Wednesday, February 1, 2012

#cck12 - A Connected Classroom

I'm finding it quite easy to frame most of what I do in my writing classes with rhizomatic/connectivist thinking. I work hard to connect students to someone other than to me. I begin class by asking my students to take out their cell phones and text someone about what they are doing at the moment: learning how to write. This is a bit theatrical as most of the students think at first that I will demand that they turn off their cell phones. They are shocked but pleased to learn that this class will encourage cell phone usage. We then read the responses aloud, which almost always provides some merriment. This exercise immediately lets them know several things about the class:
  • connectivity is paramount in the class.
  • the class will connect beyond the confines of the classroom.
  • the class will utilize whatever tool is convenient and productive for writing.
  • the teacher may not be the center of the class universe.
  • writing is quite likely not what they thought it was.
  • we will find ways to have fun.
The ludic element should not be overlooked. Research shows that few things work better than fun and play for connecting people with each other and with a new endeavor. Rhizomatic connectivists must have a shtick and a game. By the way, one cannot read Deleuze and Guattari without being struck by the theatrical, ludic quality of their writing. If you aren't laughing through A Thousand Plateaus or Anti-Oedipus, then you're missing the point.

I then ask my students how many of them consider themselves writers. Usually, only a handful raise their hands. I then ask them how often they text each day. They all text a lot. I then insist that they are all writers, and usually, they protest that texting is not writing. This allows us to discuss writing, with me trying to convince them that their generation is generating more writing by more people than any other generation in history. I'm not sure how many of them are convinced, but it does serve them notice that they are not in a traditional college class, much less a traditional writing class. They sense that something is afoot, and by this time, most of them are alert. I like this.

I then have them introduce each other to the class, but only after they interview each other and take notes (more writing and connecting, but they don't usually think of it as writing or connecting). They have to learn the single most interesting thing they can about the other person that can be publicly shared. Both the interviews and the introductions are usually great fun, and after the introductions, I lead them in a discussion of writing as a tool for learning and for remembering. I again ask them how many make notes and lists for themselves or take notes in class. Most all of them do, so I submit that as further evidence that they are already writers. Usually by this time, many are beginning to warm to the idea. I ask how many enjoyed the interview, and most do. So I ask again if they enjoy writing. Not so many raise their hands this time.

I conclude the class by giving them my Gmail address and asking them to send me a Gmail identifying their Google account so that I can send them the link to the Google Sites class wiki, where the syllabus is housed.

So I devote the entire first day connecting the students to each other, to someone outside the class, to writing as they already use it, and finally to me and to the course apparatus, which obviously relies a great deal on Google. I find the Google tools much less restrictive and far more open to connectivity than the school's LMS.

Of course, next term I may use completely different activities, but the point will likely remain the same: foster connectivity that centers about the class proper, but encourages connectivity beyond the class.
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