Designing for open #TWP15

I want to attempt to address two questions posed as prompts for week 1 of Teaching with WordPress:

  • What can you do in the context of open that you couldn’t do before?
  • What’s your biggest challenge in designing for open?

Both of those questions meet me right where I am at, at this moment in time. I am just completing teaching the second of two sections of MSLOC 430 – Creating and Sharing Knowledge, a course that attempts to focus on innovative ways in which organizations might utilize enterprise social networks (ESNs). This past year I experimented with popping the lid off of the course and opening it up a wee bit – first by attempting to run a six-week “open” subset of the course in parallel with my on-campus course and more recently by running a working-out-loud week in conjunction with the course.

I now have a little space to decide (and design), what next? I’ve set up a hosted WordPress site and new url under which I may begin to start hacking. In taking Alan Levine’s tour of connected courses and learning from Christina Hendricks’ experiences I am making note of a lot of really interesting ideas.

But I need to step back a bit and work out the “whats” – not only what can I do in the open, and what are the challenges, but what is the experience I want to create for the course.

I think the experience bit gets down to two key things. I’d like to create an environment where participants:

  • Personally experience what it is like to share – and potentially collaborate – in an open, networked space where “learning trumps perfection” (as one MSLOC graduate student put it).
  • Actively work on innovating ways in which we might use ESNs and social media to learn and to do the work that we do in organizations. For this part of the experience, I see things like working-out-loud, MOOCs, personal learning networks, open design, crowdsourcing, etc. as “inspirations.” They are models that have utility on their own – but they also provide sparks for new ideas and innovations.

I am sure I have blindspots on the possibilities presented by open pedagogy’s potential contributions to this “experience” vision. But at the moment, I see a few:

  • Experiential. The graduate course I teach consists of working professionals with an average 12 years experience primarily in corporate settings. Open courses, working in public – all of that is new territory for them. And valuable territory.
  • Continuity and permanence. The course focuses on an evolving field that will continue evolving. A public, open course site can be used as a persistent and continuously updated resource.
  • Contributions from the network. If the course environment is successful, it will provide a space where dozens of practitioners who share interest in the topics we cover can interact with “enrolled” students to contribute thinking, sharpen ideas and share experiences.
  • Potential – assessment from the network. I see a possibility where the network might assess ideas and innovations proposed by participants in the course (or vice versa – where students might assess ideas an innovations proposed by anyone).

The challenges? Two practical ones:

  • I teach in an environment where we use an ESN as the foundation of our learning environment. It is private to students in the graduate program – but it has been tremendously effective in providing a safe, well-designed space in which community members develop their ideas and their capability to work in a networked environment. We model the type of environment I describe above as the vision for the course. Students in each section of the course I teach (20-25 students) can share ideas in a private “class” space or openly with the full ESN community (about 225 students and faculty) – and they do. There is a tremendous lesson here in how privacy and trust and community can exist in layers, and how to nudge individuals from one layer to the next. Because of the care with which we lead the full ESN community, there are topics addressed and questions asked that I know would never make it out to a more public forum. I don’t want to change this. I just want to extend it. That’s a challenge.
  • Deciding on the architecture of the public course site. At this point, it seems like I have two distinct user/learner scenarios: 1) Open, general discourse and 2) idea generation and evaluation. Idea generation and evaluation is more process oriented; open discussion is more emergent.

Before I start hacking away in my new WordPress space, I think my head is trying to wrap around the implications of those two design challenges.

7 thoughts on “Designing for open #TWP15

  1. I really appreciate the things you list above as possible contributions of open pedagogy to your course. These are the sorts of things I often emphasize to people when I tell them why I have all my course sites in the open, and why I ask students to post some of their work openly. So far I haven’t done anything in the way of open assessments, and there hasn’t been much contribution from those outside the course, but I’m working on it. Partly it’s a matter of preparing students for the possibility that they may hear from people outside the course, and partly just not advertising on my part that there are great discussions and projects being done by students that others can read and comment on!

    You point about layers of networking is also very interesting. How can you both utilize the value that is there and extend it? Maybe that’s actually your question. I’m thinking more technologically–would you add something like Twitter? Or can you make parts of the networking tool already in use be more public?

    For the site architecture, is it more than a matter of just creating two separate areas in the site for these two things?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “How can you both utilize the value that is there and extend it? Maybe that’s actually your question.” And that is why I appreciate thinking out loud like this – thanks. It’s a great question.

      And I think really gets at the heart of what I am noodling, and how I might experiment with a WordPress design prototype over the next weeks. My underlying assumption is: The grad students in my courses will respond to a nudge to move some of their thinking from the private ESN to an open space, if the open space (WordPress) is designed to coexist in some way with what goes on in the ESN. I could be wrong – might be that it’s just more clear to treat both as distinct social spaces. But this gives me some more clarity on what to prototype, I think. A space that feels more like a nudge than a jump off the high platform into the pool.

      Also – the architecture piece might be more than having two separate areas. The idea generation section one where I think I need to make some strategic decisions about the site goals. One one end, it could simply be a list of ideas (like an assignment bank). On the more complex end, it could be a place where ideas go through some vetting and evaluation process (the platinum version of this is OpenIDEO). Not sure where to put myself on that scale given WordPress as a platform…


      1. I think the point of nudging people rather than throwing them off the deep end is really important. It might be a challenge to figure out how to make the open space more of an extension of the less open one, more something that coexists, works in a complementary fashion somehow. But it’s a good goal to have!

        On the second issue, I think WP as a platform can do bot the simple and the more complex versions. The commenting feature could be used for evaluating; or, if you don’t want the evaluations public, you could embed a google form, or if you have access to it, gravity forms. You can make those responses public or not.

        I don’t know OpenIDEO…will check it out!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Jeff, thanks for this post and the links to your other module posts. I really liked the open course you offer and especially the action learning element of bringing an organisational issue. This is something I would like to bring into my re-designed course as a cornerstone activity. So, I have a question: to what extent did students build the content (resources) around their action problems? I ask because I hope to do just this. I want to encourage participants to generate their own emergent learning outcomes by building content around specific teaching and learning questions that arise in their own practice. If it is Ok I’d like to borrow some of your thinking/structure in you ropen course.


    1. Happy to share and feel free to borrow whatever you like. It’s how I got to my own design – leveraging the good ideas of other people.

      Great question about the extent to which students built their own content/resources for their problem. I’ve done two “open” courses – and both provided foundational content and “encouraged” the students to bring in other content. The content, I would say, fell into two categories: 1) defining core ideas or concepts (so we had some baseline for those people unfamiliar with some concepts) and 2) offering thought-provoking/assumption checking points of view.

      I have not yet designed the course so there is some explicit point where we all stop and say: “Ok, now that we have some baseline, what is missing to address your action problem? Go out and gather that before addressing your problem.” That would be pretty cool to do.

      For my courses, it’s always been a bit of a challenge balancing student time to explore more and meeting my course goals of exposing students to some specific new concepts.

      What you don’t see fully in my MSLOC 430 open course is two strategies I use. First is the problem-based thread – where I provide foundational content and then have student teams work on cases that they provide. The second is a blogging assignment where I have students pick a specific question THEY want to explore, generally related to our course topic, and then let them go off and explore it. That’s where they generate and find more of their own content, and I become more of a support role (along with other students in the class).

      Hope that helps some. Certainly helps me to try and explain it!


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