Getting Started With Open Pedagogy

So my summer course, “How the Web Works: Building Your Digital Identity, Literacy, and Network,” starts next week for a seven-week run at Austin College. Strictly speaking, it’s not an “online” course…we don’t do those at Austin College. And we don’t really do “hybrid” or “blended” courses, either. We’re a small liberal arts college, and one of our signature themes is a high-touch interactive relationship among faculty and students. So while I’m working with the new initiative in digital pedagogy, it’s not a matter of trading class time for screen time, but rather of augmenting f2f with digital resources.

Right now there’s only one student signed up for the course, which is not too surprising…I’m new, the course is new, and summer enrollments at AC are traditionally small. So I guess we’ll run as an independent study of sorts. Obviously, that’s going to make it pretty difficult to build collaborative and peer elements into the course, but putting it on an open platform at least gives us the chance to connect with people who aren’t formally registered. (AC uses Moodle as its LMS, but I’m not planning to have anything there.) In the future I hope to offer it regularly in the main academic year.

What is this course about? Still working that out…and I’m looking forward to having Chris (the one student) help me with that (as you can see, I’m still working out the site design as well…it’s pretty bare bones at this point!) I want to put a course together that gives students the chance to evaluate their online activity, acquire and build their own web domain (with Reclaim Hosting, natch), learn about the historical, technical, cultural, and epistemological infrastructure of the Web, and develop a professional online identity, a personal learning network in their field of study, and a portfolio to showcase their work.

I meet with Chris for the first time next Tuesday, and we’ll talk about what he wants to learn and how we can work out the specifics. I’ve ordered two books for course–Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, and Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better. ┬áThere will be plenty of other reading/viewing, but I’d like for us to develop that collaboratively. We’ll do an inventory of his current web activity, and get him set up on WordPress and Twitter. I believe he is a political science major, so I’d like to help him develop a learning network there and to reflectively think about how he wants his academic and professional future to develop in an open networked environment.

This will be my first experience of designing for open pedagogy and learning. I’m used to planning courses and syllabi with lots of structure and detailed objectives…this is going to be more emergent and “messy,” but hopefully with the right amount of scaffolding and direction. I don’t know yet what the biggest challenging will be in “designing for open” … we’ll certainly have discussions about privacy, trust, and the appropriate degree of exposure of student work to the public.

As it happens, I’m teaching another course that starts later in the month, and that will be an online course for a graduate program in theology at Creighton University. Current enrollment is ten. I’ve done that course several times in Canvas, with pretty good results. I’m still toying with the idea of putting at least part of that on WordPress, but not sure at this point. Anyone else out there in the situation of using WP with Canvas?


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15 thoughts on “Getting Started With Open Pedagogy”

  1. Hi Mo,

    What a great opportunity to think about some open practices, build an open,online resource and link it to some f2f time! I work alot with small groups of students on projects to design online learning resources, once of which happens to be related to digital identity (and related themes of privacy, online activity, etc): – I would love to see these evolve (or coexist) with a deeper learning experience like the one you describe.

    We also work alot with student teachers (f2f) who are transitional from student to teacher (and everything that implies with regard to professional identity as a public servant “held to a higher standard”). Here’s a link to some of the resources we share openly for student, teachers and others who are engaging discussion around these themes:

    Looking forward to seeing your process unfold!

    • Thanks Cindy…I’ve been exploring the Digital Tattoo project, and it will definitely be a resource that I will point to and use in my course. For example, I just watched the “Digital Dossier” video…that’s an exercise I’d like to have students do at the beginning of the course, that is, have them find out as much as they can about their online presence. Searching oneself is a start, of course, but I’m sure there are further strategies and resources to get a fuller sense of one’s “tattoo.” It took me a couple of moments to really grasp what’s going on with that metaphor, but it’s an effective one…”think before you ink” is a catchy tag for students to keep in mind.

  2. Sounds like you have a cool course in the works.
    I’ve used WordPress and Canvas before. We had the whole course in WP and only used Canvas for the gradebook. That way the students retained control of all their work, and their grades remained private.

    • Paul, I think that’s the kind of scenario I’d like to move to…even as I’m trying to move away from grading per se, that would still be something I’d have to use in Canvas. I know that Canvas has something called the App Center that creates an LTI interface with dozens of apps, and I think WP is part of that, but my sense is that it would be preferable to start from scratch on WP and then connect back to Canvas only on an as-need basis. Much more to learn here…

  3. Wow, Morris, this sounds really interesting. I think it’s great that they’ll let you run this just with one student. Usually if you don’t have a certain number your course gets cancelled, at least here at my huge university. And the course topic itself is so important and timely. I would love to do that with some of my first-year students in Arts One, who are in a course with me for a full year. It would be enough time, and I get to know them well enough, that they could really begin a good journey of creating an online identity that fits what they want, that they control as much as possible, etc. I just don’t have the time with my full teaching schedule to do that. I do ask them to create a blog on our university blogs site (WordPress) and I syndicate their posts into our main class site, but many of them don’t delve very deeply into what they can do with such a site of their own. I wish I had time to work on that more with them. Maybe, little by little, I can do so here and there.

    I’ve never used Canvas (we don’t have that option here) so I can’t help you with that last question!

    • Thanks Christina…they’re letting me do it because teaching one course a year is built into my contract already, so the college doesn’t have to pay me any extra $$$ to teach it. I’m hoping to start offering it in fall or spring, then maybe I could have a group of ten or fifteen. But in some ways it’s good, because we can be really flexible and it’ll give me a chance to pull some things together before running it with a larger group.

      Actually, what would be great is if this could be something that freshmen in particular would be drawn to. I’m seeing it as part of a “trojan horse” strategy, to use Jim Groom’s phrase, to get a Domains type of movement going here at the college. I’m working on a pilot program to get a least a handful of faculty working with their own domains this coming year, but I think it’s crucial to get a critical mass of students doing that as well. We’re having the e-portfolio conversation at various levels on campus, and maybe that will be the point at which the trojan horse will come through the gates.

  4. Great idea; how about including a tag so some of the ideas in it can be shared with the wider #connectedlearning world? Who knows what forms of discussions or ideas may arise? Granted, it is not a #mooc, but using a tag and engaging in some Twitter discussion may be useful to engage others?

    • Great idea, Jeff…I’ll definitely have a course tag and broadcast ideas and notes on Twitter. Yes, I’m not thinking of it as a #cmooc, but I would definitely welcome folks who wanted to drop in and participate…I’ll need to think a bit more about how to design for that possibility.

  5. What you want to do with your course sounds very, very close to what I am doing with a course this summer at Students build their own domains on Reclaim Hosting and I am interrogating the ideas of “digital citizenship” and “intellectual property” and the like by having them live, learn and connect in the open and online using WordPress as both the course site (except for the gradebook) and as their starting point on their own domains.

    As you can see if you look at the “expectations” and such, I require that they participate in the open using their real names. I provide very little in the way of explicit readings and such (though there will be more soon) and instead have them sound their own “barbaric yawps” and explore topics and their understandings and beliefs that I will use as the basis for guiding them to further discoveries. Some interesting Twitter conversations are happening and I will soon have some live/recorded discussions with pioneers in this area (and idols of mine).

    Most of the work is captured as “collections” which include a mix of required and “your choice” assignments and all are published to the web on their domain. It’s a brand new experiment, but many similarities in intent…

    • Chris, thanks for connecting and commenting…this is extremely helpful, and I am very grateful for your sharing your course with me. I am still in course construction mode (but fast running out of time, so need to get on with it). I have navigated through your course site and am very impressed with its thoughtfulness, design, and organization.

      I’m trying to thread the needle between overscripting the course (my traditional mode of operation, selecting all the assigned readings, quite directive about activities and assignments, etc.) and not providing sufficient scaffolding and structure. So I have the two books required (let’s be honest, part of it is that I wanted to read those again). I know, they’re not open resources…but I thought they were valuable enough to include. I assume the rest of the texts/documents/artifacts will be open. I’ll also provide fairly wide latitude and choices in terms of activities and assignments. Like you, I’d rather not fool with grades at all, but with need to have something in place to satisfy school requirements.

      I’m designing the course with a class size of ten or fifteen in mind, which I hope to have on the next go-round, but the reality is that there will only be one student this summer. That’s going to present some unique challenges, but perhaps it will further spur us to reach beyond our local community to make connections across the web. So I’ll definitely look at looping into your twitter feed and some of the things you are doing, if you don’t mind.

      The fact that it’s an f2f course means that I probably won’t have to create as many screencasts and other tutorials as you are doing for your course. So for example, to get the setup with Reclaim going, I’ll be able to walk through that live with the student. Same with WordPress, Twitter, etc.

      There is significant overlap between what we’re doing (and I’m eager to see what you will be rolling out over the coming weeks). Conceptually I think we’re being informed by a lot of the same sources…Groom, Campbell, Levine, Siemens, et al. Thanks again for commenting, and I’m looking forward to further discussion and sharing.

      • Yep, I go back a ways with Jim and Alan and Gardner and already have the first two on the hook for a conversation for my students sometime this summer (and hope to do one with Gardner as well)! The next three weeks are specifically about “digital citizenship” (and digital literacy, etc) and I’ll be bringing in personal cyberinfrastucture and the like, as well as having students explore dig citizenship models with the hope of showing how anemic most of them are.

        Considering how far students have come already, I feel fortunate not to have to have made even more screencasts…but, like you said, they are a necessity with a group I never meet face-to-face.

        I also worry about the line between over- and under-structured. It’s a bright group, but they still need some scaffolding. I will be using Doug Belshaw’s ebook on digital literacy (he jumped into a recent twitter conversation and I hope to have a live conversation with him as well), Benkler’s Wealth of Networks, and various articles and videos like Gardner’s “No Digital Facelifts” etc…so I will definitely have required readings, but I’m hoping to have them be as oblique and foundational as possible. For instance, I’ll ask students to explore dig cit models, but I’m not assigning anything specific. However, readings from the aforementioned will (I hope!) inform the specific choices they make.

        It’s all an experiment that I’m learning a lot from…and if you can make use of any, please feel free to do so. I plan to do the same with what you do :)

  6. Oh, and I’m using FeedWP to aggregate student work from their sites on the “people” page, collect the work for further slicing and dicing, and ultimately the main page of the site will also make use of aggregation when I get around to it.

    • I am also planning to build FeedWP and an aggregation hub into the site…but for this first iteration of the course, with only one student…well, I don’t think it will have quite the impact that it will have with a hopefully larger future group.

      • Well, the way I chose to do it inside the class site itself turns out to be a bit painful with all the manual labor…even for just 11 students. Next time I will probably only do so using a separate site (in my case, at rather than It’s too much work with plugins to exclude posts and dumping information from the incoming posts so the class site doesn’t get overwhelmed!


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