This week our cohort was divided into groups to learn about different Learning Management Systems (LMS). I happily found myself in the Desire2Learn group – happy because I have been using this LMS for the past 2 years at VIU. Our collaborative learning began via email, which quickly became a long list of “reply all” style emails. I easily get lost when this happens, and found that I was not responding to others as often as I should have. One of our team members did create a group in the Canvas course website, but it was not well used. I think I avoided using this group site as I had never used Canvas before and was wary of learning yet another tool. In the end, we all agreed to wait until our second synchronous session on March 8 to make our plans.
During the breakout session (March 8), our group divided up the tasks. Sign up was done using a google doc, which made it easy to see who was working on what. Those group members who had a little more experience with the LMS teamed up with the new learners as co-instructors or advisors. We then set off to learn about our chosen piece of the LMS and to prepare for the “show and tell” portion of the jigsaw activity.
Sounds idyllic, right? Everything working out, team members are supporting each other, jobs are getting done. And then technology rears its ugly head…
I tried to meet with a member of our team in a Collaborate room to practice our presentations and give each other feedback. This happened to coincide with a Collaborate system outage with no estimated time of repair. Initially, I thought the problem was my computer so I did what any sane person would do – yelled at it and hoped that would fix it. I decided to reboot, and sent a panic email to my team mate that something was wrong and I would be late for our session. Rebooting didn’t help, but by then my team mate had replied letting me know the problem was actually Collaborate. During this back and forth, it became apparent that email was a terribly inefficient tool for quick communication. We switched to Skype and managed to have a somewhat real time conversation to plan a new meeting. I’m happy to say that the following evening we had a wonderfully successful Collaborate session.
This experience reinforced how frustrating online learning can be. I feel that I have an average level of technological understanding, yet I was becoming panicked during this experience. I wasn’t exactly sure what was causing the access problem, and if it had been a serious computer issue on my end, I would have been in trouble. In the end, a breakdown in technology prevented me from completing my planned learning activity.
For many of my students, such an experience would have simply resulted in giving up. Often, students in ABE do not have a basic level of computer literacy, access to a home computer, or the money to pay for internet connections. In “Weaknesses of Online Learning“, the Illinois Online Network organizes potential weaknesses of online learning into six categories. Among them is technology, which must be accessible, friendly and reliable. It is essential that the medium I choose for student learning is accessible to all my students, regardless of economics or geography. As I learn more about LMS and non-LMS systems, I need to keep the educational needs of my students first and foremost in my mind.