Friday, November 14, 2014

Co-Learning: An Act of Creation

I've finally figured out what a connected course is. And how different it is from an online course. I'll start by talking about what a connected course isn't. And then move on.

Connected Courses are not:
-A way of streamlining learning to make things more convenient for professors.
-Automated content delivery
-Scaled content delivery

My experience is that these are things you'll find in most online courses. A busy professor spends some time automating her class as he does in everything research-related. (Side note: automation doesn't always save you real time). After all, the First Law of Thermodynamics hasn't changed in centuries, why should how we present it? So we get some recorded lectures, slap together some homework assignments and reading materials, and we have an online class. I never have to give a lecture about the First Law again, sweet. Oh, you want me to handle bigger classes? No problem, recorded lectures don't lose impact when there are more students watching them.

Ok, let's be fair. There are some really great online classes, not everyone approaches them with my sarcastic attitude above.

Connected Course are an Act of Creation:
The distinction between an "Online Course" and a "Connected Course" for me is the co-learning environment. Its a question of motivation (more on that later). Co-learning environments blur the line between teacher and student. Its the TEACHER that approaches the course from a different perspective. And that changes how the students approach the course as well. Rather than throwing a bunch of materials out onto the web for students to consume and REGURGITATE in appropriate chunks, the teacher and students enter into an environment marked by DIGESTION that leads to CREATION. A result of a co-learning environment is the production of artifacts beyond a stack of graded assignments. The teacher recognizes the ability of the student body to contribute to his or her own learning. And inspires the students to do it.

A Challenge to Co-Learning:
The challenge of a co-learning experience is that it requires the investment of the students not only in the digestion of content, but in the creation of it. It's not enough to sit back and consume the information that's presented. And that can be challenging to achieve.

You may note that I should be pointing that last statement in the mirror. And I am. I've been faithfully watching the #ccourses video sessions, reading the online materials, and.... thinking about them.

Why? Same reason I use for most excuses in my life: I'm busy trying to write a dissertation. "Yeah, we get it."

I recently read an article about "The No-Fail Secret to Writing a Dissertation." Guess what it said:

If you spend your time trying to get the whole story together before you start writing, you'll severely hamstring yourself. I've spent months now trying to "figure out what my data means," and the best ways to present it. The problem is that:
"The writing is both the learning device and the outcome."
-Tony Brainstorms, on the day he finally got it.

We learn through writing. And we learn writing. OK, now change "writing" to "co-learning community engagement". Watching the class is not participating in the true learning objective. So, I guess now that I know that I've learned the real learning objective? Hmmm.....

The point I'm really trying to make is that motivation is critical. I've been motivated to do a great many things for a great many reasons. In a connected course the real challenge is how to motivate the students properly to engage with the co-learning act of creation.

Summing Up:
A connected course is a co-learning environment that often uses the internet as a tool for connection and creating spaces of shared learning and creation. If we shift our thinking away from "online classes" as tools for saving the professors' time and towards a student-centered approach, we will find ourselves leveraging the power of the web to build powerful connections that reach far beyond the course and produce new knowledge along the way. Co-learning is the act of creation, rather than regurgitation, of content.

A big challenge that I've experienced in this type of course is motivation. Not a lack of motivation in general, but a challenge in prioritizing my efforts in a course with no grades.

Ohhh boy, we've just hit on something....its time for another grading/motivation discussion, and I can't wait.

Thanks for tuning in.

(very soon, you'll find a follow-on post related to motivation in co-learning environments, cheers)


  1. Yes. Exactly. How do we paint masterpieces? We do hundreds of preliminary sketches. How do we share our knowledge? In conferences, in training sessions, in matches, in rehearsals, in performances. What is the interest of dialogue? We learn more, we see our ideas in a different light, we are less precious, protective, more open, socilally engaged. What the hell is the point of writing a thesis of working in a research laboratory of having any dialogue whatsoever with students? Who are the students, the teachers, the researchers, the administrators if they are not working together for a better society?

    Just asking :-) thank u a lot for this. Look forward to next post on motivation :-)

    1. Awesome thoughts, thanks for expanding on why we are doing this. The process of creation is messy, and beautiful.

  2. I had not even heard of connected courses until now!! Great post! I'll be sharing this with some friends...

  3. Very thoughtful post! I definitely agree on the writing as process and outcome part. Definitely helped me with my dissertation and motivation is problematic there, too, because even tho it is rewarded it requires loads of autonomy.
    Which brings me to the connected courses thing. Wondering how much of that motivation is totally intrinsic and how much affected by co-learning - how interactive it ends up being

    1. Thank you, and great point! Perhaps motivation in the context of a connected course includes 'co-motivation'. One of the goals of a connected course could be to help learners find intrinsic motivation?