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.

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