That’s the semi-official name of the MOOC that Gardner Campbell, Jon Becker, Jason Coats, Jessica Gordon, Bonnie Boaz, and Patty Strong. The official name of the course is UNIV 200 Inquiry and the Craft of Argument. The course hashtag is #thoughtvectors.
I’ll quote a portion of Gardner’s email description of the course. All the links were added by me so any weird stuff there is my fault.
We’re doing an Alec-Couros-esque cMOOC this summer. The course will be offered for credit for enrolled VCU students and will be open to participation by anyone in the world who a) finds out about it and b) wants to participate. The topic? Well, on the books here the course is a sophomore-level course in research writing: UNIV 200 Inquiry and the Craft of Argument. We’re doing a fully online version that has an official designation as a DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT PILOT and what we hope is the intriguing alternate name of “Living the Dream1: Digital Investigation and Unfettered Minds.” The “dream” is the one (are the ones) outlined by Vannevar Bush (“As We May Think“), J. C. R. Licklider (“Man-Computer Symbiosis“), Doug Engelbart (“Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework“), Ted Nelson (“Computer Lib / Dream Machines“), and Alan Kay/Adele Goldberg (“Personal Dynamic Media“). Our goal is to awaken students to these powerful dreams, to invite their engagement with research in the digital age along the lines suggested by these dreams, and empower them to imagine, design, and build inquiry projects that will serve them well both in the academy and beyond.
Gardner goes on with many more interesting details but I don’t want to borrow all his words. There are a number of organizational elements that make this an interesting adventure. UNIV 200 is a required course (although there are non-online, non-digital engagement pilot versions exist)2 in University College and one of the Focused Inquiry core curriculum courses. That means a lot of good things and adds a layer of sophistication in terms of figuring out how to make the course map with what already exists. We are lucky enough to have several UNIV 200 instructors joining us to plan the course and to teach it as well. The first meeting of that group was today.
The following is an attempt to condense that conversation into something that will be of use to the group and possibly to others who want to follow a similar path. I see this work as a collaborative effort and didn’t attempt to assign ideas to individuals. If I speak in the first person, it’s usually to avoid others being tarred with an idea that came to me in writing this and that hasn’t been vetted by the group.
The end goal of this course is students who are skilled at evaluating and creating work with internal coherence. Broadly stated, internal coherence is the ability to logically sequence claims, evidence, and reasoning to construct a persuasive argument3 at both the macro and micro level. These skills should transfer to other courses and life in general.
The first unit is focused on-
- finding and identifying arguments
- dissecting and analyzing arguments
- initial research on a topic of personal choice
The second unit is focused on-
- refining the core research question
- finding, evaluating, and organizing information in pursuit of their argument/answer
- submitting multiple small writing assignments associated with those goals
Historically, a chunk of this seems to have been done with a matrix-like layout of arguments and supporting sources. Occasionally, people have used concept maps as well.
The third unit is focused on writing the paper.
The fourth unit is focused on reconstructing the paper in a multimedia format.
Mapping These Thought Vectors in Concept Space
So things get increasingly interesting as we think about how the visions of those pioneers mesh with the technology of today to influence how people can pursue, navigate, and communicate knowledge in a way that takes advantage of the goals of UNIV 200.
Elements that were brought up-
- Folksonomic organization and what that might mean
- Thinkertoys and envisioning complex alternatives quickly
- Dynamic knowledge repositories
- Associative trails
- Generative paths for self and others
- Illustrating/documenting paths of divergence and convergence
- Formulative vs formulaic thinking
We talked about an ongoing effort to document a workflow/network/resource pathway that shows where information is coming from and the paths/process that led to it and the way it is stored and used. While it doesn’t have to look any specific way, in my head it looks something like the workflow maps (pictured below) I’ve been trying to do combined with my attempts to document the search string/question improvement/vocabulary acquisition that I’ve attempted to do with some of the my tutorials and that Alan does so well.
One of the ideas that came up was around making sure people chose topics that they were really interested in exploring. This is harder than is sounds. Instructors have used a variety of techniques to try to do this including having other student indicate interest and using example lists with fairly aggressive topics. The former was often derailed by students just passively saying all the ideas were great. One way to avoid that would be to restrict the number of yea/up-votes they have with a system like dot voting or something similar.
We’ll also be presenting(?) on/participating in this MOOC at NMC in Portland this summer. That will be an interesting event as the goal is to work with the network and the local audience as a portion of the synchronous course. What sprang to my mind was how to harness the audience (local and internet) as a randomizer. What would having an Internet audience allow us to do that a local audience could not? What could a local audience do that an Internet audience could not? I do enjoy doing these things on the fly with as much improv energy as possible.
I think that’s a pretty decent summary of what went on. It took quite a bit longer to write than I anticipated but it always does.