Friday, 7 December 2007

Winter's coming....

I've spent the last few weeks frantically packing up our lives in preparation for our return to the UK. We're heading to the South Island for a whistle-stop tour before a few days in Tokyo and then back to Bristol in the south west of England. Whilst endeavouring to minimise my headless chicken impression I have also been trying to finish off the assessments for the Facilitating Online Communities paper. I think after my two previous posts I'm mostly done, although a quick scan of the wiki assignment asks for a summary of my " impressions of wikis and their use in building communities" which I don't remember doing. So here are my impressions.

  • Building communities requires willing participants and shared goals. I think Web 2.0 tools like blogs, social networking, email groups and wikis all have the potential to build communities if those involved wish it and participate to create it.
  • I think wikis offer learners many opportunities to build up skills in clarity, negotiation, discussion, analysis and working with others.
  • I think that wikis need a clear purpose to start with but the beauty of the wiki is that it can adapt and change. How it changes depends on how the collaborators work together.
  • The fact that others beyond the immediate group can view/edit/comment offers learners the chance to reflect on their efforts and justify their ideas or adapt. These skills are transferable across many areas of life.
  • In producing my wiki, I found that I enjoyed setting it up and then going back to add to or edit it. The few comments that have been made in the discussion page spurred me on. Discovering how to include more visual or audio based resources would have been helpful. Communities are made up of people with a range of learning styles.
  • This is a tool I intend to experiment with when I'm teaching again.

Ok. That's it. I'll check the email forum and my wiki page and then I'm off on hols. Next blog post probably not until February when I may attempt to blog my way through the Applied project!

This has been a different learning experience for me but I have learnt so much. Thank you to everyone who has read my blog posts and offered up comments. Thank you to Brownyn and Leigh for guiding through the experience.

May catch up with some of you on the next paper! Cheerio, winter here we come...brrrr....

Reflecting on Asynchronous Discussion

My facilitation exercise was an asynchronous discussion which took place over the course of one week. The topic was the ‘pros and cons of blogging for projects’ and the discussion group consisted of eight people, five participants of this facilitation online course, two alumni students and myself. The forum for the discussion was a Google Group called Pros & Cons of Blogging for Projects. This forum was set up with an activity page which highlighted the topic for discussion, some brief learning objectives and some links to various resources about blogging. Some articles provided positive description of the use of blogs and some identified some of the negative aspects. Three links to actual blog sites were also given as examples of how a blog could be used for recording a project.

Points of success:

  • The first learning objective was “to identify the pros and cons of blogging” and this was achieved. See conclusion page.
  • The second learning objective was “to evaluate blogging in the context of projects” and this was partially achieved (although the conclusion tended to relate more to blogging in general)
  • All participants introduced themselves and offered a view on blogging
  • Five participants offered detailed, thoughtful responses about blogging
  • Two participants offered up further resources for consideration
  • Evidence of critical thinking

Points of failure:

  • Sometimes responses did not relate to other people’s posts – individual statements rather than conversation.
  • Not referring to learning objectives when summarising the conclusion – no point in having objectives if there’s no reference to them later!
  • Two participants introduced themselves but then did not return to the discussion. This was not followed up.
  • The time allocated for the discussion was one week and this was not enough. Just as the discussion was getting started, it was over. So the second learning objective was not explored in enough detail.
  • No response from participants as to whether the discussion was useful for them – although not surprising as they were not involved in the topic selection and were participating in order to help me fulfil an assessment!

This exercise was an opportunity for me to practice facilitation online, something I’ve never done before. The discussion topic is one I am interested in and the opinions expressed designed to help me make a decision about whether I will continue my blog next year when I start the practical project part of this elearning programme. Therefore, as an educational exercise it was a fairly informal one, not part of a course of study or qualification. As such, there are two factors to note. Firstly, participants kindly volunteered to take part. There was no requirement to participate and there was no grade or mark attached. This could have affected participation levels. Secondly, the time frame allowed for the discussion was clearly too short given that participation was not compulsory. Allowing time for people to introduce themselves took up too much time in the week and the discussion was just developing when time was up.

Reflecting on the experience I would expect that a future attempt at a similar exercise would lead to the following changes:-

  • If this was at the start of a course I would allow more time for the discussion to develop – once introductions were out of the way. If this was part way through a course I would get straight into the discussion and make sure that participation was expected.
  • I would contact those who were not participating. I would invite them to take part with some questions to lead them in the right direction. It may be that the original topic was not clear and a re-wording may help. (I had planned to email people who did not participate but as I was dealing with volunteers, I did not want to impinge on their goodwill).
  • I would contribute more ideas if the discussion was slow moving and give more pointers especially in trying to get participants to respond to each other.
  • I would have liked to have found a video to put on the activity page for the more visual learners – rather than just text based readings. This was not something that arose from the discussion but in consideration of the various learning styles identified at the start of this course.
  • I would make it clear where the discussion was taking place – i.e. identify one of the threads as the place to start in the hope of avoiding disorientation.
  • I would sum up the discussion by referring to the learning objectives so it is clear if they have or have not been met. If they have not been met it would be useful to provide further reference material for learners to review if they wished to.
  • I would ask the students to sum up what they have learned so it is clear what has been gained, providing a focal point for the discussion.

    It’s difficult to identify an event/strategy that shaped the discussion, although from looking at an overview of the posts made (click on image below), it is clear that the majority of the discussion (11 posts) occurred after a particular post. Therefore I’ll consider this event and how it shaped the discussion.
The post was titled “so what do you think about blogging”. In his introduction post, Gordon had started to consider the topic and provided a link on the educational uses of blogs. In order to signal the move away from introductions to the topic I reiterated Gordon’s link and asked for others to share their views. This resulted in the most fruitful part of the discussion. Two of the roles of the facilitator, according to Berge (1995), relate to pedagogical and managerial factors. Pedagogically, the facilitator should “encourage participation” by “recognizing student messages” (under Pedagogical Recommendations heading, ¶3, Berge, 1995). Managerially, the facilitator should “be responsive” by responding to posts with reference to the “author’s comments” (under Managerial Recommendations heading, ¶3, Berge, 1995). Potentially, these two factors resulted in the discussion taking off. Although it may have been that at this point the participants had spent enough time gathering their thoughts on the topic and the timing of my post was a co-incidence. Berge (1995) also pointed out that facilitators should not expect responses to occur immediately. One of the benefits of asynchronous discussion is that interaction does not have to occur at the same time but when it is convenient. However, the effect was that participants started to interact and the discussion started to develop.

The interaction which then occurred began to demonstrate different levels of critical thinking. Henri's Cognitive dimension (1992, cited in Hew & Cheung, 2003) identifies types of interaction representing different levels of critical thinking, either “surface level” or “in depth”. Five different types of critical thinking are identified and below are some examples from this discussion. (The whole discussion can be retrieved from

Levels of critical thinkingExamples from Discussion
Elementary clarification - passing on information without elaboration“Gordon’s link … identifies a number of uses for blogs – worth a read”
In depth clarification - analyse a problem, identify assumptions“The consequence of [interpretation] is that we believed it to be very important to take care with your words or phrases”
Inference - concluding based on evidence from prior statements“In developing a project it’s sensible to try to benefit from the experience/knowledge of others”

“I think there’s definitely evidence of this happening in our course”
Judgment - expressing a judgment about an inference“Presumably the degree to which feedback occurs is one measure of the strength of the learning community”
Strategies - proposes a solution, outlines what is needed to implement the solution“This seems to be yet another argument for trying to connect the learning of the group with other learning communities, and inviting participation from learners who are already engaged in the process”.

The short time frame did not allow for enough development of the discussion and had it continued I think there would have been more examples of critical thinking.

In the future I would ask the group to produce their own summary at the end of the discussion. In having to reach their own consensus and conclusion they are more likely to interact fully with each other, to negotiate an agreed outcome. This would enable the participants to fully construct new knowledge and work through the various types of critical thinking. With the participants in this group (i.e. adults working within educational professions) it is not surprising that critical thinking was in evidence. If I was facilitating a group of 16-19 year olds I would expect to be involved more in the discuss to help them achieve this ‘deep’ learning. Being aware of what constitutes the various levels of critical thinking, in terms of written posts in a discussion forum, is important for any future online discussions I’m involved in. Guiding learners into responding to each other instead of just writing their own statements will help start to develop critical thinking.

This was a different experience for me and less taxing, I imagine, than managing an Elluminate session or a trip into Second Life but nevertheless it has been fascinating reading about the facilitation techniques and types of learning involved in asynchronous discussions.


1. Berge, Z.L. (1995). Facilitating Computer Conferencing: Recommendations From the Field. Educational Technology. 35(1) 22-30. Retrieved on 3 November 2007 from
2. Hew, K. F. and Cheung, W. S. (2003). Models to evaluate online learning communities of asynchronous discussion forums. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 19(2), 241-259. Retrieved on 1 December 2007 from


Wednesday, 14 November 2007

What have I learned?

"Learning is a collaborative experience where understandings are
developed. Constructing knowledge is not a one-way transmission of information
from the instructor to the learner. Constructing knowledge involves the
opportunity to critically analyze information, dialogue with others about its
meaning, reflect upon how the information fits within a personal belief and
value structure, and arrive at a meaningful understanding of that
information." Maggie McVay Lynch (1998)

To review what I've learned during this paper I'm going to look back at its stated purpose and learning ourcomes.


This course will provide participants with the theory and practical experience to enable them to become effective and reflective facilitators of online communities.

  • online socialisation - ice-breakers
  • cultural differences
  • social presence
  • personas
  • barn-building
  • intructional scaffolding
  • 'third places' (Konrad Goglowski)
  • 'curatorial teaching' (George Siemens)
  • 'learning over the shoulder' (Nancy White)
  • 'virtual communities' (Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach)
  • 'facilitator v teacher' (Leigh Blackall)

Practical experiences


  • email groups
  • blogging (see this video explaining blogs in plain English)
  • creating/editing wikis


  • Second Life (see previous post)
  • Elluminate online conferencing
  • Skype chat


  • RSS
  • online applications
  • YouTube video

Effective and reflective - this remains to be seen! I think this will come with practice just like other teaching or facilitation techniques.

So the above summarises the experiences of this paper, but what have I learned?

Discuss the characteristics of an online community and the implications for learning and teaching online.

We've discussed a range of factors related to online communities. Are we one? Some say 'yes' and some say 'no'. I feel we have developed an online community. A community is generally a group of people with a shared or common interests and this is applicable to our group. We're learners in a programme of study and we're educational professionals - our specific goals may differ but our general ones are common. The word 'community' also seems to suggest something more personal, where individuals rely or depend on interactions from each other for continued progress. I have benefited from blog posts from others (e.g. David, Garry, Sarah, Graeme, Veronique, Debbie, Mark) to keep me involved and stop me from losing motivation when I was feeling 'lost'. In our Elluminate and Second Life experiences I felt part of a group trying to understand a range of new tools.

Characteristics of an online learning community:-

  • participants with a variety of preferred learning styles
  • participants with a variety of ICT skills
  • participants from a variety of cultures
  • participants with a variety of experiences and abilities
  • participants with an understanding of netiquette
  • participants sharing information, resources and ideas
  • participants discussing ideas - agreeing or disagreeing but developing the ideas of the initial topic
  • participants treating the views of others with respect
  • participants giving credit to others when using their ideas
  • participants responding to the questions of others in a timely manner
  • a facilitator easing the process of learning in the community
  • a willingness to accept and welcome new participants to the community
  • a willingness to invite new participants who could add value to learning

Implications for teaching and learning online:-

  • ICT skills are required for learners and facilitators but they can be learned along the way
  • Technology can fail - back-up plans required
  • Learners can feel isolated - the facilitator needs to build in support mechanisms
  • The web holds vast amounts of information - the facilitator must help learners to focus in on relevant material
  • Great potential for learners to develop understanding without the need for a teacher as 'expert' so facilitator needs to foster an attitude of acceptance of learner content instead of criticism against 'criteria' - i.e. support learners in constructing their own knowledge.

See my google docs reflection on using the various Web 2.0 tools for more implications.

Articulate the skills required for maintaining a successful online community.

I have found the concept of 'online community' a little confusing at times. Are we talking about a 'course' community or an 'interest' community or a 'global' community or a 'social' community or an 'intellectual' one? My plan would be to set up an online space for students to learn as an addition or support to classroom learning. The online community in this sense offers the learner the chance to investigate, research, communicate, discuss, question, review, observe and ultimately create their own understanding. (Sounds like constructivism to me). The facilitator's role is to try to make this experience a successful one by guiding learners through the process in a way that maintains motivation and interest, and ultimately results in some new understanding - whether that understanding comes from research or reflection.

Facilitator skills required for this:

  1. An awareness of cultural diversity and how this may relate to student participation.

  2. An ability to participate in the learning with the students and not focus on the 'expert' role. This is a tricky one, especially at secondary level where there tends to be an emphasis on directing learners towards defined knowledge/understanding. I believe this is where the real skill of facilitation can be seen - setting up learning opportunities to allow students to learn over the shoulder of others.

  3. An ability to develop a social presence and model this for learners

  4. Ability to communicate effectively and in a timely manner to students

My experiences as a learner on this paper also lead me to believe that the following are important too:

  • Structure - there is so much material online that it's important to focus in on relevant information to begin with. Students can go searching once they have developed skills to do so effectively. Don't overload students with too much material at the start. Try not to 'teach' like you would in a face-to-face class but instead become a participant in furthering learning and understanding. I think this comes down to relinquishing some of the managment of learning and allowing students to be involved in developing how the learning will happen. [I don't believe this is always a feasible option but it would be interesting to see it in action].

  • Communication/Support - inform students and keep them informed. Provide reminders and ask if there are problems. If student participation is low, follow up. Provide students with numerous means of communication. Be aware that students can feel isolated in this kind of setting and be prepared to encourage and support learners to overcome their misgivings.

  • Participation - learners need to be aware of what is expected of them in terms of participation. This may need to be explicitly stated at the start and reminders given at intervals. Participation doesn't always result in learning but non-participation can give clues to the facilitator that there may be a problem.

  • Feedback - to counteract feelings of isolation, it is important to keep learners informed of their progress, especially when marks/grades are achievable.

For more thoughts on this see this article on "The Role of Online Intstructor/Facilitator" where it is pointed out that "what distinguishes online instruction from entertainment or recreation is the purposefulness of the designers and developers in provoking certain intelligent responses to the learning materials, context, and environment". (Berge. 1995). This and other articles I have read use the term intstructor/teacher interchangeably with facilitator, and although this is at odds with Leigh's view that they are different roles, the information is still useful in understanding the issues related to online learning community development.

Evaluate online communication and collaboration tools in given learning contexts.

I've tried keeping a running reflection - in a Word document and not here on my blog for some reason - about how I can see me applying these online tools into my own teaching. I've uploaded it to google docs . My wiki - on blended learning - also has some evaluation of tools.

Plan and implement online discussions for specific online communities.

Assignment 3 - I've run an asynchronous discussion about the pros and cons of blogging for projects.

Critically evaluate an online discussion, in the context of sound educational principles.

Assignment 4 - see next post!


  1. Berge, Z.L. (1995). Facilitating Computer Conferencing: Recommendations From the Field. Educational Technology. 35(1) 22-30. Retrieved from
  2. McVay Lynch M. (1998). Facilitation Knowledge Construction and Communicaiton on he Internet. The Technology Source. Retrieved from
  3. Online Facilitation. (2002). Retrieved on 2 November 2007 from

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Not for education then?

Ellen Stewart gave us a 10-minute presentation on her experience of Facebook and she pretty much summed up what I thought. It's for friends to keep up with each other, wherever they are. I have nieces/nephew of similar age to Ellen and they talk about the same kind of things. Finding out what other people are up to. Sharing daft jokes. Linking to funnies on YouTube. And like my rellies, Ellen is aware of how to try to protect her identity and not share too much with too many potential 'friends'. I thought her presentation was good and I enjoyed listening to the discussion aftewards too, although it just confirmed that we can't see too much 'educational' potential. Especially when young people themselves hate the idea of school getting anywhere near their fun - on Bebo, Facebook, MySpace et al.

I had wondered if these sites could be used for communication (as Sue pointed out she socialises with her students through Facebook). I was thinking about reminders or tips/hints about homework or projects. A teacher's 'wall' could be updated to include all the relevant stuff. But, having heard what Ellen had to say I just don't think this would be welcome by young learners. She also dashed my view that students might discuss their homework projects! Perhaps, adult learners would be different. But this type of communication can be done through a LMS or email or even text messaging.

Maybe we just let them have their facebook fun! Or we look at something like
Ecto (discussed in the email group) which is meant to have an educational focus. The benefit of introducing social networking learners to something like Ecto could be that they know how the technology works and they can make the distinction between 'home' and 'school'. However, most schools choose an institution-wide system that creates some consistency between subject areas and a product like Moodle is starting to offer up some of the social software features as well as the LMS features.

Cushie Life

Last week a few of us looked at Second Life. I had spent a few hours prior to this playing around and in that time I'd managed to:

  • Set up and name my avatar (Cushie Blackadder)
  • Obtain some clothes and alter my appearance
  • Find a card that enabled me to teleport off Orientation Island
  • Chat with other newbies using the texting tool
  • Move my SL self around, sit on benches, ride in a car, fly and gesture (clapping, stretching etc.)
  • Look at my avatar from various camera angles

This initial experience was frustrating but I was able to get the hang of it....mostly. By the time it came round to our get together I felt able to participate.

Once logged into SL other users who had my avatar name could find me and I them. I looked up Bronwyn, as she had left her SL name (Branwen Trevellion) in a google group message. I found her but she wasn't online yet so I waited to see what would happen. I was invited to be friends with someone called Leroy Goalpost and I dutifully said no, as I didn't know who he was (security conscious as ever!) After refusing a couple of times, Leigh posted in a google group message that I was being a bit unfriendly!! Leigh is Leroy...

So a good start there. ;)

Leigh teleported me to his location as others started to appear. (Petal Sransky (aka Sarah), Isa Goodman (aka Aaron)and Branwen). It was decided that we would teleport to Koru (a place developed by Isa for a group of Kiwi Educators). This is where the technology failed. After umpteen attempts to teleport with the group nothing happened and I was stuck on my own - and I couldn't walk around either - feeling very lonely! Sarah kept me in touch with what was happening via Skype and Leigh returned to give me a hand. Eventually the only solution was to log off from SL and start again. And from that point, no more technical glitches...for me at least.

Isa gave me tips on how to search for groups that may be of interest and I found one and joined. I've not been back in since and so have no idea if anything is happening with it! But at least I now know where to look. There were a long list of educational groups.

I also chatted with Lucy who joined us for our tour of Hallucinations. A lawyer from the US, it was interesting to chat with her as she has spent a bit more time in SL. She told me a story of how she was teleported into someone's bedroom where she was discovered by a virtual girlfriend. One huge argument later, she concluded that there are some very strange people populating SL!

The Hallucinations exhibit was navigable although I didn't always know what I was meant to do with the exhibits. However, it did give me an idea of what a hallucination could be like and at a certain point I got very anxious to turn the voices off as they were really getting to me.

What else did I do? Changed the light settings by forcing the sun to shine! Sat on a beanbag. Put on a badge.

So, I learned:

  • If things are not working as expected, log off and start again.
  • Search for SL names and groups to find people. This enables interaction with people who can share knowledge/information.
  • It takes time to learn the basics.
  • There are 'procedures' to follow so it pays to read up a bit before hand (e.g. making friends, teleporting) - see wiki tutorials.
  • Simulations may be frustrating to get around but interesting nonetheless.
  • It's useful to have someone knowledgeable around.

With only a basic understanding of how to operate in SL I am unsure how I would use this tool for anything other than talking to others. I'm not sure I could create a place like Koru or a simulation like Hallucinations and I'm not even sure that I would have to. Are there people in SL who do this for you? There are so many unknowns and as Isa has taken 18 months to get to a position of confident use I'm not sure I will get beyond the basics. But it's at least interesting to know a bit about the phenomena as no doubt future students will know about it and possibly use it.

I was thinking about how Business Studies students could develop their business ideas in SL and monitor their skills in a virtual market. Visit the virtual bank manager to ask for a virtual loan? Sounds like a good idea but is it possible? Probably. If you know what you're doing!

Monday, 15 October 2007

Middle of Nowhere

walking in Flinders During the break my husband and I had a week's holiday in Australia where we drove to what felt like the middle of nowhere - a place called Arkaroola in the Flinders Ranges. Amazing trip. Now back to 'facilitation online' - not quite the 'middle of nowhere' anymore!

I listened to George Siemens lecture on Curatorial teaching/learning and thought I'd have a go at embedding a presentation of my notes - trying to use some of the tools highlighted earlier in the course.

First I had a go with the Google Docs presentation tool. Easy to make the presentation but then couldn't embed it. Here's a link to the presentation though.

So copied slides into PowerPoint and then uploaded to a new Slideshare account. Spent a while searching around for information on how to embed the thing (I'm at work so can't view YouTube videos for help). Eventually managed the following. It's boring old text but you've got to start somewhere :)

I liked the idea of curatorial teaching and it reminds me a bit of the initial web quest activities where the teacher pulls together useful links and gives the students activities to complete using those resources. The 'curator' now has many more resources to access in order to create an exhibition - blogs, wikis, videos, presentations, email groups (i.e. Web 2.0 material).

In secondary teaching there are usually learning objectives that need to be achieved by students and often learning activities lead the learner down a path towards that goal. I wonder if this 'exhibition' approach would be difficult for learners at this level - i.e. not enough structure. But perhaps such 'exhibitions' could help students develop experience/skills in 'how to learn'. As with other learning activities it will come down to the skill of the teacher in setting up the activity.

One last thing. Whilst listening/watching the download of the lecture, one of the participants (didn't make note of name, sorry), kept a running commentary on what was being said in the chat tool. Very helpful, thank you!

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Catching Up!

Ok, there are four things I want to catch up with from the last couple of weeks. [Before I go on holiday and have to deal with the backlog of emails/posts/wiki edits that will no doubt build up ;)].

  1. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach's lecture on the Art of Building Virtual Communities.

  2. Our failed Elluminate lecture.

  3. Using Skype.

  4. Setting up a wiki page.

Listening to Sheryl's talk revealed another person who is very enthusiastic about participating in online learning communities. She talked about teachers as 'models for students' working as partners in equal participation using the 'power of the collective intelligence' available through the Internet. Sheryl's enthusiasm compares to that expressed by James Farmer, Nancy White and Konrad Glogowski but I found an interesting read by Gary Stager who wrote a post called "Why Teachers Don't Use Web 2.0 - an historical perspective" which in the face of all the 'enthusiasm' expressed about Web 2.0 tries to address why teachers are not so enthusiastic about these social online tools. (I subscribed to an email newsletter from George Siemens site and in following links to his blog on connectivism I ended up at Gary's blog). As someone who enjoys exploring the benefits of technology as a teaching/learning tool I've always been a bit disappointed by colleagues who were reluctant to even try them out but Gary's post identifies some of the reasons for this reluctance.

We experienced a partial failure with an Elluminate session. The software initially couldn't connect and the result was that the lecturer went off to do other things. This highlights a few issues for me.

I've been registered with Skype for some time as we use it to phone family and friends in the UK. We use MSN for chat - just because everyone has this software and generally they aren't keen to download software from the Internet (fear of viruses). It still took me some time to get to grips with getting involved in the discussion that was happening as Elluminate was failing. Working ad-hoc like that might be a stretch for some students and could alienate those that don't get it straight-away. We can't assume that everyone is knowledgeable of all these tools - confidence has to be built.

My wiki page on blended learning is set up. I'm looking forward to adding some content as it will have some relevance to my teaching experience. It was interesting that between setting it up at work and then coming home to work on it some more, someone had edited it. I like the collaborative nature of this and look forward to using this tool with students. I can see that some guidelines would need to be set up for working online this way, but this is no different to group work in the class. I think the ability to track contributions would hopefully deter any silliness or online 'vandalism' that can occur.


I couldn't make the barn building discussion on Monday night or the George Siemens lecture and I see in the email forum a discussion has sprung up about our 'community'. The asynchronous nature of this course means that we all access the forum/blog/wiki at times convenient to us and this could make it difficult to build up effective dialogue. Although it seems that posts that offer some kind of contentious statement get more responses than others that offer up links or information. I find that sometimes there is nothing more to add that would be of interest so don't bother! The lurker in me likes to read, digest and think and by the time I've done that the discussions have moved on :) I do think that a community is forming and as in face-to-face classrooms it just takes a bit of time for everyone to become familiar with each other.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Learning over the shoulder

I listened to Nancy White's lecture on learning 'over the shoulder' and here are some of my thoughts.

  1. Very impressed with Nancy's ability to multi-task between giving presentation and responding to the 'chat' going on in the text area. I was trying to imagine giving a talk in that way (and no, I'm not volunteering ;) and thought how tricky it would be to keep 'on task', maintain control of the technology, think about the audience and their technological expertise, respond to comments and complete in 10 minutes! I'm sure it comes down to practice (as with all forms of 'presentation'!) but still impressive.
  2. I went for a little surf from blog to blog - can't remember where I started but I ended up here and a discussion about using twitter in the classroom. The use of this tool was raised by Nancy in her talk and I went to the twitter site for a brief look around. My initial thought was 'nah, I won't use that' but the few examples identified in Darren Kuropatwa's blog discussion have made me think again. I find that when I learn about new online tools (such as those described as Web 2.0) I can picture their use with higher education students (or adults in general really) but I instantly put up barriers at the thought of using them with children. (I think like Mark Greenfield (in his recent post) that these tools don't always allow for 'control and direction' which is what I'm used to when teaching). However, the more examples I read the more possibilities become apparent. [Note to self: must stop thinking 'but that won't work with kids'].
  3. Sharing a workroom with colleagues has always led to 'over the shoulder' learning in my experience and I love the idea of being able to remotely gain technological help. This week I asked the ICTS department to give me access to Elluminate from a work computer so that I could catch some of the online lectures 'live' and a lovely tech guy took remote control of my PC, and guided me through the process of setting it up through a little chat tool in the corner of the screen. He logged off once I was happy that it was working - well, we'll see tomorrow if it actually works! But, I thought this was a nice, related example and it worked well - it saved him the 30 minute journey to the classroom for me to look over his shoulder for real!
  4. Also, when I was teaching ICT I found that some learner's would know far more than I would about all the available web sites, tools, software etc. The beauty of having interactive whiteboards linked to the internet meant that the whole class could learn over their shoulders.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

An Online Social Presence

Our task is to offer up some light-hearted cartoons/sound bites/jokes in an attempt to help build a 'social presence'. This was fun and far less taxing on the old grey matter but I wondered whether this was an effective starting point for creating this social presence.

So where do I start with this thought? Well, firstly I looked back at some notes I took while listening to Konrad Glogowski's lecture on 'classrooms as third places'. Konrad explains that the term 'third place' was coined by Ray Oldenburg (1989) to describe social spaces distinct from home ('first place') and work ('second place') as a place where people meet informally to socialise. (My question at this point is where does school/college/university fit in - does education count as work or as informal socialisation???).

Anyway, at this point our task looks like a bit of informal socialisation - similar to Konrad's first key attribute where he encourages students to express themselves outside of the course currculum with personally relevant content. To some extent the task also enables us to display a 'personal stamp' - i.e. by demonstrating our sense of humour - which Konrad identified in his second key attribute as a means of building a 'web presence'. Konrad's third key attribute suggests that 'any participation' is welcome as this helps build 'sociability'. And hence a 'social presence'? Yes, I reckon so. The fourth key attribute of 'the classroom as a third place' relates to the teacher's promotion of 'all activity' generated by the learners - so I suppose we'll see how Leigh & Bronwyn respond to our joke selection! So, although the task is a contrived one it does enable a little bit of personality to come through. Taking this forward with Konrad's view - of allowing learners to express themselves with whatever interests them as a means of building a community - it makes sense that over time a 'social' or 'web' presence would result.

My one reservation though is this. If I had been given the freedom to try to display my sense of humour in any way that I liked, would I have found the task as fun or did the structured nature of the task (i.e. find a cartoon, find a joke, find a soundbite) actually enable me to get on with it and produce something I was happy with? I think this comes down to my slow realisation that I'm clinging to my traditional learning patterns which is interesting as I browse through the report on e-learner profiles (link provided by Bronwyn in the googlegroup forum). The report mentions, among many other things, that a debate exists about whether learner 'preferences should be accommodated (matched) or deliberately not accommodated (mismatched)' to enable effective e-learning (page 7). By not meeting learner preferences, he/she will be forced to develop new ways of learning. How does this effect how I would facilitate an online group? Err, that will take a bit more thought!

Well enough of the rambling! Here are links to some Calvin & Hobbes cartoons that make me smile.

Using Graeme's post as inspirition for my jokes search, here are some excuse notes from parents taken from:

  1. My son is under a doctor's care and should not take P.E. today. Please execute him.

  2. Please excuse Lisa for being absent. She was sick and I had her shot.

  3. Dear School: Please exscuse John being absent on Jan. 28, 29,30, 31, 32, and also 33.

  4. Please excuse Gloria from Jim today. She is administrating.

  5. Please excuse Roland from P.E. for a few days. Yesterday he fell out of a tree and misplaced his hip.

  6. Please excuse Ray from school. He has very loose vowels.

  7. Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father's fault.

A short sound bite from Homer Simpson at

[I couldn't link to the exact clip but I liked the Computer one].


Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Identity & Ownership

I listened to the recording of James Farmer's lecture on Indentity and Ownership from last Thursday and came away with the following.

  • Using bulletin boards/forums are useful for individuals to express a view or seek help on a specific issue but are less conducive to effective discussions. (As shown by our 'persona' task perhaps).
  • Learning management systems (which can include bulletin boards) have been developed in response to teacher's needs to deliver content online and not necessarily as as an aid to communication. Hence LMS are not always successful in creating communities.
  • Blogs, on the other hand, enable effective communication to exist which can be recorded, archived and shared easily. A blog also gives the 'teacher' a chance to create a 'social presence'.

LMS/Bulletin Board


  • Difficult to interact.
  • Individuals search for relevant content rather than communication?
  • Interaction exists (comments/links)
  • Personality can be developed over time.
  • 'Real' life commentary can help establish identity.
  • Diffcult to build a presence.
  • Work created and copied to Word docs - requires extra effort/skill
  • Work archived and/or shared.
  • Central hub eases management of communication

My experience with Blackboard (during previous papers on this course) leads me to disagree to a certain extent. Through some extensive posting and discussion (including 'real' life stuff) there were some very strong identities created. Group tasks which resulted in a concluding post led to quite a bit of discussion especially when the activity was being assessed! However, the ownership issue is apparent as once access to the course LMS is removed there is a lot of work lost - unless you were organised enough to make copies of everything. Did we create a community? By the end of the paper I think we did. Will the blogs be more successful? My impression is that one blog as the 'strong coherent hub' (James' term I think) could be, although at present it still feels like a muddle (emails, googlegroups, blogs). With a bit more knowledge about RSS I'm hoping I can grasp the idea of creating a 'hub'!

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Cultural Issues

Last week I was reading about "Cultural differences in teaching and learning" (1986) by Hofstede. It's interesting research that groups countries into a 4-D model by cultural differences. New Zealand is described as having 'high individualism' and somewhat 'masculine' characteristics. It is described as a culture that has a small acceptance of inequality with more relaxed and tolerant characteristics.

Hofstede matches a series of teacher/learner interactions to these various cultural themes and he identifies these as 'extremes', but they offer an insight into the different perspectives of different cultures. (E.g. individuals who will participate in a discussion if asked personally versus individuals who will participate in response to a general request).

I did wonder about the relevance of the article to New Zealand where initiatives in schools are being set up to improve teacher understanding of Maori learning culture. The Te Kotahitanga project identifies how Maori learners perceive teacher behaviour and attitudes and vice versa and how these issues can be resolved for improved achievement.

How does this relate to facilitating an online course?

In any learning environment there are going to be learners from different (external) cultures. To be aware of cultural differences means a facilitator can be prepared for possible problems/opportunities and plan for an 'internal' culture that aids learning.

  • If the environment does not meet our 'expectations' for learning we could struggle to get going. In a previous discussion on the forum the issue of poor retention for online courses was raised. How much does culture play a part?
  • If students are unaware of differences in educational culture may they misinterpret activities in their attempt to fit them into their method of learning? Online this could be an isolating experience.
  • Online communities rely on collaboration so different ways of approaching and completing tasks can be shared. The sharing of varied experiences may enhance learning.

Well those are some of my thoughts on our week 3 topic of culture.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Hi - Welcome to My eLearning Blog

This blog is going to be my friend for the next few months as I reflect on how to facilitate an online learning community.

So far I have undertaken a learning styles quiz. My Learning Styles results are as follows:
Ref (1) Sen (5) Vis (3) Glo (1)

This suggests I am a slightly reflective and global learner leaning towards the sensory and visual dimensions. In practice I think I learn in various ways (like most people) and adopt different styles depending on the circumstances. Although I have found the first two weeks of this course quite tricky reflecting a sensing style rather than an intuitive style perhaps :)

I have also posted a bit of information about myself on the Blackboard site, posted to the GoogleGroups forum and tried to read as much as I can from the links posted there. I've also 'partially' taken part in a 'virtual chat' session despite internet connection problems. I've also managed to set this blog up - although I confess I've been blogging for family and friends for a while now.

My reflection so far - 2 weeks into the course - has been posted in the GoogleGroups forum in a response to a post by Kevin. Overall, feeling excited about new learning and a little anxious about the method of that learning!

That's it - the first post complete and a brief summary of my activity to date. Hopefully future posts will involve a bit more thought and a little less description!