Learners Vs Completers

Dear Fall 2011 Students:

We will be spending the next four months together. I have a simple goal: I want this to be an engaging, thought provoking class that helps you find your own path through the educational technology maze. We’re going to tackle some big questions together; I have ideas but no answers and I want you to have a chance to formulate and share your own answers knowing they will evolve throughout your program and into your first placement.

This class is much more about the learning than the producing although there are some products for you to create, several of them requiring collaboration with your classmates. You’ll also have the chance to go in depth into a topic of your own choosing and figure out how to use the web to support your research and your sharing of that research. Since it is not possible to “cover” every technology that might be available to you, I think it makes more sense to take an in depth look at some typical technologies that have educational potential. Plus, you’ll plug into a professional learning network who can offer support when you are looking for new ideas, technologies and resources for your classroom.

Here’s what I need from you in order to make this course successful: the commitment to be a learner rather than just a completer. What do I mean by that? Certainly, completing work is important, indeed essential. But I’m concerned when I get emails from students asking if something is “good enough” or wondering how many words something should be. Completers want to know exactly what is expected, usually in quantitative terms. If it says 250 words, they write 250 words. They are good with due dates and get a thrill when they cross something off the list. While completion is certainly a good thing and I will expect it with the few due dates we have in this course, it is, in my opinion, no indication of learning. It just means that you did what I asked you to do rather than using the course to challenge yourself and do what you think makes sense for your own learning.

The problem is, some of what I’m asking you to do doesn’t lend itself to that quantitative, word count approach to either creating or assessing assignments. For instance, we’re going to be using two social networking tools–Diigo and Twitter–to share and discuss resources related to the big questions. I’ll have some specific assignments for you related to locating particular content and becoming familiar with the Twitter community, but I also expect you to simply share because you are part of the course and you are learning together and part of our work includes sharing that learning with each other and the larger community. I’m not going to grade you based on how many tweets you post but rather I’m interested in the quality of those tweets: do they further the conversation? focus our attention? offer a new perspective? Think Abraham Lincoln not Edward Everett.

Here’s what I’ve tried to do to create an engaging, thought-provoking experience: Since I think teachers should provide time for the things that are important, I have built in time for you to play and explore as part of your out-of-class work. Your participation is going to be key and I tried to emphasize that by making time for you to participate. I adopted the National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers as my own, and I have worked hard to build in lots of opportunities for student choice and personal exploration. I’ve crafted an outline that will help us use our limited time efficiently, but as much as possible, I want this course to revolve around you and your interests and ideas instead of my pre-conceived notions of what we should learn. Educational technology is not a field that lends itself to simple solutions, and today’s technologies mean that you can be part of the discussion about potential solutions with both your classmates but also the wider world.

Finally, I plan to be right there beside you, networking and learning. I’ll support you when you take risks because I’ll be taking them as well. I’m really looking forward to learning with you.

NB: Soldiers of Giants: I am indebted to Dr. Jon Becker and Dr. Gary Stager for either knowingly or unknowingly sharing their course syllabi with me and helping me clarify my own thinking about this semester’s course. I encourage you to start browsing…

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