A #networkedcourse

The summer of 2012 was transformational.  The summer Olympics were held in London, England.  The US witnessed one of the hottest summers on record.  The Curiosity Rover landed on Mars.  Carley Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” was the official summer anthem.  And campers everywhere flocked to Camp Magic Macguffin for a summer of hijinx, mystery, and animated GIFs.

DS106 was my first exposure to a networked course.  It was a class that demanded participation in the community through a host of creative assignments, tweeting, blogging, reading/comments on the blogs of others, and animated GIFs, animated GIFs, animated GIFs!

Dr. Amy Nelson lead a workshop called Networking Your Hybrid Humanities Course on the last day of AltFest.  Several of Dr. Nelson’s classes are hybrid classes.  Students meet face-to-face, but they also spend time analyzing and interacting with primary sources.  The syllabus for the fall 2014 Russian History course emphasizes the role of the student in defining the class….


“Much  of  this  work  will  take  place  in  a  networked  learning  environment,  which  will  use blogging,  Twitter,  and  other  learning
technologies  to  construct,  elaborate  and  refine  the  contours  and content  of  the  course.”


And the goals for blogging…


The  blogging assignments  are  intended  to  leverage  the  freely accessible  resources  of  the World  Wide  Web as well as the digitized collections  of  the  Virginia  Tech  libraries  in  order  to:
o Develop  your  skills  in  historical  analysis
o Develop  your  skills  identifying,  using  and  citing  historical  sources
o Develop  understanding  of  the  key  developments  and  dynamics  of  Soviet History


Nelson commented that she worried students would have nothing to say in the classroom if they took their took their discussions online via blog posts and comments.  However, that wasn’t the case.  Classroom discussions were so rich that one student wished they had notes of the dialogue taking place.  Thanks to Google Docs and student volunteers, archived class notes were born.
The comments on students’ blogs feed into the class mother blog so conversations are easily followed.  Students and readers don’t have to go to each individual blog to see what’s discussed.
Screenshot of comments on the mother blog

Screenshot of comments on the mother blog

Sometimes a class can have over 30 students, which means over 30 blogs, which means over 30 posts to read and leave comments.  Nelson has an editorial board in place to help with comments.  This team also selects the posts that appear in the coveted Editor’s Choice spot.  Students on the editorial board also contribute to the body of knowledge the class creates over the semester.  You can read a couple of examples here and here

The Editor's Choice slider

The Editor’s Choice slider

Selections for the slider are posted (in a perfect world) every Wednesday during a semester.  Nelson said she notices an uptick in traffic on Wednesday afternoons.  Students check out the mother blog to see what posts have been chosen for the week.

Dr. Nelson builds courses that are engaging and participatory.  She and her students leverage the best the web has to offer.  They make use of open educational resources.  They share their analysis and thinking in the open through their blogs and comments.

You can find links to student blogs, blog post guidelines, mother blogs, archived class notes, and more on this Google Doc.

Hello from AltFest

Last year the school where I work explored options for a new schedule for lower, middle and upper schools.  A consultant came in (as they do) to evaluate the current schedule, the culture, the ins and outs of the lives of students.  There was a long meeting where a few drafts of schedules were reviewed; the pros and cons were weighed.  I don’t remember many of the details or the conversations (it was, after all, over a year ago, which is practically an eternity ago).  I do remember talk of rallying points.  These are points in the school year that give students, staff, and faculty a break from normal routine.  The rallying points are something to anticipate.  Convocation.  Homecoming.  Fall break.  Snow days.  The spring fair.

I’m at the AltFest at VCU, which is very much a rallying point for me.  Even though we’re close to the end of the school year, it’s good to get away and explore topics of open and connected learning, technology, #learningheroes.  It’s nice to see some friendly faces that I haven’t seen in a while and meet some new folks.

AltFest kicked off Tuesday with #ALTCamp or a couple of media-related workshops led by Molly Ransone (who has the most awesome blog header ever).  Those attending the “Lights, Camera, Teach!” session were invited to pick from a host of props (a model of an anemone, a butterfly net, a DNA helix, etc.) and a script.  We then entered the Jazzmosphere to film the bit, which would be used in a later workshop on editing video and making amazing things from green screen footage.

Wednesday’s dose of ALTFest started off with Mimi Ito, who unleashed some interesting research about affinity spaces, the lack of access to extracurricular activities for kids in homes with limited resources, engagement (or lack thereof) in formal educational settings, successful mentoring, how to be the “Aquarium Shop Guy*” or connect kids with their Aquarium Shop Guy/Girl.

The keynote resonated as I’ve been thinking about access to extracurricular activities through schools, public libraries, and other community organizations as well as the fierce competition for students’ time.  With the new schedule, the clubs period was reduced to 40 minutes once a week.  Students in clubs, which are (in theory) created and directed by students, met during this block of time assuming there were no class meetings scheduled.

* Mimi Ito started with a story about her son, who found and scooped up tadpoles on a hike.  He went to an aquarium shop to find the necessary accessories for keeping these tadpoles alive, and ended up finding someone (the guy who worked at and/or owned the aquarium shop) passionate about aquariums, aquatic life, amphibians, etc.

The Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

Alice Campbell, Digital Initiatives Librarian at VCU, hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon where participants added or edited Wikipedia articles.  This tweet from Melissa (who writes things here) sums up the feelings:

There’s a lot of pressure when it comes to adding or editing a Wikipedia page.  I was going to create a page about Nara Sushi, a sushi restaurant that once existed at 1309 West Main Street here in Richmond (it’s now home to a hotdog shop or something).  One could eat sushi by day, but by night it was home to some AMAZING punk and metal shows.

Apparently people slept in the back.

Apparently people slept in the back.

I opted not to add the page, because what could I offer other than the physical address?  Could I use oral histories from people who went to the shows?  Could I use information from people who once worked there?  Does that stuff count as reliable resources to Wikipedia, or is that stuff considered original research?  Would some Wikipedia editor curse my name, because Nara Sushi isn’t notable enough to warrant its own page?

So many questions!  It was the questions that made me think how great a Wikipedia edit-a-thon would be for students who struggle with citations or who are bored with a traditional research paper.  When creating a new page or editing a page that currently exists, (if one is a decent human being) one must be informed on the topic.  Therefore some prior reading and synthesizing is necessary.  I’ve seen plenty of students pull a quote out of a source and slap it in a paper with the justification, “Well, I need to cite five sources, so….”

I imagine giving students the opportunity to become an expert in an area of interest to her/him and contribute to Wikipedia, something she/he is familiar with, would bring about some compelling results.

Students struggle with citations and sources.  What’s credible?  When is something considered authoritative?  What’s the difference between a journal and a magazine?  What does peer-reviewed mean?  The Wikipedia edit-a-thon really allows for the unpacking of a source, especially if there’s the chance that another editor might call one out (in a nice way, of course) on a questionable source or edit.

Co-Creating a DML Distributed, Open, Collaborative Course

Lindy Johnson and Anna Keune talked about their work co-creating open, connected courses through DML Commons.  After discussing the planning process and the elements of the two courses currently in progress, we broke into small groups to plan our own DOOC.  What would the subject be?  Which elements would we include?  The group I was in decided that we’d want ALL the things:  a course hub (and this, and this), the integration of Twitter, blogs, etc., webinars and accompanying etherpads for conversations/questions, the opportunity for students to help and teach each other, etc.

As for the subject, we didn’t get to that, but I have a few ideas circling.  What would a distributed, open, collaborative course about Richmond neighborhoods and their histories look like?  Can public libraries leverage DOOCs for entrepreneurs, inventors, and makers in the community?  Based on an email from a friend in a local public library, I wondered if public libraries can leverage the DOOC model to address the learning needs of the community.  How does one solve for the digital divide that still exists in many areas?  There’s a tech committee at school, and we’re talking about digital literacies and how to teach those.  Would a DOOC work?  Is it even necessary?  What about a 23 Things-like thing for staff and faculty?  Is that even necessary or wanted?

And there is the question.  What do people want?  What do learners want to learn?

Lindy and Anna asked us to share a time when we asked students what they wanted to learn and came out of that.  I didn’t share (because, introvert), but I did think back to a info literacy session I did last year when I asked students to write down their thoughts or questions about research on a post-it note.  The post-its were given to me, and we went through them.  Questions ranged from “Is it ok to use Wikipedia?” to “What is NoodleToosl?”  It was an awesome conversation.  Often the question on the post-it lead to other questions and concerns.

STEAM is Not a Big Enough Tent

I didn’t actually go to this session hosted by Josh Weisgrau and Colin Angevine.  The description for the session reads as:

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math have coalesced under a larger interdisciplinary tent known as STEM.  Recently educators in the field found that there was a missing creative element, and STEM became STEAM.  The story we will tell is about how STEAM is still not a big enough tent.

I’ve talked a lot about STEM and STEAM and project-based learning and social entrepreneurship with staff, faculty, and students this semester.  I didn’t think I had the cognitive surplus for one more STEAM-related conversation.  After watching some curious tweets roll though, I regretted not going.

If you don’t have time for the Youtube video, you can read Colin’s “Outgrowing the Acronym.”

So that’s the quick run down from day 1 and 2.

Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by  Robert Bejil

Mic drop.  Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by
Robert Bejil