I already blogged a bit about the Wire 106 listen along last week, and this week’s watch along, but I want to take a moment to reflect on these particular course activities. The shared object of attention for this course is The Wire (Seasons 1-4), and we spent last week focusing on listening closely, and this week exploring the visual elements of the show. Having the online students of wire106 come together in a distributed manner through the “radio” (i.e. ds106radio) and “television” (i.e. Synchtube) has worked wonders for course community. We were able to spend several hours listening and watching together, and we were linked through our course hashtag #wire106 on Twitter.
Creating a virtual framework for fostering community is pretty much what I’ve been doing the last nine years. I’m not an expert in digital storytelling. I make no pretense to being a master teacher—there are scores of faculty at UMW alone who can claim that mantle before me. And I’m certainly not overly technical, probably one of my greatest strengths in edtech. I’m simply trying to find ways that we can build a sense of rich, dynamic course communities for a class through virtual, distributed online spaces, and then translate that experience back to others. The work the last two weeks with the radio (kudos Grant Potter) and synchronized video streaming (something Tim Owens and NoiseProfessor were exploring back in 2011) is yet another moment wherein I feel there’s so much rich potential beyond the fluorescent-lighted LMS environments (now with canned video lectures!). And what’s interesting is this distributed approach mimics seemingly trailing edge technologies like radio and TV, but adds interactive, immediate conversations through Twitter.
I am not suggesting this approach is anywhere near perfect, and I do my fair share of manic repairs on the Millennium Falcon of course spacecrafts that is ds106. That said, these targeted moments of communal listening and watching gets at the idea of a unique shared experience that we can return to in targeted group video discussions to explore the themes that emerged through the conversations we had while listening and watching. And the students are integral to these conversations and discussions—it’s pushing beyond easy, lazy outs where teaching online is synonymous with simply broadcasting in one direction. In ds106 we control the vertical and the horizontal, and we are sure as shit not lazy!
And this all returns me to the work happening with Connected Courses this week, which asks us to reflect on the question “Why do you teach?” I teach for a lot of different reasons: ego, performance, pushing myself to learn, sharing my passions, money, social capital, social justice, etc. And when it comes to online courses, it’s all those things and the idea that every time I do it’s another opportunity to push on the idea that distributed, online learning can be every bit as engaging and community forming as face-to-face. Not so much because I want to pit the two against one another, but because the privileging of one often ghettoizes the other. And, as a result, elides the conditions of labor that make a good online course possible. And then there’s the fact I am not a professor, I just play one on TV—and thankfully UMW has let my alter ego reign up and until now. But more on Dr Oblivion in another post.