Slide about Pedagogies. Shot of students in circle? From forum?
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Rheingold U - an experiment in distance teaching


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Rheingold U. is a totally online learning community, offering courses that usually run for five weeks, with five live sessions and ongoing asynchronous discussions through forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, and social bookmarks. In my thirty years of experience online and my six years teaching students face to face and online at University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University, I've learned that magic can happen when a skilled facilitator works collaboratively with a group of motivated students. The technology affords but does not guarantee peer to peer learning and collaborative inquiry. That's where I come in.

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  • I didn’t pursue the use of online media in education because I believe that digital media has a special magic. I started pursuing the use of online media in education because the co-present physical classroom, with all its own special magic -- has limitations of time, attention, and participation. We all have to go to the trouble of being in the same time and place, and that time is limited. What about the thought that occurs an hour or a day after a classroom conversation, as they do when you are deeply engaged with a subject? What about the students who are inhibited by the dominant classroom medium of extemporaneous vocalization while everybody is looking at you? Only one person can speak at a time, usually only one person has control of which media are presented to everyone else in a physical classroom.
  • I started thinking about the informal learning potential of online social media in the 1980s, about 20 years before it was called social media. The term I coined in this 1987 Whole Earth Review article was “virtual community.” Those of us online in communities like the WELL knew that we were learning and teaching each other everything from the technical lore of online communication to the sociology of community. It seemed clear to me that many-to-many media afforded engaging opportunities for peer learning, and maybe even for formal educational settings.
  • Because of the unique affordances for social communication and intellectual discourse that online media could, in principle, provide, I started thinking about what a digital media education dashboard would look like from the student’s point of view. In 1995, I designed an interface for a “Global University of Tomorrow” that was presented at the NEC Pavillion at the International Telecommunication Union conference. Back then, it cost millions to build a high-resolution, real-time, working model of a an online multimedia classroom. Here is the user interface sketch I commissioned to guide the creation of the demo -- the personal profile page of a student. NEC spent millions of dollars to create a high-definition, high speed, working prototype of the Global University for the ITU convention, then dismantled it. In 2008, thirteen years later, I set out to create a social media classroom out of free and open source software and free web services.
  • I envisioned a number of asynchronous multimedia “roundtables” that students from around could join, and access to mentors, other students, coursework, media. The web in 1995 wasn’t quite ready to do all that we sketched, especially the synchronous video and multimedia discussion, but it wasn’t hard to see it heading that way over the next ten years, when broadband would become available.
  • The multimedia roundtables would enable students to grow comment threads that include text, embedded graphics, links, even videos.
  • I started using a variety of media in teaching students at Berkeley and Stanford -- wikis from one provider, forums from another, and blogs from another.
  • I was delighted to learn that I was one of the winners of the HASTAC competition on digital media and learning. The award enables me to continue to create curriculum -- syllabi and teaching notes, together with a social media classroom constructed from free and open source software, extensive video documentation of the subject matter and the toolkit, a wiki-based knowledge repository for resources and practices in participatory media literacy, and a community of practitioners that will use the classroom and grow the curriculum and knowledge repository.
  • The social media classroom website provides access to the source code in an installable form, information about obtaining a hosted instance of the SMC, and a scaffolding of resources around the use of social media for teaching and learning.
  • As I developed How-to slides, lesson plans, exercises in my development of my courses, I added resources to the SMC community pages -- and invite others to add to what I’ve built.
  • The social media classroom forum enables the students and instructor to extend their classroom discussions for hours, days, weeks after a class meeting, asynchronously. People can take their time to compose thoughtful replies. And online forums in particular can become truly collaborative discourse in which the sum of individual posts is much more than a collection of performances -- students have time and tools to build on and respond to each other’s contributions.
  • Blog posts can contain html, inline graphics, video embeds. Tabs Enable participants to switch from blogs to forums to wikis…
  • Another tab opens a wiki, which is an infinite gateway to as many interlinked pages the students and instructor want to create -- complete with attachments, tags, and different views and means of navigating as you want.
  • Social bookmarking can automatically read feeds from services like, and also provide internal bookmark-sharing networks. Participants have the option of determining how open or closed their media will be with respect to the rest of the web.
  • The first thing that happened when I used social media to teach social media issues is that the students began to take me up on my invitation to talk about how to make the class work better for them. This led to a number of radical changes in the way I taught that were a little scary at first, but which continue to pay off in enthusiasm -- the students’ and my own. First, we found that moving the chairs in a circle, and me spending most of the time sitting down had an explosive effect on the level of participation. There is no back row in a circle. If you hide out, you hide out from each other, not the teacher. Student projects were so thoughtful, inspired, and ingenious that I started turning more of the teaching over to the students. Each week is arranged around a theme such as iidentity and presentation of self, community, collective action, public sphere, social capital. I’ve developed a list of required and recommended texts and videos for each theme, and have explained why I think each resource is important. During the first class meeting, I write the themes on the blackboard at different parts of the room, and ask the students to cluster around the one that is most compelling to them (and to self-organize roughly equal-sized clusters). I have emailed all registered students the week before class and asked them to read about the themes and the requirement that they co-teach. I ask each cluster to list the most important questions they have about their theme. After I show them how to use the forum and wiki, the students organize their clusters into teaching team. They study the texts, meet with each other and sketch out a plan. We discuss the plan in the forum, and each team meets with me in my office a week before their session. I emphasize understanding, framing, provoking, and catalyzing discussion of the key ideas in the texts, NOT doing a group book report. I encourage them to use interactive media and exercises. In the four classes I’ve tried this in, teaching teams definitely try to outdo each other. Three hours ends up being not long enough. Then we extend our classroom discussions and debates online in the forums and blogs. Coteaching teams identify key words and phrases during their session, into them on the wiki, and during the following week, the entire class defines the words. By the end of the term, we had compiled an impressive lexicon. At first it wasn’t easy for me to tip students into a critical mass of participation. They are accustomed to individual work, performed solely for the teacher. At the beginning of each class, I projected the revision history for the wiki, showed them which students had edited that wiki page. I modelled for them by defining a word or two, reformatting entries. When they caught on, their collective enthusiasm was impressive.
  • Collectively compiling the lexicon proved to be so successful that I’m going to make it the basis of the final exam, thus providing a new answer to the old question “what’s going to be on the final?” I’ll ask the students to write narratives -- I will give examples and suggest themes -- using as many words as possible from the lexicon in appropriate context, and to make a mindmap, explaining the connections between the words, arranging them in hierarchies and subhiearrchies of importance, linked by a network of connections.
  • At the beginning of each class, the co-teaching team from the previous week’s class presents their mindmap of the most important issues, concepts, terms, and their networks and hierarchies of relationship.
  • The second time I taught a course on virtual communities and social media for the sociology department and school of information at UC Berkeley, I made the syllabus into a wiki. As students began to respond to my requests for feedback about how various media were working for them in the context of the course, and began to make requests for specific how-to sections, the syllabus grew and evolved over the semester.
  • The third time I taught the course, I included a link from the main wiki page to the same syllabus in the form of a concept map. Before the first class meeting, students were required to go through the syllabus in whichever medium they chose, and to understand and agree to a different kind of teaching and learning.
  • I also made the syllabus available -- again, exactly the same material as the wiki and the concept map -- as a Prezi, a zooming presentation tool. Prezi and Concept Maps were only two of the media that co-teaching teams used ingeniously during their sessions. I required co-teaching teams to do a 10 minute presentation of an aspect of the session’s subject matter -- their own choice -- and also required them to use a dynamic presentation medium other than PowerPoint. Students made timelines, videos, game shows, web slide shows -- I gave them a resource list of over 100 different media, many of them with examples of how other students had used them.
  • In February, 2011, I started teaching online classes for (not very much) pay. Using the participative pedagogy I had learned over six years at Cal and Stanford, and from teaching online for California Institute of Integral studies, I combined the asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, and social bookmarks of the Social Media Classroom with Twitter and Elluminate, which enables live many to many audio/video, screensharing, text chat and share whiteboards.
  • I give free tuition to librarians who act as cybrarians, harvesting useful links and annotations from the forums and blogs for each course cohort and adding them to a world-readable wiki, a public knowledge resource that grows as more students take each course. I operate on an open source business model -- all my texts, videos, learning objects are freely available. Students pay for real-time and asynchronous access to me and for participation in a learning community facilitated by me.
  • For live sessions. Elluminate enables me to stream audio and video, for students to queue up for speaking and to communicate with the rest of us via audio, for us all to use text chat, for me to lead webtours, and for us to collaboratively whiteboard. Sessions can be recorded and replayed, with all the audio, video, text, and other media appearing just as they did in the live session.
  • I’ve created a number of publicly available mini-courses that include video, text, annotated lists of links to key resources, and my delicious feed for the appropriate tag. The top screen introduces the subject through a short video and text.
  • The second tab enables students to play the second explanatory video.
  • The latest links tab offers the last five resources I’ve bookmarked for the appropriate tag -- “networks” in this case -- via an RSS feed from delicious.
  • I set up a website with information about courses, free mini-courses, and links to information about me, about social media in education, and about participative pedagogy.
  • Rheingold U - an experiment in distance teaching

    1. 1. [email_address]
    2. 9.
    3. 15. Slide about Pedagogies. Shot of students in circle? From forum?
    4. 22. Public Knowledge Repository
    5. 23. Elluminate here
    6. 28. [email_address]