Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Your Story, Our Story. Online Learning Event reflections

What an interesting experience. How to ties ones self in knots. How to explore but find yourself not able to select a path. In a recent assignment, we were required to plan an online learning event on the topic of our own choosing. A significant issue here was choosing a topic that would hopefully be relevant to my cohort - who I know virtually nothing about!
Critical thought number 1 - when we design online courses, what is our focus - pushing content or who are our students and what do they need to learn. Are we content focused or learner focused?
I made this task way more difficult than it had to be. I spent hours researching various topics, researching various collaboration tools, worrying and getting psyched out over reading other people's ideas and feeling they were way better.
Critical thought number 2 - this is how student feel on a regular basis when they are given an assignment. I need to ensure that I am very clear about what the outcomes and purpose of the assignment are.
I decided on choosing a topic that is relevant to the students I teach every day(and hoping that my uni cohorts would find it beneficial as well) - digital story writing. The research began and continued for what seemed an eternity. Weighing up different opinions, deciding how I was going to engage my peers, how much was too much info for participants to work through, how would I sustain them cognitively and socially. Stop worrying, just design a course that I would enjoy.
Course designed, course opened, the wait began...would anyone participate? Was it in line with the assignment criteria. Exhaustion left me with no choice but to wait and see.
The first little glimmer of life appeared on day 2 with Google Docs informing me that there was a visitor to the event. Heart racing! Seriously, get a grip. This was an assignment.
More collaborators joined the event and the discussion deepened. Questions started to be asked and exploration began. I began to stalk the event, constantly checking for more 'action' on the Google Doc. Why? perhaps because people's contributions made it feel like a success. Perhaps because the deeper the discussion went, the more curious I became to hear other people's perspectives. Perhaps because in an online setting, the cravings for social interaction become quite pronounced. I love to test my ideas against other people's opinions and to thrash around the issues. Perhaps because the opinions offered were outside my realm of experience and cast such a totally different light on the place of Digital Stories across different fields. I was amazed. I was encouraged and I appreciated the willingness of others to give my event a go.
Have I benefited from it? Immensely. Apart from reading way too much research, a few points I've learnt are:
  • it is important to select activities that are engaging and sustaining
  • constructing though provoking questions is incredibly challenging
  • digital stories has many layers of application across fields I could never imagine linking to
  • as educators it is essential to get to know your students well in order to cater for different background experiences and in planning effective events for learning
  • teacher online presence is critical but it is an art not to stifle discussion
  • keep a sense of perspective
  • Google docs is an awesome collaborative tool
As I continue to reflect on the event, I will add more thoughts.

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