Hack? Make? Connected? Open? Walls? What the HECK is that? Now I see the light.


This summer I had the opportunity to attend the DML Workshop at UC Irvine which had the primary goal of creating a course about connected open courses.  If you’re lost because you’ve not really heard of this idea before, here’s a secret (which I eventually outed at the workshop)… I was too!  I sat there for the first half of the day feeling a bit puzzled – words and phrases were thrown around like “make” and “femnet”… of course “open” and “connected” were too.


I was thinking… what the heck is a make, why are we “hacking” a syllabus and why is Jim Groom bald in the video from his ds106 course?  

I work at an institution (CSU Channel Islands) that is committed to supporting innovation and I was identified by an awesome colleague Jill Leafstedt as someone who might like this stuff and would be a good fit for attending.  Prior to attending the workshop all that I really knew was that I’d be surrounded by amazing people who are leaders in this area.  

Throughout the first day I managed to figure out what was going on –  ohh……. an OPEN course is like a website that contains all of the course content and allows you to CONNECT with others.  Some of you reading this probably already get that but I wasn’t really dialed in (as you can tell).  As I started making sense of the WHAT, I started questioning the WHY…

  • Why would you go to all the effort of connecting your courses? What are the benefits of having students at one University connect with another?
  • Why do this in the first place — how do we KNOW that students value this experience? What evidence exists that shows students benefit from an open connected course versus a traditional face-to-face or online course?
  • Why would we want “drop in” students?
  • Why is open better than BlackBoard?

Since I couldn’t really answer these questions myself that first day of the workshop (and did not really want these experts and amazing people to know I didn’t know what they were talking about), I went back to the hotel thinking “well… I guess that’s a “cool thing” for others to do.”  I also had a quick conversation that night with my colleague Jaime from CI who shared some ideas of how she might be able to use the idea of open courses with her nursing students.

ThLight bulb en it happened.  I started seeing the light…. the ideas came…. oohhh… if my classes were open I could connect my students with other students internationally so they can develop international perspectives from people ACTUALLY living in other countries.  Then I thought… hmmm… I could connect my students with students in the K-12 system where they (many are future teachers) can practice using digital tools to teach children and mentor children about college along the way.  I also realized the power this could have for keeping leaders in higher education trained beyond the completion of their degrees; for instance, they can pop into my assessment class to “brush” up on their skills.  So many possibilities!!

I came back to the second day of the workshop with a whole different perspective.  I began seeing possibilities.  Plus, we started the day learning about #phonarnation which was amazing and was presented by Jonathon Worth in an engaging narrative.  I absorbed the brilliance of those around me; these folks are not only are cutting edge when it comes to use of technology for learning but they’re so very creative.  I was so impressed by the strategies they use to get their students to learn — they think out of the box.  In fact, I’m fairly certain none of them had blue skies on their pictures when they were kids.  They helped me to see some ideas of how digital tools can actually help students better learn material… for instance, why not have students find an image that represents a concept instead of put pen to paper and describe it.  Describing a concept is a lower order cognitive skill but being able to understand it to the point that students can find an image that captures the essences of the concept uses critical thinking. Love it!  

While my creative juices were stirring, I was also thinking about the more technical “HOWs” and logistics of doing something like this:

  • How do you grade the work of these “drop in” students?  Philosophically, I believe that a key part of teaching is providing feedback.
  • How do you assess if “drop in” learners achieved what they wanted them to?
  • How do I do that cool thing that aggregates blogs?
  • I can use WordPress for something other than blogging?
  • How do you keep learners engaged online?
  • What about confidentiality?
  • How do I post copyrighted documents?
  • If I want to do this, do I have to connect a whole course or could I just do a module?
  • Do I have to be as cool as Jim Groom and make a video series, shave my head and have a radio station?  No… I’ll never be THAT cool.

This group of folks were so great that they welcomed my questions (once I finally was brave enough to share my naivety) because they felt it could inform the course we were making together… the one I’m also participating in.  I did manage to get some of my questions answered but I also anticipate building on this knowledge throughout the @ccourse.

So what impact did this have on my teaching?  I guess you could say I got brainwashed through this experience.  My campus joined into the “domain of one’s own” initiative and secured domains for our use (called “CI Keys”) – so I joined in the fun, too.  Well… I didn’t just join – I kind of jumped both feet in. Myself and my friend Jaime are sort of the pioneers at our campus.  I’ve now moved ALL five of my classes to an open format (http://jaimiehoffman.com) and have created one connection with a friend in Japan to have our students learn about diversity together and another with a friend who teaches leadership at a local high school to have my students teach her students about leadership.  

It’s funny… before going to the workshop and building my courses in an open format, I was trying to convince campus representatives at CI to secure Canvas instead of Blackboard.  In all honesty, now I don’t really care what LMS we have because I much prefer having a course website.  The only thing I can’t do so easily in BlackBoard is to provide video feedback. Thus far, I’ve found having my classes in open format to be SOOO great for many reasons:

  • Connections….! (discussed above)
  • Drop in learners who can add to the learning experience of my registered students
  • I get to create the visual appearance and design of my course in a way that fits with my curriculum.  To steal my friend Jaime’s metaphor (heck people join us together as one now anyway since we’re both drinking the connected courses koolaid)… using Blackboard is like ordering off of a limited menu whereas an open course on WordPress is like an endless buffett.
  • I get to help students build their digital literacy and identity which will be integral for their future success.
  • I can enhance my student’s international and multicultural perspectives through allowing them to collaborate with others outside of CI.
  • I can aggregate student reflections/blogs onto one page making it easier for them to learn from each other’s perspectives.
  • Class announcements are so much easier!  Just post a new blog.
  • If you want to do something there’s liking a plugin or a widget for it!
  • Embedding Storify pages on my class home pages to aggregate student’s current event searches.
  • I have my course websites saved to my iPad and iPhone home screens – so convenient.
  • And last but not least — I have the power to access my course materials without logging into a dreaded LMS.  Accessing a digital version of my syllabus is one click away.  It’s so easy to access my course materials that I hardly print anything for my classes.  Woo… sustainability! 


I didn’t realize the walls that were associated with using an LMS and now that

I see the potential of an open website, it feels quite liberating… I’m free!!


Having said all of this… I’m learning along with everyone else in the #ccourse and I’m also getting to learn as I’m running my open courses this semester as well.  Also… as a person who believes in evidence-based decisions and formative assessment, I’ve given my students a little pre course assessment to see where they stand with their perceptions of technology so I can support them along the way.  I’m very interested to see if their perceptions change over the course of the semester.

I’m so thankful to work at a place that supports innovation and with people who have empowered me to move forward with this craziness by supporting me in various ways; Jill, Jim B, Jamie, Chris, Mikhail, Michael M and Michael B!  

Let the learning begin! #ccourses


8 thoughts on “Hack? Make? Connected? Open? Walls? What the HECK is that? Now I see the light.

  1. Thank you so much for sharing here as well as your contributions during the summer class. I really appreciate how you are asking the right questions which keeps us both thinking and honest. I think we may have the start of our ccourses FAQ right here! And the baby’s expression is PRICELESS.

  2. Hi Jamie – I found your blog post via Howard’s tweet 🙂 What a great post! I’ve shared it as well 🙂 I’ve been having fun exploring open learning and open courses for a little while, and I sometimes forget how important it is to communicate that ‘aha’ moment. You do this here beautifully, narrating your journey from “what’s this?” to “wow!” Many thanks… I look forward to connecting with you in #ccourses 🙂

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