Public + Private Community Spaces: Week Four Reflections

Last week I asked what connected learning would look like in a humanities course. I found my answer through Dr. Laura Gibbs, who teaches online courses for the University of Oklahoma in mythology and folklore and epics of Ancient India. Dr. Gibbs doesn’t lecture at all – she aggregates resources, provides structure, and an assignment to blog, comment, and revise. Students read through collected (free, open) fables and myths, and many blogging assignments revolve around rewriting these narratives.

Some thoughts:

  • This course is largely writing-based. While writing instruction isn’t the focus, it is an outcome. In this interview, Dr. Gibbs says it was hard to connect with students writing in the classroom, and the move online was natural. As everyone probably knows by now, I work primarily with writing faculty, including some who tell me that writing can only be taught with pen and paper. I’m just happy to hear a counter-narrative.
  • Her courses are built using a variety of platforms which have changed over time. If you take the time to look through some of her courses, you will find places where content was once on a Google Doc and now lives elsewhere, or in the above video she talks about moving from Ning to Blogger. I think there is a reason that “design for evolution” is the first design principle for communities of practice listed in Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002). Flexibility – in terms of content AND structure – is key to ensuring a successful CoP.
  • The first week of both courses serves as an orientation to how students will learn in the course, not content. Students are responsible for designing their own assignments, schedule, even grade – taking “inviting student input into course design” to the next level and creating an environment that supports transformative learning (Gauthier, 2016). Dr. Gibbs also has students read and reflect on growth mindset learning theory – supporting metacognition by explicitly having students think about their own learning.
  • Dr. Gibbs on her own role as instructor: “I spend a lot of time building the space, collecting resources…like managing a three ring circus.” She offers lots of framing and feedback, but even grading is largely responsibility of students.

Switching gears to talk more about communities of practice (but not really, since that is exactly what the above course is) – I have found that the most useful CoP for me is the cohort of this course, rather than the other CoP’s I have explored over the past few weeks. Two main reasons I think I have learned more here than elsewhere:

  1. Structure and rhythm – Expectations and scaffolding are more explicit within a course structure. Pretty obvious observation, but one worth thinking about. So much of learning is motivation, so if I am the type of learner that needs that context to thrive, a CoP that is more designed and scheduled is going to help me engage more thoroughly.
  2. Public and private community spaces – Writing this blog has really transformed my learning this course, and is something I think Bethany should maybe think about implementing the length of the certificate! Defining my own learning goals has been key, and reflecting in this less-constrained space has allowed me to really think about connections and past learning. I feel a more concrete sense of “knowledge building” week to week.

One final thing I wanted to share re: communities of practice was Howard Rheingold’s (one of the founders of Connected Learning Alliance) Peeragogy Handbook. “Peeragogy” is a model for peer learning and peer knowledge production – I haven’t gotten the chance to explore too deeply, but to me it seems like a CoP that supports developing rich CoP’s! The handbook is linked with Hypothesis, a tool for annotating web content, so it is a live document, and they also have an active Google+ community.

Week 4 Resources

Connected Learning Alliance, “Teaching the Humanities Online”

Dr. Laura Gibbs, MLLL 3043 Mythology and Folklore of the World

Dr. Laura Gibbs, Mythology and Folklore UN-Textbook and Storybook blog (student final projects)

The Peeragogy Handbook