The pace of blog posts has dropped off a little in recent weeks, in part because of the pressures of getting our new website up and running. We are excited that this coming Monday, the first “walking party” will set off on a “learning journey” on our new Out of Eden Learn website. [For an explanation of these terms scroll to the end of this post for extracts taken from our FAQ.] We are calling this group of American, Canadian, and Tanzanian high school students “Trailblazers” because they are setting off a week before everyone else to test out the system: some students from India will also join this group once they have completed their exams.
The process of designing our new platform has been a learning journey in and of itself. Our experience of using Edmodo for our pilot study last semester left us with strong ideas about what worked well for us on that platform and what was constraining or less than ideal. In any case, Edmodo was always a stopgap measure given that it is not yet capable of housing clusters of different classes.
The Abundance Foundation generously gave us the support we needed to create a new platform from scratch. Back in May we drew up a detailed wish list of all the features and capabilities we would like our platform to have, incorporating the ideas and feedback of students and teachers from our pilot study. We thought we would dream big and then scale back our vision as necessary. However, collaborating with our web designers Icon Interactive has actually expanded and embellished our initial vision: quite simply, this platform surpasses what we were initially capable of imagining.
First, we had to make design decisions at a level of detail we had not anticipated; our designers Jon Sulkow and Jeremy Lach also suggested features that had not occurred to us. In other words, we had more freedom with the design than we expected. Second, our web designers have a particularly strong eye for the aesthetics of the user experience—which is unsurprising given that they usually create websites for major music artists. We think that they have created a beautiful interface: we hope that educators and students will think so too.
So how does the new Out of Eden Learn platform improve on our pilot study experience? For now I will focus on two important aspects: enhanced connectivity and a more coherent learning experience for students.
Connectivity. We heard from many students that what they loved most about our project was the chance to learn about and connect with other students. Several features of our platform make this easier than in our pilot study:
- Students will receive alerts if someone has commented on their work when they log in to our website. They can also opt to receive alerts via email. Our hope is that these alerts will encourage more sustained back and forth conversations among students than we saw last semester.
- Comments will be nested, which means that several coherent threads of dialogue can unfold about a single student post.
- As students participate in the community, the connections they have made with other students will be recorded on an appealing color-coded diagram to encourage them to reach out to a variety of other participants. Our web designers get full credit for this idea.
- Students will also get a chance to learn more about where other participants live and study. The front page for each walking party will feature a map of the world that shows the location of participating students, as well as the completed route and current location of Paul Salopek. Students will be able to insert links to what they consider to be important background information about where they live for other students.
Coherence. We believe that the new platform will provide a more coherent and convenient learning experience for both educators and students.
- Students can easily see the arc of the learning journey ahead of them thanks to the clever design of the interface when they log in. They will receive a passport stamp for each “footstep” that they complete.
- Participants can connect to Paul’s dispatches directly from our website via the “Get Inspired” link. We also provide links to other related resources and materials, including this blog.
- Participants can easily browse through other students’ work. They can view the gallery of latest posts; they can also look through the range of work for one particular footstep or for posts by a single student. In addition, there will be a gallery of curated student work on the public page of Out of Eden Learn, allowing participants to glimpse what students from other walking parties have been doing.
We may be surprised by how participants respond to and use our new platform. For the moment, though, we are excited by the potential of the design and are waiting with anticipation to see how this new phase of our project will unfold.
Some Out of Eden Learn vocabulary: taken from our FAQ.
What is a learning journey?
“Learning journey” is the phrase we use to capture the learning experience of students participating in Out of Eden Learn. A learning journey is comprised of a sequence of discrete learning activities, which we call “footsteps”, that allow students to engage in different aspects of Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk. The experience is designed to help young people to become more informed, thoughtful and engaged “global citizens.” Each learning journey lasts 12-16 weeks, with opportunities for students to engage in further activities on the platform should they choose to do so.
What is a footstep?
A “footstep” is a weekly activity that students complete on the Out of Eden Learn platform. We chose the name footstep to convey that all students are pursuing their own journey of learning and discovery, and that each activity is part of this overarching journey.
What is a walking party and how are they determined?
Out of Eden Learn participants are assigned to smaller groups that we call “walking parties”. Each walking party is comprised of 5-6 student groups, which usually adds up to 120-150 students in total. We will group students of a similar age together. We recognize the value of having many different perspectives, places, and backgrounds represented in each walking party, and we take care to make them as diverse as we can.