Iterating on an open educational learning experience for educators and students — The #WalkMyWorld Project
As we plan and identify possible “next steps” for the #WalkMyWorld Project, one of the ideas that we’ve had is to build a website that would automatically capture and add all of the content that users share into the same website.
In thinking through this Ive gone back and forth on whether it would be a positive, or overall negative for the participants and the project. My current thinking is that I’m overly cautious, and tending toward not wanting to add a stream to the project. Let me explain why.
Possibly losing focus
The project first started as an open research, open learning, and open education project designed to get educators and students thinking critically about digital texts while sharing and connecting online. This first started as educators using the hashtag #WalkMyWorld on Twitter…hence the naming of the project.
In the two years of the project, we’ve worked with educators and students around the globe, I can only speak from my experiences working with my students. Many of these participants have never used Twitter in the past. Most have never started a website, or blog. Many of our participants have concerns and some fears about building an online presence, posting content online, and using spaces like Twitter. The nice thing about #WalkMyWorld is that we met many of these teachers and students where they were. We coached them on to Twitter. Gave them explicit directives on what to do…and what to definitely not do. Each week the learning events became even more complex, but when meeting with my students (participants in the project) my advice was to find your entry point, create something…and just share it out on Twitter.
If our participants could do something special with digital media or remix it…great. If they had a blog or website…great. If a participant just could take a picture and tweet it out with the hashtag…we had a major victory. If a participant would look at the stream and watch (or connect with) another learner…it was cause for celebrating in the streets. As a note: Our biggest takeaway from the last two years of the project was that we wanted to find ways to have participants take the next step and connect with others online. This also seems to be a challenge others are experiencing as they facilitate online learning experiences (e.g., MOOCs).
My concern is that if we add another step to the puzzle…we make it too complex for participants and lose them. The learning events are already getting challenging…possibly to challenging. Even the basic mantra of read the prompt, think about the prompt, make something, share it out on Twitter is challenging for many people. If we indicate that they have to share it out on their blog, share to Twitter, and share to the project stream…we’re making it too hard for people and moving away from the original focus of the project and what people needed.
How the stream might help
I originally thought the stream would be a good idea. In all honesty, I would like to see the stream work. While at LRA 2015 I was thinking about the Becoming 3lectric project facilitated by Donna Alvermann and others. I really liked the way that learners could look at what effectively is their stream and see what others are doing. It became very easy for a participant to see what others build and share…and then possibly remix that content.
With #WalkMyWorld, our participants (for the most part) don’t examine the work of others in the project and seek to remix it. They get the minimum done, share it out, and move on. I think having the stream provides an opportunity to go to one website, read the prompt, click over and see what people are sharing. I have questions/concerns about whether our current system is a challenge as learners have to set up a Twitter client/app, go out and translate Twitter discourse…and figure out what they want to share.
I do think adding a stream to the #WalkMyWorld Project might be able to address some of those challenges. My concern is that it moves us away from our original intent. It also adds another layer of complexity when we should be simplifying things for our audience. Yes…it could be better or slicker. We could add all of the bells and whistles. Maybe WE understand and can do this. (Note: I think that not even all of us of that are organizing this project understand and can do this. You can tell from this post that I’m still trying to figure it all out :)) But…I don’t think our learners are anywhere near this entry point.
Possibly getting too complex
This year in the #WalkMyWorld Project I’ll be working with three populations to make this happen. I’ll have a group of pre-service teachers, a class of high-school students, and a class of 5th graders. With each group there are particular challenges. The pre-service teachers are my students and they have to do it. They also have me by their side 24/7 and in classes supporting them. The high school students do not have the digital tools, or the skills to make this happen. I wrote a grant to get the computers to allow them to complete the project. What they do have is the motivation and proper dispositions.
The group that I’m most concerned about is the group that has the most support…the 5th grade class. I met with the building technology lead yesterday to talk through the 2015 learning events. The tech lead for the building is very in tune to pushing the boundaries with technology…but understands her teachers. We will be working with one 5th grade teacher that has been hand picked for this initiative. By the time we got to the fourth learning event…she had a panic attack…and I had a reality check.
As we worked our way through the learning events and started reading Learning Event Four, it was obvious that this was not resonating with our intended audience. The push back came from the texts that we asked the participants to read (Identity, The Rose That Grew From Concrete). These texts were not approachable for an elementary audience. I indicated that they could include whatever texts they wanted that might possibly connect. I also indicated that they could find their entry point and modify as they see fit.
After a longer discussion, the tech lead and the teacher were at the point of saying that they just couldn’t do it. I indicated that there would be even more complexity as we don’t release the learning events until Sunday of the upcoming week. Even with me talking them through the events in person, and helping them modify…they seemed reticent to engage in the project. As we left they needed time to decompress and debrief. They will either not do the project…do the Learning Events from 2015 on their own time & offline…or somehow leap in to the 2016 version of the project.
I assured them that we would keep it simple and give them guidance. We would ask that they create a classroom website/blog and a Twitter account. They would weekly get Learning Events (and I would give them a sneak peek of the activities). I also assured them that we would include texts and prompts that were approachable for an elementary audience and beyond.
Keep it simple
To bring closure to this (much too long) post, I think we need to keep it simple and remain true to what has worked in the past. If we can start the project by asking participants to give us their Twitter account info…and their blog address…and we do all of the work…I’m all for it. If we do anything beyond that, or have them share in multiple spaces, it’s a mistake.
The beauty of the #WalkMyWorld Project is that we give participants prompts that are approachable and provocative. We want them to play, connect, and share online. We’ve slowly folded in this aspect about the awareness and development of their own identity and as such asked them to develop websites/blogs last year.
My suggestion for this year is to keep our focus. I would ask my colleagues to distill and crystalize the texts and learning events to make them simpler than they were last year. I ask participants to create a website/blog and actively get in the habit of posting to your blog and sharing it out to your social networks with the #WalkMyWorld hashtag.
I ask us all to remember the risks and challenges the average individual is taking as they build up their web literacies. We need to meet them where they are and help scaffold them.