Classroom, Crowdsourcing and Culture Complexity


 By Richard Bailey and others, Leeds Metropolitan University


We’ve all heard that ‘markets are conversations’.  But is what applies to markets also true in education?  Do the same open, conversational principles apply or is it different in the classroom, where the professor retains asymmetric control over the students?  Do concepts like ‘open source’  have any meaning in teaching and learning?


This semester, I’ve been leading a course in Public Relations and New Media to a diverse gathering of postgraduate students in our Faculty of Business and Law.  We may be studying in Leeds, in the north of England, but we’re drawn from all over the world (see end of this article for a list of countries of origin) and from several different courses and backgrounds.


Inspired by the famous example of MIT making its teaching resources freely available online (reported in Wikinomics), we’ve been conducting our own experiment in ‘open source learning’.  The class is supported by a blog and a wiki page.


University teaching is full of comfortable rituals: if you remove the rules, then you force people to think for themselves. We have tried to leave the comfort of the classroom and address the complexity and uncertainty of the world of business, marketing and communications.  I firmly believe this will be more useful to our graduates than an ability to recite some textbook learning.


But, as always, it matters much less what I teach than what the class learns. So let’s hear the opinions of class members (views are anonymous to encourage free expression).


Chaotic, intercultural class

“There is no specific structure to the class.  However, as explained to us, this is on purpose, as the world of new media is evolving everyday.”


 “Sometimes it can be intimidating to involve yourself when the teaching methods used are so alien to us.”


“PR and New Media class consists of over 15 different nationalities and it is already challenging enough without this ‘open-learning’ system.  This experimental learning process requires a teacher with great intercultural competence. Some students from high-context cultures are not used to speaking their mind out loud; in their culture people who talk a lot usually are not wise.  Forcing them to contribute might be not the best way either, as they have spent almost all of their study years sitting nicely on the stool and accepting the fact that teachers are the ones who are supposed to do the talking.”


“A bias from the professor could be that everyone is familiar and up to date with social media and all it has to offer.  I think several students, me included, only used Facebook before we started this class.  However, the experience has driven me to explore the world of Twitter etc, which I probably would not have done otherwise.”

“This class has been a little chaotic though probably similar to the workplace which has been really valuable.  There is such diversity in the class so it’s been great to be able to work with other students, and bounce ideas off each other.  I think my experience could have been enhanced had I been more interactive both on and offline.  I really like that there is a choice as to how class members can join in, some are quiet in class though quite active online and vice versa.  The class has quickly exposed me to a range of ideas that I can easily look into in greater depth in my own time.  It’s been a great experience.”

Learning community finds its voice

“It’s great to learn from fellow students – learning from others is the best way of understanding the continually widening scope of new media and PR in general.”

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