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The Reverend…Jim Groom

I didn’t know Jim Groom last year when I heard his name at the ITC Elearning 2009 conference, but I am always up for a good follow so I quickly added him to my Twitter list. During the past year, I have watched his tweets flow across my screen and I must say, oftentimes, I didn’t have a clue what they meant. But isn’t that the way it is with lots of tweets, anyway?

When I heard Jim was the keynote for Sunday at ITC Elearning 2010, I was excited to finally meet this guy I had been following. I must also say that I was a little intimidated and nervous but all for naught as he was very nice and easy to chat with. I even managed to get drafted as part of the Reverend’s impromptu choir (see Jim Groom – Part 1 below – about 4 minutes in) that “sang” during the first part of his presentation.

During his keynote, Jim talked about the novel idea that students often have a digital identity prior to coming to our campuses. If they don’t, they probably develop one while there are with us and probably want to retain access to their online work after graduating. This concept is in direction opposition to education’s current, prevailing model of closed classes and segregated learning spaces. Students cannot access information inside a Learning Management System after the course is over nor is it easy for them (or anyone) to get info out of the LMS and transport it somewhere else (before it disappears). So, while we preach the doctrine of “lifelong learning” to our community and our students and our alumni, we have perfected the design of separated learning experiences that occur in 16-week (or other time limited) blocks.

Reverend Groom comes to the rescue with a fantastic project in place at his institution, University of Mary Washington, called “UMW Blogs“. The UMW blogs project is like RSS on steroids. Think of uber-syndication. While you may know about regular syndication (i.e. you subscribe to a blog then get feeds from that blog through a reader or other device), the UMW Blogs project takes this idea several steps further. Through use of a tool called “Word Press Multi-user”, students can publish to their own blogs then have those posts syndicated to a class blog. This way, students can develop their own digital identity but still contribute work to the class.

Get it? Simple, right? And the possibilities really are endless. Think of professors with blogs that syndicate to department web pages or clubs whose members or officers have blogs that publish to club pages or students studying abroad and posting to their blogs which syndicate to an international education page. This idea really expands the concept of sharing and does so seamlessly with very little programming or effort.

Some examples of these kinds of blogs from UMW include:

The idea can be expanded still further and can cross boundaries of states and institutions as on the Looking for Whitman blog. Many other opportunities are sure to exist. The punch line here, though, is that with the ability to create content that persists over time, we are encouraging students (and others) to do work that is meaningful and important. Class work would no longer be “just to get the grade” but could contribute not only to the student’s learning and education but to the learning and education of others.

Simple…novel…beautiful…transforming. If you really let your mind run with this one, it takes you to some amazing places.

The links below will take you to parts of Jim’s talk.

Jim Groom – Part 1
Jim Groom – Part 2