Category Archives: Learning as I go…

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.

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??

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?

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.