I think we all know that EC&I 834 (amongst other Couros-Hildebrandt classes), are special when it comes to post-secondary and graduate education. Although these courses are primarily done online, with the combination of Google Plus, the Zoom Room, and the Blog Hub, we really get a sense of community in the class. I really feel as though I get to know my colleagues’ virtual identities, and we grow together as a community in the crazy world of educational technology.
These courses, perhaps, have given me a false sense of hope.
I was excited to create this blended learning environment with Katherine, and I really felt like we could achieve something great together, emulating the type of community that we have felt throughout our time in these online edtech classes. Although I still feel this is possible, I am perhaps a little more realistic after reading this week’s article by Richard A. Schwier.
We assume that learners will want to come together, that they will be mutually supportive, and they will be driven to learn. But it is important to realize that communities, and particularly virtual learning communities, are not inherently good, desirable or ideal. Sometimes learners aren’t motivated, they aren’t always mutually supportive and naturally collaborative, and they don’t always bring the highest standards of mature conduct into their virtual learning environments. – Richard A. Schwier
Oof. Harsh, but oh-so-true. We, as the educators, can’t necessarily create the online community that we have felt in our own courses. Our role, rather, is to set-up an environment in which this online community can transpire. We foster this community, we do not create it. At first I was a little disappointed after this harsh reality hit – but then I realized that, in fact, this is nothing new. It is the same in our actual classrooms – we can try to foster a welcoming, open environment in which students feel a sense of community, but we can’t ensure this in all of our classes. Everyone, and every class, is so entirely different that we will always need to take a step back at the start of the course and determine how we are going to go about creating a community, be it online or not.
So, that is what we are doing with the elaboration of this blended course. I have strongly reflected upon Bryce-Davis (2001) five critical features for building online communities (rules, roles, rounds, rituals, and ringers), and I have to reflect these in my choices for student/student-instructor interactions throughout this Social Studies blended course. Click here to access my ever-changing Google doc that describes the suggested guidelines for interaction within the following environments (inspired by the Couros-Hildebrandt exemplar!)
First of all, blogging will be a major part of this blended course, just like in Benita’s. We have seen the values of this first-hand with the Couros-Hildebrandt courses, and we have read about the benefits it can have for students. In regards to interactions, however, it sets the students up perfectly for different kinds of direct and indirect communication. Throughout the course, students will be assigned blog posts to read. They will be asked to comment on the blog posts they have read, and to keep these comments meaningful and respectful (i.e. proper Netiquette). Now, let’s think back to how we were in high school, and reflect upon all the possible comments – would they be entirely meaningful and respectful? If I am to be honest – no. However, when these interactions are marked, I think students would take them more seriously and would be more apt to leave constructive feedback for their peers. I understand that marking something forces students to participate in these environments and that the product, in the end, may not be “real”. That being said, I think we need to start somewhere, and once students get the hang of respectful and meaningful comments on blogs, a re-assessment can take place whether or not these comments need to be evaluated. So, at the start, they will be marked following a rubric which will focus on Netiquette and online digital identities. Furthermore, students will be taught, and subsequently asked, to use pingbacks in their own blogs, further encouraging them to read other peopler’s blogs at their leisure and quote them in their own. It is important for students to read other people’s work, and to know that their work will also be read. This will help them see the value and importance of blogging, and the importance of reading something over before submitting it. They will be working on their digital identities, something that needs to be addressed in high school.
The Zoom Web Conferencing tool will also be used throughout this course, and this will allow all students to interact with each other, virtually but similarly to “face to face” interactions. Students will have the choice to participate by speaking or by sharing their ideas in the chat room. Either way, this will give the students a more informal chance to connect and interact with one another. I think it is important to allow for informal as well as formal spaces for interaction in a course like this, and the Zoom Web Conferencing Tool gives the students opportunities to ask questions, alleviate concerns, or simply discuss things that they find most interesting. It also helps to feel less alone in the online world, and gives them faces to match the blogs they are reading. I know that it has personally helped me greatly throughout these EC&I courses, and something that I think all students would benefit from with this blended Social Studies 30 course. The breakout room function will be used throughout the course, giving students the opportunity to speak in smaller groups and share their understandings with their colleagues. At first, these Zoom breakout rooms will be very structured with specific questions to discuss, given out before the class starts. This will hopefully encourage a more comfortable learning and speaking environment. Assessment of participation in these mediums will be done informally throughout the course, as the teacher will be participating in every Zoom session and will pop-in on occasion into the breakout rooms as well.
Finally, just like Kelsie, we will also be using Google Docs for collaboration on different assignments. Google docs is great as many students can be working together on one document, and they can share ideas by communicating in the comment section on Google Docs with one another. It allows for group work, even though students may geographically be far apart. This will be a purely written collaboration space, and to ensure the interactions are meaningful, supportive, and relevant, I would ask that all documents be shared with me from the start with complete editing privileges – meaning I can go on there at any time and see who is contributing and what conversations are taking place. Knowing this, students will hopefully be supportive and stay on task in these work environments.
Students will have access to my e-mail throughout the course and will be able to interact with me at any point in time. I will also be available in all of these mediums, taking part in blog comments, leading the Zoom sessions, and checking up on the work in Google Docs and offering formative feedback for larger summative assignments.
What do you guys think? Have I missed anything? Please let me know in your comments below!