My Transmedia Education, Part 3

As Prof. Jennifer George-Palilonis and I push forward with our Transmedia Indiana project, I wanted to take a moment to explain exactly why I think that what we’re doing has some innovative components to it within the classroom.

In Part 1, I discussed the idea of creating a classroom where knowledge is acquired not by a single person memorizing data, but by a group collective working towards a common purpose.

In Part 2, I discussed the reasons for creating group collectives in class instead of building more traditional memorize-centric classes.

Here in Part 3, I’ll address the idea of rigor and its place with the transmedia classroom, something that is woefully missing from the more traditional classrooms of today.

One criticism I’ve faced – and I mean criticism in the classic, good sense – is how to apply rigor in a transmedia classroom. Teachers are rightly concerned when I tell them I have done away with all testing and quizzes.

If that’s true (and it is), I need to have some objective measure of how students are doing in the classroom. I’ll be the first to admit that the biggest failing right now is an understanding of the objective measure. Certainly I grade my students (I hate grades), but I’m measuring the elusive “did they get it.”

Certainly I have stated objectives around which m courses are built; however, the day-to-day operations of the class make grading a bit…challenging.

Before we delve into the grading idea, though, we should understand that the modern classroom is already deficient in this area. It’s not as if we have high educational standards within our college classrooms, and I’m threatening to undermine them.

In fact (and if you believe the book Academically Adrift, which I do), we are currently living in a time radically devoid of rigor. Here are some tidbits from the book:

  • The 1960 student spent 40 hours/week on academics; the 2010 student: 27 hours/week on academics
  • The 2010 student spends less than 12 hours/week studying
  • The 2010 faculty member spends less than 11 hours/week on prep, teaching, and advising
  • By the end of college, 45% of students show no improvement with critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing
  • In the final semester in college, 83% of graduating seniors will not write a 20-page paper, one of the best determinations as to students grokking of a subject

So here we stand:

  • modern technological tools enable us to create environments where groups of people can “think” better in certain situations;
  • modern classrooms are still operating in traditional modes; and
  • our colleges aren’t turning out well-rounded, good thinking graduates because of a lack of rigor.

As I finished reading Adrift this spring, I was struck by the notion that we could very easily incorporate the idea of Mastery Learning into a transmedia classroom by teaching students to collaborate on puzzles that are too big for any one student to finish. And those same tasks would require the doing – and re-doing – of work in order to finish.

(For example: in my media ethics class, I required groups to give presentations on 36-hours notice, 12 times a semester. It was not feasible for them to try to meet each week. Eventually, every group succumbed to the call of the Wiki. Those same students each had to write a 12-page paper each week, as well. The Wiki provided them ample opportunity to share knowledge.)

The notion that is most missing from my classes – and one that I’m trying to incorporate more and more into each semester – is the idea of story. The transmedia nature of the class – blending physical and cyberspace together with tools to enable collaborative problem solving – fails if it doesn’t create an on-going narrative as well.

In Transmedia Indiana, that shall be easy. The class is a story. In my other classes, I haven’t yet cracked the code for what those narratives will be. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, simply that I’ve just started looking at all my classes as narrative stories that must exist both inside and outside the classroom.

Regardless of that success, if I can create an environment where students begin to think of class as something that is all around them instead of something they sit in, the idea of rigor begins to change. The amount of time they spend making connections with knowledge stops shrinking.

To do that requires more prep time, obviously. However, if you’ve deployed tools like Twitter, Google Docs, wiki software, and other engagement tools, you’re contact time with students also goes up. (I have archived thousands of interactions I’ve had with students in the last several years through Twitter.)

(Side Note: My twitter interactions and digital contacts aren’t counted when it comes time for instructor evaluations. Just as my students won’t work with technological tools if I don’t model them – see Part 2 – professors won’t interact with students if it’s not part of the evaluation model.)

As part of my the experience of tracking down narratives inside and outside my classroom by deploying various digital networking tools, I will now require my students to keep a learning journal that – at the end of the semester – will be transformed into a 20-page learning document based upon the research we’ve discussed in class (and assembled as a class in a collaborative learning environment).

If I assemble my classes properly, in other words, I’ll have a modern, transmedia classroom that forces students to use modern learning tools in a way that increases the rigor of my classrooms.