Towards moderately open online collaborative learning

After listening to a voicethread conversation that a colleague initiated as a participant in a Coursera MOOC on “E-learning and Digital Cultures,” I made a few observations to her:
1. I like the continuous (and thus real-time) aspect of the dialogue hours we have been hosting.
2. But I experience how difficult it is to get people to clear a regular time slot and come regularly.
3. But joining a regular paid-for class provides a motivation for people to attend.
4. Yet being part of a Massive MOOC reduces that incentive.
5. Thus, with the stimulus of your participation in the EDCMOOC, I’m thinking about a moderately open online collaborative learning (moocl, pronounced mookal).
6. And that would work best (i.e., keep moderately motivated people motivated to do the moocl work) if small groups of people met in the same group for, say, 4 sessions, in which case one could set up synchronous sessions (for which google hangout would seem to be fine).
7.  But #5 & 6 opens into addressing the problems of keeping people doing the quite-limited amount of inquiry and reporting back that a 4-session Collaborative Exploration asks for.

8. Your voicethread dialogue might have developed differently if the visual everyone had in front of them were a defined question.
9. Instead, most (but not all) of the comments were about the tool, voicethread, and the varieties of ways designers of online courses try to recreate what is lost when there is no synchronous classroom.
10. Indeed, the group reminded me of what was the case for another colleague in his first few years of twittering etc. in the e-health area, where the adopters of social media etc. were those who liked to learn about new social media.  Their discussions were not so much about providing or receiving health care.
11.  But those discussions led to new connections that wouldn’t have arisen through face-to-face modes and this edcmooc seems to have that effect of bringing potential colleagues into a forum where they can meet each other.
12. Which leads me to think about how to shape a MOOC that gets people interested in moocls (especially moocls about science in a changing world).
13.  Finally, my thinking about moocls reflects my gut feeling that the importance of education, including online education, including MOOCs is how much people become self-directed learners, which includes creating collaborations in which they learn.
(13a. Without that emphasis, MOOCs for “education” [as against finding one's community] are like a textbook (see OpEd) — and what a MOOC gains by linking to resources on the web, a textbook gains by leading students systematically through steps in development of understanding with accompanying homework exercises.)

Turn-taking in dialogue process

The Dialogue Process centers around listening—to yourself as well as others.   The Process requires structured turn-taking.   The protocol I have developed is as follows:

The overriding idea is to keep focused on listening well. You won’t listen well if you are thinking about whether you will get to talk next or are holding on tight to what you want to say.
Take a numbered card when you feel that you would like a turn, but keep listening. When your turn comes, show your card, and pause. See if you have something to follow what is being said, even if it is not the thought you had wanted to say. You can pass.
Try to make turn-taking administer itself so the facilitator can listen well and participate without distraction. When you finish speaking (or if you decide to pass), put your card on the stack of used cards so the person with the next card knows that they can begin.

Yesterday, with a group of 17 people in a cramped classroom, we successfully used an alternative:

Everyone was given a card.  One person volunteered to keep the list of who had asked for a turn and announce who was next when the previous person finished.  Instructions: “When you feel that you want a turn, pick up your card and direct it to face the list-keeper, who nods to acknowledge that the request has been noted.  When your turn comes, show your card, and pause. See if you have something to follow what is being said, even if it is not the thought you had wanted to say. You can pass.  When you finish speaking (or if you decide to pass), put your card back down (or say I’m finished) so the list-keeper knows that they can ask for the next speaker.”

disConferencing, a five-and-a-third-hour model: Session 4 & Closing

Break, 10 minutes

Organizers recreate the inner circle of 12 chairs with gaps for easy entry and exit of sitters, but otherwise as close as possible.  Organizers ask for help to move the rest of the chairs surrounding that circle.  Seats in the circle are then occupied by organizers (except the Session 4 Coordinator), the guest author, and volunteers if any seats remain.  Pens are distributed to any participant who doesn’t have one.

Hour 4.10-5.10

Session 4, Dialogue Hour (http://bit.ly/FivePhase, with modification for large group, http://wp.me/p1gwfa-kL)

Respect, Risk, and Revelation are emphasized in the listening—not only to others but also to oneself (even if silently)—that happens in a Dialogue Process.  By the end of the Dialogue Hour and Closing Circle, participants should be clear about at least some issues that have (Re)engaged you through the experience of the dis/Conference.

Session 4 Coordinator explains that the topic of the Dialogue Hour is “Review the dis/Conference insights and experience and think about how each of us can extend the insights and experience.”  The Hour involves 5 phases, as described on page 2 of the handout.  Asks everyone to read the instructions for the first, freewriting phase and then start.  Anyone needing more explanation should quietly attract the Coordinator’s attention.

1.     5 minutes Freewriting to begin to consider the topic of the session.

2.     Check-in: Short account to a neighbor of one’s concern or question about the topic of the session.

3.     Dialogue process, i.e., listening with structured turn taking, that begins with each of the inner circle saying one thing that is on top for them as the dialogue starts.  Then, through inquiry more than advocacy (or rehearsal of previously formulated ideas), including inquiry of one’s own thinking, themes usually emerge.  So that what participants say builds on what has been said by previous speakers (as against rehearsing a position established well before the session). The session 4 Coordinator circulates, giving a card to anyone (including those in the inner circle of 12) who raises their finger (as in an auction) to indicate that they would like a turn.  When the turn comes up for a person out of the circle, a member of the inner circle who does not have a card gracefully relinquishes their seat to that person, who can remain in the circle after speaking until asked to relinquish their seat.

4.     10 minutes before the session ends each participant spends a few minutes writing to gather and share thoughts that have emerged as they are meaningful for them. Session 4 Coordinator explains that it’ll reduce work if people can use their smartphones to gather thoughts.

5.     Last 5 minutes: In groups of 3-4, each participant shares something they plan to address/get done/think more about based on the session.  (Having this aired in the group–having it witnessed–makes it more likely to happen.)

(Page 2 of handout has instructions for Sessions 2-4, including guidelines for dialogue and prompts or web address for gathering thoughts in phase 4 of Session 4.  Page 2 also states the Learning and Experiential goals at the bottom.)

Hour 5.10-5.20

Closing Circle

Each participant has up to 15 seconds to state one highlight or appreciation or suggestion or thing they are taking away from the dis/Conference to do more work with.  One person starts then passes the (figurative or literal) mic to a neighbor.

Follow up by organizers

  1. Get help to tidy up the space.
  2. Send out initial listserv email with guidelines, instructions about unsubscribing, encouragement to share.
  3. Transcribe the PostIts from Session 1 (commonalities and tensions); post to listserv.
  4. Transcribe & collate gathered thoughts from Session 4, phase 4; post to listserv.
  5. Transcribe audio-recording of closing; post to listserv.

Support circles: An invitation template

Invitation

I am writing to invite you into an infrastructure-building experiment: forming and participating in small “support circles.”  The specifics of what I would ask of people in my support circle are included at the end.  First, because part of joining a person’s support circle is to commit to forming your own, I present the rationale and mechanics, which you could transmit to those you would invite if you get involved in the experiment.

Rationale

The overall ethic is that people in support circles find ways to support others to do the best work they can given the circumstances (which are often constrained).  The more people who live that ethic the better for us all.  If you are collaborating on a range of projects with a range of people you might choose to form a support circle from these immediate collaborators.  Yet a support circle need not be linked to any given project(s).  You could create a circle to provide space in which supporters appreciatively help you reflect and clarify your own path ahead—where that path includes how and when to collaborate in various projects.  Interactions in such a space would be freed of any expectation that supporters had to chip in on or otherwise share the weight of your problems.  It would be enough—indeed, a rare and longed-for gift—for a supporter to give you attention and think well with you when you consult them.  In fact, you might be more ready to ask for support if you see the support circle as a “container” outside of which there is no reference to what is said and no implied expectations of further support.

Support circles could have a special role in this age of internet-mediated interactions, namely, providing closer, more personal relations that keep us grounded in the face of the possibility of a very wide or distributed reach.  Support circles could influence peer-to-peer networks and crowd-source processes by

  • modeling appreciative feedback and evolving standards or guidelines for these networks and processes;
  • helping you get clear about where you want to put concerted effort into engaging others with your ideas (as against passively expecting your ideas to get published and picked up that way) ;
  • contributing to concatenating support circles that make transparency in feedback safer for you.

Mechanics

  • Support circles arise when you take the initiative to recruit over the course of a year 5-6 people for a one-year, renewable relationship of mutual support, in which these people also agree to establish their own support circles over the course of a year (and so on). (If you have 5 people in your circle there is space for you to be invited into the circle of someone else.)
  • Ideally, you bring into your circle some people who will be more like mentors and others who will be more like advisees—at least at the start of the relationship.
  • The format and frequency of interactions with members of a support circle is proposed by you as you recruit others to your circle, fine-tuned with the invitees before they join, and adjusted by mutual agreement as needs evolve.  You might draw on your supporters in different ways, sometimes collectively or sometimes one-on-one.
  • You can call on your support circle at any time, whether for regular check-ins or when in crisis.  To make such on-call support sustainable, no person has more than 6 support circle relationships and each person in your circle has 4-5 other support circle relationships of their own to help if any one relationship becomes especially challenging or draining.
  • A support circle relationship can be discontinued by either party at any time on a “no-fault” basis.  Preferably, however, the transition occurs at the close of a year and is accompanied by a “plus-delta” evaluation of the experience.
  • In addition to plus-delta evaluations, which can take place after any interaction, support circle relationships use tools and processes such as clearness committee, dialogue hours, supportive listening, and believing and doubting feedback.  Picking up on this last process, one guideline is that criticism and doubting never precedes or overshadows appreciation and amplification of what has been achieved.  (Recall that overall ethic is that people in support circles find ways to support others to do the best work they can given the circumstances.)
  • Google plus might be well suited to sending messages to your support circle and relaying messages, when appropriate, received from members of your circle.
  • When establishing a support circle for the first time, arrange for the first relationship to be up for renewal in 12 months, the second 2 months earlier, and so on unless you get to a point where the renewal date would be less than 2 months away. For that last relationship and from then on any new or renewed relationship is for 12 months. This staggered scheduling should ensure that no more than 2 months goes by without your taking stock of at least one relationship and perhaps your circle as a whole.

Date that circle is initiated =                         [call this X]

Date for 1st renewal or replacement X + 1 year X + 10 months X + 8 months X + 6 months X + 4 months
Date for 2nd renewal or replacement One year after above One year after above One year after above One year after above One year after above One year after above
Supporter’s name            

 

Specifics

TBA

Support circles: A design sketch

If we steer clear of fantasies of going viral or starting something like wikipedia, how do we envisage contributing to new infrastructures that further our work and lives?  This sketch of support circles arose from two recent discussions with colleagues—one face to face; the other via skype—the face to face one addressing crowd sourcing of review of writing for publications; the skype one addressing group process in situations such as Occupy meetings.

  • Support circles arise when a person takes the initiative to recruit 5-6 people for a one-year, renewable relationship of mutual support, in which these people also agree to recruit 4-5 additional other people into their own support circles.  (If a person has 5 people in their circle there is space for the person to be invited into the circle of someone else.)
  • Ideally, people bring into their circles some people who will be more like mentors and others who will be more like advisees—at least at the start of the relationship.
  • The format and frequency of interactions with members of a support circle is proposed by the person recruiting others to their circle and fine-tuned with them before they join.
  • A support circle relationship can be discontinued by either party at any time on a “no-fault” basis.  Preferably, however, the transition occurs at the close of a year and is accompanied by a “plus-delta” evaluation of the experience.
  • In addition to plus-delta evaluations, which can take place after any interaction, support circle relationships use tools and processes such as clearness committee, dialogue hours, supportive listening, and believing and doubting feedback.  Picking up on this last process, one guideline is that criticism and doubting never precedes or overshadows appreciation and amplification of what has been achieved.  The overall ethic is that people work to support others to do the best work they can given the circumstances.
  • Another guideline is that a person can call on their support circle at any time—for regular check-ins and during crises.  To make such support sustainable, no person has more than 6 support circle relationships and each person in their circle has 4-5 other support circle relationships of their own to help if any one relationship becomes especially challenging or draining.
  • When establishing a support circle for the first time, arrange for the first relationship to “expire” in 2 months, the second 2 months later, and so on.  The shorter initial relationships are then renewed for a year (or replaced by a different 1-year relationship).  This scheduling ensures that no more than 2 months goes by without a person having to take stock of at least one relationship and perhaps their circle as a whole.
  • Google plus is well suited to sending messages to one’s support circle and relaying messages, when appropriate, received from members of your circle.
  • Support circles can influence peer-to-peer networks and crowd-source processes by
    • modeling appreciative feedback and evolving standards or guidelines for this
    • helping people get clear about where they want to put concerted effort into engaging others with their ideas (as against passively expecting our ideas to get published and picked up that way)
    • contributing to concatenating support circles that make transparency in feedback safer.

Reports of active support circles welcome.

Support structures and habits for extended graduate writing projects: A plan

Preamble

Everyone has a voice that should be heard. Everyone can clarify and develop their thoughts through writing. Everyone needs support to express their voice in writing. Finding voice, clarifying and developing thoughts, and expressing voice in writing are on-going, lifelong endeavors. Nevertheless, preparing a completed synthesis-for-now to meet a defined target date is worthwhile, even when the product is much smaller in scope than originally envisaged. That is what we work on together in [course xx] for five months. We do this through the following frameworks and creative habits (explained later in the post):
Frameworks

1. Taking yourself seriously/ Finding your Vocation

2. Phases of Research and Engagement for Pacing of research, writing, and revision

3. Developing as a Reflective Practitioner, including Taking initiative in and through relationships

Creative Habits

1. Daily writing

2. Weekly writing meetings for support and feedback in groups of 3 (buddy trios)

3. Weekly writing workshop with the whole class for reflection in relation to the frameworks above

4. Extended One-on-one conferences with an advisor (the instructor), at least once every three weeks.

In order to complete the capstone by the end of the semester, students are expected to get going on Daily writing and Weekly writing support meetings for at least six weeks before the semester starts. Short versions of Weekly writing workshops (by phone/skype conference call) and One-on-one conferences may also be arranged during that period.
In addition, each student should establish personal support systems, which include:

  • Making space in your lives and domestic arrangements so you undertake writing and buddy support starting before and continuing during the semester.
  • Establishing and maintaining a bibliographic database for ready retrieval and formatting of references.
  • Seeking out guides or advisors in your area of specialization.
  • Arranging an outside editor to help with revision and copy-editing.
        Given the teaching and advising load of faculty members, you should not rely on your advisor or reader(s) to do detailed copy-editing of your writing. Moreover, a copy-editing relationship between student and teacher usually gets in the way of dialogue around the content and overall organization of your writing product. Assistance from some outside party, skilled in manuscript editing, should be arranged by each student. This is well worth the expense.

Format of sessions and details

For each session the meetings consist of:

  • an hour-long Weekly writing workshop with the whole class for reflection in relation to the three frameworks
  • Weekly writing meetings for support and feedback in groups of 3 (buddy trios)
  • extended One-on-one conferences with the instructor at least once every three weeks.

At the same time, students are expected to do Daily writing 5-7 days per week.
In order to complete the writing project by the end of the semester, students are expected to get going on daily writing and weekly buddy trio writing meetings for at least 6 weeks before the semester starts. Short versions of the weekly writing workshop (by phone/skype conference call) and one-on-one conferences may also be arranged during that period.

Daily writing: a practice of writing 15-30 minutes 5-7 days/week, logging time spent and new words written, and writing down, at the end, possible topics for future Daily writing. The logging should be transcribed to [course wikipage] weekly. New words is important–editing, revising, and filling in citations can be done at another time in the day. (Indeed, daily writing should lead to a release of energy for other research and writing work entailed by your project.) Start daily writing at the very start of your project; the words you write need not ever end up in the final paper, so it does not matter if your project is unclear at the start or changes as you go on. (More background)

Weekly writing meetings for support and feedback in groups of 3 (buddy trios): Three people find a meeting time each week that you can protect from all other distractions. You commit to taking turns once every three weeks to receive feedback on the latest installment of their synthesis writing, which must be posted 48 hours before the meeting (on [course wikipage]) along with a note about the kind of feedback desired (see Elbow’s suggestions.) The trios should also work together on the activities listed for each session and may establish additional forms of support beyond feedback.

Weekly writing workshop with the whole class for checking in on progress and reflection in relation to the three frameworks: Phases of Research and Engagement, Developing as a Reflective Practitioner, and Taking yourself seriously/ Finding your Vocation. Each workshop last for an hour (at a time arranged so that all online students can participate) and has five stages:
1.Freewriting to: a. get present (clearing away distracting concerns form our busy lives); and b. begin to consider the topic of the session.
2. Check-in. What’s on top for you as you come into the workshop. It may be a concern or question about the topic of the session, or it may be something else going on for you.
3. Dialogue process, i.e., listening with structured turn taking, that builds on the check-in. Through inquiry more than advocacy (or rehearsal of previously formulated ideas), including inquiry of one’s own thinking, themes usually emerge. Instructor’s role is to participate and, if needed, remind participants to build on what has been said by previous speakers as against rehearsing a position established well before the session.
4. 7 minutes before the session ends each participant spends a few minutes writing to gather thoughts that have emerged as they are meaningful for them.
5. Closing sharing. Each participant shares something they plan to address/get done/think more about based on the session. Having this aired in the group-having it witnessed-makes it more likely to happen.

One-on-one conferences with the instructor at least once every three weeks. Students must post the latest installment of their synthesis writing 48 hours before the meeting (on [course wikipage] )

The Dialogue Process in a Large Group: A variant of World Cafe.

After describing my proposal for using the Dialogue Process in a large group, someone reminded me of World Cafe.   World Cafe involves facilitated discussion at many tables, followed by a go-around in which key issues from each table are heard by everyone else.  This suggests a variant of my proposal, namely, decentralized dialogue process at many tables, followed by a single dialogue process (as in my proposal) for everyone all together.  In this case, the initial circle of dialoguers when everyone comes together would consist of one person from each table.

The difference between this process and the go-around of World Cafe is that there’s no expectation that the single dialogue would cover all the points from the earlier dialogue processes at various tables.  I don’t see this as a problem because I see the dialogue process as a primarily way for each person to listen well to themselves given what they hear themselves and others say.  From that listening well to oneself follows well-informed commitment to act and action.  In other worlds, we learn from others, but we don’t expect that action that follows is because we have found a single synthetic voice.  (Secondarily, when extended over a period of time, dialogue process groups developed a shared meaning and direction, but that requires more than the single session addressed in this post.)

One disadvantage of having World Cafe or dialogue process discussions at many tables is a logistical one–finding a flat ballroom type space where everyone can sit around tables.  My original proposal for using the Dialogue Process in a large group requires only that a circle of chairs can be pulled together somewhere in the lecture hall (e.g., on a stage), or even in a row facing the rest of the audience.

All this said, these are only proposals and I will have to follow up if and when I have a chance to put them into practice.

The Dialogue Process in a Large Group: A Proposal

The idea that the dialogue process has to be possible even for a large group struck me as I participated recently in a conference looking back and looking forward on an area of academic inquiry.  Without going into details or naming names, I did not feel that the 2 hours of time spent by 150 people in the session I attended yielded much for the participants, the organizers, or the area of inquiry itself.

What might a large group dialogue look like?  I would propose that it is based on the format for “Group meetings that are reflective and generative,” namely: Freewriting, Check-in, Dialogue Process turn-taking, Individual syntheses, and Closing sharing.   Variations would be needed:

1. Freewriting to: a. get present (clearing away distracting concerns form our busy lives), and b. begin to consider the topic of the session.

2. Check-in: Short account to a neighbor of one’s concern or question about the topic of the session.

3. Dialogue process, i.e., listening with structured turn taking, that builds on the check-in.  Through inquiry more than advocacy (or rehearsal of previously formulated ideas), including inquiry of one’s own thinking, themes usually emerge.  So that what participants say builds on what has been said by previous speakers (as against rehearsing a position established well before the session), the dialogue could involveda central circle of seats for 12 speaker-listeners with everyone else standing or sitting around them.  The initial set of speaker-listeners could be prearranged and allowed to start off the dialogue for five minutes before a facilitator begins to take silent requests (like in an auction) from the rest of the audience.  The numbered card a person in or out of the circle gets from the facilitator secures a turn while allowing them to keep on listening well to what is being said.  When the turn comes up for a person out of the circle, a member of the circle who does not have a card gracefully relinquishes their seat to that person.

4.  10 minutes before the session ends each participant spends a few minutes writing  to gather thoughts that have emerged as they are meaningful for them.

5.  Closing sharing:  In groups of 3-4, each participant shares something they plan to address/get done/think more about based on the session.  (Having this aired in the group–having it witnessed–makes it more likely to happen.)

This is only a proposal.  I’ll make a post if I ever get a chance to facilitate such a session.

Engaging with—and within—diverse adults II

The previous post introduced a combination of inward and outward angles of view that emerged in a session on engaging with diverse adult populations.  I have a hypothesis about this, but first some preamble.  As one participant commented during the discussion, a group in a well-facilitated discussion, such as a dialogue process, is more intelligent than any one individual member.  For example, as one individual, I had no idea—I would not have predicted—that the three talks in the session would resonate with each other, as well as with the concerns of audience members, nor that the resonance would be around the inward-outward combination.

Now, the outward view of engaging with diversity is that different voices should be heard; for that to happen requires attention to the conditions that make it possible for people even to be present, physically or metaphorically.  Without that, they cannot be heard.  The inward angle of view is that each of our life courses involve multiple, diverse experiences and qualities.  These can be acknowledged in conducive conditions—with all their tensions and contradictions, backwards steps as well as advances—and this allows us to be authentic when we speak and interact.  Authentic here means not to be channeled by what we think others think we should be saying or not, doing or refraining from doing.   Our outward engagements across difference can be based on more confidence and risk-taking when the inward attention to our own diverse qualities has happened—when practice is built on reflection that lets our lives speak.

Engaging with—and within—diverse adults

A theme “let your life speak” emerged clearly during a session on “Engaging with diverse adult populations,” for which three graduates of the Critical & Creative Thinking Program were asked to reflect on the development since they graduated of their work and thinking around the theme of the session.  The outward-looking theme—engaging with people who are different from you—turned out to be paired with the inward-looking theme of finding an authentic path for oneself.  Before trying to make sense of this outward-inward connection, let me set the scene with some notes from the session.

The first speaker, a community-college professor of English as a Second Language, described the evolution of his doctoral research project, which aims to shed light on the divergent post-secondary educational paths of Sudanese refugees in the Boston area.  A colleague challenged him to explain what he will give back to the Sudanese community through this research.  The speaker admitted to having been taken aback by this question.  I thought the question was appropriate; indeed it is a standard question to ask of any researcher going out into the field to study other groups.  Yet the speaker’s response made sense to me when he said, “I’ve always worked with refugees.”  He has a long record of committed teaching and service at his College.  He knows where his heart is, even if it took the probing question to make him articulate that.

The second speaker revisited experiences growing up and in jobs before starting the CCT Program that involved disability access, international dot.com startups, and adult education.  He explained that his time in the Program had allowed him to understand that he wasn’t happy unless he was involved in looking a the deeper qualities of people, ones that might not be obvious or might not be obviously relevant to the ostensible task at hand, but would turn out to be meaningful.  Meaningful for people especially in the sense of enabling them to be present—to get to a place where their voices could at least be heard.  That might involve disability access that is not limited to the minimal standards prescribed by ADA regulations, or recognition by American managers that “non-compliance” to their guidelines by their foreign associates is more a matter of cultural style than shirking of work.

The third speaker, a Diversity officer at a Boston-area college, spoke of strategic partnering—collaboration, facilitation, dialogue—to keep colleagues working across difference and to support students in their differences (gender, racial/ethnic, disability, etc.) so they were less likely to drop out.  A key reflective question for partnering, the speaker noted, is what is key to who we connect with and who we don’t.  Acknowledging what was key was something he associated with his CCT experience.  The Program had been a “studio” for him to experiment with the things he was passionate about—that was OK in CCT where it had been hard in his education and upbringing.  The result was, quoting Parker Palmer’s Quaker dictum, he was able to advocate letting your life speak.

My hypothesis about the integration of inward and outward angles of view that emerged in the session on engaging with diverse adult populations follows in the next post.

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