Online Synchronous Teaching

When students participate over the internet in regularly scheduled class meetings, discussion and small group interactions needs to be structured so that they feel as included and engaged as they would if they were students in a classroom. In other words, teachers should follow the Slow Ed Tech guideline of “modeling computer use on best practices to ensure learning without computers.” Appropriate practices include:
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Could digital platforms integrate non-digital space?

Or, “on integrating face-to-face dynamics into the structure and expectations of online platforms.”  Here, as a work-in-progress, an initial compilation of possible measures: Read more of this post

Innovations in online education that expand access

This post summarizes a set of my innovations in online education that may be grouped under the umbrella of expanding access—expanding the range of influences on the students’ learning and expanding access to the learning materials from courses. Read more of this post

Getting swamped online and feeling left behind versus Space to connect, probe, reflect

A story often repeated from a friend’s family:  It’s the 1970s.  The older son, aged about six, is keen on stories about rockets and astronauts.  From the car window he sees a billboard and cries out: “Dad, dad, stop, look:  ‘Space to rent’!”

Well, it’s neither outer space nor the space on billboards that this post is concerned with, and it is not something one can get by laying down money.  It is the space that gets squeezed when we get swamped with online input as we try to avoid feeling left behind.  Spend a little time in a connectivist MOOC or following people on twitter and you’ll probably feel swamped or fragmented or unsure that you can synthesize or keep in mind all the interesting items you are coming across.

The first response is to turn off and tune out.  Another approach is to allow yourself a delimited amount of time per day, say 30 minutes, to explore online offerings or sharings and also carve out equal or more time (preferably when you are fresh at the start of the day) to gather your thoughts based on whatever is currently in view or in mind, which may be quite different from what you have to do for your work or project or studies.  Such “refractive practice,” in which you give yourself space to  “connect, probe, and reflect” (, makes it less likely that you feel left behind when you don’t follow or respond to every thread that is offered, however worthwhile they seem at first sight.

Eventually or ideally, we would like to go further, for our online interactions to support us in lifelong development that combines—gives integrity to—our personal, professional, and friendship realms.  Instead of having to set limits or worry about being left behind, we feel clear about what we are choosing to get involved in and thrive in the involvement.  Another way to express this is to say that we are well scaffolded and provide sustainable scaffolding for others (

Today I happened to revisit the principles of the Burning Man festivals and their worldwide offshoots:    I haven’t seen a more fully developed view of what I would call scaffolding.  But, when I think about this as a model for scaffolding in work and life, I realize that these festivals duck the problem by building emphemerality into the name and the symbol — the giant Man gets Burned at the end, the site is cleaned up so as to leave no trace, and everyone goes home.  Some relationships formed at the festivals continue and mini-burners are arranged in local communities, but the festival scaffolding doesn’t have to address the challenge of how one helps people (oneself included) open up or see alternative paths in the complex conjunction of people (and their component strands: body, cogitation, unconscious), community, context, tools and processes, and focus on a product (see  Are there useful translations to the non-emphemeral that can be made?

Today I started to reread Vivian Paley’s The Girl with the Brown Crayon.  There is sustained and open-ended scaffolding going on in the kindergarten classroom she describes.  Are there useful translations to the case of working with adults that can be made?

A face-to-face, 75 minute introduction to online collaborative explorations

The following script was used at a 16 May 13 session with technology leaders from K-12 schools to provide a face-to-face, 75 minute introduction to online collaborative explorations.  [Times in brackets indicate the time spent in the session, not the time in an actual collaborative exploration.  When times are not given, the activity was not undertaken at the session.] Read more of this post

Four kinds of online courses II

A previous post stated the first challenge for an online college instructor is to make clear to students which kind of online course they are running.  The post identified 4 kinds of online courses.  This diagram arrays them across two dimensions.  The gaps suggest some additional possibilities as well as provide a schema to think about varieties of face to face courses.

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