Playing in the Dakota Digital Writing Sandbox (or, the future of Modest Open Online Communities….)

I’ve been spending a significant part of this summer in conversation with educators in places ranging from Watsonville, California to Livonia, Michigan to Belle Fourche, South Dakota to Springdale, Arkansas, courtesy of the Dakota Digital Writing Sandbox, what I’m thinking of as a Modest Open Online Community (in contradistinction to the much-ballyhooed Massive Open Online Courses)  that is bringing together 67 teachers and tech specialists who are exploring the challenges and opportunities of working with new media forms and new technologies in classrooms.

The connective tissue of this community is the National Writing Project, and I found my point of entry into the Dakota Digital Writing Sandbox through an invitation circulated through the Bay Area Writing Project (BAWP), a community of teachers of writing in Northern California to whom I’m eternally indebted for being an extraordinary source of support and inspiration as I was building my practice as a teacher. The BAWP spirit and ethos can be found in the Bi-Co community in the Teaching and Learning Institute, about which you can learn more here: www.brynmawr.edu/tli/)

In the first two weeks of class, I’ve been learning about how teachers in under-resourced elementary students are working to ensure that their students can get the tech access that gives them the tools that can support their processes of inquiry; I’ve been privy to in-depth discussions about the utility and the drawbacks of different virtual platforms for course work that takes place outside of the classroom; I’ve benefited from hearing experienced educators speak frankly about the successes and failures they’ve experienced in their own practice when using new media forms —  all of which is feeding into the work that I’m putting into the creation of the syllabus for the course that I’ll be teaching this fall in tandem with Ken Koltun-Fromm, a professor in the Religion department at Haverford in which we are thinking about how the generative tension between image and text that we find in graphic narratives can be explored and animated in new media forms.

As the title suggest, the Dakota Digital Writing Sandbox is affording participants the opportunity to try out new technological tools in a context that encourages experimentation and play, where you have folks around you offering suggestions, cheering you on, and helping you dust yourself off when you fall face first. Many of the people taking part in the course know one another from Dakota Writing Project workshops, or from other sites such as BAWP, so there is an already-constituted collegiality into which new folks are being invited, and the organizers have created a structure in which smaller groups of about a dozen convene in weekly on-line chats in which we are able to respond to one another’s ideas and questions in real time.

Thus while most of the educational press is focused on the future of Massive Open Online Courses, methinks that it would be well worth to shine some light on what I’m thinking of as Modest Open Online Communities which show the radical potential inherent in building an intellectual community focused on a circle of 60 or a dozen — reminded here of Margaret Mead’s quotation “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”