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The Upside of Informal Education and Learning at the Speed of Thought

For all kinds of learners, summer offers an extended stretch of time to discover new ideas and skills on an informal basis. With the fall semester approaching, this got Open Assembly intern Elise Melconian thinking about informal education within more conventional and formal contexts.

As easily as typing a question into Google’s search bar, Internet users are able to become their own instructors. The Internet has amplified the pedagogical influence of technology and revolutionized the way society has traditionally perceived learning.

The not-for-profit infed.org explains how informal personalized education develops from conversations with others and the spontaneous connection of people and ideas. It’s often difficult to predict where informal learning will lead once such a conversation inspires an educational pursuit. John Dewey explains how “the business of education might be defined as an emancipation and enlargement of experience,” and it’s through our growing life experience that we find questions we have the power to pursue. Rather than some curriculum or plan, thoughts, exchanges, or the discovery of new information and questions connect learning to emotions and to what sparks our own interest, rather than what someone else considers significant.

Although the lack of set curricula could leave holes in a student’s education, I’ve found in my own education, learning without emotional attachment is quickly forgotten. Fortunately, what’s fantastic in education is that there’s no incorrect way to learn. We can use technology and blend informal and institutional learning styles for an experience that’s inherently more effective than previous generations of students limited to textbook learning.

With the emergence of the CC license and OER, students have the opportunity to engage more deeply in their learning, stimulated by their own conversations and experiences, to become curators of their own content. Institutions and instructors can and should mix informal learning into the curriculum to further engage students in all aspects of the learning process.

For more thoughts on informal learning, read “What is Informal Education?” on infed.org.

Julie’s Journey: Collaboration, or Why My Project is Getting Better Each Day

While my thesis and research this semester are technically independent, I’m starting to learn that not much can be done without collaboration. My work has developed and changed so much from when I first started, and a lot of that is due to discussions with peers and mentors. Going into the thesis, I only had an idea of what I might possibly want to accomplish. I went from broad ideas of different environmental issues to write my thesis on, to a project in which I am able to complete relevant and interesting research to include in my thesis as well as provide data on air quality around campus. It’s through conversations and trial-and-error of different ideas that I came to realize what would be possible, and what was too much of a stretch. Beyond that, the support I have received from my mentors is how I have gotten so far. This is my first time working with Arduinos, the micro-controllers I’ll be using to collect data on air quality, and with environmental monitoring in general. It’s also my first project that is this complex and large.

Embracing collaboration is just the culmination of how my education has been built. From English class in high school to my current physics courses, discussion and collaboration have played, and do play, important roles in how my peers and I have been taught and developed our knowledge. The tools available to support collaboration have come a long way from our 40-minute, in-class discussions about Shakespeare in high school. Now, courses use Blogger, Blackboard, Google Groups, and other resources to facilitate collaboration. Each has their own appeal, but these platforms are also lacking as far as trying to be the virtual classroom that teachers are attempting to create. Currently, my thesis class uses Google Groups as an email notification system and Blackboard for discussion. I find these limited compared to what I can do using Open Assembly.

Throughout my project development, I have had people sending relevant documents and information, others who just want a more detailed idea of what I am doing, and peers who have input and thoughts on my work. I have found that Open Assembly caters to all of these needs, more so than anything my professors have used to date. By inviting my mentors in my “course” with the role of  “Instructors”, they are able to upload pertinent material directly to the platform. Those collaborators invited as “Students” can comment on the work I have done, as well as upload other resources they think might be relevant and helpful. This set-up allows for fluid collaboration and discussion that would not be possible otherwise.

I’ll be sharing more about the collaborative power of Open Assembly further down the line. Stay tuned!

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