This fall I'm piloting at the University of Southern California a class that explores the unique properties of face-to-face [f2f] and online [OL] learning environments. 35% of the term I'll meet with students f2f in Los Angeles; 65% of the term we'll meet OL, synchronously during regularly scheduled classes (Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:30-10:50) and asynchronously on various social media platforms.
I should add that the f2f sessions extend beyond regular classroom meetings. Students will also go on evening field trips once a month: to the LA Co. Museum of Art, to play with QR-linked locative narrative in LA Flood, to view street art through the VR app Layar. The Annenberg School of Communications, which is generously sponsoring this pilot, will send along a videographer on our excursions to capture [some of the] learning dynamic as we wander peripetatically through the city. This idea was born for me from Baudelaire and the notion of the digital flaneur. Students will drop digital files in the city in real time as we also collect assets we'll build into other digital artifacts for course assignments and collaboration.
Stay tuned to hear about the sister class I'll teach next fall at Washington State University/Vancouver at the Creative Media and Digital Culture program, an advanced social media class that will meet 65% f2f and 35% OL while I'm in L.A.
These experiments in classroom hybridity--f2f, OL, the combination--emanate from my sense that the physical contexts for learning create unique avenues into learning that previously were invisible: f2f was simply the de facto mode of learning "delivery." Now that learning can be more expressly collaborative and mobile, it behooves us to determine their unique affordances so that, among other things, we can thickly describe the c21 mobile classroom to stakeholders (higher ed administrators, students, parents, government officials, business leaders) who influence the shape and funding of classrooms.
As I said recently in a talk at USC's Teaching With Technology Conference, if universities mimic the RIAA and lock down mobile and digital access to learning, they will suffer the similar fate of becoming irrelevant. Joi Ito, co-founder of Creative Commons and entrepreneur, was recently appointed Director of MIT's Media Lab. Ito sits atop this prestigious lab even though he lacks a B.A., let alone the Ph.D. that is ordinarily a prerequisite for such a position.
If increasingly the question is not "where did you get your degree" but "what can you do," then residential universities must integrate digital media into their learning environments or risk becoming antiquated--like cds or "Must-See TV" that required viewers to park in front of their sets at designated times. But that doesn't mean throwing the baby out with the bath water. F2F remains a crucial modality. It's up to us to figure out exactly how and why.