Monday, July 09, 2007

This Blog Has Moved!

I've consolidated all my old blogs into a new one, which hopefully I'll be able to keep up with more regularly! Please visit Jim Woodell's Knowledge Common. See you there!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Online Classroom as a Hybrid Place

From Cats in the classroom: Online learning in hybrid space, posted on FirstMonday:
It is not necessary for all of us to look at the same ugly carpet to create knowledge together successfully.
In this article by Michelle Kazmer, there's an interesting exploration of the idea that people who are learning together online are sharing an online space (or "place," as Michelle prefers to call online classrooms) while at the same time all occupying physical spaces. She points out that these physical spaces have an effect on what the virtual learning space becomes:
students occupy online space at the same time they are occupying and engaging with their local physical space; and the circumstances of their physical surroundings shape the shared online space.
This article made me think of my previous post, in which I pointed out that I cross paths with all these people who are busy doing other things, but then we all end up in a meeting together. People in online classrooms are crossing paths, too. And just as our awareness, in the physical world, of where people have been and where they are going can help us shape community, I suspect that awareness of others' physical spaces can contribute to community building, too. I wonder if Nancy White would call this another community indicator?

I'm not sure I do this anymore (or if I'm just not conscious of it), but in phone calls I used to always picture the place where the person on the other end of the line was while talking to me. If it was someone who's home or office I hadn't seen, I'd sometimes get flustered not being able to "see" the person in their environs. Other times, I've just made up their home or office. (As I type, I'm realizing that I do indeed still do this--and every poor telemarketer or customer service person I talk to shares the same boring cubicle with every other one.)

Don't know what all this means. Maybe we really need to have a sense of physical space. Actually, I think Michelle's got it right in saying that it's not about space, but about place.

In any case, it's fun to think about the online classroom as a kind of virtual nexus of physical worlds, and what the implication is for community building.

(Here's an idea I posted in my e-teaching coach blog related to this.)

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Awareness as a Community Indicator

Inspiration this morning came from discovering Nancy White's liberal use of the Technorati tag 'community_indicators'. I enjoyed reading a blog entry she pointed to about "community of the path" (Debra Roby) and it got me to thinking about how I cross paths with so many at work, usually in meetings, and how we all get intertwined through a few overlapping responsibilities, and also how we choose to interact with one another at those crossover points.

I've been very aware lately of the ways in which I'm interacting with others, and sometimes not liking what I see in how I've chosen to interact. But as I've become more aware, I've started to notice something. Somehow, my interactions feel more "connected." I guess what I mean is that I don't feel as much (with some of the folks with whom I'm interacting) that I'm just crossing paths, but that I'm seeing more of where they're coming from and where they're going (what those other responsibilities are), and how that plays a role in how they choose to interact with me. I'm more aware, too, I've where I'm coming from and how that helps determine the choices I make in interaction.

This all got me to thinking that maybe "awareness" is a community indicator. (Indeed, this may be something that Nancy's already explored--I'm going to have to get through reading all of those community_indicator-tagged entries...) In the "community of the path" blog entry, Debra talks about acknowledgement of one another as a form of respect, and how the acknowledgement also shows dog-walkers crossing on the path are aware of each other's, and their common, routine.

As an indicator of community, I guess awareness would have to be clearly present. I think that the kind of acknowledgements that Debra points to illustrate such an awareness. At work, in those meetings where we connect with people, I think awareness is illustrated through language that's used, like "I know you've been working on...," "I think this will be of interest to...,"--those kinds of things. You know when people are aware when they're adding words that connect their ideas to others'.

Because I'm interested in online community, especially as it relates to learning, this has got me thinking about how awareness expresses itself online. At the beginning of course-related discussions, too often there's a tendency for individuals to get wrapped up in writing about "what I think about this topic..." (you know these posts--they usually end with " two cents.") But as discussion matures, hopefully people begin to make connections between their own ideas and others'. They begin not only to be aware of others' thinking, but also aware of how that thinking is changing their own ideas and experience. That is, if community is really developing.

I've already written too much, but I want to write more about this. For now, though, I'll settle for doing some more good thinking about awareness and community indicators.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Top Myths about Online Learning: Disembodiment

A few months ago, I was reading the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach. It's a great book, and has nothing to do with educational technology, but the word "disembodied" appeared in it a lot. The use of that word was quite literal in this book, but it kept reminding me of the less literal use of the word as it's often bandied about in describing the experiences of online learners.

I did a quick Google search for
+"disembodied" +"online learning" which at the time turned up 597 hits. Today it's turning up 677. Are there more skeptics out there? Or more people fighting the skeptics? Only digging through the search results will tell. It's worth looking at a few of the hits. One is a book review of book called On the Internet, which takes a negative stance on the Internet in general and on online learning in particular, which at one point draws on the same philosopher as the author does to refute the idea that engaging in the Internet is an act of disembodiment:
For Merleau-Ponty, there can be no experience outside the body and he would conclude that any warning about the dangers of disembodied experiences are pointless because such a thing is not possible.
The reviewer's overall point is that any new technology goes through this long period of misconception and myth. Can we please move beyond this period soon for online learning? It makes my job difficult when I discover that many of my colleagues have a mental model of online learning as I talk to them about how we might advance our goals related to it. As I'm talking with them about which courses and programs we might offer online, I often forget that in their mind this is a second-rate learning approach, and one that will end forever the close, personal relationships that students and faculty will have.

When I finally snap out of it and remember what they're thinking, I do my little song and dance reminding them that in online courses most students and instructors alike report that they're able to develop closer and mor meaningful relationships with more of their classmates/students. I try to explain that the asynchronous nature of onling learning does worlds to enhance interpersonal contact, plus reflection and critical thinking. I expound on the wonder of the tools in helping to better facilitate collaborative learning. And still, I know they're thinking that online learning is about disembodiment.

I think the best thing that can happen for these folks is that they take, and then teach, an online course themselves. But not all of them will, so I'll keep doing my song and dance.

Actually, more an more I can already begin to see a shift in thinking, and the myth of embodiment seems less present among my colleagues. However, I'm still mindful when I'm talking to someone who's never experienced online learning to deliver the "elevator pitch" part first--trying to make sure we have a shared picture of what I mean by online learning. Every time I do this, I confirm that the myth was alive and well because as I describe my view/experience of online learning I get a lot of "really?" and "oh, I didn't realize that."

So practice your anti-disembodiment elevator pitch. Let's see if we can kill off this myth in short order.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Blogs versus Discussion Boards, Continued

I've been enjoying a current thread on the EDUCAUSE Instructional Technology (INSTTECH) listserv about blogging versus discussion boards as tools for teaching and learning. The whole thread harkens back to posts (see posts on 9/8/2004, 9/12/2004, and 9/14/2004) here and elsewhere about this topic. I remain fascinated by the thinking going into the use of blogs as instructional tools, and also tools for development of communities.

(Maybe this interest will be enough to get me back to blogging regularly! I've been away from this for so long.)

A colleague of mine had a great insight about this thread, when I sent her a link to it. She pointed out that there might be something missing with regard to the "blog culture" when folks are comparing them to discussion boards. She points out that blogs can't be looked at just as a tool. She has an interesting point here, I think--that we have to consider the weight of the "cultural shift" that might be necessary to use blogs effectively.

But then, can't the same be said for using discussion boards effectively? More exploration of this to come...

Monday, January 10, 2005

Re-Invention and Diffusion of Innovation

A while back, a colleague of mine and I wrote about Diffusion of Innovation theory and how it might relate to faculty development. Truth be told, we were familiar with Everett Rogers's work on diffusion of innovations and read a lot of secondary sources related to it, but neither of us had ever picked up the book Diffusion of Innovations and read it. I finally bought it recently, and I'm finding it infinitely readable for an academic book. And the most recent edition just came out, so it's got lots of up-to-date examples and includes references to recent adaptations of the theory, including Malcolm Gladwell's stuff (Tipping Point) and others.

One of the pieces I missed by not having read the book before is the idea of "re-invention." This is how an innovation is changed or modified by an adopter in the process of taking on the innvation and implementing it. Rogers says in the book that many researchers have largely ignored re-invention (so I don't feel so bad for missing it), and that much diffusion research has focused only on innovations that are adopted as developed.

What's interesting to me, working with teachers who are famous for "adopting and adapting" is that it's virtually impossible to track diffusion of innovations among faculty if you don't pay attention to re-invention. Teachers develop their own way of using an innovation so that it fits with their own approach and students' learning styles and abilities.

But it's not just that we should pay attention to re-invention. I think we should encourage it when pushing to have an innovation adopted. I think for the latent adoptors (which Rogers calls "early and late majority"), knowing that re-invention is an option may make the difference between adopting and not.

Let me take online courses as an example. I think most people who haven't taken or taught an online course have a mental picture of what an online course is, and that picture is either wrong or it's very fuzzy. Because early adopters have a high tolerance for ambiguity, they jump in and do an online course even though they aren't clear. For those other folks (I'm talking about teachers of online courses now, not students), we try to develop specific models and formats and templates for an online course--this helps give them a better picture and helps make adoption easier. But once adopted, a good teacher isn't going to want to stick with that format or template. The level to which re-invention is encouraged here could make the difference between that teacher sticking with it or not.

The more I write, the more I feel like I'm stating the obvious here. But this is a new insight that's emerging for me.

Earlier today, I was reading about "folksonomies" versus controlled vocabulary, and I think there's a similar re-invention dynamic here. But I'll have to write more about that later. Gotta get to work!

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Back at 'em...

Happy New Year!

Man, did I ever get consumed at the end of the year! Between the new job and the holidays... Yikes! Has it really been six weeks since I last posted an entry? Well, here's my first resolution for the year--get back to blogging!

More to come...