Category Archives: Technology Tools & Pedagogy

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- 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


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.

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?

Learning – Is it Really about Who is in Control?

This week, it seems like no matter what I read, I kept facing the word control as it relates to learning – teachers in control vs. learners in control. This makes it sound like learning is a game of tug of war. So, who is gaining ground and who is going to end up in the mud? Frankly, neither position sounds like an advantage to me…

To be honest, just thinking about linking those two words – control and learning – ties my stomach up in knots. Is that really what learning is about – who is in control? 

I remember many teachers from back in the day who would have liked to “control” my learning. They tried. I am and I was a bit of a rebel, though, I guess – or maybe I was just difficult. People liked to say that I was bored in the classroom because I wasn’t challenged. Well, they were wrong. I was bored in the classroom because it was boring. Period. End of story.

Fast forward to May 2007, my first college class after a twenty year hiatus. It was speech communications with Mr. Mosley and, right off the bat, he asked us why we were there. I raised my hand and why wouldn’t I? The question wasn’t that tough. We were there because we were expected to be there. Wrong, he said. You have a choice. If you don’t want to be here, there is an alternative.

But, even back in the fourth grade, I knew that I had a choice and that I made the decision, and if I failed, I suffered the consequences.

So, my question is this-

Is there such a thing as control when it comes to learning?

If so, what – exactly – are we trying to control? Are we trying to control the learner and their behavior in the environment? Are we trying to control the content so that a specific message – and only that message – is conveyed and retained by the learner? Are we trying to control the learning process? Do we see learning as a map with a single line between destinations? De we see learners as little identical boxes that are to be stuffed full of uniform information?

Personally, I see learning as more of a relationship of complex interactions – a web, of sorts – but not one that has to exist online or solely online. I think that we can still apply the nodes definition from connectivism, but the web would be much more limited when offline. From my perspective, the role of the teacher – as someone or something with new information – can be occupied by multiple (and even simultaneous) players. If anything, control here is shared, but maybe it doesn’t even exist.

Does control need to exist for the sake of learning?

Connectivism and Developing a Personal Learning Philosophy

I chose to study Web 2.0 tools and applications because I see interaction as the primary component of teaching and learning in the online environment – 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.

Interaction is key to learning online.

From the perspective of connectivism, this interaction occurs in the web of a personal learning network which is not limited by the structure of organized learning. A personal learning network is our unique set of connections to people, to resources, to repositories of information. When a problem requires solving, our personal learning network of trusted colleagues and authenticated resources is where we turn. This is how we sort through the chaos and where we contribute our own unique perspectives.

As much as I appreciate the idea of connectivism, as a learning theory it assumes certain capabilities that are not actually ubiquitous. Connectivism can only apply to those who have the ability to connect and not every human on the planet has the hardware device and Internet connection available to participate.

OK, I am going to open myself up a bit here. I believe that learning – in the broadest sense – is synonymous with living.

Learning is key to life.

Learning is not a set of physiological processes or a collection of biological entities as life may be defined, but learning is what we think and believe and how we engage with the world around us. Interaction is what is happening when a person learns and our interpretation of that interaction becomes our evolving knowledge.

So, if interaction is key to learning – particularly learning online – and learning is key to life, then how do we reconcile the missing voices??

Media Sharing and Learning

For a few weeks now, the focus has been on text-based Web 2.0. What happens when images, audio, and video are added into the mix? Based on our discussions this week, I would say that the potential for learning is encouraging…

First of all, we can’t pick just one method! Discussion revolved around the benefits of variety. John was the first to mention the versatility present in Web 2.0 tools and the resulting opportunities to provide learners with a variety of methods for interacting with content, peers, instructors, and other participants in the global classroom. In the comments, I pointed out that giving the learner options allows them to optimize their learning experience through the selection of the most appropriate method or methods based on their preference, circumstances, or any other influential factor. John also alluded to the learner’s capability for adapting content to fit their own unique context. In this manner, versatility in methods also supports ease of accessibility to content for a broader array of learners.

Second, we believe that Web 2.0 – as a constantly evolving group of methods and tools – has a bright future! John perceived Web 2.0 as a potential fix for the helpless learner feeling that he had to cope with when forced to learn math in a lecture hall from a teacher who had his back to the learners the whole time. Stephanie brought up the potential for creativity as she encouraged instructors to examine lessons from the point of view of their students. The potential in Web 2.0 for fostering learner motivation by integrating formal and informal learning was also considered.

Third, we find the Web 2.0 world engaging! From Beth’s “Flipped Classrooms” to podcasts for supporting students in overcoming learning challenges to the prospect of higher-order thinking, Web 2.0 represents a Web-connected global community. As I said before, global classrooms are not restricted by walls and rosters. They are student-directed, networked, participatory learning experiences.

In summary, it seems like we have concluded that emerging technologies and digital media do provide us – as educators, designers of instruction, and learners – with new tools and new opportunities for teaching and learning. They do give us versatility in how we present and exchange information and foster creativity in how we share media, apply it to our own unique context, and co-create new content through collaborative knowledge building.

Of course, there is no single or simple formula for selecting and implementing learning via Web 2.0. As I pointed out in a previous post, for example, it can be challenging to learn from a podcast where the speaker has a slow, monotone voice, or unfamiliar accent. In our rush to play in the sandbox, it remains critical to first consider fit – fit to objectives, fit to content, fit to context – as well as format. As members of the larger global community, we have a responsibility to at least attempt to understand the limitations of any method or tool for facilitating communication in order to avoid (or at minimum, reduce) the potential for misinterpretation of the message. Such misunderstandings could result in the convolution of the learning process or the derailing of learning altogether.