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Reflections on the First Half of #FutureEd at Duke: The Here and the Not Yet

Currently in The History and Future of Higher Education, taught by Dr. Cathy Davidson at Duke University, we are focused on completing the final assignment: designing a university from scratch. This second part of the semester is a lot less hectic than the first six weeks, when students wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education, acted as Community TAs on the Coursera MOOC, participated in Google Hangouts with our counterparts at UC Santa Barbara and Stanford, and prepared readings and assignments for our regular class time. Coming back from Spring Break last week, the class reflected on the first part of the semester and discussed our goals going forward.

On March 19th, we all participated in a think-pair-share activity that focused on our work during the first semester. Although some aspects of the first half of the experimental course were more successful than others, the class structure did provide a unique opportunity to learn the various ways one could integrate new modes of learning into the classroom. One of the more positive aspects of the first part of the class was that it allowed students to experiment with social media platforms, including Twitter, Google Hangout, Google Drive, and RapGenius. While some professors have already integrated these tools into their classrooms, it cannot be assumed that most students—even those who are college-age—know how to use social media effectively. Another positive part of the first half of the class was that students were able to participate in the MOOC, “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” as Community TAs. Although the participatory experience could have been similarly replicated by merely taking the MOOC as a regular student (Community TAs don’t have that much power), the difference is that students in the face-to-face class were able to interact with Dr. Davidson weekly. Through this interaction, we heard her reflections on what went well, what needed to be improved, anticipated results, and surprise outcomes. I learned about the immense amount of preparation that goes into producing a MOOC; Dr. Davidson estimated ~ 40 hours a week for 4-5 months, if I remember correctly.  I also learned the way that an online class of thousands of people can create mini-communities through forum discussions. As a class, we became aware of trolls as we wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education and kept an eye out for trolls in the Coursera forums. We also learned how classes in different cities and time zones could cooperate with each other through Google Hangout.

Along with these positive reflections, there were some critiques. During class on the 19th, I made the comment that, “we live in the here and not yet.” In other words, we live in a time when scholars, teachers, students, activists and others are rethinking higher education. They are providing spaces for experimental classroom design, like our class at Duke. They are exploring ways of integrating technology into teaching and learning. At the same time that people are experimenting and dreaming about big changes, the university space has not transformed enough to make changes easy for students and teachers alike. There are growing pains. In class on the 19th, I lamented that I couldn’t focus all of my attention on the course. With activities happening on multiple platforms associated with the #FutureEd Initiative—including Coursera, HASTAC.org, Google Hangout, and Twitter—it was impossible to succeed at everything and still attend to my other academic work outside of class. In short, in the future, I imagine that students taking this course would gain credit for a full semester and not just one class. Such a set up would enable students to successfully complete all of the class assignments, fully engage with the digital community, and research the final project without skimping on any of these fundamental components. In general, among my peers there was some critique that the structure of the class did not provide enough space for students to go in-depth in the reading and group work for the final project. Still, I think these critiques are a sign of the good things to come in education—and also in our class.

During the second part of the course, we are turning our attention to the final project. As a class, we are divided into three small groups and each group is to present its version of a university that will be shared online and open for critique. Over the past week, we have been working on our designing higher education from scratch napkin sketches in order to add more detail and respond to the critique and feedback that we received from students of the MOOC and the HASTAC community. My group is the Hand Head Heart University, and our napkin sketch can be found here. As a group, we’ve decided to build a website for our imagined university. On the website we will elaborate on the ways we hope that education will change for the better. Once we’ve created the website, we will publish it for feedback and comments. This should happen within the next month (late April). In the meantime, I hope that we will get more comments on the napkin sketches. 

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