In preparing for a presentation on course planning for Blackboard last week, I came upon a great course design tip sheet at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard. The sheet begins with a couple of general questions and suggests that teachers not think specific content until after they have thought carefully about their overall purpose and about the expectations, capabilities and needs of their students. Hidden in the midst of that checklist was a question that has really captured my interest: “What’s the story line for this course?”

I’d never thought of my courses as having “story lines”, but they clearly do. The story is what pulls the disparate activities, topics and conversations of a course into a meaningful whole. Each participant constructs an individual narrative that persists long after the “facts” and much of “the content” is forgotten. The story weaves the actions, reactions, motivations, emotions, thoughts and behaviors into an unique experience with the capacity to shape participants as active creators of our own learning. As teachers we don’t control the entire story, but we do get to shape it somewhat by the activities we choose and by the way we interact with our students.

When we look back at the learning that has been most significant in our own lives, we generally relate our experience as narrative. As Gardner wrote about Professor Elizabeth Phillips:

I remember the room where I first heard her speak.  No one in my immediate family had been to college. I had no idea what to expect. After that class, I left the room feeling dizzy, giddy, elated, and not a little anxious, for everything had changed, and I knew I had to at least try to be answerable to that revelation.

All of my classes have a common story line. My goal in the 15 weeks we’re together is to help all of us learn how to learn more effectively. The central issue is developing new flexibility and capacity in learning; content provides the tools by which we develop those capacities. As the catalog outlines in the emerging technology class, we’ll be thinking, talking and writing about a variety of topics including past innovations, present applications, and future advances in educational technology. We’ll look at these topics through multiple theoretical lenses, including change theories, diffusion of innovations, and learning theories. But the ultimate story of the courses goes far beyond that–at least I hope it will.

My goal in designing the course is to prepare educators who are confident in their ability to navigate in a world that is increasingly dominated by information technology. If we’re successful, we’ll be more prepared as teachers and administrators to help our own students deal with increasing pace of change in their lives. Some of the themes that I expect to emerge during my next class include ways that we can help students:

  • Manage their participation in government so that their rights to privacy, security and access to information are protected from both government agencies and corporate interests.
  • Keep personal information management skills up-to-date so that they can continue to be employable in a rapidly changing economy.
  • Manage their personal information both at home and at work to protect themselves—data, passwords, and personal identity—from intrusion and damage.
  • Use technology to overcome parochialism to become more active and effective citizens.

This has all the potential for a fascinating story.