Connected Courses Hangout After-Party

Hello faithful reader, it is I your erstwhile author. I had the pleasure today, as I emerged from the thrashing depths of thesis-submission, of watching the Google Hangout with Kim, Jim, Jaime, Jeremy and Danielle – I took my notes on a first name basis so forgive the informality – and it was fascinating so I wanted to get my thoughts out there before they seeped out through the porous material of my memory. This will be a haphazardly formatted post, bulletting out some of the main points from each of the speakers and writing my way through them. At the end we will have a lightning round with material from the Q&A section, where people had some very interesting “soundbite” quotes which I would love to take partially out of context and expound on a bit, so look forward to that right after the last commercial break.

We’re going in roughly chronological order here, so let’s talk about Jim. The matter that Jim raised of most interest to me was his belief that having students create and maintain their own domains will work as a way to help them learn the sort of basic internet life skills that we’ve talked about in past units. My last post was about the need to develop cultural mores and skillsets around data management in order to survive and thrive in a connected world. It’s getting less and less possible to operate a human lifeform without interfacing with that thin all-connecting membrane we call the internet. As we phase out the purely analog existence, relegating it to the purview of the professional ascetic, we must take up the responsibility of educating people on the safe and humane use of their new powers. Getting back to what Jim had to say, it put a smile on my face because the last time I got into this issue it was a lot of “we should be doing stuff” and not a lot of “here’s what we should actually do” — and the idea of having students maintain their own web presence as a part of their formal education is an excellent example of how we can actually put an ideal into practice. It’s also a great example of teaching by letting people actually do stuff, which is always nice too.

Moving on to Jaime’s section, we get a nice segue because she mentioned pushing-back against the push-back regarding taking up technological platforms by using the argument that students will be competing with future generations who have these skills or, perhaps more importantly, having to help their own children or nieces/nephews to navigate these same perilous realms in the future. I think we’re still deep in the transitional stage and it will take another generation or two before the idea of connected lives is truly the default perspective. I get the feeling 22nd century art is going to be all about disconnected experiences but that’s just a hunch and I won’t have to face the music unless we get these stem cells going asap. Putting the asides aside however, we who live in the transition period are the most exposed to the hazards of the new environment, and as the pioneers of the connected age we must look after each other and hopefully instill that same ethos in future generations. We get to decide how this new world works, but we will have to live with those decisions for a long time.

The other thing Jaime mentioned that I rushed to scribble down in my notebook was that her students seemed to share more on their blogs than in person because they’re less embarrassed or shy, and also more importantly because they need the time to process their thoughts. If our job as teachers is to ask hard questions, it’s a bit of setting someone up for failure to expect them to be answered on the spot with an audience. Otherwise the question wouldn’t be hard. So we can see a nice marriage between the hard questions of learning and the ability of online platforms to mitigate topographical and temporal gating features. This was a recurring theme among the people that I interviewed for my thesis as well, that they were able to get more personal and get more out of experiences when they had a bit of time and emotional space to compose responses.

On the other hand, like Kim said later on, “not everyone wants to be as connected as we do” (quotes may be paraphrased, but you can just assume I get it exactly right all the time). Like we said before, this sort of thing isn’t fully normalized yet, and I thought it was really interesting to look at the idea of being “connected” on a more local or intimate level, rather than jumping straight to full-blown connectivity. It is the temptation, particularly among people who like to comment on things without doing them, to make the jump immediately from “none of the thing” to “all of the thing all the time,” while forgetting that there are various shades and levels of connectivity that might be appropriate for different populations and purposes. So it was nice to see a concrete example of a “connected classroom” that doesn’t have to be the sort of gigantic super-connected ubermooc that seems to freak people out. In other words, this sort of thing will be great for reassuring people that teaching in a connected classroom doesn’t have to mean that you are being assimilated into the Borg.

When Danielle described the support hub for “Study Abroad Veterans” it got me thinking again about the facility for open/online platforms in totally sidestepping the bounds of time and space. I think that this sort of idea could also be used to help students who are currently studying abroad to maintain their connections with the operations of their home-campus, so that hopefully when they return there will be less of a disconnect to repair. Now I realize that part of the appeal and purpose of studying abroad is to be immersed in a different culture, but I think a happy compromise could be reached where the experiences that are connected to the main campus serve to augment and enhance the student’s international enculturation. I’ll leave the details of that to future researchers though, just be sure to put me in the credits.

Jeremy also made an important point that we are not trying to discard our heritage with this move into connected spaces. Instead, we are building new additions onto that foundation – a prospect made possible only by the glory and integrity of the foundation, if I am allowed a moment’s pandering – that simply serve to push the academic movement a bit further forward. Each new generation is indebted to the last for this sort of foundation, and that kicks us back around to the earlier thought that it is crucial to consider what sort of ethos we are building into connected culture. Because we know that future generations will build on the foundation that we are building now, the basic ideas of what it means to live on the web and be a connected citizen, we have a great responsibility to ensure that those ideas provide a strong, and stable, foundation for the future.

Lighting Round!!

Kim: “I google that, then I get forums and so on” – I’ve got a thesis to sell you! There was a funny “inception” moment when I was formatting my thesis about people learning to do things online by looking up youtube videos and Q&A forums to figure out Word. Life imitates art and all that. It really is an amazing thing, we routinely get advice by time travel crowd-sourcing, pulling in some other poor wanderer’s question from 2011 and using it to solve our own problems. What lucky folks we are.

Jim: “I am not the center” – The bit about having 2,200 posts from 27 students was fascinating. I am glad you don’t try to read them all. I think this feeds back into the ideas previously about teaching students to develop their own ways of being, in this case they will need to do some of their own curating and evaluation because the scope of their worked has clearly outstripped the traditional “everything filters through the teacher” framework, and gladly so.

Jaime: “It’s an opportunity to build their digital identity” – I guess we’ve found the theme of the day here, self directed work, agency, personal development, life skills, and so on. In this case we can see the “digital identity” in two different ways, first as the actual content on the website. This is their visible identity, the representation that others use to interpret and value the individual. On the other side of the coin, students are also developing an idea of themselves as e-capable people who are comfortable working with these formats. In a way, having students develop their own domains is also providing them access to the material resources required for them to construct an aspect of their identity that has the values and skills we’ve been talking about throughout this post.

Thanks a lot for a fascinating afternoon everyone, and thanks for reading.