We are Media – teaching and currating

This is my third critical friend post regarding the excellent ‘we are media‘ project. I love a collaborative project where each time i consider dropping an idea in, or adding to the process I find that someone has just dropped in the idea i was considering and done a nicer job of explaining it. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, I don’t think there is a better resource online right now to empower the innovator to try and entice institutional change (They focus on the non-profit sector, but most of the resources could apply to any professional environment) through social media.

According to the module outline the creation part of the project is essentially at its halfway point. The first half being a collection of strategic resources for people interested in using social media…4
Strategic Track
Module 1: Why or why not?
Module 2: Thinking Strategically
Module 3: Resistance
Module 4: Storytelling
Module 5: Engagement Strategy and Skills
Module 6: ROI

The work plan for the project cross-referenced with the overview page seem to indicate that the goals are twofold. The first, and seemingly seminal goal for the project is to create a curricular base for training people in the uses of social media for non-profits. The second, and seemingly strenghtening purpose, is to create a long term curated, vetted space for information about using social media in a non-profit setting… My comments today will address these two goals and how they work in the same setting.

Wikiing for curriculum
The We Are Media project plans to have f2f training sessions (which I wish I could be at) at the end of this year where they hope to use their existing knowledge base as a backdrop to their training. What they’ve done, essentially, is combed the internet for best resources available on the topic of using social media in a non-profit setting. If you combined this project with the ict-km toolkit, you’d pretty much have all directed reading you would need for a degree let alone a training course.

The key next step for working towards training is to think about the syllabus. How exactly are these topics going to be introduced in a learner-centred setting? How are the concepts going to be discussed and organized so that each of the learners has the opportunity to make their own meaning and bring that meaning back to their own professional context? Are all of the resources still going to be active by the time the course actually starts? Might it make sense to turn some of the key resources into webcite references in order to preserve the reliability of critical concepts?

The development and examination of a syllabus is going to focus the discussion of the second half of the development towards specific things that will be needed in the educational space that may not jump out as obvious in the wiki space.

On another note there might be some sense in which planning for live resources that don’t yet exist can be interesting from a curricular perspective. Using yahoo pipes to create a feedbook of live resources that can be delivered in a single page as a living textbook for f2f learners to both use during the classes and also take home as a page or an OPML.

Wikiing for posterity
The obvious difference between building for a curriculum that someone is going to facilitate and creating a repository of knowledge, is that, in the repository, there is no translation. The tools need to exist there, from the beginning, for people to be able to navigate the content. With the end of the strategic phase of the content creation coming on, it may be time to return to the idea of the audience for the wiki and expand it from the creation team to include those passive users that must already be using the website.

What tools do they have to find and use resources?
What supports could be built during the rest of the process to facilitate that?
What would the lifespan on those resources be?

As it stands now, the introductory module is a very detailed wiki page with pretty much everything you’d need to know to get started. A trimmed down introductory page, with a screencast walkthrough of the site might be a nice place to start for the ‘second wavers’ who come to the site without the web/wiki literacies that will allow them to skim and process all the cool work there. A couple of potential syllabus pages might also be interesting, to give people a chance to talk about how they might remix this content in their own f2f or online training and see how that maps against the existing work that is being done.

Tracking these as they develop can do a great deal to flush out a curriculum and a webcite and keep these two ‘seperate but equal’ goals on target.

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.

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