Hello 2012 and a New Community for Learning

I have to admit – 2011 seemed like a long year, and I am glad to see it go.  2012 seems more promising, even with a presidential election looming. 🙂

I did not blog much in 2011, but I also did little teaching in 2011 (and none online), and so did not feel that I had much to share (beyond occasional tweets).  I see 2012 as different.  Next week, we launch our first fully 0nline faculty development course – “Preparing to Teach Online”.  PTTO has 18 faculty signed up for the inaugural pilot of this course.  I have been working with my colleagues here at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence for the past five months to map out and build this course. I will also be co-teaching grad students in our Preparing Future Faculty course and hopefully will be teaching a summer course on Theory and Practice of eLearning. The combination should definitely give me some rich opportunity for reflection, which I hope to capture here.

(…and I like the banner designed by my good friend Bud Deihl…)

Co-designing the PTTO course with Bud Deihl, Joyce Kincannon and Jeff Nugent has been a blast.  For some of our thought process, check out out philosophy statement in the course syllabus, which reads as follows:

“We are living in an amazing time – where the vast storehouse of human knowledge is readily available and easily accessible – quite literally at our fingertips. Using devices from laptops to mobile phones, we can connect to the Internet from anywhere and in moments search for and find information that not only helps us answer questions, solve problems and complete tasks, but also entertains, inspires and confounds us.  In our work with faculty members interested in teaching online, we have experienced the common perspective that moving a course online is primarily about designing and sequencing course content. While quality course content is a significant factor, we also believe that recent changes on the web – toward a more social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to teach and learn online.

This availability of knowledge does not necessarily lead to learning online. Students already have access to high quality learning content. Teaching online therefore means more than serving up content. Your critical tasks are to be the drivers of quality course design, content mastery, and the skilled facilitation of learning.  By skilled facilitation of learning, we mean understanding how to interact with and engage students in this new learning landscape.

In this online course, you will do many of the things you routinely do to prepare to teach a class.  You already set goals for your courses, describe the specific learning objectives, define the tasks necessary to meet those objectives, and then create applicable assignments around these tasks. The fundamentals are the same.  The practice of facilitating learner interaction is quite different.  What is different in our view flows from our observation that the web has become social. Online courses require the social presence of the faculty in order for the course to be effective.  Students need to form a learning community as well, and active engaged learning activities are required for the course to be effective.

We designed this course with these philosophies in mind.  Through our work together in the coming weeks, we all – each of you and each of the course consultants – will be actively present in this course, will build our own learning community, and will collaboratively engage each other in the best ways to facilitate learning online.  We look forward to this!”

The textbook for PTTO is Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt’s (2007) Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom.  We designed this course with the belief that community is a core component of a quality online learning experience. and we look forward to modelling this in our course.

Community has been on my mind for quite awhile, so I focused on something Stephen Downes said in yesterday’s oldaily about two posts that align nicely with this core focus of community.  Downes noted:

“Clarence Fisher writes a post titled ‘Learn it Yourself (LIY)‘ in which he argues “the Open Source revolution is rooted not in technology itself, but in learning. It’s the ease of observing how languages function and how programs are made – coupled with the ability to seek and openly share that information with others.” Meanwhile, Brian Lamb writes a post titled ‘DIO: Do It Ourselves‘ in which he argues “the slight shift to ‘DIO’ from ‘DIY’ is obvious enough, and if I think about all the fun and all I learned this past year through, say, DS106, it’s equally obvious I didn’t do any of it myself.” Which leads me to suggest the next logical step: LIO – Learn It Ourselves.”


There was a lightbulb that came on for me that brought full circle all the reading this past year on the DIY U movement and networked learning.  We are launching PTTO precisely because it is NOT a DIY world where individuals can in isolation learn new practice.  Rather, it is a richly nuanced networked world where “we” learn together, and through PTTO, we hope to build in ourselves and others the skills in networked learning that can then be applied by our colleagues who participate in their own courses.  I would also suggest that this will spill over into my other courses.  I have always told my students up front that I will learn as much from them as they will from me…this just puts a new spin on that concept.  In the summer course in particular, I hope to experiment more with Facebook groups, Google+ Hangouts, and the like, co-opting my students into a two-way learning community.

I would be interested in tips from any of you on what works with adults in creating and sustaining engaging learning communities.  And look for more in the coming months as we “learn it ourselves” in my courses.

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One thought on “Hello 2012 and a New Community for Learning

  1. Let me know if you would like a review copy of our book. I am happy to mail you a copy. I think it would add to the topics you will cover in this course.

    Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
    Co-founder and CEO, Powerful Learning Practice, LLC
    Author: The Connected Educator – Learning and leading in a digital age

    twitter: @snbeach | blog: 21st century collaborative | blog: plpnetwork.com

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