April 25


I am in the midst of my third MOOC. At the time I registered for #DLMOOC, I had already registered for History of the Slave South, offered through Coursera. My current foray is into Design Thinking, offered by Iversity.

The three courses are highly divergent in their content, presentation, and instructor-student interaction. As I reflect on my reaction to the various courses, I am trying to determine how and why I feel differently about them.

History of the Slave South is a modified version of a University of Pennsylvania course, presented by Professor Stephanie McCurry. It was the most traditional of the three courses. There was a syllabus, with precise deadlines (for those who wanted to receive a certificate of completion). There were lectures to watch (with short quizzes integrated), readings (mostly primary source materials), and weekly online discussions on a specific topic.

There were also five writing assignments over the ten weeks, which required careful analysis and synthesis of course content. In addition to writing, each student was required to peer review other students’ work, and evaluate their own work. The review process was structured; there were particular aspects of the writing that were evaluated (e.g. “what is the writer’s thesis?”).

Some students complained loudly about the peer review process, declaring that it was too much work. I thought it was a great aspect of the course, as I learned something from each of my peer’s commentaries on my work. I also learned from my peers’ analysis of the same materials I had read, given their insights were typically somewhat different than mine.

I thoroughly enjoyed History of the Slave South, as Professor McCurry is a knowledgeable and articulate lecturer, and the topics we covered were fascinating. The online discussions were lively, although I followed few of the thousands of posts. I also found it interesting to gain the perspectives of students living outside of the United States, of which there we many. This course fed my intellectual self.

DLMOOC was presented in a dramatically different fashion. Each week, there were a number of “readings,” although some of those were actually video presentations. There were online discussions through G+. Online panel discussions were scheduled once or twice a week, which could be “attended,” or watched later, in the archived course materials. Optional assignments were also defined, some of which I did, others I did not.

Early on, a variety of sub-groups formed, based on specific interests. The discussions that developed in these groups were free-form, with abundant sharing of information and ideas. Due to participating in some of these groups, I have expanded my #PLN, since several participants have expertise that will help me grow professionally.

The facilitators’ attitude, which they announced periodically throughout the course, was that participants were free to come and go as they wished, with no obligations, and no guilt. My personality being what it is, I couldn’t be so laissez-faire in my participation, but I certainly had weeks when I was “behind,” and times when I only gave cursory attention to the materials.

One of the (optional) assignments each week was to tweet about a particular topic. I thought this was clever; a simple, effective way to raise awareness in the Twitter world that DLMOOC was happening, and to give a glimpse into some of the topics we were exploring.

I derived a great deal of knowledge and enjoyment from DLMOOC. The formal presentations, and the less formal discussions, added to my existing knowledge related to PBL, and many other topics in education. The free-flowing format encouraged participants to share, including articles, experience, links to resources, etc. The fact the course materials and discussions are archived indefinitely adds to the appeal – I can return at any time to deepen my understanding. This course fed my professional self.

I’m in the throes of Design Thinking, and am struggling to enjoy this MOOC. The format of the course is short lectures, many of which are followed by short quizzes. For each lecture, there is also a discussion question. Most of the lessons also include additional (optional) reading material.

As I reflect, I think there are two major reasons for my discontent. The first is that the concepts that have been presented so far are ones I already know something about, so minimal #deeperlearning is happening. I am bored.

The second reason is that the discussions seem relatively shallow, and often esoteric. Maybe that is what causes me the most discomfort – although I greatly enjoy intellectual discussions, endless navel-gazing does not excite me. So, this course and I may not be a good fit. Nonetheless, I will finish it, because giving up is bad form, both for my sense of self, and in my role of modeling #lifelonglearning to the  students I interact with. This course is not feeding my artistic self.

As I reflect on what I liked and did not like, I wonder how today’s young students would react to these courses. I find I need to constantly put myself into their shoes, to remind myself how different their reality is from mine. Their world has always had the Internet. Living without some sort of hand-held technology device (smartphone, iPod, tablet…) is inconceivable to them. These are two glaring differences between their childhood and mine, but there are many others. This reality provides a good argument as to why we should include students in the planning process. We need to invite them to discuss with us what and how they think they should learn!

April 15

Deeper Learning #6

As I wrap up my reflections on #DLMOOC, I ask myself “what’s next?” In the immediate term, I have registered for the Design Thinking MOOC starting this week. After all, we lifelong learners need to always be learning, right?

I am also planning to visit Aaron Maurer’s  school for one of their PBL exhibitions. I hope to have a few minutes to pick his brain while I am there, to glean ways to improve my practice. He appears to be an educator that spends a lot of time experimenting with new tools and toys, so I want to learn how he approaches that (and finds the time!).

I have also volunteered to present a workshop on PBL at the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference that Daniel Bassill organizes. I admire the work he does, tirelessly finding ways to help “youth and volunteers connect in well-organized, mentor-rich programs.”

I am fomenting ideas for additional PBL courses we could offer at Meliora, and am designing an Environmental Science course right now. For some time, I have been thinking about how to structure a course that examines mythology, progressing from classical through to urban mythology. What threads/themes do they have in common? What social/cultural aspects influence them? Do they always have a Hero? And, speaking of Meliora, we really need to revamp the website.

I am also mulling over ways we could offer online courses. How could we make that environment effective? What would it take to generate the passion and creativity exhibited by the student panels we watched/listened to during #DLMOOC?

In the middle of creating and editing this post, I figured out the easy way to insert links. So, I headed back and updated my older posts, to insert links everywhere a reader may want to reference to. A simple example of how learning is an iterative process. My first posts were adequate; I have been able to add some sophistication with #deeperlearning. At some future date, I am sure I will acquire further knowledge on how to use this tool to better or more fully express myself.

Oh, yes, I also need to schedule time to get my certification as a Google Educator.


April 10

Deeper Learning #5

Social media! Apps! Online “dailies!” All that technology jargon!

I began #DLMOOC with a Facebook account, a Twitter account I rarely used, a LinkedIn account that is current, and a Pinterest account I use for curating (mostly non-academic) project ideas. I had a vague realization that there were other social media platforms, but they were just a buzz in the background.

Over the course of the MOOC, I added Storify and Feedly to my social media vernacular, and just began experimenting with Feedly. I will try Storify soon, as it looks like a great tool for curation. I tried about.me, but found it requires a larger learning curve than I am willing for right now.

My #DLMOOC peers also introduced me to a number of apps that I have installed, but not yet played with. These include Magisto and Tellagami.

I have been intrigued by the several “dailies” that show up in my Twitter feed. Essentially an online newspaper, curated from articles, videos, etc. accumulated from across the web. My personal preference is the concise publications that focus on a particular topic or special interest of the editor/organization. Once I have a flow well established in my social media routine, I will check paper.li out more thoroughly.

The most significant immediate change I have made in my social media presence is in my consistent use of Twitter. I use it to share articles I find of interest, to participate in certain scheduled chats, in particular #PBLchat on Tuesday evenings, and to communicate with a few of my #DLMOOC peers.

I have also been mulling over the question “what’s the point?” I am sure the reasons for diving into social media vary, but for me it has proven to be an efficient way to browse the MANY articles of interest that are posted across the Internet. It is also a good way to broaden my PLN, or Personal Learning Network. A nice summary of what a PLN is, and its value, can be found at:


April 8

Deeper Learning #4

Another great concept I took away from #DLMOOC is related to academic mindsets. We had a week devoted to this topic, identifying the differences between a fixed (intelligence is static) and a growth (intelligence can be developed) mindset, and how to foster a growth mindset among students, AND in our own life and practice.

Eduardo Briceño, of Mindset Works, further refines the growth mindset into four learning mindsets:

A Growth Mindset: “I can change my intelligence and abilities through effort.”
Self-Efficacy: “I can succeed.”
Sense of Belonging: “I belong in this learning community.”
Relevance: “This work has value and purpose for me.”

Several aspects of the PBL (Project-based Learning) methodology foster these mindsets, beginning with relevance. Students have voice (express their opinions and desires) and choice in the real-world topics they tackle, and in how they transform their learning into a product they present to a public audience.

As students plan their projects, they develop a growth mindset, starting with taking responsibility for identifying the effort and skills required to complete their project. Project development is typically an iterative process, wherein the students’ work is reviewed at intervals, and they receive feedback from their peers and facilitator (teacher). Each iteration results in improvements, and also reinforces the idea that effort results in change of intelligence and abilities.

Projects are often implemented in small collaborative groups, thereby developing and reinforcing the sense of belonging. Each group member has specific tasks they are responsible for, and their individual work contributes to the overall quality and success of the project.

Self-efficacy shines during the public exhibition of completed projects. I believe, when at all possible, the audience should include not only other students, teachers, and parents, but also community members who are knowledgeable and passionate about the topic(s) being exhibited. What better way to reinforce to students that their learning has relevance?

I realize my tone here is serious. I really care about this topic. Mindsets, and the way PBL is an effective methodology to employ to develop the learning mindsets that allow all students to flourish.

The full Eduardo Briceño article may be found here:


April 7

Deeper Learning #3

During the #DLMOOC journey, I learned several things I plan to add to my practice. The one that hit me the hardest was a post by Justin Cook, a leader at the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools. He states “In order to make culture, we must immerse ourselves in culture with the right postures: critically evaluating and cultivating the cultural gifts history has given us and creating new culture that is inspired by a vision for flourishing.” The overall take-away for me is that schools should have a “story” that guides the students’ learning. Each student weaves strands into the story narrative with the work he/she undertakes. Traditionally, we have often called this focus a “mission statement,” but I much prefer the idea of storytelling.  Peoples (at least until recently) passed many aspects of their culture to future generations through storytelling. Once schools identify their story, they will be able to develop a culture in support of it.

I will be reading Justin’s post (and others he has done) many times, because I glean something new out of each re-reading. A link to the full post is below:



April 5

Deeper Learning #2

Back in December (2013), I began to receive tantalizing e-mails from the #deeperlearning people, inviting me to enroll in DLMOOC, “a massive open online course to learn about deeper learning.” Wowza! In my journey of self-discovery, I have become cognizant of the fact that lifelong learning is a value I hold very dear. Whereas many of my friends, family, and colleagues were very happy to shelve their last learning materials as they left college, I love nothing more than exploring new topics that I know nothing/little about.

So, I jumped in, registered, and promptly received acknowledgement, “Welcome to Deeper Learning 101, a survey course brought to you by High Tech High, Peer 2 Peer University, MIT Media Lab with support by Hewlett Foundation and Raikes Foundation.” A consortium of heavy hitters in the education reform arena!

More deeper learning opportunities soon presented themselves. The course was run on the Google Plus (G+) platform, complete with “communities” and “hangouts,” two tools I had not yet worked with. Fortunately, G+, as is typical with Google products, is user-friendly and intuitive.

Within a short time, the number of registered participants in #DLMOOC exploded, my first opportunity to feel overwhelmed! The final enrollment counted 1,854 people. How was I going to keep track of that many people? How was I going to keep track of all the POSTS?

The facilitators quickly began to assemble the gang into sub-groups, based on special interests. I joined the PBL (Project-based Learning), Lifelong Learning, and Independent Schools sub-groups, as they were of most interest to me.

In time, the DLMOOC forums became habituated by only a small number of the participants. Of those, I identified a few personal favorites, whose posts I read attentively. I added my voice to conversations where I felt I had value to add. The once-overwhelming MOOC structure had become a community (or more aptly, communities) where a wealth of learning was taking place.


April 4

Deeper Learning #1

Over the past ten weeks or so, I have been immersed in the #deeperlearning MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) sponsored by deeper-learning.org.  One thing I promised myself as we wrapped up was that I would start blogging. I was inspired, in part by Greg McVerry, who posits that blogging should be part of our PRACTICE as educators, as opposed to it being an “add-on” to a (never completed) to-do list. His complete post, “Forget Searching for Time. Where are the ideas?” can be found here:


As I began my blogging quest, I immediately plunged into deeper learning! The first question I had to answer was which blogging platform to use. I have a strong technology background, which is both a help and a hindrance. Although WAY out of date on the details, I grasp the concepts, and am comfortable assessing various tools. I also prowl the various review websites for help. The downside is I tend to spend too long analyzing, instead of making a decision and moving on.

In the end, I settled on Edublogs. I know I may not stay here forever, but it is a decent starting point. But then, I had the agony of deciding which theme to use! To me, this visual aspect portrays the personality of the website. Although I love “girly” themes, complete with purple, flowers, and scrapbook emulations, I felt those did not provide the aura I wish to achieve. So, here I am, using “Blak Magik!” It evokes a mood of curiosity, mystery, and depth, all characteristics I want to further develop in my professional and personal lives.

Next time, my first reactions to #DLMOOC.