Proposal for Open Studies (Un)course

Posted October 25, 2008

[This is the proposal I’m making for the creation of a new course at BYU.]

Students have many different needs, one size does not fit all. In our current courses, some are appropriately challenged but many others are bored and dissatisfied. Classes are not customizable by students to meet their needs or to fit their learning styles. In addition there are many subjects students would like to learn (the long-tail of education) that there isn’t enough demand to justify allocating a classroom and teacher. Most students already spend considerable time outside of school learning things not taught in their courses. This course would give them access to resources at school most importantly their peers as they study advanced topics in small groups.

The course would be divided into three 6-week segments. In each segment, the student creates a learning project where they create both a learning goal and a learning plan. The learning plan will include the steps to reach their learning goal and a list of resources they will use which can include people and materials (books, OpenCourseWare, online resources, etc.). This learning plan will be reviewed by other students and a teacher before being passed off. Students can also “cite” other learning plans in their proposal creating a marketplace for learning plans. After learning plans are finalized, students will be organized into groups of 3-7 people who all are studying similar topics. These groups will meet weekly while students are working on their project.

Diagram of a six-week segment.


During the segment, students will be asked to share what they are learning. Each week they’ll make a post in an Island group about helpful resources they’ve found and/or how they solved a obstacle in their project. The last week of the segment is devoted to teaching what they learned. Each student will be asked to teach in a digital form what they learned and post it on Island. This could be as simple as a blog post or as elaborate as a screencast, a video, or podcast. In addition students will be asked to participate in an Ignite session ( and an Unconference. Ignite sessions are where each presenter has 5 minutes on stage with 20 slides which rotate automatically every 15 seconds. An Unconference is a new form of conferences organized on the premise that all attendees have something valuable to say. Students will be asked to attend the unconference held the final week and either present or blog some of the presentations.

This course would produce a rapidly growing collection of valuable learning plans and learning resources useful to students and teachers alike. They will be useful to students who are taking the Open Studies class and need a good learning plan or who are studying outside of school. They will be useful teachers who are looking for new and innovative ways to help students learn.

Teachers would have a different role in the Open Studies class. They would be mentors or coaches. They would help advanced students who are passionate about a subject complete effective projects. They would help train students to be proficient, self-directed, lifelong, and wise learners.

There is a huge unmet demand for specialized classes in my major, Information Systems, and elsewhere across the BYU campus. I for one would love to take a classes on social network analysis, cloud computing, and Javascript UI design, none of which are available. I have a friend who wants to take a .NET web development class but can only find 4 other students who are interested. The Open Studies Course would meet these and other demands.

Tagged with education | learning | byu | island

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Kyle's profile picKyle Mathews lives and works in Seattle building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter. Currently exploring what's next and open to consulting.