My final paper is proceeding apace. And by “apace” I mean WHY DID I SIGN UP FOR THIS LAST SEMESTER? What made me think this was a good plan? DEAR GOD I GRADUATE IN TWO MONTHS!
Panicking aside, I’ve made some decent progress on sorting out how I want to conclude my paper, and how I’m going to get there (kudos to my adviser Dr. Whalen for all the awesome conversations in that vein).
First and foremost, I think that for the purposes of this paper I’m going to define online learning as a branch of edtech. It makes a lot of sense to me: anything that happens on the internet is facilitated by technology, which, to my thinking, makes online education a function of educational technology. Therefore, when I use to the term “educational technology” or “edtech,” I’m also referring to online courses, open and otherwise. I hope to use “edtech” as an umbrella term, and then narrow my terminology when needed, such as when I’m referring to open educational resources or massively open online courses in specific. Then again, if that usage is completely wonky in the actual edtech/online ed world, I’d love some feedback so I’m not producing a paper that’s unintelligable.
I think one of the struggles I’ve been having in trying to pin down where I want my paper to wind up is that, as usual, my focus wasn’t narrow enough. I’m not going to be able to make large pronouncements about The State Of Edtech with this project, no matter how much I feel like that’s what I should be doing. What I can do is narrow my focus back down, like I keep talking about, and bring things back to ds106. Finally. After about three blog posts insisting that’s what I was going to do.
What I’ve come up with is the fact that the biggest, coolest thing about ds106 isn’t the content it covers—in fact, the course doesn’t have a single consistent lesson plan. Instead, it offers students (and educators!) an introduction to numerous methods of creating stories using digital resources. The ways in which students learn to use those resources change depending on who is teaching the course, whether or not they’re affiliated with UMW or are open participants, and even which assignments the individual student chooses to complete. At its core, though, ds106 is just as much about conveying a particular ethos, informed by the rhetoric of innovation and open education that’s part of the larger conversation about edtech. When I say “rhetoric of innovation,” I’m referring to the line of thinking that pursuing a new way of completing a task, a new way of thinking, or a unique experience is more valuable than sticking to well-established methods, which I encountered constantly (and found incredibly compelling) as a student in ds106. The value of open resources, online communities as vital spaces for learning, the thoughtful creation of identity online, and giving students the freedom to create their own learning experiences are all integral to the ds106 experience. Each of those elements reflects the overarching ethos established by the professors who constructed and teach the course, one that touts openness, creativity and the innovative use of tech as essential components for constructing a new, more compelling and student-driven educational model.
Clearly there’s a lot to refine there, and I also want to discuss the practical benefits of edtech (namely that it attempts to integrate the tech that students are already using into the classroom). I need to spend some more time figuring out how I want to define the rhetorical concerns ds106 is tapping into, like the “rhetoric of innovation” I mentioned earlier. I’d also like to compare and contrast this course with some of the other open education and edtech initiatives I’ve encountered, like the Student as Producer movement at the University of Lincoln. But I think what I’m ultimately getting at is that the ds106 ethos represents one way to access the much larger landscape of educational technology, and that has a specific set of implications for students who take the course, and for the way that UMW pursues future edtech initiatives.
Personally, I am quite happy with all of those implications, because most of them wind up at a place that takes seriously the claim that everyone is an educator and a learner, as Dr. Whalen rather brilliantly put it during one of our recent meetings. There’s a sense that students can be trusted with their own educational decisions, and that creating new and different and off-the-wall ways to communicate, to convey information, to tell stories and to educate are all highly valued.
At the same time, Dr. Whalen’s also challenged me to think about what ds106 and edtech are beyond the rhetoric; “What’s the there, there?” is what he asked. So next week, along with reevaluating my final readings for the rest of the semester, I’m going to try and parse out some of those questions, and maybe even discuss what happens when classes like ds106 stop being the neat new thing and become more commonplace (if I can work in some of Bogost’s work on video games there, so much the better).