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Spring in Alexandra

Spring in Alexandra

This section will be about a course that I am embarking on in July 2008. It is called: Connectivism and Connective Knowledge offered by George Siemens. This is mainly for my reflection, but I am interested in any comments – once I have something to say!

The course wiki is here: Connectivism Wiki

The course blog is here: Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Blog

The course email list is here: Connectivism Google Group

  • Resources:

An article on Connectivism 

Website on connectivism

The online conference – provides the names of contributors

I have now read some articles on this topic and was intrigued by what was even meant by connectivism. Bill Kerr’s critique provided interesting reading. Its particulalry good to see soemone acknowledge the various learning theories and draws these into the arguments rather than start from the position that this is new knowledge. Ok, so in a nutshell what is meant by ‘connectivism’? From Stephen Downes web site: “It is more than the process of making connections”; “It is not a representational Theory”;In relation to a chess games he says that … “the difference between a cognitivist theory and a connectionist theory [is that]… The cognitivist thinks deeply by reasoning through a long sequence of steps. The non-cognitivist thinks deeply by ‘seeing’ more intricate and more subtle patterns. It is a matter of recognition rather than inference.” Not sure that I agree with this! From  a description of connectivism: “Our knowledge resides in the connections we form – where to other people or to information sources such as databases. Additionally, technology plays a key role of 1) cognitive grunt work in creating and displaying patterns, 2) extending and enhancing our cognitive ability, 3) holding information in ready access form (for example, search engines, semantic structures, etc). We see the beginning of this concept in tool-based discussions of Activity Theory. Connectivism acknowledges the prominence of tools as a mediating object in our activity system, but then extends it by suggesting that technology plays a central role in our distribution of identity, cognition, and thereby, knowledge. ”

I am delighted to see that Stephen Downes suggests that a community is more than people simply being in one place – he suggests that there needs to be a common interest that facilitates connections. OK, I think I knew that. …. reminds me of residential homes which often seem to work best if there is a natural connection between the residents eg. war veterins; same religion. I was intrigues by the idea of a tail and a body – I wonderedif those that replied to the blog were desperatley wanting to have people read their blogs and so be part of the body rather than sit in a more isolated postion in the tail. My thought for the day!

Now that I have finally got around to what I was possibly supposed to be doing in the 1st week – I was interested in the following bullet points about changes in learning found in George Siemans work. It seems to imply that learning was only the formal classroom type and now this has been superceded. Well, in my book learning has always been about a range of differing experiences and opportunities. Just becasue we did not formally label these expereinces in posh terms it did not mean they were non-existant. Workplace based learning was once the norm and highly valued. Technology may well have devalued it unless its linked to various networks

  • Informal learning is a significant aspect of our learning experience. Formal education no longer comprises the majority of our learning. Learning now occurs in a variety of ways – through communities of practice, personal networks, and through completion of work-related tasks.
  • Learning is a continual process, lasting for a lifetime. Learning and work related activities are no longer separate. In many situations, they are the same.
  • “Constructivism suggests that learners create knowledge as they attempt to understand their experiences”  (Driscoll, 2000, p. 376). I put this here because it reminds me to think about this in relation to clinical reasoning. Through thinking about our ongoing ‘clinical’ experiences so we develop new knowledge in the process of working through problems with our clients. So much of this cannot be known in advance – so EBP can be problematic when the best knowledge is that derived from our ongoing experiences when working with clients (no different to those experiences in teaching).  EBP comes from a more behavioural approach to learning.

    We can no longer personally experience and acquire all the learning necessary for action. (Did we ever?) “We derive our competence from forming connections”. Thats an interesting statement – does it have an application to professional competence and standards of practice?

    “Unlike constructivism, which states that learners attempt to foster understanding by meaning making tasks, chaos states that the meaning exists – the learner’s challenge is to recognize the patterns which appear to be hidden. Meaning-making and forming connections between specialized communities are important activities.” Those 2 sentences do not link in my head. What does a specialised community contribute to forming connections? He goes on to say: “If the underlying conditions used to make decisions change, the decision itself is no longer as correct as it was at the time it was made. ” Surely this has always been true? – your reasoning is only as good as the premise on which it was based.

    “The central premise is that connections created with unusual nodes supports and intensifies existing large effort activities” …. “This amplification of learning, knowledge and understanding through the extension of a personal network is the epitome of connectivism”. The examples given of seniors contributing to a larger network that teachers developed adds to their main network maakes some sense. The idea being that we can all contibute to many larger endeavours but we do not all necessarily develop these larger networks ourselves.

    The more I read, the more I think it seems like common sense – for instance my Sabbatical is all about making connections, developing networks so it is definately not a new phenomenum. It was good to get a review of social networks (ie. an analysis) to provide a background to  this way of thinking. One of the disadvantages of this discussion is the focus on organisational policies and productivity. I guess one could argue that education is also about productivity – personally I would like to see a softer approach with learning for its own sake being an end ‘product’ although I don’t think that word fits that well… how about new schemata? Actually that fits well with the idea of networks.

    Here’s another link that provides an overview of connectivism. There is a summary of 5 points made in reference to connectivism (from Siemens, Sept. 2008). To me 1-4 appear to be similar to other learning theories – only 5 is different and is debateable anyway … well its probably a fair point but is it about learning?

    1. We have a need to externalise to make sense;
    2. We have a need for frameworks and structures for sense-making;
    3. We have a need to socialise and negotiate around knowledge;
    4. Our mind is a patterning mind;
    5. We have a desire to extend our humanity through technology.

    I liked the ideas of different types of groups as described on this blog. A group is described as having things in common with people – more of a melting pot while a network is when people connect but do not necessarily having much in common – rather like a salad bowl with all its components still visible and even though they are lyng together.

    I thought that Stephens comments about characteristics of connected learners was interesting.  I quote the following: ‘The way to function in a connected world is to share without thinking about what you will get in return. It is to share without worrying about so-called “free-riders” or people taking advantage of your work.’ After a conversation with a colleague about the realities of the world of research and the rivalry between different factions one does wonder how idealistic this all is. I would have to say that I agree with Stephen’s stance – those who freely share knowledge are the true heroes of the world of education. The points he raises are:

    1. Be reactive. ‘Posting …. isn’t about airing your own views. It’s about connecting, and the best way to connect is to clearly draw the link between their content and yours.’
    2. Go with the flow: ‘it is more important to find the places to which you can add value rather than pursue a particular goal or objective.’ This is a reference to the fact that each person is pursuing thier own goals rather than a common goal.
    3. Connection comes first. He says: ‘In almost all fields, connecting with others online is the work.’ … Hmm need to think about that
    4. Share. See comments above
    5. RFTM – read the fine print. personally I thinkn this could depend on your stype of learning – some of us don’t like reading the manuals!
    6. Cooperate (cf collaborate – as an off line version) Each person has their own goals
    7. Be yourself

    Just read Phelps account of complexity in learning. This was an interesting overview and re-eforces the need to prepare students well for this type of learning  – ie. do more ‘regular’ teaching first which ensures that they have the skills necessary for managing technology and their learning.


    July 5, 2008 Posted by | E learning communities, E-Learning, student centered, Uncategorized | , , , | 6 Comments

    My Assessment for this course: International Learning Evaluation

    The purpose of the assignment is to evaluate a distance learning opportunity that was developed for Canadian and New Zealand Occupational Therapy students. The Blackboard site was called the Kiwi-Canuck connection. The link was made between a group of Master entry students in Canada (43) and Post Graduate students in NZ (19). The 2 lecturers involved put time into this because of their interest in the topic (Clinical Reasoning) and the links that they had forged over a period of years. In other words it was not counted in work loads as it was over and above and as a result of personal interest of the lecturers.

    Background: I network frequently with a colleague in Canada (Margo Paterson) who also has a strong interest in one of my favourite topics: Clinical Reasoning. We have met on several occassions and more recently she spent 1 week at Otago and prior to that I spent 2 weeks in Queens University in Kingstone, Ontario.

    In 2005 I asked Margo to contribute to the Blackboard discussion for one week on her particular area of interest which is “Artistry in Practice”. Following this, we decided it would be great to set up a collaborative learning experience for the students which could use expertise from Canada and NZ. (NB. We have also had interest in this project from other colleagues). We trialled a joint teaching venture in 2006. This connected the Masters entry students (2nd year) from Canada with the Bachelor programme (3rd year students) in NZ. From this we learnt a number of lessons about what did and did not work and used this to develop another session in 2007. This time it was more suitable to connect with the post Graduate students in NZ. In the world of teaching nothing is ever perfect, so we continue learning!! We have looked at the course reviews and thought about possible changes for 2008. This assignment will be about reviewing these sessions, reflecting on the student feedback and developing recommendations for 2008.

    The 2007 outline: Outline for the Kiwi-Canuck sessions

    There were several challenges:

    1. How to connect students in different hemispheres who were not involved in identical courses
    2. How to ensure that the learning was at the right level for both groups of students
    3. How to entice the students to take part in what was essentially an ‘extra’
    4. How to provide opportunites so that all students could readily participate without becoming repetitive in their comments.
    5. How to maintain that interest over a period of 4 weeks.

    The 2007 programme: Weekly exercises for the Kiwi-Canuck sessions 

    Students feedback included the following: (this was done on Monkey Survey)

    • It was difficult to comment when such a big group were contributing
    • The blackboard discussion forum was clumsy
    • It was an opportunity for students to contribute who normally felt less able to do this in class
    • They enjoyed the opportunity to talk to students from another country 
    • Some liked the asynchronous aspect – gave them time to think

    Students commented:

    “…innovative and exciting way to learn. What drew me to it was the opportunity to talk to NZ OT students in NZ and hear about their thoughts. I think its a particularly good medium for learning about clinical reasoning which seems to be something you need to think and mull over”

    “Some students prefer to disucss in class but I need more time to process, this gave me the opportunity to participate in a manner that I felt comfortable”

    These comments contributed to the lecturers evaluation that it was worth while continuing with this venture. So the task is now to plan for improvements. 


    Teaching strategies that worked well:

    One aspect that we did notice was that students were most inspired to take part when there was a challenge that got their attention. The lecturers challenge was to come up with learning tasks that were adequate for this. One of my theories is that keeping students on  board often relies on a provocative topic that will stimulate reflection. So when I went to a session on Eportfolios taken by Russell Butson from Otago University I was delighted to hear him  make this point. The way that we addressed this in the 2007 session was to develop cases that had a complex problem solving component eg. issues that were moral, ethical ones and that challenged ideals of reality versus theory. In this case the theory was primarily about client-centered practice in the community and the reality was funding concerns linked to client safety …. “what if I give him a wheelchair and he goes to the pub and ends up drunk ‘in-charge’ …. far better to fund a carer so that he is safe (but dependent!)”

    Another key strategy was to provide a case that had some issues about unused equipment that had been issued to a client. Once students had dealt with the basics, another element was provided – in this case it was identified that the client was Maori. This raised cultural issues and the idea of doing things differently when clients understandings of health and independence were not shared by the OT.

    The following are ideas for aspects that I believe could be improved:

    The warm ups.

    Yes, I’m on that subject again! I do think that it this is extremely important aspect of teaching on line as it sets the scene for the social elements of learning. Bridget Murray’s article  Reinventing the Classroom Discussion Online suggests that a greater social knoweldge of the students does increase the amount of sharing. This was a constant theme in the Elluminate sessions and in a a variety of readings. For students who have no f2f opportunities this is particularly important as I noted on my Blog under warm ups. This group of students were mixed in this regard – NZ students were totally distance based; Canadian students met regularly in classrooms and of course the NZ & Canadian students did not come into contact.  My own site has a number of suggestions. Ideas are as follows:

    Encourage students to use digital cameras to post photos of themselves, their uni or workplace; their pets … whatever. I  should do this too.

    Introduce themselves as their pet or favourite arm chair would describe them – could go well with a photo.

    Organise into pairs to introduce themselves and then explain how they got their name. The other student will explain this in the intro.

    Ask students to explain an experience that taught them most about their clinical reasoning. Once they have a chance to do this, follow it with a controversial quote to discuss (eg. the one I used from Mattingly’s intro article last year worked well for the NZ students).

    Introduce myself with more information than I normally do so that students can get a sense of who I am which in turn may help them to share more about themselves and their thinking further into the course. The role modelling of the lecturer seems to be a critical issue in establishing good social networks. I could even do a small video that introduces myself and the topic of the course.

    Ask students to describe where they are from (specific location/ town) and to highlight the best aspect of that place from their point of view.

    The way the tasks were presented.

    Too many students were allocated to each which resulted in the  feeling that someone else would respond or that there was not much else to say after the first few had contributed. Options to deal with this could be to:

    Visual representations might stimulate better discussion – especially when the reasoning is being traced. Written exercises are not nearly as powerful as video. 

    The sense of community.

    There is not much hope of getting a real sense of community in a 4 week period however, there were opportunities to gain a link between the students in the 2 countries and to look at differences in programmes and in thinking about how to manage clinical problems. I think that the warm up is an essential element here – to get students familiar with both the technology and have a sense of who else is on line.

    How to reflect the difference that might be apparent in the 2 countries:

    The difficulty was how to reflect different perspectives. Canada has lots of similarities in that ‘western’ culture dominates. Perhaps student could be asked to develop a section of a case to reflect a concern that is relevant to their country and ask the other group to identify the problem and suggest ways of managing it. This could involve giving the students the first 2 sentences of a scenario then asking groups of students to provide the next 2 sentences including some sort of clinical dilemma. Thes could be swapped between students.

    Another idea is to ask students to discuss 2 cases that are similar –  eg. spinal damage caused by accident verus caused by a tumour. In NZ the funding available would differ enormously so would impact on reasoning – not so sure in Canada. This could be the basis of the task above.

    Could also bring in people from different countries to contribute to the discussion. For instance, the people who have done intensive work with the scenarios we use for discussion. We could also bring in clients from the 2 countries to add their perspective.

    The opportunity for all students to participate:

    The numbers are reasonably large. As some said in the feedback it was hard to know what else to say ie. it had all been said before. Getting effective asyncronous discussions on Blackboard is almost imppossible. Will the discussions / comments ona blog be any better?

     One strategy that we used last year was to divide the group alphabetically to 4 groups and asked each subgroup to respond to a different aspect about the case that was the topic for the week.  This was certainly better. We thought about   putting a time limit for the contribution from a particular group (eg. one week) and then open the discussion to anyone.  Might try this next time around.

    Another way to stimulate discussion would be to get the students enaged in setting up a Blog specifically for the purposes of establishing discussion forums. This would assume that some students have the ability to set up and maintain a Blog – and be willing to do this. (there must be some technocrats out there!) Possiblites include: 

    Ask students (about 6) to set up a blog each with one particular task assigned per Blog (could also have one set up by the lecturer – the one to beat!). We then run a competition (informal – no actual reward apart form peer/lecturer esteem). The following could be evaluated:

    • the number of hits from the student group
    • the number of hits from people outside of the course
    • the number of hits from people outside of Dunedin and Kingston
    • the number of links (relevant ones) setup on the Blog

    Theory versus practice:

     As with many experiences, we discovered by accident that the more theoretical approach of the Masters entry students and the practical expertise of the NZ Post Graduate students  was a real plus in the discussion. The NZ responses tended to temper the more idealistic solutions of the Canadian students. This aspect could be monopolised further. How??

    One suggestion is to use ethical dilemmas as they often differentiate between how much experiential knowledge a therapist has versus a more idealistic view.

    One case that we had  last year worked well (community wheelchair one). I have asked another colleague who is very interested in ethical dilemmas to develop a case. We are meeting next week to do this. The topic will be head injury.

    When reading  I was reminded that one particular question that could work well is: For a given scenario is there a best solution? For this it would be helpful to set up a scenario which has been handled it in different ways by 2 therapists. Possibly only give one solution then ask for comment; then provide an alternative. This could be a video clip

    Improving the student contribution:

    At one stage early on there was a great flurry of contributions made by the Canadian students. On asking Margo what bait she had used, the reply was that students were offered up to 10% for their contributions.  The evidence is that it works! This incentive had a huge impact on student contribution. Don’t you hate it!!

    On the topic of student motivation, in the comments on this blog, Graham Wegner makes the point that less structure provides more opportunities for students to ‘find a hook for their personal interests’. He is talking about school children but the principle holds true in tertiary teaching. Students love doing projects that inspire them and will work far beyond the call of duty because the topic excites them – a consequence is that they see the relevance of their work. So what are the implications of this? It could be possible to generate some projects that students might find worthwhile pursing – perhaps around a particular area of practice. It could be as simple as asking them to find if there is any evidence that narrative reasoning is used in paediatrics; neurology; pain management; mental health; community practice etc… (or provide an example of this).  Students could assign themselves to a particular topic and report back on a blog or in one of the discussion forums. This would serve the purpose of seeing how well they understood the idea of narrative reasoning (which I believe is particularly difficult to tease out from the use of narratives as told by the patients – the literature is confusing on this point). Each group could then be assigned to comment on the progress of one other group – all students would still have the option of contributing to any forum. 

    Back to the topic of blogs – using a practice area as a topic is another way of providing a focus for the blog discussions.

     Information that could be useful:

    PBL software. These provide examples of problem based learning scenarios with the promose of softwear that can assist with this.

    Sites that deal with digital stories:

    Educational use of digital story telling.  This site provides instructions into setting up digital stories as well as linnks to other helpful sites.

    Digital stories in e-portfolios. This one is about using digital stories as a way of reflecting on a course, conference etc..

    General information about Elearning. This link is to Innovate which is an on-line periodical that focuses on the creative use of elearning technologies. 


    One message that has been clearly highlighted in this course is that technology can be both a barrier to learning as well as a medium for exciting learning opportunities. For students on the Kiwi Canuck enterprise there is limited time to ensure that they can master a lot of technology however, I think it would be safe to say that there will be some who can usefully assist by setting up different learning medium. This may be as simple as a blog. If it provides a medium for ongoing conversations then this would be a great relief as the Blackboard discussion forum is very stilted and discourages conversations.

    My belief is that setting the scene is important to get students excited about the possiblities of this learning venture.  This means that the warm ups and introduction to the course are important to get students hooked.  Having too many possibilities for tasks they can get involved in could be confusing so needs to be carefully monitored to get the right mix. I do like the idea of students developing a theme related to their area of interest – they could work in pairs to update a blog. As there are no specific learning outcomes, this learning experience does provide an opportunity for students to develop their own ideas and in so doing, broaden their knowledge base. 

    November 12, 2007 Posted by | E learning communities, Occupational therapy | , | 2 Comments

    Student centered / client centered

    At the moment I am trying to work out what these terms have in common – on the assumption that there is something!! So, for the moment a search to find some definitions. An article that does provide a brief summary of the essentials of being ‘student centered’ is interesting for me in that is suggests that some teachers are more likely to teach in this way than others. One question is, if you do – are you a better teacher than if you don’t (have a student centered focus)? Perhaps assumptions about student learning can be wrong – ie. do (adult) students want to take responsibility for their learning? If they don’t, why not? What can be done about it? Does it matter? Another question is how significant is the environment? eg. if you set up the class so that the desks are in a circle rather than in rows how much difference does this make to the interaction – and in particular for students taking responsiblity for their own learning? The article referred to above noted that there was a difference – those with the intention to ensure students could link course content to their own experiences were more likely to set up their desks in an informal way. It was interesting to note that the intention to be student centered did not necessarily result in different learning environments when compared to those teachers who did not have this intention. See the Wikipedia for a list of characteristcs of student centered learning.

    So, to go to the idea of being client centered what definitions are there? The Wikipedia provides a discussion of the key characterstics. The focus here is on Carl Rogers as the key theorist, the term used in ‘person -centered’ and oddly enough to locate this information the spelling had to be ‘centred’ even though in the discussion it was spelt as’centered’. Now for a few more thoughts. As cited in Matthew Ryan’s web site:  “That CCT is effective has been amply demonstrated by decades of research. Furthermore, recent research has shown that the most significant variables in the effectiveness of therapy are aspects of the relationship and the therapist’s personal development – not the particular discipline they practise or techniques they employ.” There is another site that provides an article that was written by Carl Rogers and provides a very good explanation of the application of this approach to therapy. This refers to the centrality of the ‘life force’ that exists in every person and the importance of tapping into this to facilitate the client using thier own resources.

    This might be a superficial comment and based on a few readings – but the information about being client-centered appears to stress the relationship between therapist and client whereas the teacher centered information stresses the teaching strategies. One obvious difference between the 2 situations is that one is focused on working with one person and the other relates to group processes. The common link is the basis of Carl Rogers work. However, one very good read on the topic of “Empathic Intelligence” (as the basis of student centered teaching) is written by Roslyn Arnold.  It focuses on the attitude of the teacher as being the essential core. I do wonder how ’empathic’ you can be in a virtual community. Does this skill require face to face interactions in order that the nuances of body language and voice tone can be noticed?  Further work by Roslyn highlights the importance of inter-subjective experiences in education. In relation to clinicians Moore writes an interesting article looking at various arguments in relation to empathic relationships in practice. Even better, there is a list of  behaviours described as indicators of this type of relationship. These are from the Zen of Listening. Another interesting read on this topic is a workbook called the EI Advantage  which among other things talks about the difference between cognitive and emotional empathy (p103). It states that in EI you are more likely to use cognitive empathy. p117-118 has a very interesting list of indicators of empathic listening.

    I have now come across one article that describes a teaching process that brings together student centered approach with elearning. It is called ‘Student centered teaching meets new media’ It describes a course in a medical programme and provides a very good overview of teaching that meets the criteria of being client centered as well as being a critical overview of the realities of elearning. An  article by Holmberg (I have already commented on under ‘learning communities’) refers to the need for empathy in distance based learning. This point is made towards the end.

    In relation to the idea that being client centred in e-learning has its own challenges, the article called “Student-Centered Teaching Meets New Media: Concept and Case Study” addresses this topic. It is based on teaching medical students.

    September 10, 2007 Posted by | client centered, E learning communities, student centered | | 15 Comments

    Online Icebreakers

     IcebreakerAfter commenting that all the icebreakers I could locate were intended for classrooms, I finally went on the hunt for those that were intended for use as elearning strategies. So, this is what I have found:

     This programme suggests a range of online icebreaker to promote student / teacher interaction. It begins a rationale for the use of  ‘icebreakers’ with what I would call the usual strategies such as being available. Tell us about yourself type of exercises. However it then lists several ideas I like no 15 in the series which asks students to write about their own experience of the topic in hand (in this case mathematics) – this is immediately followed with a quote related to this topic that is controversial and asks for coments on this. No 23 could also be used to good effect. I have seen this used in a class exercise where it worked well. Essentially it asks you to describe why you have the name you have. Another one that has a number of resources as well as a sound rationale for the use of icebreakers is this one which is a Pointer and Clicker article. (Not sure if this title has some significance?) Actually now that I look at it, although the introduction is sound, the icebreaker exercises seem to be for classrooms not elearning examples.

    This one looks more promising and is designed for tertiary students. Its called Reinventing Class Discussion Online.  this makes the point that “the more knowledge students have about each other, the more sharing of social cues, the more motivated they will be to participate in on-line discussion”.  The idea that students might want to ‘hang out’ in a chat room (sort of equivalent to a coffee bar) is one suggestion. Another is to introduce yourself by identifying 8 nouns that apply to you. I suspect that there is a need to vary the exercise in order to keep up the interest of the lecturer! I notice that it has a reference to work by Lawrence Erlbaum who is a trusted author in tertiary education. The suggestion under the headings: Repair, Reconstruct and Formulations look possible.

    •  Reconstruct refers to students taking a ‘snip’ from another students work and creating a new message by responding to this.
    • Repair: this is where students correct, clarify comments made by other eg. I believe student X means……, or building on the comments by X….. They can also correct themselves.
    • Formulations: Students summarise and assess where the conversation is headed – this might point out a new direction or topic. 

    Another suggestion is that students identify the type of message being posted eg. as a ‘joke’, an ‘opinion’ , ‘evidence’ – then others know how to repond. It also suggests that on-line contribution could be assigned marks …. a tricky venture – (opinion!)

    Assigning people roles eg. the eternal optimist, devil’s advocate, trouble shooter or discussion moderator. The assignment of a role helps students to feel freer to express themselves or disagree with one another.  (I like the sound of this one. I have assigned people to either side of a debate in the past – which again worked well in some instances –  mainly when the students took on the role of being a devil’s advocate naturally. Assigning them to the role appeals to me).

    Found another site that has a long list of possible tasks. Worth a look. Its called “using online icebreakers“.

    NB: It seems to me that ice-breakers become even more important for virtual classrooms as establishing a social presence is much more difficult when compared to face-to-face contact.

    August 26, 2007 Posted by | E learning communities | , | 6 Comments

    Ongoing thoughts on the course


    I turned to the course Blog and noted that there was a video to explain the basics of the various elements of the course. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of disturbance in the dialogue, however it did inspire me to systematically go through all the quick links listed on the right side of the Blog. This turned out to be a great idea! I now have a much better idea of where to locate information, so thanks for that. One thing that I did learn from the phone conversation the other night was how to locate student emails from the web page – ie. select the help box in the top middle bar on the screen. Having 2 methods of locating this is great and far preferable to not having a clue! I suspect I am a slow learner but it highlights for me the need to be very explicit with students when using elearning and provide exercises that orientate the student to the system. Having too many options I have found to be confusing, so being able to locate the basics is a bit of a relief. I think Ausubel would agree with this idea of orientating the learner – ‘advanced organisers’ was his term for this.

    I have decided to embark on reading some of the articles to see what I could find that would  provide good ideas on elearning. One useful one was by Lynn Ambrose:  Loved the idea of the exercise where you introduce yourself from the perspective of your cat (could no doubt be dog, pet sheep, budgy or anything else such as your office mate) and she then goes on to talk about different voices and how important it is to foster the ‘voice’ relevant for the situation such as when the conversation is stuck or ideas need to be teased out. There are also tones and critical stances considered to be important to foster. Finally she said “My role as a student changed.  I stopped looking for “correct answers” from the e‑moderators and instructor very early in the course.  Instead, I realised the benefit of being a member of a collaborative learning community where I held my ideas up alongside the ideas of others for discussion and exploration.” So, it appears that the dreams of our instructors may yet be realised and I too will be propounding the value of the collaborative learning community! I look forward to the development of a group ID.

    In another article, Ed Hootstein uses the metaphor of wearing 4 pairs of shoes to describe the roles of the online teacher.

     Go to fullsize image

    This is a fairly simple overview of what is needed but easy to keep in mind   The shoes are –
    those of instructor, social director, program manager, and technical assistant. Seems to me that someone else could readily play the role of technical assistant while the other 4 pairs are rather like the usual role of the teacher – although being a ‘social director’ is  not so necessary in an actual classroom as students will socialise beyond the class so making links with on another.

    Following the session with Nancy White today, it did occur to me that much of what we are talking about is good old fashoned teaching / learning principles. They still apply in ‘virtual worlds’. This is encouraging! ‘Sitting by Nelly’ is a very applicable phrase and seems to capture the idea of leaning over someones shoulder as described by Nancy. She gaaave the example of the use of ‘Twitter’ – which can be used in a variety of ways; point made that seeing others use it gives you possiblities that you had never thought about. Peer assist is another concept that Nancy referred to. The main message seems to be to locate people who can assist you use technology effectively with a focus on watching them rather than go to courses to be taught…. the last phrase are my words! ‘Be uncomfortable in your unknowingness’ – an interesting expression used by Nancy. Of course, you often don’t know what you don’t know – this is the value of watching those who do know – they demonstrate what else is possible. This implies learning that is alongside real people rather than a ‘virtual shoulder’. The dial in peer-assist to evaluate a Wiki is an interesting idea and perhaps a way of developing a ‘virtual’ shoulder.  Mind you Derek talked about the importance of being in the ‘same space’ – this implies the importance of the real contact with some one using technology. There it goes again – the theme that best results are gained when working alongside real people. The suggestion that enthusiasm and expertise can be oppressive is an interesting idea. The challenge was about whose shoulder we should be looking over – is it important that ‘actual’ people on the course get together to share their skills in using some of the technology.? Is being totally virtual too much of an ask?

    George Siemens and Collectivism: notes from his elluminate session. Guide on the side versus sage on the stage – sometimes the guide is not sufficient. Yea! ‘Way finding’ – suggests that this is assisted by the Blogging community.  ‘Giveness’ – ie given by the tools that we use such as voice interaction tools. Increased nodes of information result in decreasing the importance of the lecturer. (implies that one is able to access this!) Looks at the role of the teacher being the ‘curator’ – students learn with guidance rather than being told what they need to know…. the curator directs students to the key structures of a discipline… like an exhibition on show?? (Leigh) An interesting thought! A curator would also have many items tucked away that are not necessarily on show but could be pulled out as needed.  Multiple perspectives on the items on view – not sure who these perspectives come from. Is the role of the observer passive – ie, the curator who is not usually in view during an exhibition (Dave’s thought here). Do the items relate to a variety of learning tasks? A common educational task when going to an exhibition would be that students are expected to notice particular things and bring back information to discuss. This could inlcude discussion with the curator, or with the person ‘on duty’ in the exhibition.  Or do they simply attend and sort out what they think is good to comment on? Or a mixture of both? One hopes that there is are particular education tasks / objectives so that students exposure to the exhibits are maximised. Is this being a guide or a sage??? Anyway – much more helpful to go to George’s blog for more information. He says that the education model to use is one of a joint curator and adminstrator.  The curator is the expert who chooses the artifacts to display and remains behind the scenes but will interpret and direct as necessary. A major concepts  seems to be that there needs to be space for the learner to engage in manipulating the artifacts.

    What stimulates most engagement between community members?

    I was thinking about this after re-reading Bronwyn’s point that when things go wrong (such as technology) this can be a good test of the community and a time when people band together in common adversity. I also noticed that when I introduced the topic of ‘who is our  community’ in an email, this brought about an interesting response from lots of members. It was great to hear from everyone. Why does it take adversity to stimulate the group to come to life? Is this the way it should be? Are there more ‘intellectual’ things that we should be taxing ourselves with? On the other hand is the course primarily about learning how to master the various types of technolgy in which case what is being taxed is our technical skills. In my experience, what brings a group to life using Blackboard is a  controversial scenario. Students come up fighting! Would it be in keeping with a course such as this to deliberately provoke students? (- in the interest of developing a community as well as assisting the group to work through some of the issues in developing a community.) Perhaps I should dream up something over the holiday break and see what happens!

     Anticipating technology that goes wrong:

    David has bravely offered to do a session to discuss glitches in technology. I am an expert at locating them but hopeless at dealing with them. So I am looking forward to this session. Technology glitches is one of the biggest reasons for lack of success when teaching on-line (David cited research for this). One main message seems to be to have a plan B in case you cannot access the intended information. This could include a back-up communication channel (if expecting a synchronous session). Derek talked about the idea of a sandbox where everyone plays around with the technology before getting serious.  Set up limits as general prinicples eg. if students can’t get access within a specfic time frame (eg. 20 mins) – then tell them to forget it! There are other threaded discussions provide more functionality than Blackboard – often a matter of personal preference. Great! Hopefully we can get on to these as BB is very stilted. eg. Google groups. (apparently there can be email alerts – but need to subscribe to each new thread). Posting an image next to the discussion is possibly a good idea.  Is a Web platform needed? Moodle does a good threaded discussion (Bronwyn). Skype seems to be favoured over telephone – mainly because of the cost – problem is that not everyone can access it readily.  Is it reasonable to expect people to access this? I can’t help but think that a lot of the decision making in regards to on-line learning is similar to any teaching. Ensure that resources are available and working well and that there is a plan B in case things don’t go to plan – not only technology but student responses which can be equally unpredictable.

    Had a listen to Derek Chirnsides session. ‘Adding acommunity flavour to taught courses’. using a constructivist view, learner centered environment; team orientated approach. Starting with stories as a technique to begin the community. Suggestion of an icebreaker. Make a post in just 3 words. must have some intentionality.

    Uses 3 levels of reflection – eg. a Blog; open journal – readable by all course members; closed journal – lecturer only. Hope he tells us how to do these!

    Teaching strategies – some enhance communities, some are neutral. Principal: a community orientated course breeds to help create linkages and synergies.

    Very carefully worded comments re criticism / feedback on a course – honesty is the best policy – hmmmm depends on how ‘honest’ commented is provided; nothing worse than negative, unconstructive  feedback. (It may be seen as honest!) Best idea is to create an environment where people are listened to with respect. Role modelling by the lecturer can encourage constructive comments and the confidence to speak out. Requirement of  posting on a reflective journal on a weekly basis – this gives you feedback and an idea about where people are at. 

    Derek asked what a community was (written note) – I notice that the discussion quickly diverted to chocolate as an incentive. This is a very good example of not taking people seriously and discouraging a sense of community.  I don’t like this back chat during the elluminate sessions (honesty here!). I find it disruptive – rather like giggly students chattering in the back row. What do others think? Good point about the technology being the problem rather than people not wanting to be a community – using technology creates barriers and needs to be taken into account in distance education. Identity, value and meaning is the  basis of a community….. Sounds a bit like a culture or perhaps a subculture. People join a course to learn and might then join a community that they chose to belong to. Thus the course on technology enables them to become part of a community of their choice. It is not an end in itself.  As for motivation to do a course – what’s new!! Percieved relevance as well as personal interest in the topic are big factors. Personal challenge is also a factor – the so called ‘just right challenge’ is the responsibility of the lecturer. Roslyn Arnold makes reference to this idea in education and we commonly use this phrase in relation to working with clients.

    It did occur to me after the Eluminate session tonight (Oct 29th) that those who already have a reasonable knoweldge of the various types of technologies are more able to make use of the pace of the learning about new technologies than those of us who are technologically challenged.  Education theory tells us that adequate support (scaffolding / the ‘just right ‘ challenge) makes  a difference to the learners ability to gain confidence and move forwards. On many occassions I feel like I have got ‘stuck’ with the challenge being too enormous. The problem is that once in that position there is not much motivation to dig yourself out because it all seems too hard.  Be nice to have someone on the lookout to check out who was ‘stuck’ and looking for assistance rather than being branded as unmotivated and doing less work that expected. 


    Assignment 3 was due today – well the plan for it should have been submitted. I was surprised at how unmotivated I was to complete this task and wondered why. On reflection it feels like a contrived exercise – my reality is that in Post Graduate teaching I spend considerable time and energy in attempting to provoke stimulating discussion with various levels of success. Granted, I am limited to BlackBoard but this is sufficient to run a discussion / debate on a topic. This current task would not appear to be asking me to do anything different that my normal teaching. However, it has occurred to me that this would be a great opportunity to take something that I have done recently (it is still on BB), evaluate this and develop some new ideas to improve the nest session. The course that I would like to do is one where I teach across 2 student groups in Canada and New Zealand. Teaching this course is already over and above my workload but I feel that it is a good idea and could be developed to get a greater sense of sharing ideas between the 2 groups of students. My current experience of having been on this course on elearning communities has given me further ideas about other possibilities. It also reminds me that student centered learning is about meeting the needs of the students so I am hopeful that I could do this task which does not entirely fit with the guidelines but does fit with the course objectives (and with my needs).

    August 11, 2007 Posted by | E learning communities | , | 1 Comment

    E Learning Communities

    I am currently embarking on a course on the topic of e-learning communities. It is very early days so and I still feel rather bemused by the possibilities. However, we have been directed towards some good resources. For instance: The Art of Building a  Virtual Community:  I like the visual representation of  linking, lurking, learning and leading as components of an elearning community.  Apart from anything its easy to remember! It also identfies that there is a leader who holds it all together – this is contrary to a feeling I was getting that in these communiteis there is equality where everyone shares equally… a hopeful dream! In Derek’s model, the leader is referred to as a ‘commentator’. The community develop a culture – no doubt this will depend to a certain extent on the style of leadership shown.

    We have now had the opportunity to hear Sheryl talk about her article and more! Great summary of a range of ideas that are central to coming to terms with the facets of Virtual communities. I particularly liked the the 4 types of virtual communities. These were: communities of relationship (trust); community of place (based on locale ) community of passion (committment to common goal; interest) community of memory (been through a common event). 

    Great to hear some ideas about how to begin a community – this should belong in my section on Warm ups!! (or ice-breakers??) Hot or cold at the beginning – I am sure that there is an essay ini all of that!  The idea that there needs to be an incentive to get people motivated to sign up is important; the idea of an inspiring lecture from someone of note; facilitating a conversation about the central topic – begin with questions that are safe ie. people can respond on the basis of their own experiences.; could begin with simple ideas like introducing yourself – however, if there’s a big group that can become tedious…. I quite like the idea of posting your holiday snapshots (thanks Leigh for that idea!) or something similar so that the group gets a better visual idea of the life of other participants. Is a community of practice equal to a course or is it really only appropriate when people join up because of common interest?  Response was the if the community keeps on after the course, then it is may become a sharing community  – for its own sake rather than having to pass assignments. Of interest, there seems to be a big jump from the slide that talks about the various types of communites (see above) to the next one which refers to communites of learning (not mentioned on the slide about types of communities.) In fact, Sheryl suggested that learning environments were not true ‘communites’ Is this because  the ultimate purpose is to pass an assignment (an external motivator) and learn how to use the technology so that students have the skills to join an e-community? This would compare to being part of a community so that you can make connection with people for your own purposes – eg. professional issues, interest in crabs, cartoons or crafts …….. etc…

    As with any learning community, the getting started and inspiring everyone right from the start is important. I am still waiting to get the feel of how to do this but am sure that others will have tried and tested ideas. Have now had some ideas about this following Sheryl’s discussion – I keep coming back to the idea that developing a virtual community is actually no different in principle than developing any sort of community. This feel like a SGO! (Stunning Glimpse of the Obvious).

    Following the teleconference tonight (Aug 9th) with Oriel and others, I discussed my general feeling of being ‘out of control’ and wondering where the course was going. I was reassured that this is normal at this stage. Well, I don’t know about this – educationally it does not seem to be very sound and while I don’t expect to be proficient in the various e-learning strategies I would like to feel that I am making progress. I believe that clear parameters are the hallmark of any educational programme. Perhaps the clarity will evolve and I will be surprised. I hope so! Watch this space!

    Just come across a resource that looks useful. ENO the ELearn Magazine. More about it later once I get a chance to review it properly.

    A very good resource from Konrad Glogowski who spoke to the class using Elluminate. This is about instructional scaffolding in developing elearning communities. His talk was titled “Classrooms as 3rd Places”.  This explained well the need to develop a learner centered environment as the hallmark of such a community. He used the same arguments as those who promote student centred teaching in classrooms but it was interesting hearing some of the reality of this – how to get started, developing trust and confidence in being a elearner and the role of the teacher in all this. Clearly he was speaking from experience.

    I happened to look up information about being client centered from another perspective and came across a list of characteristics of student centered teaching based on Carl Rogers work. This was in the Wikipedia – where else! I particularly like this quote:  “Students will collaborate on meaningful, authentic problems which serve to further their understandings of the subject matter and themselves”. It’s a reminder that this concept has been around for a long time. I wonder if its any easier to implement in ebased learning when compared to classroom teaching?

    Continue reading

    August 9, 2007 Posted by | E learning communities | , | 9 Comments