Ten years ago
Ten years ago, I started using discussion forums as a method for my students to collaborate on their writing. I started using the discussion forums because i had 275 writing students and was psychological incapable of keeping track of the paper associated with that in order to cope with my first job (at a university) that involved keeping track of student numbered grades.
I set up a discussion forum (on a server kindly donated by jeff lebow) and just set up places for students to add their initial writing pieces and allowed them to post as much as they wanted. What i noticed, almost immediately, was that the quality of student writing increased dramatically immediately. Not over the first few months or weeks… but right away. Also, I had some students who wrote 150 entries over that first term. Come to talk to the students and think about it a bit I came to these not too terribly shocking conclusions.
Hypothesis 1 – Making work public makes it better
Working in public makes students think twice about what they are contributing. Maybe for some of them its the audience available, maybe for others its because they don’t want to be embarrassed. There may be any number of reasons, but the work is better.
Hypothesis 2 – Some students like to work
Some students (not many) just want to work alot… and using an open space allows them to work as hard as they want to.
Five years ago
In the intervening time I worked around these two hypotheses, tried to perfect some ideas about them, but basically just used them more. I found moodle, which was a public/private solution that was much easier to manage, and allowed me to dodge the ‘everyone can see it’ problem that had been posed to me by some of my colleagues.
Five years ago, I started a webcast with Jeff (same guy). We started edtechtalk as another shot at seeing what could be done with audio online along some ideas jeff has about ‘homegrown webcasting’ and community. Edtechtalk has grown over the last five years, the community has probably done 1000 webcasts, we have a bunch of people registered to our newsletter and the community pretty much runs itself.
I quickly realised that i was learning more, just by being part of that community, than any other educational experience I’d had (with the possible exception of starting my first business…). I started reading and writing about what that meant, for people to just come together, without a specific plan, and learning on a regular basis, and that lead to all the crazy rhizome stuff you see on this blog.
hypothesis 3 – The community can be the curriculum
Planning the content of what you are going to learn is not necessary. The community that you are engaged in can be your curriculum.
Two years ago
Two years ago, I taught a course for UPEI called Educational technology and the adult learning (ed366). I got a chance to try out the ‘work out in the open’ and the community as curriculum in that kind of face to face way where you can really get a sense of what’s happening. I put a significant amount of work trying to create a space where students could ‘create a curriculum together’. It kinda worked, and then they stopped using it.
I had been having a suspicion about technology from my day job and from my own work online. I didn’t think that you could teach any of the practical applications of technology to people, that eventually, guided or not, they just have to take over the learning on their own.
Hypothesis 4 – Students need to own their workspace.
Students need to own their working space. Any time you control the location of people’s work, they will not integrate the work they’ve done into their future learning.
Hypothesis 5 – Adults can learn quickly
Adult learners do not need to be slowly guided to new learning. You can throw them into the deep end. It forces a commitment, a responsibility and greatly accelerates learning.
In the last year
In the last year I’ve had a chance to teach the #ed366 course again, taught a very interesting course on ‘futures’ in Singapore and have done a number of massive open online courses. I also taught an online course in french on emerging tech which did not go as planned. In each of these situations I’ve had a chance to try out some of the hypotheses that are outlined here.
One of the biggest advantages of openness (and it is one of the things that connects all of the points here) is the messiness of the process. It allows for the unexpected good and bad, to pop into a learning scenario. It approximates real life in a way that is sadly lacking from the majority of our educational encounters. There is some relationship, i think, between that desire for ‘clean’ and the prominence of the ‘print’ in our society. When you are freed from the final product, in your curriculum as well as elsewhere, it allows you to do alot more iterative learning.
Most importantly, there seems to be a direct correlation to how open a course is and how much the learning continues when the course formally ends.
Hypothesis 6 – Dealing with learner passivity is critical
learners are trained to be passive. it can be very difficult to break that pattern… mostly it just takes telling them over and over again. If you’re teaching online ‘persistent presence’ is critical for making this happen. Even people who are convinced that they are responsible for their learning, will forget and fall back to not knowing what is expected of them.
Hypothesis 7 – print controls our learning
The historical roots and technologies of print (as in on paper) have a profound controlling influence on how we see education. Deconstructing that allows learning to be iterative, reflexive and and more like life.
Hypothesis 8 – Openness leads to life long learning
The more open a course is, the more students are involved in real communities and real discussions, talking to real people in their field, the more likely they will be to continue the learning they’ve started in a course.
I’m sure there are more parts to this, and I think I’ll break this out into a longer piece that explains these in detail and allows me to ADD MORE (as this blog is pretty print like in the way that it finishes when i’m done) But i think this is a nice summation of where i am in my thinking about learning right now.