The 30-Day Challenge Recap

30 Day ChallengeEnoch Hale has captured all the questions he, I and others asked during the 30-Day Challenge.  See his post at “Day 30!!! – Thinking Directions.

I previously linked to his first 15 days is his second 15 days..all worth reading:

Looking forward to new digital challenges!

{Graphic: Bikram Yoga}

30-Day Challenge – Day 29 – Your Teaching Tombstone

Hollywood Cemetary Richmond VAIf you ever want a relaxing walk on a spring day, nothing beats wandering the 130 acres of Hollywood Cemetery near our campus of VCU.  Rolling hills, old trees, winding paths, and the resting place of U.S. Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, as well as Confederate President Jeff Davis.

For those that track these things, it is a forty-minute walk from the VCU gym to President Monroe‘s tomb and back…but I am not pushing it…I am enjoying the walk, the scenery, and the glimpse back into Richmond history.  I do tend to pause a couple of minutes at the President’s burial site, as the view of the James River is excellent.

I find the inscriptions on tombstones fascinating as I wander.  There are cases of spouses who died within days of each other and other cases of (typically) wives outliving their husbands by fifty years.  Lots of Civil War graves and lots of Civil War veterans who lived into the 20th Century.

On some stones, you find where someone attempted to sum this person’s life with a single sentence.

Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question, discussed this concept in his article “Find Your Passion With These 8 Thought-Provoking Questions.” Berger noted:

What is your sentence? is a question designed to help you distill purpose and passion to its essence by formulating a single sentence that sums up who you are and what, above all, you aim to achieve.

“…It’s a favorite question of To Sell is Human author Daniel Pink, who acknowledges in his book Drive that it can be traced back to the journalist and pioneering Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce. While visiting John F. Kennedy early in his presidency, Luce expressed concern that Kennedy might be in danger of trying to do too much, thereby losing focus. She told him “a great man is a sentence”–meaning that a leader with a clear and strong purpose could be summed up in a single line (e.g., “Abraham Lincoln preserved the union and freed the slaves.”).

Pink believes this concept can be useful to anyone, not just presidents. Your sentence might be, “He raised four kids who became happy, healthy adults,” or “She invented a device that made people’s lives easier.” If your sentence is a goal not yet achieved, then you also must ask: How might I begin to live up to my own sentence?”

So my 30-Day Challenge question for today (…and we are nearing the end of the challenge!):

Day 29 – What would I want listed on my teaching tombstone?

blank tombstoneTom Peters in some of his presentations used to use this tombstone metaphor.

He suggested that we would not see on Winston Churchill’s tomb:

He brought World War Two in on budget

…or on Ghandi’s tomb:

Grand Prize, Continuous Improvement, Spinning Wheel Division

So what would we want on our teaching tombstone that summarized our teaching in one sentence?

I would suggest that it should not be…

Excelled at using Blackboard


An Easy A“…

Maybe something like…

Transformed the lives of his/her students” …


Created a thirst for more learning” …

or simply

Made a difference.”

Berger quoted Dropbox founder Drew Houston, who said:

“The most successful people are obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them. They remind me of a dog chasing a tennis ball.” To increase your chances of happiness and success, Houston said, you must “find your tennis ball–the thing that pulls you.”

So maybe my tombstone would read simply:

He found his tennis ball

dog and tennis ballThoughts?

{Graphics: Shelley Beatty, John Stephens, Michal O}

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30-Day Challenge – Day 25 – The Training Wheel Question

My colleague Jon Becker in our Office of Online Academic Programs here at VCU posted an interesting Twitter conversation in his blog post today.  He noted that it started with a live tweet by Jesse Stommel of Jim Groom’s presentation at #et4online. Derek Bruff responded with what he tagged an honest question, and Jon responded as shown below:


Jon went on to quote Steve Jobs that computers were like bicycles for the mind, and that as such, they allowed us the ability to soar.  Jon’s point was:

If computers are like bicycles for our mind (and I believe they are!), the Learning Management System (LMS) is perfectly analogous to the training wheels.  Riding a bicycle with training wheels on is relatively safe and it can get you from point A to point B, albeit slowly. But, one hasn’t *really* learned to ride a bike until the training wheels come off. Taking the training wheels off liberates the operator of the bike and affords her the freedom to really move and soar and do amazing tricks. Taking the training wheels off of the open web liberates the learning and affords the teachers and the learners to really move and soar and do amazing things.

In many ways, Jon’s point is similar to Lisa Lane’s point three days ago that classes within an LMS isolate students.  To mash up her tweet:

Lisa Lane tweet.
Both Jon and Lisa (and Jim Groom) are totally correct.  But my mind returns to Derek’s point…and questions of policy during a period of disruptive transition.  Very few faculty (at least at my institution) have the digital literacy to drop an LMS cold turkey and move to their own domain.  Our twelve schools and colleges, our IT personnel and  our HelpDesk are not staffed to support faculty in the absence of an LMS.

training wheelsSo weaving a path between Jon/Jim/Lisa’s ideal and the pragmatic realities of a faculty wedded to a decade of LMS use, how do we begin a campus wide conversation and develop a timeline to achieve this excellent goal?  To my mind, the training wheels will not come off until we have faculty buy-in and a clear timeline for transitioning, with a safety net for current faculty as they transition to the open web.  It is not a pipedream to visualize a more open (and amazing) educational landscape.  In GRAD-602, we already suggest that future faculty will teach and learn in an open web, making full use of the affordances of the web (and we model what we suggest with our fully open class website).  But we also suggest to these future faculty that they should approach digital opportunities in a mindful way.  LMS systems solve some problems (FERPA, grades) while creating others (stifled creativity).  Before we dump one, we should solve the problems it has already solved…and do it at scale, so that thousands of faculty are not left scrambling at a time they are already loaded down with research, teaching and service commitments.

Derek’s honest question inspired my 30-Day Challenge question for today:

Day 25 – How do we in faculty development support the digital presence of 3,000 faculty without something like an LMS?

Honest question, indeed.  Be interested in how your campuses are tackling this issue?

{Graphics: Becker, Lane, Motorbike}



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30-Day Challenge – Day 22 – Asking the Wrong Questions

Same Thinking Same ResultsThis 30-Day Challenge has been intellectually stimulating for me.  Enoch Hale challenged us to ask “out-of-the-box” questions about teaching and learning…which is fun in some ways and very challenging in other ways.  It has definitely not led (for me) to “the same old thinking.”

Our hallway conversations have been just as fun…and have focused on the stimulation that questions cause.  And that stimulation is now coming from multiple sources as I focus on questions.  So I perked up last week when I saw that Matt Crosslin had posted an interesting “question” in EduGeek Journal – “Still Asking the Wrong Questions About Technology.”  Matt was riffing off a Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Taking Notes By Hand Benefits Recall, Researchers Find.”

As Matt noted:

“The basic point is that students that take lecture notes by hand do better on tests than students that took notes on a laptop…I don’t doubt the findings of this report. Taking notes by hand usually does require you to think more. The bigger question that the researchers are not looking at is “what is the best way to use notes”?”

Matt points out that this “…goes back to the bigger problem in education, where we drag technology and teaching down by constraining it to one paradigm of learning…”  Great point.  Research such as this attempts to paint findings in behaviorist terms (stimulus – response) when our educational environment is evolving into a distributed rhizomatic network of learners.

Day 22 – As a community…how do we stop asking the wrong questions?

Last night in our GRAD-602 class, we explored the evolution of web supported course sites, journeying from the early days of Blackboard LMS through more open WordPress platforms, reviewing “learning communities” in spaces such as Ravelry or music fansites, and then exploring ds106, a vibrant learning community that started as a “course” at University of Mary Washington, but evolved into SO much more.  Now ds106 is a co-constructed community where you can “Start any time, it never ends. Design it your way.”

One of our future faculty said “Wait a minute…don’t you HAVE to use Blackboard?”  Fair question…but the wrong question.

Just as asking if you take better notes by hand is the wrong question.  The right question on note-taking, as Matt noted, might be: What is the intended outcome…and will the notes you have taken help you achieve it?  In a future course our GRAD-602 students will be teaching, the question might become “What are the intended outcomes, and will your web course site support the achievement of these outcomes?”.  And importantly -as ds106 models – will your students be able to come back in after the course is over and continue adding to the learning?  In our podcast this morning, Jeff made this insightful comparison between most LMS course websites and the sites like our GRAD-602 or ds106…they invite you to come back.  Great point, Jeff!

Here is our podcast this morning, with Jeff Nugent, Joyce Kincannon, Laura Gogia and I.  Give a listen!

{Graphic: F. Mandon}

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30-Day Challenge – Day 21 – Crazy Teaching Practices

trust your crazy ideasIlya Pozin, founder of Open Me and Ciplex, and a columnist for Inc, Forbes and LinkedIn, had an article  in LinkedIn called “15 Crazy Best Practices That Really Work.”

Ilya noted that for entrepreneurs, conventional wisdom does not always work, especially in the disruptive market today.  He posted 15 “crazy ideas” from fellow entrepreneurs who “….dared to blaze their own path.”

I thought it might be interesting for today’s 30-Day Challenge question to look at his ideas through the lens of teaching.  After all, our students are leaving higher education and graduating into a world where yesterday’s conventional wisdom would be suspect.

Day 21 – What “crazy” teaching practices might actually better prepare our students for the digital world in which they will live and work?

Ilya’s Crazy Ideas:

1.  Being Messy With Our Employees

Seth Talbott suggested that being involved with employees is messy but worth it.  By involved, he meant building relationships with meaningful connections.  In today’s digital environment, we need to stop being afraid of building social network connections with our students…and facilitate their building of their own learning and professional networks.  See number 2.

2.  Valuing Our Network

Darrah Brustein said that “your network is your net worth.”  My comments to number 1 apply here as well…our role as faculty now involves helping our students cultivate their networks.  One way to do that is modelling networked behavior ourselves.

3.  Making Friends, Not Clients

Vinny Antonio noted that the clear driving factor for success was word-of-mouth advertising, so it was necessary to actually create a relationship with clients and work towards their success.  “Clients” is a loaded word in education…but the intent is spot on.  Parker Palmer, in The Courage To Teach, discussed how teaching is as much about the heart as it is about the content.  Palmer states that:

“…teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students learn a great deal – or keep them from learning much at all.  Teaching is the intentional act of creating those conditions, and good teaching requires that we understand the inner sources of both the intent and the act.”

4. Obsessing Over Data Analysis

Danny Boice discussed data-driven decisions.  We are just entering the age of learning analytics … yet few of us take advantage of the limited data we now have.  Do you check the analytics in your learning management system to see if any students are not engaged?  What do you do with the data when you have it?  We need to obsess more ourselves!

5.  Being Unforgettable

Dustin Lee’s company takes online learning in a unique direction, offering, in his words, well-crafted courses that are “…insanely fun as well.”  It is a great lesson for those of us in pubic education…and one we take seriously at VCU.  Online@VCU notes:

Focused on distinctiveness, high engagement, and deeper learning, VCU offers quality online programs and courses available wherever you are.

6.  Asking Provocative Questions

Erica Dhawan suggested that tough conversations and productive inquiry lead to success.  That is equally true in the classroom…doubly so if the students are asking the questions!  Enoch Hale’s 30-Day Challenge has this premise at its core.

7.  Building a Culture around Hiring

Matt Mickiewicz noted that recruiting talent can determine success or failure for a company.  We do not “recruit” our students…but a few “crazy” course trailers might attract talent to your courses.

8.  Doing One Thing Well

Ryan Buckley’s company focuses on medium-length blog posts…and that focus has made them successful.  This one is difficult to translate into teaching (other than doing teaching well…but that is a cop out).  So I might spin this to suggest that each course have an opportunity for students to do one thing well…as a capstone project for the course.  After all, is it not our job to help students finish each course with success?

9.  Drinking Our Own Kool-Aid

John Hall is in the influence business…and they leverage their own service to grow their business.  We are in the learning business, and our passion for learning should be evident to our students…and contagious.

10.  Controlling Every Step

Joshua Waldron suggested that one of the keys to his company’s success was to manufacture everything in house.  “…Be lean, be nimble, and don’t let outside vendors influence your bottom line.”  In teaching and learning, I am not for “controlling”…but I am for “scaffolding”…being adaptive so that you can support every student in their learning journey.

11. Documenting the Process

Joe Apfelbaum noted that “…It’s vital to know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the step-by-step recipe you’re working with on any project.”  Many of us are in research, so applying the scientific method to our teaching for improvement should be natural.  Given the changes occurring in higher education, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is a growing opportunity.  So is the journaling that can occur through blogs.  We each have so much we can offer so that we can learn from each other.

12.  Employing Energy and Persistence

Kayvon Olomi suggested that you can do anything you put your mind to.  Are our courses designed to employ (and build) energy and scaffolded to build time on task (persistence) into the learning processes?

13.  Minimizing Distracting Conversations

Jordan Fliegel noted that focus is critical to success.  I think it is an outdated concept for faculty to complain about the use of digital devices in classes “because students will just be on Facebook.”  If students are bored and on Facebook, that may be a problem of motivation and focus rather than distraction.  Get students excited about learning…and the Facebook “problem” becomes less of a problem!

14.  Split-Testing Ideas

Nicolas Gremion suggested that rather than debating what will work, take the top ideas and split-test them.  What comes to mind in a classroom is the Think-Pair-Share technique to promote higher level thinking.  This adds engagement and focus to class sessions…and potentially surfaces misconceptions.

Gone crazy15.  Valuing the Customer

Wade Foster noted that: “Above all, we serve the customer, and we do our best to give them the tools they need to get their jobs done.”  One can debate whether students are our customers or whether our customers are employees or society itself … but in any case, we need to equip our students for success in a digital world.  We also can value what they bring to the class or program.

Crazy, right?  Thoughts?

{Graphic: Jessica Harvey, A.J. Aalto}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 20 – The New Nomads

journey2This past weekend, I was in a blog dialogue with “DogBiscuit123” – a bright teaching coach in the midwest.  We were discussing the changing nature of work and how it impacted education.  In his post, he talked about the arc of change over the past decade, with one-to-one initiatives, BYOD and mobile programs, and an innovative work study program.

“…Last year, the district piloted a program with 28 students in a profession-based instruction program to meet the district goal of college and career readiness. The program has blossomed to over 400 high school students from six neighboring districts…  Slowly, we are moving away from mass automation of education to prepare workers for the jobs in the industrial revolution for “learning rebellion” of the knowledge revolution… The Internet can help create a little “communal anarchy” and spur greater institutional change, because learning is about the revolutionary value of discovering new truth, not the control of information.”

I commented that this struck me as “… moving beyond “student-centered” to seeing students as members of a learning network. To me, there is power in rhizomatic learning environments.”

He loved that term and dove in to research it, coming across two of Dave Cormier‘s blog posts:

DogBiscuit123 laid out three visions for students – workers, soldiers, and nomads:

“Workers take accepted knowledge and store it for future reference. They accept that things are true and act accordingly. The soldier acquires more knowledge and becomes responsible for deciding what things are going to be true. The nomads make decisions for themselves. They gather what they need for their own path. I think we should be hoping for nomads.”

“Nomads have the ability to learn rhizomatically, to ‘self-reproduce’, to grow and change ideas as they explore new contexts. They are not looking for ‘the accepted way’, they are not looking to receive instructions, but rather to create.”

…I think that we should be hoping for nomads…


In fact, I think we should be cultivating nomads!

My 30-Day Challenge question for today is:

Day 20 – How can I cultivate knowledge nomads who learn rhizomatically and create their own knowledge domains?

As DogBiscuit123 noted, this idea raises the issue of how higher education can “…re-culture educational organizations away from the organized path of learning to the learner self-mapping culture and continue to prepare learners for the future?”  A great question.

How would you respond?  Does the metaphor of students as nomads resonate with you?


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30 Day Challenge – Day 16 – Woodpecker or Swift

WoodpeckerMy wife and I love birds.  We have several birdfeeders in the backyard and plant flowers and shrubs that are bird-friendly.  Sometimes that means the local hawks thin the flock a bit…but that is part of nature as well.  Three different species of woodpeckers frequent our suet and peanut feeders, while – because we also live near meadows and open farmland – a number of species of swifts frequent our area as well.

The evolution of the different species of birds is fascinating.  Woodpeckers and swifts have something in common – they both eat insects.

Woodpeckers “peck” or bore into the wood of trees to find insects.

Swifts are among the faswiftstest fliers in the world, and they take their meals on the wing.  According to Adam Summers, swifts have proportionately large wingtip bones that allow for added maneuverability in flight.

So as I thought about my question for today’s 30-Day Challenge, I thought about how two species of birds approach the same objective (eat insects) in radically different ways.  It is a metaphor for teaching.

Day 16 – As a teacher, do I want to approach teaching (and learning) as a woodpecker or swift?

One can certainly take the “repeatedly hit them with questions” approach, drilling in to the objectives until the objective is met.  Cognitive scientists such as Dan Willingham have suggested that students do need to spend time on the fundamentals in order to develop problem solving skills.

On the other hand, that approach might not be appropriate for all subjects or with all learners.  In a constructivist approach, one might want students to maneuver around the topic, trying different angles of attack until they surface one that works for them.

Neither approach is totally right or totally wrong…it is a question of mindful application.  Which approach would work for you…and for your students?


{Graphics: Birdsguide, Wild Animals}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 14 – Competing Fantasies

nix01Divergent thinking typically comes out of  annual SXSW conference.  Earlier this month, the conference featured Bruce Sterling, a noted science fiction author, as a keynoter.  Bruce used a phrase from his and Jon Lewbowsky’s  State of the World 2012 post that he had previously used…and which got a bit of buzz:

The Future Is About Old People, in Big Cities, Afraid of the Sky

“The future is about old people, in big cities, afraid of the sky. How do I know that? Well, it’s because demographic change is very obvious — people are gonna get older. And the urban change is very obvious — people have been moving into larger and larger cities for several decades. And climate change is super obvious. People can deny all three of them. You can say, ‘Oh, well my town will never get bigger.’ Okay, Austin’s getting bigger by 100 people a day. Or you could say, ‘Oh, well I’m never going to get older.’ Okay, you are gonna get older… I have the feeling I’ve spent enough time talking about it. I’m actually bored with writing fiction about it. I think I’m gonna spend a couple of years trying to get to physical grips with the problem — What kind of life would old people, in big cities, afraid of the sky actually have? I think it’s time to try some prototypes.”

As someone who has reached his Sixties, this pessimistic view is not what I hope my children have in store!  Yet, for today’s post in the 30-Day Challenge, it is instructive to go back to Sterling’s 2012 post.

Bruce and Jon noted that different groups see the future changing in different ways:

  • Right-Wing Talk Radio
    • Threats to the Constitution
    • Imminent collapse of currency
    • Rise of anarchists
    • Hordes of immigrants
    • Rants against health-care and gay rights
  • China
    • Continued dual rise of production and pollution
    • Increase in infrastructure
    • Collapse of intellectual property
    • Defeat western ideas of law and commerce
  • Cyberculture
    • Smartphones!
    • Moore’s Law
    • War on SOPA/PIPA
    • Social media drives revolution
    • Quietly ditching stuff that is obsolete
  • Additional Fringe Beliefs
    • “…all fringe beliefs about the future seem to be more or less equivalent, like Visa, American Express and Mastercard.”

Multiple perspectives all looking at the same future.  Lebkowsky then noted:

“…I’m thinking H.G. Wells would never have written the hyperpessimistic “Mind at the End of Its Tether” if he’d had a televison set, 24-hour cable, high-speed Internet access and accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Our heads are buzzing with possibility, spinning ever faster into the alternate realities that your various futurisms suggest. I say “realities,” but I’m not sure the word “reality” has much weight these days – more like competing fantasies, in the sense that Kesey et al talked about “the current fantasy” and others of us talked about “believing your own bullshit.” Conflicting, competing narratives are the real games we play…”

DiversityAs “experts”, we as faculty spend a lot of time focusing on reality.  We craft lessons with “right answers” rather than competing fantasies.  Yet, with the affordances of the web, both our heads and the heads of our students ought to be “buzzing with possibilities”!  It should be instructive that much of the research in physics today points to alternate realities.  Rather than focusing on answers, how can we bring that buzz into the learning in our classes?

Day 14 – How could I craft my teaching so that students surface and interrogate competing fantasies in the search for today’s truth?

In one of the first global online courses I taught for the University of Nebraska, a Nebraskan gave a textbook answer to a question on educational leadership.  The next post was from a gentleman from the island of Guam, who started his post with “I am Chamorro, and we do not think that way…”.  It was a huge lesson for me on the lens we bring to our discussions.

What buzz do you bring to the discussion today?

{Graphic: Lori Nix, Envision}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 10 – Linear or Exponential

Next week along with my colleague Jeff Nugent, I am leading our second learning path session on online teaching, looking at the evolution of elearning.  Borrowing a page from Brian Lamb, I plan to take the participants on a bit of a historical journey.

  • Mankind first formed social groups about 200,000 years ago
  • Mankind became mobile and left Africa about 70,000 years ago
  • Mankind began to leave visual evidence of culture about 40,000 years ago.
  • Evidence of storytelling emerged about 17,000 years ago
  • Evidence of gaming appeared 8,000 years ago
  • Writing evolved about 5,600 years ago
  • Gutenberg developed the printing press 664 years ago (though the Chinese first developed moveable type 400 years earlier)

In the past hundred years, we have seen communication evolve from radio to television to multimedia on the internet.  Moore’s Law has been evident in the past forty years.  I did my Masters thesis on a Commodore 64 computer…and today carry an iPad with exponentially more power.  In fact, as Brian pointed out, today’s iPad has capabilities that match our human development of social, mobile, visual, storytelling, and gaming.  I include an example of how tablets have changed in the past 200 years:


As Tom Friedman noted in The World is Flat, the internet was one of the forces that flattened and shrunk our planet.  Growth in users and applications has been exponential over the past twenty years.  In that time, online education has evolved and grown as well.  I first began teaching online in 1995, before the advent of LMS technology. At the University of Nebraska, we used a new business software program called Lotus Notes to provide a platform for our first online classes.

But the growth of online learning in higher education has not matched the exponential growth of the internet in other fields.  The latest SLOAN / Babson survey shows:

online enrollment growth

So my question for Day 10 of the 30 Day Challenge (almost in line with “Where are the flying cars?”):

Day 10:  If growth in the internet in users and applications continues to expand exponentially, why has growth in online learning been linear?

This is one I do not have a clue to…but I would be interested in your perspectives.



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30 Day Challenge – Day 9 – Student-Generated Textbook

softchalkadDisclaimer – I have friends that work for Softchalk.  One of their recent ads suggested that “If Content is King, shouldn’t it be RICH?

There seems to be this assumption that content is indeed king.

Google “Content is King” and you get a bazillion returns.  One I liked was from Socialmedia Today, which quoted Jonathan Perelman of Buzzfeed saying that “Content is King, but Distribution is Queen and She Wears the Pants.” At another site, David Callan of AKAMarketing.Com noted that:

“On the Internet content is king and always will be. This is because the Internet is the information superhighway and most people use it for information of some sort.”

Content may be king for web design and marketing, but should content be king for college classes?  Jeff Nugent led a great learning path session today for a room full of faculty on the changing nature of the web. In the session description, Jeff noted:

“Web-based technology and new media continue to shape the teaching and learning landscape in higher education. Things like learning management systems, wikis, blogs, social networking sites, and ubiquitous access to information have opened new opportunities for collaboration, content creation and learning that only a short time ago were unimaginable. Indeed, over the past few years we have witnessed the rapid growth of tools and practices that facilitate web-based interaction and exchange among individuals and groups. Now nearly everyone with a computer, Internet access and freely available software can communicate with text, images, audio and video to audiences that comment, vote, rank, exchange, link, share and connect. In addition, course content from a significant number of colleges and universities has become organized and openly available on the web, spawning new opportunities for both formal and non-formal learning. In short, the web has become a social and participatory space that serves as a platform for community building and learning…”

This suggests that the content is already “out there.”  If this is so, then why are we as faculty providing a textbook to our students to – in many cases – passively read?

Day 9: What would teaching and learning look like for students if classes emulated the crowdsourced concept behind Wikipedia to co-develop the class textbook, rather than purchasing an already printed book?

Co-developing a textbook would factor in both the platform of participation, as Jeff calls it, and the open educational resources readily available.

wikipediaI suggest Wikipedia as a model intentionally.  Wikipedia has certainly been a disruptive force in collective knowledge making.  Launched thirteen years ago, it now contains over 30 million articles in 287 languages (4.4 million articles in English alone), the vast majority developed by volunteers.  A comparison of 42 science articles by Nature in 2005 found the quality to be comparable to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Wikipedia has created an interesting process of article development in the open and crowd assessment for quality.  One of the better descriptions of that process can be found in Jon Udell’s screencast on the heavy metal unlaut.

Could such a process be used to crowdsource a textbook for a class by the students taking that class?  Doing so would seem to meet some of the principles laid out in Susan Ambrose’s book (2010) How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.  Susan’s seven principles are:

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can serve to help or hinder learning.
  2. Students’ organization of knowledge impacts how students learn and apply what they know.
  3. Motivation determines, directs, and sustains what students learn.
  4. To develop mastery, students must develop the skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply them.
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances learning.
  6. Students’ current level of learner development interacts with the social, emotional and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
  7. To become self-directed, learners must be able to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.

It could early on identify faulty prior knowledge.  It would help students find and organize knowledge.  Giving students some ownership over the process could increase motivation.  It is certainly goal directed and will require the mastery of curation skills.  As a crowdsourced process, students would be monitoring and adjusting their learning as they developed the course textbook.  Finally, as a web resource, the students would have access to their own work after the course was completed, something sorely lacking in most LMS course sites.

I am not suggesting this for every class…though I could make the case that just about any class would have learning enhanced if the students – as part of their learning path – sought out, organized, curated, and published on the web a visible compilation of the topic under discussion.


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