A textbook is not a course

Blog post of August 9, 2011.

CoreDogs is a good textbook. But by itself, it isn't enough for a good course. Two things are missing: exploration, and groupiness.

There's much to like about CoreDogs. An outcome focus, deep learning, the gnarly feedback system. It's good at helping individuals learn standardized concepts and skills with Web tech.

You could run a course just with the CoreDogs text. The course would be adequate. Most students would develop skills at some level.

But two things (at least) would be missing.

Exploration

Students can branch out, working on stuff that interests them, with CoreDogs' skills as a base. The eMe exercises do this to some extent, but the ends are still defined.

Exploration is a mini-internship. An internship gives experience with the Real World. That's different from Course World.

  • In Course World, students build artifacts, like Web sites. The artifacts' functionality is secondary, since the goal is learning. In the Real World, functionality is the goal.
  • Course World exercises have clear boundaries. The procedures to create a solution are known (they're in the course). Not so for the Real World.

Groupiness

Another thing CoreDogs lacks is groupiness. One aspect of this is working with other students on group projects. This helps students learn group skills, like coordination.

Another aspect of groupiness is learning how to get help. This is particularly important when you're exploring. In Course World, if you need help, you ask the instructor, or another student. Those humans might not be there when you're exploring.

But there are still "groups," in the sense that there are larger communities. For example, if you have a Drupal problem, there's a big community of Drupalists you can ask.

You might argue, "Learning groupiness is not a goal of a course on Web tech." You'd be right, in a strict sense. Two things to consider:

  • Students can help each other learn concepts that are part of a Web tech course. For example, one student can explain to another how slide shows work.
  • Groupiness is important when doing Web tech in the Real World. At a stretch, you could see groupiness as part of deep learning.

Should exploration and groupiness be in CoreDogs?

I'm not sure. If CoreDogs supported these things, then it would be more attractive to instructors. More of a plug-and-play package.

But groupiness in particular is something that people already have their own tools for, like Facebook. Tools like Google Docs do collaborative editing and such better than I ever could.

One approach is to make CoreDogs interface with Facebook and other tools. For example, you could make an annotation on a CoreDogs page, and it would be sent to a Google+ circle for your group project.

Disclosure: I suck at groupiness. I've always been a lone wolf (more like a lone lab, actually). This is not a good thing, and something I should work to change.

I don't know what I should do here. But I do know that a good course is more than a good textbook.

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