This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is …
Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman
Finally, I know what I am … a leave of grass!
This is what I have to say after having read the three essays, Giving Knowledge for Free from OCDE, OLCOS Roadmap and the Review from Hewlett Foundation.
Interesting the progression: on open education resources the first, extended to open education practices the second, looking forward to a new learning culture – pardon, “a” learning culture – the last one.
It is good to feel to be a leave of grass … it is not the first time that it happens to me … I believe it is quite common, either … you have a problem and you do not know much about the context, actually, you do not see some useful existing frames that may help you, your scholastic knowledge is useless … however, you need to solve the problem and you are pushed in a direction, you just feel it.
You follow your feelings and you begin to put pieces together, carefully, accepting to try steps and step back if necessary … then something new is born … something new is born because you had to survive … but later you discover that what you have done has a place in the world, may be that what you have done is well known somewhere and belongs to a field, is described by appropriate names, belongs to a culture.
You took that direction because times were mature … because you breathed something that pushed you there instead of somewhere else … you discover to belong to a grass-roots movement … and this is fine because it gives you the feeling to have a place in the world.
I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars …
Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman
Seven years ago I was put in face of 700 students per year, unequally spread in 2 semesters, about 25 classes in 6 different places within 100 Kilometers … they were of the first year of various curricula at the Faculty of Medicine, medicine, odontoiatry, nursing, physiotherapy and so on … I was supposed to teach basic informatics, computer literacy plus something else, more or less specific to the curricula …
First panic, then reflection, then a basic thought: if something appears to be very frightening may be it becomes a blessing when you change perspective … 700 girls and boys per year to talk to may represent a wonderful opportunity …
Too many to teach them something? Well, it depends on who are the people you are supposed to teach, what you are supposed to teach, what you mean by teaching, how you could do it.
Computer literacy.It may be useful for some 10% of the students, useless or almost useless for the remaining 90%. There are also quite a number of geeks among them! How to conceive some 10 lessons for such a population? How is it possible to manage this number of students in a computer room with just 30 machines?
Impossible? No, it is possible but you have to change the perspective radically.
Put all the basic material as courseware in an open source LMS together with sets of tests for auto-evaluation as well as for evaluation … just one or two conventional lessons telling the students:
“Hello, now it’s different. You have the opportunity to learn something about informatics and related matters, I can try to help you if you need it or if you have some extra curiosity. The basic material is in this platform. You must register and you must use the forum for doubts and problems. We will discuss all together and, if necessary, organise lessons, seminars, lab work … when needed if needed … if you are good at something you can add or improve the courseware … you propose … we discuss … you place your contribution in the wiki … we discuss again … you will improve your final grade or, in some cases avoid the final test at all … you should propose extra new activities if you get ideas… we can create groups … this work will influence grades as well …”
You will find a broad distribution of skills when talking about informatics in a population of young people. About 10% need some kind of help. The rest need very little help or no help at all.
If they find what they need in the courseware you can concentrate on the 10% that really need help. Probably you have still plenty of time. Fine, you can work on those that have particular skills and those that are striving to make something new, something useful … if you work well you can extract and work with another 10% at the other side of the distribution.
It turns out to be very exciting to work that way.
The course has been proposed to about 2500 students so far.
I was very surprised to read about the existence of a kind of empirical law, the 1%-10% law, quoted both in the OECD report and in the OLCOS one. This is exactly my finding: if the students are free to take some initiatives, well, 1% will do something, 10% will follow and will cooperate with the first 1%, the remaining 90% will just look at what is going on and will study as usual.
I find out that the affordable challenge is to work on the 10%, trying to maintain it or to limit its fading towards the 1%.
Other very stable numbers have been found about the compliance of the students: would they like to use this system, mutatis mutandis, in other fields?
In a poll, that they were free to answer, 50% voted, 10% of these said no and the other 90% said yes. These data are incredibly stable and also the time course of the poll is very stable: students that say no tend to vote very soon while the votes of the others come later.
Did these first four weeks change something?
First of all it is good to have a survey of available courseware. I liked the MIT courseware for the broad spectrum of materials, even if in pdf, and Connexions, a significant step towards reusability of materials. However there may be other good courseware … need some more time to browse all the references … sure to find something to reuse.
Very much influenced by OLCOS Roadmap and the Review from Hewlett Foundation, I will make blog-RSS and wiki the main communication channel within and between the classes in the next semester. Must hurry up because the semester starts on 1. October. Just working on it.
Before this summer I did not know almost anything about what I’m finding in these readings. I only knew about the existence of open source LMS and read, by chance, two books of Seymour Papert.
Thanks to Antonio Fini, another student of this course, I’m here now, glad to know to be part of a grass-roots movement and looking forward to finding friends and to improving what I’m doing.