July 26, 2010

Education: Time to experiment, learn, share, mobilize

Category: Educational Practice
group of college girls working on outdoor steps

At HASTAC, we’ve been very excited this month to be one of the “community partners” for the upcoming Mozilla Drumbeat Festival: Learning, Freedom and the Open Web taking place in Barcelona, Nov. 3-5. The MacArthur Foundation is one of the sponsors of the event and the linkage between the Digital Media and Learning initiative and the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival promises to be exactly the right convergence of people, place, method, and timing to inspire new ways of thinking and learning together. No talking heads, but tents and self-organizing sessions, and real work plans and lesson plans for the future. At Duke, I’m involved in three other relevant projects this fall. We’re planning our Peer-to-Peer Pedagogy workshop on Sept. 10th, and will be opening registration soon. I’m also beginning to design the multimedia, interactive iPad version of the conventional book manuscript I’m finishing on the science of attention and how we can revolutionize our classrooms and our workplaces. I also want to really think about how one would deliver a book-length argument if one was not bound by the conventions of a book. It’s a challenge!  And, third, at Duke we’ve been asked to develop a new kind of preprofessional Master’s degree which, in method and in purpose, redefines humanistic and scientific thinking (together) for an interactive digital age. We’re calling it the Master’s in Knowledge and Networks.

Instead of teaching a conventional course this fall, I’m inviting a group of self-selecting and adventurous students at Duke, from all fields, undergraduate and graduate, to come play along with me and the HASTAC team at Duke as we develop these projects. The possibilities for self-education, for project management, for peer-assessment and collaboration are endless, and so I’m offering a collaborative tutorial centered around all of these projects, so students, too, can learn by doing and do by learning.

So this is my quandary. Where does open festival-style learning end and institutional, credentialed formal education begin? Are these two contradictory? Or are there ways that each can learn from the other? The Drumbeat Festival champions peer-to-peer learning, the kind of learning that happens outside of schools. Can it happen inside formal education too? That’s what I’m testing this fall, and I promise to report back.

I know this is a question that concerns many of us in the Digital Media and Learning initiative, including, of course, our visionary leaders at the MacArthur Foundation. What, exactly, is the relationship between learning and the classroom? With the DML Competition to re-imagine learning, we’ve tended to place emphasis on the inspired and participatory forms of learning that happen outside the school room. At the same time, my profession is as a teacher within an institution – as has been the case with many of our winners and most inspired participants. Projects like game designer Katie Salen’s Quest 2 Learn school, operating as a public New York City charter school, also negotiate these boundaries. It is thrilling in both directions, to think about transformations of learning in and out of school.

When David Theo Goldberg and I wrote The Future of Thinking: The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age, we asked if it was possible that, instead of defining institutions as stabilizing, essentially conservative bulwarks against change, we reversed it and thought of institutions as “mobilizing networks.” What would happen if we thought not of the formal top-down bureaucracy of educational institutions, but thought about ways to gather up all the loose ends, all the energies that worked against and around and in between institutional strictures, and thought about how, even within conventional formats and credentialing, there were possibilities for insurgency.

As I think about the semester ahead for me, I am trying to put into practice the institution as a mobilizing learning network. I would love to hear from others who are testing the fortress that is formal education, trying to see how the energies happening in informal learning can revitalize formal education, too. I hope you’ll either contact me directly or, better, use the comments section below to tell about your own experiments in this direction. If you tried and it didn’t work, we can all learn from that. If you tried something and it did work, please let us all know. The more of us who share success stories, the more others will be inspired to try.  Thank you!

Image credit: edesignpics http://www.flickr.com/photos/44121182@N08/4054608699/