Hello. Welcome to my research hub. I am an eLearning professional with a particular interest in storytelling, education and technology. I find quite a few of my articles through ScoopIt and repost them here, in large part for my own tracking. This year I am working toward developing more original posts stemming from what I am learning in my graduate work, at conferences and in my work. My first series will be a recount of the conferences I have been to in the past year. Thank you for visiting!
I just wrote an entire brilliant post about connection and course discussions. I hit publish and the virtual editors vetoed my post (a page came up stating “Do you want to to do this” – I hit yes and still the post went poof.)
It was a bit of a stream of consciousness so I guess that the wisdom of the universe may have been warranted. In summary, I wrote about missed connection. The core question is, “What is the subtle difference between setting up a discussion to not only stimulate the sharing of ideas but also cultivate community.”
Briefly, because I am not about to write the dissertation I had going previously, the two things that I have found missing from my graduate work experience was a clear opportunity to find connections ( emotional not networking) and deeper dives into the materials. In particular the latter bothers me. There seemed to b a lack of balance between discussions that waxed intellectual rather than being a sharing of personal experience. It begs to the art of positing the question, which we all had to do in this course.
I think it would be interesting to try cultivating an in-classroom discussion and then attempting to mimic the exact experience online. Honestly I am going to go back to something I stated earlier in this series… the instructor MUST participate in the discussion at the primary level and not just as a respondent. Additionally I think that intermingling questions that illicit different forms of responses, ie theoretic discussion along with sharing personal experience should be more highly polarized. Honestly I really believe we need to better examine the delivery of these discussion questions and also follow up as an instructor/guide. NOT as sage on the stage but simply as mentor.
It calms you down but drains you of energy.
Thank you for the idiot review. So it is surprising that a technique that leverages our base animal MO, "fight’ is more powerful for the human species than shifting to a proactive positive point of view of formative response? Um – Not really. This article posits that when we fight with ourselves we get the best (immediate) response. I would like to see this as a result of change over the five to ten year mark. "Positive thinking is pleasurable, but it doesn’t mean it’s good for us." UM. Did someone just need something ‘neat’ to write about? Gabriele, I have the utmost respect for you in your field and frankly I am tiring of the ‘feel good’ posts on Facebook too but it this really the conclusion?
I am not going to lie. I am not posting on this particular subject matter as the sage on the stage. I am doing it to compel myself toward deeper exploration of the subject matter. I have an intense interest in building online collaborative/connective communities and this series is my own self-appointed excuse to dive deeper into the execution of building one – just one would do. A sort of ‘minimum viable product’ to coin a lean entrepreneur phrase.
First challenge: I am not a developer per se. However I have worked with developers that knew less that I so I do fall somewhere in the ‘I know enough to be dangerous’ category. Why dangerous? Because I could easily obsess with learning about and using all the features available to build a forum. So how do I restrain myself from this tendency? Map it, right? Just as I would storyboard a course could I not map out the discussion or string of discussions?
Dorian (2014) states, “The bottom line is this: If you want users to collaborate, start with usability, don’t just end with it.” just before moving into a section titled: “Shape the Path.” I find the most important feature of a forum is not a ‘plug in’ or ‘function’ but is rather the ‘presence’ of the architect and how that person guides the ‘story’ of the forum. In a previous post I touch on this as the ‘technology stewart’ but here I am looking into diving deeper into that question, “How do you ‘storyboard’ the path of a forum utilizing functionalities in creative engaging ways?” Like in a novel, how do you thread in ‘mechanisms’ to enrich the user experience? It is not hard to program in a feature such as a push notification to ‘complete your profile’ or opportunities to rate posts etc I want to think beyond this. How can we breath life into these features to augment a learner experience?
Canvas offers the ‘discussion’ feature. Most – if not all of my professors have used this as a one way street of conversation. I say one way because, while they do participate as respondents to posts, they themselves do not write an original response. Frankly, I do not just wish to know their thoughts on my own and my classmate’s posts, I want to know what their thoughts are. After all they are the experts, right? My assumption is that they have not only read/viewed the topic of discussion but also half the books in the associated bibliographies and a slew of research papers to boot. I understand the concept of ‘self-discovery’ learning in a constructivist structure, however this is in conflict with what seems to be a well documented failure of communities that are not nurtured well enough through stewardship. Cochrane and Narayan, out of the Center for Learning and Technology at AUT University, found that; “One of the key concepts developed out of COPs has been the importance of “technology stewards” (Wenger, White, and Smith 2009; Wenger et al. 2005) as members of COPs who guide the use of technologies supporting the COP. Within the context of the SLT course, the course lecturers took on the role of technology stewards, attempting to model the pedagogical use of mobile web 2.0 as part of a collaborative partnership with the course students.(2013)” My contention is that in order to ‘model’ a steward needs to use the tool as would a student, not just as an instructor.
That is the first level of my soap box. When I hop on my really high horse I find myself looking for more guidance in general. I want to find myself on some kind of a learning journey. As the consummate OCR (Obsessive Compulsive Researcher) – I am all for self-discovery. At the same time, it would be nice to be thrown a breadcrumb or two from someone that has been there before. Sort of the equivalent of finding some moss and a couple of sticks in the woods with a note, ‘rub sticks together over dry moss and make fire’. If fire was made before I do not wish to starve or freeze before I discover it myself. These breadcrumbs could look like a short post that might ‘connect the dots’ and/or the initiation of different styles of discussion. One forum discussion could be a bit of a deep dive into a particular text. In that discussion a ‘steward’ could offer some suggestions that might spark a synthesis of information for learners. Another discussion could ask participants to brainstorm on best use case scenarios at the beginning of the week and then, at the midway point, ask the class (thought a push notification) to now come up with some ‘risk’ scenarios. This technique could encourage early and late participation by varying the discussion. Another week could focus on full on practical perspectives on the subject matter.
This latter one is what I feel dominates the discussion landscape as I have experienced it and, in many cases, this can feel a redundant and watered down. Thus I find myself on my high horse out on a trail seeking breadcrumbs. There has to be a way to interleave in different ways to address the practice of leading an online discussion that balances pure self-discovery/social constructivism with some level of stewardship. There needs to be a subtle way that an instructor/professor/forum master can respond and interact with ‘the class’ as much as ‘an individual’ in a manner that encourages deeper exploration and connection for the group. We as students seek a deep connection with experts as well as fellow learners.
The Innovators, Walter Isaacson’s new book, tells the stories of the people who created modern computers. Women, who are now a minority in computer science, played an outsize role in that history.
One of the most innovative women out there couldn’t get her prototype created simply because she could not gather the right team to make it happen.
As hero’s, as warrior’s we often try to ‘do it all’ ourselves. This is often detrimental to our project. Finding the right people to support you starts off with understanding the best story to tell. Not a story of ‘I cannot do it myself – thus positioning yourself as a victim – but rather ‘I understand my highest strength and I also recognize that, for best of my product, project, or organization, I need to find people who highest strengths compliment my own in the development of this task.’ The latter is not a story of defeat but one of leadership.
How often do we see the former in the workplace? The great ‘pass off’. Frankly I’ve seen women play that ‘oh woe is me’ card in order to garner support. Heck – I’ve done it. But in the long run I’ve learned that team building is one of the most difficult yet crucial tasks in launching multiple sets of task meant to result in a specific goal. The key is multiple sets. You really cannot do it all yourself and do it well.
I started out with this horse theme so I figure I may as well stick to it. The classic query fits, “You can lead the horse to the water but can you make them post in it?” This week I intended to write about how to motivate non-graded participation in an online discussion. Given my own performance in our graded discussions these last few weeks I feel hypocritical but, paradoxically, this actually provided me with some interesting insight.
What I am at a deficit of this week is plain old time. The perk of juggling one too many projects is that I have proven beyond a doubt what cognitive load (or overload) really means to me. Not only am I out of time but it takes me much more time to ‘wrap my head’ around a new discussion or project than usually. Stating that fact is almost a better segue than I could have come up with on my own about the role of the tool in encouraging, enabling and facilitating participation. In my opinion one of the single best bits of functionality an online discussion platfomr can offer is email delivery. In fact, it is one area that could beg for some marked improvement. Here is the single reason why: I live in my email.
In order to ground this argument let me compare three different platforms:
- Canvas – an LMS
- Basecamp – a project management platform
- Google groups – a public online community builder (incidentally – though my example is from groups – now google communities may ursurp groups)
I will begin back to front. My first experience with a discussion group that I was not being graded on and that I followed for pleasure was a google group. The purpose of the group was for open source international collaboration on KA Lite (https://learningequality.org/ka-lite/), which is “A free lightweight solution providing high-quality education where you need it most. Bringing the power of online learning to the offline world.” First off, my motivation to follow the group was intrinsic. I felt it was a very pigeon hole into a very interesting fashion of collaboration that I would not otherwise be privy to. So I wanted to follow the discussion. The only caveat is that I did not have to contribute at all. That being said, if google did not neatly deliver updates straight to my inbox in a way that I could read at least an excerpt right from there, I probably would not have followed the discussion as long as I did or as thoroughly as I did.
Enter Basecamp. Through Basecamp notifications not only can I follow discussion as above but I also can respond directly to them right from my email. Bingo! That is very very appealing. I know some people are not keen on receiving notices to their inbox but for me it saves me adding one more open tab to what is typically two browsers open with a minimum of four tabs each. Past that and my OCD kicks in and I start to feel scattered.
That lands me with Canvas which offers none of these options in a satisfactory way for me. In fact I just went in and toggled some of the notifications just to check if I could improve on the experience. In my ideal world the notifications would contain an excerpt from the post, who posted it and when. And it would take me right to that post. Even more wonderful would be if the discussion topics, in full, landed right in my inbox.
In conclusion, the three factors that can really help or hurt participation are usability, accessibility and functionality. For example, I would love to be able to ‘sort’ discussions per category or keyword. In large classes I find myself wishing I could read each and every post but, in some cases, this can get to be a very lengthy process. I would likely engage faster and more often with my classmates if it were easier to check out what each poster’s perspective was upfront. That way I could ‘prioritize’ my time accordingly.
I arrived home this evening poised and ready to hammer out the most brilliant blog post on TEDx, leadership in the eyes of a horse and building an online community. Danielle LaPorte here I come! (look her up – she is pretty much nailing it with online leadership.)
Then I thought, ‘wait- you are delirious.’ One thing I have learned about those ‘epiphanies’ and writing, whether it be on a blog, FB, or text, is that there is some direct ratio between how amazing you think your ideas are and how it actually looks in writing that is just not in your favor.
It was 8PM on Saturday night and I had just arrived home from a successful volunteer orientation for our TEDxAmericasFinestCity event. A crush of work, the flu and a bombardment of emails earlier in the week had sent me spinning into a 36 hour period punctuated by an hour of sleep. In that period, after the usual bout of self-flogging, I settled into some true self-assessment around my role as both community member and leader. A few concepts had surface for me with the fury of the ship that was after Moby Dick. And I was exhausted.
So I napped and now I am awake again at 1AM, furiously cleaning the shelf in the bookcase that’s been bugging me and searching for a comprehensible way to encapsulate my thoughts. Here goes with where I landed:
Our meeting today had been a for group of 26 people whom we largely had not met before. I was working alongside a number of committee leads new to the organization. The October 11th event is looming and nerves are high, including my own. However, at around 3AM the night before I concluded that it was essentially the same as walking into an arena of 6 to 12 years olds sitting on horseback. It was not so much of an aha! moment as it was a ‘duh’ moment. I have been studying the concepts, theories and modeling of developing communities of practice, constructivist learning, and developing online discussions (etc & et al), so much lately – that I had completely lost sight of what I already knew.
Walking into any situation where people are unsure, you first must become a steward for practice. If my group of students on horses were prepping for a competition and I walked into the arena with my hair on fire with purpose and direction but ‘forgot’ to check in with them that is not going to end well. I have loads of experience with that. This is no different than Boettcher and Conrad’s recommendation to begin a class with a ‘getting-acquainted-socially’ along with a ‘getting-aquainted-cognitively’ guided discussion. And, cycling back, how is that an different than walking into a group of people and setting the tone with icebreakers of a similar purpose?
It isn’t different, and moreover, it is not just that you do that but it is how. The energy, not in a woo-woo way but in true sense of setting the tone, the leader brings to the situation will largely impact how that community develops. That is the one key that I did not get from all the readings and research. But that I know very very well through experience. My role was to step into that meeting and, despite my nerves or anyone else’s in the room, set the tone for that experience. We know this a teachers but I was forgetting this in my eLearning instructional design. Beyond the concepts and models, an element of design is tone. In an online discussion it may be your writing style as adapted to your audience that ‘invites’ them in. It may be that you are a master at guiding the story of the discussion to weave a type of narrative that engages people. How about using social media? (I think I am actually starting to grasp ‘transmedia storytelling with regards to this) All I can say is that this is what I see at the heart of this whole dilemna we grapple with in translating ‘face-to-face’ to online learning.
I could go on about how this relates to moving from a pedagogy to andragogy in stewarding an online community and how that meets concepts of organizational development in my mind…but it is now 2AM, sleep and pattern on not related, and this got to be one long winded post. Goodnight.
True be known I do not know why I do not write here more often. While I know it is difficult to get me to stop once I get started on a topic (believe me – I have to listen to myself all the time) publicly publishing my thoughts, whether on graduate experiences, EST (education, storytelling & tech) inspired brainstorming or even professional challenges, seems like this daunting, insurmountable and time consuming task. Basically I cannot barely separate it from writing a dissertation. Writing in discussion forums have eased this perception and, luckily, I am now tasked by a professor to write at least 6 posts over the next six weeks. Thus, here I go with part 1 of a six part series about social learning, discussion forums, communities of inquiry or practice and the use of ILT.
The reason I begin here is that it is a topic that is most immediate to my professional and graduate work. Apart from that, alongside this concept of exploring the intersection of education, storytelling and technology exists this interest in collaborative online learning. At least that the was the language that caused me to initiate my graduate work in ILT. Since then I have encountered a battery of terms, theories and models that describe how we do, or may, learn online. As individuals we communicate through discussions, we contribute to our community through blog posts and we comment on others doing the same. As communities we stimulate new ideas, share established ones and create new layers of meaning almost on a daily basis. Looking at the significance of online interaction from a high level societal view is almost overwhelming. Organizations like 350.org are combining education and storytelling in online formats like blogs and global hangouts with an underlying civic engagement tone to coordinate a global ‘climate movement’.
So why can it be so difficult to create engaging stimulating conversations on forums or discussion boards in higher education or professional organizations, or in some cases, successful? I can identify at least three points that I have based on my research and professional experience. First is stewardship, that of both the instructor and/or other leaders that emerge in the community. Second is the motivating factor ‘pulling’ in the participation. Boetcher & Conrad (2010) identify the ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivators of the learner. I posit that we should consider what might make a community or discussion more or less compelling to join though who they are rather than what they do. This point is harder for me to describe as I have not read anything written on it. It is simply a subtly I believe may be worth it to unpack. My last and third point is just that the quality of the technology can effect and affect the level of participation. This pops out for me because I have encountered a few instances of either how a platform that I have used have felt lacking or that a client wants more out of one than it is capable of.
Over the next few weeks I will address these subjects as follows (names may change):
– First – Stewardship – moving towards an unmediated discussion forum
– Second – Yank the Chain – how to attract non-graded participation
– Third – Why should I bother? – Balance the features and goals of your forum
– Fourth – What’s the Story? – How do you develop the story of your online community
– Fifth – Reflection – A Community Triad