Saturday, October 20, 2007

Structured versus not structured versus guided

Is the Facilitating eLearning Communities course an example of constructionist and constructivist and reflective learning?

Are we like this lego maze (Lego Maze Eric4 by Anvilon)
- structured yet in a quandary and having to find our way around and out? Is there really an end point for a course like this? I hope not....I believe participation in Facilitating eLearning communities needs to be an evolving experience which has to ebb & flow with the technologies, change according to the needs of the participants and catch the trends and waves of eLearning.

I know it is not about mastery learning because the learning is intended to come out of the participants own perceptions, explorations and knowledge development. Plus there is no exam or test. But...

If structured = mastery learning and sequential step by step learning - then this course is not structured. If structured = guided and free to follow your own interests & explore - this course is structured.

I find it quite intriguing that people feel the course is unstructured. Yes there were more instructions for the first few topics and activities and directed discussion than the latter part of the course - yet some people chose not to engage.

The 10 min lecture series has been structured, and also allows discussion and reflection. some people have not been able to engage synchronously and have done so after the events and have made very good postings on their blogs about some, not all the presentations. Others have not engaged at all. Several people have engaged with the assessments - learning log (blog) and wiki - others have not.

I wonder why people feel it is unstructured - or does this mean unguided? Even though there is a learning guide, posted lists of what people should be doing on the course blog, email directions, directed activities for the first few topics, directed assessments, a lecture series, a list of resources, content on WikiEducator etc. Does guided mean something different for all of us? Guided does not equal structured or does it?

In a true constructivist learning community the course is far too structured. There are too many things participants are told to do already. There was very little for them to negotiate. Do participants feel they need to be sat down and directed through a series of topics, and some workshops on how to use some of the technologies? Does structured for some mean teacher-directed rather than learner-directed?

What I would like to know is do people feel they are being guided to be part of an online community? If the answer is yes, then we are on the right track.

Perhaps it is the topic. I believe people learn best how to be an online facilitator by being exposed to a range of strategies and practical opportunities rather than a whole lot of content and theory about how to do something though there is some of that too. Part of being an online facilitator in a community is to experience discomfort as well as comfort. David alludes to that and also mentions the value of finding out things for ourselves.

I am surprised that he feels that participants are "relatively unguided" - people have been given a lot of material to look at and plenty of discussion topics have arisen. The facilitators could have continued to impose very directed discussion topics all through, but instead chose to use the 10 minute lectures as the basis for discussion...which has occurred.

Perhaps what we need now is a short presentation to bring all the threads together for the community - this could serve as a reflection on what we have covered and a stimulus for the next leg of discussion. Watch this space!


leighblackall said...

Hi Bron,

It is interesting to note that the series of blog posts from some people reflecting on what has happened so far in the course was sparked by an "outsider" to the formal course. Sue Waters dropped in on my post on facilitation vs teaching and proposed that the participants write about the pros and cons and so on. Sarah and Carolyn picked up on that straight away, and now we are seeing others doing the same. I'd like to write a round up of these posts and a summary of my thoughts in a similar way to which you are doing.. but I think I'll wait until the end as we still have to evaluate the existence of online learning communities in social networking platforms, wikis and virtual worlds. In otherwords, there's still a bit to go yet and it could go any way really...

It is a concern however, the drop out rate and numbers of people generally disengaged. But I think this is understandable if the course has not been what they expected. We have run the course differently to other online courses that use Bb and the like, this in itself is a challenge to the status quo that may have significantly demotivated a number of people - especially the alumni. But now that we have gone one round this way, we have a large quantity of open content and discussion to refer to so that the next time we run it we should be able to expect fewer people joining with unrealistic expectations... of course, I could be wrong about it, and I am still thinking about what Graeme writes in his particularly sharp criticisms of this course.. a few weeks to go yet, and a few more topics to get through..

Veronique said...

Hey Bron, I thought I'd give you some feedback as one of the people who has been quite challenged by this course.

I have no problems with the course philosophy and design, and how flexible and adaptable it is. But my lack of knowledge of web tools prior to the course, did end up causing major frustration for me and hindered my progress.

I wasted hours and hours (and hours!) randomly jumping around the web trying to find out about blogs and wikis (how they were being used generally and in teaching, how you write and convey a message, tips for blogging, how to load pictures etc). You wondered if the course was like a maze, I think that the web is like a huge maze with multiple levels and it’s easy to get lost down side paths, and then not make any progress at all. At first it was fun but it soon turned to information overload (not to mention sore eyes and rear end), and often not really knowing how useful or relevant the information was. It became really frustrating! You may have recognized this when I sought some reassurance from you about how I was going.

What would have been beneficial for me is a bit of guidance in the form of resource material. Maybe this was mentioned or available somewhere but I overlooked it. Something like a wiki page ‘a beginners guide to blogging’ and ‘wikis for dummies’ (that's probably not pc is it) containing links to examples and some activities to carry out and start to blog about. I'm sure being paired with a more experienced person would also have helped, and perhaps a weekly personal progress update (by email, skype, phone); this would have alerted me to the resources and pointed me in the right direction sooner (not everyone would have needed this but it might have been useful for those of us with limited tech-know). I did find some useful resources but it definitely wasn’t the most effective way to go about it. I have recently seen that there is some material being developed on the wiki site, like , this would have been a good starter but somehow I missed it.

bronwyn said...

Thanks for your feedback Veronique. all your suggestions are excellent and it really is a pity the buddy system did not get off the ground. It is also a pity that the alumni disappeared when the going got tough...well actually before we really got going really..maybe they thought they weren't needed.

Even though you found the going difficult and time consuming, think about how much you have learned. There were some resources on Blackboard and material on the wiki. I think you idea of individualised progress reports is a very good one as would be the setting of weekly goals.

we need to be more pro-active in this I believe.

bronwyn said...

i don't believe the drop-out rate is very high, in fact it is very low for a course like this. I can think of two people who have not really appeared online via our communication channels.

we actually have a core group of people engaging actively in the activities and discussions (n=9) and a small number appearing every now and then (n=5) - we only have 13 people formally enrolled and our two extras - one dropped out due to personal reasons and one has never really started at all and one has only started f2f and not really appeared online.

I agree some are more active than others in communicating and others are plodding away on their blogs and explorations.