Hating scholiness and loving learning (to use Clay Burrel’s words), a strong yearning for changing what is related to school and learning, the necessity, perhaps, to discover other ways to take care of learning, the difficulty to share new paths with colleagues in my environment, were all powerful reasons to be irresistibly attracted by the idea to participate to the CCK08 course.
At the same time, the simultaneity with the bulk of the activities in the semester, was an equally strong reason to give up the idea of participating.
However, sometimes behind an apparently ineluctable dichotomy one may see a third possible way. In this case, instead of choosing if taking care of my students or playing the role of student myself, I decided to make the dialog among students and teacher the true participant to the CCK08 course.
The experience was very good because now I have a network of people having similar yearnings from whose I can learn further and get inspiration. I don’t know if such network is a sign of the existence of a grassroots movement, I hope.
In the last part of the course I was no more capable to follow very much the network but this was somewhat intentional. Being pressed by the overwhelming quantity of CCK08 connections and by my own teaching schedule it would have been impossible to do more. Thus I concentrated on 1) trying to keep an open window on the activities of my students and 2) recording possibly useful connections for the future. Now the network is there and when time will permit I will try to exploit those connections as well as new ones.
The CCK08 experience reinforced the general idea of teaching and learning I have been developing thus far and that I try to recap in the following.
Contents are no more the most important feature, they are in the wiki and are supposed to be integrated with available OER. Contents in the wiki are authored also by students.
There is no true time schedule. The teacher suggests activities in a certain succession but students are free to undertake them when they like. Time is not an issue, activities related to other curricula permitting.
The assignments given by the teacher are not true assignments, they are given mostly because students expect them. However those assignments are thought as lures to trigger autonomous learning activities.
I completely gave up the idea of covering the course topics with some degree of completeness. Instead I’m aiming to let each student find a personal path around the subjects of the course.
Since the course is given in an university curriculum I have to give grades. However, in my perspective it’s not much about giving grades, rather letting learners accumulate their grades by means of activities they do, both the suggested ones and specially the spontaneous ones. The final grades depend for some 70% on the number of activities and for some 30% on my judgement for quality of each activity.
As far as the evaluation of quality is concerned, creativity, attitude to extend the subject, cooperation with peers, openness and sharing are the elements I consider most relevant.
The course is delivered by using only free web tools such as blogs for communication among the participants as well as with the professor, wiki pages for use and creation of contents, group blogs as forums, Google Docs for cooperative works, or similar tools. We could say simply that we are using Web 2.0 tools and this is largely true. However I like to stress that the important points are those mentioned before. The use of Web 2.0 is important but only because it facilitates this approach very much, however it is not the crucial point per se.
I avoid to use any kind of close environments such as learning management systems, both in proprietary and open source flavours.
Being aware of the fact that web tools are run by companies, I try to manage things so that possible damages to the course, because of failures or some sort of closures of a single web service, are very limited. Web tools are used only if they permit thorough backups in open and standard file formats.
Admittedly, the subject of digital literacy is particularly suited to such an experiment, for a number of reasons.
The matter is evolving fast, it is impossible to freeze it in contents. It is also difficult to update it every year (or semester?) because it is also very large.
The spread of the starting background of students is discouraging. In the same classes you may have geeks as well as people who feel quite unfamiliar with new technologies.
Young people are digital natives. This statement sounds contradictory with respect to the previous one but it is not. The expression digital natives does not mean people who already master new technologies to but people that learn very fast to use them if put in an appropriate learning context. They learn fast because they breathed technology even when they believe to be unfit to it.
However, I believe that other subjects could be tackled with a similar approach, mutatis mutandis. What is important in my view is to create situations that allow students to get familiar with the subject so that they can learn by themselves. I believe that in any field it is possible to organize such kind of experiences. Technology may be very helpful but the key point is the intention I mentioned before.
I’m also aware of the fact that probably it is not possible to meet the objective of achieving a school well fitted to the needs of society by means of a reschooling process. I must admit to believe more in some sort of deschooling process. However, finding myself in the university and having the opportunity to work with about 700 students per year, I believe it is worthwhile to try to create new learning contexts by hacking the reality where and when it is possible. At least we may learn something useful. Among the connections that the participation to the CCK08 course helped me to revisit, there is the inspiring experience of Michael Wesch, very important in my perspective.
Therefore, my project is to continue along these lines while carefully listening to the CCK08 connections and the new ones that will arise.