Two Questions to My Class

We are starting the second week of an 8-week online graduate course for Northeastern University titled Technology as a Medium for Learning (EDU-6323).

During this course, the middle six weeks explore different aspects of edtech, while we read and reflect on the learning science lessons embedded in Michelle Miller’s book Minds Online.  This week, the topic is blogging, so it made sense to write a blog post … and use it to ask the 22 students in the current class some questions.

I love the diversity in this class.  We have 13 New Englanders, 3 Californians, 2 Georgians, me and another student in Virginia, one in Seattle and one in Uganda Africa.  A ten time zone separation!

Given the global nature of this class, I set it up as an asynchronous class … yet much of the edtech feed lately seems to be all about making synchronous learning work.  Just this morning in Faculty Focus, there was the article by Zahir Latheef on “Synchronous Strategies for the New Normal“.  Yesterday, David Castandesa posted in eLearning Industry “5 Tips to Alleviate ‘Zoom Fatigue‘ During Your Classes and Meetings.

I like Zoom.  I use it for consultations with my doctoral dissertation students and one-on-three meetings with prior colleagues.  I am a member of Harold Jarche’s global Coffee Club that meets monthly on Zoom.  Thanks to my college roommate Andy Wehrle, some of us from 8th Company Class of 1972 have been meeting by Zoom to break the monotony of the pandemic lockdown.  (Zoom on the right – our Plebe Summer Mug Shots on the left)

But I question whether Zoom is the right fit for every elearning situation.  I could snarkily say to David that he missed the sixth tip for Zoom Fatigue – Don’t Use It!  But I have not given my class the opportunity to weigh in.  My first question to my class is – given ten time zones – would you like synchronous meetings for our class?  If so, how often?  If so, what time(s)?

One of the reasons I question the need for synchronous meeting is the high degree of engagement we had during our first week.  Not sure how many I sent during the past week (a lot), but the class sent 195 tweets.  In the Canvas forum for introductions, there were 259 posts, and in the first week’s discussion forum, there were 155 posts.  Latheef in the Faculty Focus article highlights the need for building community through faculty-student and student-student interaction.  I agree that building community is critical (a firm believer in the Community of Inquiry model), and would submit that we are already doing that in Twitter and Canvas without needing Zoom.

Plus, as Derek Bruff noted, there are alternatives, like FlipGrid.

In fact, Enoch Hale noted in an email to me this morning that he is using Flipgrid for asynchronous (but visual) faculty development.

So, class and any others, comment below as to your preferences.

And speaking of visual, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, I decided to add some short personal intros to each week in the course.

Taking a page from Mike Wesch’s “Make Super Simple Videos for Teaching Online,” I have been sitting out on the back deck of my home making these one to five minute videos.  I am interested in feedback from the class.  Do they work for you?  Is the tone right or too informal?

I still need to record Weeks 5-8 … but this is an opportunity to refine the process if needed.

So – two questions – and an example blog post.  Whether you are a member of this class or simply an educator with a viewpoint, use the comment feature below to respond if so moved!


9 thoughts on “Two Questions to My Class

  1. I’m a member of the class EDU6323, and while I too like zoom (and I’ve found some creative ways to use it during the pandemic), I’m cautious about recommending making an asynchronous class semi-synchronous. One of the primary selling points of an online class is fitting it into your personal schedule, around other life responsibilities. And with the pandemic, many of our personal schedules have been flipped upside down to begin with.

    I fully understand the value in feeling like I can relate and even brainstorm in real time with my classmates, and for that, an initial synchronous zoom-style meeting would be refreshing… but I doubt we could find a time where all can attend world-wide without taking time away from work or sleep. What would the penalty be if you had to miss it? Would it be fair to offer a reward to those that could attend? I am onboard for adding video clip or voice thread introductions to make them feel a little more personal, even if someone wont get to see it till I’m in bed for the night. At least it adds the personal touch, but still maintains the asynchronous format.

    It may be because I’m not practiced at using twitter for conversations, but the flurry of twitter posts, and the limited character capacity per post, was a bit difficult for me to follow a discussion or even catch up with one, after being disconnected during work hours. The feed display was short comment after short reply after reply, but it wasn’t linear. Different replies to different conversations were shuffled together depending on time posted rather than topic or group of contributors. I could not easily tell what points had already been said and what I could relate as a latecomer that would still have value to the discussion. It had the same effect of a shy newcomer to a roaring party well underway. Unless you had the luxury of being engaged with no other focus, I’m not sure how all students who work full time, or who participate from other timezones, could keep up.

    The discussion posts in the LMS at least deliver the topics of conversations in separate threads, making it easier to read complete thoughts in a sequence in order to look for something of value to contribute. I also struggled with where should I put my comments? In the LMS, where I could follow the conversation? Or do I switch to twitter to be sure I got credit for both efforts… even if it disjointed the conversation?

    I am more optimistic about the blog posts. At least you aren’t limited by character count and can finish a thought before hitting send. The question that stands out to me to start is, how do you choose a blog platform? And once you start, could you transfer it to another if you decided you liked a different service better? And in terms of using it in the classroom, I’m interested in how a teacher helps a student from being overwhelmed by having to read 30 blogs of their classmates.

  2. Hr Dr. Watwood,

    As a member of EDU6323 this summer, I have enjoyed the asynchronous style to the course and the different styles of material provided. I completed the second half of my undergraduate degree through online courses and found that I could control the pacing of my work in a way that allowed me to cater to my best learning strategies.

    To your question about adding a synchronous meeting, I think Heidi raises some good concerns about how it may also serve to alienate those who have the most difficulty attending. That being said, maybe we could use some polling to identify best windows of opportunity for people on a weekly basis? Personally, I think the community-building benefit would be great, even if we only have a small sub-group in attendance.

    We could record and post the conversations too so any fruitful conversations are not withheld from peers unable to join. I think the more we engage with various digital tools as a class, the more we can share ideas about their implementation and experience the learning benefits first-hand.

    Changing subjects, I feel that the inclusion of a social media (Twitter) aspect helps to provide a level of on-going connection among the class which makes me feel less isolated as an online student. Moreover, I enjoy seeing the many ideas, and ‘takes’ on the material that my peers include across each day. Twitter can definitely get disorganized and chaotic as threads grow and branch into sub-conversations, but I find that this accurately represents much of today’s discourse, so learning to navigate the social media ‘sea’ is a worthy endeavor.

    To your second question about the short intro videos, I think they are a highly valuable addition to the course. I like the personal touch that the videos add, helping build my motivation to dive into the week’s content. Additionally, I feel that I have learned much more about you as an individual than I ever would have otherwise during this course. This connection builds my comfort level to voice my opinions on content and ask questions if I am confused or need clarification.

    To conclude, I am excited and motivated by this week’s topic of blogging as it is definitely a realm I have avoided due to unreasonable apprehension. The multitude of sources and their subsequent links to further blogging resources have sparked new confidence in me and have shown me the immense value in blogging that I have, until now, overlooked.

    See you online!

    ~Dan Allen

  3. Dr. Watwood,
    I am a member of your EDU6323. We are only in week 2 and my head is already swimming with ideals, ideas, and lots and lots of posts (to be posted and to be read). I rather like the asynchronous aspect of our course. After all, the members of this class have chosen this course for that reason. It grants us the opportunity to read and write on our own schedules. It also provides us time to reflect. I do agree with Heidi, the flurry of posts on Twitter can be dizzying. But I am learning to use Twitter because it’s not so important for me, but for my students. Access to them is going to be essential this fall and I need to use every advantage that I can. Even the response posts within our online discussions can be overwhelming. I turned off my computer for the evening and the next morning I powered it up and found 58 unread responses. Yikes! Took me a moment to realize it wasn’t just for me but merely responses within our group (whew!). But I do enjoy it all because I am learning! I do enjoy your videos. They provide a quick overview and are current. Since they are current, it makes me feel as if you are truly addressing us, your students.

    As far as a synchronous meeting, I am not opposed to it. It need not be weekly and perhaps you can create a couple of different meeting times. The real value comes from the discussion element. The key to the meeting would be to discuss one or two particular items and keep it under an hour. I have found that any engaging meeting I have attended always had an agenda working towards a particular outcome/goal. Bonus, discussions can be a lot easier to follow than reading!

  4. The primary reason I selected the NEU CPS program was the asynchronous nature. A few courses back, we were expected to attend at least 3 live sessions out of 5 during the 12 week semester and students were teamed up and you could pick by topic which week would be yours to act as the moderator. The sessions were recorded and uploaded so students who couldn’t attend that week, were expected to watch it later. If you participated live, you didn’t have to participate in that weeks discussion board post, unless you were the moderator and you had to respond and monitor the discussion board. Trying to find the time to collaborate with my partner on our session was hard. Trying to attend 2 live sessions and my own was impossible and I couldn’t. When I emailed to say that I just couldn’t make it work, it was then that I was told it couldn’t actually be mandatory. So there was that initial pressure before knowing that as I was trying to twist my life to make it work.

    I think if it is optional, there is a survey for best day, time and people want to have a virtual session, then it could be beneficial for discussion. We had set questions and a presentation and the conversations were lively and free flowing. So I did enjoy that part.

    As a former EDU6323 and EDU6333 student, I found our Twitter and Bb discussions to be engaging and didn’t miss any synchronous discussion or real-time. I caught up on Twitter when I had time and since I had the #EDU in columns in Tweetdeck, it was easy to see what I may have missed.

    I’ve found in much of my coursework there has been good discussion on the LMS, and at times have engaged offline with peers about things related; so not having direct contact hasn’t stopped PLN and connectivity from occuring.

    I like the expansion to the short intro videos. It puts a face and voice to the person on the other end who is in charge of the coursework. I also like the introduce yourself section in discussion week 1 and having people share what they are comfortable sharing.

  5. Hi Britt!

    I would love a little synchronous action! I’m about to have much better daily availability, so I can be very flexible about day and time. As for how often… maybe a few times this quarter?

    For feedback on your videos– I adore them just they way they are. Feels like we could be sitting together on your back deck drinking iced tea and chatting about our take on what’s going on in the world. Which I think then sets us all up rather nicely for good back-and-forth engagement on our course topics either on Twitter or the discussion boards on Canvas!

  6. I think adding a synchronous element to a class does bring a certain energy. A live discussion has a different ‘feel’ and a different approach to sharing ideas. If we were to go this route, I think once a week one be sufficient, though some weeks would be more difficult than others due to scheduling. I imagine this would be a main concern for many.

    The weekly intros are a nice touch. They’re a little reminder that although we are separated geographically, we’re all together exploring the same topics. Thanks, professor!

  7. Hi Dr. Watwood – I’m a member of your EDU6323 class this summer and, while I understand and appreciate the some of the challenges a semi-synchronous learning environment would present, I’m with Mollie – a little computer “face -to-face” time would be very welcome indeed. While I have enjoyed reading everyone’s Tweets, I’m still getting used to Twitter and, even when using a Tweetdeck, sometimes the flurry of new Tweets can feel overwhelming, especially after a long day in the “office”. I wholeheartedly agree with Heidi above in that responding to blog posts is much easier to follow), I’d welcome the opportunity to have a “live” discussion. Perhaps such an opportunity might not make it into the curriculum for this term, but I appreciate your asking for feedback on this area.

    By the way, I love the informal tone of your weekly videos. They’re straighforward and do a great job of outlining the lessons to be learned in the coming week.

  8. Hello Dr. Watwood,
    I appreciate you touching base with us regarding synchronous vs. asynchronous classes. I’m with those who have suggested that Twitter can be a bit overwhelming as a new user. I feel like I am trying to read and follow 22 conversations at once! I must admit it is not my favorite platform. Perhaps it will grow on me though. As for trying to get everyone’s schedule together for a face-to-face on Zoom or elsewhere, I would vote to skip it. Typically, I would rather be in a classroom setting so it is unusual for me to say pass. I just feel like if we needed to add anything additional to our schedules we should have been informed in advance. Part of the appeal of this program is doing the work on our own schedule, and that is super important to many non-traditional students.
    I, too, enjoy your intro videos each week. It is nice to put a voice and a face with your name. Plus, it looks shady, and cool , and green on your back deck. It is none of those things in South Carolina at this time of year!

  9. Hello Dr Watwood,

    Synchronous meetings would be difficult to pull off. I assume most of the class is working full time? If you wanted to give it a try the best time would be weekdays after 8:30pm EST but before 9:30. That’s very restrictive, I know but lots on my plate these days. I’m assuming the meetings would be voluntary?

    I like your videos, it’s nice to see you in person, hear your voice and get your summary of the week ahead. If anything, I would prefer more of it – rather than a written article from yourself, a video lecture would suit me better.

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