I’ve gotten into the habit of posting nearly completely thought out ideas, with the result that I’ve largely stopped blogging, or more precisely, I have a stack of half written posts in draft none of which I’ve managed to publish. Alan pointed this out to me some weeks ago, and reminded me that I should just do it. Shannon’s recent postings also gave me a push. But it was Jim’s post the other day that made me act. So what I have to say here is provisional and I am definitely looking for feedback.
One of the goals of the UMW Online Learning Initiative is to identify models of online learning that provide a superior learning experience to that which can be done in a traditional face-to-face classroom. Lest you think that’s crazy, we have identified two such models to date (out of the seven online courses developed in the initiative last year. The first model is the DS106-version of a Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC), which many of you are familiar with. The second model is Donald Rallis’ Regional Geography course, which deserves its own blog post. One of my tasks now is to figure out how to generalize those models beyond the specific courses. That is, what are the essential features of those models and how can we use them to enhance the learning experiences in other courses? After all, not all of us are Jim Groom or Donald Rallis!
This summer, as part of the Online Learning Initiative, I’m developing a course that I will teach fully online this Fall. Principles of Macroeconomics is a standard course in the economics curriculum and one I’ve taught for more than three decades. Modifying it to teach online has been a fascinating experience, one of the most interesting aspects of which is that it has made me rethink fundamental aspects of my face-to-face teaching. [Could this be a hidden agenda of the OLI? But I digress.] A large part of the work has been thinking about how to do what I typically do in class but in an online environment (e.g. What does the online teacher do with what used to be one’s lectures? Hint of an Answer: Only a part of my class sessions are spent distributing content.) But, I’ve also pondered the question of what could be done online to improve the learning experience over a traditional face-to-face course. The answer I’ve come up with is to use the power of the internet, the ability to connect to resources and voices outside of our institution and bring those resources and voices into my course. I take no credit for this, since it derives from the community of educational thinkers and practitioners that I’ve managed to surround myself with.
Option #1 The Open Online Course Resource (a MOOC-like device)
I’ve decided to join the MOOC-bandwagon, but not exactly. The term “MOOC” has grown a little ambiguous with at least two models now, what I call the “Corporate Model” (e.g. Udacity, Coursera, MITx) & the “Original Model” (e.g. CCK11, DS106). What I’m planning is closer to DS106, but it’s not a whole course; rather, it’s going to be one piece of my course, one piece of content and interaction, somewhat like a class discussion is.
What I’m imagining is a standalone web space where participants (students, faculty, interested others) can explore specific questions about macroeconomics. By “standalone,” I mean independent of anyone’s course. Instructors can use this space however they like for their courses, so we want it to be flexible—Just a forum for exploring, discussing and developing tentative answers to interesting current questions in macroeconomics.
The basic model could be “modules,” each organized around a single main question. The model might be described as:
- Pose a question/problem,
- Solicit initial responses,
- Submit evidence,
- Develop conclusions,
- Move on to next the question/problem.
I’d like to solicit some seed questions (each defining a module) from faculty participants in advance, the exploration of which will help students in their courses, but the discussion on the web space would be open to anyone interested.
I could see a number of questions being explored simultaneously, but if too much is happening at the same time, we spread the participants too thin to benefit from the group.
We would need to develop some basic ground rules, not to limit discussion but to keep it focused on the module questions. We probably also need the behavioral expectations spelled out.
What’s the Point?
I think this could be a useful experience by bringing more voices into a course than just that of the instructor. I am recruiting colleagues from Canada and the UK as well as different regions of the US to participate in this experiment. Since many of the issues I can imagine discussing have subjective /political components, I think it would be a plus to have our students experience diverse views, both among experts and students. In a recent post, Cathy Derecki described this more generally as “the notion of connecting people and ideas as the goal, with technology as a way to do that.” Justin Reich (as EdTech Researcher) explains:
These courses are designed to bring people together for learning experiences, rather than to deliver a discrete set of learning objectives to be mastered. Stephen Downes goes so far to say that the “content is a MacGuffin”, the thing that brings people together so that the real learning can happen through dialogue, interaction, and exploration.
One question that I would like to organize a module around is “Which US Presidential candidate’s economic platform makes the most sense?” I can imagine different responses from people from the US Northeast or say Ohio, people from the US south, Canadians, British, or participants from other parts of the world. I would want to solicit participation from folks of all political and economic persuasions so students get the full breadth of views. While I try to be balanced in my presentation of perspectives different from my own, it’s not the same as hearing it from a proponent. This isn’t primarily intended to be place for people to just emote. Rather, I want the site to generate an analysis of the underlying economic theories, as well as allowing for subjective conclusions. It would be interested to unpack the assumptions behind people’s views. I know my first year students often have strong opinions but aren’t clear on why they hold them. I think this resource could help.
Option #2 It’s not an e-Portfolio.
This idea is less further developed than Option #1.
Our school has been exploring the concept and uses of an e-Portfolio. I could explain our findings in detail, but for now let me just say we’ve decided that a commercial product is not for us, that we would like to explore what we understand might be the benefits of an ePortfolio with a new project we’re developing for next fall called a “Domain of One’s Own.” (Note: By “we” I mean UMW, not me. I’m just hoping to be a free-rider.)
My thought (and this is not original) is to ask students to create something that narrates, illustrates, and summarizes their learning in my course. My hope is that this would provide students with a tangible sense of what they’ve accomplished over the semester, something they can literally take with them when they complete the course.
I can imagine using a domain of their own to help students build their understanding of the course topics, archive their thinking, and possibly link it all together (perhaps using a mother-blog). One question: Could we somehow build a collaborative understanding of the material? A “network of thought and interaction” perhaps? My concern is that my course enrolls mostly first and second year students who may not be cognitively ready for that.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas.