Reflections on Widen your classroom with blogs

null The fours week blogging course has come to an end, and it’s time to reflect.
It has been an intensive four weeks and I’ve met a lot of friendly and very motivated people.

They have overcome problems and persevered to create their own space in the internet. It is easy  to forget how daunting that can.

And so I applaud all of you from the course who have taken the first step.

Of course, not everyone managed to create a blog and some dropped out of sight (site!). But this too is a natural phenomenon and not to be scoffed at or scolded. Perhaps the time wasn’t right, or perhaps a second start will be needed.
For those of you who couldn’t or didn’t carry on for whatever reason, I thank you for joining the course anyway and hope that you have been able to take with you something of it for a later point in time.

For those of you who have questioned whether using blogs for teaching and learning purposes (I stress the learning part!) is worth the time involved, I can assure you that this is a good question and worth exploring further.  What added value will a blog give your learners? The WOW effect? A new look for old methods?  Or can it induce a new kind of methodology, or simply an addition outside the classroom that wasn’t possible before?

I’m sure there will be those of you blogging about that as well, and I look forward to reading your discoveries and conclusions for in everything I teach I make sure that I am learning.

The changes in technology are continueous. As Jenny stated in the live session, you may become used to a certain tool and then suddenly find it gone or changed and have to set out to find another one. But it is nothing to be afraid of.  A teacher who cannot learn cannot truely teach.

I too have plodded on and tried this and that, asked for help, led the way and let others lead me, and so I am glad to have you join me on this journey as readers, writers, teachers, and acquaintances, making the world wide web a little smaller and bit more friendly.

Blogging the world

Sometimes things just seem to come together. At the moment I’ve got two projects going.

I was contacted by a teacher over in California with a request for collaboration. Now I have my 5th graders writing in English to other 5th graders in the States.

This is exactly how I imagine my kids learning English as a foreign language! It’s a great opportunity for the stronger ones, and a reason to concentrate on the accuracy, not just for good grades, but to get the message across to others. So far they are enjoying the adventure and already the two classes have discovered major differences in something as elementary and international as sports. Kids here in Switzerland know of baseball, but softball was a new word to them. On the other hand, handball is a common sport played among the youth, but not well known in the USA.  The school year just seems too short sometimes. I guess that is a good sign!

At the same time I’m preparing a blogging course together with my friend Jennifer for a group of teachers. Once again it will take place across the Atlantic, connecting Swiss and Argentinian teachers. This is a very exciting venture and I hope many will profit from the course long after it is officially over!

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.