Twourse Design

Image of Twitter BirdToday I got to thinking about something while talking about building a community site: where is my community right now? Well, Twitter, and at this very moment I can see all kinds of cool things happening. I’m currently following two of my favorite people, Shannon Hauser and Brian Lamb, exchange ideas about music. They’re both excited about what thy are sharing and it is cool to watch and learn from. In fact, I can partake by tracking the dialog and following their links. Not to mention that at any moment I could jump in, even if after the fact. The coolest tool yet for distributed conversation, and a powerful way to form a community.

That’s where I go to see the stream of thought in my community, it is where I go to play, and it is where I go to share what I am thinking. So, folks have talked about how to use Twitter for teaching and learning, but I am not too interested in that. I’m sure it can be done well, and I think it is a fun project, but at the moment it’s really unreliable, difficult to filter the tweet stream according to a certain groups of users, and it doesn’t really feel “schooly” –something I like about it.

Thing is, the stream idea for a course wherein everyone is sharing what they are thinking, blogging, and reading in one steady flow about a particular course might be a very compelling model. Moreover, the Twitter interface is important because it makes it really simple to both scan and write quickly. A couple of clicks and you could post your thoughts and catch up on the everyone else’s quickly. That’s a key element to Twitter’s unique design.

So, I got to thinking why couldn’t a course using the distributed model of blogs we’re already pushing at UMW harness the power of this model, while still allowing students the choice to post from their own blog (which is then fed into a twitter-like course page) and/or the ability to hop on the course homepage and post a reponse to a stream, just like on Twitter. This is when I returned to thinking about the Prologue theme for WordPress Multi-User, why can’t a professor just set up a blog with this theme, and have the blogs posts, comments, announcements, research, and informal conversations —even reading notes—captured within the stream?

It would be really easy, just put Andre Malan’s Add User widget into the sidebar so that each student could add their e-mail, then we would just need one more field for a student to add their blog’s RSS feed (Andre already has this for BDP RSS -but I think this would need to link up directly with FeedWordPress).  After that, it’s done! Anything a student posts from their blog will show up in the stream (and we control how many characters it is, and the permalink will lead back to the student’s blog).  And when on the course blog they could even more easily, given the Twitter-like interface, post ideas in the stream right from the top of the course homepage.

I think it would be an interesting experiment in thinking about the trace of a class as a stream, and professors might experiment with it a bit, like sharing research links, outside resources, video clips, etc.  All made simpler by the frictionless postings.  Even better, the Prelude theme has a feed for every user, so anything student posted directly in the course blog can be fed right back out to their own blog.

That is a far more powerful than a ghost blog (see Andre’s definition of that here) because it actually affords immediate interaction, as well as a single RSS feed for all the activity of one class. Hmm, I want to experiment with this.

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