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 (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.

Open Ed 09 – My debutants ball.

Bonnie has an expression that she used to use talking about a zone that I used to get into more than I do now. ‘public dave’. Public dave is a bit of a machine I’m afraid. There is no conversation that he does not want to be involved in, no thing is beyond his desire to know or hear about it and no situation exists for which he does not want to tell a story. This is what happened at Open Ed. I arrived in full twitch and managed to control my enthusiasm only slightly. It was a silly amount of fun… I learned a great deal, had some great discussions with folks, and had a chance to meet new and confirm new/old friendships. For those forced to sit next to me, I admire your patience.

A bit about how I navigated the conference.
I must confess, I did not make many presentations. I probably saw 6 or 7 presentations over 3 days. I took the executive decision early on that as things were going to be recorded and posted, I could spend more of my time getting to know people and pick up the stuff that I missed on ustream when I get home. The first thing that struck me was just how much I liked the people there. It is not surprising that when you are at an ‘open’ conference with people who are committed to openness, that they will be welcoming. And they were. The first night was like watching my twitter account talk. The taunting started almost immediately, and while I think @sleslie (who is a gem of a human being) took more than his share, there was enough to go around for everyone… big fun.

Ideas –

I had the great pleasure of having a bunch of debates with David Wiley at the conference. One of the more lengthy and interesting was our discussion of my concern about copyright. The problem that I have with Creative Commons is that in ‘giving away’ content I am first calling myself the creator under the Burne copyright guidelines. I wont replicate David’s excellent recap of this on his site, but his ideas of declaring a personal exemption from burne is very compelling.

The bureaucratization of openness.
An underground thread through the conference was the problems of having piles of money of having to put rigid guidelines on things that are open. I have a very clear image of Jim looking at me just as I was leaving and saying ‘we can just put that stuff somewhere else, there’s just too much overhead’. I have a very strong sympathy for this position. Giant amounts of money are nice and everything, but they are rarely elegant. I have great hopes for athabasca’s new funding but I prefer things like the find an oer Africa project. No money. No investment. Hoping to have more time to talk to Jim and company about this. As ‘open’ goes mainstream, stewardship becomes more important than ever.

Had a fun discussion with Brandon Muramatsu from MIT. He has a remarkable position at the university and in charge to finding ways to scale or work on the permanence of projects that are being done in the university. I’ve always been interested by how well an individual project can be generalized and what the processes are that would support this. Brandon intimated that a broad approach to this is probably unlikely and comes down to people looking at individual situations and going step by step with every context. He’s six months into his job, will be checking in with him to see if they discover any secrets to this.

An educational/library company from England has decided to donate it’s marketing budget to opened projects. How cool is that? They are going to be taking in applications (due dec. 31) and offering people money to do specific projects that are going to be of benefit to the open community. The guidelines are pretty broad, and there’s not a crazy amount of money (maybe 100K) total, but it’s a real chance to get that 1500 that someone wanted for a small project. According to Chris something like 25K is possible, but it would mean not funding a bunch of other projects, so it would have to justify that.

Meaning is in Use – OER as dictionary of our time
I think I could talk to Chris Lott (check out his awesome photo jigger from the conference) for a month. One of the things we talked about was a mutual passion of ours, Wittgenstein. I quoted him in the middle of my presentation claiming that as we could do a lot with live tags and quotes and such (similar to my presentation last may for the webheads) that you could actually show ‘use’ and therefore ‘meaning’ of words by crowdsourcing and live streaming usages. It’s an appealing move as it allows us to replace the tired conversations about static definitions and allows us dynamic definitions that would better approximate what we really mean by words. It’s dirty. But I like dirty.

Flash mob conferencing
Another dude I met for the first time this weekend is Cole Camplese. What a dude. We had a bit of a time at the railway bar and over some restorative beverages, we discussed, amongst other things, the possibility of getting a half dozen canadians on the road to come and do ‘things’ at a given university. His point was that it cost as much for him to bring 5 of his people to vancouver as it would cost to bring 6 of us to his university. Sounds like fun… I hope they have enough maple syrop.

Speaking of dudes
I met quite a few legends of the community this weekend, none more ‘dude’ than the reverend Jimbo Groom. Funny thing about Jim, he and Brian Lamb had some discussions about the word ‘edupunk’ a couple of years ago and as the fastcompany article came out just before the conference, I got an email from my boss indicating that I might want to look into this while within eyesight of both of them and Wiley, also mentioned in the article. I confirmed with her that finding this out might not be too hard 😛 Another of the people that I could spend piles of time talking with.

The preconference day saw the 6 hour marathon discussion between Stephen Downes and David Wiley. Of the several interesting things that came out of what was essentially a public viewing of a private conversation, was the idea that people could directly appeal for a degree to someone who could judge their competency (Stephen’s idea… what else could we do for $189,000 it costs for an MIT undergrad). Think of it as ‘uber-plar’. You’re not challenging for a course, your challenging for a degree. It’s a fun thought experiment that forces us to think about what those 3-4 years are really about. If they are just about ‘knowing stuff’ and not also about stuff like ‘learning how to focus and work towards a goal over four years’ then why not? Interesting.

Edtechtalk PD
Was talking to George Siemens and Peter Tittenberger (and Konrad) about the possibility of giving recognition to people at edtechtalk for PD for participating in the community. I keep coming back to this as an idea that would be very interesting to try. I know that people feel like they are learning, and they are getting the chance for a long term support community by using ETT… seems like it should make sense.

Thanks to
Everyone who put on the conference. D’arcy Norman for giving me ideas for my server (and making me laugh). Catherine Ngugi for being so trusting. All the great questions in my session. The good people at the indian restaurant. Everyone who kept finding my water bottle for me. Alec for the great ideas in the airport. Doug for making it out to say hi. David for being so open and interesting. Giota for telling me about the cool stuff she’s doing for OU. The grandville island beverage company. All the people I’m forgetting to thank and include here… I know i’ll remember as soon as I hit ‘post’.

Name dropping
Is not what I’m doing with this… even though it might look that way. Open education is not about content, as I suggested in my presentation the OER part of open education is the foundation that we are standing on, its the common language that we are working from but THE PEOPLE are what make this community. Going to this conference and thinking with these people is a privilege I wish on everyone. As @injenuity intimated in many ways, having people who are doing what you’re doing, and who you can trust with your ideas, is a very grounding, peaceful thing.

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