Social Media and Learning
Continuing the Conversation on Community as Curriculum

We Are Media Continues--Some More Reflections on Community as Curriculum

Social_media_nonprofits Last week, Beth Kanter and NTEN started up the WeAreMedia  project where we're experimenting with developing a curriculum the networked way. Beth has posted an awesome reflection on the process that I wanted to add to.

The essential strategy for designing the curriculum has been to set up "swarms," where calls are put out each day for people to respond with resources, tips, links, etc. that relate to a particular topic or question in the curriculum. People have the option of either adding their content directly to the wiki or using tags (of their own blog posts, of resources they find and tag in, etc.).

Beth does a nice job in her post of breaking down the different types of participation that have taken place in the swarms, ranging from "bystanders" (people who are simply reading content) to people actively adding content. There have also been different levels of collaboration, some of it self-directed with people taking individual responsibility for a component, while some of it has been "facilitated" by Beth through the ways that she's asked questions and set up the wiki.

From an instructional design standpoint, it's my observation that the swarms have been a sort of combined subject matter expert analysis and brainstorming session--a form of crowd-sourcing, really. This has been a great way to get a lot of content quickly and Beth's individual wiki pages set up for each module have helped us organize that content.

In facilitating this brainstorming portion, Beth has been using a light touch. She puts out the questions and calls for resources and has provided an organizational framework for responding. She also summarizes what's being discussed. There have been few if any "directive" behaviors from Beth in keeping with Dave Cormier's "Community as Curriculum" idea of letting knowledge evolve through the interactions of a learning community. As a result, the community truly is creating the curriculum.

The downside of this light touch, though, is that we may not be getting the product we really need. In looking at Module 1, which we "swarmed" last week, I see a lot of great resources, ideas and questions, but I'm not sure that I see an actual learning module that a nonprofit could pick up and implement on their own. This is no criticism; it's more of an observation of the process, which obviously is still ongoing.

This is challenging me on a couple of levels. As an advocate for personal learning, etc. I'm naturally drawn to the idea that if we provide people with resources they will get more from creating their own meaning than from us providing them with some sort of canned "workshop." From that viewpoint, what we've been creating should be enough to get people on their way because it provides them with essential resource and questions from which they can construct new knowledge. 

But the instructional designer in me, the one who's worked with dozens of organizations to develop learning programs and seen all the struggles people have with accessing learning content, is having a problem with this. I'm not sure that most people have the capability at this point to take a bunch of resources and figure out how to configure them in a way that will ensure they learn the content. Some will, no doubt, but most are accustomed to someone else giving them that structure. They seem to need an "authority" to organize and scaffold the content in a way I don't think we're doing right now.

It feels like maybe we're in the middle of something in a larger sense--the intersection of Learning 1.0 and 2.0 where we have a foot in both camps. It's not entirely clear to me how we should operate at this crossroad. In this case, should we go through another iteration of Module 1 where a smaller group of instructional designer types take the content and re-organize and re-configure so that it's a "stand-alone" kind of workshop in the format that people seem to want? Or do we create some kind of companion piece that explains to people how they can take the module content and reconfigure for their own use, teaching them a new skill in the process?

This gets at a fundamental issue in using social media for learning, as the very nature of this approach is antithetical to our old ways of doing business. It leaves me wondering what our role is in a project like this. Do we continue in the more traditional role of taking SME content and subjecting it to the instructional design process to come up with a more structured format or do we find a way to make individuals and organizations learn how to be their own instructional designers? This feels to me like a fundamental question to which we probably don't have complete answers. But its one of the challenges that will continue for us as we look at using social media for learning.

What do you think? Am I framing the dilemma properly?  Is there a dilemma at all? How should we proceed in this project? How does this inform our thinking on how to create curriculum in a "wiki way"?


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I think the dilemma is that you will not see exactly what happens to the module as it goes out there. Looking at your last few posts together, I see the need for trusting the process: Let Steve Jobs take calligraphy, for whatever reason moves him to do so and assume it's good. But this is also the pre-web thinking of a good liberal arts education. Why did I take Latin for two years? When did I last use my algebra? These courses surely affected my thinking in ways I don't totally understand even if I don't "use" them.

What I imagine happening is really depicted by that typewriter image you used from Neil Perkins: The authenticators, the sense-makers, the navigators... The only term I don't quite like is the forum leader, but let's let it stand for now since I don't have a better one ... will pick up and reshape the module and carry it off somewhere you don't expect. And much of this will happen off line or maybe online but within a working community or team. If you think about how in Web 1 you always reshaped each module to fit a particular context and audience before using it again, then you know the procress.

Then again, it's a bit like sending your children out in the world, isn't it? You don't know what will happen or how they will process what you tried to teach them.

A nice trio of posts, Michele.


Thank you for the brilliant summary and additional thoughts. Last night was I looking over Module 1, I was thinking that there definitely needs an editing process after modules are built out.

I like the way you are thinking about this - the two options:

a)Go through another iteration of Module 1 where a smaller group of instructional designer types take the content and re-organize and re-configure so that it's a "stand-alone" kind of workshop in the format that people seem to want

b)Create some kind of companion piece that explains to people how they can take the module content and reconfigure for their own use, teaching them a new skill in the process?

I am wondering if it is a little both and here's why.

The project includes both the wiki and face-to-face workshops. The wiki was originally envisioned as a self-service resource for nonprofits. The face-to-face workshops would draw from the materials in the wiki. Nten has funding to do a pilot of face-to-face and I have to put together a trainer's guide and workshop paper materials. The workshop is 2-day bootcamp -- so obviously couldn't do everything that's in the wiki. But the wiki would be a primary source.

And, since the wiki is available under cc - anyone is welcomed to use these materials in their own training, curriculum development work.

With that said, I am very curious what the steps would be for option B? Do you have a check list or list of steps? I think that would be helpful to have as part of this?

I think you have identified a fundamental issue and you are framing it correctly. It reminds me of the concept of "learner autonomy" in Moore's (1997) transactional distance theory.

The traditional process of education trains learners to become dependent on teachers for direction. As a result, many if not most, people will require some training to be successful independent learners.

I think Betsy's ideas for continuing your project are both good options and I agree with her that you may want to try some combination of them. Step b seems to be the more difficult of the two, but it also looks like the one with the greatest potential benefit.

I agree that a combination of both is probably the way to go. As a learner in the sort of course you have going now, I found a degree of scaffolding was essential initially, then as I became more knowledgeable & confident, I became more autonomous as a learner.

Great feedback, everyone--thank you!

Betsy, I think you're right that to some extent, it's about trusting the process. I'm one of those people who checks what I have in the oven a lot (literally) so sometimes I have to remind myself that these things take time and will evolve. Thank you for that reminder.

Beth--getting ready to write a follow-up on this, per your next post. I think I have some potential ideas/resources.

Michelle -

You are one wicked smart woman. I agree with your post. We're not creating a true curriculum with this crowdsourcing method. But we ARE getting a feel for what resonates with the community. What's had impact. And we can shape that into a true curriculum.

I think the most valuable thing though, is that we are demonstrating the power of community participation, both in shaping and distributing your message, through the project.

It's the first time we've tried something like this, so I'm very much looking forward to seeing how it all shapes up, and of course reflecting on the lessons learned so far.

Hi Holly--I completely agree that this is a really valuable way to gather info on what resonates and pull together the right content. It's also a great way to engage the nonprofit community in discussions about social media and NTEN is really commended for taking the lead in this. I'm excited to see how it all shapes up, too, because I think we're seeing one way that curriculum can be developed in a community format and this gives us some really powerful information to work with. It's good to see an organization that's willing to experiment in this way.

Though I don't have the expertise to offer any potential solutions to your dilemma, I did want to let you know that I think you've hit the nail on the head in your framing of it.
I've spent some time checking out the wiki and looking through it - including Module 1 (yesterday). I have to admit that it was overwhelming and a bit confusing to me. I'm sure part of that is because I don't know much about crowd-sourcing or many of tools you're detailing, but I am fairly comfortable with Web 2.0 stuff and may be a bit more adventurous than your average bear when it comes to personal learning (mostly because of you :).
Some sort of guide as to how to process the many resources available on the wiki or an order in which to look at them or some other bit of 'top down' approach to learning more would be very helpful for me and probably others as well.
Keep up the good work!

Elisa, since you're the target market, your input is really helpful. It confirms for me that we have to give people some sort of navigational guide because there's a lot of info to get through and we need to make that easier for people to do. Thanks for giving us your perspective!

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