Drafting Streams and Questions

I returned from two weeks in Mexico and Cuba just a couple days ago, and yesterday was my first day back at work. Since the MOOC starts in just 12 days, I was anxious to get caught up on what I missed. I spoke with Bonnie at some length over the phone, and I met with all the UNIV instructors teaching the course for well over an hour yesterday morning.

Looking at the draft of the daily schedule for the course, I began to think about week one. What would day one look like? What do we need to do to make day one happen? The schedule says the following: “June 10: BEGIN. Live Hangout, blogging assignment, AWMT.”

I wondered about the live hangout. Would this be WITH students or just for the faculty teaching the course?  This question was clearly answered during our meeting yesterday afternoon. On day one at 8pm, the faculty teaching this course will participate in a Google Hangout and discuss the syllabus, the assignments, and of great importance, the spirit of the course. The session will be live, so that anyone watching can comment through text, and it will be recorded, so that anyone who can’t watch it live CAN watch it later.

I also wondered about the blogging assignment. Is this stream 1 for AWMT? Is this a separate blogging assignment about something totally unrelated? Is the blogging assignment simply to set up a blog? I still don’t have the answer to these questions, but I suspect that a checklist for what students need to do for day one might look something like this:

By 11:59pm on Tuesday, June 10, all course members should complete the following:

  1. Explore the syllabus and daily schedule for the course.
  2. Create a blog. You may use a pre-existing blog, or you can create one wherever you want. We encourage you to use rampages, which is VCU’s version of Wordpress, but with extra functionality.
  3. Email me a link to your blog at s2jbgord@vcu.edu
  4. Read As We May Think, by Vannevar Bush
  5. Complete stream 1 on your blog (?).
  6. If you are available, participate in the live Google Hangout session tonight at 8pm!  If you are not available, the session will be recorded and made available to you promptly.

In order to prepare to give these assignments, much work on our part must be done:

  1. Write a syllabus with explanation of the course, policies, and grading.
  2. Write a daily schedule of assignments for students with due dates so they can see and understand the arc of the course.
  3. Write an assignment for stream 1, stream 2 and stream 3
  4. Decide if students will write the streams on their blogs (see question mark above) or in a discussion area where they can vote responses up or down. In my notes, I see that we discussed both options. I really advocate for the discussion area. I think that really gets to the spirit of the course and will encourage the type of participation that we want to see.
  5. Practice Google Hangout (we scheduled a practice session for our meeting next week on Wed, June 4 at 1.)
  6. We need access to the website so that we can create our individual section homepages.


As I write this, I look at my notes and realize I am still very confused about streams 2 and 3. In my notes, I see that I asked if all students would complete streams 1, 2 and 3 for each of the readings, and the answer was yes, definitely. However, when I look at my notes in which I described streams 2 and 3, I am confused. My notes say that stream 2 is characterized as “exercises in habits of mind and shared vocab (from the readings)–an exercise in making, storing or commenting on associative trails from AWMT.” I expanded on this in my notes, citing possibilities for the following:

  • Compile a history of where they were on the internet for the last 30 min. Find the trail and reflect on the pattern, etc.
  • Read the essay, look up online what they don’t already understand or know or find supplementary info there, annotate the essay in diego and explain the history of your internet searching
  • Jason–asked could we use Storify for this?

My notes say that stream 3 is characterized as “What will you build? (Brainstorming Inquiry project).” I wrote that “this is where they will blog from the beginning about how to build, create, compose and imagine.”

Like I said above, my understanding was that they would do all three for each essay, and I think that makes perfect sense. However, I got really confused when yesterday the early morning group was talking about the streams as parts of each unit (that doesn’t make sense if all readings are in unit one) and in the meeting, we talked about individual instructors assigning a daily blogging exercise. Wouldn’t that daily blogging BE stream 3? At any rate, I’m clearly confused about how this will work, and I hope whoever reads this will comment with clarification.
During our meeting with all the UNIV faculty yesterday, Bonnie and I decided to move forward with part of #3 above in the list of what we need to do in the next 12 days. We are meeting today at 12pm to write a draft of stream one assignment and create a quality example. With this in mind, I reread As We May Think this morning in it’s entirety–as it had been more than 6 months since I read it closely–and I’m going to begin a draft of the stream one assignment right here.

Streams 1, 2 and 3: For each assigned reading, course members will complete three streams of writing.

Directions for Stream 1: Find a “nugget” and make it meaningful in your response to it. Your response to the nugget should be relevant and robust.

  • What is a nugget? Something that perplexes you; perhaps you strongly disagree or maybe it captures the essence of something you truly believe. Maybe it’s something you have never considered. Perhaps it is something you have always thought true.  A nugget may generate awe or fascinate you. A nugget elicits a light bulb in your mind.
  • How to make it meaningful?  This is your challenge. Use the tools of the internet to compose and illustrate your response.

My nugget and response for As We May Think:

“Whenever logical processes of thought are employed—that is, whenever thought for a time runs along an accepted groove—there is an opportunity for the machine” (Part 5, Par 1).

It strikes me that the machine always comes after the human thought.  We must always create a groove of our thinking, meaning many people must think the same thing many times, before we can articulate what it is we think clearly enough to create technology to do that thinking for us. This reminds me of how people learn. In Robert Leamnson’s, Thinking about Teaching and Learning, he wrote “A child, trying to make sense of the world, probably gets things wrong more often than not. Each attempt might use new connections that provide a representation of reality. The child’s learning could be considered a matter of testing its representations against real world situations—experimenting, in other words. Several representations might be set up and tested until one works consistently. The pathway gets used repeatedly and becomes hard-wired – a preferred and stabilized path emerging from multiple synapses achieved through budding and made permanent through use (emphasis mine).” Leamnson denotes a “path” that strikes me as much like the “groove” to which Bush refers. In both cases, a thought is internalized to the point that it is understood by the individual and ultimately the group, and this thought can be articulated and re-imagined in a new form. In fact, one might say that the machine, the technology, is really a remediation of the thought or idea that created the groove or path–although that is notedly a stretch.

We think of technology as creating solutions for problems that already exist–but also those that don’t yet exist. Many times I encounter technology, software for example, that does something that I don’t need to do. Why would anyone need this, I ask, but the answer is that it is a solution to someone else’s problem or perhaps to a problem that is yet to emerge. In As We May Think, Bush explains how scientists from many facets of academia were called to “the application of science to warfare,” and he argues that since the war is over, it is time for those scientists to “turn to the massive task of making more accessible our bewildering store of knowledge.” He suggests that we have stored and retrieved knowledge in the same way for too long, and he advocates using the technology created originally for warfare to provide a means for spreading knowledge. It is fascinating that Bush was so clearly able to imagine the future of the computer. What he calls the Memex is clearly an early version of the Personal Computer. Although he imagines all that knowledge stored in something the size of a desk with gears that would manipulate it, what we have today  is really just a miniature version of the Memex that we call the PC or iPhone or Droid.

What is most fascinating about the article, in my opinion, is what he describes as a primary purpose of the “machine” he mentioned in the passage I claimed as my nugget. What will that machine do once it is built?  If it just saved all the images of everything, there would be no way to retrieve the knowledge it stored.  Thus, it is Bush’s notion of “associative trails” that is really the most important concept in this essay. As discussed earlier, learning occurs when our brains create grooves or paths, and the machine that Bush proposes will operate in much the same way. The associative trails are the connections that illustrate the way we think. Thus, when you really think about it, a personal computer is really a mirror of a person’s mind in that it reflects all those “logical processes” and “associative trails.”

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