February 07

On Teaching Online, Part II: the Student as Artist and Curator

GOA’s Director of Teaching and Learning, Eric Hudson, is teaching “Advocacy” this semester. Every week, he will blog about his experience designing and facilitating this online course for high school students. You can learn more about the course here. Read Part I here. Follow Eric on Twitter @ericgoa.

One of the most inspirational articles I have read about good learning design is not about learning design, nor is it even written for teachers. Kieran Long of Dezeen Magazine wrote 95 Theses for Museum Curators for professionals wrestling with how to keep museums relevant in the 21st century, when digital content and the democratization of information has forced museums to question their role in educating the public. One of Long’s theses has always stuck with me: “Museum viewership at its best is an active process, in which notions of truth are consciously tested and remade.”

In designing Advocacy, I tried to think of my course as a museum where my students could curate, a place for them to encounter content in a way that allowed them to “test” that content and “remake” it. I did not want to provide answers; I wanted them to offer their own and collaborate with me in supporting and developing those ideas with great content. After all, they have access to the same tools and information sources as I. Further, as the course progressed, their work could become content for the whole class. The students would become “the artists” as well as the curators of our little museum. Week Two was my first opportunity to put these lofty ideas to the test.

I wanted the week’s experience to be multisensory: an asynchronous discussion forum, the beginning of an experiential learning project (an interview with a successful advocate), a reading and a quiz, a synchronous discussion via Skype, and a brainstorming project where students made a “Heartbreak Map.”


I curated just two content items for the entire week, UNICEF’s page on “Defining Advocacy” and a New Yorker magazine article by Malcolm Gladwell called “Small Change,” where Gladwell outlines his skepticism about social media’s effectiveness as a tool for advocacy and activism. The rest was up to the students.

For example, the UNICEF page was the prompt for our Discussion of the Week, where I asked students to define advocacy in their own words and then provide an example of an advocate who embodied that definition. Critically, they were also to curate links, videos, or imagery from the internet that supported those ideas. I loved the diversity of responses: Angela Davis, Malala Yousafzai, Thomas Sankara, Angelina Jolie. Through the work of peers, each student now had access to a library of excellent examples of advocacy.

I think of an online course as a place to “publish” work, not “submit” it. Why ask students to show only you work when it is just as easy, and more beneficial, for them to share it with the whole class? This spirit of transparency is something to be nurtured carefully, and of course I leave time and space for certain assignments to be shared only with me, but there is much to be gained from all of us seeing this student’s incredible Heartbreak Map, which she published to a discussion forum:


Here, the student is visualizing her myriad interests, and her peers are both getting to know her better and seeing an example of well-mapped thinking.

Next week, students will be finishing and submitting recordings of their interviews with successful advocates. We will be hearing from a government official, the director of a free trade advocacy group, and an activist college student, among many others. Each week I hope the rooms of our “museum” fill up with work that is diverse, multifaceted, meaningful, and useful. Importantly, my students will be playing the dual roles of artists and curators, creating great work and choosing how to present it. I will continue to try to give them the space and time to do it.