Studio Reflection: An Open Letter to My Students

A New Course

This fall I am teaching a new course Studio in Computing for Learning.  In tackling the design of this course I am trying hard to capture the spirit of an in-person studio course.  Studio courses, seen often in design, art, and architecture rely heavily on process oriented work, feedback, interaction, and prototyping of projects.  As we get ready to finish the course, I wanted to pause for reflection.  In the set-up  of the course I was hoping for these elements

  • disrupting the learning management system for interaction
  • building learning networks within a course and graduate program
  • blending synchronous sessions and asynchronous options for expert interaction
  • using a community blog, shared calendar, and social media champion for shared ownership of learning
  • maker journals that connect hands on experiences with new content knowledge
Photo of blog author with author Sylvia Martinez
Meeting one of our text authors Sylvia Martinez! Photo D Ryder, 2017

The course is an upper level course in a Masters of Instructional Technology, and I have worked with many of the students before in other courses. I also serve as the program academic advisor, and as such have a little window into my students lives as people, educators, and students.  As a teacher I work hard to be super reflective on my teaching practice, and iterate when needed.  One challenge in online learning that I’ve faced is wanting to define and describe a course of study in advance so students can maximize the flexibility of the online learning environment and complete work around their busy lives.  But, on the other hand this does not allow me to respond as quickly to making course corrections in progress when I see that something is not working.

So, here is an open assessment of what I think is working, and an honest look at where I think the sticking points are.

Disrupting the learning management system for interaction

In order to achieve this goal, I am using a whole number of channels.  I use BlackBoard at my static and teacher-directed LMS. Students go to BlackBoard to see the readings, assignment lists, access guest lectures that were recorded, and see the big picture of their performance in class.  In Google Classroom the students submit their assignments, and engage with each other on the stream.  Here is where I give my feedback on the student work, and I work hard to give a lot of feedback to match the depth and quality of what students submit.  We also have a program level hashtag #EdTech207 and a program facebook group that students use to engage with a wider group.

  • I love the variety of channels, and watching students interact with each is so powerful.  I see students working with hashtags, retweets, and creating events for others.  As students have to lead a week in these various channels they are then becoming more engaged with each other in these spaces.
  • I think the variety of mediums help students stay engaged, and email, youtube videos, and tweets keep folks engaged more often than the once a week post and respond formula I’ve tried in other courses.
  • I think to make this more meaningful I need to help my students feel like they know the other students in the course, and I am not sure that is the case yet.  I think I could try smaller peer feedback groups, with more meaningful protocols for reviewing drafts, smaller group video calls, and making sure that the trust I hope to create is really there.

Building learning networks within a course and graduate program

I am aware that people select online programs for a variety of reasons, and I want to be aware of these reasons as I design a program that meets the needs of working adults.  As an added layer most of my students live in Maine, and as such the context of our schools is really important.  In Maine we have a powerful affinity for local control, and working with graduate programs I often work with teachers across districts.  In working across districts I can see a downside to local control, and that is that educators in various positions revert to an inward looking focus of practice, and this can lead to reproducing the same issues in each district.

photo collage of 3d printing
Photo by J Prince (2017) 3d Printing Workshop

Part of my goal in all three of the graduate programs I lead, is to ensure that students build a network of others who are passionate about the same ideas, and who do things differently, so we can all energize and support work towards making school the best it can be.  As such using twitter, facebook, and trying to host some ‘meet-ups’ is really important to me, as I hope students see each other as a place for inspiration, support, and sharing.   This goal is harder for me to get a sense of how we are doing.  I can see that students are using twitter and facebook, but I also know they have to in this course.  The real reflection on this point will come when class ends and people can opt into these conversations if they want and feel it is useful.

Blending synchronous sessions and asynchronous options for expert interaction

Photo collage of students working on computing parts
Hands on Computing Workshop. Photo by J Prince 2017

Given the huge range of topics we are covering in this course, it would be close to impossible to have one person have expertise in all the tools and approaches to computational thinking.  Also, as said in point b, a huge goal for me is to make sure my students are connected to the field even if they do not work in the same building or state as someone.  As such this fall I have invited 7 different experts to talk about a specific tool or approach in a 1 hour Zoom call.  I record the call for those that can’t join during, and post these to BlackBoard. These calls have been a highlight for me this fall because each speaker has come prepared, energized, and ready to give back to the community of educators.

  • When asking these presenters to join I gave almost all of them the option of 3:30pm and 7:00pm as the times for the call because in previous courses these are best for synchronous meet-ups.  All presentations ended up being scheduled at 3:30, and as such some folks were never able to attend a live session, which I wish they could have.  I’ll work harder on a variety in the schedule for future offerings, as the conversations were so rich
  • I did not host any sessions that were more open to processing content from the course, and think this might be worthwhile in future offerings.
  • Many students used the Guest Speakers as fuel for the Maker Journals they wrote, and as such I can see how powerful these folks were as experts, but also as models and resources for new ways of approaching tools.  The ease at which the speakers could present also increased the sense of accessibility for these tools and ideas, and I think made the foreign nature of some of the tools in the course.

Using a community blog, shared calendar, and social media champion for shared ownership of learning

In an efforts to create more capacity in Maine around some of the technical skills needed, and to build a sense of community that I think is essential to sparking and sustaining change, I wanted to think about some collaborative elements designed into the course.  The first is simply a shared Google calendar, early in the season I added our Guest Speakers, and other events around Maine and New England that might be of interest.  Students had an early assignment to add, and then in their weeks as social media champion they have continued to contribute to this shared document.  I also hoped this would inspire students to connect with events that are outside their day to day spaces.

Arduino single board computer
Programming Arduiono Microcontrollers. Photo by J Prince

The students each publish work to an individual blog or website, but having taught online I know that when students leave the program those blog posts can move with them, be taken down, or fall into the past.  I want a shared history of how students in the program consider the future of EdTech and the struggle with the research in the field. As such I also have a shared blog where one week out of the term the students author a more in-depth research piece.  I’ll hold onto the same blog site from iteration to iteration of the course, and hope it will help to digitally archive the developments in the field.

  • Students have choice over the platform for their own posts and website, and as such they build fluency with that space.  When they have to author in a different platform there is a learning curve.  On the one hand I am sensitive to the dissonance and frustration that this could potentially create.  On the other hand, these students are seeking a graduate degree that prepares them to lead forward in this field, and so I want them to be able to compare and feel that tension, and learn multiple solutions for the same issue.  I think this means that when a district has chosen to block a certain tool, they can find the same purpose with another.
  • Again, I think a peer interaction and drafting element would help to give even more depth to this project.  I think reading, commenting and processing the issues with peers would help to give these pieces more time and students would hear from others besides with their work.  I do think they read each other’s work, to calibrate, compare, and inspire, but there is space for more intentionality.
  • I also wonder about anchoring this piece into the Horizon Report more carefully.  To me, each year the thoughtful curation and creation of that report helps us consider the landscape, and this course is essentially about seeing a bigger landscape than one’s own classroom or learning space.
  • I wonder if as we use and build the #edtech207 shared calendar if this will help to network folks who are thinking and working in these area.
  • In my expectations for the social media champion I did not have them bring the course readings back into dialog, and again felt like we had space to go deeper with computational thinking, and perhaps if folks had to revisit there would be more connections?

Maker journals that connect hands on experiences with new content knowledge

Collage of Makerspace ideas from a conference
Makerspace Inspiration from #MassCue17 Photo by J Prince 2017

This fall I decided that in the spirit of makerspaces, that this course would use the idea that hands on practice should be the cornerstone of new learning.  There has been a great deal of choice in the content and direction of these maker spaces, and I am amazed with the directions and explorations that students in the course have followed.  From visiting local makerspaces, building drones, experimenting with arduinos, playing with robots, to exploring virtual reality, students have followed many different avenues of exploration and the work is fantastic.

  • I really like how students were using the course text to talk about the process, but felt the way the assignment was designed it was possible to have some surface level connections. I am still puzzling how to design so students would get to a greater level of depth with the kinds of connections they were making to the text, their process of learning, and the act of teaching.  I wonder if we’d had more conversation about some of the readings outside the text in the classroom stream, or written textual reflections if this would have allowed students to get to more depth?
  • Design a collaborative maker journal experience in the future
  • Have peer feedback of drafts for first two maker journals, and do this in small groups for folks will have more time to calibrate and rehearse the various elements that are published in the final blog.  I think this will then give students more comfort with the process, and their peers, and help seed the social media champion experience of looking at their peers work
  • Always thinking about how to make the audience larger than my course or classroom, and think for some students they’ve thought creatively about how to leverage the experiences for professional development in the district or running local workshops.  I am still thinking about how to make this larger audience a key part for students taking on leadership roles from within or outside the classroom.

Overall, I am thrilled with how this course is going, and see some exciting small and large shifts in how my students are processing the content, ideas, and the future of edtech. I hope the course has matched the needs of my adult learners, and allowed them space, self-direction, and the space to make meaning where they can.  I feel we’ve worked in a space where there is a positive tension between clarity and creativity; and  I look forward to the final weeks!


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