Engage. Grow. Fostering Community Online.

Last week (April 19-21) I attended the Digital Learning Conference 2015 in Burnaby with my colleague and OLTD cohort member, Lisa Lewis. It was a great opportunity to connect with people such as Mary O’Neill (@maryjoneill), Randy LaBonte (@rlabonte) and Avi Luxenburg (@aluxenburg) (OLTD instructors) and some of my OLTD cohort. This well-attended conference was a great generator of new ideas and gave Lisa and me our first opportunity to present.

The opening keynote speaker, Dave Cormier (@davecormier), used an analogy of a rhizome to learning. Rhizomes, aggressive, chaotic, and resilient can be hard to contain, following their own path. This is how learning should be; not contained or restricted. “Success is never finishing (learning)”. We were asked to consider why we school, what we are schooling and ultimately what do we want school to be for? There were lively discussions amongst the participants as well as on the twitter backchannel (#2015DL).

My focus for this conference was to collect information on how others are incorporating blended or flexible courses in their traditional face-to-face schools. I attended a seminar by Jeff Stewart (NIDES/Navigate) who described how they tackled the challenges of ‘traditional’ learning by incorporating Web 2.0 tools and choice via various Academies. I am not sure how this model could be applied in Adult Basic Education, but I am inspired by the idea of including community activities, leadership and project-based learning in our program.

Heather Corman and Julie Shields presented their thoughts on Independent Learning Centres. These centres are a place for students to work on courses via distance learning but with a support teacher in the room to answer basic questions. They have met with great success, providing opportunities to students to take courses they would otherwise be unable to. The greatest tip for success was to ensure that expectations were clear – that it was a class and not computer ‘play’ time!

Avi and Mary’s presentation suggested strategies for building community in online and blended courses. Creating social tension may work for some instructors, while others lean towards appreciative inquiry. Both presenters agreed that it was necessary to have a cohort model to build a successful community for learning.

Lisa and I presented early on the last morning of the conference. To see the slideshare of our presentation, check out the link below. I think it went amazingly well, especially as first-time presenters at a very well attended seminar. We challenged our participants to create a digital mindmap of our presentation, and some jumped right in and tweeted a copy to the rest of the conference participants. I was very happy to have the opportunity to both attend and present at this conference, and hope to present at another conference in the future!

Mindmapping – Harnessing the power of student collaboration: http://bit.ly/1yM2LtH.

2015 DL Conference collaborative notes: http://goo.gl/9r1Vqi

angry at computerThis 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.

02. March 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Blog · Tags: ,

head with brain mappedMy journey into e-learning began with moving my digital notes (PowerPoint, Word) from my own personal computer to an LMS, in this case Desire2Learn.  I thought I was on the cusp of something big, and my students would be amazed at the accessibility and amount of material at their fingertips.  However, I quickly realized that all I had accomplished was to create a digital version of a filing cabinet, and that I really wasn’t “creating a spark” in my students in any way.

Stephen Downes, in his article “E-learning 2.0” states that e-learning today is mainly in the form of online courses that use LMS’s to organize and deliver content.  This is not much different from the days of my first correspondence course where content was sent to me in paper format and I submitted my assignments by walking to the post office.  If e-learning is simply providing a digital form of the same content, how is this any better than what we already have?

I recently listened to a textbook distributor sing the praises of a new program that can learn with the students, guiding them towards areas they need to focus on, and providing all the bells and whistles students seem to require to be engaged in learning.  You can learn a topic through reading text, watching animations, videos and taking interactive quizzes.  I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling so uncomfortable through the entire presentation.  After some thought, I realized that my philosophy of learning includes constructing knowledge, not simply receiving knowledge.  I wish my students to critically think about what they are learning and to learn together, not in isolation as they complete yet another module of an online course.

Many teens are already actively participating in the creation and sharing of content, or a “participatory culture” (Jenkins, Purushotma, Welgel, Clinton and Robison, 2009).  How can I encourage and support this culture in an online environment?  How can I change the way I approach my online teaching, and create a safe space for students to create the content rather than provide “canned” content for them?  How can an LMS be used effectively to achieve this goal, rather than acting as my glorified filing cabinet?

Downes, S.  (2005, October).  E-learning 2.0.  eLearn Magazine: Education and Technology in Perspective.  Retrieved from http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=1104968

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Welgel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A.J.  (2009).  Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.  Retrieved from http://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/titles/free_download/9780262513623_Confronting_the_Challenges.pdf