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New Freedom Project/Into the Pool: A Project for Online Open Learning

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New Freedom Project

The New Freedom Project – A Personal Learning Network at Empire State College
For the 2010-2011 academic year students were invited to participate in a new online learning environment, the New Freedom Project, as part of the college’s Project for Online Open Learning (POOL).  Think of the New Freedom Project as a combination of a blog, a Facebook page, and a virtual lecture hall.  It is designed to capture the learning that goes on when intelligent people passionately discuss topics of great personal interest.

In a traditional class or group study students are closely tied to predetermined content, predetermined credits, prescheduled start and end dates, and a limited number of peers.  In the New Freedom Project you are encouraged to follow your learning wherever it leads, and you are encouraged to exchange ideas, information, criticism, and analysis with other students and faculty in the community space.  It is not a structured online course; rather it is a social, networked, learning environment.  If you have an interest in a specific topic, rather than a specific course, then the New Freedom Project might be perfect for you (especially the “Connected Learning” group described below).

What is Different About the Project for Online Open Learning?
Unlike traditional courses that may have predefined content and assignments, the New Freedom Project is built around the idea that learning should not be restrained by anything other than what you, working closely with your mentor, want to learn about.  In many cases it is not clear in advance exactly what will interest a student about a particular course or topic.  The project is designed to evolve along with your interests and learning needs.

This is a new way of teaching and learning — this type of online environment is new to the college and to higher education in general — and it is likely that successful students will be intellectually curious, motivated to learn, self-starters, and willing to engage in a learning community that is not simply a copy of traditional course structures.  The New Freedom Project is open and that means that you have to be curious enough to ask questions and responsible enough to work towards finding answers.  Members of the Empire State College faculty will lead projects and be available to guide you and your peers through the learning process.

This is an easy environment to navigate.  The “front page” of the space will show where current conversations are active and it will point you to important academic resources that are relevant to these conversations.

What Learning Projects are Planned?
Individual projects planned for the 2010-2011 academic year could include the following:

The History and Future of Freedom (depending on enrollment).  This is not a traditional course, but rather a chance for you, your peers, and some ESC faculty to come together in a group environment to address one question: What does freedom, real freedom, mean for me?  You will be asked to develop and then share drafts of a “freedom statement” designed to help clarify what freedom means in your life now, and what possibilities exist for freedom in the future.  How you define freedom is up to you—it could be political, economic, social, sexual, technological, artistic, or something other form of freedom.

    The only book initially assigned for this study will be Fareed Zakaria’s The Future of Freedom, though you may be expected to purchase or borrow at least one additional book based on the interests that emerge in the group.

    Connected Learning (depending on enrollment).  This group study will introduce students to learning theories driven by the development of new media and social networking tools.  Each student will be expected to take an active role in developing connected learning strategies and practices that are applicable to their own studies, interests, and academic goals.  Students will also be expected to identify in the first week of the study specific topics that they plan to investigate.  This study is open to students from any disciplinary background and is initially offered as a 2 credit, introductory level foundation option.  However, students will be given the option to expand the credit level as specific learning interests and opportunities arise.  This study can be structured to count as educational planning credits, though students must consult with their primary mentors to see if educational planning credit is appropriate.  There will be no required textbooks at the outset of this class, though students may be required to purchase a single text as common learning interests.  In any event, the textbook costs, if there are any, will be held to under $30.  (Potential students wanting to learn more about the basics of the course can do a web search for “connectivism” to get a sense of what we will be doing.)  Students must register for Connected Learning as an independent study.

        Comparative Political Theory.  This will be a customizable version of the course offered through the Center for Distance Learning.  You will read work from the important Islamic philosopher Abu Nasr al-Farabi, along with two of his chief intellectual influences from the Western tradition, Plato and Aristotle.  In addition, you will have the opportunity to do a paper on the political tradition of your interest (as long as there is a comparative component).  Previous students have done work on Confucian, Islamic, Native American, and African political traditions.   

        Modern Political Theory. This will be a customizable version of the course offered through the Center for Distance Learning.  We will focus on the issues of liberty the relationship between political action and moral limits.  In addition to consistently taking part in discussions you will also be asked to develop and share multiple drafts of a research paper.  The final third of the group study will consist of sharing of, and commentary upon, student research projects.  For a description of the basic version of the learning project please consult the Modern Political Theory course description in this term guide.

          What about Credits?
          Studies in the New Freedom Project were designed to be open-ended in terms of content, credits, and time frames.  You might sign up for an independent study for 4 credits, or you might just dive into the learning and decide that 6 credits worth of learning suits you best.  You might take small “chunks” of credits 2 at a time, tailoring independent learning contracts along the way.  You can arrange for a certain number of credits before you begin, or you can start participating and then work with your mentor and associated faculty to arrange for a number of credits that makes sense to you.

          For more information please contact Frank Vander Valk at