Thursday, July 2, 2015

Power of Connections: What Do We Mean When We Say Student Engagement?

Laura Gibbs commented on my Google+ post yesterday that she was voting for PARTICIPANT CREATION (all caps and bold are hers). She said this with regards to my post on design decisions for our Power of Connections Course, and it reminded me why Stacy and I have been working on this in the first place -- we believe that learner creation is a core component of student engagement.

Without it, in fact, we would argue that it is highly difficult to create learning that endures.

Admittedly, talking about learner creation as a key part of what we call student engagement doesn't explain the different ways we can facilitate such creation in our courses, or how/when it leads to meaningful learning engagement.

This question or learning design challenge --  how/when do we create learner creation that leads to meaningful student engagement? -- is actually a driving philosophical force running through Power of Connections. And, as we have worked through the learning design process, we have designed with the following guiding principles.
  • Effective learner creation is about the "why" as much as it is about  the "what" -- Stacy and I have been working on Artefact Challenges for Power of Connections and, while there are so many cool things we could have participants create, we find that the value of their creation is directly dependent on its purposeful integration into a learning objective objective. Meaningful engagement comes when we can get learners to move past the act of creation into the acts of learning and accruing wisdom through experience.
  • For optimum student engagement, learner creation should be personalized/personalizable -- Good creation prompts appeal to a diverse group (meaning they are valuable or interesting to a heterogeneous class cohort), but they are also activities that can be personalized to a degree by each individual learner. This makes every creation truly unique and personal, and gives the learner creations greater meaning.
  • Ideally, learner creation should be sharable if we want it to result in real engagement --For creation to be engaging it must matter. It is important that the created work having visibility within the learning community, that it get out of the learner's head and into reality. This leads to multiple possible levels of impactfulness. It also, quite oftten, leads to greater reflection.
  • Creation is more than just making stuff -- it can also be active engagement with and personal internalization of information --This last one may seem strange but it is extremely important. Learner creation is also about students engaging in the formation (creation) of their own ideas and opinions about information. It is about helping them move beyond passive consumption, which is fairly antithetical to real student engagement. A key to facilitating this type of creation is to find good models for turning information into something that feels more "active" and "dynamic" to students. In Power of Connections for example, we do this with dialogues, which are intended to invite learners into a discussion about the information. By doing this we model information engagement as well as create a gravitational pull that, hopefully, gets the student to do more than skim the information at a surface level.

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