Online platforms: Learning as one goes vs. polished & stable appearance

Recently I posted the following on a course blog (which is a new feature I’m experimenting with this semester):

You will notice that the appearance of the blog has changed and might wonder: Why didn’t the instructors get feedback before going live so the appearance of the online materials could be polished and then stable once the course started?–After all, there are enough “rooms” to explore in the “house” of the online materials without risking having any student feeling that they were in a different house from the one they entered the day before.
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Guided tour of my teaching ’05-’09: community-building, wikis & documentation

Although I have taught fewer classes because of course releases under research grants and for administration, the seven strands of the previous two phases [see previous posts] continued, but with additions or extensions in four significant and overlapping directions:
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Uses of wikis: More and less than expected

Before reviewing a variety of ways one might use wikis—only the last of which is the much-vaunted “collaborative knowledge generation”—let us consider the general kinds of reasons for using a technological tool. (This post comes from a wikipage with links that I created in order to give a talk on the Uses of Wikis at an educational technology conference in May 2010. The post, like the wikipage, requires clicking on the links and viewing the examples in relation to key terms in the bullet points below the links.)

Why use a technological tool (such as a wiki)?

pedagogical guidelines (from 2001)

  • 1. To extend thinking of students
    • a. Use computers first and foremost to teach or learn things that are difficult to teach or learn with pedagogical approaches that are not based on computers.
    • b. Make sure that learning/knowledge-construction is happening, especially when asking students to use the internet.
    • c. Model computer use on best practices to ensure learning without computers.
  • 2. To facilitate group interaction, e.g., by freeing teacher from the bookkeeping part of class activities
  • 3. To enhance communication of knowledge
  • 4. To organize a personal workstation or “virtual office”

guidelines for service & institutional development (from 2005)

  • planning
  • community-building
  • probing & reflection towards coherent principles
  • transparency and inclusiveness of consultation
  • documenting process, product, and evaluations for institutional learning
  • organization, including efficient use of computer technology, to support all of the above

Also

  • modeling/experimenting with tools that colleagues & students can also adopt/adapt
  • developing & sharing material (open source)
  • interacting beyond normal boundaries

+

  • collaborative generation of knowledge

A range of uses, each followed by the themes/principles (from above) that the use exemplifies
Framework of exchanges

  • beyond normal boundaries; learning/knowledge-construction not very successful

departmental memory and information sharing

  • transparency; institutional learning

towards community guidelines

  • probing & reflection towards coherent principles

Office Hour sign up

  • freeing classtime from bookkeeping; virtual office; organization

fieldbook

  • developing & sharing material

program newsletters

  • community-building; efficiency

recording the process and products of workshops, seminars, and courses (4-day workshop, monthly CCT events)

  • documenting process, product, and evaluations; institutional learning; open source; planning; community-building

community-building & update

  • community-building; documenting process, product, and evaluations; modeling/experimenting with tools

to do list

  • virtual office; efficiency

student reflective practice portfolios; guided tour of teaching

  • documenting process, product, and evaluations/reflection; modeling/experimenting with tools

assembling materials for a fieldbook on teaching

  • developing & sharing material

annotated bibliography entries by students

  • open source

teaching problem-based learning

  • computer use on best practices

-including involvement of panels from a distance

  • interacting beyond normal boundaries; difficult to do without computers

assignment dropboxes and course portfolios

  • efficiency; freeing classtime from bookkeeping

collaborative input to a manuscript or proposal

  • collaborative generation of knowledge

Setting limits in academic life

Short of having a heart attack while working at one’s desk, how do faculty members convey to higher administrators (chairs, deans, etc.) when we are at (or beyond) the limits of what we can take on?  This is an especially pertinent issue as the ratio of regular faculty members to contingent faculty decreases, as the paperwork of so-called accountability increases, as funds for public higher education shrink, and as events outside the academy also call for our time and involvement.

What follows comes from a wikipage which was (and still is) open to all to contribute to. The idea in creating the wikipage was that colleagues would add ideas or respond underneath an idea already posted. (They could identify themselves or not.)  The hope was that this could be a clarifying contribution to being careful and strategic about what we take on and what we ask others to take on.[1]

Clear Priorities

For each priority below in turn, take stock with colleagues[2] in our units of whether we are fulfilling this well and plan what we need to improve.[3] One way to convey our limits is to communicate that we are not ready to move on to the next priority whenever we are not yet able to give ourselves a green light on the priorities that come before it:

* (1st priority) supporting students’ intellectual & professional development

* (2nd) supporting others as colleagues in doing #1

* (3rd) the research, writing, teaching, and organizational development activities that excite us (i.e., that led us to be academics)

* (4th) the operating, planning, and ongoing development of the graduate & undergraduate programs/tracks we’re affiliated with

* (5th) dealing with administrative & other mandates/opportunities (e.g., accreditation reviews, licensure, becoming a Research 1 university…) in ways that don’t detract from #1-4.

Well-designed meetings

Do not attend any meeting without a clear agenda and pre-circulated materials to prepare for efficient use of the face2face time together. (In this spirit, do not convene a meeting unless you have time to define a clear agenda and pre-circulate materials so participants can prepare for efficient use of the time together.)


[1] Nothing much has happened on the wiki yet because it has not been publicized.  To make sure a certain administrator did not construe this as a behind-the-scenes campaign against them, I emailed inviting her comment.  No response came, and, until I had time to follow up, I held off publicizing it to my university colleagues.

[2] If we can find time to do this!

[3] And whether we can do this within a balanced profile of 1/3 research-1/3 teaching-1/3 service (and 1/3 the rest of our lives!) and whether the staff and other resources are there to help.

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