How I approach teaching a new course – the state of my art.

People have heard alot about it… but Open Ed 09 was a transformative experience for alot of people. The four months i spent thinking about the presentation that i did there, the responses to it, and the wicked discussions i had there did much to focus my feelings about learning and how one goes about trying to ensure that that kind of thing might happen in ones ‘classroom’.

The course and the challenge.
So i had this quick conversation with George. This kind of thing is never good.

[30/07/09 6:23:10 PM] George Siemens: dave
[30/07/09 6:23:20 PM] George Siemens: you’re generally bored without a lot of free time, right?
[30/07/09 6:23:32 PM] George Siemens: wait, I mean, with a lot of free time
[30/07/09 6:23:34 PM] dave cormier: yes. that’s me

It seems that George wanted me to teach something similar (and I’m still not sure how similar) to the Introduction to Emerging technology course we taught last winter. The only catch, and this is the tricky part, is that he wants me to teach it IN FRENCH. And, while my last name is Cormier, and I spent my first five years of school in a little French acadian school in Norther New Brunswick, I have not done a terribly huge amount of professional work in French.

However, what it does present me is a wonderful opportunity to assess the way that I put a course together, the assumptions that I make and the things that i take for granted. I’m going to do my best to record that process and incorporate the new clarity that i think i have about the practical applications

OER (Open Educational Resources) is the dictionary of our time
I designed all my slides for opened on the plane ride from PEI to Vancouver. I had the images on my netbook, gimp loaded and open office ready to go. (thanks for images @cribchronicles). I knew that i didn’t like the idea of people/communities being seen/used as resources, but i wasn’t able to figure out what i thought the role of these resources were. If a person believes that discourse and collaboration are the best ways to acquire/create knowledge wither the content? On the flight one of the images that bonnie had found on flickr of an old dictionary combined with a Dale Spender quote (Print made the Dictionary) made it clear to me. OER is the dictionary of our time. It is the foundational knowledge base that will provide the common semantic that the dictionary has provided for the last 300 years. This means (among other things)

  • That definitions will be about tracking use in multiple locations (meaning is use – Wittgenstein)
  • Knowledge building will be an overt mashup rather than the implicit one we’ve had before
  • Content will live outside of the curriculum
  • Teaching will slide on the towards the ‘leader’ side of the ‘leader’/’teller’ continuum

Web 2 vs. Open education (george again.)
In a recent blog post addressing concerns about flatworld knowledge… George included this little tidbit

This is a central conflict in web 2.0 vs. open source. Web 2.0 has few of the ideals of the open source movement. For many users, this is fine – free is the desirable trait. Monetarily free is not without cost.

I’m taking his quote out of context… but what popped into my head was that this was one of the other big things that cleared up for me at OpenEd. Openness matters a great deal to me, and, while it’s sometimes harder or even counter-intuitive to someone brought up and trained in our society, it works. I’ve always had problems with the idea of trading ‘no-money’ for ads. I still use gmail and can’t seem to break the habit… but it bothers me. But the difference between the two is the same difference that i feel between a simple network and a community. In an Open context i see there being a responsibility to the discussion you are contributing to. The people… and the knowledge matters.

Applying this to my teaching
One of the core precepts of my teaching around emerging tech has been that what i currently know, in the specific sense, about tools or approaches, is probably not what my students need to know. The experience that i have using different kinds of tools, thinking about how I have failed with things before, and the idea of integrating them into my practice without really worrying too much about them, however, i think might be more useful to them. I’ve always agreed with the people who consider ‘teaching education’ a bit odd, and like to stay in subject matter discussions, context analysis and people own context as much as possible.

The last course was designed to do a number of things. Hopefully give some people a sense of using things in context, covering some theory existent in the field and getting people ready for the rest of the certificate program. I felt during and have since that while we tried to include a couple of overarching assignments designed to give ongoing context to the sections that it didn’t really work the way i had hoped. This time (when i was still going to be teaching it in English) I was going to include six running discussions that would be the locus of discussion for all the assignments. Essentially one moodle topic called ‘discussions’ which would include 6 discussions spaces addressing themes. Yes. moodle. it’s what they use. and will work fine for this.

But now. Now i have the theory clear in my mind. The OER stuff is the stuff of weekly work and the discussion spaces are the knowledge contextualizing places (i wish i could say co-creating just to irritate @fncll but i think he may be right about that word). The OER provide the ground floor, the common language of the discussion and the discussion is where the learning happens. The trick, then, is going to be the creation of those 6 main themes, and how much is co-created with the students and how much I want to influence that. I could go with themes from the field (maybe IP, openness etc.) or go with goals from the students in terms of what they are trying to get out of this course, or speaking about it in terms of their own context and how things will apply to specific contextual issues. I don’t know yet… but at least now i have a way of thinking about it.

So it’s in french – How do i start?
The first thing i did was go out and join a community. I am now a proud member of http://apprendre2point0.ning.com (learning 2.0) and am using that community as a jumping off point to finding resources as well as a place to start the discussion in french. I have specific literacies to acquire(where is that stupid french question mark) there are a lot just broad language issues to establish but, more importantly, the subtlety of the language. In what ways does the french word réseau = network and how is it different. It’s forcing me to assess every story that i’ve ever used as a default example for something and wonder what kind of philosophy it is supporting. The community has been great, people have started helping already, I just have to get comfortable enough to start giving back… something i’ve not done yet in the 6 or 7 days i’ve been in it. Better get comfortable with that before classes start 🙂

I’m am looking for acorns. I have a little tree over at the ltc.manitoba wiki where i am gathering those acorns for use during the course. Little bits of OER that might come in useful, that discusses some of the stuff that I think might come up. If you look at the course that goerge and I taught, you’ll see many of these acorns strewn about the course. But i’ve got my mind, now, around what i’m doing with them and where they fit in my hierarchy of importance.

Maybe this is obvious to everyone else… but it’s been huge for me. I’m not sure I’m even doing anything different… but i have a much better idea of WHY i’m doing it.

  • I’m favouring open source because openness matters because its responsibility based and encourages the right kind of responsibility for learning
  • I’m looking for OERs because they are the foundation of establishing a common semantic for discussion much like the dictionary was for the 18th century
  • I’m using discussion forums to bridge my course because it contextualizes the OERs and gives a locus for knowledge building and ends up being where the learning happens.