Collaborative explorations: From prototype to continuing possibilities

Participating in the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten’s Learning Creating Learning c-MOOC led me to organize a prototype “Collaborative Exploration”  (CE) in April, which worked well enough to follow up with another this month, then schedule a series for future months and envisage a continuing (perhaps growing) form of collaborative learning that, although smaller scale than MOOCs, fosters deep or “thick” inquiry that is rare in or around existing MOOCs.  As long as it is appropriate, these CEs will advertized as “Events” on the LCL google+ community.

Let me review the steps in this evolution over the last 3.5 months:

1.  I signed up for the LCL MOOC to learn a) how others teach creative learning (and compare/contrast with what goes on in the graduate program I direct on Critical & Creative Thinking); and b) how a non-corporate MOOC with a deliberate creation of small learning communities can operate.

2. On #1b, I took various initiatives to foster interactions in small groups, including a google+ group that 20+ signed up for explicitly for live hangouts at a fixed time each week.  None of these initiatives were very successful, nor was my attempt to find out why people signed up to chat at a fixed time and did not show.

3. Through the initiatives in #2, I was learning the mechanics of setting up google+ communities, events, hangouts, streaming to youtube, and synchronous chats.  The LLK people were very helpful on technical matters.  (Because I was teaching one evening a week at MIT, I was able to consult with them in person.)

4. At the same time, re: #1a, I was doing the readings, the homework, and listening to lectures (but not with my full attention when the guests rambled on).  I made various postings about to express and to elicit responses to issues I was chewing on, especially the question of what kind of creative learning goes on in microworlds.  (Most of these are on this blog, but feel free to peruse my opus of LCL postings.)  The quick story is that I was, at first, putting a premium on real-world creative learning, implying that this was the deepest or best learning.  However, I came to appreciate not only the experience of creating in a microworld, such as scratch, but the success of allowing that (and more) to happen in computer clubs around the world. (More on this…)

5.  I didn’t try out makey-makey and, instead, organized the Collaborative Exploration mentioned at the start for a digging in deep course project.  The branch in my path here does reflect a contrast I drew: learning to make something using tools (scratch, turtle, sensors) and sharing/borrowing *versus* inquiry into some case or problem that requires delving into what is known already as it relates  to the learner’s interests in the case?  (“What is known already” refers to written texts, websites, the experience of informants that we connect with via the internet, etc. )  A conversation with Natalie Rusk got me thinking about the way the physical world (or microworlds of programming) allow you to test if something works, to give you direct feedback.  The challenge is to produce analogous feedback in other kinds of learning.  The discussions and feedbacks built into Collaborative Explorations do that somewhat, but not yet with the kind of reinforcing sense of “a ha!”s or the “finally, that’s how I can get this to happen” or “wow!” of creation and sharing in microworlds.  At the same time, although I love places like the Exploratorium, I get a feeling that I have yet to spell out that the tinkerable sense of science and technology is not true to the range of scientific and technological thinking that I have been involved in.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012,

One Response to Collaborative explorations: From prototype to continuing possibilities

  1. Amabile says:

    The virtual world sometimes does not let us see the whole. Some people allow themselves to enjoy without interacting, which is not good, but it can be a way to connect. Thus, I believe that learning through MOOC is more efficient than it might appear. And people can learn more than you can evaluate.

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