This week, I have felt a bit like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole. In a flu-induced-stupor, I stumbled upon Coursera and the world of MOOCs. Not just the world described in our reading, but the world of “click here to sign up” and "$39 for a certificate of completion that can be noted on a resume and recognized by many employers" and WHAT is going to happen to higher ed as a result of all this FREE learning? Wow.
For me, this week’s readings continuously came round and round to two key ideas: connectedness and training. I complete agree with the texts: connectedness for people participating in OLC and CoP make all the difference. The “Degree of Freedom” blog post and much of Chapter 9 (Harasim) focused on the importance of connectivity and how it makes a difference in online learning. Perfect, as this is has been a theme from previous reading for the course and in my own ponderings, as well.
Chapter 8 (Harasim) focused on, among other things, teacher training for successful online instruction. This is absolutely a topic that is near and dear to my heart.
For a number of reasons, this week’s blog post will sound (and, admittedly, is) disjointed and fragmented. After a four-day fever and more cold medicine that is probably healthy, my goal now is to get some thoughts on the screen and hope they’ll make sense to someone, at some point. And, with luck, I’ll be able to make sense of them when I’m feeling better.
Passages from the reading that hit home this week:
“...educators adopting online education might encounter collegial or institution resistance from those who perceived online education to be a threat or insult to traditional “chalk-and-talk” teaching” (p. 124). Funny, isn’t it, that we hold so tightly to the “chalk and talk”/lecture methods, even when we know they are among research-supported best practices. (Wiggins, 2014)
“During the 1990s, a rather fierce debate emerged regarding the quality of education delivered online. Typically (and unfortunately) the debate focused on the technology (the Internet or the Web) rather than on the pedagogy that was used. At the time, the question looming was whether online education was as effective as face-to-face learning” (p. 126). This debate has been raging in my school district over the course of the last six months, and even when teachers argued that the technology was significantly helping them to more effectively and efficiently address student learning needs, the argument from nay-sayers continually returned to the technology.
University of Phoenix Online is effective, in part, because of its emphasis on training for online teaching (p. 129). “The 4-week online training is a rigorous reality experience for prospective faculty” (p. 130). A second element in the training process involves the use of mentors who continue to support teachers once they are on their own. Hmm. In a class I took last semester, I visited at length with a teacher from the Kenai school district who had only ever taught online. She was hired to be a full-time online teacher and had remained in that role...and she loves it. Interestingly, the AK State Mentor Project does not assign mentors to those new to the profession who teach online only. How interesting, especially since online teacher may need more mentoring and support than those in traditional classroom settings who can go next door to a colleague for support.
The International Labour Organization uses online learning and instructor training extensively: “...to promote effective OCL in its courses the center would need to train its online instructors in the principles of the OCL theory, stress co-production in the courses and ensure new information was invested in the course discussions” (p. 133). Training online INSTRUCTORS is a key to the success of an online program. There are so many lessons to be learned from these examples that must be kept at the forefront. An online class has a much greater likelihood of being successful if the teacher has had training to prepare him/her for a very new way of teaching.
More teacher-training emphasis from The Open University: “As a rehearsal for supporting their students, the tutors work through a 2-week, 5-hour online staff development program, instead of the usual face-to-face 1-day briefing” (p. 136).
Harasim shares a research-based list of reasons why virtual and online high school programming were meeting the access needs of students. From my experience in a small, rural school district, this list is spot-on, but it is missing one reason that is beginning to become apparent: Some students prefer to learn online. Students who have had the opportunity to take online courses for a few years now report that they like the fact they can move as quickly as they want, study whatever they want, and not have to deal with the delays and wasted time in the classroom. As online learning continues to grow in popularity, it will be interesting to see what the research shows as far as reasons students choose to take virtual or online high school classes.
The APLU-Sloan National Commission on Online Learning survey indicate that the majority of faculty members who had taught online courses believed that “learning outcomes [in online courses] are as good as or better than face-to-face instruction” (p. 138). Instructors also noted that the effort required to teach online takes more effort than in traditional f2f, and developing an online course is also more challenging. This is contradictory to the uninformed beliefs of folks who have never taught online classes and/or those who are unaware of the research. A common assumption still is that online classes are “easier” for students and that teaching online classes is probably much easier for teachers. The research, clearly, illustrates this is not the case.
Zinger passages from Chapter 9 (Harasim):
“Sometimes these professionals work in the same organization. More typically, CoPs exist outside of a particular workplace, but within a particular profession or area of skill” (p. 142). I find it interesting that educators do not naturally congregate within a building to learn...and, according to Harasim, educators are not alone. The fact that professionals who work within the same building still seek professional learning opportunities and conversations with CoPs outside of their work places is interesting. On the other hand, learning styles are different, interests are different, and often, it is liberating to be able to talk and learn with people who are not part of one’s immediate workplace.
For educators, the section on “textual communities” really hit home: Text and documents “portray the history of the Internet as extending a long tradition of communities forming around documents: textual communities. Schools of thought and practice...are based on shared texts” (p. 144). What is different in the contemporary world of social media and the anytime-anywhere access to the Internet is that we are all not only accessing shared texts, but we are creating shared texts being accessed by others. The blogs we maintain for this class are a perfect example.
“The Internet has been referred to as a vast online world, or set of online worlds and communities. ... The perception of authenticity is that one is really participating, and the online experience can equal or exceed that of a real-time face-to-face event or community, even in online text-based communities” (p. 147). Again, I think about my own students’ experiences with online exchanges 15 years ago...and the power of social media today. “Connecting” does not require sitting side-by-side in a classroom. Connecting requires a common topic of interest (either self-selected or a teacher-chosen topic) and the opportunity to talk. Discourse around a common topic can create connections that may very well be even more “real” than rapid-fire discussion in a traditional classroom setting where there is no time to think, shape a contribution, or consider a response. Sustained opportunities to communicate in an online community have the potential to be more meaningful in terms of lasting learning than anything that happens within a 50-minute class period in a room filled with desks and students.
In my own research this week, I came across a number of resources from the Christiansen Institute and other organizations devoted to researching, supporting, and educating the world about blended and online learning. Great stuff. Favorite soundbite from a video I viewed: “Blended learning is the democratization of education” (The Learning Accelerator).
Finally, I took part in the Google Hangout hosted by Dr. Graham on Thursday evening. It was fun to learn how to use some of the Hangout tools I hadn’t learned on my own during this session. Better still was the opportunity to SEE and HEAR my colleagues in this class. Text-based discourse is important in the development of learning and understanding, but being able to connect a person’s thoughts in a blog post with their voice and face and gestures and smile transforms the online peer-to-peer relationship. Note to self: any online class I ever develop and/or teach must include face-to-face opportunities, which are becoming quite easy to arrange and pull off thanks to modern technology like Google Hangout.
Coursera. (2014) Virtual Teacher Program. Retrieved from: https://www.coursera.org/specialization/virtualteacher/10
Harasim, L. (2012). Learning Theory and Online Technologies. Routledge, Taylor, & Francis Group: New York. [E-Book edition)
The Learning Accelerator. (7 Nov 2013). What is blended learning? [video] Retrieved from: http://vimeo.com/78871778
Wiggins, G. (6 Feb 2014). The more I lecture, the less I know if they understand. TeachThought. Retrieved from: http://teachthought.com/teaching/lecture-less-know-understand/