Network Fluency and Connected Courses: A #Walkmyworld Reflection

CC 3.0 Walk alone.
CC 3.0 Walk alone.

I am not bullish on MOOCs. Teachers and researchers struggle with scaling up and fidelity with their teaching across physical classrooms, like across the hall close. When you then want to scale up teaching on massive scales. with a heavy influence on direct instruction mixed with a need for serious self-regulation failure will happen.

I find MOOCs cold, distant, and unconnected. Yet great learning happens all the time.Especially online. I look at phonar, ds106, clmooc with amazement.

What makes these spaces different?

#Walkmyworld helped to answer this question. I often refer to movements like #walkmyworld as accidental MOOCs. I realize now, because of the research into Connected Courses, that we did not build a MOOC at all. We built a community that relies on network fluidity.

What was #walkmyworld?

The #WalkMyWorld project was a social media experiment to provide pre-service teachers, veteran teachers, and K-12 students with an opportunity to develop media literacies and civic engagement in online spaces. For ten weeks, participants visually represented an aspect of their lives using any preferred medium, such as images or videos, applying the #WalkMyWorld hashtag on Twitter.

This emergent community completed a series of “learning events” involving reading and responding to the poetry of Robert Hass by sharing their personal histories through multimodal representations. The shift from individual to collaborative learning developed quickly.

Network Fluency and #walkmyworld

The greatest asset #walkmyworld had was its social capital. This trust grew because of a blended approach not common in most connected courses (notice the shift away from MOOC). We had a core of facilitators who lead in digital spaces but also taught in their own nodes. In essence we all had our own classes, some online and some face to face, who served as mentors in the community.

Having local nodes on a distributed network transformed the experience. Those of us in the #connectedlearning community need to continue to explore this design. Let’s design connected courses but have facilitators customizing the classes for their local context.

We also did not dictate, beyond organizing through Twitter, what network participants had to complete. This fluidity is an asset for any connected course. We had some share a portfolio of their learning events using Storify. Many participants played on their blogs. Organizers planned on email.  Vines and Instagram were everywhere. @Dogtrax sent out comics almost daily. Haiku Deck made a few appearances. There were remixes made in Mozilla’s webmaker product: Popcorn Maker.

Network fluency at its finest builds social capital. It allows trust and social capital to grow as you recognize the agency folks bring to their networks ahead of time.

Network Fluidity and Documenting Learning

How do you track learning across all these nodes? Our first process involved putting the onus on the participant. They were asked to use Storify to create a final collection that documented all of their learning. This allowed us to do a fast content analysis (oxymoron).

The facilitators do not have the capacity for Social Network Analysis, nor did the methods meet our goals. Instead we invented our methodology while flying the plane.

We also used Martin Hawkseye’s TAG 5.0 system. The wonderful tool allows you to gather and analyze signals sent across Twitter. I highly recommend the tool to document learning. I have used this sysemt since version 3.0 and Martin Hawkseye deserves a medal.

If you have a really large connected course you can utilize both systems to manage how you document learning. For example you can do the number of Tweets as a method to randomly select participants for thematic or content analysis review. You could use other metrics such as ratio of original tweets to retweets to cluster folks and find themese across their practice.

For example we noticed a tension in the academic focus of the #connectedlearning occurring by using our database of Tweets. The #Walkmyworld project began as a poetry and technology exploration. Three of the facilitators had engaged in explorations of digital poetry for years. The participants, however, came from K-12 schools, content area literacy classes, and graduate English classes.

Few of the participants engaged with actual poetry and did not share much more than images of their walks.

We then cross checked this data point with other evidence for triangulation. All of the organizaer emails were saved and analyzed. It turned out this tension of content knowledge versus the social sharing goals existed at meta levels. Local node facilitators who worked with participants farther removed from poetry kept trying to pull back.

All of these conclusions began by an analysis of the TAGS database (tip: DO NOT SHARE the original database with participants. We opened it up o folks could choose the artifact for their portfolio. All the cutting and pasting eventually messed up our data collection. Luckily I rebuilt the sheet through revision history before the 7 day Tweet limit.)




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