Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Poverty, Place, Social Capital, Learning

When I launched the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) in 1993 my goal was to collect and share information that people could use to make volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs available in more high poverty neighborhoods, and to help those programs constantly improve what they we able to do to connect youth and volunteers and help youth through school and into adult lives.

I stated hosting this library on the Internet in 1998 and now it includes more than 2000 links. At least once each year I try to go through each section to make sure the links are working and to refresh my own understanding of what's in the library. The graphic below shows the sub sections in the research portion of the library which I've reviewed over the past two days. You can open this map here.

This set of links is divided into two parts. a) what are the reasons tutor/mentor programs are needed, and b) where are they most needed, based on poverty, public health information, violence, crime, etc.

There are more than 250 links in this section of the library and most of the sites I point to contain numerous articles and links to even more web sites. While I record over 60,000 page views a month in this single web site, most people don't even know this resource exists. While my goal is that thousands of people might spend one or two hours every week, over five or ten years, looking at this information and discussing it with others who want to help at-risk youth in their communities, I don't have the resources to make that happen.

Yet, by making this information available, I make it possible.

I've written numerous articles about learning and about MOOCs in the past which express my belief that content libraries like mine could be incorporated in organized on-line events, similar to the Making Learning Connected MOOC that is live right now and the Education, Technology and Media MOOC that took place in Jan-March 2013.

Both of these events lasted for several weeks and provided structure which was communicated on blogs, email newsletters and in the Google+ Community page. They offered opportunities for participants to interact in a variety of platforms, as much, or as little as time permitted. I see relationships growing as a result.

So far the MOOCs I've been part of were focused on generic topics, not on specific social or environmental issues. Instead of basing the MOOC on a pre-existing content library, the members create and submit content as as do people who lead each week's discussions. I suspect that in the future a growing number of MOOCs will focus on specific problems and that they will be intended to support a growing community of people who have a passion for the specific problem. As MOOCs repeat from year to year the content created in past years will be part of libraries that people can draw from in future years. Many will learn to include content libraries like mine as part of the resources provided to members of the community.

MOOCs like this could be hosted and facilitated by universities, businesses, public policy institutes, foundations, and/or by intermediaries like myself. They need resources to host and facilitate large groups of people. They need to maintain a content library, which could be links to multiple content libraries such as I host in my library. They need a long-term commitment so that the MOOCS are repeated each year for many years.

I've hosted the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference every six months for 20 years. I'll be hosting the next on November 4 and I created a page where people who have benefited from the conferences or from tutoring and mentoring programs can become a sponsor and post a message showing how they've been part of a tutor/mentor program.

In order to build the large community of people needed to dramatically change the systems of support for inner city kids, or to solve some of the other environmental, social and political problems we face in this world, organizers of the type of MOOC I envision need to have this same long-term commitment, and the resources to not only host MOOCs, but to document the growth of participants in a wide variety of ways.

At the same time content libraries need to be maintained
so that each participant has access to a wider range of ideas than they might glean from their own experiences or from simply interacting with others in the MOOC. With such a resource, people can dig into this material at any time during the year. I've created dozens of graphics to stimulate thinking on this issue. The one below is an example. These on Pinterest show more.

I'd like to be part of the thinking and planning of anyone who is trying to support this type of learning. I'd also like to find co-owners for my own content library and web resources so they continue to be available in future years beyond my own lifetime.

I'm already reaching out to others through groups on Facebook, Linked in, Twitter and existing MOOCs. If you're interested in this please contact me or take a role in the next Chicago conference so we can connect place based and web based learning efforts.

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