Collaborative Learning Communities

community1

Good discussions do not just happen, but are designed and crafted to provoke deep thought and continual improvement of ideas and opinions (Horton, 2006). As participation, interaction and social presence are commonly seen as key factors for achieving collaboration, shared goals, whether face-to-face or in an online environment, is understood to be an important element toward creating a community (Zhao, Sullivan & Mellenius, 2014). Through collaboration and by helping each other to learn, students contribute to each other’s skill base and knowledge and thereby shape a learning community (Witney & Smallbone, 2011).

As an online facilitator designing a course, what would be some strategies you would consider in designing an ideal learning community?

References

Horton, W. (2006).  E-Learning by Design, Designing for the Virtual Classroom. Copyright 2006 John Wiley & Sons Inc. Used with permission from John Wiley & Sons Inc. via the Copyright Clearance Center.

Witney, D. & Smallbone, T. (2011). Wiki work: Can using wikis enhance student collaboration for group assignment tasks? Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 48(1), 101-110. Retrieved from the Walden Library.

Zhao, K, Sullivan, K., & Mellenius, I. (2014). Participation, interaction and social presence: An exploratory study of collaboration in online peer review groups. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(5), 807-819. Retrieved from the Walden Library.

Ready to Engage

diversity

As a classroom instructor transitioning into the role of an online facilitator, there are a lot of considerations to be made before the launch of that first class. There are a number of learning management systems (LMS) available on the market from open-source to fee-based services. A facilitator’s choice may depend on the technical prowess and available time commitment to set up and manage the LMS if an administrator is not available to assist with this task. Open-source LMS systems require a considerable amount of time to manage installation, setup and maintenance with unknown variables that can add to the technical side and take away from the instructional development side with little to no support. Depending upon an institution’s choice for a LMS, with all of the features a learning management system can offer, the best approach for teaching the first online course is to keep it simple and only consider the technology tools that are necessary for student engagement (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 57). With an online course, the objective is to move the focus from passive teaching to active learning by exploiting many of the same technologies used every day to connect and collaborate with others (Aldridge, 2013)

Since the most important initial goal within the first weeks of the course is to get acquainted with the learners, establish trust and to launch the learning community (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 56), the easier it is to do this without getting bogged down with a steep technology learning curve for the student or the facilitator, the better. Being able to use audio and video technology to bridge the distance between the instructor and learners can have a benefit as well as a smoother transition into the next phases of a course that can impact the outcome of the learning goals.

There are a number of technological resources that can assist a facilitator such as audio recordings using Audacity for a class introduction or a video introduction using iMovie on an iPad a well as Adobe Captivate. Regardless of the technology a facilitator decides to use, the most important consideration should be how easy it is for the learner to access the technology and the applicability of the resource to the learning. Students in an online course have the advantage of gaining access to learning resources that can connect them to recognized industry experts and engage in an active exchange of information regardless of where they live (Aldridge, 2013). With this availability to resources, an instructor must consider the type of technology they chose to include in a course so that any student, even those living in rural areas or those not so savvy with technology have the opportunity to use the technology without hindrance and focus on the learning, not the technology.

The online environment offers a great opportunity for people from all over the world to come together and meet that would not normally have the opportunity to and share thoughts and perspectives on an intellectual level. As an online facilitator, I believe it is important for the students to engage in meaningful dialog with one another and share perspectives so the tools I use will have that focus in mind. I will be incorporating video into my introduction as a means of connecting with my students on a personal level and have them do the same in a multimedia format to include audio and/or video. I will also use discussion boards as a driving force to engage students in a way that causes learning to occur and change in perspective, thus building a better understanding of the world around us. What I think will also be helpful to incorporate in an online environment is to offer open office hours during crunch times in the course where students will have access to the facilitator and can ask questions in a chat session or through Google Hangouts. By establishing a foundation of effective tools that allow for student engagement, as time moves and technology advances, other more advanced tools may become available, but as a facilitator, one should always remember that as technology changes, it is merely an inevitable tool that is in place to assist with communicating, interacting and finding a means of constructing new knowledge for the student.

References

Aldridge, S. (2013). 3 Ways Technology-Enhanced Courses Benefit Learners. Retrieved from http://www.learninghouse.com/blog/publishing/3-ways-technology-enhanced-courses-benefit-learners

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Setting Up an Online Learning Experience

multitasking 1

Preparing to launch an online learning experience for the first time that is engaging for your students and allows you to focus on building knowledge and competencies within learners as well as a network of mutual respect through the sharing of ideas and perspectives takes a lot of time and preparation before the course begins. A facilitator must first consider ways to design the course to be engaging, but also considerations must be made toward choosing the right tools that will complement the learning experience. There are many tools to consider, but with such a range of online tools that are available, it can become overwhelming to decide which tools to use. For the first online class, the best approach is to keep it simple (Boettcher& Conrad, 2010, p.57). After teaching that first class and becoming more comfortable with what to expect and gaining confidence in understanding how the technology can work within the course to achieve the course’s objectives, integration of additional online tools can be considered. In the first phase of a course, the goals are to launch the course and lay the groundwork for a learning community in which learners and faulty support one another in the accomplishment of the course goals (Boettcher& Conrad, 2010, p.10). The most important goals to achieve in the first few weeks of the course is to get acquainted with the learners, establish trust, and launch the learning community (Boettcher& Conrad, 2010, p.56). Most courses today have a diverse range of students concerning age ranges and varying skill levels. Marc Prensky (2001) spoke about this topic concerning digital natives and digital immigrants in our education system where today’s students, K through college, represent the first generation to grow up with new technology and have been surrounded by a multitude of tools of the digital age. These are the digital natives, but those that were not born into the digital age and adopted technology into their environment later in life are called digital immigrants. Keeping a course simple allows you to focus on the course’s objectives and minimizes the potential frustration a learner can have toward being hindered from learning by the complexity of technology in the course.

Within the first few weeks of a course as the facilitator works at getting acquainted with the learners, establishing clear and unambiguous guidelines about what to expect from the participants and what they should expect from the instructor will contribute toward a satisfying online experience (Boettcher& Conrad, 2010, p.55). This is important because as the instructor provides the students with a syllabus, they will have a clear understanding about the course as far as when the class will meet, how long the class will be, as well as how they will be graded. The students will also have an understanding about what the responsibilities are for the instructor toward teaching the course to the best of their abilities, when they will be available, feedback guidelines, timeliness of grades and what the performance responsibilities are for the learner based upon a criteria that has been established for the course. Establishing the course expectations and making everything available to them for review is essential toward ensuring a quality teaching and learning experience.

References

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5. Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Online Learning Communities

lecture

Sitting in a traditional classroom environment back when I first attended college allowed for me to make connections with other students that I could potentially construct ideas with and build knowledge together. As online communities continue to grow, Dr. Palloff and Dr. Pratt talk about how it is vital toward student success for the learners to make a connection to other students as they learn the ins-and-outs of this new environment. As the learner acclimates to understanding how a learning management system works, time needs to one set aside for students to make a connection with one another so they do not develop a sense of isolation. The power of a learning community is steeped in learner-to-learner engagement as they collaborate within the environment. Learning communities are established by bringing people together with a purpose and having a process in place for their development. An ideal learning environment will enable students to explore content together, challenge one another, give support and provide professional feedback.

Within the online environment, the facilitator will take on a role that is different from the traditional classroom teacher. To create an effective online learning community, the facilitator must be familiar with the technology being used and work at setting the tone for the learning experience they will have. The course should be easy to navigate with naming conventions and include a welcome letter to the participants. Since the first two weeks of the course is critical, the instructor needs to have a strong presence in the course to help resolve any issue or answer questions that come up. As the course gets underway, the facilitator should model the type of behavior for the students that he/she would like for them to embody during their time together.

During the course, the online facilitator will become a guide for the learners functioning in an equal capacity with them and avoid becoming the center of attention to their learning. During the orientation to the online experience for many new to online community students, the instructor or facilitator needs to clearly communicate how they will be supporting the students in the online environment. As the instructor communicates their part, he/she will also need to establish expectations for the student’s involvement as well as some ground rules for how the students will need to interact with one another in order to make the community a safe place to share knowledge and ideas as they help one another to grow academically. These rules of engagement will help to clarify how they are to engage, how often they will be expected to participate and how often the institution will expect learners to participate for official purposes.

The benefits of establishing instructor involvement, the rules of engagement, establishing a sense of community where the students connect with each other and understanding the expectations for the course can lead to a high level of student satisfaction, a positive perception of the learning experience as well as accountability toward one another that will empower them socially to succeed. With the growing number of students from different generations participating in online courses, it is important to remember the significance in balancing technology with the course’s intended outcomes. Most students will take to the integration of a variety of technology tools needed to develop their skills to accomplish their academic goals, but care should be taken not to include an abundance to technology simply for the sake of using technology. As the student grows within the online community and builds confidence while making connections, the feeling of being a part of something greater than themselves offers an ideal opportunity for transformation and self-awareness.

References

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Online Strategies – Welcome

My name is John Alexander Robinson. I am originally from New Jersey, but I currently reside in San Antonio, Texas with my beautiful wife and my daughter that is a 6 year old (going on 16) mini-me. I have been in the technology field since the early 1990s I have seen some pretty amazing advances in technology over the years. I started off my technology career training businesses, consumers and the military on Microsoft applications. Previous to my current position in a school district, I use to work for Gateway Computers as a Senior Trainer where I managed a territory and created computer-based learning demos for train-the-trainer sessions. I have always had a passion for technology and multimedia is my specialty. I learned a lot through those experiences that established the foundation for what I do today. My undergraduate degree was received from the University of Texas at San Antonio in Communication, Electronic Media and Distance Learning. I currently work as an Instructional Technologist for the Northside Independent School District with a student enrollment of over 105,000. I manage our department’s learning management system, the district’s mobile device program, I create instructional videos and get to test out new technology and write instructional training guides for district use. There’s a few other projects in there that help to keep a steady pace to a daily workload, but what I do I think is exciting and I love it! Welcome to my blog and I look forward to an engaging learning experience with you throughout this course.

Warm Regards,

John Robinson