Tuesday, September 18, 2007

when is a community not a community?

In response to mark's suggestion that we contribute to a discussion about why we are in this community has stimulated a question for the group - when is a community not a community?
If you all think about any communities/groups you may belong to - they all have one thing in common.

Faces by Fazen

There is always a core group who seem to do everything, are always involved no matter what, and others who remain quietly on the periphery...sometimes popping up when the need arises and disappearing again. People come and go, and in some instances people are a captive audience at some time or other. I am captivated with this community, and thoroughly enjoying our progress through the course activities. For me a community is about having a common purpose or reason to meet.

The common reason for this community being formed is that we are part of a course with common goals, in terms of assessment, but also in the need to find out more about online communities. Although we all have differing reasons for participating and different expectations and because of this we will each take away different things from this experience.

Because we are an online community, we are using a range of online tools and methods to interact, and a range of activities to give us a reason to use them. We could have set up just a Blackboard discussion Board with 93 forums as they did in one iteration of this course, but we have chosen to give the class the opportunity to see how a variety of tools and strategies work - that way you can experience them and choose what will work for you in your teaching.

So I don't expect we will all feel comfortable, or warm and cozy in this community because it is challenging. But I hope that the strength of the community will be in helping each other overcome the challenges. For myself, it is a challenge because I have never used such a wide variety of tools and methods to teach an online course, and this is my first time teaching this course. I am loving it, and I don't particularly feel like I am teaching, rather I am feeling like a participant. There are so many interesting viewpoints and discussions going on. I was here because I was one of the facilitators, now I am here because I am finding it fascinating - Although I am spending far too much time participating.

I have also found out a lot about different online communities and some of the theoretical underpinnings by listening to the guest speakers. I am learning so much. I now know that online communities are not just about Gilly Salmon's five-step emoderating model or about asynchronous or synchronous discussions. They are so much more. You will see what I mean if you look at the list we compiled last night in the wiki - onlinecommunities. The new page we invite you all to contribute to along with your own discipline-specific page.

The overall aim of this course is to get everyone to the facilitator phase (development - stage five - relates to Gilly Salmon's five-stage model) of being in an online community and to get there there are other phases to pass through e.g. access to the tools and strategies (access - stage one) getting to know the community (socialisation - stage two), sharing knowledge and information (information sharing - stage three), creating knowledge and resources (knowledge building - stage four) .

Do people agree with this?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Putting too much trust in technology

The title of this post is stimulated by the technology hassles we have been having this week in the Facilitating eLearning Communities course. Who would believe it - two nights in a week and the computer conferencing system failed to function. Twice we were embarrassed in front of an international speaker. Twice we were unable to login and proceed smoothly as we have in previous sessions. Twice the course facilitators were getting blamed for the breakdown. And why? Because we had "put all our eggs in one basket" and we had begun to trust the technology.

The cynics would say - well it is to be expected.
The skeptics would say - I was surprised it has worked so smoothly so far.
The optimists would say - it will work well next time.
The extrinsically motivated would say - well I will just give up and go do something I really enjoy doing - this is too frustrating.
The intrinsically motivated would say - lets find a solution and do something else to help the community.

What do online facilitators say? What do classroom teachers say?

Imagine you walk into a room to teach your class. The lights wont turn on and the room is dark so they wont be able to see the whiteboard and you were going to use it for the session. What do you do?


You are talking away flicking through your slide presentation and feeling like you have hooked your students. The actually seem interested and they are asking questions. Then the lamp blows on the data projector - no screen presentation. What would you do?

Do you keep talking and wing it and engage the group with some activities to help them piece together what has already been said. Or do you pack up and go home grumbling that they can read the text book.
  • How do you placate the disappointed students who are getting ready to up and leave?
  • How do you provide alternatives when the technology fails?
Yes these are all very real situations aren't they and ones we dread when we have so much content to get through and exams that have to be passed.

But let me ask this question - if you were the students who would you blame? The technology - hey that can happen, the teachers - they tried their best and its not their fault they didn't invent the thing. They don't manage the electrical grid. Yourself - I hope not.

And so it is with technology in online learning. We can do our very best to set systems up and design learning for our students, and set up interesting lectures and activities. But sometimes students cant access the materials or the sessions, sometimes the software wont run, sometimes the system fails. So what do we do?

Last night when Elluminate failed, again! And I was grappling with downloading Java to get Elluminate to work on my home computer, trying to find our guest speaker, trying to contact the IT technician to get help, trying to let every one of the four groups who were invited to the session know what was happening , trying to answer the phone calls and texts, trying to download Skype so I could message people, reading and answering the group email, messaging the facilitator who was trying to keep it all together :O

- I saw some really interesting stuff happening and a community forming. It is almost as if we have to have ripples and bumps to get traction in a community.
  • The email group changed from being asynchronous to synchronous.
  • People were downloading skype and setting themselves up on it.
  • jokes were being passed around.
  • discussions were starting.
When we did finally get on Elluminate there was some really good questions and discussion around issues such as confidentiality online, obstructions to getting online from colleagues, what should go on the wiki. We also heard about Merrolees' web 2 project and passed around ideas for online facilitating. I saw some very sturdy beams being raised in the barn. I saw some excellent facilitation going on within the group. I saw people pulling together to find solutions. I saw lots of creativity and critical thinking going on. I was amazed.

Now I am really pleased Elluminate failed. Now we actually have a community thing happening and people supporting each other. So that people is what you do when the technology fails you find alternatives, or make sure there is a sense of community happening in your class so that people will pull together when the walls fall down or the technology fails.

Now I can pack my bags and put them at the door...well almost...but I am getting ready because several of you have already climbed the cliff face and reached level 5 in Gilly Salmon's pyramid for online facilitation. If you don't know what that is you better go look.......:P


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

virtual friends are they disconnecting us?

all this talk about tools for networking and being connected in communities leads me to ask the question are people feeling disconnected as they strive to become more connected?

You may be interested in an article I read recently. here are a couple of excerpts:

"Jason Calacanis wishes he could be your Facebook friend, but he just can't. ....Calacanis now has several thousand friends, with more requests streaming in daily. He's tired. So on his blog this summer, Calacanis, 37, declared a Facebook moratorium. In the future he'll outsource his friend management to an intern."

"Ogheneruemu "O.G." Oyiborhoro ....is the George Washington University junior who holds the school's title of most Facebook friends -- 3,456 and counting." BUT who is the friend who helps him find an apartment....not his facebook buddies.
An Unmanageable Circle of Friends Social-Network Web Sites Inundate Us With Connections, and That Can Be Alienating
By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 26, 2007; M10

I have recently decided to spend more time with real flesh and blood, physically accessible friends and to ring fence my virtual networks as the number i belong to is taking up more and more time and impacting on my domestic harmony and peace of mind. I wonder if anyone else is feeling the same?


Monday, September 03, 2007

virtual classrooms and cognitive load theory

In response to a request for material on virtual classrooms, I stumbled across some interesting theory around cognitive processing and Virtual classrooms by Dr Ruth Clark.

Dr Ruth Clark runs a training and consultancy website. There are lots of courses you can enrol in but they are pretty expensive. The graduate certificate in Applied eLearning does much the same and is a lot cheaper so we are really lucky to have this qual in NZ.

here is a link to an article by ruth clark on harnessing virtual communities.
It has some good pointers about keeping learners engaged during a standard virtual lecture/session averaging 60 minutes:
1. maintain a lively pace
2. visualize your content
3. incorporate frequent participant responses - you will notice in the audio lecture on cognitive processing she asks lots of questions and uses polling a lot and she also gets participants to do activities during the session.
4. use small group breakout rooms.
it is a short article and worth a look.

My comments on the audio: Personally i think such long lecture sessions are a bit much but I was only listening to the audio and she did have slides - she seems to do a good job of getting input from the class using text only. The participants don't seem to feature on the audio so cant have used mics. some interesting stuff about cognitive load and learning styles. e.g. differences between learning styles of different learners are minor in comparison to the ways our brains are set up to process information overall. She talks about the modality principle - best learning is when you have audio to explain visuals.

See also an article I stumbled across about A Learner-Centered Approach to Multimedia Explanations: Deriving Instructional Design Principles from Cognitive Theory. By Moreno, R. & Mayer, R. (2000). This is published online in the Interactive Multimedia Electronic journal of computer-enhanced learning...phew.

The diagram of working memory was informative.illustrates how words and images move from sensory memory to working memory and into long-term memory. Remember working memory can only hold so much information and is easily overloaded.

Dr Ruth Clark also said that cognitive overload can occur if several modalities. For example, the use of visual, text and audio together causes a redundancy effect because we are overloading the visual processing area. using audio and text together is better but use of one modality at a time is best.
Dr ruth does not like people multitasking e.g. checking emails when in VC and likes texting in VC to be on task not texting to each other off task or privately. she says this causes split attention effects.
see what you think when you listen to the audio.
also a link to a presentation (pdf) called: Leveraging the virtual classroom
AND her new book at the bookstore.

The New Virtual Classroom:
Evidence-based Guidelines for Synchronous e-Learning

Introduction: Meet the New Virtual Classroom
Part I: Learning and the New Virtual Classroom
Part II: Engaging Participants in the New Virtual Classroom
Part III: Optimizing Your Virtual Events
Part IV: Creating Effective Learning Events in the New Virtual Classroom

Price: $50.00 plus S/H*