When we were first given the blog prompt this week, I was really excited to explore this topic further, but also a little overwhelmed. There are so many possibilities that can be discussed, and I wasn’t exactly sure where to start.,
As we have previously seen in this course, discussion forums and activities are incredibly important for the development of a community. Jen had a great post just last week on engaging students in online communities. So far in the class, we have been primarily addressing these spaces in closed formats, where only the students in the class have access to the discussion forum. However, when we change these parameters and create open online spaces, a lot of the dynamic elements of these discussion forums also change, for both the good and the bad.
Prior to analyzing how open online spaces can change the classes that I teach, I think it is important to look back at my own experiences within these learning environments. I have taken a lot of online courses, mainly through the Moodle LMS, but very few included open online spaces. Most included closed discussion forums where only the students and teachers involved in the class could participate. I liked these because I felt as though I could express myself more freely. Although it was online, I knew that few people had access, and these few people and I had similar educational backgrounds. This meant that perhaps they would understand what I was saying and there would be less confusion with my messages. However, it did limit the amount and types of interaction, which also limited the possibilities for deeper learning.
It is thanks to these EC&I classes that I was first exposed to open online spaces, including blogging and tweeting. Although these spaces do risk being attacked by trolls and they can open up students to possible negativity and criticism, they do allow for more connections to be made. I have been able to grow my PLN through the use of Twitter, and not only with students in the EC&I class. I have been able to learn much more through these connections made with other individuals in both the teaching profession and beyond.
I have used blogging with students before, and this did initially cause concern with parents. They did worry about online individuals getting into contact with their children, which is a very valid concern, and something that we communicated with parents and students. This lead to discussions regarding digital identity, and what to expect and how to react. However, to limit possible harm, we never used last names and in the end there were no issues.
I do believe that online spaces make digital learning experiences more authentic. It allows for more unfiltered discussions with diverse experts in the field and more unplanned experiences. Although these may not always be perfect, I think that is what makes them authentic.
Is this possible to re-create in closed forums? I think this entirely depends on the context, the participants, and the community developed in the online forum. I think sometimes in closed discussion forums we limit our answers and feedback to one another, sometimes focusing too much on the material and what the professor is looking for in our answers. This is not always the case, but it depends on the environment and community. I believe authenticity is easier to achieve in open forums, but yet still possible in closed ones. That being said, it isn’t always guaranteed in open forums either. This depends on the connections made, how much is being put out there, and who is seeing it. I think authenticity is easier to create in some open environments as compared to others (i.e. Twitter versus blogging) because of the wider audience.
So what does this mean for the classes I will teach in the future? I do think online open learning environments change according to the class you teach, the needs of your classroom, and the grades you teach. My current high school experiences are far different than what I experienced in middle school. However, I wouldn’t generalize what different grades can do online – I think a large part is the actual class of students you have and the context in which you are teaching. Every classroom is different, even if they are technically the same grade.
I think, currently, the possibilities are endless for the integration of open course environments. I do think because I teach high school – and grade 12 courses – it may be easier to incorporate some of these environments because the students already (often) have experience with social media and online environments. That being said, I do think there are still safeguards and criteria that need to be put into place, even with grade 12 students. Prior to any online learning environments being developed in my classes, I think it is vital to teach about digital literacy and citizenship, and speak to the digital footprint we are leaving in our environments. If these were put into place, I do believe that administration would support our choices, particularly if we had communicated the value of the online learning environments and connected them with our curricular outcomes. I think this also helps with the parent and student buy-in, as they realize not only the practical applications of participating in online open discussions, but also the value in our curriculum to the learnings that can transpire online. Even though there may be negative consequences, I think if they are contextualized, we can learn from them and understand how to be better digital citizens in our 21st century.
What does need to happen, however, is for me to develop the courage to try this out. I have to be willing to explain my choices to my administration, parents, and students, to defend the value of online learning environments in face-to-face classes, and I have to be ready to meet opposition in this quest. Anything worth doing takes hard work, and society would never evolve if those in our past hadn’t taken risks and pushed our environments. Now it is our turn to do the same for our future societies.
What do you think? Yay or nay to online learning environments in face-to-face classes? Let me know below!