An e-learning website for our dreams — Georgetown

Thanks for the invitation to post, Marcus, and for suggesting what I might writing about first!  I’ll write here about websites worth considering,  beginning with the CNDLS site at Georgetown, an operation led by a professor of American Studies, Randy Bass.

To understand this project, consider:  First, the stunning graphics and aggressive marketing reflects both this Jesuit university’s strong commitment to education and the highly competitive U.S. educational context. Second, how such universities are intensely social places and where pluralism is the ruling ideology; hence, the project gallery suggesting the blooming of 1,000 flowers. Third, and this is what I like best of all, their use of the Carnegie Foundation’s Poster Tool — a simple templating system, with prompts, that help students and faculty create one-page outlines, posters, about their academic or professional work and a fast way of publishing it on the web — to render their work transparent.

I prefer these posters to, for example, the detailed online course presentation strategies of MIT’s Open Course Ware because I think more is being learned from them.  On the MIT site you get, of course, often exceedingly detailed course syllabi, study materials, experiments — everything but the instructor and the classroom, lab, and hallway discussions.  But with the Poster Tool, you get a window onto those discussions, because the format is more evaluative and conversational: people use these posters to guide oral presentations where they but refer to the details and talk instead about what the project or course means and why it is important and in a format  — unlike this hugely expensive, top-down MIT format — that the rest of us normal people can use for presenting and discussing our own work.

As explained on the CNDLS website, the poster tool is a templating and prompting system and where each section can be filled in by an instructor or group leader with questions to be answered as one drafts one’s presentation.  Such prompts can be tremendously helpful, especially when one is starting out, as they offer words and phrase and overall structure.   As you see here, the result is a very easy, fast way to present a course or project outline or to review those of others.  

But the format is basically a one-shot affair, and nowadays I think a lot of people see the way to go to be in helping everyone learn how to connect with each other on a continuous basis using these fast, lightweight blogging and micro-blogging technologies.  Plus, blogging reflects the way people work and talk and think these days, which is different than how we did it even 20 years ago: blogging is writing shorter and more often, writing that is more timely and relevant, and maybe above all, it is both writing and an action, in public, and which is for many incredibly social — as much about linking and handing your audience off to others as it is about explaining what you know, as much about the research of integration, application, and teaching as it is about the research of discovery.  

The Poster Tool you can learn in a day, but you might only use it a couple of times.  Blogging, or what I’ll call for us “academic blogging”, takes a few weeks or maybe more to figure out, but it is a far more sophisticated tool — especially once you start aggregating (rss feeds).  As I note in my recent comment, I do this with my FHW class using a simple online application, netvibes,  University departments, such as Chicago Law, do this with basic blogging applications (be sure to follow the link to the Law School Website and then to Blogs!).  Whether we are speaking of the classroom or the department, the relevant concepts here include “disintermediation”, where the traditional gate-keepers and gate-keeping functions are being partially undone,  increasing autonomy and empowerment of students and faculty as they engage their publics more direction, and consequently, a strengthening of the social dimensions of acaademic life and, if you think knowledge is socially-constructed, a strengthening of the university’s research and academic missions as well.

bruce spear
bruce.spear@gmail.com

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  1. I like the idea of the poster tool as a gentle introduction of students to engagement through expression. I wonder if you’ve tried Glogster (http://www.glogster.com/)? It’s a hoot to work with, and i’ve actually seen some decent academic ones put together.

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