I was struck by an idea while riding in this morning1. I was thinking about MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses – clickety for more info). Suzie has just joined one from Berkeley, an introduction to statistics, and I’m doing some writing about connectivism, the underlying theory.
At the same time, I’m working on setting up the web sites for two courses I’ll be teaching this semester, which will be on ‘Learning@Griffith’, the closed, Blackboard-based system we use here.
I can understand the need for a closed system: it protects students’ online safety, allows us to do some stuff with copyrighted materials that wouldn’t be allowed in an open site (and one of the other things that informed my thinking was a comment from Connie Varnhagen about IP being one of the differences between running a closed course and running a MOOC) and, if forum postings are being used for assessment, it helps make sure it’s the student who does the assessed work.
At the same time, there are many, many benefits to having an open forum. Among other things, I have a heap of my former students who are out there teaching and who would be able to answer questions and offer perspectives. I also have a heap of cool and interesting friends, sciencey and otherwise, who might (a) be interested to see what we’re discussing and (b) would be able to offer interesting insights and perspectives.
I’ve already said I’ll be posting some of the info from the science education course in Semester One on my blog, and the new idea this morning was to create an open forum. It will be about science teaching, and will be available for my students but open to the world. I’ll announce the URL here when I build it, and probably pester you incessantly to post there!
Edit: And here it is: http://www.bravus.com.au/tribes/
One advantage of an open forum that I ‘own’ on my own server space is that it’s persistent: forums in course web sites die when the courses finish, after one semester, whereas the forums that have influenced me have been part of my life for up to 10 years. In particular, as discussed below, some of my students will move from one course to another with me, and it’d be great to have the forum come with them. And, of course, former students from past years are an awesome resource for current teacher education students. An open forum now allows me to draw in former students I keep in touch with, and allows this year’s students to be a resource for next year’s, and so on: this is a project for the long haul.
(that’s the end of the main blog post: the description of the idea, its antecedents and implications. The following is detail stuff that I’m writing as much to work out for myself as anything else…)
In Semester One, which starts in a couple of weeks, I’m teaching two courses (a third got cancelled), one on science education for middle years (usually defined as Grades 6-9) teachers and one on general pedagogical stuff for teachers of the same age group. Since the forum will be focused on science teaching, it will be more relevant to the former group, but one of the joys of openness is that it will be available for students in the other group. And there may even be some overlap between the two classes anyway.
In Semester Two, which starts in July, I’m teaching three courses. One is for primary school science teachers (to be) and the other two are for teachers of senior secondary school science (Grades 11-12 or 10-12). So all the courses are science education focused, and many of the students in the senior science courses will have done the middle years science course in Semester One, which is cool because they’ll (hopefully) already have climbed the learning curve and be able to get the most out of it.
I’ve used forums in the past, on the ‘if you build it, they will come’ principle, and they didn’t – well, not in great numbers. But I think in some ways that won’t matter: people will use the resources they find useful. I know that different people have different modes, and forums aren’t for everyone. I also know that typically 90% lurk (read only) and 10% post, so relatively small numbers of posters don’t mean the forum is ineffective.
The Semester Two primary science education course does include on assessment task that is forum-discussion based, and for that I will use the the Discussion Forum that is built in to the Learning@Griffith site for that course, for all the reasons discussed above about making discussions ‘safe’ when assessment is involved. I hope, though, that being familiar with the open forum will make the assessment easier for students, although I do worry about whether having two fora might be confusing for them… I guess we’ll see.
Over all, I think it’s an innovation with the potential to make my teaching more effective. I guess we’ll see.
- On the motorbike: I rode the bicycle the past two days, but when I ride that all my energy goes into breathing and there’s little time to think!