Building an introductory physics course – cMOOC meets xMOOC

Problem: How do we create a free, online introductory physics course for students transitioning into AP (advanced placement) or first year introductory physics?

Solution: Lets get all the physics teachers we can together and build it as a team.

Yeah but…: lots of those folks may be good physics teachers but they haven’t all taught online before.

Better solution: Lets build a four week ‘maker course’ for physics teachers where we talk about the best ways to build online resources and build those together at the same time!

Lets start that on the 4th of March. (Course opens on the 28th of February)
UPDATE: Dave Pritchard has agreed to come onboard to serve as one of the facilitators for the course!!!

The project – Making introductory physics prep together
Our goal is to gather as many physics educators as we can find and make resources. Specifically, we want to make resources that can be turned into a free course for students transitioning into AP or university level physics. Our hope is to end up with more resources than we need and that all participants (and other folks) can find resources and ideas that can help them in their teaching and learning. Want to find other people working on physics? Want to learn to build new things online and/or share the things that you know about building things? read on.

Who should join this course?
We’re hoping for two types of folks in the course.

  1. People who are interested in teaching physics, whether you’ve been doing it for two years or twenty years.
  2. People with lots of experience building stuff online.

Bringing together people’s experience and collaborating on our ideas will make the work better.

What’s the fine print?
First of all… the maker course is free. All and any materials created in the course (by everyone, including the course facilitators) will be licenced Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Commons_license so that we can all benefit from the work we are doing together. You are free to participate to whatever extent you wish, but if you join a ‘maker team’ you are committing yourself to doing the work for that team. The central part of the course will use the EdX platform, but we will also have facebook, twitter and google + groups. No need to join them all but different people like to work in different places.

It’s a four week commitment. The ‘maker teams’ will each be responsible for one area of introductory physics and will focus on those. Other participants are welcome to help, contribute, and collaborate as they see fit. This is our first time trying this, so the more help we get the better.

Classroom scholarships
At the end of the course we will award a number of scholarships to teachers working in the course. Prizes will be awarded in a number of categories, but only to participants who ‘finish’ the course. We are hoping to encourage completion, on one hand, but also to provide people with the tools and resources in the classrooms to create new and interesting resources to support physics teaching.

Project Background
This project is the brainchild of Piotr Mitros (Chief Scientist at EdX) and I (dave). We spent 12 hours driving around on a bus together in June arguing about how we could integrate the work that I’ve been doing with cMOOCs with the work that he’s been doing with xMOOCs. This project is our first run at it. Imagine a community of educators coming together once a year for four weeks to work on the curriculum for a transitions course for physics students from all over the world. How cool would that be? Well… if it works, we’ll see 🙂

SIGN UP HERE

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Grant information
The University of Prince Edward Island is a successful applicant of a competitive grant competition run by Athabasca University (Principal Investigator: George Siemens). This project, the MOOC Research Initiative, will advance understanding of the role of MOOCs in the education sector and how emerging models of learning will influence traditional education. The MOOC Research Initiative is a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Books making us stupid – too soon?

A bridge too far
I keep saying this to myself. For those of you not familiar with mega-cast war films from the seventies, the protagonists in the film referenced in the title try to get the whole war they are in ended in one attack by capturing three bridges. The last bridge, though bravely captured and defended, is lost and the venture is left unfinished. The war continues on. This… is how I feel about week 4. The book thing has not gone as planned – people seemed to think i want to get rid of all books. I do not. I wanted to juxtapose the Nicolas Carr lambasting of google against his enlightenment attachments to books. Google makes us think shallowly. How do books make us think? Is it actually great, or are we just used to it?

Why the book week is important
This course is meant to be a process of unbundling and bricolage. Of challenging the assumptions that underly what we call learning and then, as we come to the closing weeks, finding new assemblages that we can use to help us move further down the road. I see the book as a symbol of the bundled. Of the pre-fabricated. Of centralized, expert driven content. I also see a house of my own entirely clogged with books of all sorts. I challenge ‘book as construct,’ not by wanting to burn them or throw them out or turn away from them, but to take apart the ways in which we see them to see what they are doing to us.

I challenge the book the same way i challenge consumerism – not by wanting to stop being a consumer, I like things, but by thinking deeply about it to understand where it impacts what I am doing.

Book as curriculum
The book in all of its bound paper glory, is a powerful instrument. There are books written by all kinds of people saying all kinds of things. Some good, some bad, and yes, we should be critical about what we read. My critique is about something other than this. Those books were all written by people. Real people. The book is an artifice (often necessary, particularly when those people are dead) a cultural artifact that separates us from the person who’s idea were reading. It is a one to many artifact – no matter how many book clubs deconstruct it. It is broadcast. It is lecture.

I love an awesome lecture. But it is not what i want from education… it should be rare rather than omnipresent because a lecture is very different than an interactive session. A keynote different from a breakout room.

The book is a DEEPLY embedded artifact in the minds of almost all ‘educated’ people.

A book different from a community.

(more on this in week 5)

A dave gone too far – Apologies again to Jenny
I have not done well by the excellent Jenny Mackness’s blog (or by Jenny). I have posted two comments there that have not reflected how i see myself as a participant in the community of learning. I was frustrated with myself for not getting my point across and, I think, that leaked over there. My apologies Jenny.

Is books making us stupid? behind the curtain of #rhizo14

The rhizomatic learning course #rhizo14 is the first open course I’ve ever taught without affiliation. (though certainly being employed by my university and having an invested and interested partner allows me to have the ‘free time’ to pursue it) I have no partner that I’m working with or no school supporting it. This is the educational exploration I’ve been doing for the last 8-9 years, and I invited whoever may want to join to come along with me for the ride. It is, in many ways, the vision of MOOCs that I have had since we first starting talking about them in 2008. The course participation has been fascinating… and enlightening. Don’t take my word for it, check out some of the highlights for yourself on Cathleen Nardi’s curation page. The course is being ‘designed’, if you can call it that, to expose the concepts of rhizomatic learning through a succession of challenges. The challenges have been developed on the fly based on my sense of what might help push the conversation to a new and interesting place. They are structured to challenge the cultural assumptions that are prevalent around learning and to have people share their responses to it.

Challenge 1 – Cheating as learning
This was a blind opener. I had to have a topic to get conversation started in the first week and this is the place i usually start in my first week of my face2face classes. I started out purposefully vague with this topic with the hope that it would allow for a greater number of perspectives around the power structures that support cheating. That seemed to work. We got power and ethics and lots of fun stuff. More than anything, I was hoping to break down the teacher/student divide and trouble who was responsible for deciding who was learning and how they should be doing that. It might, also, start conversations around collaboration.

Here’s the intro video.

Challenge 2 – Enforcing Independence
This was intended as a counterpoint to week 1. Yes, the student is responsible for learning. Yes, our traditional system is a command and control structure better built for enforcement of norms than for the nurturing of creativity. Sure. We need independent learners. But how do we get there. We’re not starting from a blank slate. We can’t just reset the last 150 years of schooling and start over. We need to create classroom and non-classroom learning structures that slowly move people towards independence. We need to live inside the paradox of telling people to do what they need to do and to judge themselves by their own goals and objectives.

Here’s the intro video

Challenge 3 – Embracing Uncertainty
Encouraging people towards independence is one thing, creating an ecosystem where multiple answers are possible is something else entirely. Uncertainty is a part of most of our real lives, it is very much part of the learning process that we live outside of ‘schooling’. It takes a long time for my students to get over the sense that there is a hidden series of things i want them to believe, and that my attempts to have them create their own objectives is just reflective of sadistic tendencies. I have to embrace my own uncertainty around things, and the uncertainty around the things that I know about, in order to demonstrate that as a goal for learning. Those goals aren’t about knowing right/wrong but rather being able to make reasonable decisions when confronted by uncertainty. If this is the new goal of learning, it fundamentally changes the way you go about it.

Intro video

Challenge 4 – Is books making us stupid?
I got really strong support for independence and for uncertainty… to strong I thought. I expected a little more pushback. I decided to ask the question in a different way, one that maybe went more to the core of our beliefs about knowledge. Many of us (me included) have been brought up to adore the idea of the book, to revere the smell of one. We have found solace in books, escape, the voices of the past… all kinds of things. But the book is a technology and it has it’s own logic to it. It’s own set of affordances. It is very easy, for instance, to see a book linearly. It starts at the beginning and moves on to the end. Sure… you can jump into the middle and read it backwards if you want, but that is you disrupting the technology.

My hope for this week was to trouble the relationship between printed, unmodifiable text and learning. The responses have been pretty divergent… I’m in no way suggesting that books haven’t had a very valuable historical place. I’m not suggesting that I don’t want to read them. I do, however, think that we have lost a fair amount of value in our cultural move towards the book-type text. Are books ‘more right’? Do they encourage the tendency to look for a ‘correct’ answer? Was socrates right when he suggested that writing would mean people wouldn’t think for themselves that they’d just ‘read it’?

I also think, and I get into this more in the ramble below about Nicholas Carr, that the book heavily privileges people of a certain ‘tradition’.

The question of the book and of its primacy is fundamental to community curriculum… hence it’s placement here in the course.

Intro video

Note on the title and darker critique and rambling
Nicholas Carr wrote an article called “Is google making us stupid”, in which he critiques our ‘get answers at your fingertips’ google fuelled world. In response to Socrates’ warnings about writing, he suggests “Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).” And I agree with him, those things did happen. But at what cost? We moved from ideas moving towards fluidity to them becoming more truth based. And now I’m suggesting that we can have both worlds, if we leave behind the trapping of the technology of paper. A return to orality need neither be us turning over our culture to mindless interaction nor a complete divestiture of books… just of a primacy of complexity over simplicity. Of conversation over printed-text.

He continues…

“The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.”

And herein lies the rub. The book promotes independence of thought, our ‘own’ ideas and our ‘own’ inferences. It promotes possession. It reifies the things we are reading and makes them a thing that can belong to a person. There is value in this. But there is also a fundamental difference between an idea that I HAVE that I DEFEND against someone else and an ongoing conversation that develops BETWEEN people.

He quotes Richard Foreman saying the following –

“I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.””

If we look to the life lived by Foreman and Carr’s Dartmouth/Harvard education, it doesn’t take a huge stretch for us to see that the ‘tradition’ that they are talking about doesn’t necessarily include all of us. Much like similar critiques from Sherry Turkle, the ‘we’ might not extend to the rest of ‘us’.

Who does the ‘tradition’ of the book serve?

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.” For you… I quote a book that tells of a conversation where meaning is up for negotiation.