Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Vast Tinker Toy Playland

I have shifted my perspective on curriculum in two major ways. I now think of my courses as Tinker Toys which I construct and then reassemble each time I take out the course and play with it. This is a major conceptual change for me. Previously, I thought of courses as made up of units -- blocks of instruction about the Supreme Court or Hamlet. I strove to construct the perfect combination of activities, assignments, minutes, and days for each unit. A "new prep" meant trying to compile materials for the creation of a product that would serve my students well, semester after semester. This view guided me as I developed my online course in American Government. I set about replacing the prepackaged units of the book with comparable online materials. If you had clicked into Moodle last year, you would have seen giant chunks of postings under broad topics like "The Constitution." But as I recently commented at QRS Gateway, I just finished deconstructing those giant blocks of Moodle, and my curriculum is now far more accessible and dynamic. I can update instantly thanks to the publishing features of iCal and Google Docs which integrate seamlessly with Moodle. More significantly, the hyperlink options of iWork and Google Apps allow for interconnecting the pieces of instruction beyond my wildest Tinker-Toy-on-steroids dreams. I can remix my course with the same delight as creating a new playlist from iTunes.

Secondly, I have fully embraced the idea of the Creative Commons. Instead of seeing my lessons as private treasures, I have literally unlocked everything I have posted to Moodle (no more enrollment key), and I am linking my newest projects to the in-service resources I freely provide to my peers. I have also begun to publish best practices to networks like ALI and CUE. No longer do I see my teaching materials as paper to be filed in the physical world of folders and locked cabinets. My digital curriculum is unbounded by classroom walls and scheduled periods. And the social media I have injected into class projects have enlisted students as co-authors of the lessons. My reason for sharing is not based on arrogant presumption or simple altruism. It is driven by my confidence that I possess a unique combination of knowledge and skills that make my teaching special, not the materials. I am changing and learning. As I do, I feel more alive and essential than ever.

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