I spent most of the course frustrated with the experience and developing in my mind how I would do it differently if I were in charge. I devised mental plans for re-organizing the content, engaging the learners, and building a learning community. I’ve been so inspired by what I’ve learned about connectivism from people like Alec Couros, and from my experiences of being part of courses that develop powerful learning communities, that I couldn’t help but dream of better ways to do this.
But this is where, I now realize, I failed. I could have done something more.
I’ve been so busy working on my education degree, studying connectivism and other learning theories, and writing up education plans for my job as a learning consultant, that I lost sight of the actions I could have taken right there and then, in my role as a student. I think this is vitally important, as most instructors are not about to start adopting a connectivist philosophy anytime soon, and connectivist principles need to start making their way into classrooms now. We, as students, don’t need to wait for our instructors to do this for us, and instead, we can take control of our own education by following a few connectivist-inspired tips:
1. Talk to your co-students. The first step in building a learning community is to reach out and communicate with the members of that potential community. This can be as simple as extending an open invitation to go out for coffee during the first day’s break. Introduce yourself, ask about them, gauge their interest in connecting.
2. Tweet. Just before things get started after that first break, stand up and announce a twitter hashtag for the class, and invite people to use it. Twitter often forms a key communication piece in connectivist learning, and it could just as easily be introduced by students as by the instructor.
3. Become a Facilitator. You may need to actively facilitate the initial discussions to kick things off and establish the environment. Start by tweeting an interesting question or reflection on a point made by the instructor or a co-student. Send out a relevant link. When others tweet, send an encouraging reply. But also, be sure to step back when the conversation starts to take off. Not enough facilitation might prevent the conversation from starting, but too much can choke it off. Facilitation is a careful balancing act.
4. Help others. Connectivist courses often start with sessions to help orient students to this new way of learning. To replicate this, offer to spend the first lunch break helping people setup a twitter account or reviewing how it works. Point them to some of the great introductory resources developed by other connectivist educators. Connectivist learning can be disorienting for those new to it, and does require a basic understanding of some of the core technologies like twitter, social bookmarking, and blogging. A bit of guidance can make a big difference to the success of the learning community.
5. Establish a Google Community. Yet another free service from Google, this allows you to quickly and easily establish a connectivist, student-run web space for the course. Remember to tell everyone where to find it. Use twitter, but also let people know face to face. Try not to be exclusionary, but instead keep all information open and accessible to everyone in the course.
6. Start blogging. You and your co-students can use Blogger, WordPress, or other free services to create your own blogs. This can be an important place to narrate your learning, demonstrate to others in the course how narrated learning works, and to comment on one another’s posts.
7. Social bookmarking. Use free tools like Diigo or Delicious to setup social bookmarking groups. This can allow everyone in the class to contribute links and pull in their relevant knowledge from outside of the course. Encourage others to do some content curation using Scoop.it or other similar tools. Again, remember to tell everyone and to seed it with some links of your own.
8. Keep it positive. Although you may be starting this due to frustration with the course instructor, be sure to stay focused on the course content and the learning. Avoid criticism of the instructor or his/her teaching style. This will help with the next tip.
9. Invite the instructor to participate. If things start to take off, share the success with the instructor. Invite him or her to get involved. Take this as an opportunity to share the value of connectivism, and possibly inspire him or her to adopt this approach in the future. Some instructors may not get it and reject your invitation, but many will see the benefits when they are demonstrated right in front of them.
10. Connect with a librarian. If offered by a college or university, there will usually be a librarian responsible for the course. This person really wants to help you and your co-students succeed and can be a great source of related content and resources. Let your librarian know what you are doing, invite him or her to participate, and you may just win another person over to this kind of learning.
These are just some of my initial thoughts on ways for students to take control over their education and pro-actively become part of the learning process, without needing permission. I think it can be done for workplace training, academic courses, or any other kind of learning event, whether online or in-person.
I’ve no doubt missed other important tips, so please let me know what else you think can be done. As well, if you have any experience doing something like this, or being an instructor where students did any of these, please do comment here. I’d love to hear about real examples of how this has played out.