on Youtube, some of them better than others, guiding you step by step through building your way through the game. The catsplosion video is pretty unique in that it also stands as joke by itself making the video appealing to (cat loving) audiences outside of the Minecraft community.

So what is it with cats? and how did they find their way to a blog post about online learning? Well… I have been thinking about learning online (ALOT) these past months due to the work I have been doing over at School of Webcraft and p2pu.org . This is an exciting time for (online) learning, especially with open initiatives such as MITx and Standford online courses as well as all the startups in the field; from Skillshare to Khan Academy. Despite all this happening, for me there is still a big problem with learning on the web; it doesn’t look like the web (which in turn, looks a lot like a catsplosion).  

Let’s begin by acknowledging that one of the problems with learning online is that it looks too much like learning offline; there are “courses” and “teachers” and “students.” And there are some brilliant “courses” and “teachers” and “students” out there, but at the same time the web does not look like a classroom; it is ruled by different norms and motivations. As a result learning online is often not engaging (unless its a Vi Hart tutorial) ,doesn’t scale (really scale, like in a catsplosion way) and there is a challenge, when it comes to assessing different types of learners (even if you are Codeacademy).

Now back to cats, and the webs’ most famous cat in particular.

The original Nyan Cat video has been viewed 66,747,131 times. A 100 hour version of it has been viewed 5,215,054 times- which is hard to believe but there you go- and there are around 4,000 remixes, including 168 flag versions of Nyan Cats (here is a hilarious greek one  in tribute to my motherland) and some versions of a cat looking at a cat looking at a Nyan Cat video.

So what is it about (Nyan) cats? Well for starters there is something relatively bizzare about them. Its a sense of humor that resonates with us regarding anything weird on the internetz. Moreover there is playfulness in engaging with these videos. As a viewer you take on a silly mindset and follow along the narrative of a tart looking cat with a rainbow flag flying into space - because within that context its really exceptionally engaging. So what if online learning had a sense of web-infused humor? what if it was playful and hilarious at times.

The other thing with cats, is that clearly their appeal has a massive scale. You tube has a nice function where you can see the stats for each video, including when it picks up traffic. It’s especially insightful when it comes to viral videos. The Nyan Cat for example otherwise known as Pop Tart Cat was posted as a gif animation on the daily comics site LOL-COMICS run by illustrator Chris Torres on April 2nd, 2011. On April 5th the animation was posted on Youtube by saraj00n  but it was only till April 12th, when the popular show Tosh.0’s blog linked to it that it became viral. (more on all the Nyan cat history here )

So what if online learning went viral? what if sharing and curating content were part of the actual learning process.

Finally, wether its Nyan cats, breading cats or catsplosions, one great thing about the web is that you can remix it and make it your own. The (great-er) thing about that, when it comes to video memes, is that people make remixes of an original meme really well - sometimes even better than the original ones. They spend time and put a lot of effort to add a new perspective, a new punchline and get assessed by the number of views, shares and likes that come along with the endorsements of their peers. So what if assessment was embedded within what people make on the web? within the remixes they post and the reputation they gain. 

Before you get all catted-out, what I m trying to get to in the post is that we have an opportunity here to do things differently, we don’t have to follow the (out-of date) classroom model when it comes to learning online. We can make learning on the web look like the web. And if that involves your occasional web-animal, so be it.

Reaching the end of these lazy Saturday scriblings, I leave you with another bunch of famous web-animals. Till next time-brohoof!

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