I blogged pieces of my dissertation, first on Laura’s Coloring Book (now closed) and then on Messy Thinking, for a variety of reasons. In the beginning, my blog was like a bulletin board: a place to stick information so that I wouldn’t forget it. Later, it became a place to organize my thoughts, receive feedback, and show the world what I was working towards. What you see following this post is a selection of re-blogged pieces (now all housed on Messy Thinking) that show the path of my thinking for this project. For outside influences and additional context (most notably Twitter Journal Club,Connected Courses, Black Twitter, and a year-long writing collaboration with Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell), see Messy Thinking.
Every dissertation advisor will tell their students that they need to develop an “elevator speech” about their dissertation work. I converted my assignment into a dissertation tweet and it goes like this:
Digital annotation devices such as hyperlinks & mentions can be used to document & assess student connectivity in VCU connected courses.
As I move towards the completion of my dissertation, the soundbite remains important, but I’ve identified five questions that allow for clearer explanations of what I’m trying to convey. They are not the only questions (in other words, there will be more blog posts). However, they represent a place to start. Here they are along with some answers.
- What is connected learning at VCU?
As I documented in a prior post, educators use “connected” to mean a lot of things, from situated, interdisciplinary, holistic, to online (in a purely technical sense) learning. In 2013, the Connected Learning Alliance published a pedagogical framework that synthesized the common uses with their own predominantly ethnographic research and the work of Dewey and Montessori. While the framework goes a long way to explain connected learning in general, Virginia Commonwealth University has juxtaposed connected learning with open education in order to shine a spotlight on the core messages of both connected learning and open education.
In other words, connected learning at VCU isn’t JUST connected learning; it’s really learning at the INTERSECTION OF CONNECTED AND OPEN.
At VCU, we have blended the educational approaches of connected learning and open education to promote their own version of educational equity and accessibility, active and social learning, and digitally networked participation. The VCU approach aligns with connected learning and its focus on improving student engagement through more compelling, inclusive, and relevant learning experiences for more students. It interprets educational relevance through both connected and open lenses: courses should facilitate the integration of informal and formal learning and recognize the co-evolutionary, emerging, and augmenting qualities of digital networks and technologies. VCU emphasizes digital learning as active, social, creative, and authentic learning and encourages students and faculty to elevate their digital fluency in terms of developing personal learning networks and digital workflows for the purpose of lifelong learning in a digital age.
2. What is a connected course?
Again, this term can be used to mean many things. I am arguing that courses that are situated at the intersection of connected and open must take certain stances along four axes: openness, creative expression, networked participation, and student agency. My proposal is best represented in this picture (also found here):
3. What are the learning goals in a connected course?
Like all courses, connected courses should have multiple types of learning goals. Some might relate to content. Some might relate to a certain type of professional development or skill. However, in connected courses, some should relate to something I have identified as “connectivity.”
If you read the VCU QEP, you’ll see that we are aiming for generalizable education, or “learning that matters.” It argues that one interesting route towards learning that matters is the promotion of digital fluency and integrative thinking. I explore these in my dissertation but focus predominantly on the intersection of the two, which is connectivity.
Connectivity is the ability of the learner to connect their current thoughts, ideas, or experiences with and across other people and concepts across space in time. I developed a model that is based on the experiential learning model created by Kolb (1971) and defines the components in terms of social learning theory, schema and transformative learning theory, and research on knowledge transfer.
4. How do we promote connectivity through learning activities?
Connectivity is promoted through activities that encourage students to make connections and then reflect those connections back to the student so that they can reflect on and make decisions related to them. E-portfolios and the development of personal learning networks are two closely related, synergistic activities that do this for students on personal and social levels. Both of these activities are supported by blogging and other forms of social media such as (but not limited to) Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, Discourse, and similar.
VCU established an open campus publishing platform named after the university mascot, Ram Pages, which offers students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to develop individual, course, and organization websites. Ideally, as these sites are used to support personal interests, social and co-curricular activities, and formal academic experiences, their content will become networked to form a rich, virtual learning environment layered onto and extending beyond the physical VCU campus.
All of VCU Connected Courses include blogging; some include the use of other social media. My dissertation focused on blogging and tweeting as common activities found in these contexts.
5. How do we assess connectivity?
The educational research literature is still catching up on this one; ideas that are emerging include the use of e-portfolios, perception surveys, and learning analytics based on digital traces (i.e. the capture, storage, retrieval, and visualization of digital actions taken by students in digital learning environments. My student focused on digital annotation devices as digital traces that may reveal/document student acts of connection (as defined in #3).
Annotations are discourse devices included in the body of the digital text but serve an organizational or communicative purpose, directing or providing additional information about the main content of the text. Examples include hyperlinks, embedding codes, mentions, and hashtags added to blog posts or tweets.
My research showed that student use of annotation devices did capture evidence of student connection to people and concepts across space and time. However, there are nuances to this statement, which will be discussed in my next blog post.
First, I described how VCU, my home institution, wound up “being at the intersection of Connected Learning and Open Education.” Then I discussed what educational theory and practice look like at the intersection. Then I identified connectivity as the essential, unifying pedagogical theme found at the center of connected and open learning. Connectivity is what we want to happen and what we want to document in terms of student performance. I’ve defined connectivity before, a day or two before I went into my dissertation prospectus hearing. Then I identified it here, at #DLRN15, and here, at #OpenEd15. If you were to follow the links, you’d see that the wording changes a little bit each time, but the idea is essentially the same:
Connectivity is act of documenting, creating, and acting on connections across people, content, space, and time.
How does connectivity equate to learning? The concept of connectivity can be divided into two components: actions and objects being acted upon. Some of this gets a bit ridiculous and obvious to my mind, but I was asked to make these connections explicit and who am I to object to making connections explicit?
The Actions of Connectivity – What literature supports them as actions of learning?
- Argument 1. Required for Reflection: Bergson (1917), Schon (1982), and Csíkszentmihályi (1991) suggest that individuals are not necessarily aware of what they are doing while they are doing it, making documentation essential for those who what to understand, replicate (or not replicate) their performances in the future.
- Argument 2. Required for Peer Review/Concept Testing: Harel and Papert (1971) argue we must make thoughts concrete so that we might reflect, but also so that we may test them against the understanding of our peers.
- Argument 3. Required for Metacognition: Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy lists documentation as a step in metacognitive knowledge development.
- Argument 1. Required for Untarnishable Joy: Bruner describes the ability to go beyond the information given as one of the untarnishable joys of life. (Do we really need additional arguments?)
- Argument 2: Required by Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy.
- Argument 3: Required by 21st century skills lists.
Decision-Making (e.g. problem solving, purposeful or strategic movement).
- Argument 1. Required by Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy
- Argument 2. Required by 21st century skills lists.
The Things Connected – What literature supports these objects as resources for learning?
- Argument 1: For “interacting with the other” for understanding what you don’t know and transformative learning (social constructivism, adult education)
- Argument 2: For collaboration, cooperation, or crowdsourcing for collective knowledge creation (social constructivism)
- Argument 3: For better understanding and refining one’s own ideas (constructionism)
- Argument 1: Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky)
- Argument 2: Threshold Concepts (Meyers and Land)
- Argument 3: Schemas and Scaffolding (Constructivists, social and otherwise)
Space & Time.
- Argument 1. Transferability.
- Argument 2. Reflective Practice (Schon)
The next iteration of my criteria for Connected Learning course designs is here, and I think I’m much closer. For a full history of this process, start here and then move to here. I like this one. Remember that all of this is being done in the context of Virginia Commonwealth University, a context explained here.
In 2013, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU; my home institution), re-introduced itself to the world as a place where students and faculty work together to “make it real.” The slogan, as explained in this VCU News article, is meant to celebrate the university’s connection with and participation in the broader, “real” world. Its core message is that the VCU community is “…deeply engaged in modern life, crossing disciplines and time zones to make a difference in the world in myriad ways.” The campaign’s most consistent image is the classic wooden school desk, which is meant to represent academic rigor, placed in a variety of non-academic settings, driving home the point that research, creativity, service, discovery, and learning are never confined to the classroom.
The message of the make it real campaign is that education should be modern, holistic, interdisciplinary, global, and change-making.
VCU is “making it real” as an institution in transition, an institution still working towards being one of the nation’s premier urban, research universities. Since President Michael Rao arrived in 2009, the university has been in a rapid growth and development stage: growth in terms of real estate, capital construction projects, grant acquisition, and strategic fundraising initiatives; development in terms of refining who we are as an institution and explicitly defining our goals and values. In 2011, VCU unveiled an aggressive new strategic plan, the Quest for Distinction, which speaks directly to institutional thoughts on academic quality, student success, research and innovation, faculty excellence, community impact, and resource accountability. If you read beyond the headings, you’ll see that the focus on student success is not so much about increasing enrollment as it is about student graduation and retention. As such, the plan focuses on student engagement and support services, teaching excellence, and enhanced learning outcomes.
The message of the Quest for Distinction is that VCU must provide students with education worth having and the global community with an institution worth keeping – because it is uniquely relevant, innovative, and making a difference.
Enter the VCU Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), revised in 2014. QEPs are a part of the accreditation process in which the school provides evidence of a strategically aligned plan for academic quality and student success. Our QEP, a project spearheaded by Gardner Campbell, our Vice Provost of Learning Innovation and Student Success, has an executive summary that is a thing of beauty. Speaking in a voice that strives for both distinctiveness and making it real, the QEP outlines an institutional desire to promote “learning that matters” through a cultural commitment to generalizable education.
Generalizable education: education that has substantial and lasting impact beyond any course, major, or degree.
The summary goes on to describe a need for proof of concept and offers up an area in need, an area of focus – General Education. It goes on to suggest that VCU students need general education for a digital age, specifically, a program that addresses the learning objectives of integrative thinking and digital fluency. Digital fluency, promoted through digital engagement within and across general education courses, is presented as a means to help students practice integrative thinking.
The executive summary goes on to outline a plan of action:
- A 30-hour general education common curriculum – common to every school and the College of Humanities and Sciences
- Substantial increase in formal and informal modes of effective, influential, learner-centered digital engagement
- Substantial increases in opportunities for VCU students to participate in creative, distinctive online learning.
The message of the QEP is that VCU can create a relevant and inspirational (i.e. “real”) learning space by offering educational opportunities to faculty, staff, and community members that are creative, holistic, and integrative. Furthermore, working within a framework of open education and connected learning is a powerful pathway to achieving the goal.
Therefore, VCU ALT Lab functions at the intersection of connected learning and open education. The world is watching as we rapidly and massively experiment with the technical and pedagogical aspects of student blogging on open platforms. I think we just hit 10,000 student blogs registered in less than two years (there are other people who can speak to this better than I can). With that goes innovative course designs. Thoughtvectors. Collaborative Curiosity. Visual Poetry. Field Botany. And so on. VCU is making Connected Learning real, not just in the humanities, but across disciplines, course formats, class sizes, academic cultures. This is a university-wide initiative, and VCU is a big university.
It is my opinion (and not meant to reflect the opinions of my bosses or my unit) that VCU is inventing its own distinct brand of Connected Learning. It has qualities of open education, but it’s not about MOOCs (x or otherwise). It shares a name and theoretical foundations with DML Research Hub’s Connected Learning, but it is situated within formal, institutionalized, higher education – with all the unavoidable trappings of accountability, assessment, and evaluation.
Enter me, Laura Gogia, the VCU ALT Lab graduate fellow working towards a PhD in educational research and evaluation. My work in creating assessment and evaluation strategies for Connected Learning relates directly to the VCU manifestations of Connected Learning. We are higher education. We are a large, urban, public university. We are taking (calculated) risks and making sweeping change. We have very real pressures from and responsibilities to our students, accrediting bodies, stakeholders, faculty, and ourselves. If we are to continue experimenting, we need some (interim) definitions and documentation. And we need them now. And because we are doing things at a scale and in a context I have yet to see in other places, we need to take some initiative in creating some (interim) definitions and forms of documentation.
Since my last blog post, I have continued to think about how we in formal, higher educational contexts might identify “connected learning courses,” as a type of instructional design or format. I can think of several, very practical reasons why this might be important:
- It helps move universities that have embraced a connected learning agenda towards a tracking system – for the purposes of watching growth across and within departments and programs – identifying what you are trying to promote an essential part of any needs analysis or progress report
- It helps with educational research and development. How am I supposed to provide evidence that connected learning is useful (or that courses are triggering connected learning) if we can’t agree on a viable definition of connected learning?
- It helps faculty understand what we mean by connected learning in the context of designing their courses.
- Once they understand what we mean by “connected learning course,” it indicates to students what to expect within a course. There may be times when students would prefer to sit back in a lecture rather than work as hard as they have to in connected learning courses. We should acknowledge and respect that.
So, here goes.
If you read that last post, you know that I am working on defining connected learning through the lens of syllabi/course document review – the sort of thing graduate fellows like me might do when trying to identify “connected learning” courses to study. I don’t think you’ll find my table too different from the Connected Learning Alliance definition of connected learning. Beyond this obvious connection, my thought process in creating Version 1.0 of my “How Connected Is It?” table was shaped by the following things:
- I’ve spent the last three months buried in my own obsession with the overlaps between open education, connected learning, and networked learning fields. If you are familiar with these three bodies of literature, you will recognize certain things.
- I’ve spent the last weekend pouring over the course documents for the five “connected learning courses” that my university piloted last summer – I am using them as the sources of data for my dissertation research, which is on the documentation of connected learning. None of the courses are the same – in fact, in some ways, they are all over the map – and I have (personal) opinions on just how “connected” they actually were. I’m going to have to explain all this in my dissertation and in any future research I might pursue, particularly in this stage of connected learning development.
- I love the format of the PLOS “How Open Is It?” This very useful pdf outlines the spectrum of open access journals. In the old days when I was working to start an open access journal and I was trying to explain open access to faculty, I found that this one pdf spoke volumes – they looked at it, and they got it. THEY GOT IT. They ALL got it. And, trust me, I’d tried everything else to explain it – even interpretive dance. The caveat was that some faculty thought you had to be on the same level (in the same row) for all of the categories, and of course you don’t, but that’s easy to explain away. I feel like “connected learning courses” are very similar to “open access journals” because they both have a variety of key elements that can be expressed along a spectrum. Therefore, because of my past experience, I am dead-set on making one of these tables.
Here’s the first draft. Please remember that the purpose of this is to help people identify connected learning course designs through the process of syllabus/course document reviews. It does not actually speak to whether connected learning occurred – that’s the purpose of course evaluations and student assessments.
Many of you are going to hate it. That’s ok – dig in. My biggest problem with it is the ordering of the items in the columns…why are some of the things considered more open than others? Right now, my order is based partially on my reading and partially on what I’ve seen in my own course document review. I freely admit that it’s not right yet, and I am hoping you are going to help me make it better.
As part of my work as the Graduate Fellow at VCU ALT Lab, I try to make sense of the rapidly evolving body of literature on designing higher education connected learning experiences. To be frank, it is rapidly evolving because there isn’t much officially written, yet. Nevertheless, for the purposes of my dissertation proposal, I outlined a list of learning activities consistent with connected learning that I synthesized from a variety of articles and think pieces. A short excerpt:
Connected Learning experiences in formal, higher education settings tend to involve five key activities: establishing a personal learning network; curating, critiquing, and organizing data; connecting or coordinating concepts over space, time, and spheres of learning; transforming data into new products; and sharing new products with the personal learning network (Dede, 2009; Kop, 2011; Downes, 2006).
Therefore, I’m working on a new way to think about identifying “connected learning instructional designs.” Much of my thinking arises from my recent immersion in the open education, connected learning, and networked learning literature. It’s a mix of the three, really. I’m not suggesting that all connected learning courses need to have all components; ultimately, connected learning instructional design should probably be considered on a spectrum, kind of like the PLOS criteria for open access (see “How Open Is it?”)
If I were to make a similar infographic for “How Connected Is IT?” I would probably assess course designs along the following criteria (note that the descriptions provided focus on the furthest end of the spectrum of connectedness) :
- Open Educational Resources (course documents, activities, content and materials). The most connected learning spaces would make course documents (including syllabus and activities) public; it would privilege the use of OER and encourage students to use or make additional OER.
- Collaboration and Curation. The most connected learning spaces would require students to work on collaborative projects. One example might be a collective curation of web resources that would be available after the end of the course – and also for the public (as a form of OER).
- Network Fluency. The most connected learning spaces require students to practice their networking know-how through interaction in public spaces such as twitter. It’s not just about co-constructing knowledge around the topic; it’s about figuring out how to develop social capital. Therefore, learning activities should be structured to support network fluency; course documents should be explicit about why these activities are taking place how and where they are occurring. Course design would provide opportunities (probably some engineered by faculty) for students to mix and mingle with potential mentors in and beyond the immediate academic environment.
- Digital Fluency and Maker-Oriented Design. The most connected learning spaces require students to stretch their understanding of digital platforms. For some students, just putting together a blog is hard. Ok, but it shouldn’t stop there. Weekly blog assignments should move beyond having them write text-based responses to exploiting the affordances of digital media – images, infographics, video, concept maps, audio. I pulled this from Yin Kreher’s connected learning course site to help describe Maker Oriented design. Creative makes, explicit privileging of artfulness, multimodal expression. There should be evidence of this sort of thing in the course documents.
- Student Choice – The most connected learning spaces provide students with a lot of leeway in designing their own research and learning.
- Peer/Self Assessment – The most connected learning spaces focus on making assessment sustainable, as an essential element of lifelong learning. Sometimes this means providing structured support in helping students assess themselves.
How does connectedness relate to student learning? Does connectedness promote deeper understanding and how?
Connectedness is the state of being able to recognize, understand, and act on connections across content, people, space, and time. It relates to learning in multiple ways.
- Making connections across content is a time-honored form of learning that I do not feel I have to defend. If we are going old school, it is found in Bloom’s taxonomy in terms of “synthesis.” It is the basis of interdisciplinary education. Dewey. Montessori It is pattern recognition. It is Meyers and Land’s threshold concept. It is Vygotsky’s movement across the zone of proximal development. It is the “if this then this” of logical argument.
- Making connections across people is the basis of social learning. It is in dialogue education. Mezirow, Freire, Vella. Vygotsky. Bruner. Lave and Wenger. It is being introduced to and contemplating the position of “the other.” From another vantage point, making connections across people can speak to social networking. Forming personal learning networks allows learners to seek out, find, and engage in learning experiences during which they make connections across content.
- Making connections across space and time is the basis of reflective learning. Schon. It is about looking about across your past acts and experiences and transferring knowledge to your current contexts.
I’m planning on putting it out there for you to see and comment on soon. Who knows, maybe I’ll be brave enough today. But recently I’ve shown some of my cards and I’ve gotten a lot of wonderful feedback from some of you – enough to start forming some even bigger picture ideas about what Connected Learning is and can be.
A couple of days ago I put out a post and infographic about some of the ways Connected Learning the pedagogical framework/design principles could link to some of the work of some educational research greats – Dewey, Wenger, and Papert. To me it was a slam dunk, to others, not so much. And in the ensuring conversation I came to the exciting conclusion that Connected Learning is an exercise in connection, itself. If we are supposed to be inspiring students to make innovative connections across disciplines, domains, space, and time, should we be doing the same as we seek to describe Connected Learning? My connections won’t look like your’s and hopefully your’s won’t look like mine. I think that’s ok as long as they are logically sound. If we lock people into “one true lineage”…well, that doesn’t even make sense. And the rhizomatic flexibility of Connected Learning is what makes it different from some of the other things out there.
This links to my idea that Connected Learning as a field should continue to have “leaky boundaries.” I use that term because I use it in my draft in my description of networked learning environments. To me, networked learning environments can be characterized through their qualities of openness and distribution; openness relates to flexibility within the network and leakiness of the boundaries around it – that’s a broad statement. I go into it for several pages in my draft. Distribution relates to the dispersal across space (like affinity spaces, multiple platforms), time (networked spaces challenge academic conceptualizations of time – they are timeless – ephemeral and permanent at the same time) and domains (spheres of learning, disciplines, informal/formal, etc).
If Connected Learning is to live in networked environments, it (as a field) should embody those characteristics; as a field of educational research, design, and practice, connected learning should have the same sort of leaky boundaries that its networked learning spaces have.
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsYou know, I’m starting to really like these guys. All that aside, it tipped me off that a little more explanation might be in order, so here it is.
The Connected Learning described in this infographic is Connected Learning the pedagogical framework outlined in Ito et al. 2013 and also here, on the Connected Learning Alliance website. They do not encompass my personal interpretation of connected learning in its entirety or representations of Connected Learning (note the capitalization, lower case…they are different) elsewhere.
Moreover, these are just examples; the motivation behind this infographic is to demonstrate the rich epistemological foundations for Connected Learning. My choices are not meant to be comprehensive. They are meant to be illustrative.
Finally, as my twitter debate with the guys continues, it seems safe to say that the connections between Wenger and Shared Purpose and Papert and Production Centered are fairly non-controversial, but let’s talk about Dewey and Openly Networked for a moment.
“Openly networked” is a great opportunity to bring in the networked learning literature, connectivism, and the great web architects (like Bush and Engelbart). I know it’s a great opportunity because I do so in Chapter 2 of my dissertation. However, read Ito et al, 2013 and the Connected Learning Alliance website carefully. And then pay attention to the fact that a full 1/2 of their framework is devoted to creating connections across individual, peer, and academic cultures. And then understand that these connections demonstrate a certain type of openly networked, specifically related to crossing space, time, and semiotic domains. And you will find, with a deep read of Dewey, that he talks about these exact same things.
And so, given that this poster is illustrative, not comprehensive; given that it is based entirely on Connected Learning the framework and not connected learning the body of literature; given that I was looking to connect to educational researchers and philosophers who have already stood the test of time; given that I have an internal motivation to show people that Connected Learning is not new, but rather a recontextualization of participatory, social, integrative, situated, social, learning; given all that,
I give you Dewey.
🙂 Stay tuned for more – about 30 pages of it.