There was so much good thinking by others on the web during my winter vacation. And I want to comment on it all — just as soon as I go through the purgatory of semester startup. Faculty need blogs, administrators need schedules and work plans, and I may even need to have a syllabus together for a small class I am teaching this semester. These things need to happen by, say, Friday.
At the same time, I notice that I haven’t updated people on the evolution of Water106 on this blog recently. So here’s the update.
Water106 is still going forward, but in a slightly altered form. It’s simpler, I think. My current mental formulation is this: folks have been producing UMW-like “course hubs” for a while now. And we’re starting to build some demand on campus for exactly this sort of thing. A course hub is just a set of web spaces and services that forms the public presence of a class on the web. Here’s one on I worked on with Clare Weber last semester for ANTH301 (Arts and Media in a Global Perspective) — it’s got a public blog and a semi-private wiki. Easy-peasy. If I wasn’t so bogged down, I’d drop a dozen links here to show you examples from all over the country, but use google and type in “UMW blogs” or “course hubs” and you’ll see the sort of thing I mean.
Here’s my utterly reduced “issue hubs” pitch. What if instead of setting hubs up under the “course” umbrella, we set them up by “topics” or “issues”? What if instead of encouraging faculty to set up ANTH-301.xxxx.xxx, I encouraged them to set up global-issues-in-media.issuehubs.com? And then what if we made minor alterations to the structure of the hub that made it really easy for another class working on a similar or related subject to live in the same place? Without ever explicitly coordinating with the initial class?
This is not new by any means. Looking for Whitman modeled much of this approach something like four years ago, and remains for me one of the great untapped experiments of the pre-xMOOC age. Ds106 has done similar things. So has FemTechNet. Many others have done experiments with this as well. So I’m not sure how much new I’m adding to the store of human knowledge here. But what I am asking is whether we can apply the lessons we have learned in the past 4 years about how to run “blurred-boundary” courses and work it into what we do not as the exception, but as the default. And ideally, build it in such a way that less coordination is needed between classes and individuals participating. I know that Jim Groom and Alan Levine and Brian Lamb have in the past rightly critiqued the “scalability” push on these efforts (was it Brian who asked “Does poetry scale?”). But structuring classes in this way is one way to start to get beneficial network effects in the production of these sites while simultaneously improving the pedagogy.
Absolutely know there are some issues with this approach, and it is not a one-size-fits all. More soon.