The EDC MOOC begins in just under a week. Various sites have been abuzz: Facebook, Twitter, Google+. I’m impressed and inspired. Today, I spent a couple of hours playing around with Google+. I’ve been an active FB user. I’ve not been a very active Tweeter. I find I love book for education: I FB message my students updates and suggestions for reading and heads-up notices for what’s coming next. It’s easier than using our university email–really. I get to them immediately and I immediately see if they got my messages. I like to use Twitter in class for students to share responses to a discussion, presentation, video. I forget to use it sometimes, but it’s been such a great tool for memory. Search for the class hash tag to find everyone’s summary of learning for the day–that’s learning like a boss. I also love to have students take pictures of what we write on the board. Sometimes I write a lot, sometimes they write everything. But we need evidence. And we need to post that on FB or through Twitter or on our blogs. Memory is vital to learning–but how much room do we really have in our brains at any one time?
I can’t remember what I’ve said from one day to the next (I guess this is what Plato feared would happen when we all started writing everything down–or I vaguely remember something like that from classical rhetoric class). How do I deal with my memory being sometimes lame? I write notes in my iPhone. I write blogs to remind me what I said was due (hoping it’s not too far from the original syllabus!). I record voice memos to remind me of points I think are important, things I must due, projects that are due, reports I have to write. I used to call my home answering machine (or my work voice mail) and leave myself reminders. That was the only way I could do it other than writing with ink on paper. Now I have options.
I still use ink on paper, but I tend to lose those notes–I’ll never give up doing it–that kind of physicality triggers a different kind of remembering for me, but the phone is great. And I have never misplaced my phone. Like my keys and sunglasses–never lost a one of these things. Never. (I know–knocking on wood right now.)
So, for students who are social media savvy (at least), here is a way to remember what’s happened–pick your way of remembering–use the digital online “sticky note” of your choice. By linking all the students together through several media, though, we stand a better chance of actually learning from one another. Like the old school taking of notes with pencil on notebook paper, it’s a crap shoot if they actually take advantage of the technology to learn. But I can try, can’t I?
The two images I’m including in this blog post are from notes I took today while watching a video posted in Google+ by a student enrolled in the EDC MOOC community. Tony Wagner is the speaker in the video–he talks about what students need to learn in order to be successful–not content but skills. I cannot find a single thing wrong with this list. I took handwritten notes because that was handy (left my dongle at the office for my dual screen, so I’m stuck with my laptop only–such a first world problem). I didn’t feel like working on my iPhone or my iPad. I didn’t want to hunt and peck for letters, but actually write out what I was hearing. I could actually go to the web and cut and paste his seven points–there are lots of locations where these could be found, but I liked writing today. It felt good.
Mainly, it felt great to hand write notes because I haven’t done it much lately (I’m regularly without a pen in public), and I find it sort of makes me think differently–engages a different part of my brain, I guess–like it’s important to lift weights with your arms AND legs so your body doesn’t get oddly proportioned!
Notice: number 5–obviously going to be my favorite. Wagner says students need “effective oral and written communication.” Yup. If I was a cowboy, I’d say, “Damn straight.” Every set of learning objectives I’ve ever run across lists this as crucial. Is it not the case that fuzzy writing is emblematic of fuzzy thinking, that lack of voice leads to boring prose (and loss of reader interest), that persuasion and point of view are too infrequently managed well and with grace. I get it. I teach writing. I am a writer. I am also a writing consultant. I see it all, from basic writers to grad students to senior civilian and military global leaders–brilliance must be articulated and communicated to truly be brilliance. Innovation and creativity? Not going anywhere without articulation and communication. Want to be a leader? Good luck if you can’t say what you need to say to the right audience in the right way. Want to capture and keep a reader’s attention? You’re not going to do it with painfully dull prose littered with jargon and acronyms. For a MOOC learner, I think number 5 must be the most important point–mostly what we have is writing, some oral communication (Google+ Hang Out–which I’m trying tomorrow)–but a LOT of written communication. I’m betting the farm that MOOCers who are successful, have most of these seven skills. They are motivated and savvy learners already, or they have what it takes to get that way in a hurry.
For instance: I didn’t want to learn Google+ because I’m busy. It’s the first couple of weeks of the term, and I have had a lot to do. I am overwhelmed by paperwork, class work, my own work, publishing, innovating, etc.–all the things teachers and administrators do at the beginning of a semester. I whined online that I didn’t have room for one more thing in my brain. I couldn’t learn one more thing. (And if I forget I said that, I have an archive of my complaining. Great.). But my blog group for the EDC MOOC is going to Hang Out tomorrow on Google+. Today, then I decided I’d spend some time learning. And it’s not hard. I was just too scattered to handle it. BUT here’s what I knew would save me: the internet. I just “Googled” how to use Google+. There are tons of videos online. I watched a few. Done.
I did the same thing when I needed to learn WordPress–I watched a few videos then dove in. Nothing is impossible. Or it feels that way. The only constraint for me is time now. And do I need to remember everything about how to FB, Tweet, Google+ or WordPress? No. The internet is not only a repository for information, it is my memory, too. I know. It’s risky. What if all this cyber existence ceases because of an apocalyptic event? So what. We’ll have a few hearty folk who will survive and pass on the few books that make it. I have total hope for the preservation of humanity–perhaps not all humanity, but some, surely will get past a meteoric collision.
The point is that our students don’t need to remember everything anymore. But they still need to think. They need to be able to use everything they can find out there in the very big and wide world in positive ways that will enhance the conditions in which they can acquire these skills and increase their ability to acquire these skills (thanks, Tony Wagner):
1. Problem-solving and critical thinking;
2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence;
3. Agility and adaptability;
4. Initiative and entrepreneurship;
5. Effective written and oral communication;
6. Accessing and analyzing information; and
7. Curiosity and imagination.
It ain’t easy–that’s for sure. Just look at the MOOCers who have been most active. No slackers here. No one asking others to learn for them or spoon feed them the content. Did they get that way in the last two months. Not likely. Chances are they came to this MOOC with the desire to learn, so that’s what they have been doing, in order to get ready to learn in the course. “Overachievers,” one could mutter and dismiss it at that. But there’s more to it, I think. There really isn’t any content to learn when the class hasn’t even started. But there is a condition which now exists, which everyone has created, in which we can truly “get” and use all seven of these skills to be better learners, better workers, better employers, better citizens, better people.
We are peer teaching ourselves what we know about e-learning and digital culture–we created the content, and we are making it possible to do more than any one of us could do alone. I’ve learned more from my peers’ posts than I could have in a traditional f2f class in this amount of time–even with an expert leading the way–because the knowledge they’ve shared is vastly different from vastly different perspectives. We are all teachers and learners at this point. Would all students do that–be this active? No. And not all of the EDC MOOCers will either. Some will fade, just like in any educational situation. We are all capable of self-failing. But we are also capable of so much more. It’s like watching a perfectly timed rock concert to see how everyone is working together BEFORE the class has even begun. The Beatles after 10,000 hours of performing. Inspiration times infinity.
In the meantime, I have to transition to getting ready for my coming week at school. I have to let this thinking go. Wait. Wait. How will I remember what I was doing? What I was thinking? What did I just say? Check my Facebook status if you want to know. Read my blog. Check my Twitter. Find me on Google+. I love that I don’t have to remember any of this post. It will all be here for me tomorrow to check (perhaps, to my everlasting shame I will have said something idiotic, or committed the heinous of all errors: the typo; I know I will have included several fragments; they bubble up or burst into my writing like hot, boiling sulfurous geysers from the bowels of the planet–oh well, no pain, no gain).
And when I despair that education is sliding down a slippery slope into intellectual chaos because of all our online shenanigans–Johnny can’t Read/Johnny Can’t Write because [fill in the latest literacy depleting demon]–I remember that all of this work I’m doing online, writing, reading, posting, updating my status (and the work that I’m making my students do) is sometimes actually based on thinking. OH MAN. How cool is that? I totally don’t care what Plato might think.