Peanut Butter, Mother Nature and eLearning

Last week my students in ADLT 640 learned some amazing lessons … including some that were not on the syllabus.

Online Banner for Week 3

ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning in Adult Environments – is an eight week summer course that starts a three-course track in the Adult Learning Masters program on teaching with technology.  We spent the first two weeks meeting twice a week (6 hours a week) and exploring the growth and evolution of elearning, as well as the major learning theories (behaviorism, cognivitism, constructivism, and connectivism) and their fit with eLearning.  Each week, the students blogged a reflective piece on what had transpired the previous week.

Last week was Week 3, and was the first of four weeks where the class shifted to a totally online environment.  I used a traditional assignment suggested to me by our Center instructional designer, Joyce Kincannon, to have small groups develop and deliver a lesson online on how to build the perfect PBJ sandwich.  In a normal week, this would have still been a fun activity, but the storms that rolled through Virginia last week made this anything but normal!

A good number of students lost power on Friday.  Some had lost power the previous Monday when smaller storms came through (and some won the prize by losing power twice).  As one student put it:

“It’s been a week of storms: brainstorming the PBJ lesson, stressing up a storm, forming, storming and norming within our group (Levi’s Stages of Group Development), and nature’s trifecta of storms. It didn’t make for the easiest or convenient week but I can say a lot was learned through the chaos. It tested our group’s support, trust, and drive-something that normally may not have shown through so early on in the process.”

Yet, all three teams collaborated online, developed three unique lessons on crafting PBJ sandwiches that were posted to our class wiki on time, and added commentary to each others’ projects.

One student summed up the week this way in our wiki:

“I would love to comment about what I’m learning but I’m too overwhelmed to articulate anything that might make any sense.  In the midst of trying to figure out how to teach the lesson of making the perfect PB & J sandwich (which apparently I don’t know how to do), I am reading emails,fielding questions, participating in chat sessions, looking for materials to include in the presentations, outlining learning objectives, attempting to complete reading assignments, blogging, responding to blogs, researching articles, posting articles, all the while using new applications and methods of communicating which I are new to me.  Yes, I’m learning something: something perhaps about managing stress.  So, if I don’t have a nervous breakdown in the middle of all this, I’ll let you know what I am learning.”

The stress levels were pretty high, and the storms simply added to the stress.  One student completed her assignments by using her phone in a local grocery store that had WiFi (and power).  Another noted in the wiki:

“The past seven days have been a whirlwind of craziness.  Is it strange that I was not so much worried that I didn’t have power at home for two days as I was about not having Internet access at home during that time?”

But as strong as the stress was, the community that formed was stronger.  These students, who had only been together for two weeks, found that they were not alone.  A word that was mentioned often in reflections was “trust”.  As one student noted in the wiki:

“One thing I know for sure, is that my teammates are the BEST!  We had some interesting sandpaper moments with our communication.  But, there was major trust!  And we knew we wouldn’t leave each other behind…  We did our best to work together and I think what we produced reflects a true “team” effort. “

Another said in our wiki:

“I too found myself fretting this week.  Interesting….the switch to online was bumpy.  I’ve taken online classes before & I enjoy online…so why the transition turmoil??  Was I already accustomed to the class organizing my learning??  Had I not spent enough time familiarizing myself with our Bb, Wiki, and assignments??  Was the first assignment being a collaborative one too challenging??  Did I need that sink or swim experience to motivate myself??  Were my expectations out of line??  I think the F2F time really helped the class develop a sense of community & cohesiveness.  Yet, transitioning to this virtual venue left me feeling disorganized & a bit overwhelmed.  I must say however that I did NOT feel isolated.  Support was there.  Interesting that others felt overwhelmed also…a normal reaction??  Something to consider.  I am feeling better now that I sense progress.  Perhaps the transition jitters were abbreviated by the F2F time.  Just surprised that several of us felt anxious…I didn’t expect that following the class time.”

In past classes, I have used a “sink or swim” experience early in my classes to help ease students over their fear of technology.  The manner in which this class jelled online seems to indicate that this type of experience is fruitful in developing community as well.  I would be interested in the thoughts of others regarding this.  Have others seen this as well?

Another interesting lesson for me was how adept these students were at attempting new practices.  Two of the groups used Google+ Hangout for their first time to coordinate their project work.  One group added a roving reporter doing her first podcast to their presentation (and who would not want a roving reporter reviewing PBJ’s?). Two groups used Prezi to present their lesson, while the third used the slideshow feature of Google Docs to present.   There were no expectations set up for their presentations (other than “more than powerpoint), and these students dove in …over their heads in many cases… and helped each other swim in the tech waters.  As Journey Girl noted:

“I recognized my learner-to-learner experience in my technical growth throughout Week 3.  I found myself using software and LMS’s that I wasn’t completely familiar or competent with using.  As a group we decided to use Google+ to have “Hangouts” – a tool for online communication (my first time using).  The file exchange in our team wiki (using Wiki being another first for me) was also used extensively to share information, suggestions, and final contributions.  To describe myself as a novice at using the presentation software, Prezi is putting it mildly.  But we were all “fish out of water” in that respect, nevertheless we all learned to use it and make our contributions when needed; learning from each other as we tried to create a “How to” course lesson.  E-mail and texting were used; in addition to “ol’ reliable” – the telephone, but only to talk each other through technical hiccups.  Every effort was made to do this assignment from “a distance as a collective” through as many electronic devices, tools, available.”

So one student summed up the week this way:

“I never thought about PB&J as much as I have this week!  I learned about it’s history.  I learned about it’s plethora of variations.  I learned about it’s accessories ~ who knew a sandwich could have accessories?!  I learned about it’s nutritional value.  Oh, but the lessons were deeper than just bread…..I learned about asynchronous collaboration, multimedia presentations – design & delivery, Google docs, embedding, Prezi, making crosswords and surveys.  I thought each group did an excellent job – presenting the learner with objectives and even a pre-assessment; using interactive forms of presentation to motivate & pique the learner’s interest; and organizing activities that allowed the learner to assess and/or reflect on their learning.  Perhaps, the desire for a group presentation post learning was a bit ambitious; but, it represented a diverse way of assessing learning.  Just saying…I think we are great 21st century educators!”

Over the next two weeks, these student groups will now be developing their group projects in the areas of online student, online instructor, and online teaching.  They are moving into these projects with a new sense of confidence and commitment.  They collectively have come away with a new appreciation for building adaptability and flexibility into their own eLearning.  I wonder if the same results could have been achieved without the unintended intervention of Mother Nature?  I do not know…but I do know that I got a lot of learning out of PBJ and Mother Nature this past week!

As one student noted – “I totally dreamed about PB&Js last night…”  When is the last time your students dreamed about their lessons?  🙂

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4 thoughts on “Peanut Butter, Mother Nature and eLearning

  1. I found this statement in an article about Making the Most of Stretch Assignments (retrieved at Although the article refers to assignments in a business venue, I think it also speaks to our PB&J assignment and our future roles as education leaders.
    Rationale for Stretch Assignments
    For years, we have known that one of the best ways to sustain and accelerate the upward trajectory of those with high potential for senior leadership is to place them, time and again, in new assignments that present ever-increasing levels of challenge. The demands of such “stretch” assignments require developing leaders to step out of their comfort zone, acquire new skills, and cope with the anxiety induced by uncertainty and risk-taking. With each new experience, these leaders grow more adaptive, resourceful, and resilient. As a result, they bring even greater capacity to their next new challenge, and thus emerges the competence, confidence, and maturity of the general manager or future enterprise leader.

  2. Thanks for articulating what I have been observing in my masters classes in Ed tech. Good points.

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