Theme 1: Empower Learners

Many of the practices in formal education today evolved from monastic training practices hundreds of years ago. The power hierarchy in those classrooms was clear and reinforced the Pope to Bishops and down the line to monks, whose job it was to listen and learn —  not far removed from the passive lecture model we still have.

James Paul Gee argues that learning is more powerful when learners feel empowered to have an effect on the world — that by learning they’re doing something that matters.

As instructors, think about how we can help them discover ways to relate to interact with and use their course content to change their word — even in small ways. This will build the contents’ value and thus increase learner motivation.

We’ll go over these principles in more detail in the chapters that follow. Here’s a summary of what we’ll learn:

Empowering Learners Principles

  • Co-Design: let learners help create their learning-spaces.
  • Customize: allow exploration of problem-spaces in their own way.
  • Identity: provide occasions to view problem-spaces from different role perspectives (epistemic frames).
  • Manipulation: give learners control of tools that adjust problems.

Specific Application: Empowering Learners Principles in Canvas

In the videos, Gee shares examples of how good video games can empower learners. Here are some ways you can do that in Canvas. Some redesign will be required on your part. Think about how your curriculum can take advantage of the learner-centered features in Canvas.

How to Empower Learners

  1. Create assignments with enough flexibility that students can make it their own — using subjects and topics from their interests. Have them share that personalization with class in order to find affinity groups via bio/interest pages, discussions, chats, etc.
  2. Create flexibility (calendar deadlines, gradebook credit, assignment pages, etc.) for students to continue to develop assignments as their expertise and interests evolve.
  3. Foster specific areas of expertise in students (i.e. jig-sawing) so they can speak with authority and develop a level of mastery in that content sub-topic. Then direct questions on that topic to them via chat, discussions, assignments, etc..
  4. Connect individual students to current experts in the field (Ultra) to create mini-mentorship moments. This personalizes the content by identifying content experts as humans that they now know.
  5. Encourage and share multiple approaches and explorations of content — along with mainstream approaches (e.g. social media integration/embedding). Celebrate field advances that occurred through “failures” and non-standard approaches.
  6. Examples on empowering via Group Work here:
    1. Ask students to respond to an image that you’ve posted
    2. Assign debates in a discussion
    3. Have a general course forum open 24/7 for students to ask questions, bring up topics/subtopics, etc.
    4. Use Canvas Groups in-class if in classrooms that don’t support easy group discussion.
    5. Use Group Tool to manually or automatically rotate groups (by last name, etc.)
    6. Embed individual and team presentations (voice over slides, Prezi, etc.) in discussions or pages.
    7. Use Peer Grading in-class for presentation rubrics, etc. or out-of-class presentations
    8. Have students create their own rubrics for team participation self- and peer- assessments
    9. In group collaborations, have students color-code their individual content contributions so they can see who adds what/when/how much, etc.)
    10. Use students’ self-assessment of assignment as data to inform the instructional design of the next assignment.
    11. Use Chat as a back-channel during lectures.
    12. More on designing groupwork here:

What other strategies can Canvas aid with?



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