Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Power of Connections: Course Design Constraints

Okay, while it's taken some time in various planning stages (mainly because my attention has been pulled away by other projects), Stacy Zemke and I are happy to announce our Power of Connections open learning experience, which will commence July 13. You can follow the link above to watch our promo video and enroll, or check out my more formal description post here.

What I would like to do in this post is begin sharing information about our actual approach to designing this experience, and to explain some of the decisions we are making about the experience structure and platform/technology usage. To kick this off, I want to talk a bit about our self-imposed design constraints.


To begin with, I should note that part of our thinking is informed by beliefs about the importance of constraints in shaping innovation and creativity. Essentially, we find that teachers and learners are often more inventive and willing to stretch their thinking when they have fewer options to work with. You will see us model this notion of constraint throughout the experience n the form our improvisations and artefact activities.

For the purposes of designing this experience, we established the following as our initial design constraints.

1. It should be  more of a learning experience and not a course in a traditional sense -- We felt that we should design something we would want to take, something that was more about doing and connecting with others, something from which participants could take away valuable experiences and ideas that could incorporated easily into their own teaching or learning design.

2. It needs to be both structured and unstructured -- This may seem like a strange one to some, but if you've taught with journals or blogs you probably know what we're getting at here. Some find the completely unstructured, "build your own experience" adventure to be exhilarating. Others find it terrifying because they want a much greater sense of linear structure. By the way, this seems ot apply to teachers as well. So, for this experience, we wanted to constrain oursleves to a design that would, the the greatest extent possible, satisfy both those wanting to explore freely as well as those desiring more structure.

3. Content and content design should model what average instructor can do in almost any learning environment -- Again, call us pragmatists. Stacy and I both work with traditional institutions and instructors, many of whom are not ready to embrace new technologies or  innovative approaches to teaching. With that in mind, we wanted to design content that pretty much any teacher/instructor could create and implement. We also realize that all teachers/designers work with additional environment/tool constraints (beyond their own expertise ar willingness to innovate), so we are also focusing on content models that can work pretty much anywhere.

 4. The experience needs to be both closed and open -- It is important to Stacy and me that we model something that can be incorporated into a wide range of institutions and teaching environments. We want our colleagues at every point on the teaching spectrum to be able to use some of the concepts in modeled in this experience. As a result, we feel like we need to embrace both open and closed environments. For those constrained by traditional LMS environments, and who feel constrained to  work entirely within those platforms, we wanted to show that you can create incredible engagement  there. However, we also wanted to support teachers/designers working in more open environments, and those wanting to add open options to a closed environment.

5. The focus should be learner-centric -- If we're going to focus on "student engagement," the design of the experience should place the learner at the center of his/her learning network as much as possible. As much as possible, all energy should be generated by individual learners and learner groups/communities.

6. Participants should have the ability to see what is going on within the community network  -- One of our beliefs about student engagement is that the more genuine engagement/activity achieved by a student within her/his learning network, the more meaningful and enduring the actual learning will be. To that end, we feel it is important to find diverse ways to help "show" learners how both they and the learning community are engaging, and how they might benefit form more or different types of engagement.

7. Participants should be able to join and leave at any time -- If we are designing an experience for the learner (as opposed to for the institution or instructor), it should be as flexible as possible. People should be able to come and go, regardless of whether or not they are talking of Michelangelo . They should be able to drop in for a single activity, a lesson, or the whole experience. They should also be able to do this in the order of their won desire.

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