I believe that public school systems and universities are going to change significantly in the next 20-30 years. My thinking on these issues has been influenced by people like Lave and Wenger (Communities of Practice), Lev Vygotsky (Zone of Proximal Development), and George Siemens (Connectivism) – to name a few. As one of many changes, technology and the “new media” provides opportunities for students to tie into hands-on working and learning experiences through networks with experts in their field of study (and in some cases, even quickly become one of the experts in the field). Because there is so much to learn, and much that changes so rapidly, one of the most important skills we can teach our students (and learn ourselves) is how to navigate through the immensity of available connections and resources. I am currently experimenting with as many ways as I can think to do this with the Web Analytics class I am teaching this semester.

On the ITForum this week, George Siemens is discussing his paper: Teaching and Learning in Knowledge Networks

In response to a post he made today regarding the practical application of his theory, I described what I am doing in my class to apply many of the things that he mentioned. I am copying an adapted version of my post here for any who are interested:

The class I am currently teaching this semester is on Web Analytics. As it is a somewhat new and evolving field, I believe that the student’s I teach can even have an impact in leading and shaping it in the future. So I am doing everything I can think of to get them invested into learning from and contributing to the leading experts and networks.

1. I require them to blog – something that gives me a good feel for what they are learning (or not learning) in and out of class – believing it is something that taps into the idea that you are learning the most when you have to teach others. Sometimes it helps me get a feel for the personal side of student’s too, which helps in building rapport and trust in the class. And it is something that they will take with them after the class is over. [Incidentally it also gives them a chance to analyze the analytics from the visitors to their own personal blog throughout the semester]

2. We aggregate their blog feeds onto a central class site we created using drupal: http://ebiz2.byu.edu/analytics/blog

3. We also aggregate the blog feeds from other experts in the field onto the same class space.

4. Many of the class activities deal with contributing to the class space – for example, the class was split into groups to study and create presentations on certain aspects of online marketing – to teach the class and post their lessons online (e.g. through BrainHoney). When it came time to present, we had three experts come to our class and act like a panel – giving feedback and additional suggestions to the topics they presented on. We called it “American Idol of Online Marketing” and it was a huge success. All the experts asked for copies of the presentations, so we could direct them to the class wiki to continue to join the conversation.

5. In addition to having a lot of guest speakers, live or virtual, and reading the thoughts of cutting edge experts through blogs and forums, I am putting together an assignment to create a wiki page called “The Who’s Who of Web Analytics” – where class members will have a chance to approach experts, interview them with several short questions, and build at least some kind of a “warm” contact while simultaneously contributing to the class knowledge of who the experts are, what got them there, and what their current thinking is like.

6. We have a hands-on competition available where student’s analyze web analytics data from a fairly large website and make recommendations to the site owner based on the web analytics data how to improve it. They first give their presentations to actual web analytics consultants who pick the top four to present to the actual owners. This is good for class, for the company, and for the consulting organization – who has ended up making offers on the spot to hire some of my class members in the previous semester that I have taught it.

7. I have just negotiated with one of the biggest and best hands-on conferences in webanalytics to allow all of my class members to attend for at least one day. (side note: although I do not know what it has to do with Web Analytics, I personally am excited that Lance Armstrong is one of the keynote presenters.)

In previous semesters I just aggregated student blogs, but this semester I wanted to make a bigger push to get them tied to the actual community of practice. So those are some of the examples I have found helpful in doing that. Some of it has been a little more time consuming to get rolling, but I think now it is starting to be a self-feeding mechanism in a way. I also found one of the most important things I did this semester was to re-set the student expectations on the very first day of class away from what they might typically expect in a class and towards a new type of learning environment.

Of course, I am just learning in all of this myself – muddling through, making mistakes and hopefully learning from them as I go. But I also think it has been a lot of fun so far.

Thanks for your contributions to my thought process as I have tried these new ideas.

Any further suggestions or thoughts about my particular approach?

If so, they are always welcome.