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Semester Without End

What if the learning and engagement from a single class offering were not to stop with the semester -- if instead it continued throughout a career?

February 26, 2020
 

More than two decades ago, I was teaching technology courses in the communication department at the University of Illinois at Springfield. One of my favorites was a graduate seminar, New and Emerging Technologies in the Electronic Media. Some of the most interesting research and discussions took place in this seminar semester after semester. One part of the course, however, wasn’t going smoothly. That was the three article critiques that each learner was required to present in addition to their research work. In an effort to improve the selection of articles, I created a Listserv on which I regularly listed articles that prequalified for critique consideration based on substantive content and innovation. This became a kind of specialized curated reading list designed for the graduate students who followed the new and emerging technologies of the day, such as cellular radio, which later became the foundation technology of cellphones.

This strategy worked well for a couple of semesters. One of the developments we briefly explored in the seminar was the advent of “web logs” -- blogs. It offered the opportunity to post items and responses in instant fashion. So, I migrated my Listserv to the best blog platform of that time, by Pyra Labs -- a technology they called Blogger. A few years later, Google also recognized the potential, and in 2003 they bought out Pyra, taking control of Blogger.

About that time, I noticed that students who had completed the seminar did not stop following the blog. In fact, as some of the successful students advanced through doctoral programs and on to faculty positions, they found the daily reading list useful for their own students and research. I dubbed the effort “semester without end” -- you can find artifacts around the web.

Over the years, the single blog evolved into a number of targeted blogs with different themes reaching different audiences. I have expanded these to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. They continue in a similar format of curated reading lists with a brief article description and link to the source article.

Readership has expanded well beyond the original intention of serving enrolled students. I am emeritus now and no longer teach. I now focus my efforts in administration, writing and consulting. The blogs continue to evolve with me to serve an even wider range of professionals and learners. The spin-off blog “Continuing, Professional and Online Education Update by UPCEA,” which grew directly out of the original blog effort, now offers three daily postings. It passed a million visits last year. In 2008, I added a blog to chronicle the changes in higher education triggered by a decline in funding. "Recession Realities" has thousands of searchable postings that are used by those dealing with reductions in funding. More recently, I initiated a reading list blog on Open Educational Resources, “UIS OER Blog,” to provide our OER supporters (and others worldwide) with a daily feed of news, examples and tends in open educational resources. The Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook dissemination reaches thousands of our colleagues as well.

But, back to the original concept -- what if we were to provide a continuing stream of updates to our students that would serve them beyond the semester, beyond the degree? This value-add would be significant at many levels.

  • The instructor is challenged to make their courses current and relevant while keeping abreast of new thought, new technology, emerging careers and other topics that are relevant to their students and graduates.
  • The students are locked into a steady stream of updates that will make their degree or certificate relevant.
  • The graduates are able to stay a step ahead of their colleagues with the stream of updates and insights from their alma mater.
  • The competitive edge will be shared by graduates and other professionals to serve as an ongoing reputation and recruitment enhancement strategy.

What began as a little experiment to solve the problem of getting seminar students to identify appropriate articles for critiques has evolved over the decades to provide multiple examples of curated reading lists for learners and professionals. Is this a strategy that would work for your class or your department? Could you provide a continuing, lifelong curation of news, trends, research and related materials? Would this value-add be useful to prospective students, graduates and the broader professional field?

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