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speech bubble social media

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fostering instructional immediacy in online classrooms

 

How can we create online learning environments that are as dynamic, collaborative and successful as the best face-to-face classrooms? Is it even possible? My own experience in online graduate teaching over the past 12 years suggests an emphatic “yes”. Or, should I say, an emphatic “yes, but…”.

 

Just as there are multiple and diverse classroom-based teaching approaches (some more successful than others in engaging learners and mobilizing knowledge transfer), there are as many ways and means of online instructional approaches. All students, regardless of the learning platform, engage best when they experience high instructional immediacy. That is, a sense of warmth, caring, support and positive regard in the learning environment.

 

A recent book focused on online teaching in the health professions (Melrose, Park & Berry, 2013) offers tips on creating and maintaining instructional immediacy in online settings, and it’s validating to see many of my own approaches and strategies reflected.

 

Here are 10 tips for how online instructors can project warmth and likeability (instructional immediacy):

 

1. Post a positive and supportive welcome message to greet students the first time they log into the course and each week thereafter

 

2. Share online bios (pictures are a bonus) (students and instructor)

 

3. Create smaller sub-groups for online discussion and reflection on course materials and assignments (8-10 students is optimal in my experience)

 

4. Include short (< 5 minutes) videos introducing course topics and offering tips and key learning to personalize each week’s focus

 

5. Assign “learning buddies” among students in the course to structure collaboration and collegiality

 

6. Have early and ongoing online conversations about process (versus course content)

What is it like to be in this course?

What are you looking forward to, and what is one thing you are concerned about?

How can we challenge each-other in ways that foster debate and dialogue but still feels respectful and affirming?

How can I (instructor) help maximize your learning and value from this course?

 

7. Set clear expectations in the Course Syllabus about online participation (my expectation of students is at least one original post per week, and at least two replies to other students’ posts per week)

 

8. Offer targeted encouragement at points in the course where motivation may be flagging (e.g., right after Reading Week, towards the final weeks of the course)

 

9. Use intentional word choices in online communication with students:

 

 Thumbs down  Thumbs up
The focus of this course is… Our course will focus on…
You will be required to… We’ll be working together to accomplish…
Students’ feedback has indicated… The conversation in our group this week has highlighted…

 

10. End the course with an explicit call to action – How does the learning in this course fit into the bigger picture of students’ learning trajectories and career goals? (here’s an example)

 

 

Student course evaluations attest to the possibility of online learning as a fun, rigorous and enriching alternative to face-to-face contact. Here are some representative student comments from the course evaluations for the 2014 online course I taught, both positive and negative (but comments overwhelmingly slanted toward the positive):

The instruction was very clear and very intellectually stimulating. The video clips were very well presented and made the instruction seem not virtual at all.

I enjoyed the online format of the course. I feel the online discussion help my learning and I benefit more from these discussions than in-class ones.

I really didn’t like the fact this course is online. I feel that I could have learned a lot more by having a classroom environment and participating through talking instead of writing
weekly reflections just because I had to.

Excellent, the most involved and interactive online course I have ever taken. I felt very engaged and connected to the instructor, students and material.

 

 

As students increasingly orient themselves to rich digital communication and sharing, this teaching/learning platform is aligned with what our students are already doing in their day-to-day lives. Not every student, but lots of our students.

 

Related:

Much ado about online learning

The three most important tips for teaching online

6 tips for facilitating webinars 

 

 

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Democratizing education may mean creating a strange and hybridized monster

 

In principle, MOOCs embody the democratization of information and education: open access to leading edge scholarship and learning, facilitated by outstanding leaders in their respective fields. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are being described as a great equalizer in higher education (awarded an overall “B” grade in a recent New York Times Sunday Review article). Maybe MOOCs are shaping up to be the “killer app” of higher education?

 

Except…there are a couple of snags.

In her exploration of the Ethics of MOOCs, Nora Dunne questions whether it’s defensible to use institutional resources to create and support MOOCs if this diverts what’s available to tuition-paying students. Unless the money comes from a school’s marketing budget?

Institutions of higher learning care about students. They care about access. They want to make the world a better place by linking students with research, theory, knowledge, skills and applications. They also care about enrollment, to which their funding is inextricably tied. They care about their brand. They are competitive.

Such drivers are not mutually exclusive and are not a bad thing. Visionary thinking drives innovation, and so does competition. But there is a risk if academic institutions start regarding MOOCs as “loss leaders”.

 

Are MOOCs at risk of becoming brand advertisements to drive enrollment?

From an education research and theory perspective, best practices in online learning emphasize the importance of interactivity, both with peers and with faculty. Conversely, the one-to-many model, whether delivered in a massive open lecture hall or in a massive open online course, focuses more on information delivery than knowledge construction.

The ideal would be a customizable and dynamic MOOC that integrates high-quality learning objects, pre-recorded or streamed video of outstanding instructors, asynchronous and synchronous small group discussion, simulations, and individual tutoring. But taking it back to budgets, how is this sustainable from a cost perspective?

Unfortunately it’s just not. And the problem with the one-to-many approach is its fundamental incompatibility with 2.0 anything. But…what if all of the above learning tools/strategies were crowdsourced? Not just across institutions of higher learning but from students themselves (past, present and future)? (Representing an authentically paragogical/heutagogical approach, a.k.a. “Andragogy 2.0“).

 

The Digital Frontier

If we venture into the frontier of digital open-access territory, we need to understand that MOOCs, by their nature, are free, open and out there. Positive institutional branding becomes a by-product of bleeding-edge, innovative curricula co-created by outstanding faculty and students.

And might this mean the creation of a strange and hybridized monster – a WikiMOOC?

Manufactured Landscape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is blogging the digital equivalent of tree-planting?

In his famous series of large-scale photographs capturing the impacts of industry Edward Burtynsky highlights massive reconstructions of our natural world. I watched the award-winning 2006 documentary Manufactured Landscapes on a long-haul flight a few years ago, juxtaposing mountains of discarded computer monitors (on the screen in front of me), with pristine polar ice (out the airplane window).

Burtynsky shows us debris fields in real environments. What are some of the by-products and reconfigured terrains of the knowledge construction industry?  Here are three manifestations:

1. Degree inflation: Just like 50 is the new 40, Masters are the new Bachelors. Is this because today’s world is infinitely more complex and new hires need additional time and preparation for job readiness? Or are we seeing the equivalent of monetary inflation? I once served on a selection committee for a prestigious lectureship, where the candidate we chose had the credentials PhD, PhD. Let’s leave it at that.

2. Manufactured authenticity: Knowledge workers tend to spend a lot of time indoors. We all crave the experience of real-world adventure but fear of the attendant risks can be a deterrent. That’s what simulations are for: in teaching, learning and recreation. Google Glass represents the first wave of integrated mobile computing. Will this be the next television?

3. Digital nostalgia: The internet is a social construction and was once (in the words of Howard Rheingold) an electronic frontier. Consider the contrast between the WELL and Facebook with respect to discourse and advertising presence. Burtynsky catalogued the manufactured landscapes of the industrial world – what will 2020’s documentary on the manufactured landscapes of the information economy look like?

The post-industrial wastelands of the digisphere weren’t always there. Maybe blogging is the digital equivalent of tree-planting?

zen stones water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogging can facilitate the convergence of reflection-in AND reflection-on

Reflective practice is a cornerstone for continuous advancement as academic educators and scholars, and we all engage in reflective practice: with our students, with our colleagues, and with ourselves. Donald Schon, in his groundbreaking and influential theory of knowledge generation and learning, posited two reflective processes:

Reflection-in-practice

Reflection-on-practice.

In the moment (reflection-in-practice) we respond and make decisions based on a complex inter-weaving of practice wisdom, experience in classroom teaching, our integrated observation and enactment of what has worked for others, and evidence-based knowledge and skills. In the aftermath (reflection-on-practice) we mull over what worked and what was less effective. We talk things over with colleagues, seek supervision, and/or we journal or otherwise record our reflections.

Traditionally these two processes (reflecting-in and reflecting-on) have been seen to occur as separate but related. Further, the “products” of reflective practice – journaling, goal-setting, dialogue – have been constrained by physical geography and the limits of our professional networks.

Enter social media: thanks to “reflective practice 2.0” reflecting in / on are no longer necessarily distinct. Blogging may well represent a kind of “reflective practice power tool” in its ability to facilitate the convergence of reflection-in and reflection-on.

Digital communication has qualities of speaking and publishing together, and students are part of the conversation. Commenting enables an extended, many-to-many dialogue and blurs the boundaries between in-the-moment (i.e. in-the-classroom) reflection and post hoc reflective discourse. In other words, the act of blogging is itself teaching (in) even as it represents a reflective process (on). The classroom has become porous. Reflective practice is “unboundaried”.

We are all students, and we’re all teachers.

(See an excellent summary of Schon’s work, thinking and contributions at this link).

(Check out the presentation version of this post on Slideshare).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Utility + ease of use are what really matter

 

Recently, I was asked to give a Keynote Address  at the 2012 Ontario Association of Social Work annual conference outlining the “digital communication power tools” for social workers and other practitioners. Although I’ve taught an online graduate course for the past 10 years and have a longstanding interest in digital communication and online applications, I’m nowhere near as expert as the teenagers in my life.

However, the beauty of a “beginner’s mind” means that I can comfortably NOT be an expert – in anything – and still have something to share, in a spirit of exploration and adventure. And that is precisely the stance from which I developed the talk.

The three areas I covered (social media, online collaboration and e-therapy) are roughly overlapping, and provided a pretty broad terrain in which to navigate. The 250 or so practitioners at the conference included super-users, newbies, young and not-so-young, and all of us keen to better understand the ways in which these tools (because they really are just tools) can contribute to professional practice.

I think the most important take-away comes from the Technology Acceptance Model, where in one study, age and busyness of practitioners were not associated with uptake of social media in medical practice – rather, ease of use and utility of the applications influence attitudes, acceptance and behaviour. In other words, busy, old practitioners can and will use social media tools if they are accessible and relevant!

Here are the annotated slides (with Speakers’ Notes):  Digital Communication Power Tools

Also on Slideshare if you’d like to experience the session via social media.

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