This is the second in a series of articles that works to get feedback on the program I’m directing and helping to develop at Marylhurst University in Portland, OR. Marylhurst is a small liberal arts university focused on non-traditional students and adult learners. I teach (in the classroom and online) for the English Literature & Writing department, which has concentrations in Literature, Creative Writing, and Text:Image. The new online degree program, which opens January 2013, integrates literary studies and the digital humanities with a focus on service and experiential learning.
I’ve been thinking about my audience for this series of posts. Initially, I had thought to bring digital humanities, literary studies, and educational technology experts into conversation, allowing my ideas for the program to be considered and influenced by a much larger network. I’m realizing, though, that there’s another group of experts from whom I particularly want feedback and suggestions: students. Ideally, this would include input from prospective students for the program, but since the program is only just barely beginning to germinate, what I’d like to do here is ask both students and teachers in existing programs to think about how the English degree is being transformed by digital technologies and about how online learning can be re-imagined through the use of new (and increasingly social) media.
My first article in this series asks about the name of the program and about the short description, which we’re still working to revise based on feedback we’re getting. Here’s how it stands at current:
Marylhurst University offers a high quality English and Digital Humanities Online degree that integrates literary studies with the digital humanities, a hybrid approach to online instruction, and an emphasis on service and experiential learning. Courses in this small, selective program (capped at 100 students) are taught by a predominantly full-time faculty from the on-campus department.
The next things I’d like to discuss are the program’s major points of innovation and the design principles driving my development work. So far, this is hypothetical, which means all of these ideas are up for consideration.
1. Mobile Learning. iPads (worked into the fees for the program and given to each student) would allow students to take their online work out into the world and to bring the world into their online work. The iPad is a pedagogical (not technological) tool for the program, supporting (not determining) the various design principles described below. It enables: digital reading, mobility, interactivity (easy move between reading and content creation), social interaction (via Twitter built into OS), emphasis on interplay between text and image, tactile learning, and increased focus (via lack of true multitasking, which some have called a feature).
2. Hybrid approach to online learning. Encourage live interaction through service learning components (in a few classes). The program would also have a low-residency component, bringing students together on campus at an orientation and one more time during the program. We would also work, in a limited way, to encourage digital components in existing on-ground courses and to bring students in live classes into conversation with students in online classes.
3. Process-oriented Assessment model that focuses on development of skills rather than “marking” finished products. More qualitative as opposed to quantitative assessment. Inspired by recent discussion of badges.
1. Program should be (to some extent), open-access. The courses themselves will be (at least partially) open to outside viewers and participants. A selection of courses will experiment with bringing a much bigger community of learners together. MIT OpenCourseWare is one model for this. Also MOOC. Many courses will rely on open-access resources and texts within the course. Moodle will be used for exchange of protected information. Moodle iOS app for iPad.
2. Active and physically-engaged learning. Students shouldn’t be able to get a degree entirely from behind a computer screen. A mobile device, like the iPad, would allow students to learn from within their communities and out in the world. For example, online student with iPads could read and discuss Thoreau’s Walden while sitting by the Willamette river in Portland; and students might write a paper on the nature of service, while directly engaged in a service project.
3. Levarage existing online worlds and communities, allowing students to interact with each other and the instructor within the space of the classsroom AND with the rest of the online (and digital humanities) community.
4. DIY ethic. Student-centered learning. Students build their own educational experience and take responsibility for their own learning. Online classes require students to be more self-directed. Our program will harness and foster that.
5. Service learning. Experiential learning. The program would focus on moving university knowledge out into the community. Learning is not transactional. Knowledge has a broader audience than just the student, and the program should help facilitate the continued transmission of that knowledge beyond the program’s (physical or virtual) walls.
6. Learning through teaching. Advanced courses that have students engaging with (and teaching) students in beginning courses. Also teaching within the course via students helping to determine content, leading discussion, working closely with each other, etc. Also, the program would encourage learning by teaching, more literally, through service placement at schools.
7. Cohort-model. At the level of the curriculum, encourage collaboration and the formation of a cohort (to help build community within the program). Balance this emphasis on the community of learners with opportunities for students to tailor and adapt the degree to meet their specific needs and desires.
8. Also encourage collaboration among instructors. Crowdsource teaching, where possible, bringing more and more teachers into each class. Guest-speakers. Team-teaching. One of the greatest potentials of online learning is that it offers the potential for students and teachers from anywhere in the world to contribute to a learning community.
9. Project-based learning. Semester-long projects in many courses. And projects that build across several courses. Students do real-world writing, reading, and media-production tasks, so that they are getting direct skills in what they will do at future jobs.
10. Program should consider both the content and interface for each course (and each course activity). Each classroom has a different shape or configuration (lecture, discussion, seminar, etc.) and activities in an on-ground class might have us rearranging our classrooms several times for each class session. So, online learning should also present different sorts of spaces and interfaces depending on the content and outcomes (rather than a series of courses that look and feel identical to one another). Thus, technology becomes a pedagogical decision. The learning environment is constructed through both practice and technology.
11. Simplicity. Innovation, whether in pedagogy or technology, should not get in the way of or unnecessarily complicate the learning experience for students and instructors.
So, truly, I want feedback from anyone, no matter your relationship to this process: higher education teachers, K-12 teachers, Marylhurst students, students from other programs, prospective students, future employers of students. So, start by jumping into the comments area below to address one part of what you see here or these design principles as a whole. Share the link to this series via twitter, on an e-mail list, and with your students (or fellow students). Then, read part three, which asks for feedback on the degree requirements.