CCK08: Taking “The Course”

Where it is useful to differentiate between a course and a curriculum, a curriculum might be understood as a framework for instruction in which learning objectives, performance, and/or proficiency indicators are organized according to thematic groupings. The learning objectives may be broad in scope, as is generally the case in English Language Arts, or they may be narrow and task-oriented; for instance, in a welding course, there may be an expectation that a specific hands-on skill related to a specific task is demonstrated in order to realize a proficiency.

A course, on the other hand, may be understood as an instance of a curriculum. It is a course of study, but is only one of a number of different courses of study, all of which may purport to respond to a curriculum that the course is designed to meet, and to which individual lessons are aligned.

A textbook or a reading list may sometimes be considered a course of study in and of itself; however, generally textbooks are used by a teacher who guides and facilitates navigation through the text. Teachers may draw on their own personal experiences to bring textbook content to life, they may choose to emphasize certain elements in a text and de-emphasize others, and they may broaden the scope of instruction to include cross-curricular or multidisciplinary elements to light during delivery of the course content.

Some textbooks are rigorous in their presentation of information, to the extent that the table of contents is an unequivocal presentation of a curriculum. In this case, when each lesson item included in the contents has been learned, a de facto outcome of the course curriculum has been met.

Where does this leave us with the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course? We know that this particular “course” has been assigned a start date and an end date. A particular scope and sequence has been delineated, within which discrete instructional material is to be covered off in the form of readings and other varied media presentations, in addition to blog posts and forum discussions on the topics in question.

What then, makes this course different? And what makes it a course, for those individuals who have chosen not to pursue the credit-based assessment option?

One possible answer to this question pertains to what we bring to the course as individual learners, and as a community of learners. We know that there are no prerequisites for participation in the “open instance” of the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course; nor are there prerequisites for the credit version, other than paying. However, each one of us is here for a reason, and we bring with us a particular trajectory as learners. By asking the questions, “Why are you taking this course?” and “What will make this course a success for you?”, we as individuals are defining our learning path. We are situating ourselves in time and space in terms of our understanding of where we’re coming from, where we are now, and where we hope to arrive by the course’s end.

The first time I came across the use of this pedagogical approach was in an education course called “Language and Literacy Across the Curriculum”, in the work of Garth Boomer. Boomer wrote an article called “Negotiating the Curriculum” [insert link], included in a volume called Negotiating the Curriculum: Education for the 21st Century. That was back in 1996. In Boomer’s article, he invited teachers to negotiate the English Language Arts curriculum by asking students a series of questions that would serve to identify their learning “needs”:

  • What do we know already?
  • What do want, and need to find out?
  • How will will we go about finding out?
  • How will will we know, and show, that we’ve found out when we’re finished?

Time passes. These questions and this method now seem tired and cliché to me, and yet they remain at the heart of the individualized learning path. What else would we ask?

There are course readings that comprise a body of literature pertaining to the Connectivist model in Connectivism & Connective Knowledge. In this case, there is not a strict correlation between the readings and a curricular framework that has been designed to explicitly deliver a mandated or required body of information. To use Connectivist language, the readings are situated within a node, specifically, the learning community that is participating in this course instance. All of the learners participating in the course are both connecting to the community, as well as bringing information to it through dialogue and the sharing of resources. Perhaps herein lies the main difference between this and other courses; a tremendous decentralization of power and information is being made available to all who are prepared and willing to engage in this experiment in what is simultaneously autonomous and collaborative learning. Tools are being made available to learners in order that their learning may transpire from within a loosely pre-determined open framework or network.

 With a variety of different formal groups (for-credit participants, translation groups) already having been expressly formed, in addition to informal communities of learning technologists and bloggers, teachers, researchers, etc., it is safe to assert that there are multiple nodes which in turn comprise a larger network (networks?) of learners connected to the course, thus strengthening the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge node.

 

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