Live blogging?

I’m at day 1 of THATCamp Lehigh Valley at Lehigh University. Walking from parking at Zoellner to Linderman Library covered my exercise for at least today. Seriously, if I studied on campus, I would be fit as a fiddle.

Linderman Library at Lehigh University

Linderman Library at Lehigh University

Anyway, this is boot camp day – the day before the “unconference” – and I specifically signed up to participate due to the availability of a workshop on using WordPress. Though I failed to blog about it (epic fail #678,900, yes I’m counting), I stumbled through a WP- .com-.org-download an audio player-plugin fiasco the other week.  Apparently, I could use a workshop on using WordPress! Get it? ;-)

Here we are at an introduction to WordPress with a room of 75 people simultaneously setting up a personal space. First, this should qualify for Guinness Book in my opinion. Fortunately, I was here early and, as a THATCamp alum, I grabbed a table space. I feel bad for the 70 people furiously lap typing right now. They are superheros.

The differentiation between categories and tags was helpful. I have always had some trouble effectively differentiating between them. Though I never considered adding a home page to change the feel from a blog, that is an interesting idea. I was hoping for a rundown on the whole .com vs. .org thing, but nothing so far. Something tells me that we won’t have time for that, since we didn’t even make it as far as widgets. Maybe later…

Follow-up: I added a news page and reversed the comments. This seems like a much better option than pulling in facebook or twitter feeds that contain a broader range of content, all of which will not be appropriate for this space. I guess the introduction was valuable after all.

Next Day: Reflection on live blogging…

In my attempt to live blog, I did miss some of the speaker’s points. Similar to contributing to Twitter backchannel, my attention was so divided that I couldn’t focus well on any of the individual threads. This is a problem, particularly considering what we know about the cost of switching tasks. Some people seem to do it effectively, but do appearances reflect reality?

With so many simultaneous demands on our attention, written support resources may be even more important these days. With this in mind, I made a request for the session speaker to prepare a document that covers the high points from her presentation. This resource could benefit multitaskers like me as well as camp participants new to WordPress. I see this as a win-win! ;-)

Collaborating Online –

No Need to Dread Working in a Group!

Listen Here:  Collaborating Online

TRANSCRIPT:

Collaboration among online learners requires time, flexibility, a positive attitude, and a commitment to getting the job done. Here are a couple of tips to help manage group projects.

Put group work first. Try to remember that the other team members are your partners and that the success of the group depends upon each member meeting established expectations and deadlines. Therefore, when you have a group project, try to make it a priority.

Follow the Golden Rule and treat others how you want to be treated. As one part of a larger – and mostly unseen – group, it is easy to imagine that your partners are very similar to you, but that is an unrealistic and unfair expectation.

Establish clear roles and responsibilities. Even with a plan in place, each group member needs to understand exactly what they are expected to contribute and when they need to deliver it. To facilitate ongoing communication, try setting up a team in ANGEL and be sure to email replies to all group members so that no one falls behind, gets lost, or feels isolated.

For more tips on collaborating online, visit my blog posts (part 1 & part 2) at The Corner of College & Allen.

Social Net Work

I enjoy talking to people about how they use various social network platforms. Do they use multiple platforms or just one favorite and why? Do they use different platforms for different purposes or to interact with different populations? Do they push an identical message across all platforms and, if so, why?

And, lastly, do they actively participate in and contribute to the social network they have created?

I’d like to point out the obvious here. Social networking contains the words social and network and work. Facebook, for instance, facilitates an ongoing dialogue for me within several communities with which I identify. I keep my network of friends and groups and interests updated so that the conversations remain relevant. Then I actively participate within those communities which takes some effort. That is where the social part comes in.

Those who know me, know that I am an observer by nature. Consider these perspectives on social networking that I recently encountered –

  • A contact asked how to limit the traffic of a friend in their news feed because they did not want to see constant broadcasts for a particular political agenda. The contact was considering the block/report option. A discussion differentiating traffic settings from blocking/reporting ensued. I asked whether or not the content in question was offensive to such a degree as to justify reporting.
  • Someone I know has been debating a switch from Facebook to Twitter. For them, Twitter feels like a better fit for getting and sharing interesting content. The problem? All of the friends that they typically interact with on Facebook are not actively using Twitter.
  • I heard someone talk about taking a break from Facebook. They are tired, they said, of being baited with the promise of political discourse when their attempts to debate the current topics and defend their viewpoints seem to be unwelcome – even offensive – to any contacts who disagree. I have seen several posts recently questioning whether or not high stakes topics like politics, religion, and the like even belong on Facebook.

They make it seem like social networking may not be worth the effort, or that it may not even be social, don’t they? Yet, we’re creating accounts and adopting new platforms like they were kitties at the pound. We must be looking for something or trying to accomplish something, no?

I understand that social networks look different because they are a reflection of each user and their needs. Still, I think it is important to remember that we can’t really claim social networking without social, network, and work. All three of these terms are part of the social networking equation and eliminating any one of them changes the expected output significantly.

So, this is just my friendly reminder that social networking is optional. If you don’t want to use it or don’t like to use it or simply don’t use it because you haven’t found a good reason to do so, then don’t. There are plenty of other options available for communicating.

Become a Member? In Search Of…

Adult learner? I bet you are over-scheduled; your time stretched pretty thin. I know that mine is. Still, I want to continue to grow by finding new ways to learn and to share and to broaden my perspectives. In trying to balance a few full plates with my desire for personal development, I have become more selective when seeking out opportunities in which to contribute my time and talents.

Why? That’s easy! I want to make an impact…

I need to be where not only my voice will be heard, but where every voice will be heard. I am in search of a community where members are treated with tolerance and dignity. If there is no time to listen to questions and concerns – whether positive or negative – then how can members be expected to feel a part of the community? A focus on community-building and valuing every community member is critical. Without it, there is little chance for engagement and sustainability.

I want to be where I am needed, where time and effort are expected, respected,  and appreciated. I cannot be planted in a bureaucracy where all I am is another vote to approve the minutes from the last meeting. I need to invest, to believe in the cause, to have input on the agenda. I am in search of a community working toward a shared vision. Let’s solve problems, make progress, and effect change. We can accomplish great things together!

I need open doors and shared resources, a place where communication, cooperation, and collaboration are favored over sole authority and grandstanding. I am in search of creative exchanges and brainstorming sessions, where community members are encouraged to share their ideas and experiences. Life is a learning experience and every one in it a teacher.

I expect effective leadership keen on reciprocal dialog, a group of individuals who model the values expected from others. I am in search of a leadership team focused on fulfilling the objectives outlined in the mission through the creation of a supportive culture, rather than the singling out of any one individual or agenda.

I want to contribute to a flexible, proactive community. There is almost always more than one possible approach or solution. I am in search of an organization where roadblocks are challenges and where mistakes are learning experiences.

Am I being idealistic or unrealistic? I just want a good fit. I just want to do good things. Am I asking too much?

ReKindled

I don’t have much patience; that’s one of my shortcomings.

Though I have tried to assemble a string of devices and applications that could help me to do and to get what I want when I want it, I have had difficulty overcoming the learning curve that accompanies figuring out how to fit all the technology together to produce mostly positive effects.

As an example, I received a Kindle as a gift a year or two ago, before they became wannabe tablets. The purchaser completely investigated the options and selected a Kindle because it was the only device at the time that would play well with PDF files. Since I read mostly journal articles and dissertations in PDF format and very few romance novels…make that zero romance novels…a Kindle really seemed like the way to go.

Now, this purchase came to me at my technology infancy, if there even is such a thing. At the time, I only had my HP laptop “Old Faithful”, a mini for a back-up, and a nearly useless Windows smart phone. To be honest, that phone was actually dumber than a brick. I don’t know what I was thinking.

Enter the Kindle…

It’s sort of clunky, with a miniscule full keyboard and toggle buttons that appear friendly, yet seem to induce hostility. Still, it works. It’s functional for reading. For research – when interaction with the material is likely to increase – not so much. Yes, a user can highlight and later harvest those highlighted sections, but… I just couldn’t figure out a useful way to integrate the device into my existing process.

Instead, the Kindle became an avenue for me to occasionally read something that had not been assigned and I have learned that there is value in that. Plus, my daughter gave me a pretty skin which increased the attractiveness of the device exponentially.

Fast forward to the present. I am preparing to wrap up my graduate degree next semester and that Kindle device has been packed away for forever and a day. I lent it to my mom recently and she thought that it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, but she is reading for pleasure. I would have just given it to her, except for the fact that the Kindle software itself has become one of my top five go-to applications.

With the purchase of a Kindle device comes access to an application that can provide anytime, anywhere viewing and reading. I just purchased The Fault in Our Stars by John Green after Jessi Freud recommended it in her recent blog post for The Corner of College & Allen. When selecting where to send the book, I realized that I am now using Kindle software on seven different devices! Less than two minutes after initiating a search and I can read that book on the workstation in front of me or on my Razr. Now that’s useful!

Plus, using the Kindle software on more capable devices – like a laptop or tablet – makes it much more research friendly. Now, no matter where I am – home, work, library, grocery store, campus, literally anywhere – I can access the same material via Kindle. And, it’s not just books, either! When taking a recent college tour in Pittsburgh, we downloaded several campus maps and viewed them through the Kindle app on my Motorola Razr (best.phone.ever, by the way). So, even though the Kindle device sees little action, I celebrate the ubiquity of the Kindle application almost daily.

My rating for the Kindle application: no patience required!

Planning and Implementing Online Group Projects

I’m staring down the last semester of my master’s degree; I should be thrilled, right? If only I weren’t trying to recover from an online group project gone awry, maybe…

Typically, I am enthusiastic at the mention of group projects in a syllabus. I enjoy learning about the experiences and the opinions of my peers and collaborating on shared goals. I’ve always had positive experiences with the cooperative learning process in a group, even when collaborating online, and success in the products created with my teams. From what I hear, at some point the odds were bound to catch up with me.

I get the point of working and learning in groups, and I certainly should, given that my philosophy on education bends toward that of social constructivism. One might even say that I am an advocate for such cooperative and collaborative endeavors, since my background in business administration affirms that the communication (and technology) skills developed and honed while working in groups and negotiating myriad interests help to produce the capable team players much in demand in today’s workplace.

So, if group projects are indeed valuable, then what points such a learning endeavor toward success? It seems to me that the responsibility for group learning experiences rests with both learners and instructors. From the perspective of the learner, I have already written two posts for the World Campus blog, Corner of College and Allen – Part 1: Get Off to a Great Start & Part 2: Working Well Together and Working Together Well. From the perspective of the educator, aspects like appropriate design, implementation, and execution are crucial for the success of the collaborative learning experience involving online learners and that’s what I’d like to discuss here.

Planning the Approach

Since best practices in instructional design ask whether an assignment is the right fit for achieving specific instructional goals, it is probably a good idea to first ask if this format and approach are appropriate for guiding the learners through the objectives.

If the answer is yes, then in my experience, assignments that use a consensus-building or problem-solving approach tend to promote a more collaborative learning process over those that involve straight research. Straight research can often be broken down into sections where learners work independently and that only requires group members to cooperate in order to achieve shared goals. On the other hand, the ongoing discussion and debate involved in building consensus or solving a problem are much more interactive.

Even after several years, my favorite online group project involved a series of assignments over a semester in which our team discussed, analyzed, and compared a set of research articles. This progression of exercises provided the opportunity for team members to alternate leadership roles and the shared exchange of responsibility allowed us to select heavier or lighter workloads when our schedules were most amenable, thereby making the assignments more manageable. By the conclusion of the project, each group member had volunteered at least once to lead a team assignment.

Building Teams

Another important consideration for creating manageable group projects is assigning team sizes small enough to maintain cohesion, but large enough to handle the workload. If projects require more than five group members, then it might be time to consider reducing the overall complexity. Group contracts can reduce the potential for conflict among team members by defining roles and responsibilities and establishing a project schedule.

Begin group projects with an exercise for building community so that team members have an opportunity to get to know each other. This will also help the team identify and take advantage of the skills, interests, and expertise that each group member brings to the project. For instance, if one member is more experienced with the required writing style, then that individual is probably best suited to review formatting, citations and references for accuracy.

Designing the Assignment(s)

To avoid confusion and delay, instructions and expectations should be clear, concise, and consistent. In the group project that I am still recovering from, navigating the ambiguity in and the scope of the assignment required a considerable amount of our team’s time and energy. The questions posed by the instructor – all of which we were required to address in our paper – not only included many redundancies, but actually exceeded the maximum page allowance without additional information!

Though we had a model to use an example – an annual report negotiated and synthesized by industry experts – creating a similar product as novices with a wide variety of exposure levels was a daunting task.  When designing the assignments to support a sequence of learning objectives – the route learners will navigate – please consider the range where learners are starting and set realistic expectations for where they should all end up and how they will get there together.

Considering the Group Learning Process

Allow teams to review the available topics or project materials and begin the process of selecting content and negotiating their collective approach. Project proposals are one way to get teams to organize their initial thoughts and begin planning. Plus, they provide an opportunity for instructor feedback on the proposed direction and scope of each project.

It is a good idea to build in checkpoints throughout the process where instructor feedback can serve as a guide and help to keep teams moving in the right direction. Create team spaces to facilitate interaction and to act as a repository for ongoing dialog. These areas will serve as both a home base for each team and as a window for the instructor to monitor team health and progress.

Group projects involve considerable time for both the learners and the instructor. In my experience, instructors will need to maintain a quiet presence and keep an eye out for teams that hit major roadblocks, whether with the assignment or each other. Even team contracts do not completely eliminate the need for the instructor to serve as the final authority on dispute resolution.

Particularly if an assignment is newly developed, try to be flexible and keep an eye on team progress in order to adapt the project to the learning process as it unfolds.

Assessing Process and Product

Create a rubric for students to gauge whether or not their final product will meet expectations. Decreasing the potential for surprises results in more confident learners! Along with the quality of the final product, assessment should also consider individual effort and team member perspectives on the process. How to accomplish the task of grading the process may vary based on how learners will be communicating and how much insight the instructor will have as the project evolves.

No matter what, every team member should have a voice on each individual’s effort and the resulting grade. This is the only real solution that I have found to balance the fairness scale. If peer reviews are required and honest feedback is desired, please consider them confidential! Learners are likely to meet in another course and it serves no purpose to potentially impact future learning in a negative way.

Reflecting and Revising

Build in an opportunity for peers to review the submissions from other teams. Not only will students learn from the different perspectives presented, but they can also gain insight when comparing their own final product with the work of their peers. If possible, bring the learning full circle by giving teams an opportunity to improve their project based on feedback from the instructor and their peers.

Don’t forget to ask learners for feedback and to reflect on the overall learning process of the group project. Consider making revisions to the design based on learner input and final outcomes. This is an opportunity to implement suggestions for improvement and refine the design for the next session.

In collaborative learning, the process is as important as the product. I’m sure this is far from a comprehensive list of advice for undertaking online group projects. What have you tried? What worked well; what crashed and burned?

In MOOCs, What is a Teacher?

What is a Teacher?  How does learning occur?  How is learning confirmed?

Certainly, an individual can learn independently from a variety of sources. In the case of formal learning experiences with defined objectives and expectations of learning assessment, however, a person – specifically a content expert – serving in the role of teacher is critical, no? This is because the teacher acts as a link between the foundation for the learner and the learning. They organize the content and devise activities for learning that align with the assessments. They watch for stragglers and pull them back into the group. We might get there without them, but it would certainly be a long and arduous process (if we did). It would be like planning a trip without a map. In less formal experiences, I think the role of teacher can be occupied by a variety of resources; but in that broader context, the learning can afford to loosen in structure.

So, what is and what is not a teacher in a MOOC or  massive open online course? We have been hearing a lot about MOOCs lately, but they seem to vary in their design and I am not sure that every MOOC follows a connectivist approach. I am familiar with the similar learning processes from #eduMOOC2011, #Change11, and #CMC11, for instance, but I am not sure how the Udacity or MITx courses – which seem to resemble a more formal learning experience – compare.

Those in which I have participated are similar in that there is a basic schedule of weekly topics with supplemental resources provided. Generally, live presentations/discussions are held weekly and recorded for later viewing. Participant discussion takes place in groups, in blog posts, on facebook pages, and more. In these MOOCs, learning is a result of the organization of the design – from interaction with the resources provided; from interaction with the presenter(s); from personal reflection on blogs and in other discussions; and from interaction with other participants. The resources are organized, but the level of participation – and of learning – is solely determined by each learner. To me, the teachers in this design are the organizers, the presenters, the authors of the content, and the participants. In this case, I am more likely to ask what is not a teacher…

In a MOOC, would we be better off asking what IS NOT a teacher?