For the last year, I’ve been contemplating graduate school. I’m still researching and evaluating various programs around the world, but I wanted to take a second and reflect on what I desire from a graduate program. I have many answers to this question, but let me expand upon this idea:

I want a graduate degree program where students teach some of the courses in the curriculum.

I don’t believe this is too outlandish since I’m looking at programs in the field of education, possibly within instructional design. But I’ve had no luck uncovering such a program. So, for now, I’m going to dream. What would such a degree program look like?

Anatomy of a Connectivist Graduate Program

I envision a program founded upon connectivist learning philosophies and comprised of two components:

  1. A core set of curriculum that every student must complete. This is crucial for standardizing instruction for degree components like research methodologies and models/theories of the discipline.
  2. An additional set of courses led by students based on their own expertise. These are intended to be open-ended in regards to content and practice and would vary year to year based on the student body.

To me, a connectivist program necessitates a particular anatomy and entails thoughtful design. As an example, a degree like this would require a set cohort of students that progress through the curriculum together. Such a cohort would need to be comprised of diverse individuals from different backgrounds, possessing a variety of skills. To ensure such diversity, there’d need to be an application process that not only considers expertise, but also establishes cohesion in terms of student backgrounds within each cohort. In other words, this entire process requires careful design considerations.

If it was possible, there would still be several challenges to overcome.

Challenges

The skills to thrive and succeed in a connectivist degree program are not the same skills present in typical educational environment. For instance, I anticipate humility would be a critical element of a connectivist degree for everyone involved. There’s a significant discomfort about not knowing the exact direction of a program as a student or as a teacher; and overcoming these feelings would require a strong emphasis on community and active, inclusive communication between all parties.

Additionally, I foresee accreditation being a serious stumbling-block. In fact, I proposed a “core set of curriculum that every student must complete” as a solution to this challenge. Program viability depends on the consistency of educational quality and rigor from year to year for each cohort. Accreditation is a conversation well beyond what I wish to tackle in this post but it remains a significant challenge. (Not to mention, I don’t have the answer to accreditation anyways.)

With these two challenges, I hope that I’ve illustrated the complexity of design for such a program to exist—intention and care in developing a connectivist graduate degree are imperative. Still, I am determined! If we are to produce the next generation of educators, critical instructional designers, etc., we need to utilize the educational philosophies we champion in the designs of our programs themselves.

Disclaimer

Since I’m still dreaming here, I want to explore a couple of my favorite questions.

What courses would I want to teach?

This is one of my favorite questions in the context of a connectivist graduate program!

One course that I’d love to facilitate would involve exploring productivity using affordable. I know this may sound a little out-there, but I imagine a course where everyone is limited to $300 worth of technology and must participate with minimal computing devices—including designing instruction to operate on inexpensive technologies. Specifically, I’m interested in engaging others in curriculum around $100 laptops, $50 phones, or $50 tablets? What does a Domain of One’s Own project look like under these parameters? A portion of this curriculum would focus on socioeconomic barriers and issues related to digital redlining.

Another course I’d love to teach would focus on interests that I’ve explored in both GOBLIN and XP—I’d love to teach a course about digital storytelling, game design, and what games have to teach us about learning. I see many opportunities to engage others with information literacy, media literacy, and various digital literacies while participating in experiential learning and exploring creative expressions. Ideally, part of this course would involve developing games and discussing them as transformative experiences with opportunities to pursue action research and/or academic research.

What courses would I want to take?

On the flip-side of teaching in a connectivist graduate program, there are many topics I’d love to explore.

For example, I’d love to learn more about practical use cases of APIs in the classroom and beyond. From personal workflow automation to manipulating sets of data across the web, a practical API course sounds phenomenal. I’d imagine course projects would range from building APIs to utilizing public APIs and engaging in the conversations of the future of APIs in education.

Also, I’d love a course on “crowdsourcing” and how it can be implemented instructionally into courses and/or research. Topics like large scale community driven problem solving and hosting crowdfunding campaigns for social work. These projects would make for some spectacular curriculum in my mind. Crowdsourcing as an instructional tool is not typical and I see a lot of potential around a such a course since there are a multitude of directions and applications for the idea.

Looking Forward

I know this post presents small and specific examples as part of gross oversimplifications of larger ideas. But I write because I see value in a connectivist approach to graduate education. I provided examples of student-led courses because they demonstrate to me the strength of connectivim and highlight where traditional curriculum falls short. Student-led courses can be built on personal passions and current conversations. A dynamic program might be tailored to the participants, current technologies, and cutting edge scholarship; not to mention, scaffold greater transference of connectivist (etc.) theories to practice!

At the end of the day, the core of my dream—what I value most in my education:

  1. The opportunity to be viewed as an aspiring scholar, rather than just a student;
  2. A program that practices what it preaches, instead of defaulting to lecture and discussion of readings;
  3. The promise of growth and not feeling indoctrinated into standardizations of thought;
  4. Connecting with a community that involves and cares about everyones struggles, development, and experience.

That is why I’m envisioning a degree program constructed with connectivist learning philosophies because we should make our programs reflective of the educational ideas we champion.

Before I close, I want to take a moment and shoutout to Martha Burtis & Sean Michale Morris for their recent talks on Critical Instructional Design:

Although the topics from their presentation does not necessarily relate to the content I cover, their words were an “inspiration catalyst” for me to finish writing this post, which began a few months ago.

Anyways, what are your thoughts on a connectivist graduate program? Is it possible? What are the risks? What are the benefits? Am I crazy? 🙂 Let me know.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Baim Hanif via Unsplash.

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