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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Finishing an ISWO course

When an ISWO course comes to a close, I have such mixed feelings:
  • Relief that it is over, that it went pretty well and I get part of my life back (time-wise.)

  • Melancholy because it is over... for a few days I find myself with time on my hands and going back to the course site to see if anyone else has posted something... thinking about things I should have shared/suggested... and missing the group and its energy.

  • Excitement that the course and the participants brought and continue to present new opportunities... I now know these folks and count them among my colleagues... I will look forward to seeing them on campus or in an Elluminate session.
I think each time I have facilitated ISWO I have ended up being the Instructional Designer on at least one of the participant's courses. Although we have no actually data/research to prove it, I really think participating in ISWO makes a difference in how instructors structure and facilitate their next courses. For some, they look for ways to use particular tools (wikis, narrated PPTs, video, blogs, polls, etc. Others design ways to put more control in the hands of their students, having them facilitate activities or make Elluminate presentations or perhaps they find ways to make the workload more manageable for their students and for themselves. Almost everyone has a renewed desire to make assignments and expectations clear and new ideas for building community in their online courses.

In at least three cases, I was concerned that I had created a monster! The instructors had a ton of things they wanted to do in the courses and some complex ways they wanted to do them. In all cases, I counseled simplicity, clarity and perhaps a reduced number of activities. I think they all were happy for my suggestions around clarity but most chose to figure out how to manage the number and complexity of activities. I made a point to check in with those instructors at least a couple of times during their courses and although they admitted to being very busy they all sounded like kids with a new pony. The courses were going well and they were having fun. What more could I ask for?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Facilitating ISWO

Facilitating is a really exciting (if exhausting) part of my job. This is the last week of my third time. The plan is that in January, someone else will join Terri (Amanda) and in May someone else will join Amanda in facilitating. I'll miss it but it is a great experience and something that others will enjoy and learn from as well.

As an instructional designer, facilitating ISWO helps remind me what it is like to teach online and to by empathetic with instructors I work with. It drives home some of the issues they face... participants not understanding what I thought were perfectly clear instructions, participants having a different logic than I do about where course elements should be placed... participants who are uncomfortable or insecure in the Moodle environment and are hesitant to jump in... participants who have emergencies or totally unexpected events that keep them from fully contributing to parts of the course... participants who don't like my choice of readings... and on and on.

It also lets me feel the joy of watching 'aha moments'... of seeing someone (or helping someone) find their way out of a puzzle or problem... hearing/reading all the experiences and ideas related to course topics... being exposed to different perspectives... hearing someone say "Thank you"... etc.

I think ISWO participants probably feel much the same way about gaining insight and understanding of the online student perspective. The experience of being in "someone else's shoes" is a powerful one.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Balancing Work & Life

It has been interesting to follow the Work/Life Balance forum in the ISWO course. In some past cohorts the participants have struggled with how to get the work done and to also get life in. While there is some of that, this time, it seems that the conversation reveals that most people feel they are doing alright in this area.

Some report that they have been very busy people for a long time and have had to learn how to be super organized and to stay on track. One tip that comes from this group is to identify when (what time of day or week) is the best time for you to do certain tasks. When are you the most productive writer, reader, brain-stormer, meeting participant, etc. and try to schedule activities during those times.

Some discuss finding a good two-way flow or rhythm for moving easily between work and other activities. This one intrigues me from a personal improvement perspective. For many years I loved the rhythm that I had in public school teaching: Work, give, do all you can for 9+ months and then pack it all up, walk away, and do something entirely different for 2 months before coming back, refreshed and excited to plan and begin the next school year.

That approach doesn't work so well in other settings. I need to find a different rhythm that provides the same rejuvenation.

Friday, October 22, 2010

ISWO First Week

Preparing the ISWO course site and preparing to facilitate a session is a big job. Even though many activities and readings are constant from one offering to another we spend a lot of time thinking about what went well last time and what didn't... what might be out-of-date and what new things we should try. And then when we see the individual responses to the registrations survey we think about ISWO in terms of this particular group and make additional modifications.

Every time I facilitate ISWO and read about the participants, I get scared - maybe it's excitement or nervousness - but I have this sort of panic feeling of "My god these people have such wonderful experiences, rich backgrounds and credentials and many of them are long-time instructors! What are we going to be able to teach them?!"

Then, I watch the first week unfold and realize - once, again - how much people learn from each other when given an environment and a little bit of structure. Participant who have very impressive resumes not only share what they know but also are able to zero in on the nuggets that others offer. We all 'teach' each other. It's always what I intend to happen... what I hope will happen - it's just a relief and vary exciting to see it happen, yet another time.

I've been particularly impressed, this time, with participants' ability to do sort of the meta-cognitive thing. They are able to participate in an activity and at the same time begin thinking about it in terms of what teaching/learning strategies are embedded in the activity... what it is trying to model - and, immediately, begin thinking about how to use/adapt it to their own teaching.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Finding the blogging habit

Okay, so in May I decided to try blogging along with my ISWO colleagues. I had what I thought was a great idea: to read a book and blog about it as I read various chapters. I guess life got in the way because I stopped posting.

Then, I thought I would blog on the new, soon-to-be-launched MyRRU site - thinking it would be a way to discuss issues of common interest with the instructors and other colleagues that I work with. The launch is delayed so I'm going to use this blog at least through this ISWO session.

Two things are on my mind, lately: 1) We have a visually impaired student just beginning courses and I'm learning a lot about accessibility... and have a lot more to learn! and; 2) The CTET Instructional Designers had a discussion about how to help some instructors realize the potential of online environments instead of considering them second best.

The latter seems especially relevant to ISWO and as we progress through the four weeks I want to capture some of what you are contributing in a form that can be shared with others. The is an extraordinary group and I think your ideas may help others.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


To continue the discussion of Anderson's chapter and relate it to our ISWO discussions... Anderson refers to How People Learn by Bransford, Brown and Cocking and discusses their argument that effective learning is community-centered, knowledge-centered, learner-centered and assessment-centered.

Unit 1 of ISWO took up the topic of community and community-building in online courses and participants raised a number of issues around the importance of lack of importance of community. Some pointed to ways that they build community in f2f classes and are looking for ways to do that online. Others pointed out that some students aren't really interested in developing community with their online peers – they just want to get the content and get on with it. Still others drew attention to readings and their own experience and discussed the difference between cohort and community. Several people offered their ideas of ways to build community in online environments.

Anderson describes a number of people who promote community, including Wenger (members of a learning community both support an challenge each other, leading to effective and relevant knowledge construction) and Wilson (participants share a sense of belonging, trust, expectation of learning, and commitment to participate in and contribute to the community.) But he also points to writing of others who discuss the difficulty of achieving community online... “I short, it may be more challenging than we think to create and sustain these [virtual] communities... linked to lack of placedness and synchronicity in time and place, the mere absence of body language, and the development of social presence.”

He agrees that many online students may no be looking for community, “Contrary to popular belief, the major motivation for enrolment in distance education is not physical access per se, but the temporal freedom that allows students to move through the course of studies at a time and pace of their own choice. Participation in a community of learners almost inevitably places constraints upon this independence... The demands of a learning-centered context at times may force us to modify the most proscriptive participation in communities of learning, even though we have evidence that such participation will likely advance knowledge creation and attention.”

It seems that Anderson might agree with ISWO participants in that it would help to get to know learner needs, expectations and commitment as well as discuss/negotiate roles and responsibilities early in the course. This might allow us to provide some flexibility for learners and at the same time make our own thinking clear to them.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Chapters from Theory and Practice of Online Learning

Tuesday, I had a long day of flying and spending time in airports on my way to Indiana. (I'm here for Mother's Day and for my mother's 82nd birthday.) Before I left I printed a couple of chapters from Terry Anderson's and Fathi Elloumi's book, Theory and Practice of Online Learning. I read the first chapter, by Mohamed Ally, several months ago and enjoyed it as a good look at educational theory and tying it to various e-learning practices/strategies. While I did not enjoy chapters 2 and 4 as much, they both casued me to think about online learning as it relates to several current projects - ISWO being one of them.

Terry's chapter (2), Towards a Theory of Online Learning, made a case for the need for theory and two points that he draws from
BrentWilson made a lot of sense to me as I go charging ahead, steeped in the demands of practice: 1) Theories can help us to invest our time and resources most effectively; 2) Theories force us to look beyond day-to-day contingincies and ensure that our knowledge and practice of online learning is robust, considered and ever expanding.

I also appreciated his argument that 'learner-centered' would be more accurately labeled 'learning-centered.' And as he discusses this Anderson posits that 'The online learning environment is ... a unique culteral context" and quotes Benedikt who says that cyberspace "has a geography, a nature, and a rule of human law." I'd love to sit down with some colleagues, maybe over a beer, and try to describe the geography, nature and rule of human law of the Internet.

Another point that might relate to our Work/Life Balance discussion is Anderson's observation that a danger of assessment-centered learning is a potential to increase workloads for online instructors.

He also discusses and points to others who would support many of the current posts in the ISWO Building Community forum. I think I'll leave that for another post.