Questions about Being Public Public #ED677 #techquity

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This is my second semester teaching ED677 and each time I’ve had the ambition to blog alongside my class. What I realized quickly though is that facilitating the course eats into the time that I need to stop and reflect on what we are doing. Doh, I realize :)

This semester though I set myself the goal to blog around the time of our check-ins, which are designed to happen every three weeks. The goal of the check-in is to have to a moment to assess how the course is going and how we are feeling about your engagement and participation in the course. Everything is done online, asynchronously and at a distance, so my experience is that we need these kinds of check-in points regularly. I realize this is also a good time for me, as the instructor here, to stop and do a reflection about the same.

ED677 is inspired by an open online collaboration that was designed and developed by a group of my colleagues at the National Writing Project called CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC). CLMOOC was designed using the design and learning principles of Connected Learning, plus engaged what we knew as writing project educators over time about writing, making and supporting literacy learning within networked communities of practice.

CLMOOC was a powerful experience – it ran during the summer and connected thousands of educators around the world worked through cycles of making, sharing, reflecting on our making and sharing, and then thinking about the implications for learning and connecting our learning. It was designed, like other connectivist MOOCs, to take advantage of the architecture of the Internet’s web and that engaged participants in self-directed learning and leading online. Participation was voluntary and it was designed to support everyone to come and go as they pleased

Having had this experience for three years, I wanted to see what it would be like to bring these same principles into a more formal graduate course where participation is not voluntary after registering and is ultimately assessed at the end. Hence the emergence of ED677 at Arcadia University where Dr. Kira Baker-Doyle, with support from educators like myself, Meenoo Rami, etc., started a Connected Learning Certificate Program.

ED677 (like the overall cert program) is open to all educators – both inservice as well as pre-service, as well as those who work both in and outside of school) – and it does, in fact, draw a nice range and diversity of educators together. And that’s its strength. It’s quite beautiful in fact. Therefore, designing to this strength became important to me and I created three-week cycles that take on connected themes, where each week having its own sub-topic and starting with a blog post with a set of readings, prompts for writing and/or making, and some key links to explore.

See the syllabus here (note: this is subject to change).

While we have a Blackboard space because the University provides that by default, our work is done via social media. Yes, publicly via social media. This is how CLMOOC worked too. At the beginning of ED677 I asked everyone to create a blog (or use one they already had created), set up a twitter handle, and engage their Arcadia’s G+ toolset and join a pre-existing Arcadia Connected Learning Community that has been active since the start of this certificate program. Blackboard is simply used then to post links to the week’s blog posts (called #Mondaypost) and there is a discussion group there if anyone in the class wants to bring up a topic or issue for discussion without posting it publicly. To date, no one has used that yet.

Now, I realize … it is probably entirely my fault that no one has used that! I am not a fan of closed systems like Blackboard (both for learning reasons as well as political ones) and believe, as professional educators, we need to engaging with social media (and the like) so that we can think about the implications for learning and how best to support the youth we work with in these spaces that they so frequently occupy already. I also have pedagogical beliefs that learning is social, and therefore spaces that are more social are simply more supportive of the kinds of learning I am interested in fostered among and between us. Admittedly I have political beliefs that support this way of working too, ie. that we all should own and control what we make. We use Reclaim Domain for our class blog which aggregates our individual blogs, for that reason.

I also believe in the power of communities of practices to be supportive and nurturing spaces to become better and stronger practitioners of whatever our passion. Most recently I have been learning from two new-to-me online communities of practice – Wattpad for Writers and DeviantArt for Artists. Their online designs and supportive networked ways of working prompt me to continue thinking about the power of open ways of working in such communities. Also have come to believe through my work at the NWP that we as educators need to be public practitioners and engaged scholars of the work that we do and why. And a big essential piece of being public with our work is that others can see it, can learn from it, and connect to it, can use and develop the ideas in their own context. There is enormous power in this and in fact is a key way that we can address serious educational equity issues together as educators. (Excited for things such as the #GoOpen initiative for this very reason.)

And what I see here, when I see all of our blogs aggregating together and us responding to each other’s work is, to me, absolutely beautiful and energizing. We all are adults too and I think that’s important – we are finding our own way together around being public with each other.

Now, checking myself here, I realize that ED677 is a graduate class and that one of the “deals” with school, is that we have safe spaces for talking through complicated ideas without always being subject to public scrutiny. And I also know that educators today are under enormous pressure and public spaces are not always safe and supportive (to say the least). As O’Donnell and Garcia point out, we need to pose, wobble and flow in our work … so what are the implications of doing this, together, in a graduate class, in public?

So that’s my wobble …  in designing ED677 now and into the future, what are best ways to support all of us in both being public practitioners who share and develop our work together while also making sure that we have safe and supportive space for posing, wobbling and flowing together that sometimes may be less public (yet still social and participatory)? I remember Peter Appelbaum at Arcadia, telling me how he has, at times, organized class meetings in cafes, parks and other spaces that are kind of (at least in my mind) hyper-public and allow for connections to real life by being in the flow of it while still supporting the community of the class working together intimately. That seems like going public public to me. I want to find that same kind of open yet cozy/segmented space online – the virtual equivalent of tables in the corner of the cafe that we push together and commune around … or the public park where we sit on blankets in the grass meeting new curious dogs and picking up on snippets of conversation as others walk by.

Any suggestions?

Note: I have been inspired by colleagues of mine to think more about tools like hypothesis that let us create small private groups in which we can annotate articles together and then you can choose to make those comments public or not. This could be useful way of working on more complex issues/hard conversations I am thinking and sort of has a public space feeling as well as connectivity. I noticed that Danielle did this kind of thing too recently with her class with google docs. Not exactly the same as the cafe, but starts to feel a little closer to me.