As I scramble to catch up with the readings and modules for the Flat Classroom Certification, which I seem to be doing in out of order, hackneyed style, I am kind of fascinated at how many convergences there are with the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge (PLENK2010). While participating in both can be grueling at certain points, particularly PLENK2010 with its widely distributed format and curriculum that acts more as a field of research and exploration, the international flavor dovetails nicely with the Flat Classroom material.
Vicki Davis and Julie Lyndsay, like captains voyaging from the Old World to the New, have charted a very reliable route for safe passage and reliable trade. In contrast, George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, and Rita Kop have each boarded separate vessels and, like four separate Magellans, are bent on circumnavigating the globe to prove that it is both round and see what all kinds of interests may be found along the way. Each course relishes the international appeal and implications. One provides a proven map for teachers that want a specific experience, while the other invites you to launch on a loosely guided exploration where serendipitous indulgences are both encouraged and even add to the charter.
One of the greatest assets of students participating in a Flat Classroom Project is that they begin to acquire some of the skills and understanding to begin building a PLE. This is a boon for any serious student, especially at the secondary level. Few high school instructors have neither a solid grasp of what a PLE actually is nor how to begin building one. This somewhat complicates the prospects of teaching students how to begin creating the ecology of tools and content that comprises one. By all indications, Flat Classroom book will guide educators through the fundamental concepts and primary tools that can easily be assimilated, providing a sold foundation for later development.
PLENK2010 also provides a lot of extraordinary resources and investigation of PLEs from theory to practice. Yet a MOOC, particularly this one, is even more overwhelming and complex than a Flat Classroom Project. The scale alone is enough to scare all but the most ardent. PLENK2010 has easily eclipsed 1000 participants at some point during its run so far. Moreover, the distributed nature and loosely defined structure lacks prescriptive guides. Each participant is on their own, relatively informal investigative journey. Any formal elements of the course are submitted of each participant’s own volition.
Neither is school as usual, however, which may be the coolest aspect of their similarities. Both are highly demanding, requiring great patience, self-discipline, and perseverance. Both are fraught with obstacles and challenges that provide extraordinary opportunities for learning. Both offer insightful glimpses into a more multidisciplinary, engaged, connected, and collaborative culture of participation that learning can be, even in a school setting.