Monday, December 15, 2014

Making, MOOCs, and The Writing Thief

Meet Henry Aronson by Slidely Slideshow

I've joined a MOOC, a "Massive Open Online Course, specifically the Connected Learning MOOC sponsored by the San Diego Writing Project. We're studying Ruth Culham's The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing, hence the name of our Google+ Community: The Writing Thief MOOC. 

As if I'm not busy enough. It's finals week. Grades are due next week Friday. And it's the holiday season. Maybe I'm avoiding work or perhaps (and?) personal issues. Whatever. This is how I have fun.

Culham means to show literacy teachers how to use the actual texts people read to examine how writing works. As she says in the first chapter, "Students develop bigger understandings from authors, not assignment," hence the term "mentor texts" in her book's subtitle. 

I was first introduced to the concept of mentor several months ago at a professional development workshop put on by San Diego Writing Project. I was sold immediately. And I've subsequently participated in a few other mentor text training workshops by SDAWP and my own campus. 

I started experimenting with mentor texts last spring. Success has been slow and steady. Luckily my newly acquired teacher's growth mindset reminds me I'm on a learning curve, so I'm being patient and open to instruction. 

So when The Writing Thief MOOC opened up, I jumped at the chance to formally investigate the process and be part of a learning community. The twist? This is a digital learning community focused on "making" and "connected learning," two other concepts I first heard about at SDAWP (recurring motif, eh?). 

Crudely stated, making has to do with actually producing or creating as opposed to simply consuming. In this online learning community, we will do more than eat up Culham's concepts. We will explore and experiment with ways to creatively share that knowledge we digest, making digital items to express ideas inspired by Culham that are worth sharing. 

Each week, we are to produce ("make") and share something with MOOC classmates. Moderators post weekly "making cycles" and refer members to several resources we can use to "make." Most are free.  The first week's cycle asked us to create a digital "something something" to introduce ourselves to our peers. I made a presentation (free!). I posted it above. Some people created videos, others used Haiku Deck, and still others hacked quote/meme generators to compose introductions. 

Using digital technology and sharing knowledge constitute the "connecting" of connected learning. Actually connected learning is a bit more complex than simply using tech and sharing; I'm on that learning curve, too. 

Here's one resource, the The Digital Media & Learning Research Hub's conceptualization of "connected learning" that seems to be a good starting place to start exploring. 
If I am procrastinating, avoiding other issues in my life, at least I'm being productive and intellectually challenged: learning to use mentor texts, experimenting with digital making, and leaning into connected learning. I've already gained proficiency with I've stolen several ideas for next semester from MOOC classmates (The Writing Thief is an apt title). Joining has already been productive! The next making cycle? Expressing an important quote from Culham's text. Stay tuned!