May 19th, 2017 by Jon Becker

I’m working on a concept paper that I hope will make the case for taking advantages of modern, networked technologies for “extracurricular,” informal learning within and across an academic department. My main contention is that we don’t have to limit learning to class time or even within classes or programs. We have students in masters programs and two doctoral programs (Ed.D. and Ph.D.) and, unless we bring them together for a colloquium or something, they have no opportunities to talk and learn with those not in their classes. Connected Learning or Networked Learning makes it possible for students to learn together in ways that weren’t possible not that long ago. In other words, how could we take Dave Cormier’s idea of Community as Curriculum and formalize it as an expectation for all students our department serves? Or, in the words of Roger Schank and Kemi Jona, could we use Connected Learning to think about Extracurriculars as the Curriculum?

I’ll be writing up a somewhat formal concept paper that will include some theoretical underpinnings and also some concept maps to explain how things will work; i.e. how information will flow. First, though, I wanted to write up a not-so-hypothetical scenario that vividly demonstrates the power of connected learning. What follows is a first (very rough) draft of the scenario. In true connected learning form, I’m sharing it so that you (my two readers) might comment on this post and offer additional ideas or thoughts.

I think, eventually, it would be good to depict this same scenario in video form. My colleague Molly Ransone produced a video for and with me a while back (see the bottom of this post), but I think we can make one that’s more succinct and that is in more of a story form, not unlike what my friend Ben Grey did a while back for his school district. Or, like Wendy Drexler produced a LONG time ago

But, for now, here’s the scenario in narrative form. I’d really value your thoughts, ideas, edits, comments, etc…

 


Pat sits down on the couch after arriving home after a particularly intense discussion in class. The discussion was about vulnerability as it relates to leadership, an essential idea raised by the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Pat participated some in the class discussion, but she was having a hard time trying to articulate an argument about how some of the ideas Lencionni writes about assume a neurotypical leader. For some neurodiverse people, Pat thought, allowing oneself to be vulnerable is complicated and difficult. So, Pat turns on her iPad and opens her WordPress app to write a blog post. This affords Pat the time to think through her argument and to frame her argument in ways she couldn’t do in class. Furthermore, she can use hypertext in her blog post to link out to a few articles that support her claims. Pat can also share the articles to which she will link in her blog post to the department’s Diigo group. Less than an hour after sitting down on the couch, Pat has shared the articles in Diigo and hits publish on her blog post.

 

Pat wrote the post in the blog she maintains as part of her WordPress-based ePortfolio. Occasionally she writes posts as required parts of courses, but she and other students in her program are encouraged to write blog posts as they feel moved to do so. Pat writes at least two blog posts per week because the readings and class discussions are really interesting to her, but active participation in class discussion is not as easy for her as it is for other students. She has many thoughts to share, but does not want to occupy too much space in the classroom and also feels she has trouble being articulate and parsimonious with her words in a face-to-face setting. Blogging has been a really valuable way for Pat to share her thoughts.

 

Pat’s blog posts, along with those of all of the other students in her program, are aggregated (or syndicated) into a mother blog (or a blogging hub) for all of the students in the program. Any student in any class or cohort can read any other student’s posts via the mother blog. They can be notified of students’ posts by subscribing by email to the mother blog and/or by subscribing to the mother blog’s feed in an RSS reader. The mother blog also automatically feeds the department’s Twitter account and Facebook group. So, as soon as Pat hits “publish” on her blog post, the post shows up in her ePortfolio, on the mother blog, on the department Facebook page, and is broadcast via the department’s Twitter account…

 

***

Sonny is a university administrator and a graduate of the program Pat is in. Sonny is a fairly active Twitter user and is reading through her Twitter timeline when the tweet from the department’s Twitter account announcing Pat’s blog post shows up. Sonny is intrigued by the title of Pat’s blog post which is included in the tweet, so she clicks on the link in the tweet to read Pat’s post. Sonny reads the post and is interested in but not particularly expert in the ideas about which Pat wrote. However, Sonny has a colleague, Jo, a fellow university administrator at another university, who has written extensively about neurodiversity and leadership. This colleague also has a Twitter account, so Sonny goes back to Twitter to retweet the tweet from the department account and mentions her colleague Jo in the retweet to boost the signal to not just Jo but to others who follow Sonny on Twitter.

 

Jo happens to be checking Twitter at the moment Sonny posted the retweet and sees that Jo has mentioned her. She, too, clicks on the link in the tweet to read Pat’s blog post. After reading the post, Jo comments on the post sharing some thoughts and links to a couple of additional related articles that Jo thinks Pat might want to read. So, within a matter of minutes after publishing her blog post, Pat has received a comment and some suggested readings from an expert in the field who happens to work at another university.

 

***

About an hour after Pat published her blog post, Tony, an advanced student in Pat’s program, picks up his phone to check his email. He subscribes to the program’s mother blog and chooses to receive instant email notifications instead of daily or weekly notifications. He was worried about email overload, but he created a rule in Gmail that filters all email notifications from the mother blog into a separate folder. On this night, Tony sees that there is a new notification email in that folder and he opens it to see what Pat wrote about. Tony is really moved by what Pat wrote and has some thoughts about what she wrote in the post. So, Tony decides to take a little time to comment on the blog post. He leaves a thoughtful comment and, when prompted by Pat’s blog, elects to be notified when additional comments are left.

 

***

The following morning, Sam, a first-year student in Pat’s program, pulls out his phone while eating breakfast and drinking coffee. Sam opens the Facebook app and sees a notification of a new post on the department’s Facebook group page. Sam clicks on the notification and sees that Pat had published a blog post the previous night. Sam has never met Pat; they are in different cohorts of the program. Sam is a middle school principal who was diagnosed early in life as on the autism spectrum. He is considered HFA (high functioning autism) and has had to think about what this means for him as an educator and a leader throughout his professional life. He is not that comfortable sharing his story publicly, but he feels he has a lot to share with Pat. So, he finds Pat in the membership list of the department’s Facebook group page and sends her a private/direct message through Facebook Messenger. He tells Pat that he has lived what Pat wrote about and that he’d love to talk to her and asks if she would meet him for coffee some time to chat about the important issues Pat raised in her post.

***


Posted in Social Media, VCU Tagged with: , , , ,

July 8th, 2016 by Jon Becker

[Warning: I’m about to partake in the most banal form of edublogging: observe a phenomenon –> wonder how it might apply to education –> blog it out. But, it’s my blog and I’m in a bad mood. So, deal with it…]

 

I was not a big comics or superhero guy growing up. I read a few of the Archie comic books my sister bought with her allowance, and I remember watching Super Friends pretty regularly on Saturday mornings. I also watched some Batman re-runs on TV, and enjoyed Christopher Reeves as Superman in the movie theater. But, that was about it for me and comics/cartoons/superheroes.

Now, though, my (recently turned) 11 year-old son is a huge fan of all things Marvel. If you haven’t read his guest post wherein he ranks the movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, well, why not? (Go ahead… this post will still be here when you get back). He’s WAY ahead of me in his exploration of all things Marvel, but I’m learning as fast as I can alongside him. Lately, we’ve been catching up on episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.1

As I learn and explore by his side, one thing that continues to intrigue me is the idea of a Marvel “universe” or “multiverse.”

The Marvel Universe is the fictional shared universe where the stories in most American comic book titles and other media published by Marvel Entertainment take place. Marvel superheroes such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers are from this universe.

The Marvel Universe is further depicted as existing within a “multiverse” consisting of thousands of separate universes, all of which are the creations of Marvel Comics and all of which are, in a sense, “Marvel universes”. In this context, “Marvel Universe” is taken to refer to the mainstream Marvel continuity, which is known as Earth-616 or currently as Earth Prime. (Source: Wikipedia)

If you click on that “shared universe” link, you’ll see the following sentence: “A shared universe or shared world is a set of creative works where more than one writer (or other artist) independently contributes a work that can stand alone but fits into the joint development of the storyline, characters, or world of the overall project.” A few sentences later, we get: “The term has also been used in a wider, non-literary sense to convey interdisciplinary or social commonality, often in the context of a ‘shared universe of discourse’.” A “shared universe of discourse” sounds a lot like a curriculum, which is defined both broadly and narrowly, but which typically comes to mean “a course of study” and/or “the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn” along with the learning artifacts (content, assessments, etc.) associated with that course of study and that knowledge and those skills.

The formal college curriculum, at least at the undergraduate level, is typically broken into three parts: general education (not usually much more than a checklist of courses for a student to choose from), the major, and electives. General education is, by design, usually not a shared universe of discourse. A student might take a course in the math department and a course in the English department. There’s value in that kind of liberal education, but there’s rarely, if ever, anything shared across the experience of those two courses. The major is where you might expect to see more of a shared universe of discourse, and some departments do a better job of this than others. But, my experience has been that major programs of study are not much more than a series of courses strung together; there’s not much continuity or spiraling of the curriculum2. This lack of continuity and/or coherence is particularly evident where courses are taught by TAs and/or adjuncts who are not privy to departmental program planning and development meetings and conversations. In graduate school, I would argue, this lack of continuity/spiraling is particularly prominent. Far too many graduate programs, especially online programs3 built on the back of adjuncts, are conceived of as a series of courses taught without much consideration to how they form, in combination with extracurricular activities, a rich, coherent, continuous program of study.

But, the Marvel universe as a shared universe of discourse feels much more rich and integrative than what we typically see in formal educational settings. In the Marvel universe, there are print materials (books, comic books, etc.), TV shows, movies, and an increasing array of web-based resources. That might be true for any discipline; learning resources and artifacts (the “what” of the curriculum) are available on multiple media. But, it’s how the storylines and characters and platforms intermingle in the Marvel Universe that has me thinking about how we do “curriculum” in formal educational settings. It’s how the TV shows references the movies and vice versa; it’s how the characters show up in different parts of the universe. If a shared universe is “where more than one writer (or other artist) independently contributes a work that can stand alone but fits into the joint development of the storyline, characters, or world of the overall project” then how does your curriculum or program of study hold up to that idea? I get that scholars within a discipline independently contribute works that can stand alone but that also fit into a discipline’s overall narrative, but here are some questions that come to mind:

  • How purposefully do we develop curriculum so that the storyline, the overall narrative of the program of study, can be discovered by students?
  • Is seat-time based courses divided into convenient, standard-length semesters the best way to let the students explore the shared universe of discourse within and across disciplines?
  • One of my favorite parts of watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with my son is when we debrief after a show and he tells me about how various characters relate to other parts of the Marvel universe and how parts of the storyline relate to other things he’s read or seen. How often do we ask students to think about what they’re learning in any individual course and how that relates to other parts of their overall learning experience?
  • Another thing I love is when my son points out “Easter eggs,” intentional jokes or inside messages hidden somewhere in the story. What kinds of Easter eggs do we plant into the curriculum to trigger integrative thinking in our students?

Finally (for now), I’m continually amazed by the informal, extra-curricular resources that are developed by the “consumers,” and the web-based participatory culture that has developed around the Marvel universe. For instance, my son spends hours each day on the Marvel Cinematic Universe wiki. There are fans that are constantly adding new content to the site and new discussions emerging all of the time. When we saw Captain America: Civil War recently, and when he read commentary by fans on the wiki, and it lead to a number of long, deep conversations about the role of government and libertarianism and privatization, I knew that my son’s fascination with the Marvel universe was more than just OK. He had immersed himself in a shared universe of discourse that was deeply engaging, integrative, rich, etc.

I suppose this is where I’d point to connected learning, but that’s a sore subject for me right now. For now, I just want to think about how we can create marvel(ous) and universe(al) educational experiences for all young people. I know there are folks out there that are both smarter than me and who understand these universes better than me, and I hope they’ll comment here to expand my understanding and that of others.

  1. What a wild and crazy show! []
  2. RIP, Jerome Bruner []
  3. says the Director of the Office of Online Academic Programs []

Posted in Education Tagged with: , , ,