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’.

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