Sunday, August 19, 2007

This weeks thoughts on facilitating elearning communties

While fighting the flu I have taken time to spend time to listen to and read various experts in the art of facilitating on line learning. For example the 10 minute lecture by James Farmer and I found his analysis of using a forum like Blackboard compared to blogging highly interesting and I totally agree. His main points were that discussion forums like in Blackboard :
  • are very restrictive
  • can be timewasting
  • hard to manage
  • impersonal
  • can lack depth in the content
  • impossible to create a sense of identity
  • no sense of ownership
  • tend to be about content management and therefore not a very successful way to use the internet

Whereas according to Farmer blogs can overcome many of these issues. For example:

  • the potential for ownership by the writer
  • you can create your identity
  • allows for strong coherent teaching
  • provides an online archive
  • much more depth to discussion

I found his identification of the three 'presences' a community of learners needs: - social, cognitive, teaching, useful when thinking about how I might frame an online course.

In my previous blog I raised the question about how you as teacher can put ' the essence of who you are as a teacher' into an online learning course. James stated that you can project yourself as a real person over time. I guess that would certainly be enhanced through video streaming.

However the down side is that the possibly eteaching could be a way to wear another mask. For me the genuiness of a teacher is essential to good teaching.
Now I become myself.
Its taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other peoples faces….

Mary Sarton
The passion and interest one has a teacher propels the subject into the centre of learning - so for me finding ways to do this online is crucial.

The other person I listened to was Stephen Downes and I also read his paper on Educational Blogging

http://www.educause.edu/pub/er/erm04/erm0450.asp?bhcp=1

Stephen refers to Mireille Guay, an instructor at St-Joseph, notes: "The conversation possible on the weblog is also an amazing tool to develop our community of learners. The students get to know each other better by visiting and reading blogs from other students. They discover, in a non-threatening way, their similarities and differences. The student who usually talks very loud in the classroom and the student who is very timid have the same writing space to voice their opinion. It puts students in a situation of equity."17

I think this comment addresses other issues I raised in my previous blog re equity. Perhaps the slight distacne that online creates could work to some students advantage; especially if they have poor English speaking skills or a very shy.
Stephen also puts forward 5 ways teachers use the internet as an educational tool.

First, teachers use blogs to replace the standard class Web page
Second, and often accompanying the first, instructors begin to link to Internet items that relate to their course
Third, blogs are used to organize in-class discussions
Fourth, some instructors are using blogs to organize class seminars and to provide summaries of readings
Finally, fifth, students may be asked to write their own blogs as part of their course grade


With my our student teachers being able to critically analyse and reflect is an embedded value in our programme and with using a forum like Blackboard I have struggled to see how online work could reach the level of depth in writing that we expect. Stephen Downes reference to Richardson (quote below) made me see that yes it is possible.

" blogging as a genre of writing may have "great value in terms of developing all sorts of critical thinking skills, writing skills and information literacy among other things. We teach exposition and research and some other types of analytical writing already, I know. Blogging, however, offers students a chance to a) reflect on what they are writing and thinking as they write and think it, b) carry on writing about a topic over a sustained period of time, maybe a lifetime, and c) engage readers and audience in a sustained conversation that then leads to further writing and thinking."36

Another comment Downes made also linked to concern I had re students not reading academic literature as widely as they should and my uncertainty whether online learning would further limit this. However Downes states that "despite obvious appearances, blogging isn’t really about writing at all; that’s just the end point of the process, the outcome that occurs more or less naturally if everything else has been done right. Blogging is about, first, reading. But more important, it is about reading what is of interest to you: your culture, your community, your ideas. And it is about engaging with the content and with the authors of what you have read—reflecting, criticizing, questioning, reacting. If a student has nothing to blog about, it is not because he or she has nothing to write about or has a boring life. It is because the student has not yet stretched out to the larger world, has not yet learned to meaningfully engage in a community. For blogging in education to be a success, this first must be embraced and encouraged".

Overall I found Downes to be very positive and visionary in regards to internet use as an educational tool and forum. I was very taken with his comment that 9/11 triggered a change in internet use - from information giver to an interactive dynamic - a sharing of ideas with input form entire world. Tio me this is an highly exciting aspect that I have as yet to really discover for myself. Downes refers to Mireille Guay who says that students discover in a non-threatening way their similarities and differences.

2 comments:

Leigh said...

Your idea about the masks that we wear is important I think. I dunno if online presence is any more potentially false than real life.. in my experience I find people's online presence and identity is more genuine and authentic than what I can gather in face to face...I wonder how much better I feel I know you through 2 blog posts, than through a 30 second introduction or a 10 minute ice breaker ;)

And your quoting of Steve Downes is significant to here and now:


Blogging is about, first, reading. But more important, it is about reading what is of interest to you: your culture, your community, your ideas. And it is about engaging with the content and with the authors of what you have read—reflecting, criticizing, questioning, reacting. If a student has nothing to blog about, it is not because he or she has nothing to write about or has a boring life. It is because the student has not yet stretched out to the larger world, has not yet learned to meaningfully engage in a community.


But I think we need to address the issue that not everyone will blog, or that not everyone will communicate through blogs. And even if 10% of us take to blogging, that is hardly a functioning online learning community is it? Perhaps we need the freedom (in formal learning courses) to find and network with people who communicate in their preferred channel.

Sue Waters said...

I agree with Leigh that not everyone will blog, or will communicate through blogs. There is a progression of stages most people go through to get to the point where they are comfortable communicating and networking online.

But mass collaboration and social networking are important skills which we should be empowering our learners with. LMS are not well suited develop these skills.

Sue