Saturday, January 29, 2011

Learning Social Learning

Photo: flickr - jisc_infonet (adapted)
O, what a precious comfort 'tis to have so many, like brothers, commanding one another's fortunes!
-- Timon of Athens

Learning sometimes requires privacy, uninterrupted concentration, and focused, individual thought. But this must be balanced against the many benefits of learning more socially. I really want to promote social learning among my students. It changes the game. It makes education more fun and interesting. And it is a better model for promoting life-long learning. 

When I say "social learning" I'm not really talking about having a friend over while you do homework, nor am I just talking about interacting with peers in class. I'm talking about making connections, all the time, everywhere, between what you are learning and whom you are with. I'm talking about building bridges of relevance between you and other people, constructed of the concepts and texts and research questions that you cultivate from your personal learning.  Read on for some specific suggestions on learning social learning...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Toward Life-Long Learning

As my students know, I emphasize a combination of self-directed learning and socially-optimized learning, mediated through the emerging tools that make each of these two poles of the learning continuum more feasible and enjoyable.

I'd like to relate my approach to teaching and learning to the Aims of a BYU Education. Note how it refers specifically to keeping up with technological advances:
BYU should inspire students to keep alive their curiosity and prepare them to continue learning throughout their lives.... Thus, a BYU diploma is a beginning, not an end, pointing the way to a habit of constant learning. In an era of rapid changes in technology and information, the knowledge and skills learned this year may require renewal the next. Therefore, a BYU degree should educate students in how to learn...
This is why I have introduced the basic concepts of digital literacy, and why I press my students to learn blogging, social discovery, and especially the mindset that comes with the ability to rapidly and frequently share one's thinking, learning, and creative efforts. It can be a steep learning curve, but we're building for the long haul here.

Have you considered your own life-long learning? What are the things you are going to need to figure out when you aren't inside the protected walls of school? Will you need to know some online and digital skills to help your children succeed? Will you be at an advantage if you know how to connect with other learners and develop learning plans specific to your career, your jobs, your family, your community? Obviously I think so.

What are you doing to make the courses you are taking today something that builds toward more than a diploma? How will you make this semester's learning last for decades and continuously contribute to you, your family, and your many future social connections?

Photo: flickr - jisc_infonet

Friday, January 21, 2011

Preparing for Shakespeare's History Plays

As next week (Jan 24-28, 2011) our class will be studying the history plays, it would be wise to prepare a bit. Here are my suggestions.

  • Understand the Renaissance Background
    Read "The Political and Religious Background" from the General Introduction in our textbook (Bevington's Essential Shakespeare, pp. xviii-xxv). It is vital to understand the dominant ideas about politics, monarchy, etc. from the Renaissance in order to understand Shakespeare's history plays.
  • Explore the Sources
    From Appendix 2 in our text (p. A-14), find the play(s) you are reading and find out the sources Shakespeare used. You might also use the Shakespeare Online site's short summaries of sources. One of the most common sources for the history plays was Raphael Holinshed's The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The image embedded here links to the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image site where the complete Holinshed can be viewed through hi-def pictures.  Too hard to read? See the plain text versions on Project Gutenberg
  • Preview
    I recommend using an authoritative site like the Folger Shakespeare Library, which provides brief scholarly overviews of all the plays, including the history plays, plus images of the original texts and often nice illustrations, too. And of course, the introduction to each play within our text is a good starting place.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Linking Well

May the gods direct you to the best! -- Cymbeline 3.4

When making blog posts, you add value to what you are doing by connecting your thoughts to other blogs, texts, media, and references. It's time to learn how to link well.

First off, when you refer someone to a website, you should not simply provide the URL, like this:
Shakespeare Searched is a great resource for locating specific words or phrases within all of Shakespeare's works. Check it out!
This should be obvious, but you really should make a URL into a clickable link. You can do this by simply making the URL a link. But you can also select any section of text, click on the link button in your blog editor, and insert the URL to link from that. But there are betters ways of doing this. Which of the following do you think is best?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Making Your Posts Inviting

The nice thing about blogging is that you are not writing for a pretend audience. People actually do find and read what you are writing. That's a novelty in academia. It makes you think differently. For one thing, if you don't capture someone's attention, they won't read on!

So consider each blog post an invitation. Will your visitors accept the invitation, or click away? Here are a few quick tips for making your posts more inviting.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Consume, Create, Connect: The Three C's of Digital Literacy

A wiki about digital literacy
As my Shakespeare students scramble to get up to speed on the use of blogs and in using self-directed learning toward our learning outcomes, they are going to discover that we are using a lot of technological tools. Those can be overwhelming, can change frequently, and have a steep learning curve.

I want to simplify things by presenting the "Three C's of Digital Literacy." Hopefully, they will see how the learning outcomes, and the blogging, tie into these fundamentals.

But let me briefly explain why we need bother with all of this. The short answer: literacy is fundamentally changing from its print paradigm. It is no longer adequate to have alphabetic literacy, or to be bound by bound books. We need new strategies for finding and processing information -- especially when we are overwhelmed with it from online sources. We need new ways of engaging information, especially with the multitude of multimedia tools at our disposal. We need to socialize our learning by integrating connecting with others into our reading, learning, and researching. And those, in short, make up the three C's of Digital Literacy:
  1. Consume
  2. Create
  3. Connect
Read on to learn more about each of these.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Develop a Personal Learning Plan

"Thoughts tending to ambition, they do plot unlikely wonders" -- Richard II

self-directed learning rocks!!
Many of my students are just cutting their teeth with blogging (or with research blogging) and aren't sure what to do with it. Okay, there is a requirement to make two substantial posts a week and comment on others' blogs. But what does that really mean? Where do I begin?

Begin with the course Learning Outcomes. Read and reread those, and think of your blog as the place where you document reaching those outcomes. Want to know what to blog about? Pick any of those learning outcomes and explain how you are achieving it.

You will note that one of the learning outcomes is NOT "student demonstrates the ability to follow a prescribed schedule of readings." This will put many students outside of their comfort zones. After all, so much of school is on the obedience-to-authority model. Students start to forget just how smart they are, or it doesn't occur to them that they have ample resources and smarts to construct their own learning plan.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Art and Fun of Reading Shakespeare

"Pray, speak in English: here are some will thank you" -- Queen Katharine, Henry VIII

How does one approach reading and studying Shakespeare?
How can it be engaging, enjoyable, and stimulating?
How can one keep oneself from being bored or intimidated by all that Elizabethan lingo and fancy talk?
How can one be as happy as the kid in this picture when cracking open Hamlet or Much Ado?
flickr: melvinrobertw

  1. Map the Territory
    Reading a Shakespeare text cold is not smart. There are so many resources -- summaries, notes, editions for beginners, online guides, introductions, etc. -- that it really pays to get a map of the territory before entering it. At the very least, read a plot summary so you won't be guessing about events. And while I caution you against over-preparing (one can easily get lost in all of the secondary texts and forget the primary one), it's good to glance over the dramatis personae (the list of characters), and any introductory material in one's text. If you have an hour to spend reading Shakespeare, spend the first 10 minutes with introductory materials and previewing.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Confessions of a Shakespeare Prof

I have not read all of Shakespeare.

There, my confession. What can I say? How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem some of those works. And I have my favorites, like Hamlet. LOVE HAMLET. I think I’ve read it 50 times or more.

But not the Merry Wives of Windsor. It seems to me to be such a silly play, and not Shakespeare at his best. I’ve ready The Comedy of Errors, for example, and regret wasting that time. Oh, there are some tidbits to be gleaned, to be sure. But why read plays like that when you could read Hamlet or King Lear again?

Did I mention I named one of my children after a Shakespeare character? His name is Lear? More on that later.