Course Prerequisites

  • Willingness to take risks in expressing one’s thoughts and to “appear” foolish whilst doing so.
  • Openness to learning new things and to sharing ideas in the open web for collaborative learning and innovation.
  • Perfection is not a requirement, but patience and humility to learn from falls and stumbles are!

I can be reached via these means:

Twitter: @yinbk

Our Course Hashtag on Twitter: #vcuthink (for messages of a non-personal nature)

Email: (for personal messages)

Real-Time Chat: Via Google Hangout. Contact me via Twitter (Direct Message) or email to arrange for a one-to-one private session.

Hello! This syllabus is our Learning Roadmap. It serves as a guide for our learning journey together. As this is an online course and I don’t see you in person in real time (most of the time), it is necessary that you read through the entire syllabus before you attempt Module 1.

Wisdom begins in wonder.

“Wisdom begins in wonder.” – Socrates

Learning is not always easy from the get-go; learning something new involves making changes to existing thinking and behavior. I hope you embrace the messiness with courage, curiosity and wonder! At the end of this course, I hope that you will have a learning journal (blog) that documents your thinking and learning, and showcases what is possible when we put our hearts and minds onto something!

Course Overview

Thinking is intangible and mostly invisible, expressed in flat or one-dimensional ways (see Sousanis, 2015). To articulate our thinking and thoughts, I’ve set the course in a thematic context called Facets of College Life. As we work through some issues that college students face, we will apply our thinking dispositions and abilities to clarify and articulate our thinking.


Click on image to expand it.

The above diagram (Course Overview) depicts the range of learning activities in this course. The expandable tab on Learning Activities provides a textual explanation of the diagram.

Click on the expandable tabs below for more description of the course and how it works.

This course is focused on helping you develop attitudes, skills and strategies to make your thinking seen, heard and documented for deeper learning. It is NOT about the philosophy of thinking. In this 3-credit course, I will guide you to build understanding towards clear thinking through the cultivation of thinking dispositions and practical skills.

Developing clear thinking is a priority in learning because “learning is a consequence of thinking” (Ritchart & Perkins, 2008). Clear thinking leads to powerful learning. Powerful learning sparks passion and moves individuals to engage with communities to make a difference in lives.

Thinking becomes clearer when you articulate your thoughts and make it visible and/or audible to others. By documenting and sharing your thoughts, you invite others in to learn together with and from you, and vice versa. Together, your thinking and learning is enriched in powerful ways. Making your thinking and thoughts visible helps you to

  • demonstrate to others what and how you are thinking and learning,
  • make connections to what you already know
  • boost problem-solving, decision-making, mine untapped resources
  • unlock new ways of seeing things…
  • produce a portfolio of works to show off to potential employers


Overarching Course Goals

The core questions we will explore throughout this course are:

  • What is clarity in thinking?
  • Why do we make our thinking visible?
  • What is a thinking disposition? How do we develop thinking dispositions?
  • How do we make our thinking visible and clear? What are some visible thinking strategies we can employ to improve the clarity of our thinking?
  • How do we talk about thinking in such a way as to make it visible and significant?
  • How do we move from clear thinking into powerful learning for positive action and community engagement?


Big Ideas

Here are the big ideas of this course and some of the major things we will do in our time together:

  • We will begin the course by exploring what thinking is, what is clarity in thinking, and attempting to break out of narrow restrictive ways of thinking.
  • Then, we will explore multiple means of representing ideas.
  • A good, productive thinker is not just one with strong thinking abilities but has developed thinking dispositions that contribute to intellectual character.
  • We will learn to use various structures and prompts such as thinking routines, artful thinking and visual thinking strategies to explore and support ideation and articulation.
  • By connecting to your individual and collective interests, you will have opportunities to consider how to talk about thinking and how you express/document your thinking to promote understanding (doodle, take a photograph, write a song, create a video, …?).
  • There will be a final individual inquiry project that allows you to apply your creativity and what you’ve learned to take positive action for a cause or a community.

Thinking that leads to clarity and powerful learning requires effort and is challenging. I invite you to visit my blog to see examples of how I make my thinking visible.

In order to have a chance of making great work, you have to consume remarkable work.” – David Carr

The design of this course is based dominantly on the principles of Connected Learning, “a set of powerful design principles that engage, empower, and equip students to learn effectively, purposefully, and continuously throughout their lives.” We will not be using the Blackboard Learning Management System except for submitting your Grades.

What matters significantly to me in this course is your engagement in learning activities. I planned this course to be a maker-oriented, project-based learning course; one where you have choices to do what sparks your interest and to make connections with people and with ideas. There are no quizzes or final exams. But I expect you to read, discover, be curious, write and create things regularly.

Here are some of the major requirements of this course:

1. Document Thinking on a Learning Blog

A student without a blog is a student without a voice.”
– Vicki Davis

We will use blogs (a.k.a. digital learning journals) as learning spaces to articulate our thoughts, experiences and emotions. Our blogs will document our observations, questions, concerns, challenges, “aha” moments, and connections to what we are discussing and learning in the course. This will be a digital portfolio that showcases your efforts made throughout this course and something that you can take pride in showing to a friend or employer. There will be weekly prompts for individual smaller assignments (compared to the final inquiry project).

I don’t want you to write or create things only for me. I want your voice to be heard by as many people as possible. The good work you produce is important, so these blogs will be published on the open web. In this way, we will have opportunities to interact with not just members in our course, but also with members of the public.


2. Learn from Teams

You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.”
– Mother Teresa

You will have individual activities to complete but a key principle of this course is to learn to work with others. You may envision thinking as a solitary process you do “in your head” but good thinking is usually an iterative process and product of interactions we have with others in sociocultural contexts. You will work in small groups for a few group assignments during the course.


3. Develop a Final Inquiry Project

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
– Albert Einstein

Individually, you will create stories of how you think and learn based on some specific quest you have. You can pick from a project list of options I will provide, edit the option to suit your interest, or propose a project yourself.

For those who learn better with examples:

  • Check the top 10 most successful Kickstarter projects for some inspiration. Note: You do not have to develop the project. I am interested in the concept and what you proposed to do about it. Kickstarter projects in Richmond, VA!
  • Challenge E.g. 1: World Road Cycling Championships 2015 in Richmond. Classes in VCU will be disrupted. What will be your personal quest in this event?
  • Challenge E.g. 2: You live in a community that does not have adequate public transportation. It is difficult to get anywhere without public buses. Your quest could be: To produce a video newsletter/a series of photo essays/a comic strip/etc. to educate the community on how to navigate this challenge.

… You get the drift? The project list will be posted in the near future.  Amaze me! 

We will work together to explore the thinking involved for such projects and record our observations for further interpretation and feedback. My role is to support you with thinking strategies and other resources that will help you to create excellent work.


4. Use Technology to Support Learning

Don’t let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can do.”
– John Wooden

As an online learning community, we will document and communicate our thinking using a variety of social media and online technologies. We will also have some real-time online hangouts. I do not expect my students to be technology ninjas, just people who are willing to learn how to use technology wisely to demonstrate what and how they are learning.  For example, the ability to use some basic image editing, voice-recording, and video recording software, available on your mobile phones. To get started, click on the next collapsible link below this section.

In this section, I will clarify the major terms I use in this course and give you a broad introduction to our course activities.

Newscast: These are announcements and observations of previous modules’ learning experiences.

Resources: This refers to weekly readings and other media resources I use to provide some background of the modular topic. This course is more maker-oriented and experiential in nature, hence, I have not inundated you with readings. I expect you to read essential ones for insights to prompt thinking and doing before our Twitter chats.

Make: A make is an activity based on the Maker Oriented Learning approach. My goal is to provide a weekly prompt for you to design and create something due every Thursday. This practice helps to foster a sensitivity to design by actively observing, studying complexity, and looking for opportunities to think and respond to the challenge. “IT’S STILL FUZZY TO ME! ” (A page of Makes created by graduate students from CMST 691 on the theme of Shared Power. Don’t restrict yourself to these example makes! )

Power Reflection: Power Reflection refers to the weekly blog posts you write to reflect on a module’s learning activities. This affords you opportunities to carve time out deliberately to examine your assumptions, question your “before” and “after” doing and writing and what you might do differently to improve. This is when deep learning occurs.

Community Connect: This term refers to your course engagement, evidenced in blog commenting and giving feedback on makes and reflections (due for each module by the following Wednesday); tweeting to share, interact, discuss and learn from and with others; bookmarking web resources for Diigo group and collaborative activities with others (due for each module by the week’s Sunday).

Final Inquiry Project: This is self-explanatory. It is a project where you get to explore a topic you are passionate about. You will document your observations, insights and thinking process as you travel on this learning journey. You will have small draft submissions about your project which culminate in a final website devoted to this Final project. [See URL]

Twitter (Tweeting): There will be a synchronous Twitter chat session every week to discuss our readings and learning experiences. It’s scheduled for every Friday but we shall see how everyone’s schedule goes. Tweets to our course hashtag continue as and when you are led to add your thoughts to the conversation. As students of visible thinking, we walk the talk by openly documenting and sharing our educational experiences.

Web Chat: This might happen biweekly or weekly. It might be a panel of experts sharing their experiences about a topic or just us talking in real-time to discuss our ideas and learning experiences. We will use Google Hangout on Air or Appear.In.

Your grade is likely an important topic to you, but my hope is that you will not worry excessively about it. I hope that you will learn a lot and that you will apply that learning to new contexts. Try to draw from your inner motivation to produce great work, instead of being driven by a grade. As Dr. Tina Seelig of Stanford University often says:

Never miss an opportunity to be fabulous! - Tina Seelig

Choose topics that you are passionate about for your final inquiry project and do wonderful work, fabulous work. I see everyone as a potential A student, unless there are internal and external forces that are obstructing your path to success. Let me know ahead of time what is stopping you from doing fabulous work. We can talk about ways to help you succeed.

At the end of the course, I have to give you a summative grade. My goal is to assess you on learning. To do so means I conduct ongoing formative assessment (regular feedback) that leads to my giving you a summative (final) grade. I will look at your entire learning process and at your products (blog reflections, makes, final project).

Starting from Module 2, I will also provide an overall recap (short for recapitulation) of the previous Module’s learning. Look for individual feedback on your blogs and in the Blackboard Course Grade Center.

As this course is available on the open web using open networked learning tools, outside participants are also available to give you feedback on your work. This way you will receive richer input on your work. I will review these external comments too.

  • Final Inquiry Project (1 final item published on a separate Rampages site dedicated to the project purpose (if elsewhere, let’s talk about it), 5 progress report briefs and 1 planning draft in a shared Google Document. See [insert URL] for Project Expectations): 40% of final grade
  • Makes (7 weeks of Makes, 5 points each): 10% of final grade
  • Reflections (on readings and course activities, 7 items, 10 points each): 20% of final grade
  • Course & Community Connections refers to interactions with others in course activities and making connections that facilitate and enrich visible thinking and learning: 30% of final grade
    • Blog commenting and giving feedback on makes and reflections
    • Tweeting to share, interact, discuss and learn from and with others
    • Bookmarking web resources for Diigo group
    • Collaboration with others as evidenced in your comments, tweets, bookmarking and team work

Reflections and Final Project will be assessed on clarity (Paul & Elder, 2013); facets of understanding (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), ideas (Brookhart, 2013) (Performance criteria guides are in VCUTHINK shared folder). Makes are assessed on effort and overall quality.

You might wonder how I will know you are participating and engaged in learning? Blog posts in the course site will be tracked and analyzed via a WordPress application that pulls all posts into a spreadsheet. Twitter data will also be analyzed to help me understand your online interactions. I am working with our Research Fellow at ALT Lab, Laura Gogia, to analyze all these data for assessment. This is not intended to cause alarm but to assure you that my assessment of your course and community engagement is based on real data.

Success in this course is based on consistent participation in course activities and punctual submissions of work. If for some valid reason, you are unable to submit your work in a timely fashion, please notify me in advance or as soon as you can after the emergency. Assignments in this course culminate in understanding that leads to “evidence” of learning. The process is important and assignments must be completed progressively for learning to connect and enrich you. You must complete all modules and assignments in order to build a deep understanding of the course subject matter.

By course policy, the instructor (that is, me) reserves the right to lower a student’s final course grade as the sole result of his or her repeated absences from course activities and tardiness in submitting assignments. Students who miss participating in ONE entire module (out of 8 total), and who do not respond to instructor communications to catch up, will not pass the course.

A = 90% and above

B = 80-89%

C = 70-79%

F = Anything below 70%

If you have a disability, I encourage you to talk to me about it immediately so we can work together to support your success in this course.  If you feel that you may need academic accommodations due to a disability, then you should register ASAP with the Disability Support Services (DSS) at 907 Floyd Avenue, Room 102, Richmond, VA 23284, phone number, 804-828-2288.  DSS is the VCU office at Monroe Park Campus that authorizes special accommodations for students with disabilities.

There are also several tutoring centers on campus, and I encourage you to use such services appropriately as you need them; e.g. contact them as to whether they do web video counseling chats. Tutoring centers include the Campus Learning Center and the Writing CenterThe Wellness Resource Center offers services to help students maintain a healthy lifestyle. Again, if you have any concerns that are preventing you from moving forward in this course, please do not hesitate to contact me.

I dislike having to raise this issue but this does happen, sometimes; that is, some students flout the honor code. As a reminder,

“All members of the VCU community are presumed to have an understanding of the VCU Honor System and are required to:
Agree to be bound by the Honor System policy and its procedures;
Report suspicion or knowledge of possible violations of the Honor System;
Support an environment that reflects a commitment to academic integrity;
Answer truthfully when called upon to do so regarding Honor System cases, and,
Maintain confidentiality regarding specific information in Honor System cases.”

More information about the Honor System in its entirety can be found on the Division of Student Affairs website.

Courses are about people, not things. Sometimes, we need a little reminder about this amidst the hustle-bustle. Here are some guidelines for our community. Chime in to let me know if we need to add to it.

  • 10 Basic Rules of Netiquette (Kim Tranter)
  • Check this course site daily. Don’t leave your work till the very last day to complete. Online learning works differently from face-to-face classes.
  • Plus 1: Remember the human
  • Plus 2: Stick to the same standards of behavior online as you do in real life

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