September 26, 2014

#ccourses: Modeling student engagement and community

Image via makeuseof
I've had a chance to get to the rest of the #ccourses readings for Unit 1 and am thinking about "disruption," community, and real engagement of students. Although I do agree with Laura that disruption is a not-so-great term, I'm understanding that as used in this week's #ccourses readings, it's in the sense of describing the use of high-impact practices for education rather than traditional seat time. There is a huge initiative on my campus speaking to this, and I am very excited about it.
(Also see this discussion on A Beschdel test for higher ed disruption.)

Although I started off thinking about the WHY of my library instruction for UA students, I am changing gears in this post to reflect on a 4-week ecourse I am teaching with Erica DeFrain: ALA Instructional Design Essentials, for librarians. 

On one hand, we have some constraints: the course is only 4 weeks long, just about everyone in the class is a busy, working professional trying to squeeze in this professional development on top of their work week, and additionally, we are required to use a LMS, Moodle. On the other hand: we have a lot of freedom, we can design the course however we'd like using just about any model we'd like (and we have taken advantage of this!). 

With 69 students in the course and only two of us, we are incorporating a great deal of peer connection and assessment. It's definitely not only because it's a high ratio of students to instructors, but also because we believe this model will be most beneficial to students. Our students have varying levels of expertise, from some who are within 6 months of their first ever library job, to those who have well over 5 years of instruction experience and want to get a fresh perspective. With that, allowing students to share their expertise and form their own personal learning network is important. We want to give them as much ownership over the course as we can, while also keeping it organized enough for a busy, working professional to be able to just swoop in, get the gist, and make a little progress, if that's all they are able to do.

As Randy Bass describes, features of participatory culture communities include:
  • "low barriers to entry
  • strong support for sharing one's contributions
  • informal mentorship, from experienced to novice
  • a sense of connection to each other
  • a sense of ownership in what's being created
  • a strong collaborative sense that something is at stake"
We are integrating these features in our course through relying heavily on a peer network. We encourage student ownership of discussion boards, Twitter engagement, and commenting on blog posts. We also have peers endorse the posts they find most useful to them in their learning for the week. Although I am using and researching digital badges in other ways and am including them in this course, they are not the focus, but briefly, they help visualize the peer process.

#ideala ecourse badges that participants can earn

We feel the badges provide a sense of ownership over what is being created (along with the course Zotero group we created so students have access to readings after they no longer have access to Moodle, and it is here that they are encouraged to add resources that they find important to save and share with peers). This can provide mentorship as well, between who is endorsing as the mentor, and for the endorser to feel mentored by the peer(s) they select.

I love how Cathy Davidson talks about How a class becomes a community, and we are mirroring her discussion of teacher as facilitator and guide-on-the-side. Three of her principles for her course especially stood out to me: "Educators must develop methods of assessment that fit our digital age and prioritize lifelong learning; A model classroom environment draws on every participant's unique expertise for the greater good of collective goals; and There's a difference between high standards and standardization, and it's our goal to discover the digital possibilities to support the former and transform the latter."

We are going to see how this plays out more as the course continues (we are only in week 2 right now), but so far it seems successful. I'm excited to continue with #ccourses content and see how to implement these concepts and praxis into our course, as well as have a lengthier reflection on assessment.