The Plunge

Last night I attended my doctoral course in assessment here at Penn State. I was surprised that I was a bit anxious as I walked into the room. I guess it comes back to the fact that I was a student and not the teacher for the first time in quite some time. I’ve been teaching courses at Penn State off and on for the last eight years, so the notion of sitting on the other side of the equation left me feeling a bit vulnerable (I think that is what I was feeling). I’ve been quietly working on my doctorate for the last couple years — slowly plodding along, but exclusively by doing independent studies, taking courses online, or by getting credit for teaching. This is the first time I have been a student in a real classroom in quite some time, so being a bit nervous was a natural feeling. I am lucky enough to be taking the course from my advisor and friend, Dr. Kyle Peck and his wife, Dr. Catherine Augustine. Both of them are easy going and very smart. They put us at ease — all nine of us.

After I got into the flow I found class to be rather relaxing — I was able to leave email and daily demands alone for a good three hours as we talked through some very basic concepts related to assessment. I think my positions at the Institution have afforded me unique views into the issues we’ll explore so I felt as though I was at a bit of an advantage. I have either been a practicing instructional designer or leading instructional design teams for the last 12 years so that has also given me experience in the things we were talking about — made me immediately ready to dive in. I think I will be able to add value to the class on a few levels and am looking forward to exploring it all as it progresses.

With that in mind, I am going to try something a little different as I move through this experience … I am going to use this space and my PSU blog to attempt to open the course up to those not in the room through my thoughts. I am begining to wonder how I can use an open set of tools to invite others into my learning and see how it impacts my own thoughts and outcomes. I’ll be writing weekly reflections, tagging content in delicious with insys522, making new YouTube videos asking questions from the course, creating podcasts, and more. These aren’t assignments … no one is directing me to do this.

My own personal reflection from the experience last night has pushed me to ask some new questions about teaching, learning, and community engagement. I am curious about what more I can learn by almost redesigning things as they happen to me … sort of looking at design as a mind tool. Will I create deeper meaning for myself through this practice and will it have any sort of impact on people in and out of the course are two issues I am eager to explore? Those are just two of the questions I am considering as I walk into a fresh field of snow — no footsteps to follow on this one for me. I’ll do my best to be as transparent through the process and I welcome any and all comments, feedback, encouragement, or whatever else gets thrown my way. So, in a sense I am inviting you to engage in a semester long experiment with me to see what learning and sharing in the open can mean. I hate to say it, but even if you don’t show up I will — but I certainly hope you do! Anyone up to take the plunge with me?

9 thoughts on “The Plunge

  1. If I understand what you are attempting to do here, it is pretty fascinating.

    One of the things I usually work into my talks on blogs as learning portfolios is how they enable and encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning. I think your experiment here will be a new kind of example of that.

    I’ll be following along and doing my best to participate.

  2. I remember that I enjoyed 522 a few years back. This is an interesting approach that you are taking. It reminds me of the basic theory that we can’t effect change without being changed ourselves. How much will the thoughts, observations, reflections of others change you – and change them? I great experiment to see wha the potential effectiveness of communities can be. I’ll try and drop by when I can.

  3. I for one welcome your voice and look forward to your thoughts.

    “My own personal reflection from the experience last night has pushed me to ask some new questions about teaching, learning, and community engagement.”

    Questions are both fun and scary. They are fun to think about and sometimes the answers and where those answers lead can be scary too. But it is a great adventure.

    Cheers and best wishes.


  4. It looks like you are doing on your own in a less formal way something like I am trying to get my students to do in my PHIL298H honors course.

    I have decided to try to have us edit a common blog together this semester to see if I can generate substantive online discussion and academic content about the material we are studying. I have even set up a common tag we will use through delicious to tag stories related to the course. I am asking them to post to the blog in a slightly more formal way than the style of many blog posts, but we’ll see how it develops.

    I am also asking breaking them into groups of two and asking each group to produce one podcast so we can have about 12 Weekly Roundup podcasts that highlight the activities of the week in class.

    This is a real experiment, but a potentially powerful one. Check us out at:

  5. Hi Chris … I think what you are doing in your honors course sound great! I’ve done similar things with students before with varying levels of success — both the wrap up podcasts and the common blog should be really powerful. How do you see the other students interacting with that material when it isn’t “their week” to create? Very smart stuff.

  6. Hey Cole,

    I admire your willingness to question and experiment. It will be interesting to see how the instructor reacts–how will he/she take your impacting the class on that level, and, how the students react–will ‘who you are’ impact the experiment in one way or the other?

    I’ll definitely be following along to see how it unfolds.


  7. Jeff … I’m still trying to decide if I want to tell the professor I am doing this. I am wondering if it would make more sense to just go about my business and see how it shakes out. What would you recommend?

  8. I’d recommend just going about your business. Announcing it could take you down a path that’s not very constructive. Let it unfold as a natural extension of who you are. This is how you are maximizing your learning experience.

  9. As to the question what happens to the interaction of students when they don’t have to create a podcast, well, it will be interesting. I decided not to build in specific blog assignments, but rather, I gave them a substantive rubric and I will give them a qualitative evaluation of their online contributions four times during the semester.

    Click here to see the rubric (.pdf).

    They are honors students, so I am hoping that they will be motivated to write.

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