Community Curriculum – eight days into the course.

I thought I might contribute the the we are media project by making a reflection on my current teaching practice. I’ve spent most of the last two weeks working on “educational technology and the adult learner” a course being delivered to education students here on PEI. The course had no existing curriculum and it gave me a real chance to take a run at actually making the curriculum come out of the community interactions that were happening in the classroom. I’ll be making a series of reflections on this, tonight, an overview of goals.

There were three main goals that I was hoping for from the course… all hoping to change the focus from ‘the material’ to the ‘experience’.

A Reverse Curriculum
An archival record of learning directed, organized and created by the students… there was no other curriculum outside of the sketch syllabus posted in my last post, much of which was layed aside as community interests moved us to more natural ground. The reason i like to think of this as a reverse curriculum is that it tends to develop out of the interests that the students show during the course and they get to record and create the material as part of their daily practice. It is part creative zone, part class note record and part review space. The constant revisitation of the material for sorting, upkeep and improvement also serves to reinforce the material.

This also means that the students are, in effect, creating the work in the classroom with a specific audience in mind. Them. Six months from now. The students were repeatedly encouraged that they would forget some part of the work they were doing and that their inclass ‘book building’ (drupal book… essentially a wiki) should be directed at themselves, months from now, coming up with an idea and needing to be reminded of it. It’s also been a really nice live model of the pros and cons of live co-creation of knowledge.

One deep skill per student
Over the course of the uh… course, we’ve covered all of the standard issues, tools and strategies in the social software and desktop technology space that can support learning (list in forthcoming post with more details on curricular content), but, instead of expecting broad based reportable knowledge on each of these skills each learner was responsible for finding something new during the first week of the intensive course (ostensibly that they hadn’t heard of before) and present it to the class in week two. Students were very strongly encouraged to teach us ‘in context’ and prepare the material in such a way as to give us a clear sense of the context that they were writing from. This serves a variety of purposes

  1. The literacies that are learned from searching, learning and presenting a tool/strategy/method in a short period of time with only a community and the internet to lean on are critical to life long learning
  2. The first attempt at delivering this kind of content can lead people back to ‘old habits’ and a classroom can be a safe place to try new delivery methods.
  3. One deep skill, well understood, is more likely to inspire the confidence that the other three things you might have seen during the class are also adoptable when they become necessary in your practice

Community Literacies esp. Community commitment
Maybe the most important part of the of a course like this are the community literacies that are accumulated through a community enquiry into new material. The learners found that they could work together and rely on each other. They wrote nightly reflections and commented and helped each other with their work and reactions to the course. the sense of ‘competition’ between students evaporated. A sense of responsibility to the work at hand became stronger as the students found less and less direct guidance coming from the front of the room.

They also got a sense of how I relate with my own online community and how that serves me in my own professional and, indeed, personal ways. Knowing that we have a community to rely on can be as much an emotional support to our practice as a technical one. Each student has remarked, in one sense or another, how their nightly blogging (closed, sadly) has allowed them to understand that they weren’t alone in their moments of frustration or overwhelmedness. Thinking of your professional life as something that can contain a community that can do all those things can be a very powerful realization.

What we didn’t do.
What we did not focus on was outlining the ‘takeaways’ that students needed to bring out of the course itself, at least, not in a communal sense. There was a palapable sense from the first day that the students themselves came from very different backgrounds and any focus on particular outcomes outside of the somewhat ephemeral ones stated above lead to the kind of co-depency and artificial structure that tend to be superimposed on the learning process in order to bureaucratize it.

In a very real sense, each of those students will be taking a very different set of takeaways from this course, related to what they themselves put in, how they contributed to the community and where they are going to take those new literacies when they go back to their own professional practice.

There was no guided step by step instruction from me. All learning happened by suggestion, and mostly with modelling and contextualization after the fact. A rather jarring way to learn, but by the second week, the learners were willing to tackle any new task with no real prompting.

More on the specific breakdown of actual curriculum covered and ‘class leadership’ concepts that evolved in future posts.

Most useful thing I said during the course? READ THE PAGE. The students use it as a talisman for confusion, the stop, they breathe, and try again. Just an amazing group to spend two weeks with.

8 thoughts on “Community Curriculum – eight days into the course.

  1. If we focus on how the course was delivered, it really made sense to allow the learner to commit to their own learning. The course design was swayed by each student. Each student brought with them previous experiences and knowledge. This allowed each of us to work together, by drawing on each others strengths. As we developed the curriculum, we took pride in what each of us contributed. We revisited the material that we wrote, we expanded on our thoughts and we encouraged one another when we felt we could learn no more. We created an environment where learning was co-created by the students.

    Each student is going to come away with a suitcase of information that was tailored and developed as a communal document. As students, we were able to learn so much material because the information was interlinked and interwoven within each piece of it. This strengthened out foundation and created a base, where our knowledge was easily accumulated.

    Reading the page, was a common phrase used in our reflections. We recognize that we did not have to raise our hand and question what was presented, but if we took the time and navigated throughout the page, we usually were able to find the answers to our questions. Too often we throw in the towel, requesting help, even before we take the time to see if we can figure it out for ourselves.

    In the last week of class, each student presented an application, tool, or software that before the week they were unfamiliar with. It is difficult to present material when the presenter has no previous knowledge in the subject. Nevertheless, if you approached the presentation as a learning experience, then it did not have to do with your presentation skill, but it had to do with how well you were actually able to understand the application. So the skill that you learned was the actual learning of the material.

    Now, for all those people out there that read Dave’s Blog, I want you to know that he is a phenomenal teacher and if you were to know who I was, you would recognize that I wouldn’t say it unless I meant it. Likewise, I am not looking for extra points, that just isn’t me. All the same, I would like to say, thank you Dave. I have learned an amazing amount from you.

    Kim Mason

  2. Dave commented on the similar structure of the presentations this afternoon. He was even surprised to see PowerPoint used to introduce the topic. “You don’t need to know how an internal combustion engine works to know how to drive a car.” Quite true. But at the same point, you don’t put people in a car and say just try pushing pedals, pulling levers and turning ignitions and see what you can find out. If so, we’d take people to the bumper cars at Sandspit, let them play for a while, ask them if they learned anything and if they knew more than when they came we give them a drivers license. Whoa now. That’s not really going to work. We better reconsider here. What are the differences in teaching, what is going on in our classroom and what are we supposed to be learning?

    One of the differences between the class we are attending and many of the core programs at Holland College is that core programs are competency based. In ED366h there is no required level of competency in anything to achieve a passing grade. Not true for core programs. Most typically there are course outlines with specific outcomes and some still have Dacum charts with 100 or more “skills” that need to have a minimum demonstrated competency. Getting everyone to the same endpoint requires a different approach.

    Another difference is the profile of learner. This class is certainly more mature, motivated, and self directed, on average, than the typical Holland College student body. This has to be taken into account for delivery.

    How about risk? In my program areas we have saws that rip at 1000s of inches per minute, mills that will cut stainless steel like butter, car hoists that lift vehicles weighing tons, gas turbine aircraft engines that spin at 30,000rpm, 600V electrical circuits that we don’t even want to think about. What is the risk in playing in our ED366h class? If we got really lost we might trip over some porn (if Marcel will give me his log in maybe I’ll try ;).

    What is the same? Just as in our ED366h classroom we have in our core programs students of different skill levels, aptitude and interests. Certainly the jump in and play with the instructor giving mentored assistance works well for these differences. Also, the learning as a community can help knit different students with different starting points and aptitudes together to arrive at the same end point. One of the most important elements to learning is confidence. The structured approach of this afternoons presentations was a known, comfortable path that gave me confidence I would arrive at the desired end point. All of the presentations had a clear end point, Dave’s often don’t because with technology there never is an end point. Different objectives, different approaches.

    We are learning a different delivery style and also different technology tools to be used in delivery. They don’t necessarily need to be used in parallel. We need to consider each separately for their potential application. What the presentations do offer is the chance to try the different delivery style and different technologies in a benign setting.

  3. @Kim
    likewise on the learning lots Kim. This course was a bit of an experiemental journey for me… sure… I am familiar with the material but the structure had some significant flaws in it, and your questioning went a good way towards contributing to the ‘realism’ of the classroom experience that we are currently having.

    @Kent
    I agree with you Kent… certainly on all those things related to specific, find them in a manual, or learn the ‘right’ way from experience kind of lessons. We don’t want to be ‘experimenting’ with a 60 ton crane or a saw mill or with Barry’s students (they drive large commercial ships).
    The community curriculum model is designed to allow for the fact that you don’t know what you are going to get from a classroom. There was room in the syllabus, even as it was written down (let alone what was in my head) for a far more structured environment. It became clear, however, on day 3 that this was a group that needed the empowerment of the self-directed learning… the community of learners in any discipline as ephemeral as this one (media studies, marketing, business, physics might be some others) should control the curriculum as their is no ‘canon’ to teach them anyway.

  4. “An archival record of learning directed, organized and created by the students… there was no other curriculum outside of the sketch syllabus posted in my last post, much of which was layed aside as community interests moved us to more natural ground.”

    This really resonated with me, and an idea I’ve been playing around with in the context of drafting distance education materials – a blogged uncourse (cf. unconference).

    http://digitalworlds.wordpress.com started out with a sketched hierarchical mindmap of topics to be covered that informed the order of posts but did not fix it.

    By using blog categories appropriately, and the RSS feeds provided ‘for free’ by the wordpress platform for each category (and each tag), the uncourse is self disaggregating into separate topic based strands (an emergent, or reverse, curriculum topic list?).

    An informal learner can follow the main blog on a daily basis, or just subscribe to a particular category strand.

    The separate feeds can also be used to reassemble the mixed/evolving topic main blog strand in a topic based way, using a “web desktop” presentation surface such as Netvibes or Pageflakes (e.g. (http://ouseful.open.ac.uk/blogarchive/013966.html )

    By referring back to earlier posts from later posts, the WordPress Trackback mechanism also automatically annotates earlier posts with forward links to posts that refer to them.

    This link structure may or may not map onto the category/tag structure, and provides yet another way of navigating through the content.

    By harvesting the internal uncourse blog trackback links, it is possible to create a visual ‘link graph’ that depicts the emerged (reverse curriculum agian?) structure as described by posts that refer to each other (e.g. http://ouseful.open.ac.uk/blogarchive/014848.html )

  5. Hi Tony,

    That very description, the blog/netvibes one is one we discussed in class yesterday. I far prefer the decentralization and student centredness of a feedbook style classroom, where students and experts get mixed up inside a ‘course textbook’ that can be aggregated from many sources. The really nice benefit of this is that students get to keep working their blogs during and after the course.

  6. A few thoughts:
    I like the idea of the students writing their own “manuals”. A friend of mind teaches a freshman computer apps class. He realized, after a couple years, that his former students were having trouble with a project they had to complete in their senior years. So he added the unit to his own course, and has the students create instructions for themselves. Then, years later, they just refer to their own work to complete the other project.
    Kent’s point about teaching driving, or operating heavy machinery is the same one we hear in K-12 about math facts. There are some cases where there are “right ways” to do things, and those ways have to be learned. But the educational system can’t be just that anymore. We can’t survive on checklists. We have to teach our students to be collaborators, innovative thinkers, and problem solvers. That’s where these teaching and learning styles come into play.
    It sounds like it was an interesting, perhaps eye-opening experience for everyone involved.

  7. The teaching strategy for this course surprised me. I always considered technology to be science. Science is logical, linear and fixed. I expected the traditional presentation + practice + mastery. Instead we clicked and used the software. I was exposed to new programs every half hour. When I got lost along the way, I was pulled along by a classmate who understood the next step or I found my way by exploration and experimentation.
    Dave introduced the Ed366h course by giving us a reality check concerning how quickly software becomes outdated. He wanted more for us than having a working knowledge of a few tools that will change in 18 months. He wanted us to leave the course with confidence that each of us had the skills to navigate both the web and the indiviual programs of our inquiry.
    There is no way I would have learned as much in so little space of time without this “computer immersion” approach. An intuitive feel for the sites we visited began to develop as the commonality in navigation and commands became apparent. A fellow student astutely observed that the high tech status of the webworld was being “debunked” and “we have the power.” I like that.
    Even if the strategy was valid and executed as planned, the key was the trust that Dave secured from each of us through his calm and humor.

  8. Was this course for me? At first, I didn’t think so, but it turned out that it was for me and a lot of other people as well. We had a few dropouts on the first day, but the ones that stayed on board became enthusiasts. Attendance from day 2 on was close to 100%. People had to be kicked out of the computer lab at the end of the day. Our course website was highly active after hours.

    I came from a workplace background where every few years I would learn a new piece of desktop software, use it for awhile, and then it became outdated or I changed jobs. I thought that this was going to be more of the same. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This course was a template for implementing technology into an
    educational program, workplace training situation, or even project management. All you
    need is some basic computer skills and an ability to use the internet. If you are; a person who is new to IT, someone who is riding along in an outdated IT bubble, or a tech-savvy
    whiz, you will enjoy this course.

    I am in my first year of teaching a trade program at a community college and enrolled in a CAE (certificate in adult education) program which is designed to integrate people of diverse backgrounds, with a lot of workplace experience, into teaching roles. This is my 4th course in the program, and the best so far. I can immediately apply what I’ve learned.

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