Monday, July 6, 2015

Getting Started: What Is the Power of Connections?

Rob: Power of Connections is our attempt at creating a collaborative community focused on the practical issues of student engagement.
Stacy: Wow, so many words and so little… so little… Hmmm...appeal?

Rob: Fair enough. Maybe you could toss out a version?

Stacy: Sure. What about, “Power of Connections is a collection of content and activities organized into different themes. The purpose of these is to help us, as a community, think about and share good practices for engaging students in their learning.”

Rob: It still sounds stiff. A bit “blah.”

Stacy: What you really mean is “bleh."

Rob: I didn’t say that.

Stacy: No worries. I think it’s “bleh” too. It doesn’t capture at all what we’re really wanting to do here.

Rob: Right. And not inviting either. So, what if we went with something like, “Power of Connections is a place where we can explore together how we can engage students in formal and informal learning environments.”

Stacy: Seriously? You think that’s an improvement?

Rob: Not really.

Stacy: Maybe it would be better if we just asked each other questions, you know, had a simple conversation.

Rob: Just the two of us talking? I like that idea.

Stacy: But it needs to be natural, okay? It’s just the two of us talking.

Rob: Got it. You mean like in this video?

Stacy: Oh, right. Forgot we had some video. Yes. Why don’t we start with that.

Rob: Alright, so the idea for Power of Connections originally grew out of different conversations we were having around “student engagement.”

Stacy: Yes. We kept coming back to the realization that student engagement seems to mean different things to different people depending on their backgrounds, teaching styles, or role in the education process.

Rob: So we settled on our own definition in order to provide a better context for our own discussions.’

Stacy: Drum roll please! Student engagement is moving students to reflect on information genuinely, apply it personally, and connect it to their community.

Rob: We wanted to design an experience where people could come together and talk about what student engagement really means to them, and to talk about the models and activities we use for making it happen.

Stacy: But the most important thing is simply getting people together — teachers, learning designers, all kinds of practitioners — and sharing ideas about why student engagement matters and how we think it should happen.

Rob: I guess we also need to talk about what participants can hope to gain by participating.

Stacy: Exactly. And one of our goals is to give people a chance to expand their network of connections.

Rob: I think the biggest benefit will likely be the creation of a public portfolio of activities and ideas for student engagement, most of which can be used in any kind of learning environment.

Stacy: Sounds like what we’re facilitating is more like a co-op than a course.

Rob: Right on. That’s because it’s not meant to be a course. We’re structuring the flow of the experience somewhat formally, but that’s only because we wanted to help some participants feel more comfortable about where they are in the experience and what they can do next.

Stacy: But there’s really no prescription for how to work through everything. Folks can join and leave however they like. And, at the end, everyone will have access to all the cool examples we create together.

Rob: Much more like Connected Courses or Rhizomatic Learning, then?

Stacy: In spirit, at least. We certainly want this to be an open experience, where the content we share is really intended to be a starting point for discussion and exploration.

Rob: If we want it to be an open experience, we should probably explain why we’re putting so much of the core experience inside a formal learning environment like NextThought?

Stacy: Well, one of the things we wanted to explore was how to talk about and model student engagement and connected learning “between the extremes."

Rob: Between the extremes? You mean the extremes of different approaches to online teaching?

Stacy: Exactly. Most of us are either designing or teaching courses inside of traditional learning environments like an LMS. A few, intrepid and/or fortunate ones are designing and delivering online learning experiences through more open media such as blogs or connected Web sites, free from the constraints of of an LMS.

Right. And on the surface, there seems to be a sizable, perhaps uncrossable, chasm between these approaches. What we want to look at are ways to support more open technologies and styles of teaching from within a more structured environment.

Stacy: And I see that evolving naturally as we all work through this experience as a connected community of explorers.

Rob: Explorers. I like that. And that’s exactly why we’re setting up some initial channels to allow people to work and connect openly, wherever they feel most comfortable, while aggregating that work in the context of a more structured environment. Throughout the experience, we’ll try to find the right balance between tools available in NextThought and existing sharing technologies on the Web.

Stacy: I like it.

Rob: Of course you do. You’re one of the facilitators.

Stacy: Nevertheless. Okay, so I have one more question for you.

Rob: Yes?

Stacy: We talk a lot about connections. What exactly do you mean by that?

Rob: Finally, an easy one.

Stacy: I try.

Rob: Okay, here goes. For me, connections is thinking of each individual as the center of a vast potential learning network, one full of nodes of possible connections. They can be connections with other people, communities, information resources, experiences, or even internal connections. I believe that learner engagement is ultimately about helping people make as many connections as possible within that network of possibilities. The more connections,the more engaged a person is. The more engaged, the more enduring the learning experience.

Stacy: So, for you, this is a course of connections about helping people make connections?

Right on.


  1. The course as meta course

    For me, the best part of teaching or facilitating begins after the initial content is created. That’s when a new round of deliberations and second-guessing begins. I look at a course always as a work in progress and never as a finished product. My thinking is much more in line with Mark Zuckerberg’s “hacker culture” mantras – 1) “Done is better than perfect,” and 2) “Move fast and break things.” With that disclosure made, you’ll see that Stacy and I will “teach out loud” by using the margin comments to share our continually updated thoughts and to ask for suggestions on how we can improve the course and make our ideas clearer to the community.

  2. What does student engagement mean to me?

    Comment: I realize it might have been better to have begun this dialogue by jumping directly to the fundamental question, “What does student engagement mean to me?” Since this experience is about creating and facilitating student engagement, it could be helpful to define at the outset what student engagement means to me. So, in an effort to correct the omission, I’m throwing this out as my initial response to the question. ( I’d love to hear yours.