Taking Stock

Who are you?
Where are you coming from?
Where are you going?

These three questions are a feature of the milestones that help string together Paul Salopek’s steps around the world: he poses them to the nearest human being he encounters each time he progresses one hundred miles. As these brief interviews mount up we can see that people choose to answer the third question in a variety of ways. Some people, like Sultan Hassan, age 8, reply in very literal and immediate terms: Where are you going? Ogoydore, it’s on the plain. Others, like Naser Al Gamnhi, age 28, talk in a more overarching way about their lives: “I am going forward in my life, in my job. I want to get married and have a family.”

Summertime in the United States brings with it a lull in activity on our platform, affording us a moment to take stock of where Out of Eden Learn has come from and where we are headed – both in an immediate and a more overarching sense. In this post I’d like to share some highlights from the reflective process we’ve been through and the new path we’re currently mapping out for the year ahead.

Where we’ve come from

Our unique combination of inviting diverse groups of young people to (1) slow down to observe the world carefully and to listen attentively to others; (2) exchange stories and perspectives with one another about people, place, and identity via a social-media style platform; and (3) reflect on how their own lives connect to bigger human stories is proving to be a compelling model for online learning that promotes both cross cultural understanding and engagement with the world at large.

Though we look forward to investigating the impact of our curriculum and platform more thoroughly in the year to come, we base this claim on what students and educators have told us in surveys and interviews, as well as on the thoughtfulness of much of the student work being posted on our platform. Moreover, our impact goes beyond the thousands of students who have participated in our learning community: increasingly we are hearing that educators are reading this blog and/or downloading our free curriculum materials (Learning Journey 1 and Learning Journey 2) and adapting the content and ideas for their own classroom use.

Our reflective process

Our reflective process is very much ongoing but here are some highlights:

  • A special “blue sky” or idea-generating session involving affiliated graduate students. We wrote down on post-it notes what we most valued about Out of Eden Learn and what the best-case scenario could be in terms of it making an impact on young people and/or the world. We then silently read through our collective ideas before discussing the implications of our observations and wonders for the future development of Out of Eden Learn.carrie tree
  • Visualizing the relationship between our practice and research. During a ‘mini-retreat’ we each drew diagrams to try to conceptualize the relationship between our practice and research – our sketches included ships afloat a sea of research, a well-tended garden of flowers featuring ‘beautiful and unexpected weeds’, and a flourishing Out of Eden Learn tree rooted in prior research and practice (at right). These diagrams stimulated conversation and surfaced many interesting questions.
  • Incorporating community feedback into our review and planning. During the retreat we also considered a long list of suggestions that we had compiled from student and educator surveys and interviews, as well as educator emails and Google+ Hangouts. We used the following categories to score and prioritize the ideas for improving and developing Out of Eden Learn: (1) fit with our overarching goals, (2) feasibility in terms of time and expense, and (3) potential impact in terms of helping us to advance our learning goals We also took on board what educators and students have told us they particularly like about our existing model.
  • Individual work on advancing various strands. Each member of the core team is taking responsibility for advancing a particular research strand and related curriculum development. We individually reflect on what we can learn from existing student work before presenting new ideas to the rest of the group, who then offer extensive feedback. We believe that that a key strength of Out of Eden Learn lies in our highly collaborative process.

Where we’re going

Here’s a distilled version of our priorities as we map out the route ahead:

  • Coordinating our curriculum development and research efforts so that we prioritize the advancement of our research.
  • Creating opportunities for students to work collaboratively.
  • Providing opportunities for students to go deeper in their learning, exploration, and interactions.
  • Continuing to improve and innovate regarding educator support and community building.
  • Celebrating and showcasing student work.
  • Strategically finding ways to weave in new perspectives and voices such as those of Paul’s guides.
  • Experimenting with non-English versions of Out of Eden Learn and paying more attention to the needs of English language learners.

And here are some of the specific things we’re working on right now. We look forward to sharing more details about them in due course.

  • Reviewing our dialogue toolkit and the way in which we support educators and students to use it more effectively. We are also developing a ‘message alert’ or ‘notification’ system so that students are alerted to new comments on their posts, which may encourage them to pursue emerging conversations.
  • Editing our current curriculum to make it more accessible for students. We are also experimenting with incorporating new technology applications into our curriculum.
  • Developing new support materials for educators, including ‘how to’ videos that will help them to navigate our platform.
  • Updating our website so that it streams our Twitter and Instagram accounts to help keep our community up to date with new developments.
  • Thank you to those of you who have been with us on this journey so far, and welcome to those of you who are planning to join us for the next phase.

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