At the Intersection of Open and Connected.

My home institution, Virginia Commonwealth University, is supposedly innovating at the intersection of connected learning and open education (according to our QEP) and I’m inclined to think that’s true, but, as usual, innovative assessment is lagging behind innovative instructional design. That’s why my dissertation research relates to creating alternative assessment strategies for VCU’s connected courses.

I’m probably too divergent to write a really awesome, linear-sounding, traditional literature review, but I’m particularly organizationally challenged at this very moment, and I need to just spit something out.

So what is the intersection of open and connected? 

Connected learning and open education are actual fields of educational research, advocacy, and practice.  Open education, in particular, sprawls.  However, here are some components that seem to be particularly relevant to the VCU approach to connected courses. Bear in mind I am not an institutional policy-maker, but rather a closely-situated, interested observer.  Don’t take my analysis as “official” in any way, please.

 Connected Learning:

  1. Assumption: The pathway to better student engagement and higher retention is inclusiveness, i.e. making as many students as possible feel like they belong in an academic setting and that academics are relevant to present and future interests (Tinto, 2012; Osterman, 2000).
  2. Inclusiveness involves diversifying pathways to academic success (and creating multiple entry points for all along the way; Ito et al., 2013).
  3. Instructional designs should focus on helping students develop their “learning lives,” which involves helping them make connections between personal interests, social activities, and academic/professional pursuits (Kumpulainen and Seton-Green, 2014).
  4. The emphasis on learning through experience (“Make it real“).  Dewey and Montessori in the sense that: (1) people learn through purposeful interaction with the environment; (2) people learn from using skills, making something concrete rather than just hearing about it.
  5.   The power of digital learning networks to increase access to information and learning opportunities, and provide social support particularly for students who feel marginalized in traditional institutions (Ito et al., 2013).

Open Education (note: this is a tiny sliver of open): 

  1.  Assumption: Humans co-evolve with their technologies (Engelbart, 1963).  At baseline, we are a digital society and should integrate the affordances of the digital world into teaching and learning (in other words, it’s a necessity rather than a nicety, as suggested by the connected learning literature).
  2. Reality is constantly shifting and crowdsourced – flexibility and resilience is key to living in this world (Siemens, 2004).
  3. The emphasis on digital information- and workflow as the primary site of learning; students must learn how to curate, critique, organize, and synthesize information to make knowledge (still Siemens).
  4. Digital workflows are supported by personal learning environments.
  5. Open practices and platforms reduce impedance to information and workflow .

The VCU Approach

  1. We believe that humans co-evolve with their technologies and that we live and learn in a networked world. Therefore, academic relevance resides in the concepts of digital fluency and integrative thinking.
  2. We are for increased student engagement, higher retention, and relevant educational experiences.  We are for the diversification of pathways to academic success.
  3. We are for the development of digital workflows and critical approaches to information. We are for students learning how to create personal learning environments to support personal learning networks.
  4. We are for the development of learning lives to make for more engaging, relevant, inspired learning..  We are for the students engaging mentors and peers across these different facets of their lives to help integrate their learning experiences in powerful, important ways.
  5. We support the development of digital dispositions, workflows, and people networks in open digital environment, because it is easier to connect things (and people) on the open web.  Furthermore, the capital (social and knowledge) that is accumulated within those networks are independent of courses and the institution, itself.  Students take their PLNs and PLEs with them wherever they go (Cormier, 2010)





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