Thursday, July 9, 2015

Power of Connections: Real-Time Design Inquiry and Teacher Engagement

Stacy and I had a great meeting on Power of Connections yesterday. The main focus of our discussion was on how to make our learning design decisions transparent to participants, and how to engage them in different forms of elaboration and feedback.

Practically, what this amounts to is creating reflections and comments about all course content, and posting those comments contextually, in the "margin" of each reading or assignment. Participants will see these as they go through the experience and will be able to join our dialogue if they are interested. Since the course in on student engagement, we wanted participants to be able to see in-the-moment, ongoing dialogues from the "teachers" about their decisions and thinking. We wanted them to overhear us talking about "why we thought this was a good idea (and, perhaps, realize now that it might not be exactly what we intended)," or "how this content is linked to an assignment way down the line that you can't see yet (and asking if that makes sense)", or "can you think of a better way to present this activity (we like the activity but know it could have been more)?"

In some ways, this means creating both a "course" and a "meta-course," but the result, at least for the two of us, is lots of fun. Obviously,  we hope this will be something that engages our course participants, but the benefits of this "designing out loud" make it a worthwhile process regardless.
Here are two reasons why.
  • It reemphasizes that the learning experience we've designed is a point of departure rather than a destination -- Since participants can see our decisions, expectations, and doubts, they can also see that we do not envision either the content or the thinking about our subject as something that has been resolved. I believe the evolution is/will be apparent.
  • It makes us care what participants think about our process almost as much as we care about what they are getting out of the process -- This is an interesting one. Normally, when we think about teaching we tend to focus almost exclusively on student outcomes and how students are benefiting from what we have planned. It's simply a matter of the ends proving or justifying the means. In our model, we are constantly concerned with "how could this be better," and admitting up front that we require learner contribution and assistance in making the experience truly meaningful. We are now engaged, as teachers, because we have invited evaluation as a core part of the experience.
Once Power of Connections kicks off next week I'll begin showing examples of this "teaching out loud" process and writing about  participant feedback and the evolution of our thinking.

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