Thursday, May 12, 2011

Authentic Projects

I am urging my Writing about Literature in the Digital Age students to think through possible final projects for our course. They are not writing traditional research papers, and even though they are doing their writing principally through their individual blogs, I have challenged them to come up with a project that is collaborative in nature, and that qualifies as authentic. The new media that we are using make it possible for us to connect not only to one another within the class, but to others beyond our classroom walls, and to the needs and interests of people and organizations that outlast our very temporary class.

What could such socially-mediated, digitally rich, writing-intensive, research-driven projects be? For whom could we make something of lasting value? Or for what group or organization? Let's use our collective intelligence to find the right subject and devise the right format for making a genuine contribution. To me, this is in step with ideals of service learning, life-long learning, and self-directed learning. We have the resources to make a difference and can organize ourselves to do so.

We've talked through a few ideas already, both in terms of content and in terms of format. Yesterday I had my students participate in a collaborative exercise in which all 17 of us simultaneously edited the same Google document, brainstorming mostly about the subject I proposed: "Evolving Format of the Book" (Here is a copy of the current state of the document -- I didn't want to link to the live copy since it will likely keep changing). It was a lot of fun, as students have mentioned in their posts (Ariel, "Taking Brainstorming to a Whole New Level"; Carlie, "Attention Teachers").

So, what about that proposed subject matter? And what would be the best format? The following are a few ideas in the works.

Since our brainstorming session, Nyssa has blogged about that content idea, focusing on her own interests in how the e-book will affect the world of publishing. Taylor is feeling out the topic of the audiobook format. Perhaps if each student approached the book format topic from a specific angle, we could combine our efforts. Our working document has plenty of starting points for that.

But our subject doesn't have to be the evolving format of the book. It could be skewed more to something like evolving kinds of literacy or of writing instruction. Sam wrote a post in which he made the following proposal:
Our collaborative project for the semester could be to help push this class out of the pilot program and into the regular curriculum. Why don't we, as a class, prepare a presentation that uses the skills we are learning to show the powers that be at BYU what exactly the value of this class is, and how we, as students, feel about having this class available to us.
It certainly could be an authentic, meaningful project if we made a well thought out proposal for some kind of curricular change (either at this university or more broadly). Are there other options for content my students are thinking through? I've asked them to consider things like the fields of teaching, religion, family life, business, or anywhere else where the skills we are developing could have substantial influence.


  • A Presentation.
So, what about Sam's proposed format, a presentation of sorts showcasing the utility of the digital literacy tools we've been using?

That is something we did in the Honors Digital Civilization course I taught with Daniel Zappala in Fall 2010. Bri was part of our final student-run event, which we called "Digital Revolution." About 200 people attended in person, plus several hundred more through our online audience (we broadcast the event over In fact, if there is interest in this sort of thing, I would suggest to my students that they watch the archived event here or browse through the sites for the final projects. We could build off of what was begun by those students, learning from our mistakes. (Maybe Bri could write a post on her blog talking about Digital Revolution and how we could build upon or improve upon that effort last December.).

  • A podcast
  • An audiobook

During our collaborative brainstorming project, some showed lots of interest in creating a podcast or some kind of serialized audiobook in the public domain through a service such as LibriVox.

There are other possible formats, all of which bring up issues of audience and of course the pragmatics of production, hosting, etc.:

  • An ebook
  • A video
  • A wiki
(Once again, some of the format options can be explored by looking through the various final projects from my former Digital Civilization class).

We'll resume our discussion about both content and form tomorrow. I'm so interested to hear what my students are thinking of in terms of how and where we can apply our current learning meaningfully.

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