A couple of months back, I decided to kick off an online teaching class on History of Photography, a course I have spent years teaching to students in various community colleges in California. This new learning technique that I had designed to reach out to all students in a unified environment is intentionally aimed at creating an avenue for each of them to take on the various role of a teacher. Why teaching?
RETHINKING TRADITIONAL INSTRUCTIONAL MODELS
First, we all are aware of the fact that in a traditional undergraduate history course, the professor is the only one at liberty to make decisions regarding vital historical figures to be covered in the instrumental material. Students get to know about the decisions made by their professor through the instructional materials used with regards to the subject. Interestingly, the precise topics and figures covered are usually in line with the professor’s areas of interest and expertise. However, this traditional model of teaching tends to create a gap between students interests (for instance those interested in learning the art of photography). Furthermore, the conventional selectivity method of teaching students makes the students passive consumer of information, thereby hindering opportunities for independent researches, problem-solving, growth, and critical thinking associated with learning and content creation. Since the inception of the computer age, undergraduate college students have become in mobile communication thereby turning the act of communication into an engaging, interconnected, and participatory process of inquiry as against the traditional one-way transfer of information. This is the same idea I intend incorporating into my own teaching in as many ways as possible.
THE TOOL MATTERS
So, what tool is in your toolkit to support participatory learning? My tool of choice is VoiceThread and has been since 2007. The essential element needed in order to properly orchestrate participatory learning into a college class, a participatory tool. Currently, college professors have adequate access to a course shell in a course management system which typically comprises of organizational and management tools, with the discussion form being the most participated. Unfortunately, the discussion forum has become fusty and has failed to possess those wonderful participatory features required by the millennium generation. Creating a rich content is of sufficient importance as it supports the way we reason by cultivating brain-friendly multisensory learning environments. Since 2007, VoiceThread has been my toolkit used to promote participatory learning.
AUGMENTING OUTCOMES WITH 21ST CENTURY SKILLS
The Visual Thinking activity I developed and designed using VoiceThread comprises of similar outcomes of a traditional learning unit: Similar to the traditional learning method, students are expected to identify and analyze major achievements of mid-20th-century photographers. However, the modern learning unit goes further than two broad outcomes by compelling students to exhibit proficiency of digital literacy, verbal communication, and content skills.
VISUAL THINKING: HOW THE ACTIVITY WORKS
To fulfill these goals, students work together to decide the right photographers to research on, and each independently researches the photographer they’ve selected by surfing the internet. They locate samples of the photographer’s past work through an online image search, after which these images and research contents are contributed to as VoiceThread in voice or video comments.
Furthermore, the students develop an open-ended discussion prompt that evens up with images. The prompts, which are sprayed all over the VoiceThread, become entry passages for the rest of the class to employ in the second week of the activity. Additional comments are also added to promote discussion, examination and reflection. Students are able to practice their verbal communication skills with the use of voice or video comments in VoiceThread and each student is opportune to listen to their peers’ vocal intonations as they learn.
GROWING UP IN THE CLOUD
For a good number of adults, the Cloud is an evolving story, a natural advancement in the process of convergence that has been in existence in more than two decades; however, the younger generation sees the Cloud as their world. From the young children point of view, the Cloud is not a technology, and cannot be associated with storage systems, network management of delivery mechanisms but rather the Cloud is a word used to define the world they live in.
To these younger children, the word “Cloud” is merely a metaphor used to describe that they are growing up in a world with access to an unlimited amount of knowledge and inexhaustible possibilities where they can live, learn and play.
IMMERSIVE TRANSMEDIA STORIES IN THE CLOUD
In the Cloud, children tend to grasp the direct connection between themselves and the world they live in. The tremendous growth of devices, platforms, and applications that exist in the Cloud fashion possibilities for erecting complex, real and educative narratives in the widest sense. With the ability to easily access data stored in the Cloud using any device, and from anywhere irrespective of the time, everyone, not just children will be able to quickly access, create, and participate in the ever-increasing transmedia stories.
Education will be able to exploit stories from the Cloud which will engage learners in progressively interwoven patterns of creativity across multiple platforms. Children will be opportune to study ahead of their teachers as all they see is the natural ecosystem of knowledge and activities that constitute the Cloud, thereby enabling them to participate in the creation of contents, work together with others both physically and virtually from anywhere across the globe.
THE SPACE WITHIN WHICH STORIES LIVE, GROW, AND DEVELOP
To children, the Cloud is a natural, automatic, enormous, and accessible fluid. It is omnipresent, and also the spaces within which stories, live, grow, and develop organically. This, therefore, creates limitless opportunities for participation, learning, fun, and collectivity.