I’m relieved that I made it to the meeting on time. I was late to the first that I attended and managed to stumble my way through, finally getting my mike to work halfway through the session. (Sorry for all the commotion, Brent.) This, my second, wasn’t problem free. When I spoke, I kept getting a delayed echo effect in my headset. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s because I chose stereo instead of mono in the setup.
I bring this up to reassure everyone who may may be hesitating about participating that Greg, Rachael, Leanne, Brent and others on the staff as well as knowledgeable participants are very patient and that you aren’t alone when you find yourself without audio or mike. I’ll probably screw up again in our next session, too!
What’s worth the effort is not so much the sound of the presenters and moderators but their spirit, their enthusiasm. They’re working with technology and ideas that excite them, and it’s infectious.
The best part is that they’ve invited us to join them on the ground floor where the process itself is also “ill-defined,” or under construction with just the vaguest of blueprints drawn in pencil instead of ink. Thus, we see minds at work, addressing questions, exploring alternatives, experimenting, innovating — creating — trying to get an idea to actually
work fly. This is authentic online learning, and this is what we’re trying to learn to do with our students.
Their working plans for AOL are out there, in the open, for us to examine, question, copy, steal. What I like best about their approach is the amount of time and effort that’s devoted to the planning phase of projects. It’s obvious that all this time could be “saved” by simply prescribing a plan, but the time saved is bought in learning dollars. It’s the planning, the often messy and frustrating process of selecting an ill-defined problem and constructing innovative strategies to address it, that ensures authenticity, or buy-in from the student. In the end, what matters is that it’s the student’s plan and not someone else’s — and that makes all the difference.
What does this mean for teachers planning to apply AOL to their own courses? My guess is that we ought to begin by giving students meaningful parameters for problem selection and methodology. The parameters should probably be reduced to a rubric, but to be useful, it would have to be both simple and facilitative, something that they can easily carry in their heads and refer to during the sometimes tedious process of planning spread out over days and even weeks. For example, in a small group, design a public service project that can be planned and implemented in a quarter (half a semester). The project must address an ill-defined problem in the community, i.e., one that seems to persist despite various state, city, and community efforts to solve it. The process must include input from key individuals or groups in the community and formative as well as summative evaluation activities. The process must be designed so that it can be replicated and improved upon by other groups, and the results should, ideally, match the goals. Finally, plans should include a means to share or showcase the process and results, e.g., in the form of a video, public presentation, published report or any combination of the three.
The possibilities are boundless. For example, a group of students might choose to clean up a section of a public beach that’s become a dumping ground for trash and old tires. It’s a choice based on their own love for the shoreline and the ocean. Part of the challenge for them is to get members of the community to join the effort. Thus begins a planning process that involves setting suitable goals and practical milestones and procedures. Another group might decide to take a study trip to Kahoolawe or to serve as crew on a Hawaiian voyaging canoe on a limited voyage. Other possible projects might include a study of the best conditions for growing taro organically in a place that’s not known for the crop, the publication of an electronic journal that’s devoted to interviews of elders in a given community to capture what the community was like 50 years ago.
Beyond these outcomes, though, I think teachers ought to also require a more personal report in which each student discusses the experience from her own perspective and how it’s impacted her. This might be facilitated by a tweeted journal or blog kept during the project, which includes comments from friends as well as others.
As Rachael said in today’s presentation, the projects are exciting for the teacher, too, because s/he is also learning — not simply raking over old ground. The teacher’s role is to help, to guide, to facilitate students in their own learning journeys. What excites them will excite her because it’s new to her, too, and excitement is infectious.