Experts unite to create connected learning network

Helen Keegan

Helen Keegan

What happens when a group of “leaders in open education” (including the likes of  Howard Rheingold, Helen Keegan, Michael Wesch and Mimi Ito) get together to share best practices and thrash out ways to make connected learning available to everyone? You get Connected Courses – an online collaborative network which, within just a few weeks, has already attracted hundreds of teachers and students working together to develop online, open courses.


Helen Keegan, ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN Spotlight Stage speaker, Senior Lecturer in Interactive Media and Social Technologies at the University of Salford, UK, and expert in curriculum innovation and the development of new pedagogies (basically, the teacher you wish you had) speaks to Annika Burgess about the significant impact the project has had so far and how these principles can be used in the classroom.


You launched Connected Courses in September, a project developed alongside another OEB speaker Howard Rheingold, how did this come about?


Connected Courses is both a collaborative network focused on connected learning and the open web, and a connected course on connected courses. It’s a development of Reclaim Open Learning, a Digital Media and Learning Initiative supported by the MacArthur Foundation, which explored the intersections between higher education, open learning  and the connected learning model. Howard Rheingold and Mimi Ito invited a group of “leaders in open education” to the University of California earlier this year to develop Connected Courses. We had a rough outline of what we thought Connected Courses might look like, then spent time sharing practice and thrashing out how we thought a ‘Connected Course (on Connected Courses)’ might work.


Can you give us an idea about how it works and your role as an ‘open education’ course instructor?


Connected Courses comprises six units, each lasting for two weeks. It’s basically a Connected Course on How to Develop a Connected Course. There’s a huge amount of experience and expertise involved; Howard Rheingold, Michael Wesch, Mimi Ito, and also people behind some of the most innovative and effective open courses, including the FemTechNet team, Jim Groom (ds106), Jonathan Worth (Phonar) and Alan Levine (all round Wizardry). There’s also a great support network from the community itself. As far as team roles go, we’re split into groups with responsibility for each unit. I’ve been facilitating the first unit with Mike Wesch and Mimi Ito where we have been exploring the ‘why’ questions, encouraging participants to identify the core reasons for doing what they do. I’m focused on modeling connected learning behaviours within the community; blogging, commenting, facilitate discussions and also a bit of matchmaking when I’ve spotted people who may benefit from connecting, but who haven’t found one another yet. I’ve also been coordinating the #whyiteach project.


What kind of impact do you expect Connected Courses to have?


Judging by the amount of activity so far, I think Connected Courses is already having significant impact. We have hundreds of people signed up and actively participating. Many participants are planning, setting up or running their own connected courses in parallel, so there’s a great support network from the community itself. It’s exciting seeing participants sharing experiences and supporting one another, whether technically, pedagogically or philosophically. Participants range from interested novices right through to habitual MOOC-ers. What’s impressed me most about the emerging community? It’s friendly and supportive, which is just what’s needed when moving into this space. I’d strongly urge anybody who’s interested to join. It doesn’t matter if you’ve missed the first couple of units. It’s as much about the community and learning from others, so it’s a great way to connect with others who can guide you along the way.


You specialise in curriculum innovation, is the concept of connected learning something you also bring to the classroom?


Absolutely. For many years now I’ve been focused on digital identities and cultures, working with learners across the curriculum on the development of their online presence and professional networks. I think that the principles and approaches behind connected learning are key to personal development and lifelong learning as it’s about developing the literacies and networks to be able to connect, collaborate and meaningfully participate in the world around us. I’ve also been collaborating with academics in Europe, New Zealand and Colombia on hybrid open courses/projects that are now starting to feel more like communities, and are built upon connected learning principles. My ‘classrooms’ may be 2 hours per week, but they’re pretty much 24/7 online as the community around them grows, and this is becoming increasingly common now that learners and educators around the world are able to connect relatively easily.


In your Spotlight Stage presentation, you will be telling us about one of your other teaching methods based around augmented reality. We don’t want to give too much away, but perhaps you can tell us a bit about the concept of introducing intrigue and mystery into the curriculum.


Ah yes – I wanted to see how far learners would go BEYOND assessment when they were deeply curious. I had been growing increasingly frustrated with assessment-driven behaviours and metrics that stifled curiosity, so I wanted to see what would happen if I injected mystery and intrigue into the curriculum. I’m not going to say too much now other than it was risky, exhilarating, scary (at times), and ultimately transformative for all involved. I still get goosebumps thinking about it, so I’m looking forward to sharing the experience at ONLINE EDUCA.


What advice would you give to an educator looking to introduce learning through social and participatory media for the first time?


Firstly, do as much or as little as you feel comfortable with initially. Don’t try to master everything at once if you don’t feel confident. Find a tool that you’re comfortable with and gradually build up from there. Secondly, develop your network. Twitter is the place for ideas, learning and support – both through connecting with specific people and following and participating in chats via hashtags. Finally, join the Connected Courses community! It’s amazing to see educators who have no experience in using social participatory media joining the course, and now they’re setting up their own connected courses within a matter of weeks. Connected Courses allows you to develop skills quickly because there’s such an active support community and you’re learning through doing. It’s definitely a great place to start.


Thank you Helen for this interview.


You can hear more about Helen Keegan’s exhilarating and scary teaching methods on the Spotlight Stage at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN.

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