Archive for the ‘Facilitating Online’ Category

If you teach live online, I bet this feels familiar.

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What would a course look like if it happened through YouTube?  Pizer College Media Studies professor Alex Juhasz did just that. She recorded all the class sessions and fed them to YouTube. In addition, all the assignments were either YouTube comments or videos.

Despite the “YouTubiness” of the course, it’s more than just a course about YouTube. It’s an exploration of how people learn (she calls it “amateur-led pedagogy”) and what difference a medium makes.

Also, don’t miss Henry Jenkins interview with Juhasz (Part A, Part B).

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yawnAlthough I no longer teach regularly in the classroom, I’ve racked up a few years of MST (mainstream teaching), but lately I’ve been feeling a bit ambivalent. I used to get so much energy from walking into a classroom. But now, I’m just not feeling it. It feels a bit like falling out of love. Where did the feeling go?

I was reading Scott Karp’s reflections on his preference for reading online, and the idea came to me. Maybe after teaching a bit online, teaching face-to-face has become too boring. Teaching on a network is just more fun. I’m like the student that Marc Prensky mentions who feels like they have to power down when they step into the classroom.

How does that happen? Does your teaching style get rewired when you teach online?

(Photo, 195/365, by marie-II)

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contactsA couple of months ago I came across an article taken from ‘s book, Cultivating Communities of Practice. The article offers some design principles for creating communities. Its central question has been sitting in my head ever since. “How do you design for aliveness?”

The nice thing about thinking about communities is that there are so many different kinds and so many different ways that communities support people. For example, a community approach might support faculty development. It might support the work of a project team. It might help us coordinate learners as they navigate their own personal learning environment. It might help a facilitator develop a more flexible and creative approach to teaching. It might be a way to support distance or mobile learners. As a friend of mine says, learners aren’t looking for the kind of learning environments we’re used to. They’re looking for convenience, mobility and flexibility. How does a community approach get us there? How do we design in a way that opens up these possibilities? How do we design for aliveness?

Wenger, McDermott and Snyder offer seven principles for design:

First, design for natural evolution. Start out with less than you would traditionally. Communities are more organic and self-directed. For example, you might start with something simple like a schedule of weekly meetings. If the community is supporting a credit course or a research project, you might also start out with a set of outcomes or competencies so that the community has a general focus or goal. Your role isn’t to develop a structure or a process, but to help a community develop its own character, energy and sense of direction.

Second, open a dialogue between outside and inside perspectives. The collective experiences of the group need to be nurtured. Outside voices can help communities see their potential. Conversations between outsiders and community leaders can catalyze change. Welcome outside experts.

Third, invite different levels of participation. Allow people to participate depending on the extent to which their interests are engaged. Potentially, everyone in a community is a leader or a lurker (or a teacher or a learner). Wenger, McDermott and Snyder say that you have to build “benches” in a community so that people can observe from the sidelines. For example, at SCoPE members have access to seminars and sessions even when they’re not actively participating. Members at SCoPE can also facilitate a session if they have a particular expertise.

Fourth, design for private and public conversations. Establish a regular rhythm of public events to give members of a community the experience of belonging to the group and to see who else is involved. However, leave enough space between events to allow community leaders to “work the backchannel” by dropping in on members, talking about their issues or problems and sharing resources. As Wenger, McDermott and Snyder say, “use the strength of individual relationships to enrich events and use events to strengthen relationships.”

Fifth, focus on value. It goes without saying that communities need to have a value. Otherwise, why would anyone participate? However, sometimes it’s hard to draw a direct line between a conversation where an idea is discussed and later when it’s applied. Ask community members to be explicit about the value that the community has for them, perhaps by taking time to talk about it during regular meetings or events. Making it explicit will help others see the potential value of the community for them, and help them understand that they may need patience in order to realize the community’s value in their own lives.

Sixth, balance familiarity with excitement. Establish a schedule of regular meetings, activities and projects to give the community a comfortable rhythm. Create a “place” like a neighbourhood cafe where people feel they can go to ask questions or try out their ideas in safety. (The “place” could easily be a discussion board or a sandbox in Second Life.) Balance regularity with new experiences. Invite in outside speakers. Take the community on a new adventure — to a conference or on a field trip, for example. Occasionally, comfortable patterns of thinking need to be challenged.

Seventh, create a rhythm for the community that’s not too slow and not too fast, but steady and regular like a heartbeat. Allow for a tempo of regular interaction. Establish milestones or special projects. You may find that activity speeds up just before and after events and slows down in the space between. (A community I’m involved with recently collaborated on a proposal. It was one of the busiest months on our mailing list.) Find a steady rhythm that works for your group.

When you compare a community approach to a more traditional one like ADDIE or Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, the contrast is stark. By designing for community instead of for content, you end up with something that’s potentially more learner-centered and engaging than what we currently do. You provide a framework that can leverage the community’s own energy and expertise. Less is more.

(Photo, contacts, by hobvias sudoneighm)

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campfireThe bells went off in my head when I read David Wiley’s post about social objects. Campfires, says Wiley, serve the same purpose as content in a course.  They’re social objects.  A campfire is the thing we gather around. It’s the focal point for a good conversation, a debate, an exploration or a relationship.

In online courses, we spend a lot of time thinking about campfires. We plan. We gather wood. But in spending so much time on the fire, we sometimes miss the point. It’s not about the campfire. It’s about what it helps us do.

(Photo, Campfire, by Andreas Koberle)

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If an 18th century doctor walked into a 21st century hospital, he’d be baffled. Medicine has changed a lot in a century.  But if an 18th century teacher walked into a 21st century classroom, he’d just pick up where he’d left off. old classroomThe point is, the ways we teach haven’t changed all that much in a hundred years. In some ways, that’s a good thing. I suppose teaching is like the monarchy or the papacy in the sense that it’s always there. It’s stable. There’s a sense of continuity in teaching as there is in other institutions. That must give us some comfort. Unfortunately, I don’t think it improves learning. We know things about learning now that we didn’t know a hundred years ago. We know that people learn more effectively when they integrate what they already know. People learn better when they get to apply what they learn. You’re better off doing something rather than being told what to do. We know that as far as teaching techniques go, lecture is at the bottom of the ladder in terms of helping people gain understanding that they’ll be able to use even ten minutes after the lecture finishes (as Carl Weiman’s research shows). Yet, we continue to line up the desks and expect learners to sit quietly while we tell them what they should know. I have a friend who likes to tease “If I didn’t say it, you didn’t learn it.”

We can’t afford to think this way in a world with cell phones, Facebook and the Wii. Learners just aren’t paying attention anymore. They are “present but otherwise engaged.” Want to re-engage learners? Take a look at the skills that Chris Dede says you’ll need to have. Dede, a keynote at this year’s Conference on Information Technology, says you’ll need to be able to design learning experiences that learners can personalize. You’ll need to hand over some of the responsibility for teaching to learners. Expect them to bring content to the course. You’ll need to be able to guide them while they’re learning by doing. And you’ll need to know more about assessment than how to write a multiple-choice test. For example, you’ll need to know how to assess collaborative work. You’ll need to be able to support peer review. Expect learners to initiate their own assessment.

Want to see 21st century teaching in action? Look at what Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay are doing with the Flat Classroom Project. Listen to how Kyle Brumbaugh is talking to his Global Communications students: “Google the Jelly Rolls; Become a Jelly Rolls expert; Connect to other Jelly Rolls fans; Create your own content and contribute to the global knowledge base about the Jelly Rolls;
Plot the band’s tour on Google Earth and create links on theKMZ file to your blog posts on the shows…” Look north to Clarence Fisher’s classroom or watch how Darren Kuropatwa collaborates with learners on an assignment. Watch how Newfoundland music teacher Andrew Mercer engages learners.

Dede says the hardest thing about learning how to do this isn’t the learning, it’s the unlearning. How different is this from how you’re teaching now?

(Photo, Old Town – The First San Diego Public School, by Teresa Hsu)

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John O’Brien of Century College was one of the most engaging presenters at last year’s Conference on Information Technology so I was happy to see he was presenting again this year along with his colleague, Ron Anderson. Together they talked about working with faculty who have been left behind in the mad rush to use technology.

Most institutions develop their technology plans around technology pioneers. What about those who feel hindered, left behind, skeptical or disgruntled? It may be tempting to assume those faculty just don’t like technology. O’Brien and Anderson found that probably wasn’t the case. When they asked faculty at Century about their own beliefs around technology, they found that the overwhelming majority were enthusiastic. It’s also important to question our assumptions about what students want. If you look at the latest ECAR results, most students (60%) prefer only a moderate use of technology in teaching. Those results would suggest that a blended approach is what most students want.

O’Brien and Anderson suggest that we need to check the message we’re sending to faculty. It can seem like we’re sending a threatening message … “Resistence is futile“? Instead we need to create an atmosphere were it’s ok to disagree. We need to reward all kinds of teaching innovation such as service learning and active learning rather than just technological innovation. And we need to clarify our “techspectations” (i.e. faculty need to answer their phone and email, upload their grades) so that faculty have freedom to make their own decisions about how they use technology.

Most faculty want to use technology for the right reasons (improving learning) rather than the wrong reasons (my academic chair told me I had to) but there are barriers. Access to appropriate training and support are the key ones. At Century, most faculty preferred to be mentored by other faculty rather than trained by IT specialists. As a result, the college created the Faculty Referral Program to bring together the faculty who wanted to learn with those who had the skills and were willing to share a bit of time to help others learn. The college established a system of peer review for online courses. And they created an innovation lab where faculty could go to learn. Incidentally, the lab sits beside the gaming pit where students go to play online games. Good choice, eh?

The message here is that we can’t assume that faculty don’t use technology because they don’t like it. And the approaches we’ve used in the past won’t necessarily work for everyone. We need to listen, and support people in creating a path that works for them.

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