Concluding Thoughts

What helped me learn?

As described in the last post, a hands on approach and using what we were learning really enhanced the learning experience. One additional component of the course that helped me learn was the ability to focus learning on my own interests. In the beginning of the course I felt like I had to review everyone’s responses. I felt overwhelmed and it was almost harder to learn with such an overflow of information. As thing got settled, I realized that the abundance of response was actually beneficial to my learning. Instead of feeling like I had to read every post, I realized I could pick and choose which discussions were interesting to me or challenged me and then focus on those discussions. It can be likened to a buffet where I can look at what’s available but only have to take what I really want. Personally, I know when I am able to direct the topic of my learning I am more engaged. It becomes a joy to find additional resources instead of chore. Online courses offer a unique aibilty to have more individually focused learning in discussions that I have greatly benefitted from during this semester.

 

What hindered my learning?

I will respond to a this question in a way that was not likely intended. I’m guessing the question is meant to ask about things within the course, the design or format that hindered learning. My response is that outside factors hindered learning. The busyness of life, the complexity of finding time to really read and reflect and write hindered learning. This offers a couple lessons then:

1. My learning was enhanced when I sat down and made time for the course. Even though it is an online course, I had to treat it at times like a traditional course and block out an hour or two or three as if it were a class time. Then I was much more productive. Setting aside time for online courses is a must as many others have recognized.

2. If my life was sufficiently complex to hinder learning, how much harder it must be for young students who face much more challenging conditions. I have a very supportive wife and family, a car to get from place to place, an office and access to fast reliable internet. Many youth who we criticize for dropping out or doing poorly in school have no such supports or access. They live in unsafe conditions, lack examples and role models and may even be lacking basic necessities of life like food and safe shelter. These conditions are the real hindrances to learning and have been recognized as such for some time.

 

How do I feel?

As the class concludes I think I feel the same way I do at the end of every semester. I’m amazed at how quickly its gone, how much I learned, and how much more I could have learned. Each semester is a similar pattern. I start out with the best intentions, planning and organization and intentions. I read every word of assigned readings and complete some assignments ahead of schedule. As the semester wears on I seem to just barely make deadlines, do only the required and necessary readings and I feel like I just want to get through instead of learning the most I can. By the end of the semester I then realize how much I’ve done and learned. This course is unique though, especially because of the blogging assignments. I have been able to reflect on what I’ve learned right from the start. This has helped me to realize that I am making progress, that I am learning and that I’m actually doing OK.

 

So thanks for the blogging assignment, the great semester and the chance to learn.

Signing off for now and perhaps for a while,

Ben Malczyk

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What did I learn in this course?

I’ll start with a list of things I learned, some that perhaps weren’t the objectives of the course:

I learned:

  • how to use moodle
  • how to navigate Alex’s course
  • how to write 8 point posts (so how to follow a rubric)
  • how to design a course—and hopefully some ideas about how to effectively design a course

Some things I learned about myself:

I learned:

  • That I still procrastinate
  • Sometimes grades still motivate me more than learning (sad but true)
  • I love starting new projects and learning new things but I also dislike all the final details and small assignments
  • That I really have come to value a constructivist approach to education

This course have been a valuable experience. Certainly I learned some important lessons about myself. But going forward in my career the lessons I learned on course design will be most beneficial. I really believe that this course has taught me important skills because I was required to actually use the skills I was learning about. In my social work training, I learned much more from my field placements than from my textbook classes. Learning that includes a hands on component, experiential learning, verifies that we have acquired usable knowledge. I believe that unless our knowledge is used it will quickly leave us or result in frustration when we later realize that we have not acted according to the level of knowledge that we have. The idea that hands on learning is important also comes to mind. The course I designed is based on this idea. It requires students to do community service and reflect on what they learned from their experiences.

Going into next semester I will utilize the skills I learned. I will do things like incorporate videos into my course modules, utilize links, create rubrics for students to use etc. All of these little things I learned can provide my students with valuable learning experiences of their own.

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(I’ll wait until next week to answer the other intriguing questions from the blogging assignment)

From theory to practice

Going through and reviewing my course was a great learning experience. It certainly helped to raise more questions about how the course would actually play out. After reviewing Alex’s feedback and going through the checklist I can see how important clear instructions are. The clearer the instructions are, the more confident students will be about their participation in the course. As we move from theory to practice I see that having clearer instructsion is perhaps the area where I need to improve the most.

Thinking more about my course also made me question how the course discussions would actually play out. Our reading for this week talked about discussion in online courses and how they should move from exploration to resolution. I realize that during a course I can add in prompts that will help students to move from exploration to discussion. However, I am concerned about doing as much as I can before the class begins. Additionally, I also worry that my personal involvement in a discussion may be limited for whatever reason and students feel that I do not care about their learning experience. Perhaps this stems from a personal experience. I once took an online course where the professor made it known that she would be traveling a lot and would not be able to regularly check in to the course. Her participation was minimal and feedback even less than minimal. Assignments from the first few weeks were not graded for months at a time and I remember feeling lost and unsure of what her expectations were. I don’t anticipate a semester like that when I am an online teacher, but I do anticipate weeks where I will be less responsive. So that brings me back to the challenge of adequately designing and giving instructions prior the actual discussions. This is something I know I need to improve. I also feel that a teacher’s participation is especially important in the first few weeks to help students get all settled in.

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Learn from the student’s perspective

This week we used a rather lengthy checklist to help us determine where we were in terms of completing our online course. The exercise helped me to realize that I still have a lot to do even though the course could work. Some students would do just fine with how the course is presently constituted. Others would be confused and would ask for more detail. The main improvement I need to make is adding more details on specific things such as how and when I will give feedback on grades.

As described in my summary I have learned that my personality trait of minimizing came through in my course design. I tried to make the course as simple and clear as possible.  I tried to keep instructions short, use lists and few words. Even the course design is repetitive in nature to help simplify the course. The checklist has helped me to realize that more words and details does not mean that a course has to be more complex. More explanation can clarify and simplify leaving less room for error or questions.

Perhaps the most enlightening thing from this week was getting what the text calls “student perspective.” To do this I had my wife review the course and then go through the checklist. She acted as my “student.” She gave some simple feedback even about how to order text in the modules or fonts and headings that I didn’t catch when reviewing the course. Having a fresh set of eyes and someone who can offer different opinions can add a lot to a course. Her suggestions were extremely valuable and I believe no matter how many times I reviewed the course I would have missed the changes that needed to be made. Just as we seek to have a constructivist approach in our classes, we can even seek to have a constructivist approach in designing our course. There is great value in having feedback from peers and students. The student perspective can be especially helpful which is why so much emphasis is placed on getting feedback from students throughout the course.

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The things I like reveal something about me

This week we were asked to reflect on a few questions that at first seemed disconnected. I have since connected the dots with my own experiences. The questions include: What have you observed about yourself during this process? What has challenged you the most in this course? As you go through this process as a student and as the developer what are you thinking about.

 

Thinking about my own experience in this course, especially those things I find challenging, I have realized that what I dislike of find difficult reveals things about myself. The largest challenge for me by far has been keeping up with the various activities, ways of interacting and tools that are utilized in this course. While I enjoy learning how to use new things like Twitter or Merlot, or Diigo or many others, I find that I quickly get overwhelmed by the number of things I have to keep track of. This reveals quite a bit about my personality. My wife and I have had this discussion many times—I am a sprinter not a long distance runner ( not only in exercise but in most things). When sprinting I do a lot of thing very quickly or get them done and then rest. This is in contrast to a more methodical slow paced but progressive long distance run. I would much rather push really hard for a short period of time and then be done or take a break than do a little each day. My wife is the opposite. That is why for me all the weekly postings and assignments an interactions has been difficulty. My favorite classes in college were always the ones with 1 large paper or only 2 or 3 assignments that accounted for your entire grade. I actually felt less anxiety in these classes. Classes like this one that require more frequent checking in are a challenge for my all or nothing personality. I often feel like I am missing something or that I am not doing enough. The anxiety is spread out over a longer period of time. This is contrary to my personality where I would rather have a strenuous and anxiety filled short period rather than taking things a little bit at a time.

 

My personality has come through in my course design but after further discussion I have learned to adjust. Originally I tried to make my course more to my preferences. My course would have fewer assignments, less to keep track of with each assignment accounting for a much larger percentage of a student’s final grade. This is how I would prefer the class. However, as our reading this week highlights, we need to promote active learning in our courses. More frequent interactions are better and help students to feel connected. As a result of this and of suggestions by Alex, I have made changes to my course, despite it running contrary to my personal preferences. For example, I previously had a reflective journal assignment that was 25% of a student’s grade. It was all do at the end. Since then I have changed the assignment so that each module is worth 4-5% and students are to post more regularly throughout the semester. I now see how this is important to help students continue to be active and engaged. This has been a great exercise to realize that my personal preferences are not likely everyone else’s preferences and should therefore be thought through.

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The Real Me

In Shea, Picket and Pelz (2003) we read briefly about the intersection of cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence.  They define social presence as, “the ability of students  to project  themselves socially and affectively into  a  community of inquiry  and is deemed  critical in the absence of physical presence and attendant teacher immediacy necessary to sustain learning in the classroom” (pp. 65).

In observing my interactions in the course activities, I have learned a little more about myself. I’ll share just a few things I’ve learned and then explain how these lessons can be applied in a future online class I instruct.

1. The real me is coming through…..slowly.

As the course has progressed I feel that I have been more willing to share about myself. Although we had introductory modules where we shared about ourselves, I was at first hesitant. I shared the minimum. Additionally, I felt that my initial answers were more academic and less personal. I would stick mainly to research and readings. Now I use the research and readings but also try to incorporate my own experiences and perspectives. Doing this has helped me to express myself a little more and share my personal interests. This has not happened all at once. Each week I seem a little more willing to share as I get to know my classmates and the professor a little more, get to know the class tools and resources and the course expectations. The more comfortable that I feel with each of these the more of me that comes out. While introductory activities can be very helpful, I believe there are students like me who will just take some time but will eventually come out of their shells.

2. Be your own person.

While it is important to use resources, being yourself in your posts can make posts more enjoyable. This blogging activity is an example. Everyone’s blog is so different, down to the colors and general design. This makes reading others posts more enjoyable.  These differences in design and content have helped me to get to know my classmates more and have given me a chance to express myself. Activities that give students opportunities to express individualism provide a unique opportunity to develop their own social presence. I have learned that I like to be different. I looked at everyone else’s blog and tried to find my own. I read through posts in the discussion section and feel that I can’t repeat what others have said but need to be different and add something new.

3. Different activities bring out different “mes”

One of the most interesting things I have learned is that different learning activities bring out different “mes”. One could say that different types of learning activities help students to present different selves or develop different social presences. In discussion posts for example I tend to use more references, a more formal tone and academic language. In other arenas like blog posts or in asking and answering questions a much less formal and more casual tone is appropriate and comes out. Having different types of activities requires different skill sets and different ways of thinking and expressing oneself. So a class that has a variety of learning activities means that varying skill sets, personality traits and experiences can be shared.

Someday in my class…

1. I will have multiple introductory activities. I will stagger them and give students a chance to review each other’s introductions. Often in the beginning of a class I feel overwhelmed and concerned about content and everything else to do well in the class that I breeze through the introduction or quickly forget them. Reviewing these introductions after having had interaction with my classmates would help me to develop more meaningful relationships with them and find ways we are similar and different. Perhaps utilizing small groups within a class can help members of the class to feel close to a few students making them feel more comfortable to contribute to the class.

2. Allow opportunities to personalize. Unless there must be a standard format, I want to allow students to use creativity and personalize their work. In academic papers we don’t really use images, pictures, audio or videos. Allowing and encouraging students to do so can make things more enjoyable to read and help students to develop and demonstrate their own social presence to the class.

3. Use a variety of activities. For many students they will like some types of activities more than others. Offering different types of activities can help more students to find ways to express themselves in ways that are unique and preferred by them. In this class for example I enjoy making posts to the discussion. I like asking questions, offering my answers and ideas and reading what others have to say and feel that I really have to think about the material. Blogging on the other hand has been a different activity. I tend to be less academic and to be more reflective. I appreciate the chance to reflect and recognize that the “me” that comes out in the blog is different than the “me” in the discussion area. I want my students to have various opportunities to express themselves.

A mixed bag of lessons learned

A mixed bag—

For most of my posts and writing assignments I tend to be very focused and narrow. For this blog post I will be more eclectic in my approach and answer various questions posed as my experiences this week seemed to blend well with the posed questions.

 

What have you learned that you did not know before?

– it takes a lot of up front time to prepare and online course it course that professors design themselves tend to be better (keys to success presentation)

 

How will you apply what you have learned to your own course?

-one seemingly small suggestion that can make a difference in helping students to feel more comfortable navigating the website is to have most things be only one click away. I tend to use lots of folders and subfolders in my personal organization. This works for me but can be frustrating for students as they may not know or not remember where specific thing have been placed. A better idea is to have more things available and only one click away for students (keys to success presentation).

 

What if anything has been difficult for you?

One challenge that I have encountered is trying to learn from all of the content. The sheer number of posts and activities is hard to keep track of and can easily leave a student feeling overwhelmed. Having too many modules can make things even worse so the suggested 7 plus or minus 2 rule comes in handy. Within a module there can also be too much information, too many activities and interactions that can make life confusing for an online student.

 

What is working for you in this course?

The course uses a highly constructive approach. This approach is highly learner centered and we can largely direct the content and direction of our online discussions. This helps me to remain engaged and to really want to participate in the discussions. This leaner centered approach is consistent with a constructive approach as I described in the course module and as described by Vrasidis (2000).

 

Additionally individualized feedback helps me to really feel like I am part of the course and connected with the professor. As described in the community of inquiry video students appreciate it when professors use their names and give compliments and appreciate students efforts. One of my most valuable learning experiences was watching the video Alex made where she showed our blogs and gave feedback and compliments. This instruction demonstrated to me that she cared enough about our learning to go through each of our blogs and to help us improve them.

 

What would you change/suggest to make it better for you?

To help with the large volume of posts, perhaps smaller discussion groups would be easier to keep track of. Other students posts can be made available but discussions with 3 to 8 people would be easier to handle and to really read and focus on than in a group of 10 or more students.

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Are you questioning what I am questioning?

“Only students who have questions are really thinking and learning.”

I have enjoyed the readings and videos from this week. The highlight of this week was the article The role of questions in thinking, teaching and learning (2007). This article is relevant in almost any educational context. The article describes the importance of asking questions and how questions are what lead to new knowledge.  The article makes a bold statement thatonly students who have questions are really thinking and learning.” While this statement seems too bold to be true, I believe the authors would gladly respond to criticism by suggesting that while not everyone realizes they have questions or can make them explicit, learners are internally asking questions.

I found this to be true in my case. As a young student I was quite shy and would be afraid to raise my hand to answer a question. Asking a question would be even harder for me. I remember feeling that if I asked a question that meant I was not learning and did not know the material. I failed to realize that there aredifferent types of questions and that asking questions is how learning is extended. If there are no new questions being asked than there is no new knowledge being produced.

Thinking back to all of my schooling and learning experiences has helped me to realize further the central role of questions in learning. My ability to learn has increased with my ability to ask questions. I have found that when I am thinking of material outside of class, asking questions about what I read or heard, I learn even more and become more engaged in class and the material. While each of us has topics that naturally interest us, I believe instructors can do important things to help students ask questions and become engaged with the material for the class. Courses that are learner centered allow students to apply course concepts to their unique interests and ask the questions that may be most pertinent to them. Teachers can use assignments that allow for student to formulate questions, such as discussions or research papers, rather than having to answer teacher driven or textbook driven questions.

Perhaps the mark of an effective teacher is not that there students have all the right answers but that there students know how to ask the right questions.

 

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Keeping it Simple

I wanted to add a couple things that I liked from observing the French 101 course.

One thing I do not yet know how to do but would like to learn how to do is to incorporate YouTube and other media into the modules. As an IPad user I would especially like to learn how to place media in and use activities that are compatible with tablets or even phones to increase accessibility for students.

One design decision that I loved from looking at the course is the simplicity of the layout. When a student first logs on to the course it just feels neat and clean. The course organization is very easy to understand or as the teacher stated, logical. He uses folders and a hierarchy that helped me to understand which things are more important and bigger picture items. A clean and simple opening module page alleviates my concern that the course is so complex and hard to keep track of. In my online courses I often struggle knowing which things are most important or feel anxiety that I somehow forgot to click on something about an important assignment. A simple and basic layout helps to alleviate this anxiety.

This simplicity extends into his course schedule. In his schedule he clearly lists a start and end date for each module. This is something I will include in my course schedule.

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The Curse of Knowledge and online courses

In our course discussion there was a good dialogue on the topic of first time e-learners. I had not given this topic much thought but now realize the importance of recognizing where people are in terms of experience with online courses. Similar to my reflective post last week, I am beginning to realize the dangers of assuming what levels of knowledge and experience our students have. Students whose first time taking an online course may often find themselves in a whole new world and as research indicates may find themselves in state of cognitive overload (Tyler-Smith, 2006). They will likely come with their own unique ideas, expectations and concerns. Some students may be overly concerned about an online course while others will may be too lackadaisical in their attitudes. As an instructor, the real danger comes in assuming that people come with a level of knowledge similar to yours. When you make this assumption, you will likely have students who are lost, who are unfamiliar with the technical jargon that you may unknowingly be using.

I previously read a book called Made to Stick.

This book describes the phenomenon the authors call “the curse of knowledge.” They describe that when we know things we often assume that others know it or can learn it very quickly. We often forget our own growing and learning pains. Thus our knowledge becomes a curse and we fail to explain in effective step by step manner to others the content we need to convey. (for a little experiment, think of a very common and known song in your mind and tap the tune on the table with your fingers for someone to guess–you will find that even while it seems so obvious in your mind it’s really hard to guess).

It is important to be as basic and step by step as possible. When teaching an online course it is almost guaranteed that our students will have a wide array of experience and expertise when it comes to online learning. The more specific, concrete and step by step our course, its instructions and the learning environment, the better as several of our students may be taking online courses for the first time.

One thing I would do in my online courses, no matter the subject would be to have a brief tutorial on the types of online course models. I would explain the difference between a synchronous and asynchronous course and a blended course. I would explain the different types of technologies used. I would then describe in detail what the course I was teaching was so that students would properly understand it and also know that there experience in any one online class does not have to be indicative of all online courses. This brief tutorial would be especially helpful for first time e-learners and help to overcome the curse of knowledge.

Tyler-Smith, K. (2006). Early attrition among first time e-learners: A review of factors that contribute to drop-out, withdrawal and non-completion rates of adult learners undertaking e-learning programmes. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 2(2), 73–85.

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