Category Archives: Life as an Adult/Online Learner

You know that you’re an adult learner when…
Real Insight to Serious Issues

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?

Gratitude Illuminates the Darkness

I went back to community college in 2007. That’s almost five years now. No wonder I’m tired! Five years of juggling family, work, school – of sitting all day at work to come home and sit at a desk til midnight (or later); of scheduling every family detail and every weekend in order to try to leave enough time for studying.; of trying to minimize everyone’s sacrifices. Going back to college – whatever the method – is no walk in the park for the adult learner. 

Kids and jobs and classes, oh my!

In my first draft of this post, I was busy waxing philosophic. Then I decided that I was being overly dramatic, so now I am going the Oz route instead. Rather than talk about my need to figure out where I left my enthusiasm for the destination – after all, it’s got to be around here somewhere – I am going to recognize my partners in the journey. After all, today is that day where everything is all covered in hearts and chocolate and mushy love stuff. Besides, who wants to read a dark and depressing monologue on paralyzing life intersections and how-did-I-get-here-anyways? The answer is nobody.

I remember the first time I admitted – out loud – that I was thinking of going back to college. We had just taken one of our girls on a weekend college tour. I was doubtful of myself and of my capacity to be successful in an academic environment. I had a heap of past unpleasant experiences to overcome. Thank goodness for reassurance from the love of my life, who was not. For five years now – through full sinks of dishes, and piles of books everywhere, and overflowing hampers of laundry, and late night homework marathons, and my document just disappeared panic attacks – he has never wavered in his unending support for me or my pursuit of self-actualization through higher education. I am very grateful. I could never have gotten this far and I would not be writing this now, if not for him.

Several years ago (it’s always so much longer than it seems), he and I bought a house that would fit all our kids and, for a while, it was like a never-ending Weather Channel special on devastating storms around here.  Now, just the baby is left at home, while everyone else has gone and become an adult when I wasn’t looking. The house is quiet now. In fact, it’s so quiet that we brought home two kittens just to get some chaos going. Sometimes I wonder what I miss(ed) with my nose buried in a book or the computer all the time. They tell me that it’s ok and that they understand. They support me and tell me that they know I can do it. And when I see them working so hard in their own endeavors, they tell me that they have had a good example to follow. I am grateful for their unconditional love.

Since my return to higher education, I have serendipitously come in contact with many wonderful people. They are my mentors, my friends, my peers. Whenever someone says that learning online is isolating, I always say that it doesn’t have to be, that it shouldn’t be that way. So, today, I want to tell every one of you how grateful I am for your presence in my life. This is for the teachers who continue to support, guide, and inspire me long after our class has closed. This is for the staff and administrators who give their time so generously and remain accessible and open and willing to help. This is for the peers who listen to me complain and lend a shoulder to cry on. I am grateful for every one of you. Thank you. 

Some people are social butterflies. I am not. Those of you who only know me online may be surprised to find out that I am an introvert. Not only that, but I suck at being a friend. I have one lifelong friend and I am convinced that we remain friends only because she is the greatest person on the planet and that sort of makes up for my tremendous personal shortcomings and lack of social skills. She still picks up the phone even after I have forgotten to send her a birthday card! Twenty years ago, nobody would have ever guessed that we would be graduate students at the same time and in similar programs, her studying international education and me studying adult and distance education. We don’t see each other nearly enough. (Last night she still had a Christmas present for me in the back of her car while I stood empty-handed.) But, I can tell her that I don’t know what I am doing and she assures me that I will figure it out – that I always do – and for that I am very grateful.

Last week when my friend called to ask me if I wanted her second ticket to attend a discussion with the Reverend Jesse Jackson at Lehigh University, I stammered a bit. “Jesse Jackson”, I asked, then there was a really long pause. Sure, I knew the basic 411 on him, but what would he have to say about higher education? And would he say it from “the pulpit”? Well, at least I had the presence of mind to say, “let me do some research.” I found a full-length interview on YouTube from last year where the context was higher education. I called her back less than ten minutes into the recording and accepted her kind invitation. I guess if college has taught me anything, it is to question my own assumptions, and that is a really important lesson to learn.

And so, last night, we sat in an auditorium and listened to Rev. Jesse Jackson answer questions from faculty and students and the public for two hours. I really can’t describe the experience. Of course, one expects him to be educated, to be an experienced story-teller, but I never expected his unique combination of compassion, and honesty, and sharp wit, and sense of humor. Even at 70 years-old, he never missed a beat. He was truly inspirational.

And so, to honor him, I wanted to come home and write something profound. Something that people would read and say, wow, there’s a lot of great thinking going on here. Unfortunately, I keep finding myself coming up short in the thinking department these days. It’s sort of like my head is full of cotton. My heart, however, is always working overtime. So, today, I am going to depend on my heart to do the heavy lifting that my brain is just too tired to do.

Last night, Rev. Jesse Jackson reminded us to never underestimate the power of one light to challenge the darkness. All of you, my family and friends, are the lights in my life, because my life would not be the same without you. I am truly blessed. And I challenge everyone who reads this post – whenever that may be – to show gratitude today to the people who shine the light in your own life, not just because today everything is decorated with red hearts and mushy love stuff, but because gratitude illuminates the darkness.

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. :-)

Academic Integrity, Learning Online and My Experience with Exam Proctoring

Every syllabus at my institution contains a statement on Academic Integrity and every new course begins with each student reviewing and acknowledging the general statement that our work will be our own under every circumstance. Even so, since we are online learners and not present in a physical classroom with an instructor, there are a variety of methods used to “keep us honest.” As an example, for the first time in four years as an online student, I recently had to take a proctored exam for my graduate applied statistics course. Based on my own experience, following are my thoughts on exam proctoring as a method to ensure academic integrity in online learning.

In order to take the final exam, students had to secure a qualified proctor. How lucky for me that I live two minutes from a satellite campus with pre-approved proctors, I thought. With a few simple e-mail exchanges, the appointment was made, and my initial belief was that the worst part of this process would be losing a few hours of work time (and pay) due to the proctor’s schedule of availability. I was wrong.

I guess I should start with a disclaimer by admitting that applied statistics was a particularly challenging course for me.  Learning math online – without the benefit of software specifically developed to deliver the content and provide ample opportunities for practice with immediate feedback – is a real challenge, in my opinion. Still, I have been holding my own and my efforts have earned me respectable grades to date. Two midterms in the course were available online and open book/open note with a three-hour time limit. I barely finished the first one and the second one was finished with enough time to check my work. My point here is that the entire three hours were necessary to complete the assessment, at least for me. There was some initial confusion as to whether or not I would use my own equipment in order to have software access, so I showed up for my exam a few minutes early, because I anticipated needing the full three hours to work and I had been told that I could only stay until 6:30. (In retrospect, this could not have been the case since a student came in around 6:30 to begin an exam?)

The exam room where I was taken was just off the main reception area, which is between two sets of exterior doors. My point here is that it is THE main traffic area. The room was no bigger than 8′ x 6′ and there was another student already working at one desk when I entered to sit at the other desk in the room. I had to use my own equipment, so I couldn’t actually sit at the desk and instead had my knees pressed up against a drawer for the three-hour exam period. There was no air flow and I have no idea what the temperature was in there.

The proctor left the door open when she exited and, one point, the noise level of people measuring the wall outside the door for installation of a flat screen monitor and discussing placement with the receptionist at the desk across the room was so loud that I poked my head out the door. “Do you need help?” was her question. “No,” I answered, “but it’s very loud out here.” “Oh,” they said “sorry,” but no reduction in the volume of their conversation occurred. At some point, the other student completed her exam and left the room.  She closed the door behind her and I was grateful.

Not long after, an event that I can only equate to a pep rally began outside the main reception area in the open space. I don’t know what it was, but it involved very loud cheering, clapping, and yelling for at least thirty minutes. I put in my ear buds. I tried to fight the distraction. I tried to stay on task. In the end, I ran out of time and was unable to finish a five point question or review my work. The exam hasn’t been scored yet, but I feel very strongly that my grade on this work is bound to be negatively impacted by the environment in which I had to take it.

Since I had to show my identification to the proctor, my assumption here is that the purpose of using a proctor was simple verification that the student was taking the final exam. Using this method, can the professor actually be certain that only the student took the exam, and at what cost to the student? This method in no way guarantees academic integrity. At any point, I could have made a phone call, used IM or a myriad of other Web 2.0 tools, and gotten outside help on this exam. I didn’t, but not because I couldn’t. That’s my point.

Some professors use webcam monitoring or browser locking software. Some develop exams that don’t allow time for answer searching. I implore the course instructors and designers out there to please consider their students when they select methods to ensure academic integrity. There are many ways to accomplish your goal. Students can control an environment of their choosing, but not an environment that is selected for them. I enjoy learning in a variety of ways and I have taken several courses in a face-to-face classroom over the past four years. In those classes, I have never been expected to take a test under circumstances like these. Unfortunately, I have no recourse after the fact…

From superficial to synthesis: A theoretical framework, perhaps…

I count myself as fortunate. I chose a graduate program based on the opportunity to learn more about particular interest areas that were already extremely close to my heart; and everybody who knows me will tell you that where my heart leads, everything else follows. It has no other choice ;-) . Now, less than a year from my graduation date (hopefully) and I am even more grateful that I entered a graduate program with relevant interests already established.

Since I have had the opportunity, over the course of the program, in which to research, refine, and redefine my interests – community, Community of Inquiry model, engaging adult and online learners, building thriving online learning communities – I have begun to understand how these areas fit into the larger arenas of adult education and distance education. That’s two years of exposure to and accumulation of new resources, of moving past the superficial to synthesis. With a master’s thesis coming up, I see this as a definitive advantage. So, when some peers are considering topics for their master’s thesis, I have already established a formidable annotated bibliography and written  a few preliminary papers on the broader topic areas involved.

I didn’t realize how far I may have progressed in the thesis development process until this semester. After deciding to switch to full-time status, the long nights of homework and constant anxiety brought on some insomnia and a few nightmares. One night recently, I woke up suddenly at 4:30 am, ran for the first piece of lined paper and pencil that I could find. In about sixty seconds or so, I had written out what looks to be the theoretical framework for my master’s thesis…I think.

This is either the theoretical framework for my master's paper or just the product of a grad student nightmare.

Catching up is an illusion…or a delusion.

Saturday’s Lesson

It’s Saturday  morning; well, if you consider 11 am morning. It’s a rare and indulgent opportunity for me to do so, but much-needed after several days of recovering from Octsnowberfest and a nasty virus to boot. There are kids and cats crashed out everywhere and the house is quiet except for the steady fan noise from the pellet stove and my bursts of typing. I have been feeling incredibly overwhelmed lately. My decision to up the ante to full-time status and sign up for #CMC11 and #change11 amidst the rest of a full life and a natural curiosity may not have been my best. Then again, maybe it was…

My inbox has been a real whirlwind since I signed up for #change11 and #CMC11. Then brainysmurf inspired me with a post on keeping up with your inbox and staying organized. As I read through the dailies this morning on #CMC11 and #change11, the phrase “catching up” becomes much larger than the rest in the word cloud forming in my brain. Everybody’s catching up; it almost looks like the “in thing” to do. Why? Why are we catching up? Why do we feel this pressure to do everything? Is it a responsibility to ourselves? Is it a responsibility to others?

Set Yourself FREE!!

Here’s a brave thought. Maybe we’re not catching up. Maybe there is no such thing. Maybe we are right here – at this very moment – doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing and when we are supposed to be doing it. Maybe that is the greatest lesson of all. So, why carry the guilt? Why feel like we owe the world an explanation? Why apologize? When did life become a competition? What does that accomplish? Where would we be if we could just let ourselves be free and open to the experience of the moment – take a picture with our mind of everything seen and felt in a split second and cherish the honesty of it…

What if we turned our confinement into freedom, our chaos into calm, our responsibility into creativity, our guilt into gratitude. Imagine the world we might create then…

This post is for me and for Carol Y. and for my fellow MOOCers…even the silent ones. I know you’re listening and learning. Thank you…

A Moment for Honesty & Random Thoughts on Course Redesign…

My professor sent out an email this morning. I saw his message about leadership grades and I immediately felt guilty. I haven’t done enough. I took on too much this semester. While this is all true, it seems to always ring true no matter how true it is. Do you understand? There is always more that can be done. There is always more that I want to do. There are always things left undone. I have two piles of journal articles and research reports that I want to read, but they just taunt me from their plastic sleeves on the book shelf. I struggle with finding balance. I try to be present, to stay honest, to keep it real. Have I failed? Have I just been “phoning it in”? This matters a great deal to me and for the same reason that said professor pointed out in his message – ours is not a self-study course. We may be independent learners to a certain degree, but we rely on each other’s contributions that – together with our own engagement – help us to reach deeper understanding. Now I am forced to look in the mirror and ask myself if I have been adequately engaged and if I have contributed appropriately, but I also look to the course design and how it serves to either facilitate or hinder my learning.

Part I. The Questions

(I know research shows that exposure to the elements – think no electricity – is not associated with illness, but I am currently maxed out on cold medicine as I type, so this is where the random thoughts part probably comes in.) You know what I am missing in the aforementioned course? I miss interacting with everyone. Have I fallen off the map, I wonder? Is everyone else interacting while I am a no-show? Have I set unrealistic expectations? Have overly involved faculty and peers in other courses spoiled me?

On Skype and synchronous interaction:

It took a fair amount of effort to arrange a Skype session in my group. A few of us met up and I feel like I dominated that discussion, to the potential detriment of others. A few of us met up later that evening and this memory held me to practical silence. Someone else then dominated round 2! I spent time reflecting on group dynamics afterward. Why do some peer groups really hit it off while others never really even ignite? I know that you need a common interest or goal, but there are so many other factors – size, leadership, commonalities, time zones. ;-) Then, how to get past the awkward introductions to a stage of organic growth – when the group takes on a life of its own in support of individual members? I have a sneaking suspicion that one of our teams meets up more than the other, but I could be wrong. If so, why is one used more – and perhaps more successfully – than the other?

On discussions and asynchronous interaction:

I miss interacting asynchronously, too. Maybe the discussions just work for me. Maybe I am just that kind of learner (field dependence) or maybe the discussion questions and topics or format are better suited to the threaded discussion in ANGEL. Now that we are posting both unit discussion responses and reflections, do you think that we are supposed to be interacting in both places? Are we supposed to be interacting in both places? Are we interacting in both places? Why aren’t we interacting in both places? What about in the annotated bibliography sections? The medium allows for comments, but do we make them? Should we make them? Are we even reading what others contribute there?

Part II. The Suggestions

Personally, I usually find in favor of synchronous meetings, but I am not actively participating in any for this course. Why? Is anyone else? If yes, are you scheduling specific meeting times or just running into each other by chance? Would it be advantageous if self-selecting groups used a variety of similar applications (Skype, Google + hangout, Google Talk, etc.) and reported back on a predetermined set of factors for consideration – the positives and negatives, if you will? Perhaps future learners in this course would benefit more fully if the formal groups were eliminated from the Skype component so that peers could form more organic groups based on commonalities such as time zones? If given the option, perhaps some students are just more likely to use Skype for a variety of reasons. Would informal groupings unintentionally leave some interested students out? There is a balance somewhere between the effort to arrange and to attend a session and the benefits of the actual social learning encounter, I think; but I am not sure how easy it is to find and then to maintain that balance.

I loved one peer’s initiative in bringing in an expert presenter. Yes, the presentation was live, but many applications offer a recording function that permits repeated viewing and archiving (though there is a participation benefit that can never be replicated). This student had a particular interest in LMS/PLE that he rightly thought some of us might share and he brought in an unexpected learning opportunity. I would love to see a component like this added into this course. In contrast to other courses within the degree program, I think that there are fewer opportunities to “fit” our own developing interests (and/or professional experiences) directly into this curriculum. (Maybe it’s just me?) Maybe the answer is to offer an open opportunity for individuals or groups to present or discuss. I guess this should be a given, but I don’t think that I would ever have made that leap on my own! I get the idea that part of the goal of the annotated bibliography sort of fits this notion of sharing resources, but I am not sure how realistic that is given the format. First, the only consistency is in a broad unit topic and not in the quality of the resources contributed or the critical summaries provided. Second, we are not discussing the resources or are we? Everybody drops in their contribution. We are building a sort of random database. I think this exercise is supposed to help us gain individual practical research experience while sharing what we find most valuable provides a group benefit; I am just not sure that those intentions map to reality. Somebody please tell me that I am wrong.

There is a prerequisite required for the course to which I am referring and it is the ID4T model for instructional design. At least it was a requirement for me, since I am not a professional educator. With systemic and systematic instructional design under my belt, I somehow thought the next course would be more focused on individual course design, rather than program design. I imagined figuring out innovative ways to braid lessons and technology and learning together. Maybe I used a little bit too much imagination since we’re approaching design on a much larger scale here. ;-)  Don’t get me wrong, program design is vital for us. I was just hanging out at the wrong starting gate, I think, and wondering when the race was actually going to start.

Plus, it’s tough to play leap frog in the inconsistencies between what you’re learning as the ideal (if there even is an ideal) and what you’re experiencing (which you’d like to believe should be the ideal). In my case, there was a survey to contribute my thoughts. The survey was anonymous. Anonymity promotes honesty, right? It didn’t for me. I “phoned in” my survey. I’m sorry for that. There was no hidden agenda. I just wasn’t invested in the survey, but I am invested in the success of my peers and our learning experience together. So, my final suggestions relate to the evolution of the course. I believe that we are, as distance education students studying distance education, ideally positioned to not only be critical of the course – both the positives and negatives – but to also make suggestions on how to improve future sessions. The best way to accomplish this, in my opinion, is not through a survey. Instead, I recommend an open and ongoing dialogue. Now, I am prepared for my idea to fall flat. First, unlike me, all of my peers undoubtedly completed the survey and contributed copious amounts of well-thought-out recommendations and now have no desire and see little benefit in repeating said effort, which is perfectly reasonable. Second, most of my ideas only sound good to me! Still, I stand by my recommendation for the same reason given previously – because our goal is to find a deeper understanding – and it takes all of us working together to get there. 8-)