disruption as storytelling device

I love this post from my new MOOC colleague for many reasons but perhaps most of all because it has us thinking about the MOOC itself as a narrative. My dear grad school mentor, Jim Corder, said, “Life is a narrative we make, or not, that only exists in our own little fictions.” Our EDC MOOC is an open learning space that we haven’t even entered yet. I don’t even remember how to get there–which will be somewhere in Coursera, though under the auspices of the University of Edinburgh. The MOOC student interaction right now is all over the Web (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.) and the course doesn’t actually begin until the end of this month. We have all just built our own learning community sparked by our signing up for the MOOC and informally agreeing to interact ahead of time. I don’t even know how that started (my friend in the MOOC was doing early interaction and that sounded fun so here I am . . . wherever “here” is).

another space oddity

I was just listing to the radio briefly as I passed between rooms and heard a novelist in interview saying how she (and all creative writers) needs to construct a disruption in a situation in order to be able to go on to tell a story, and of course this rings true – we all know narrative technique well enough to know the importance of the initial ‘crisis’… but what interested me was how that obvious truism suddenly struck me as just as true of the sort of creative writing we are engaging in as students in this course, and how the course itself is an emerging narrative enabled by an initial discourse on how ‘disruptive’ the mooc is to everything and anything in higher education: it’s irrelevant whether we take it as ‘true’ or not, we simply need to suspend disbelief in order to engage in the joys of…

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Color Walks & Documenting Walkabouts

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I love working with Keri Smith‘s How to Be An Explorer of the World in my academic research and writing classes because it helps me reinforce the scholar adventurer dimensions of field research and the noticing deeply needed for imaginative learning and  precise writing.

But having the students share their findings can get a little tricky, especially when I try to integrate the explorations into digital kinds of sharing–ePortfolios, blogs, discussion boards. I’m trying to get them outside to practice & cultivate a keener awareness of the often-overlooked details (and potential sources of inspiration and insight) in their everyday surroundings and then to use various tools–sometimes digital (e.g., phone camera), sometimes not (e.g., rubbings with crayons)–to preserve their observations.

Thanks to one of my MOOC colleagues, I just found this blog post on Color Walking from RadioLab‘s episode on Color. Their multisensory exploration was inspired by William S. Burroughs’ Color Walking; Keri Smith  recommends it also. What I’m loving especially is the way they used the timeline tool to plot their findings. This is so much better than attaching a photo to a discussion board posting, in so many ways. The timeline communicates the journey so much better and the inclusion of multiple images and short textual descriptions of each encounter with the image/color-source captures the interpersonal aspect of the trek. Sometimes the color is on a person, not an object, so they don’t just snap the photo but ask permission first and include a snippet of that discussion (or an acknowledgement of it) in their caption–reinforcing so many important learning objectives regarding citation and scholarship as conversation and so forth. I’m really jazzed.

I was already planning to use a timeline tool in one of my classes–Tiki-Toki–but now I’m also going to look at the tool RadioLab used: Timeline JS. I can see the color walk assignment as a way to get the students comfortable with the timeline software in preparation for a larger, collaborative timeline we’ll be doing as a class.

I’m also thinking about how the timeline tool might work with one of my favorite ice breaker assignments, a mad libs style exercise based on George Ella Lyon’s poem, “Where I’m From.” In it, students compose poems that are litanies of significant artifacts and names from their personal histories. I’m wondering what it might look like to translate those metaphors into images on a timeline–what would be lost and gained through that translation or remediation.

Learning as Networking as Learning

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As I watched Dave Cormier’s Success in a MOOC video I found myself making mental notes about how I might translate the learning-as-networking principles back into a f2f classroom. In so many ways I think these principles for online learning get overlooked in bricks-and-mortar classes. Despite all our efforts at engaged and experiential learning it seems to me that we don’t do a good enough job helping students experience networked learning in conventional on-campus environments.

For example, Cormier explains that once you’ve begun learning something in an online class the next step is to declare yourself by writing something about what you’ve learned in, say, a posting to your blog; then you deepen your learning by finding and making a connection to someone else’s learning by, e.g., posting a thoughtful reply to their blog.

In f2f and hybrid classes many of us try to do this through in-class conversation, short writing assignments, and/or postings outside class to an online discussion board or blog. The actions are analogous but relatively superficial. It’s just homework, in other words. Just an activity.  What’s missing is the [social] networking energy–the thing that makes it satisfying and even addictive to repeatedly visit, read, and comment on someone else’s thoughts. That’s the hook I’m wanting to activate, somehow, in all my courses–f2f, hybrid, and wholly online.

Also, when we declare ourselves online there’s an underlying assumption that we’re inviting a response–and, increasingly, that we’re not just saying one thing (i.e., one blog posting, one YouTube video) but sharing a body of work and inviting others to consider and respond to some or all of it. So Cormier’s MOOC video is the thing I’m looking at now, but YouTube tells me there are 118 more videos in his library, and I can subscribe to updates and comment on what I’m seeing. But in a f2f class a student composes one text at a time and the rest of us may never see anything else she has created on a kindred topic in the past nor in the future. We may glean some of her insights through class discussion but her body of work is invisible. I’m looking for ways to make all that other significant thinking and making more a part of the person we meet during our f2f semester. Like a multimodal portfolio of thoughts and experiences or a D&D style avatar that summarizes the diverse skills and traits likely to be activated during the course. Something that helps us better appreciate who is in the room (literally or figuratively) and how they have come to think and know what/as they do.

Digital Convergence (pun intended)

Rhetorical Gestures Mug

Despite our semesters apart this blog has remained my touchstone because in so many ways it is about the intersections of digital and material culture. I’ve decided to make it my home base for this month’s participation in a MOOC (a massively open online course) on e-learning and digital culture facilitated through the University of Edinburgh. Last I heard there were 32,000 people enrolled in this course, with a few dozen of us interacting on facebook and now quad-blogging together. I’ll get into all that later.

For now I just wanted to pause and mark my return.

In the past year I’ve done a lot of hands-on exploring–learning much more about the materiality of literacy by making books, paper, and other fiber arts in OKC and, most wonderfully, at the Penland School of Crafts; messing around with clay; experimenting with more digital storytelling tools (had a great experience at the Center for Digital Storytelling). I spent more time pounding the pavement and pondering the relationship between artifacts and public memory in Singapore, NYC, and OKC. 2012 was an interesting year. In 2013 I’d like to bring more of it into focus–for myself, for my students, and for anyone else who might make use of what we’re learning.