Monthly Archives: January 2012

My Instructor Role Models

What makes a great instructor in the context of Web 2.0?

I have had the good fortune of learning from several excellent online educators over the past few years. So, I thought that I would use my own role models to answer this question. Of course, these traits are probably not limited solely to online educators.

Great Instructors Inspire and Expect Creativity-

I took a comparative religions course as an undergraduate. A few of the assignments, at first glance, seemed daunting to me. Create a mandala that represents you as a person and explain the details and why you chose them. Write about the encounter if you were to meet up with Confucius, the Buddha, and Laozi. What would you learn from them? What would it mean to you? These were challenging assignments. They forced me to ask myself difficult questions, but in the end, they also provided me with valuable personal insights that I will never forget.

Great Instructors Build in Opportunities for Active Learning-

In abnormal psychology, our final project was to create a fictional case study that included all DSM-IV sections. The client of my case study was a college gymnast with anorexia nervosa. To lighten the mood of the paper, I called her personal physician Dr. McDreamy. Though she remains faceless, I developed the character history to such a great extent that I can see a picture of her in my mind and I will never forget the value in that learning experience.

Great Instructors Build in Opportunities for Experiential Learning-

The book for my art history course was about four inches thick and we read every page-full of colorful images and tiny writing. Thankfully, there was much more to the course than the content in the book. The main project required us to select among a variety of topics and I chose my favorite – a comparison of Romanesque and Gothic architectures.

I found a cathedral – The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine –  in the Morningside Heights section of New York City that, due to changes in leadership and varying phases of construction, exhibits both Romanesque and Gothic features. I visited twice as I worked on the project. The church structure was undergoing major cleaning and renovation following a fire, but on my second visit I was able to take a vertical tour that included climbing the spiral staircases and walking above the nave and across the tops of the interior and exterior buttresses.

A lover of photography, I ended up taking several hundred pictures of the interior and exterior architectural features. The final project contained so many images that I couldn’t upload it through Blackboard. To this day, more than two years later, I can tell you the differences between Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Not only that, but I developed a true love for the diversity in architecture. Whether someplace local or someplace new, I recognize and appreciate the variety in the architecture and I don’t think that is anything that I will ever lose.

Great Instructors Build in Opportunities for Participatory Learning-

One of my graduate courses in adult education research involved a progressive set of activities. Each activity provided an opportunity for another participant to volunteer to take the leadership role. Each group member contributed to the ongoing discussion, sharing resources and providing valuable feedback in order to achieve consensus. After several years of online learning, I believe this course fostered the development of community better than any other.

Great Instructors Create and Shape Learning Environments-

In one of my graduate distance education courses, the instructor impressed me from the start. I had chosen her particular session because we share similar research interests and in an introduction, she provided multiple methods for contacting her (including a home phone number). I never used it, but her level of openness did encourage me to ask her questions that fell outside of the formal curriculum. She was always very helpful and incredibly generous with her time.

In what is written about instructor presence online, experts warn against directing the conversation by interjecting too many comments into the asynchronous discussion. Perhaps as a result of this warning, many instructors monitor, but do not participate. This particular instructor found a way to participate in the discussion – which I personally find to be a critical component of online learning – without actually dominating it. Instead of directing or correcting us, she asked questions that prompted additional discussion and clarification. She would bring in research and researchers, when relevant, to encourage us to further investigate our own interests. And at the end of a discussion, she would post a short review summary and tie up any loose ends, which I found to be very helpful.

In my experience, these are the characteristics that make a great instructor in the context of Web 2.0, but this is by no means a comprehensive list. What experiences have shaped your idea of a great instructor?

UPDATED: Blogging is Personal, but Audience Matters


I try to keep my blog accessible and relevant and open for public consumption, but I have no doubts about my limited reach. In other words, I try to write things that I think someone else might find value in – over just keeping a personal online diary – even though I know there are not that many people reading my blog. I mean my highest traffic day was a mere 27 views. Today, to anyone reading this, I am asking you to indulge me.

Back Story:

Always on the lookout for new opportunities to be an active participant in this great life, I remember the day that I saw the announcement. Penn State – and specifically World Campus – was looking for student bloggers. This is important, because as a World Campus student, I have learned from experience to always read the fine print which typically shows  disqualifying requirements for full-time students, residential students, and the like.

Finding nothing to prohibit my participation, I completed the forms and sent them off into cyberspace. Then I forgot about it, but only because I never count on these things to work out. It’s not a lack of self-esteem or self-efficacy, not anymore. Being an adult online student pretty much cured me of that! I guess it is just the realist in me. Plus, the news of acceptance always becomes a glorious celebration!

Sometime later, there was just such a celebration when I received notification of my acceptance as a World Campus student blogger. You mean somebody is going to pay me for this, I asked? That doesn’t seem quite right. I was going to do it for free. At the time, I had no idea that this new opportunity would provide me with an outlet to send a message about the loss of Joe Paterno.

The 2010 Nittany Lion Football Team

Fast Forward to the Present…

It’s been a tough week for the Penn State family as we cope with the passing of Joe Paterno. After swearing that I was never going to write about the events of the past few months, there I was crying and typing out a very emotional blog post about Joe Paterno and World Campus students in mourning and being part of the global Penn State community and finding a silver lining in the bright night haze above Beaver Stadium. This blog, my blog, could have never done it justice…

So, today I am grateful.

I am so thankful that World Campus allowed me to interject that post into their blog, and at basically a moment’s notice, so that the message could reach a larger audience.

I am also very thankful to the photographers of the image that inspired me to write; since like most World Campus students, I have had to view the events on campus through the eyes of others. Thank you for allowing me to share your meaningful image. Thank you both for responding to online pleas from some student that you never met. And when I talk about Penn State and Joe Paterno and what it means to belong to their family, this attention and kindness and willingness to help is what I am talking about…

The blog post and image can be found here:

UPDATE – 1/31/12

The photographers of the image in my original World Campus blog post, who I mentioned above, have donated it for the benefit of THON 2012!

Visit the site below to purchase a variety of reasonably priced items that include this image in high-resolution:


100% of the proceeds from the sale of this image will be donated to THON

You can choose to include the powerful statement: “WE ARE…BECAUSE YOU WERE” over the top third. Cherish this moment captured in time and share it with your Penn State family. All proceeds will be donated to THON 2012. FTK!

The Classroom VS The Computer Revisited

How is learning presumed to occur within the context of Web 2.0?

It’s simple. Web 2.0 provides the availability of resources and the opportunity for interaction, which in turn support social learning and the constructivist approach. This is not to say that independent or individual learning cannot or does not occur online. It just means that there are now other options available. Interaction occurs with the material, with peers, with the instructor/facilitator (see Garrison’s Community of Inquiry Model) who acts as a guide and resource (as opposed to the content expert frequently found in the classroom).

It sounds great in theory, doesn’t it? There have been ample comments in the discussion pertaining to what Learning 2.0 should or could be and what it actually or usually is, however. Truthfully, I added that one of my most difficult challenges as a learner studying adult and distance education is reconciling the chasm between what is presented as best practice and what is provided for my own learning experience. To me, this divide is explained by change, by new and different.

Liberated from the limitations of time and place, Web 2.0 allows us to interact whenever and wherever access and a device are available. Learning is no longer confined to a classroom with an expert and provided only to those found to be acceptable candidates, which was previously seen as the only option available. Not only that, but information is no longer limited to print form – newspapers, magazines, books, libraries. When was the last time you picked up a phone book to look up a number or address? Do you even have a residential phone line anymore?

So, now that access and the availability of resources are no longer controlled(?), anyone (who wants to) can learn. The problem rests in assumptions. Assumptions that learning cannot occur outside of a classroom with a content expert. Assumptions that learning is the same online as it is in the classroom – that a recorded lecture can simply replace a live lecture – and that there is nothing more to consider. Of course, the next question we have to ask is how effective is that lecture for learning to begin with?

What’s missing in this equation is the leveraging of the unique capabilities of the online environment for the purposes of teaching and learning. Study distance education and you’ll quickly learn about the flexibility of the delivery method, as well as the complexity (and expense) of team design and the necessity to match technology to support learning objectives. An online component may add value to any program of formal or informal study. However, whether a single activity or a complete course, the design must reflect consideration of the online learning environment, both the capabilities and the challenges found there.

Not digging diigo

I have been introduced to diigo in my course on Web 2.0 tools where we are using it for group review of articles. Initially, having the ability to see and comment on the highlighting and notes of others sounded like a great idea, like asynchronous threaded discussions within the resource material. That was, until I actually had to put theory into practice.

What happens when you have a dozen people highlighting the same article? You end up with excessive and duplicate highlighting. What enlightens one may seem obvious to another based on previous exposure, experience, etc. Plus, I think people interact with material differently. Some people’s notes turn their document into something resembling a Rand McNally atlas while others just indicate an occasional main idea or recurring theme. Anyway, throw in public notations and the landscape of an article filtered through diigo just gets more chaotic.

The marked up document was not the only added confusion, as the functionality of diigo seemed a bit quirky too. I had several minutes of increasing frustration when accessing articles through diigo and none showed up with the notations. Somehow, I kept losing the diigo toolbar, even though I had my toolbar locked, and guess what happens when the diigo toolbar is not active? Articles do not generate with notations. Problem one solved and moving on.

I found a way to turn off the public comments, so that was helpful. Of the notes remaining, hover over a bubble and the existing comments appear, but whether or not they stay or allow you to add your own comment is another question entirely. Not only that, but don’t expect to make a mad dash to your browser mid-comment in order to do a quick search. Editing isn’t in the cards either. You’ll have to delete your comment and redo it.

Overall, in this first experience with diigo, I identified two specific areas where the limitations of the application actually circumvented the intended usefulness and my subsequent learning. First, there were only four highlight colors available for differentiating the notations of more than a dozen students. It doesn’t exactly take a math genius to realize that this equation can’t be solved given the current values. Second, while the comment boxes could be enlarged, neither the font nor the current entry box for a comment being written expanded with it. There is nothing I hate more than trying to write a paragraph in a small box where only two or three lines of tiny type can be seen at any one time. HELLO! My eyes are 42 years old here! Geez…

Outside of the diigo document, all notations can be accessed through diigo and will appear as a list of threaded commenting. In this initial exposure, I am at a loss to say whether or not it was easier to learn through a comparison of my own paper document with either the collective diigo article or the list of threaded commenting. On one hand, the context of the article is lost in the list of comments, but on the other, the paper and diigo documents appeared different enough to cause confusion. As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out on that one.

I was almost ready to hit publish when I saw a new mail indicator on my e-mail tab. Guess what? diigo comments show up in e-mail. Anyone want to venture a guess as to how many comments 12 online students can generate when they are all working on their homework? Yes, that was a rhetorical question. Obviously, it’s substantial. Fortunately, message forwarding is an option that can be toggled on and off in the user setting preferences.

OK, so to recap. For smaller groups or more focused investigations, diigo may perform just as advertised in the brochure. In this initial experience, however, the larger size of the group, broad scope of our investigation, and high amount of participatory discussion has made it nearly impossible for me to keep up, organize ideas, and extract meaning.

Teaching and Learning with Web 2.0 Tools

I am excited to be part of EDTEC498!

While I am finishing up a master’s degree in adult education with a certificate in distance education, I am still working full-time as a business administrator. Though my life at work takes place primarily in front of two large LCD displays, the organization itself has yet to take full advantage of the opportunity for an extended reach available through the use of Web 2.0 technologies. From a personal standpoint, the picture is much different, but it wasn’t always that way. I remember my first experience with myspace several years ago. My kids set up an account for me, but I could never figure out what to do with it other than keeping an eye on my kids’ myspace accounts! Becoming an online learner changed all that!

Now I use a variety of Web 2.0 tools to varying degrees for both social and academic purposes. I connect with family, friends, and peers on facebook and Skype while I use Google+ and hangouts as more of a professional connection. I have developed what I hope is a healthy profile and network on Linkedin where I contribute content and participate in discussions in several professional groups. After a year of debate, I also started this blog a few months ago. While it is far more time-consuming than I ever imagined, I have found the opportunities for and benefits from self-reflection that seem to accompany blogging to be invaluable. Actually, starting this month, I am a paid blogger as one of the new student bloggers for Penn State’s World Campus!

In addition to learning online through World Campus, I am also currently participating – albeit not as actively as I would like – in a MOOC (massive open online course) called Change: Education, Learning, and Technology. The primary methods of information sharing and interaction (that I  have discovered) for participants are Twitter, personal blogs, Moodlerooms, Google groups, and Google +. Compiling all of the blog posts with the #change11 hashtag in one central location allows participants to direct their own learning through the selection of threads that are most interesting to them.

I chose a course on Web 2.0 tools because I see interaction as the fundamental component of teaching and learning online – interaction with the material, interaction with the instructor/facilitator, and interaction among peers – and I believe that Web 2.0 tools facilitate and support that interaction as the methods for connecting. I am looking forward to learning more about Web 2.0 tools and their capabilities, but I also want to understand their links to pedagogical principles. When the decision is up to me, I want to be sure to select the optimal tool in support of the learning objectives.

Blogging and the Writing-Challenged

Classes officially ended for me on Thursday, upon completion of a three-hour final exam for Applied Statistics. To celebrate, my daughter and I made it to see a live performance of The Nutcracker with about ten minutes to spare! Grades are not the only

See that up there? This is the last post that I was working on. It was the middle of December and I got interrupted. Now, upon my return after what seems like forever, I don’t even remember what mildly profound things I intended to say about grades. (Is there even such a thing as a mildly profound statement on grades?) All I can tell you is that the intended title, My Top 3 List for Adult Online Learners: Organize, Prioritize, Communicate, held promise that is now long gone. The thing about blogging is that you really need to be diligent about making the time to write when the mood strikes and the topic is fresh. This, I obviously failed to do. Wait too long and a few words are all there is to show for the lost opportunity.

I enjoy the experience of blogging much more than I ever imagined; however, it is also more time-consuming than I ever expected! Not only that, but I am what I kindly refer to as “writing-challenged.” Sure, I can do it, but it is not a sleek process with an eloquent result. For me, writing is more like building Hogwarts out of Legos. Sure, it can be done, but you’re probably going to need a blueprint, some sticky notes, and a MacGyver-like ingenuity.

Graduate school may have greatly improved my academic writing skills (and it has), but this blog is a far cry from scholarly writing. I am using a contraction in this sentence, so it can’t be! Still, I meticulously select every word. I carefully consider meanings. I make every effort to avoid miscommunication. It has always been this way. I am envious of those people who can just sit down and start typing. For me, writing is a real effort and it requires all of my attention. The advantage, I believe, is that my efforts at avoiding miscommunication help me to be a better communicator online. :-)