My experience of on-line courses and on-line learning.

I have been a firm believer that it is necessary to know about technology and how it can enhance learning, especially as a freelance teacher. Now, though I am no longer freelance, I still feel the same way as I teach young learners.

I read books and made my own ponderings about how I could utilize the wonderful, yet ellusive materials out there in interspace, but it wasn’t until I took my first o-line course in 2006 that I really began to discover the more concrete possibilties.
From that moment on it was one long, intensive education that took place in a number of different times and places on the internet, no longer bound to the constrictions of a course. Yet one thing prevailed throughout this whole discovery process: I was not alone. There is a huge community of educators using technology, experimenting, commenting on the effect, and helping others.
I have learned so much from these people in many respects.
Now I also use technology, give on-line courses and write about my experiences. But I haven’t quit learning. My head is no longer smoking from processing the implications of some of the uses, nor am I quite so involved in the community at the moment, but it is more of a breather – taking time to implement all the things I have learned.

What makes on-line courses so different from face to face courses?
The most obvious difference is that you can work at any time of day or night, in your pyjamas, in the bath, or even in a cafe.
But there are other differences I have noticed. You are hardly ever alone. You can ask your questions at any time or day or night. You may not get an immediate answer, but you will get one soon. I also found that the roles of particpants in on-line courses quite quickly grew. If I needed help, quite often the first person to give it to me was someone else on the course who had figured it out or who had previous experience. More and more often it was I who was one of these persons helping out my colleagues on the course. I saw myself and others becoming responsible learners. I was also learning how to help out in technical questions – something we as teachers have to be able to do with your students as well.
We were building a network, and many connections I have made in the past are still alive.


What is a community? Reflections on weeks 2 and 3

After following the threads of the FOC course and reading through some of the blogs, my idea of what a community has started taking a different form.

In one of the threads Leigh reacts to a blog post from Minhaaj saying:

Minhaaj then goes on to point out something possibly overlooked in the consideration of communities online – the numerous instances where prejudices normal in face to face communities, are transcended online. This might be something unique about online communities – the idea that age, race, gender, religion, sexuality, while known about by the members, may not be a big consideration in their community.

I read this after I had been reflecting on the matter myself. I certainly be in a community with people Ukrain, Lebenon, India, Sudan, places in South America, or even New Zealand in a f2f community.And I agree with the different voices I’ve been following that there is an emotional investment in an online community just as one would expect in a f2f community.

It is the online aspect that brings people from all over the world together who might never otherwise exchange a single word. This I find exciting, and if all these people come together to form a community, then the world has become a lot smaller. In a f2f setting I’d like to think that issues of gender, age, appearance, etc would not influence my desire to join a community. But the chances of joining such a diverse community are rare in f2f life.

Which brings me back to the definition of a community.  Most of what I’ve been reading follows the same line of course, but I’d like to share a definition from Ken Allan (thanks, Ken!) in the form of a short article called Working with Online Learning Communities. I do this partly because I find it a great summary, and partly because I am overwhelmed by the shere task of requoting all the great comments, threads and posts I’ve read so far.

Reading through it, I’ve highlighted parts that struck me as particularly relevant or interesting and will reiterate them and other thoughts here:

Ken quotes Caleb Clark’s 3 guiding principles:

  • online learning communities are grown, not built
  • online learning communities need leaders
  • personal narrative is vital to online learning communities.

So with reference to this course, does it only become a community if it is successful? If we don’t find ourselves building a community, has the course failed to be successful? Has the facilitator failed to facilitate or have we failed to share the personal narrative? (this is completely hypothetical as I see growing bonds and emotional investment between members of this (very large!) course) Here I would set the personal narrative parallel and in some cases equal to emotional investment, i.e. giving of oneself.

Ken continues to quote Clark with the traits a successful facilitator should have. One that catches my eye is ‘control the environment, not the group’.

Actually, nowhere is the word ‘facilitator’ mentioned. The word ‘leader’ is, and in many online learning communities you could also use the word ‘teacher’, though the role of a teacher may change in an online community. This has also got me thinking about the person in the role of the facilitator.

Leigh has apologized for joining in the conversation and claims that the facilitator should stand outside of it in order to observe and steer as necessary. I suppose this is one way, but if the facilitator is part of the community, I would say he or she has just as much validity in the conversation as anyone else, providing the aim is not to dominate or force anything onto the community, but to share, for isn’t this the essence of what a community is for?

A further question in my mind is how fixed the role of facilitator is. Couldn’t others take over this role in understanding of the responsibility that goes with it?  Must it be a formal role that is given like a title to ‘the person in charge’? I prefer the idea of a flexible facilitator who is also anxious to learn from the others without the urge to dominate the conversation , and is willing to let other members lead the way.

So what is the difference between a facilitator and a moderator? Does it lie in the institutional nature of the group? I would love some opinion here, as I wonder if maybe I’ve mixed the two up.

The final point that has come up in the threads of conversation quickly but not been expanded on is the role of those who do not actively participate, more commonly and less nicely known as lurkers.

Often the question comes up as to how to integrate these members. First, I’d like clarification as to when such a person is a member of a community and when he or she is an observer. In a course like the FOC I’d think that by way of signing up, one has committed oneself to the community. But there are many other communities out there, and the idea of 90 non-active to 10 active participants makes me think about what the 90 % are doing. Are they following what is going on and processing it? Or have they emotionally and physically disengaged from the community? The names may still be on the list, but that doesn’t mean that they are.

How do we find out?  And is it necessary to urge them out of complacency? Those who are still participating, albeit non-actively, may at some point have gained the confidence and knowledge to shout out and become active. And the others? Do we throw out those who have disengaged? Do they need nudging, a gentle reminder that the community is still there?  These are questions I’d like to find answers to in order to support the non-active members in a community.

How many times do we need to recreate ourselves?

In my last post I asked a question about edtags, and one of the responses got me thinking and inspired me to write this post.

While listening to one of the NECC webcasts,  Our Students – Our Worlds, one of the points that were made  on the side was that the kids who grow up with technology**  have their place out there in the digital world. They choose a platform like Myspace based on what everyone else they know is using, and then that is where they stay. We, on the other hand, have tried myspace and facebook as well as Xing and others. Same for social tagging. Where are our tags? Are they in delicious, blinkspace, digg, diigo, or some other tool that will come up as the next best greatest thing? What will happen to our other tags? You can transfer this idea to bookshelves, musicboxes, picturebooks etc.

We as digital immigrants, however, are constantly searching and trying out new things. The result being that we have a little infomarmation scattered here and there, but no place to call home. We add a few details, look around, see how it works, and then a new tool is suggested to us by someone we know, an invitation to join – which we do, of course, and then the same thing happens again.

So are we a lost generation constantly in search for the perfect tool, which we’ll never find because, even if we do find it, a new one will come along, making the old one obsolete.

Why can then the digital users find a place to be and then stay there? What consequences will that have for them? What kind of consequences will our wandering have on us and our identity on-line?

And most important of all, how are we going to deal with this constant movement so that we have strong and useful ties to support and connect us? How are we going to approach all the new and exciting tools that will hit us in the future with even more and better possiblitites? What happens to the old tools we used and then fall into disuse?

**In the same webcast I believe, digital natives are described as being only natives for a very short time before new tools come up and they are no longer digital natives. Instead they become digital USERS.

reflections on evo 08

Time really flies when you are busy and so my reflections on the 08 smielt session is much later than the actual end.

I certainly learned a lot about moderating, as it was my first time doing it, and I would definitely do it again.  The role of moderator isn’t the same as of instructor, so I was confronted with people who had more experience in some areas than I did. This meant taking a guiding role rather than an authoritative role. The participants all had their experiences to share and so the profit was global and immense. This makes me think about the role of the teacher in the classroom. How much authority is necessary? How can we as educators include our pupils (YL) or students in the decision-making process of what they learn and how they learn it?

And, of course, there was the discovery of different tools and how they can be used. Twitter was especially interesting with quite a bit of scepticism, and at the same time enthusiasm. Like with blogging, I was reluctant to see any use for it, but in the meanwhile I enjoy using it and even keep up private contact through Twitter.

Flickr was another tool that was much discussed, with good ideas flying about. Much sharing and enthusiasm.

The end was Charles’ Hipbone game. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm seemed to taper out before the end of the game. Nevertheless, it was a highly enjoyable experience and a great brain-wracker.

Now a final thank you to all who contributed to the session! It’s been wonderful following your thoughts on your blogs and I hope to keep up the discussions 🙂

Social media = open media

Sarah mentioned on her blog the following:

Social Media is not part of my culture. To me, it only makes sense when I am participating in a closed environment where I know people – like in this class. The start and stop times, and the built-in time and place to get to know each other makes a difference for me. The concept of joining an ongoing conversation and social group is not something I am comfortable with…yet.

I am well aware of this feeling and it is certainly for each person to decide for themselves. I have also gone through this stage, and perhaps I am now not cautious enough about my presence on the internet. A lot of what I do has to do with trust in others who are also using these tools. Of course, you also have to be aware that everyting you say is documented and can be called up. This must have implications. I would say that this kind of openness can also promote politeness and a more selective choice of expressions.

When using these tools with younger pupils, this is also a topic that needs to be addressed. It is not something the youth worries about, and yet, it is an essential part of training, and I believe strongly that this is our jobs as educators.  They are most certainly unaware of the possible problems that an unreflected statement can have in their later lives.

School 2.0 – a revolution in learning? Discussions in the blogosphere

Bud the Teacher has an picked up a good point from a thread on David Warlick’s blog.
Here’s what he has to say:

I’ve been having quite intensive discussions

What I am against is the simplistic notion that this technology leads to “School 2.0″ and that it represents a revolution in learning.

    Yeah.  I’m against that, too.  See, while I’ve been participating in and am learning lots from the whole “School 2.0” conversation(s), I find that so often, the presence of technology, to some people, means that the school of the future is here.  But it ain’t.  The technology by itself changes very little.  Having a blog or a podcast or a really neat-o wiki doesn’t mean a thing in terms of school design, school reform, or doing business differently if the underlying philosophies of education don’t change.  Sitting in rows and watching the teacher type on a blog via the projector isn’t a revolution in amazingly new pedagogy — it’s just a really, really expensive use of virtuo-chalk.
    The change comes when we begin to realize the power of sharing the information, of making the walls more transparent.  I think. 
     And I’ve been guilty of that expensive use of tech stuff sometimes, but my larger point is simply that, if all we’ve done at the end of the day with these new fangled tools that have amazing potential is turn them on and blast the old school stuff out into the new school world, well, then we haven’t really done all that much.  Have we?

I’ve been having quite intense discussions with friends, trying to convince them of the whys and hows of blogs, wikis, collaborating via internet, etc. This is what it boils down to: Are the kids smarter if I make use of web 2.0 in the classroom? Will I be a better teacher? Bud’s words are exactly my own thinking. When I started exploring blogs, I was very sceptical, and it wasn’t until I had found a purpose that I feel my students will profit ADDITIONALLY from that I took them to heart.

I’m still exploring, and though I haven’t made any revolutionary steps in with my classes due to blogs, I’m still learning and working on it.
Tools are what the teachers make of them.

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Blogging Swiss politicians

Here in Switzerland one of the Bundesrat (we have 5 governing officials!) started a blog. he is currently also the minister of environmental affairs and has raised a lot of interest through his blogging. Mr. Bundesrat Leuenberger started on March 14 2007, so just over a week prior to this post. It has been a huge success. Apparently, there is a huge desire to put in one’s own two cents at the top. Some posts have over 500 comments!!!

This is the first I’ve heard of government officials blogging, but it could be the beginning of a new acceptance for such tools outside the homes and offices of ‘techno-geeks’ like I am currently considered. If so, this could also mean that we may become more successful in integrating blogs in schools. They are already a part of the software being used in the e-learning platform at the pedagogical university I work at.

Is there a change on the horizon, or am I simply too optimistic?