Just over a year ago, my “learning” exploded. I was developing a hybrid Canadian online delivery program for Chinese high school students. I was encouraged to push the boundaries of K-12 online and blended learning by investigating the most cutting edge online opportunities anywhere. After reviewing my options, I discovered MOOCs and realized they had the potential to push K-12 learning “out of the box.”
My learning transformation occurred when I participated in Alec Couros’ week for the change11 MOOC facilitated by George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier. I was fascinated by the ease with which I could register, interact, and connect with leading figures in educational technology. As soon as Alec Couros’s webinar was over, I said to myself: I want to figure out how to design and create MOOCs for K-12 learning environments. The concept that learners of all ages could learn together based on individual passions rather than through set institutional norms appealed to me. It seemed obvious that using social media and building networks was the way to engage learners. Networked learning ignited a fire inside of me to try to change a system.
As a parent, I was frustrated by the lack of digital literacy integration in my children’s classrooms, so I decided to create my own open online course for parents, educators and students. I designed my first K-12 MOOC around adults and students under 18 working together in learning teams to track their digital footprints. With Steve Hargadon’s help, I created #DigiFoot12. I called the course a “miniMOOC” based on connectivism and cMOOCS (as opposed to xMOOCs), because MOOCs were in the process of being “defined”. It was a huge risk, as I did not know how to learn in the open, nor did I actually know about current and emerging rhetoric, like PLNs (Personal Learning Networks). I wanted to learn about open learning, and the way to do that was to create a project and do it myself. The primary reason #Digifoot12 did not fail was due to the support of a number of behind-the-scenes educators/collaborators who also wanted to make a difference, and who I believe are truly making systemic educational changes through their work.
As #Digifoot12 ended, I joined MOOC MOOC as an exhausted open online learner. I was discovering the amount of energy required to interact in open online communities — once it starts it never ends. I became actively engaged, though, because I could just enjoy learning for the sake of learning again. By participating in MOOC MOOC, I was able to focus on MOOC learning design, open collaboration, online synchronous engagement, and online facilitation. I realized that the potential of small, week-long open learning increased student engagement to a frenzy. My desire to ignite systemic fireworks returned as the MOOC MOOC experience encouraged me to envision the possibility of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development in online and blended learning.
I pitched the concept of the Open Classroom at the Alberta Distance Learning Center (OC@ADLC) during the Beyond Content – Open Education Conference in Vancouver, BC. The pitch was my first face-to-face experience describing my new learning and potential K-12 open learning projects. Up to that point, all my learning was in networked online learning environments. Gardner Campbell’s conference keynote assured me that my research models and frameworks were going in the right direction — the stratosphere. I felt like every learning “risk” I was taking represented a spark from a bigger networked fire. I went to the Open Education Conference with the assumption that open learning is less a change in “what” and more a change in “how” we teach and learn. At the conference, there was a clear emphasis on Open Educational Resources (OER). I had the pleasure of connecting with Audrey Watters, David Wiley, Valerie Irvine, Delaina Tonks and Carla Casilli who all play pivotal roles in my exploration of open learning. The results of my research into open learning, and meeting with leading open educators, led to the concept of a K-12 Open Classroom Model based on a blend of open leadership, open educational resources, and open practice.
My reflections about the conference and desire to keep pushing the barriers of classroom walls and content continued with the development of the first competency-based high school cMOOC. My goal was to develop and facilitate a course based on the integration of social media and digital identity within an authentic open online learning experience assessed by a competency framework open badge.
To create the course, I facilitated an online focus group of teens. I asked them to think in terms of social media, what did they want to learn and how did they want to learn it? I called the course Beyond Facebook or #BEFA12. The students asked for online group work, preferably using blogs, and they wanted nothing to do with Facebook. Using MOOC MOOC’s shortened learning design as a guide, the high school course was staged over three days. During the first two days the students met and created a blog together. On the third day the blog was linked out to the world using social media and we all met in a web conference to share our experiences. The students were given a rubric to define the activities and they were asked to complete their own assessment based on the competencies described in the Alberta Education Framework for Student Learning.
The #BEFA12 learners were a small group of seven students, twelve facilitators, and myself. The course was developed in Canvas, in order to promote individualized connection, social media and Google applications. Although I had included specific web 2.0 tools in the course, students were encouraged to use whatever tools they chose. I panicked when the students did not start by using the tools within the LMS that I had carefully scaffolded and prepared. However, the students linked the tools they preferred into the course LMS, and proved they could learn where and how they wanted. I now had data through Etherpad to “see the proof” of self-directed online learning: the thought process, leadership, communication strategies and the creation of a project — a process I have never been able to track so clearly in a face-to-face classroom.
The students had the option to complete a second course for another badge and credit towards Computer and Technology Studies COM1255. Not one student wanted to complete another badge or course to attain high school credit. In the competency-based self assessment, there was evidence of learning, including links to the learner-created online discussions, digital choices in the evolution of their blogs, discovery of digital identity and personal reflections about how to develop relationships, collaborate, communicate and trust others in online learning. These developments suggested to me that students liked the idea of collaborative networked learning for the sake of learning itself, rather than for an outcome, reward, or badge. The relationships, interactions, peer feedback, and community-building experience were key to student engagement.
Although I was personally delighted with the success of #BEFA12, I felt a need to create a cMOOC learning design “proof of concept” for some of my colleagues. As a result, I knew I needed to also work to ignite learning fires with my fellow educators. My next cMOOC was based on developing open learning communities through online relationships and increased peer feedback. I developed the Creating an Open Classroom open course for the Community of Expertise for Educators in Educational Technology (CEET) Moodle Meets. CEET Meets are open online courses that cover a wide variety of topics about educational technology integration in K-12. The course took place over seven days in Wikispaces and Google communities, and included daily individual activities. The course had 150 participants during the week; I was the lead facilitator and there was facilitation support from CEET. The Google community continues to grow and is at 664 members as of July 18, 2013. Like #Digifoot12, I created daily summaries of evidence of student learning to provide peer feedback to participants, and I created a system to connect participants with each other and a space to model open learning practice.
The Creating an Open Classroom course increased learner participation because the course content, learning design and the development of an open community appealed to adult educators. The development of open learning design and facilitation was evident, but the experience seemed more like continuous burning embers rather than sparks or explosions. I had developed a credible open learning model; but in order to ignite systemic change, I needed to encourage high school students to be an integral part of the process and promote their voices again. I began by mining the Students as our Educators week in #Digifoot12. After a student-focused cMOOC facilitated by an educator and an educator-focused cMOOC, the next open learning project had to be a cMOOC facilitated by and for high school students.
With Don Wettrick and high school students from the Innovation Class at Franklin Community High School, I helped develop a student-facilitated cMOOC called #StuHackEd. This course was the first hybrid (blended) learning design model as opposed to an entirely online model. I created a hybrid model because I believe, like Clayton Christensen, that to disrupt the education system, the future of online learning is blended learning.
The students decided to focus the course on video creation, encouraging participants to make videos around the question “What can you teach the world?”. They created a two-week course platformed in a wiki and Google community. They currently have 60 participants in their #StuHackED Google Community, and over the summer the shared leadership has shifted to Australian participants. Within the community there is discussion of future projects with educators and students from around the world. Future projects include student-created online and hybrid courses and online conferences like MOOCON24. The emphasis on relationship-building and focus on hybrid models to create open projects was a big shift from #DigiFoot12.
Michael Barbour recently blogged about High School MOOCs and I agree with his emphasis on open practice within online courses as opposed to MOOCs for credit in high school learning environments. In K-12, the specific MOOC course/content is not what’s important, but rather the nature of the learning and experience. Offering xMOOCs to high school students would be a huge step backwards in open online learning for K-12. Over the last year, high school learners (in the K-12 MOOCs I’ve designed) have identified that credit, content, and marks are not the only ways to learn. Instead, a networked, collaborative community that emphasizes learner choice and digital identity is essential to high school student engagement. The experiences of participants demonstrates that the pedagogy and the learning architecture is key in promoting open learning.
By MOOCifying K-12, I have discovered the importance of relationships, peer feedback, modeling, support, scaffolding, collaborations, risk taking, and digital identity in open online learning environments. To MOOCify your K-12 learning environment consider short, student directed, open projects that promote authentic inquiry-based learning with an emphasis on social media integration and networked learning. The true stories of openness in K-12 have only just started to be told.
A more detailed summary about open learning and the OC@ADLC is offered in the following webinars: Moocifying K-12 for iNACOL and a webinar on K-12 MOOCs for the #OLTAK Mooc with Lee Graham.