Building a Connected Classroom


flickr photo shared by opensourceway under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

As I begin to put off assembling my promotion and tenure file I have thought often about the open classroom. This has caused me to reflect on my teaching (really need to get this stuff stuck in a binder not a blog) I realized that my five year journey has lead to a trek across the web. I have tried to bring in principles of connected learning and open practices to my classroom.

In the past this has involved using #GAFE as a Free LMS (before Classroom). The rationale being that most districts, even those iOS based, had become Google Apps For Education. Plus it was all I knew, and easy. A single log on to blogging, RSS (still shedding a tear Reader), collaborative documents, video hosting and live hangouts, Streams on Google+, and content and student portfolios on GSites. It still sounds tempting.

But I made a commitment to try Open Tools. This year, as I try to shove all these bytes into binders (no technology or Web allowed during P&T…..sorry), I wanted to share my workflow.  I primarily use three tools: WordPress, Known, and Hypothesis.

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WordPress

This is the course hub.  The library where you check everything out and find links to the different pathways through the class. I have a shared hosting plan with Reclaim Hosting. I have built a course template so to say so I can easily add new courses as I develop them or port them online. Wordpress powers the web. It can power your class well.

The only real drawback for WordPress has been the constant vigilance required for security. I wanted to use the BadgeOS plug-in. This required  registration to allow the general public to enroll. I used BuddyPress This meant a constant hunt for plug-ins to stop the barrage of spam enrollments. If I am to use BuddyPress again I will not allow for registration but will manually enroll. The thought of even doing that is the reason I probably will not use BadgeOS.

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Hypothes.is

This is our coffee shop. It is where we gather to read. Hypothes.is is a social annotation tool. It has fundamentally shifted my teaching. Instead of talking about texts I am talking in texts.

All of the posts are public and licensed for reuse so this makes privacy a bit tricky. So I create a few options for students. First I review the benefits of learning in the open to build a web presence. Then we discuss the use of pseudonyms. Finally I let everyone know that hard copy offline annotations or notes are acceptable. I hear private groups are coming soon.

(Here is a how-to video that shows ways to use Hypothes.is within blackboard).

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Known

This is our Stream. I don’t need a physical metaphor for our network. It would seem foreign. Known is a blogging and social networking platform. I use it as a place for students to push all of their content. Every student in the class mantains their own place online. I want them to own their own learning rather than do it in the open.  They benefit from both. Our Known stream is where we share our community. It does take cultivation. Streams, just like any “LMS” like space, can devolve into file sharing systems with no iterative feedback between classmates. I am getting there.

Many of my students have chosen Known as their blogging platform. I also provide instructions for Blogger (for folks with Google accounts) and wordpress.com sites. I hope many of my students take their blogs with them. Few rarely do, but students approaching graduation have turned to me with regret, wishing they had built up a web presence (Dear Universities everywhere, building a portfolio and a presence are not the same thing). Known offers great hosting packages for students.

My favorite feature though is the control over privacy. I have always kept my class streams private. Before Known I used Google+, but now I can have a public stream that empowers students to make decisions over their privacy.

On every post students can select whether to make them public or shared with the class. This has helped me as a teacher as well. I give critical writing feedback to my students. They are learning a new genre of blogging while being held to traditional academic standards of writing (plus gifs, lots of gifs). I can use the private post function to give important feedback without hauling the student out on the parade grounds for a dressing down.

The one drawback I have run into is the comment feature. It is off by default, and the way public thinkers, especially women and minorities are treated I understand. Yet this takes a few emails to get everyone to turn on their comments. My other issue is the lack of an RSS feed for comments. It might sound strange but I use the RSS of comments as an assessment tool and a public nudge to support a community of writers.

Next Steps

I need a better RSS feed. This is my personal workflow for class and needs to live side by side the stream. I currently use Feedly Pro so I can include a reader. I like it. I can make my collections public and set up a feed for each class. I can only link to the feed. i can npt embed it yet.

I love what Laura Gibbs has done with InoReader. So I know what I want is possible. I have seen people like Alan Levine build stuff for Connected Courses. My favorite is probably Mozilla’s Planet feed that Atul Varma turned me on to. Now I am way over my head in terms of being able to take the Git Hub repo and do something with it but close to what I want does exist.

Laura has built it. I think I need to follow all of her excellent instructions and try out Inoreader.

I just need to get smarter or wait for someone smarter build the RSS reader for the classroom. In a perfect world it would work like JSTimeline. I have a spreadsheet template. I would add the student name, the rss feed for the blog, and the rss feed for comments (huge chance of human error here). I press a button and out pops out a pretty stream of student writing.  I would want to be able to have a firehose, sort by comments, student, etc.

The right tools are meaningless without community. We need to understand that bringing in open practices and connected learning to web novices requires scaffolding. An acceptance of failure and a constant forking of plans. I have taught with no stream and just RSS, just  stream, and both. The format doesn’t really matter. Our forum does. We need to come together,

I haven’t moved everyone totally out on social networks yet. I have required Twitter chats but I find many are hesitant to try. Instead I try to model the use of social media in my learning and leading. I will see if it catches on. I just don’t feel right mandating someone sign up for social media. I have created private pathways for all three tools and I do the same for social media. I wonder, however, if I should require Twitter,

At least for now I can say I built a class that:

  • uses open source tools
  • allows students to own their own data
  • has privacy options (or I can create a private pathway).

Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry is a teacher, researcher and scholar at Southern Connecticut State University.

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11 Responses

  1. ben tremblay says:

    @jgmac1106 Schweet. I’ve kept tucked away a project concept for pedagogy: Hyperize dialectic/discourse. Teach/test.
    cc: @hypothes_is

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