Blake 2.0, Collaborative Learning, and Collective Intelligence

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For my Spring class on "Blake 2.0," I've decided to engage in collaborative learning and model forms of collective intelligence. I like my assignments to have two separate characteristics. First, I like to show students that they can accomplish great things if they work together. Second, I like my students to produce something of value, something that they can be proud of after the end of the semester.

To this end, I've decided to take the three sections of my course and have a slightly different emphasis in each section. The first section will focus exclusively on William Blake himself and the historical context around which his poetry emerged. The second section will focus on the reception of Blake by authors and artists who lived after the Romantic period. The final section, a special section set up to be populated exclusively by computer science and computational media majors, will focus on Blake's relationship to textual studies and the digital humanities - moving from the print theories of figures like Essick, Viscomi, and Michael Phillips to the critical work surrounding digital initatives like The William Blake Archive, The Blake Digital Text Project, and (as suggested by Rachel Lee) Jon Saklofske’s data visualization tool.

In order to facilitate collaborative and decentered learning, I've decided to allow students to define course content. One of the major research projects of the course, therefore, will be the opportunity for students to teach a major topic of the course. These topics will be laid out by myself beforehand, but students will choose the reading assignment and will present their research to the rest of the class. They will also provide a document that sketches objectives and outcomes for their teaching session, and support why their readings will achieve the objectives. I determine their grade based upon how well they argue for their readings and outcomes, and how skillfully they conduct their teaching session.

Ideally, I would like for them to present to all three of my sections. This way, students can show their own individual skill and add to the collective intelligence of the course. In the book Convergence Culture (2008), Henry Jenkins defines collective intelligence through the work of Pierre Levy:

On the internet, Pierre Levy argues, people harness their individual expertise toward shared goals and objectives: 'No one knows everything, everyone knows something, all knowledge resides in humanity.' Collective intelligence refers to the ability of virtual communities to leverage the combined expertise of their members. What we cannot know or do on our own, we may now be able to do collectively. (26-7)

Following Jenkins and Levy, I propose that collaborative learning can model forms of collective intelligence - and that collective intelligence can enable students to achieve what individual students listening to lectures and writing individual essays, cannot.

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