Rhizomatic Education course – Technical Lessons

This is number two in an at least three part reflection on my Educational Technology and the Adult Learner course that I completed last week. I’m saving the ‘what i learned as a teacher’ post for last, so that I have all the grades finished and a full reflection is possible. For this particular (and probably shorter) post, I’d like to sketch out some of my tech design ideas.

You can now visit the website, I had to remove two students information (at their request) but got permission from the other students to share their quite excellent work with you all, and hope that it in some way contributes to the ongoing discussion of teacher training, reverse curriculum usages and my own discussion on rhizomatic learning. See http://edugrids.org

Drupal – the platform
The website was built in drupal six. I’ll post a copy of the build here on the website in a couple of weeks once i’ve cleaned it out for anyone who thinks it may be of help as a start for their own educational websites. It was designed as a site for a single class, with all the navigation intended to serve one class in particular and in no way designed to interact with the outside world. I kept the module selection fairly vanilla, just the usual suspects

      fckeditor (with aspell add on, by overwhelming student request)
      userplus (excellent funnymonkey module)

Design approach
I went for an ‘add don’t take away’ design approach to this website. In the first iteration, the students had access to three navigation buttons across the top –

  • my work (view of all of an individual student’s work),
  • my planning page (rebranded my account page, included personal descriptions, course goals and a literacy plan)
  • reflections for review (a view of recent blog posts, sorted by day then by how many comments they had received)

On the side navigation they had the created content button which offered them book, blog and image options. There was an additional sidebar which had the syllabus in it, and eventually grew into the reverse curriculum document, essentially a book with completely open editing rights.

A few other options were added, the contact button and browse by learner (mostly for me) but the students found the simplicity of options and navigation… well… actually they didn’t say anything about it. Which I take as the highest compliment. They were all working in it from day one, and other than two students who registered with email addresses they couldn’t access from inside our classroom, things went pretty smoothly.

URLS (pathauto/token)
I included the day, week, author name and raw title in each of the urls. I just found this the easiest way for me to figure out where i was at a glance of the url and also to use that to sort the content. It’s easy enough to sort in other ways, but i find url sorting to be very tidy… personal preference I guess.

Weird date thingy on the student projects page
You’ll notice on the student projects section that all the pages start with a number followed by a time. I did this (on the spur of the moment) in order to allow the students to choose their presentation day at the same time. They ‘added a child page’ to the book page and were instructed to use the number representing the day of the week followed by the time they wanted. Worked like a charm… not elegant, but… waddaya gonna do. It makes a really nice reference page AND made it so that they could contribute simultaneously.

I used the chatroom in order to give students a way to co-create knowledge during the presentation of other students. If you flip through the pages, you’ll notice chat records. I didn’t, sadly, end up using the chatroom installed on the site. It seemed to work fine, but i just didn’t feel like i knew it well enough to trust it for student interaction… so i used the edtechtalk chatroom. 😛

I put this together pretty quickly, and spent the vast majority of the time worrying about the syllabus and a very small amount of time worrying about the site itself. It could easily be adapted for multiple classes, but I just wanted a sleak simple interface that would give me my few requirements. Simple user interface. Encourage blogging comments. Allow for co-creation of textbook. Allow for student connections via tags. Allow for personal descriptions via profile. Allow for easy browsing.

overall lessons
My instinct with this build was to stay as simple as humanly possible. No frills, and nothing that could break or confuse the students. Want video? upload it outside and copy and paste the code in. Want editing functions? you’ve got bold, a few more (and i broke on the spelling… wow… did they ever want a spell checker). Some of the students really seemed to identify with the site and the work that they were doing. Most of that was them, some of that might have been my teaching… the website did it’s job… stayed out of the way and structured the habitat within which the real work got done.

upnext – my lessons as a ‘person who stands up and tries to help people learn stuff’.

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.

Community as curriculum a syllabus (starts tomorrow)

Here’s the syllabus for the course i start tomorrow morning. It’s my first shot at what a community curriculum course might look like. It takes into account some of the realities (moodle and angel are the prevaling course management systems on the island) tries to bridge traditional learning and then hand the learning over to the student by the second week.

The syllabus is pretty much out of date as soon as I post it, as I’ll be tinkering with it, and adjusting it to the feedback of the students and my own experiences in the course. I would, therefore, LOVE some feedback from you folks to help refine where i can. 2 week course, 10 3 1/2 hour sessions, 27 students, educators (and, I guess, educators to be) across many different professions.

Welcome to Educational Technology and the Adult Learner.

This is a course comprised of adult learners looking to acquire and refine skills directed toward teaching future adult learners. Key to this course is the concept of networking, in the community sense rather than the technological. Each of you in this class will be a primary part of your classmates’ curriculum and learning experience. In a world where technologies change very quickly and what is new or current is always fluid, a focus on ideas about technologies and strategies for drawing on and collating resources is more sustainable than an emphasis on teaching mastery of any specific technologies.

Therefore, while a sufficient quantity of tools, training and tricks will be presented to satisfy the technophile, this course is an exploration of what the technology can facilitate, educationally and professionally. It is only through the use of new technologies that certain kinds of knowledge building and community-based learning can occur, and these are the specific literacies that are emphasized in this course. The goals of learning to approach and assess new technologies on the fly, and to utilize Web 2.0 skills to filter the mass of ‘newness’ and focus in on the applications that will most satisfy a learner/educator’s curricular goals will also be primary.

The course is broken down into two major sections; week 1 and week 2. The first week is focused on group work and research. Learners will be expected to explore three different learning platforms/environments and both evaluate the systems and produce learning materials that will work in each one. Week 2 will focus almost entirely on ‘community curriculum’, wherein learners will research and present one learning object that is relevant to their own environment, and classsmates will be required to respond and interact with those pieces.

Community Grading Rubric

Personal Learning Plan – Students must submit an eportfolio (My Work – top of website page) and will be assessed on their ability to complete a personal learning plan developed during the course. This portfolio will include reflective blog posts as well as upkeep of the (My Planning Page – top of website page) with relevant acquired literacies.

Course participation and Group Work – Students are responsible for responding to the work of other students (Reflections for review – top of website page), specifically commenting on reflective posts and commenting on their learning object plan. They are also responsible for the learning objects created by the group during the first week of the course.

Community as Curriculum project plan – Students are responsible for choosing one educational technology tool, technological method, or community plan and developing a project plan for including it in their own practice that includes a learning object as well as the reasoning for its inclusion in their own context. This will be then be presented in a ten minute presentation to the class. All materials will be released creative commons so that all students can use this material in their classes.

Community Curriculum

When dealing with a discipline where knowledge is a moving target, or where differing ideas of what is good or best practice can co-exist quite comfortably, it can be very helpful to use the community of learners itself as the curriculum.

This is especially true of the field of educational technology. What may be ‘true’ or ‘current’ in one year might be entirely outdated and left behind in the next. Every day new best practices are developed and new efforts are made to push the envelope a little further. The traditional reaction to this is to try and ‘keep current’ with all the work that is going on. This is, however, a mistake. They key is to find a community of trusted people from whom to learn, and to whom you can contribute.

This course is designed to simulate and, hopefully, emulate this form of curriculum building and model these life long learning skills. Each student will be responsible for contributing to the curriculum, and for participating in the development of other student’s work.

Day 1 – Self Assessment, goal setting and ‘helper tools’

The purpose of the first day of classes will be to take a good look at our existing practice. We need to identify ‘transparent technologies’ in the classroom and make a distinction between these and the helper technologies that we will be employing to keep track of information and work throughout our course. Goal is to get students to set objectives for themselves.


1. Introduction to the general concepts of ‘educational technology and the adult learner.’
2. Personal Learning Plan and the community rubric.
3. Personal reflective responses.

Activity – Tagging ourselves – paper edition

DIscussion – Groups – What literacies do we need?

Activity – Tagging ourselves – digital edition

Outputs – First draft of personal learning plan, groups selected, tagging explored, first reflection written.

Didactic pieces by dave. (time dependent)

tagging – connecting the pieces.

Structure – All collaborative work comes down to whether the ‘structure’ is working. Fantastic work by students and instructors can easily be lost by not taking 30 seconds to consider where your work fits into the whole.

Goal Setting

As this community of learners that makes up this course will necessarily be at different levels of experience in teaching generally and the facilitation and use of technologies in particular, it is necessary for each student to chart out their own learning path through the course. It is also the responsibility of their colleagues to help them with advice and to learn from different people’s goals.

We will each fill out a “Learning Plan” which will include a variety of goals that the individual student will be attempting to achieve during the course of this course, and, at the end, what goals they might set for themselves as they leave the course.
Helper Tools

Del.icio.us – This tool will allow us to share a variety of tools and websites while we are working our way through internet research. It will also keep a record for you of the websites that you visited during the course.

Skype – is an instant messaging and VOIP (voice over IP) tool that allows for a variety of community style interactions. It can be essential for getting information quickly.

Google – Seems silly maybe, but effective use of google can find the answer to most any question

Technorati – And when google doesn’t seem to get you the answer, try the blogs. There is a huge educational technology blogosphere… use them.

flickr – Photos are great, and a tool like flickr can bring alot to a classroom. Having students take digital snapshots of busted engines might seem strange, but its a great record keeping tool.

youtube etc… – video sites can be a great resource for training materials.

Screencasts – I think this might be the most useful teaching tool available to the educator when dealing with technology.

This Website – See some things missing, like blogging and wikis… they are included in the course website, I decided to go that way because I’m comfortable with this technology. Comfort is important.

pageflakes – Just to illustrate the possibilities outside this website, I’ve included a pageflakes page that will aggregate the course content as well.

Self Assessement

Self Assessment is a critical part of any fruitful learning experience. It is necessary to understand what tools we bring to the table before we take the time and effort necessary to develop a new set of literacies. It’s important to remember that this should not only include ‘technical literacies’ which, while important, are often not as critical as teaching skills, organizational skills, the ability to focus on a task or any other of the myriad of skills that professionals acquire and perfect over the course of their careers.

Day 2 – Community Learning

Learning to use educational technologies in a vacuum, that is, without the value of a filtering community is very difficult. What most successful educational technologists are doing is finding communities of educators with like interests, and learning from them. Choose groups for formal educational project.

Didactic pieces by dave.

Blogging – An introduction to blogging, both as a useful source of knowledge and as a way of creating effective community.

Rhizomatic Knowledge and Connectivism – How curriculum can be formed when things are changing quickly.

Day 3 – Moodle

Moodle is a content management system and more specifically a Virtual Learning Environment, a Learning Content Management System and a Course Management System. There are other names for it, but, suffice it to say, it stores your courses online. It is open source and free to download and install on any given server that you can find. Our moodle course http://moodle.upei.ca/course/view.php?id=585 Moodle planning.

Didactic pieces by dave.

Discussion Forums – Discussion forums (aka bulletin board system, threaded discussions) can be a very effective participation tool. Students can be given a variety of different power situations and it can be used for a variety of ‘process’ tasks.

Wikis – Wikis can be used for many different things, from schedule building to creating online resource repositories.

Setting of objectives.

1. Create an audience for the exercise

2. create exercise in moodle

Day 4 – Angel

Our Angel Sandbox http://sam.hollandcollege.com/section/default.asp?id=dave_cormier_s_sandbox

ANGEL’s web-based teaching and learning tools allow educators to Get Perspective on student performance, Take Action to interact and intervene, and See Results of student achievement.

We will be approaching Angel with much the same plan as the one we had for Moodle. The intent will be to assess the ways in which the learning management systems are similar and to discover ways in which general strategies can be applied to any learning scenario.

Didactic pieces by dave.

Reading the page – Learning to use software can often be as simple as reading the text that is on the page. Most professional software systems have that information present… too often left unread.

Doing it Live – There are a variety of reasons to have syncronous or asynchronous sections to a course. Live chat, streaming and twitter can be helpful, but sometimes giving people the time to think is essential.

Day 5 – Evaluating tools and projects (day 2 – day 4)

Throughout this week we will have evaluated and created learning resources using two content management systems as well as explored the idea of online community learning. The groups will spend this day creating learning reflections and solidifying the work that was done in the three platforms into a definitive format for the learning portfolios. 2 modules

Day 6 – Community learning and Community Curriculum 1

The first part of this day will be to reflect on the work from the week before. We will then spend considerable time preparing for incorporating the community curriculum project. The instructor will present his two last contextualized pieces, and the students will model and discuss various productive ways of engaging with the prsentation in preparation for the student presentations for the rest of the week. The first few students who are prepared to present this day should present in the second half of the class.

Day 7 Cool Tools and Community Curriculum 2

This day will start with a whirwind tour of some of the more cutting edge tools available for teaching. The Openhabitat project and the living archives project will be featured prominently as well as some potential use cases from a variety of educational contexts.

Day 8 Teacher Stories and Community Curriculum 3

Several educational professionals from different contexts will be invited to present (via skype) to the class. Jennifer Maddrell has just completed teaching a 24 hour course with transit tranining authorities for the State of New York. There are many literacies that can only be acquired through experience, the purpose of this class will be to explore and catalogue those experiences wherever possible.

Day 9 Special Issues and Community Curriculum 4

There are a variety of ‘special issues’ that will no doubt be referenced a various point throughout the course but will be covered in more detail during this class. They include internet security, creative commons licensing and adapating for learners with a disability.

Day 10 Bridging to the future and Community Curriculum 5

The first part of this class will be taken up by the remainder of the community curriculum presentation. The remainder will involve reflecting on the work that was done, a review of the planning page to examine what literacies were acquired and to develop strategies to maintain as many of those literacies as possible.

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