This past weekend, I fell down the academic rabbit hole and what a journey it was. I have to admit it has been a good long time since I have allowed myself the pleasure of taking this somewhat aimless journey of exploration. My journey began on Twitter, where I read a tweet from @veletsianos ‘New Blog post: Who studies MOOCs? (or, thinking with Siemens & Downes) http://bit.ly/1zEmCvh ‘. It sounded interesting, so I followed the link and read the blog post. While I was reading this post, I followed another link, that led me to Stephen Downes’ blog entry, “Preparing for the digital university: a review of the history and current state of distance, blended, and online learning” this in turn landed me in the midst of an interactive electronic book by Tony Bates, Teaching in a Digital Age. My journey did not stop there, as I read the electronic book, I encountered links, podcasts and opportunities to interact with other readers and the author. I was faced with a decision, do I follow the links, bookmark them for later or just read on in the linear manner I was raised on?
My thinking then changed directions. I moved from the content I was exploring to the reality of what this experience means for learning. I began thinking about our expectations for students when we assign them a reading. What do we expect them to do? Do we tell them to explore or do we limit them to the text in front of them. If they are given an interactive online piece to read are they told to follow links to answer their questions and appease their curiosity? If so, do they know how to do this in a meaningful way? Do they know how to make meaning from multiple somewhat random sources? The answer is likely no. In part because very few are being taught these skills. I would even go as far as to say that many instructors that should be teaching these skills, have yet to master them. Don’t get me wrong, I am certain most college professors have the critical thinking skills to make sense of multiple sources of information, but I am less sure if they have the technical skills to organize this electronic journey.
In this era of knowledge abundance, knowledge is being created and shared outside of the peer review process. It is often being housed outside of our libraries and textbooks, outside of places that create order and structure for information. As academics, how do we make sense of these new sources of knowledge? How does this reality inform how we structure learning experiences and more importantly, how do we teach our students to learn in the face of knowledge abundance? I propose we closely examine these ‘rabbit hole’ journeys to better understand how students learn when presented with the opportunity for focused exploration. I am curious to know what they learn and what they miss. This in turn can inform how learning experiences and resources are structured.