A Dam Blimage Challenge

As I noted in my last post, a new blogging challenge has emerged called blimage – a “blog image” challenge: You must use an image sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge.” Read about the original idea here.

I so far have twice challenged my colleague Enoch Hale (who last year challenged me to a 30-Day Challenge with wicked fun results) and he responded with excellent posts here and here.  He in turn challenged me which resulted in my last post.  Now I have received another challenge from Enoch with this image of Ross Dam:


Ross Dam by werner22brigitte

Great image!

Do I focus on what is held back or what is released?

Holding back brings to mind fear, which brings to mind faculty discomfort with social media.  Behind the dam, the waters appear pretty calm.  The status quo is working, so why would faculty want to bring the disruption of social media into their classrooms?

Melissa Venable provides some thoughts in her post last year entitled “Face Your Social Media Fears“.  She noted that perhaps the importance of social media stems from the fact that is so widely used:

She suggested that faculty were concerned about privacy, looking unprofessional, going public in a traditionally private world, and managing the time investment social media seemed to require.  She gave practical suggestions on each of these concerns, and ended with two suggestions to keep it all manageable:

  • Find a good role model. Where are professionals in your career field or field of study engaging via social media? Spend some time on those platforms (e.g., LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest) first, and look for one or two people whose style and approach you can emulate and make your own.
  • Stay positive. Build your reputation, through your approach and the messages you send, as someone who is not only knowledgeable, but also helpful to others in the community.

Good suggestions.

So what can happen when you release the potential of social media in your classroom?


Marie Owens suggested in a post in Faculty Focus that faculty should view social media not as a concern but as an opportunity to connect with students. “By approaching the nearly constant online interaction of their students as a chance to connect, teachers might find a new context to do what they love to do: teach. ”

Like all aspects of teaching, the use of social media does not in and of itself lead to learning.  Knight and Kaye in their 2014 published study “To Tweet or Not To Tweet” found that students made greater use of Twitter for the passive reception of information rather than participation in learning activities.  Kelli Marshall had similar results until she made some mindful changes in how she used Twitter (and communicated that use).  Likewise, Mark Ferris used Twitter to add engagement to his statistics course.

Lisa Blaschke conducted research using questionnaires and interviews and incorporating the perspectives of both students and instructors on the use of social media in the online classroom, looking to explore how media influenced interaction and learner development. The results indicated that students perceived specific social media (Google Docs, mind mapping and e-portfolio software) in conjunction with specific learning activities as influencing specific cognitive and meta-cognitive skills (constructing new knowledge, reflecting on course content, understanding individual learning process). Her research also indicated an increase in student familiarity with using social media and student research skills.  She noted that “…it is evident that social media alone is not the exclusive factor in influencing cognitive and meta-cognitive development in learners. Rather, it is the combination of the pedagogy in the course design and delivery, together with the technology, that creates the kind of nurturing environment for this development to occur.”

In their book Teaching Crowds, Jon Dron and Terry Anderson quote John Seeley Brown and Paul Duguid from The Social Life of Information:

“Learning is a remarkably social process. Social groups provide the resources for their members to learn.”

We are only beginning to research the opportunities that social media bring to classrooms – motivation, engagement, ability to surface prior knowledge, and self-directed learning.  Yet I find the potential that can be released exciting!

My thanks to Enoch Hale for his challenge.  Back at you next week, buddy!

Graphics: {Brigette Werner, Wikipedia}

Bridging the Chasm

In 10 days, we start our summer institute on online teaching and learning.  This is an experiment of sorts for my institution.  For the first time, our institute this year will be the start of an upcoming year-long process to help a cohort of faculty develop and teach online classes.  Following the institute, each member will attend the Quality Matters “Build Your Online Course” and continue to work as a cohort as they develop and refine their course, then teach it the first time.  They will also meet physically three times in the fall and stay connected virtually through a Ning site.

It sounds good on paper (or whiteboard)…but I am pondering this real world of faculty development as I considered a couple of interesting blog posts that crossed my Google Reader this week.

The first was Harold Jarche‘s “Once More, Across That Chasm.”

As Jarche’s graphic above illustrates, there is a chasm that must be crossed before the majority adopt new technologies or new practices.  He suggests that the growth of informal learning and integration of learning into work could bridge this chasm.  That is precisely what our intentions are with our Ning site.

For faculty who have never taught online, transitioning from classroom instruction to online instruction in many ways involves a similar chasm that needs to be bridged.  Our summer institute gives us an opportunity to lay a foundation and build momentum, but I worry that this momentum could be lost if we do not work to sustain the community.  In many ways, our efforts will be focused on developing an online learning community with this cohort through the next year that models the learning communities we hope they will build in their online courses.

Jarche also pointed me to another post by Charles Jennings, “ID – Instructional Design or Interactivity Design in an interconnected world?”  Jennings noted:

“The vast majority of structured learning is content-rich and interaction-poor. That’s understandable in the context of a 20th century mindset and how learning professionals have been taught to develop ‘learning’ events. But it simply isn’t appropriate for today’s world.”

He goes on to state that learning is about action and behaviors, not how much information one retains. He cites the exponential curve of forgetting first postulated by Ebbinghaus where 50% of context-information is lost in the first hour after acquisition if there is no opportunity to reinforce it with practice.

I am not too worried about this during the week of the institute, as we have loaded our institute with a fair balance of information and actions.  We hope to establish some practices with the cohort through the week regarding informal learning through the use of Twitter and our Ning site.  What I am pondering now are the actions we need to provide to continue the momentum beyond the week in June when our cohort is physically present.  They will be interacting in the QM online course 6 weeks after the institute, and will meet together again 6 weeks after that.  That is an eternity in the online world – and is another chasm that needs to be bridged.

For the past two years, we have talked a lot about networked learning.  This will be a real opportunity to put actions to these concepts and work through the Ning site to create a network with faculty members developing both the courses and the practices online that will support these courses.  In many ways, what we are attempting with this cohort mirrors what we would like to see them model in the online courses that they develop.

As Jenning’s noted:

“We need designers who understand that learning comes from experience, practice, conversations and reflection, and are prepared to move away from massaging content into what they see as good instructional design. Designers need to get off the content bus and start thinking about, using, designing and exploiting learning environments full of experiences and interactivity.”

Good advice as we consider how to use the Ning to build community and engagement over the summer and into the fall.

{Graphics linked from Jache blog and Wikipedia}

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At Innovations 2009

After two 3+ hour flights and one flight delay, I have crossed the country to attend Innovations 2009 in Reno NV.  Innovations is an annual conference of the League for Innovation in Community Colleges, and this is my fifth or sixth.  While I am no longer associated with two-year colleges, I still stay in touch through both the League and the Chair Academy.

About two months ago, Barry Dahl asked if I could step in and take over a pre-conference workshop called “Engaging Students with Free Web Tools” that he had originally submitted.  It seemed the missus had obtained some surprise cruise ship tickets without checking dates with her husband.  I was only too glad to do so, and have enjoyed putting together the workshop with my own spin on it.

Barry had previously done a similar workshop and used his blog to post his resources.  I liked the idea, but I wanted to model the practice of open collaboration.  So I went with a Wet Paint wiki for my resources.  I am opening it up to anyone to join and improve.

I will be spending three hours with this group…and on the off-chance that the hotel internet is snarky, I created a lot of powerpoint slides to back up my presentation.  I am posting parts one and two below.  I am trying to be true to Presentation Zen…but I have a long way to go!

Looking forward to tomorrow and the conference!  If the wiki is useful to you and your personal learning network, feel free to use it or share it.  It is under Creative Commons Sharealike licensing.



Building Engagement Online

The latest issue of Innovate ezine contains an interesting article by Pu-Shih Chen, Robert Gonyea, and George Kuh entitled, “Learning at a Distance: Engaged or Not?”  My first thought on reviewing it was that this was yet another “no significant difference” study…but I was wrong.  While noting initially that many senior academic officers expressed the belief that online learning is inferior to campus-based learning, these three questioned these assumptions through a fairly robust study that used the well-established database in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

The authors of the study hoped to answer three questions:

  1.   1.  Why do distance learners take online courses?
  2.   2.  What are the engagement patterns, self-reported learning and personal development outcomes, and satisfaction levels of distance learners versus campus-based learners?
  3.   3.  What are the engagement patterns, self-reported learning and personal development outcomes, and satisfaction levels of traditional-age (24 years old and younger) versus adult (older than 25 years) distance learners?

For purposes of their study, distance learners were defined as first-year or senior undergraduate students who took all of their courses via the Internet in the spring term of the 2005-2006 academic year.  They reported three findings:

  1. “For distance learners, postsecondary education is but one of many priorities in their lives. Distance learners tend to be older; most work and care for dependents and enroll in online courses because such classes fit more easily into busy, demanding schedules. The top three reasons cited for pursuing learning at a distance—convenience, self-pacing, and self-directed learning—suggest that many of these students were looking to advance their education in the context of their current lifestyles. It is possible that without a distance learning option, many of these students would not be enrolled in postsecondary education at all.
  2. The engagement of distance education learners compares favorably with that of campus-based learners. Distance learners are generally as engaged and often more engaged than their campus-based counterparts, with the exception of engagement in active and collaborative learning activities. In addition, the self-reported gains of distance learners tend to be greater than those reported by their campus-based counterparts.
  3. Older distance learners differ from younger online students in noteworthy ways. Older students report greater gains and are more likely to engage in higher order mental activities such as analysis and synthesis as part of their studies. However, they are less involved in activities that depend on interacting with others, such as working with other students on problems or assignments.”

The authors concluded that their results suggest that distance learning was comparable to face-to-face learning, at least in terms of student engagement in effective educational practices.  I took a slightly different message away.  First, a mantra I have said for several years, the delivery method (online versus face-to-face) is less important than the activities undertaken by the teacher and students.  Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education work equally well on campus or online, and those principles presuppose active engagement by the teacher as well as the students. 

Second, the differences noted in this study between older students and younger students to me aligns with the growth in social interactions of the Web 2.0 generation.  

The authors stated:

“Student engagement takes many forms—intellectual challenge, active and collaborative learning, meaningful interactions with faculty, and the perception that the learning environment is supportive of the student’s efforts to overcome obstacles to learning.  Active and collaborative learning is the one area in which distance learners fell short of their campus-based counterparts.  {my italics} In part, this seems to be an artifact of activities related to group-based interactions such as working on projects during class or outside of class. These kinds of experiences are associated with desired outcomes of college such as satisfaction, persistence, and intellectual and social development.” 

 I would suggest that active use by faculty of the many new web-based social tools could provide the avenues for the types of active and collaborative engagement that these authors found missing from many online courses today.   The digital natives entering our colleges and universities already use socially engaging applications for personal use, and adoption and use by faculty could spread the engagement from the younger students to older students.  It will require thoughtfully designed online activities, but engagement is and should be a two-way street!

As always, I would be interested in my colleagues thoughts and responses.