"Everyone and everything that shows up in our life is a reflection of something that is happening inside of us." - Alan Cohen
The past eight weeks have been a journey in delving deeper into building a collaborative community online. We have reviewed many topics that will help me in my teaching career. The one topic that stood out the most was the personal learning community matrix we were asked to produce. I was always aware of community resources that I was a part of but never organized them in that fashion. Doing so has made me aware of attempting to build on these resources to enhance my knowledge.
In terms of this class and my learning portfolio. I have completed updates on all pages to reflect modifications I made. The one page that I had the most difficulty with was the contact page. I still struggle with setting limits on student contact hours. I tend to be online at all hours. In light of that I tend to respond quickly even outside of the posted office hours. It is my goal to adhere to my posted hours to eliminate any issues of learned expectations by students of my constant availability. This revelation was all due to the request to update my contact page to reflect a more strict availability protocol.
Moving forward I am moving towards the final course in this program and gaining insight through the practicum in the program. I anticipate teaching online once again in either communications or education. I taught online for many years and this course has reinforced many aspects of knowledge I learned over the years. As with most things, changes are constant and I will use the new skills I discovered in the course program.
Facilitating an online course can be challenging depending on the activity. I had the opportunity to facilitate the small group discussion. The requirements of this discussion veered from the normal discussion thread and required a synchronous chat session. One of the main issues with conducting a synchronous chat session is the ability to have all students attend the session at the same time. We were able to organize a common time, overcoming the challenge. The event however proved to be a bit awkward in terms of chatting to a discussion prompt. I came to the conclusion, as did all group members that a synchronous chat has its place and posting a response was a bit of an issue due to the length and thought process going into the response. I have conducted synchronous chat sessions in the past and these targeted help sessions or verbal explanations of topics. Had I prepared a series of slides to review with the students, and discuss the overall issues, that may have been a bit better. This did however give me an opportunity to use higher order thinking strategies in the process. I was also able to modify an existing lesson plan and through the use of web 2.0 tools, target higher order thinking strategies according to Blooms Taxonomy list.
Organization can be a key element to online course facilitation. Using the 70/30 rule, 70 percent of your time should be dedicated to class preparation and the first week of the course. Part of this time will be organization of class material and making sure the course and students can access resources and know where resources are in the course. Proper organization will avoid frustrated students and an abundant of emails about course expectations. There are a number of online tools to help organize. I use OneNote in most of my tasks. This online notebook is a huge help in making sure I have all required material and can respond efficiently to student requests.
Moving forward I will research new tools that may make facilitating a course more efficient.
Setting up an online course and the initial responses from you as the instructor and responses from students are critical to setting the pace for the course and promoting a sense of community. As a facilitator the initial setup will ensure that the students find the resources and are informed on issues like contacting the facilitator for help, course expectations and posting netiquette. We reviewed these functions in week five and practiced responding as a facilitator. I learned that while every course may be unique in nature, the course setup and initial responses are critical no matter what course you teach. While I have been teaching online previously, I got the most out of researching ice breaker posts. I tend to be concise in my posts. I learned that the icebreaker, while having little bearing on the course material, helps bring out individual personalities and create a sense of community. This was something that I never paid to much attention to in the past. This was a valuable lesson learned.
We are now half way through this course and a lot of material has been covered. Web 2.0 tools were discussed in this weeks session readings and discussions. Although I have taught and used many software tool, I did have a chance to use one I have not seen before. It seems that as we as a society delve more into online learning, there are more tools being developed that are less technical and more user friendly. Padlet was the tool I explored and the simplicity of the tool made it a nice choice to include in online courses for student use. I feel that online students are faced with many technical details especially if they have not used the platform that the course is being delivered on before. Adding tools to enhance your class may only add to the already frustrated new student. Padlet was simple to use and I am confident that a wider range of users, both technical and non-technical will find this intuitive.
Other aspects covered this week were conflict in online discussions. I had the opportunity to share experiences as both facilitator and student using past experiences as part of the discussed topic. It was nice to hear other student experiences and compare to my own. I gained insight into what others would do to foster good conflict and what to do to de-escalate an bad conflict situation in class.
As we moved on in this course we are beginning to learn about facilitation. I always knew what was involved in teaching a traditional face to face class. There were times when it can be a challenge and definitely times when the rewards out way the challenges. I began studying towards my master’s degree in education some twenty years ago. The program was one of the first to be totally online. I immediately opted to take this online because I appreciate the flexibility. During the series of the courses for the program, I kept hoping I could teach online. It seemed like a great way to teach. After the program ended, I did end up accepting a position teaching online as an adjunct instructor. It did not take long for me to realize how different this was in many respects from teaching in a classroom. Facilitation has its challenges as well. Moderating a discussion forum and prompting students to keep the discussions on track and fostering a deeper understanding for the material is a challenge. I learned a lot about online teaching during that tenure.
As we move on in this course the focus is on facilitation. Through experimentation of everyone having a taste of what is involved is a nice experience. There is no better way to learn than to experience the topic first hand, in this case facilitating a discussion forum. There are so many various scenarios that can happen in an online setting. This week revealed many of the issues we may encounter in future online courses.
Week two brought readings and discussions on social contructivism and group collaboration. Through the readings I did relive certain aspects of my masters degree by exploring educational learning theories. It was nice to revisit certain philosophical viewpoints and read current viewpoints that I had not heard. I incorporated Vygotsky’s thoughts of social interaction and how they play into the learning process. I work in a vocational technical school as technology director. The learning process in this environment is all about learning through doing and group dynamics. There is strong social interactive learning (social constructivism) going on all the time. The students often learn best through collaborative group work. The instructors describe principles and assign projects that are achieved through strong group dynamics.
Although many of the principles are not new, I did gain a lot from the readings on Vygotsky. I even found myself referencing Social Constructivist learning techniques in one of my faculty evaluations I conducted this week. The benefit of review and staying current on learning principles is of great value both for personal enrichment and professional practice.
It was interesting to read what my peers felt were good practices in online and face to face courses. While posts on what good practices were did vary, the information was all interesting and helpful. I find that I get so much out of the discussions that follow the original post. Insights into what others do in their courses and what works or does not work is of great value.
Assembling this information in an ePortfolio will be a valued resource as well. Of course planning an effective layout of the section of my site for this class was critical. I found that balancing course requirements and good design principles were a bit challenging. I do feel that the end result of the design will work well. Once the portfolio is completed, the content is what ultimately matters however, allowing site visitors to easily locate the content is just as important.
Lessons learned this week were the importance of survey’s, innovative ways on how to make a large online class discussion stress free and the discussion threads manageable while maintaining the value of the discussions. It was noted that the topic of discussions in class was a common theme. The main reason may be due to the overwhelming value of discussion in classes. They are the heart of online learning and a way of building community in the online setting.