I had an amazing experience yesterday, a â€œconsultationâ€ with Gardner and his staff of IT Specialists: Jerry, Martha, Andy, Jim and Patrick. Also present was Charlotte Houtchens, one of our reference librarians. The purpose of the consultation was to think about the design of the first year seminar I plan to teach this Fall.
Now I have spoken with individual IT staff before on how to accomplish discrete technology things for a course, like setting up a discussion board or a blog or wiki, but Iâ€™ve never done it in the context of scaffolding a whole course. In this case, I gave the IT specialists carte blanche to design a digital environment in support of my course to help me achieve its potential. Charlotte was there to provide the library perspective since the course will involve a great deal of research and evaluation of sources.
To prepare for the meeting, I thought about what I hoped to accomplish in the course and how I thought we would go about it. I drafted some tentative assignments. What was novel (for me at least) about this course was the focus that John Udell might describe as asking students to narrate their work. I sent my ideas to the group a few days ago so they could think about them in the context of their respective areas of expertise.
Yesterday, after a very brief introduction where I basically said, you read my ideas; where do we go from here?, they went into brainstorm mode for the better part of an hour. It was like the fantastico presentation all over againâ€”each ITS taking the floor for a while to toss their ideas into the ring, to raise objections, to suggest solutions. It was like a symphony being composed, cacophonous at times, beautiful music at others.
The dynamics of the session were very interesting. For example, who was in charge? The answer: No one, and everyone as they passed the baton from one to another. Each time when I thought the discussion was about to go off the rails, someone brought it back to focus. What an amazing team! But donâ€™t take my word for it: you can ask John Udell or Brian Lamb.
Some issues that came up:
â€¢ How do we aggregate multiple content sources into a blog or a wiki? A class superglu site?
â€¢ Should this be the â€œprofessional blogâ€ for their life as a student? YES.
â€¢ How do we make students see this as their blog?
â€¢ How do we get students to speak to each other? To comment on each otherâ€™s blogs in a substantive way?
â€¢ Answer: The instructor needs to model the behavior, commenting, trackbacking, and aggressively linking to their blogs.
At one level, I felt strangeâ€”as if I was a fly on the wall since I had very little to contribute. Indeed, I didnâ€™t understand everything that was said, though I think I got the jist of it. I realized that my speaking was not important any more than it would be to a discussion between two electricians discussing a plan to wire an addition to my house. I told them what I needed and I left it up to their expertise to develop the plan.
I found myself thinking: This is really wild! Iâ€™ve got a half dozen â€œstaffâ€ working for me, or at least on my behalf, to design the digital infrastructure for my course. The way the course will turn out will depend in large part on what they come up with. This isnâ€™t my class anymore; itâ€™s a real collaboration. As recently as a few years ago, I never could have imagined this. Is this part of the new course design process for U2.0?
To think that there are still faculty who see the IT Staff as no more than desktop support. Anyone who doesnâ€™t take advantage of their expertise is wasting an opportunity.