Why Improvisational Teaching and Learning Matters.

In Dave Cormier’s post for #change11 about rhizomatic learning, I had two favorite quotes the first of which was this:

They are not looking for ‘the accepted way’, they are not looking to receive instructions, but rather to create.

This is something I personally liked to do as a learner, figure it out as I go alone. Find the things I need to accomplish or create something. I feel like there are so many digital tools I learned to use just for the sake of making something (Slideshare Presentation, Prezi Presentation are recent examples). Whether I went back to that tool ever again didn’t really matter. It helped me create or accomplish the thing I wanted to do at the time. And I’m pretty sure that I learned more than that tool at the moment, (because I surely forget how to use a lot of them 🙂 ) I learn to solve problems.

The second quote which I am using now in my teaching is this:

A curriculum for a course is something that can be created in time, while a course is happening. The syllabus becomes a garden space, a context setting within which learning can happen and the curriculum is the things that grows there.

I have gone through a lot of changes in my teaching over the past years, trying to find ways to help students learn the concepts in a course. Usually this involved fiddling with an assignment or two trying to improve it. But in the past year, having spent a lot of time engaging communities that are working out in the open as academics has really transformed how I teach. First there was the CUNY Academic Commons and the York College E-portfolio platform, both of which are built on WordPress and Buddypress. These were both my first experiences using WordPress, but more importantly they both started to help me make connections to people in the University that I never would have previously. This was through a blog I created about my old artwork and through joining groups like the Digital Humanities Initiative.

But it was in the Spring, through the Commons that I was introduced to Jim Groom and DS106. Jim is a instructional technologist at the University of Mary Washington and DS106 is an open course/community about digital storytelling. This was a class that had registered students from UMW, but Jim also invited anyone in the world to take the course as well. Just create a blog and play along. So I did.

In creating my own domain and participating in ds106 I found people to create work for and learn from in ways I never had previously. I was making artwork at a productive level that I had done since I was a graduate student (here’s a GIF, don’t be scared).

And when I made work there was feedback immediately, and I gave feedback to others. I was inspired by them and they we inspired by me.

So this is how I try and teach now. I taught DS106 this past fall to my registered York College students and I’m not going to look back. We make things together, we figure out which assignments to do together, and it’s become this wild, rhizomatic like garden that is rich and unpredicatable.