Living the Dreams: Digital Investigation and Unfettered Minds

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.

UNIV 200

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.

Unit 1

The first unit is focused on-

  • finding and identifying arguments
  • dissecting and analyzing arguments
  • initial research on a topic of personal choice

Unit 2

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.

Unit 3

The third unit is focused on writing the paper.

Unit 4

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-

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.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Tom Woodward

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.


1 Later changed to “Dreams”.

2 Legal eagles please take note.

3 Argument here is pretty broadly defined.

Comments on this post

  1. CogDog said on March 12, 2014 at 12:02 am

    Wow, this sounds great, I’d really like to be a pa—- oh yes, I am! Now I can add your blog to the baby reader. Now just got those other two to step into the fray….

  2. Jessica Gordon said on March 12, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Hey Tom. Thanks for the cohesive summary of our discussion yesterday, and thank you in advance for all the hard work you are about to do to make this happen! I think this is a thorough summary of our meeting; however, I might add one thing to what you wrote above.

    Regarding unit 2, you said, “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.” It is true that we have used a matrix or concept map, but that is the final product of the unit–not the main assignment in the unit, though.

    Regarding the main assignment in the unit, the shared curriculum requires all students to explore 15 sources and provide evidence of reading and understanding at least 8 of them. At least three must be scholarly/peer reviewed. All others must be substantive–which is a word that we all use to indicate feature articles from reputable publications like Harpers or the New Yorker or Scientific American, etc. (Side note: they used to have to use all scholarly/peer reviewed sources, so this was a big change in the curriculum).

    We chose the words “provide evidence” carefully to give faculty a lot of leeway about what kinds of assignments to assign. Historically, the main assignment that most (maybe all) faculty use for unit 2 is a series of Source Analyses. This is not an annotated bibliography, as it’s far more in depth. I’ll send you guys my assignment to take a look at it. In sum, students submit about two source analysis per week until they have provided evidence that they thoroughly read 8 of the 15 sources. For the other 7 sources, students often submit just a citation. They know they will be expected to cite from most of the 15 sources in the final inquiry project (AKA the research paper).

    My feeling is that students must show evidence of their research process, but also that they actually read and understood the articles. If they just submit a citation or a really brief annotation, many students will simply not read the sources–opting to read them all later. Our goal in the Department of Focused Inquiry (and as teachers in general) is student success, so we have found that the best way to help students succeed is to require them to provide evidence that they are actually doing the research–not just finding it. In the end, 99% of students say the Source Analyses were invaluable when they went to write the paper, and most admit they wouldn’t have read the sources if we hadn’t held them accountable. That said, I’m totally open to exploring other possibilities for ways to provide evidence of reading and understanding. Having taught this course for the better part of the last 14 years, I’ve tried a couple approaches and none has worked very well. Ultimately, I think the curriculum committee and the faculty as a whole have spent countless hours trying to create a more interesting way to provide evidence of the actual reading and understanding, but without much success.

    So those are my thoughts, for what they are worth. I look forward to our next meeting!

    • Tom Woodward said on March 13, 2014 at 8:39 am

      Thanks Jessica. I knew I’d be off on some of the details and I appreciate the clarity. This post was a bit of an attempt at The McDonald’s Theory. The nuance of vocabulary and the ingrained understanding in this type of work is always interesting. I have put a slightly altered version of this in Google Docs and I’ll share it with the group so you all can directly alter things. It’ll be interesting to watch the iterative development of that document.

      No doubt this will be an interesting experience for everyone. This is fun stuff.

    • natalie leonard (@natzlenno) said on June 17, 2014 at 10:49 pm

      Hiya jus wrote out a big long essay which was accidently deleted i think. Anyway 2 cut a long story short, i think experiments on human brains should b left well alone, theres a reason 4 this. The brain is like a spounge in a manipulated situation with the right atmosphere and words, the brain can become something u dont want it 2 be. I totally believe that u can learn and unlearn the brain, when manipulated. I know this because this happened 2 me a doctor without my permission has totally made my old way of living and thinking rapidly vanish… 2 b replaced with nothing but negetivity. I could really do with your help and in return maybe i could tell u my story and help u along in your research with actual facts. All i want is 4 the negtive 2 b banished and replaced with positivity again and i think u could help me do this. I guess u could say you’re my last hope :'( if ure brave enough 2 get bk 2 me, feel free 2 ask me anything 🙂 i know i sound a bit loopy but jus believe me 🙂

  3. natalie said on June 17, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    All i can say is wow… all sounds a bit like science and technology is gettin taken a step 2 far 2 me. I mean wots all this wantin 2 play with the human brain?? Isnt that wot verman creatures r 4 like rats and mice, experiment on them! Im takin a chance here of soundin totally nuts but ere goes… i believe that u can unlearn and relearn the human brain in the right settings and with the right words. The brain is very obsorbant in minipulated situations. I know this because a doctor has minipulated my brain and everythin that i once was and knew has rather rapidly vanished and now im left with a new way of thinkin n behavin that jus doesnt feel like me anymore. Anyway if you’re up 4 it, im willing 2 b ur personal gineapig free of charge on the condition that u relearn my brain 2 behave in a confident and positive manner again 🙂 and unlearn my brain the junk that was brainwashed in2 me. Basically remove the negtive and replace or dig out the positive. I know i sound crazy but theres alot more 2 this story…. would b happy 2 answer questions if u’re brave enough 2 get bk 2 me. Natalie 🙂

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  1. Blogging is Being - CogDogBlog said on March 13, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    […] Experience Gardner is planning with Tom Woodward and Jon Becker and the rest of the internet (see Tom’s summary) (more on this soon) (I’m getting to be part of the dream and the hack/building) (it will be […]

  2. Vectoring The #Thoughtvectors - CogDogBlog said on March 17, 2014 at 12:45 am

    […] Woodward shared the first semi unofficial word on this course, long titled “Living the Dreams: Digital Investigation and Unfettered Minds”. The […]

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