Sunday, May 17, 2015

Our DML Commons Story at ALTfest

Last week, we had the opportunity to present our experience co-facilitating the DML Commons Design Based Research course at the Academic Learning Transformation Festival (ALTfest) held at Virginia Commonwealth University. The purpose of ALTfest was to explore ideas and share stories of learning transformation in a festival-type atmosphere. Mimi Ito kicked off the day’s events with a keynote address where she shared her work of connected learning with young people. Many of the participants in ALTfest came from higher education backgrounds, and were very interested in applying the principles of connected learning with faculty, in professional development with teachers, and in other spaces. A few quick highlights from our day at ALTfest included a visit to the Makerspace where we met @abchamberlain, and pulled a few prints.


We also met the folks from Hack.RVA, a makerspace for adults in Richmond, VA, played with some 3D printed animals, and generally enjoyed the atmosphere that buzzed with creativity and all kinds of artists and makers.

During our presentation on co-facilitating the DML Design Based Research Course, we began with introductions in order to get to better understand who was attending our session, and why. We created an online poll to get a better sense of attendees’ level of experience with MOOCs and DOCCs.  As you can see from the results, most of the attendees had never facilitated a MOOC or DOCC before, and we learned that most folks there were interested in learning more about how to facilitate open, online courses. 

During our presentation, we provided a brief tour of the DML Commons website, and engaged participants in some of the DML Commons activities we found particularly fun, such as the “What Epistemology Are You?” quiz (which was very popular among the audience!). We also presented some of the design features we found most helpful in increasing and encouraging participation.

We then engaged participants in a design challenge. We handed out packets with a collection of the elements of the connected course including webinars, readings, webinar activities, blogs, and so on, and then encouraged them to work in groups to apply some of the design principles to their own connected course and content.

As we visited with each of the small groups, we were impressed by the level of conversation and the ways in which folks were applying some of these ideas to their own settings. For example, one of the groups wanted to know more about how folks were using Twitter in the course. Another group wanted to learn about the advantages of etherpad in comparison to Google documents for engaging viewers. Yet another participant shared that she didn’t like Twitter and thought that it would be a useless design element to include in an open course, and was surprised to find out that much of the DML Commons interaction took place among participants on Twitter, for example through live tweeting sessions. Another participant wondered about the “seamlessness” of the experience. He asked “with so many platforms being used, were participants overwhelmed or confused?”

Finally, many participants shared that creating a connected course was a lot more difficult than they had imagined. We’d agree with them, but add what we shared at the end of our presentation: that because connected courses are co-created and co-constructed, the line between teacher/learner/facilitator becomes blurred. Indeed, it is in the act of “making” the course, that allows for the most meaningful learning happens. Ultimately, the process of co-creating the Design-Based Research Course not only deepened our understanding of a methodology we are truly excited and passionate about, it also helped us to become more connected learners and teachers.

After the presentation, we had an interesting conversation with one of the participants, musing about the layers of distribution the DML Commons course includes. @derekbruff wanted to know more about why we were calling the DML Commons a “DOCC” instead of a “MOOC.” “Weren’t they, in fact, the same thing?” he asked. We argued that they weren’t. First, we wanted to give credit to the Femtechnet scholars for broadening and pushing our understanding of what it means to teach and learn in online spaces. Second, we feel that the co-constructed and distributed nature of the DML Commons is one of its strongest features, and should be foregrounded. This includes the range of diverse range of online spaces that were appropriated to support the rich sharing of everyone involved, the participatory design of the course to shake traditional hierarchies, and the possibility to enrich offline learning spaces through the generated content and practices. Third, we think it’s important to move beyond the term “MOOC” because, frankly, it has a lot of negative connotations and people tend to have knee-jerk reactions to the term.

Through the DML Commons Design-Based Research course, we had the opportunity to prepare and co-facilitate two online synchronous events before presenting together at the ALTfest. Here, the boundaries that we experienced through online channels, such as directing listeners to where to submit comments or to use a backchannel to coordinate and pitch questions to one another, did not apply. However, the online co-facilitation experience gave us a chance to get to know each other’s presentation style and to develop a shared style together.

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