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Mike Wesch has me thinking about “Why”? – Rhonda Jessen.com

Mike Wesch has me thinking about “Why”?

It’s been a whirlwind for the past few weeks. I’ve been getting the Open and Connected Learning Mooc (#oclmooc) launched, and participating in some of the Connected Courses (#ccourses) events. I knew I wouldn’t be able to participate in everything going on with #ccourses, but I couldn’t resist the topic and the course instructors.

On September 15th, I watched the kick-off live event with Mike Wesch, Cathy Davidson, Randy Bass. This was the first event for week 1: “Why We Need a Why”. I watched the webinar as I put the finishing touches on some of the #oclmooc blog pages, and worked with the fantastic co-conspirators to finalize the details of the first few weeks. It was great to hear Mike, Cathy and Randy’s thoughts about the purpose of higher education, and although I don’t teach in higher education, the questions they were contemplating were also relevant to my experience as a K-12 teacher, and as a cMooc facilitator.

In framing the topic for week 1, we were asked to consider three questions that are usually considered as we plan courses: What is to be taught/learned? How should it be learned? Why should it be learned? and how everything changes if you approach them in a different order starting with “Why should it be learned?”

I followed up by watching Mike Wesch’s presentation “Why We Need A Why?”. I have been thinking about these questions over the past few weeks, and I have had this blog post written in my head but once we launched #oclmooc on September 24th, it took all of my attention. Now that we are into week 2, and the infrastructure to support participants’ learning experiences is set up and other co-conspirators have taken the lead, I finally have found the time to get the ideas that have been rattling around in my head down in this post.

In week one we were asked to consider the following questions:

So what is the real “why” of your course? Why should students take it? How will they be changed by it? What is your discipline’s real “why”? Why does it matter that students take __________ courses or become _________ists? How can digital and networked technologies effectively support the real why of your course?

At the moment I am not teaching in a classroom. I have been seconded to Alberta Education, where I have been working to refine and validate the draft Career and Technology Foundations (CTF) curriculum. It’s a very interesting time to be at Alberta Education, as they have been exploring what curriculum is and how it is developed. Our CTF curriculum is several steps ahead the Curriculum Redesign project which explores how curriculum can be developed in a different, more collaborative way and with a different emphasis than a long list of outcomes that need to be taught; but CTF follows the new guidelines for curriculum development and in some ways has provided information on how curriculum redesign could unfold.

CTF is different in many ways, from the curriculum itself which has only 13 outcomes for five grades (CTF is an elective curriculum for grades 5-9), to the fact that it is the first curriculum in Alberta that is being developed in French and English at the same time, to the collaborative way that it is being refined and validated with teachers and administrators who are working in the field. We have spent the last two years considering the type of questions that #ccourses asked.

Here is my take on the “why” of the CTF curriculum

So what is the real “why” of your course?
We spend a lot of time talking about this, to groups of educational stakeholders (Dave and I spent 12 hours driving this week to deliver four presentations about CTF in southern Alberta), to individual teachers and administrators who contact us with questions, and in documentation we create for Alberta Education. CTF is being developed because most elective classes for students in grades 5-9 don’t have a curriculum. The need for a curriculum was identified by practitioners in the field who were looking for more consistency in elective classes. It is the first curriculum which follows the new standards for curriculum development, which include less outcomes. It is competency-focused, which is one of the goals outlined in last year’s Ministerial Order on Student Learning, and is being emphasized in post secondary institutions and in industry.

For me the most important “why” of CTF is that it will allow students to explore their interests and passions and shifts the emphasis from the product to the process. Students will still probably create bird houses and movies and CO2 cars, but teachers will have permission to emphasize and assess the process of creation as well as the end product.

How will they be changed by it?
The curriculum provided by Alberta Education is the why, and teachers provide the how, so I can only speculate on what CTF will be like for students. But I hope that it will give students the opportunity to explore and learn about the occupational areas and think about potential careers, as well as learning important 21st century skills like critical thinking, problem solving and working with others.

What is your discipline’s real “why”?
These are the three essence statements of CTF, what we have identified as the foundation of CTF: CTF is exploring interests, passions and skills while making personal connections to career possibilities. CTF is designing, creating, appraising and communicating responses to challenges. CTF is working independently and with others while exploring careers and technology.

Why does it matter that students take CTF courses?
CTF courses will hopefully provide students the opportunity to learn about what they are interested in and discover their interests (and just as important what they are not interested in) and how these interests might be used in different careers in a low-risk environment (junior high elective courses). Hopefully they will also learn, use and enhance the type of skills that are needed in the real world: designing, creating, appraising and communicating (what I learned as the design loop), critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration.

How can digital and networked technologies effectively support the real why of your course?
Technologies can connect students (and teachers) to experts in the fields that they are exploring, can provide them with tools to express themselves and their ideas, and to share their learning and what they create. Our students are already using technology to learn about their interests and passions, for example how to change the skin of their avatar in Minecraft, why wouldn’t we do the same in the classroom?

Next Steps

I would like to consider these same questions for #oclmooc and what I hope participants will get out of it, but I am going to have to stop here for now as it has already taken me three days to write this post. I will continue to monitor the #ccourses feed, jumping in when I have time, lurking (or sampling as my friend Maureen puts it) and participating vicariously through the tweets and posts of those in my PLN, my MOOChort as my friend Paul Signorelli puts it.

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