Posts Tagged ‘community’

March 16, 2010 9 comments

Share Your Success with the World!

The ‘Learning to Teach Online’ project (LTTO) is based around sharing best practice in online pedagogy development, teaching and evaluation between practitioners. We want to encourage a dialogue between teachers from all disciplines, to help everyone out there who wants to start teaching online get the best advice from those who have done it all before.

The Situation

No matter how many books or research papers you read about teaching online, the hardest thing to get your mind around as a teacher are the practical aspects of running a class in an online or blended environment. COFA Online’s LTTO project will explore the real pragmatics of teaching online, and help give educators the head start they need to avoid the frustrations that usually emerge in the practical details.

To this end, the project will feature case studies of successful online teaching strategies from tertiary teachers from many different disciplines. These case studies will examine the context, planning, teaching, evaluation and technical set up processes used by different teachers, and enable users of this resource to see theory and strategy in action.

How You Can Help Your Colleagues

If you have taught in a fully online, blended or mobile context at University level, and have had positive results both from a student and teaching perspective, then let us know about your project.

We can discuss how your own project may be relevant to LTTO and other teachers, and if its a leading example of online teaching excellence, we can showcase your good work to the rest of the world. Your innovation can help encourage others to start teaching online, or help improve existing online teaching practice. So get in touch and discuss your project today!


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So just how do you create and sustain an online community?

February 1, 2010 5 comments

I’ll start off by saying this blog post is NOT a ‘how to’ for community building. I have a good deal of experience with building community amongst a captive audience of students in online courses, but creating an engaging, voluntary online community is another kettle of fish, and I find myself seeking the council of those more experienced in this than I!

As part of the work I am doing for our ALTC funded ‘Learning to Teach Online‘ (LTTO) project at COFA Online, I want to establish a global online community for teachers, where they can get advice about teaching online, share their experiences, ask questions to solve their problems, and get some real help with the real nitty gritty issues that are part of the reality of teaching online. The community would also be there to supplement (read – add more depth to) the ‘how to’ videos and documentation the project will be producing.

This is both a very exciting prospect, and one riddled with anxiety and the potential whiff of disaster…

Now in my mind this community would be a great place to drop in, where primary, secondary and tertiary teachers from any discipline, and any level of previous experience in online learning could meet each other and share the woes and success stories of teaching in any online format (fully online, blended, mobile etc). I have seen a few online communities out there that seem to gather momentum and gain a life of their own, and others that seem to wither and die with no real input from anyone. There are also other online communities out there for teachers, and some work well, whilst others, even though they have a vast amount of interesting pre-posted content, seem to fail. The difference with what I am envisioning here is that it would eventually be a large scale community, allowing the cross-over of ideas across disciplines, cultures and a myriad of teaching scenarios. It all sounds good in theory…

The LTTO project is all about sharing ideas and best practice in online learning and teaching different disciplines – trying to break past the ‘silo’ state that seems to exist in teaching practice to a large extent, by (for example) showing how the way someone teaches secondary level mathematics online can inspire the practice of a tertiary art teacher and so forth.

What I am hoping is that this concept can be taken much further with the help of the community – to increase the potential of this interaction amongst those passionate about online teaching to collectively evolve online teaching practice – to stop teachers working in isolation and provide mutual support – to provide a dissemination point of successful, proven strategies for the benefit of everyone else who is trying to achieve a similar goal…

What I am afraid of is that I’ll create another one of those communities where digital tumbleweeds will be rolling around amongst the deserted forums. I am asking for advice and tips from people out there who are involved in great lively online communities, or have established their own.

To me (and these are just my thoughts – not some kind of guaranteed list for success!) a good online community will thrive if:

  • There is a direct benefit for a member to belong and contribute (or even lurk) – ie you get valuable information that encourages you to participate
  • It is clear what the community is about and what its purpose is
  • Members are free to create their own content and take ownership of their online space
  • Members’ contributions are acknowledged and respected
  • Members can gain some kind of status and authority within the community through participation
  • Content cannot be too prescribed or over-moderated
  • There isn’t another community out there doing the same thing better!

Now to me the tricky part of establishing a community seems to be that people will eagerly come and take a look, but unless there is some very interesting content and discussions already going on, the tendency seems to be for people to leave. It’s kind of like not wanting to hang out at party with only a few guests. This seems to be what is happening with the community (to be) I have just set loose on the world. I guess I had hoped that people would start their own conversations but I have since realised that the tone for the community had not been properly set – to give people an idea about what can be talked about, what they can expect to get out of the community and how they can contribute.

On reflection my strategy to circumvent this issue should have been be to invite certain people into the community to begin with to start interesting discussions, before promoting it to strangers. I wish I had thought of this earlier actually as it makes complete sense – you’ve got to have the cool people at your party to create a vibe that is attractive to others.

I know there are many of you out there who are involved in online communities, so I would love to hear from you – all advice is welcomed, and of course you are also welcome to pop into the community I am talking about as it currently stands and say hello, or even add your thoughts as to what would be useful and relevant to you! (please remember this is in its VERY early days, so not much has happened in there yet!).

I’m all ears!

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Online student interaction – a waste of time?

January 22, 2010 10 comments

Someone tweeted a link today that caught my eye to a recently published paper by Sharon Watson of the Chifley Business School in Melbourne. This paper was presented at the HERDSA 2009 conference at Charles Darwin University, Darwin.

The paper is entitled Distance education students’ attitudes towards increased online interaction: desired change or unwanted imposition?

As an online educator who builds his entire teaching philosophy around the concept of collaborative learning (or social constructivism), I was very interested to see what the paper had to say. I found it very interesting – have a read and see what you think. I had not thought much about whether interaction amongst students online was a bad or unwanted thing before, and perhaps this has something to do with my design background, where open conversation, peer review and critical exchange of ideas is not only encouraged, but a necessity – especially in the education process. It made me wonder if I have been inflicting my views of collaborative learning onto my students, or if I have been taking for granted that open sharing of ideas and knowledge is an essential part of the learning process…

The main conclusion of Watson’s paper was, that a student’s attitude towards online interaction with their peers seemed to be linked with their nationality in the context of the research that was conducted. Both Indian and Australian students made up the bulk of the study, and it seems that there was a marked preference for more interaction from the Indian students, and the Australian on the whole would’ve liked to keep things as they were with little peer interaction. She does also say that the courses were not well designed when it came to including discussion into the course structure, and that the study was done before any redevelopment to ensure changes would be received well by those studying the course.

This surprised me somewhat, because I know a colleague of mine, Ian McArthur, has done significant work with running online courses between Australian and Chinese cultures (through his Collabor8 projects) – and he has found that the Chinese students seem to find it more difficult to contribute effectively to online discussions in comparison to the much more active Australians, due to cultural differences in how they communicate and and how learning is usually conducted (In fact you can see an interesting presentation he has done on this topic here).

This to me suggests that perhaps it is not culture alone that influences preference for collaborative learning and student interaction online. Of course issues such as language, and cultural differences play an important part, but primarily I think we to begin with, the way the courses are designed and taught have to be examined first…

A Learning Community vs Distance Learning – decide what you’re aiming for from the get go!
I have always disliked it when anyone refers to ‘distance learning’ in relation to what I do. To me, the distance learning model is usually designed around the (dare I say antiquated?) concept of a student’s solitary involvement with the course content and perhaps their teacher, and is a completely different premise to what online learning these days really can be.

You just have to look at the abundance of social networking communities, online forums, social bookmarking out there to know that people love to interact and collaborate when it is relevant to them and when they can learn more from the experience to make the time invested worthwhile. Interacting with others online can lead to extremely rich learning experiences – but a student has to feel that interacting with their peers will give them a much higher level of personal satisfaction and a better learning experience for this to work.

I think a teacher has to decide right up front whether they want their online class to be community or a conduit for individual learning. If interaction is desired, then the course has to be designed to encourage this from the ground up.

My point is, that if you have designed an online course using a ‘distance learning’ mentality (students work individually to complete course assignments and get feedback from only their teacher), then of course interaction between students can become superfluous and pointless. Online students often choose to study online because of time constraints with their busy lives, so conversations that lead nowhere or serve no purpose are a road to disaster.

It is crucial that an online teacher establish a community, and engender a culture of collaborative enquiry amongst students from the start. This requires assessment to be designed such that discussion and review are necessary in order to reach the goal. Students should also have a space for unrelated social chat, and be shown what constitutes valuable contributions in a discussion. One of the most valuable uses of interaction in a class I have used is using general discussion (after a lecture usually) to help students build a set of collectively defined criteria about a concept that helps them make sense of the new information. They then take this into their project work, where they can apply it to their approaches in completing the task. Following this students present their work back to their peers, who review it based upon the criteria they established a a larger group earlier on. I have found this type of discussion is purposeful, and also allows students to apply what they have learned in constructive analysis of their fellow students’ work.

I definitely don’t think increased online interaction is a waste of students’ time – but these are of course my personal and therefore biased thoughts on the topic, but I would like to hear what others think. Perhaps I am too focused on collaboration and am running my students ragged – any of my students out there!?

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