My Vision (and Search) for a Connectivist Graduate Program

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.

Thank You For Amplifying Love

Over the past several days, I have been surrounded by the thoughts and prayers of loved ones. Even though Grandmommy passed away last week, I am learning new things about her everyday since people are sharing their memories and photographs on ellenjayne.keeganslw.com. Consequently, I wanted to take a moment and highlight a few memories others have shared online—these are some of my favorites:

Memories

Pickin’ Peaches

Always new discoveries regarding this special lady

Smiles and Music from the beginning.

Videos

These are just a few of the dozens of memories and the hundreds of media artifacts that have been shared (please submit your own recollections). Students, friends, and family alike have come together to pay tribute to Ellen Jayne. With each homage, I am discovering how much of an impact she had on this world—Grandmommy touched so many lives as a free spirit. Above all, I will never forget the role she played in my life and I want to thank everyone for amplifying the love that Ellen Jayne shared with us all.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Hossein Ezzatkhah via Unsplash.

Summer Updates & Grandmother Passing

Goodness, so many things are going on at the moment. At work I have been focused on all the training programs I am developing and facilitating this summer and upcoming semester. Additionally, I want to share some awesome things I have been working on in Canvas. Between itching to write about Canvas and my experiences from recently attending InstructureCON 2016, I have started writing only to be overwhelmed with all I want to do at the moment.

But none of that matters right now.

Writing and projects are on hold because while I was at InstructureCON this past week, my Grandmother passed away—complications from a surgery. It has been hard to express what I am feeling as I go through pictures and revisit memories. I have been ignoring social media and avoiding checking email for a few days. Right now, I just need time.

Even with my sadness, I wanted to tell you about a project I’ve started that makes me really excited. A project in honor of my Grandmother.

ellenjayne.keeganslw.com

Yesterday, I build a website in memoriam to her. The website itself is rather simple, but the functionality is phenomenal. This website facilitates the crowdsourcing of stories and media pertaining to my grandmother. What has been really exciting, even in the first few hours, is that I am reading stories and seeing pictures I never would have discovered. For example, my father posted one memory I’ve never heard and I just shared one as well.

I really want this tribute to my Grandmother to grow. So, I set up the ability for family, friends, and her many students to write about their memories of her. Additionally, I have created a space on the website where I am currently receiving pictures and videos of my Grandmother. If you want to see the submissions, check out the written memories and media that’s already available.

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Website lets you read memories written about Grandmommy.
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Website lets you view photos and videos of Grandmommy.

Website Anatomy

The ellenjayne.keeganslw.com website is built with WordPress and automated using a few plugins, dropitto.me, and OneDrive.

First, I setup the AccessPress Anonymous Post plugin to allow others to submit their stories of my Grandmother without needing an account on the website. This allows me to automate all of the writing that takes place on the website and notifies me about new posts.

accesspress anonymous plugin form
AccessPress Anonymous Post plugin on website.

Next, I setup a dropitto.me account and connected it to my OneDrive cloud storage (since I have 1TB of space from working at a University). These two services allow others to submit photos & videos directly to a folder in my OneDrive. I embedded the submission of photos & videos into one webpage and the OneDrive gallery on another page. (I explored the Perfect OneDrive Gallery & File plugin to display a gallery directly in the website rather than linking out, but ran into problems that I didn’t want to spend time solving.)

Dropitto.me integrated into website to share media files.
Dropitto.me integrated into website to share media files.

Finally, since dropitto.me is limited to 100MB file size submissions, I also setup a page where people can submit URLs to photos and videos they wish to share. That way if individuals have large video files, they can submit a Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive link. Alternatively, this allows people to submit links to FaceBook photos, etc. This is the only part of the website that is not currently automated. I have enabled email notifications upon receiving submissions through this form, but this feature requires my attention.

In Memoriam Projects

In addition to this website, I am also working on a Twine game and preparing for the memorial service. At the moment, it sounds like family members want me to live stream the service and setup a place where we can record videos of people reminiscing about my grandmother. Additionally, I hope to have ellenjayne.keeganslw.com available at the service to offer attendees the opportunity to read and writing memories about my Grandmother. The goal of each of these projects it to allow people to share their experiences and connect to one another like they connected to Grandmommy.

Closing

All of these projects, especially the website, are important to me as a tribute to my Grandmother and to facilitate positive connections between family, friends, and acquaintances as we honor this wonderful women. She had a profound impact on so many people in this world and she will be sorely missed by all.

Writing this has been especially hard because this will be my first post that is not read by my Grandmother (after she became a subscriber to my website, she started reading everything I wrote). Yet, I want to share ellenjayne.keeganslw.com because, although I am grieving, everyone’s memories are bring me joy.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Viktor Mogilat via Unsplash.

Technology Enabled Learning – GTA Seminar

Tuesday, I had the opportunity to lead a seminar at the Graduate Teaching Academy (GTA), which is a program hosted by CTE that “seeks to promote and maintain a standard of teaching excellence amongst graduate students at the University of Oklahoma.”

This seminar started with everyone brainstorming their favorite classroom activities as Paper Tweets. Together, we generated a great list of engaging and memorable learning (and teaching) experiences. From building interactive and media-rich timelines to great icebreaker activities involving toilet paper, there were many great instructional examples to contextualize the rest of our seminar.

'Accurate' portrayal of Toilet Paper Icebreaker Activity

From this point, we shifted focus to our three topics of discussion: mobile devices, choice in assignments, and crowdsourcing resources.

Seminar Discussion

Mobile Devices
Choice in Assignments
Crowdsourcing Resources

Closing

The final assignment for the participants of this seminar was to think about how to adapt one of our topics of discussion—mobile devices, choices in assignments, and crowdsourcing resources —to their favorite learning experience they outlined in their Paper Tweet.

Presenting at GTA was a great experience. If you are interested in sharing your expertise with the next generation of researchers and university instructors, please contact the Center for Teaching Excellence at teach@ou.edu and schedule a session!

Also, for those interested, here are my slides and the annotated whiteboards from this event:

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