Friday, May 25, 2012

Assignment 3 - Reflective Diary

The final part of our journey along exploring effective online pedagogy is to submit a reflective journal. Very difficult to condense half a year into 1000 words.
 
The identification of a topic of interest and preparation of a literature review 
 Whilst I am pleased with my literature review, I found it a task I had to invest an enormous amount of time developing. A literature review requires you to pool a large amount of well-founded information into a single document. It also benefits from extensive knowledge about a topic in order to draw out the deeper thinking and ideas. I did not have this extensive knowledge on which to build – it was a double learning curve. The topic settled on was “Blended Learning can lead to improved student outcomes”. I teach in a blended learning environment. I wanted to investigate the merits of focusing on pedagogy, transforming the learning in order to shift culture in my environment. My review justified a move forward. The shift was from broadly stating that there needed to be a shift in pedagogy if we are to improve student outcomes to a focus on the elements that define pedagogical shift. Some of these elements included – clear standards, methods of assessment, professional development, construction of a model of online course development which utilises the 4 phases of COI and effective use of teaching presence. The modules towards the end of the course would have assisted in developing issues in my review.

Your experience preparing and facilitating the learning event
Garrison and Anderson (2003) formed the basis of the construction of this event. It was important to use the categories of social presence to break down barriers of alienation in an online environment and how that can encourage participants to engage in higher order thinking and deeper level of discussion and analysis of material in Communities of Inquiry.
Critical Thought 1: When we design online courses, what is our focus - are we content focused or learner focused? Digital Stories were chosen to link with current teaching scenario. The task was significantly more difficult than necessary. Many hours were spent researching topics, collaboration tools and in developing a strategy to apply the elements of online pedagogy. Too many hours it would seem.
Critical Thought 2 - Is this how students feel on a regular basis when they are given an assignment? I need to ensure that outcomes and purpose of the assignment are clear.
A few points I've learnt are:
• select activities that are engaging and sustaining • constructing thought provoking questions is incredibly challenging
• digital stories have many layers of application, across fields I could never imagine linking to.
• it is essential to get to know your students well in order to cater for different background experiences and in planning effective events for learning
• teacher online presence and e-moderating is critical but it is an art not to stifle discussion
• Similarly, it is an art to ask questions which promote deeper analysis and thinking
• It requires a high level of management strategies as a facilitator to maintain momentum and interest and keep a sense of perspective
• More teacher presence is required at the conclusion of the event in order to bring the participants cognitive journey to a meaningful climax.
• Social presence featured as a strength of the event but using timeframes would have clarified participants level of interaction and allow the inclusion of more research based tasks to facilitate deeper learning in the exploration and integration phases of the event.

Your experiences participating in learning events
I participated in 2 events. The first, a discussion of Facebook and its place in the classroom. I found the ‘chat’ engaging and interesting but comments were opinion based not reflecting deeper reflection and research. I gained many insights into the value of a highly structured event that follows the 4 phases of the practical enquiry model – as did “Captain, Oh my Captain”. However, the time invested by the facilitator was huge and unreasonable in a real context. Not only his, but very time consuming for the participant and inflexible. Sample summary comments for the second event are relevant here: “You drew us in personally with videos, with stories and with commenting deeply on our responses. You then took us to the next level of learning - finding research, applying it and now summarising.” “I don't think I fully 'believed' in the steps and process of online learning until this event. I will make changes to improve the learning outcomes for my students. Again, another shift in my pedagogy - student focused learning, not teacher focused.”

Your experiences in planning for further events
I prepared for the second online event by summarising all the course information regarding online pedagogy. The important aspects are; preparation, timing of activities, exploration, interaction and synthesis of the information learned, creating engagement, trust, delving deeper, promoting new search queries and critically analysing. I included the initial aspects of the Practical Inquiry Model (Garrison & Anderson, 2003). The process then moved to exploration of the material presented, testing out student thoughts and ideas. The integration phase where various research ideas are brought together and then higher order thinking skills applied in to order to build ideas and extend thinking. Resolution being the final stage sees participants firming up the ideas they thrashed about into formalised ideas and resolutions. I felt my second event is even closer to the right recipe than my first. It involved more planning but this time it was directed at exploring content more deeply and facilitating from the back seat. There is no winning recipe. It requires hard work, careful planning, professional development, feedback, willingness to learn, clear goals/outcomes for learners, trust, accountability, collaboration, effective facilitation, discussion, investing time in people, an open minded attitude and expertise on relevant topics.

 Is it worthwhile? Absolutely.

 Garrison, D. R., & Anderson, T. (2003). E-learning in the 21st century: a framework for research and practice. New York: Routledge Falmer.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Terms, definitions, names...now put it it to good use

Ahh the quest for knowledge. We open up the mind, we fill it up with good stuff. We define what it all means and label it. We reshape what it looks like and then relabel it again. We explore a deeper level of it and then find the winning recipe. We shut the lid. Or do we? Hopefully not.

© Abi Woldhuis
I do find learning all about teacher presence, cognitive presence, social presence all very interesting in the context of online learning. I question if it is different to a face to face context. Some yes, some no. I do love the notion that teacher presence in online learning is not about how much the teacher responds to the online participants. It is about a lot more. It's the whole package. The preparation, the timing of activities, exploration, interaction and synthesis of the information learned. Yet, wait...there is more. It is about creating engagement, trust, delving deeper, promoting new search queries and critically analysing that. Psyched out yet? We have Communities of Inquiry where people come together to explore their ideas. There is still more, there are the different phases of how to do all of this - such as in the Practical Inquiry Model (Garrison & Anderson, 2003) where we the phases consist of triggering if the event or start of learning and engage learners. They then move to exploration of the material presented, testing out their thoughts and ideas. An effective online facilitator will move participants to the phase of integration where various research ideas are brought together, higher order thinking skills applied in to order to build ideas and extend thinking. Resolution being the final stage sees participants firming up the ideas they thrashed about into formalised ideas and resolutions.

What an enormous task to get it right! Do it well and you have engaged, enthused, active learners collaborating together and feeling good about the process. Do it poorly and learners disengage, become frustrated and don't share the full benefit. Online learning is reliant on effective teacher presence bringing in social and cognitive presence. How do we achieve that and develop excellent online pedagogy? There is no winning recipe but it does require hard work, careful planning, professional development, feedback, willingness to learn, clear goals and desired outcomes for learners, trust, accountability, collaboration, effective facilitation, discussion, investment of time in people, open minded attitude and a certain level of being an expert on relevant topics.
Is it worthwhile? Absolutely.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Your Story, Our Story. Online Learning Event reflections

What an interesting experience. How to ties ones self in knots. How to explore but find yourself not able to select a path. In a recent assignment, we were required to plan an online learning event on the topic of our own choosing. A significant issue here was choosing a topic that would hopefully be relevant to my cohort - who I know virtually nothing about!
Critical thought number 1 - when we design online courses, what is our focus - pushing content or who are our students and what do they need to learn. Are we content focused or learner focused?
I made this task way more difficult than it had to be. I spent hours researching various topics, researching various collaboration tools, worrying and getting psyched out over reading other people's ideas and feeling they were way better.
Critical thought number 2 - this is how student feel on a regular basis when they are given an assignment. I need to ensure that I am very clear about what the outcomes and purpose of the assignment are.
I decided on choosing a topic that is relevant to the students I teach every day(and hoping that my uni cohorts would find it beneficial as well) - digital story writing. The research began and continued for what seemed an eternity. Weighing up different opinions, deciding how I was going to engage my peers, how much was too much info for participants to work through, how would I sustain them cognitively and socially. Stop worrying, just design a course that I would enjoy.
Course designed, course opened, the wait began...would anyone participate? Was it in line with the assignment criteria. Exhaustion left me with no choice but to wait and see.
The first little glimmer of life appeared on day 2 with Google Docs informing me that there was a visitor to the event. Heart racing! Seriously, get a grip. This was an assignment.
More collaborators joined the event and the discussion deepened. Questions started to be asked and exploration began. I began to stalk the event, constantly checking for more 'action' on the Google Doc. Why? perhaps because people's contributions made it feel like a success. Perhaps because the deeper the discussion went, the more curious I became to hear other people's perspectives. Perhaps because in an online setting, the cravings for social interaction become quite pronounced. I love to test my ideas against other people's opinions and to thrash around the issues. Perhaps because the opinions offered were outside my realm of experience and cast such a totally different light on the place of Digital Stories across different fields. I was amazed. I was encouraged and I appreciated the willingness of others to give my event a go.
Have I benefited from it? Immensely. Apart from reading way too much research, a few points I've learnt are:
  • it is important to select activities that are engaging and sustaining
  • constructing though provoking questions is incredibly challenging
  • digital stories has many layers of application across fields I could never imagine linking to
  • as educators it is essential to get to know your students well in order to cater for different background experiences and in planning effective events for learning
  • teacher online presence is critical but it is an art not to stifle discussion
  • keep a sense of perspective
  • Google docs is an awesome collaborative tool
As I continue to reflect on the event, I will add more thoughts.