Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Going Wide or Going Deep? Blogs or Discussions as Pedagogical Tools

Michael Feldstein tripped across Cole Complese's blog for his class, and mused on the possibilities of the blog for class discussion.

From Michael's e-Literate blog: "I’d like to see a unified tool that enables the professor to choose display and permissions settings based on pedagogical goals. For example, if you kept the blog display (i.e., showing the full text of all starter posts in chronological order) but reversed the permissions, so that any student could post to the main blog level but only the professor could post replies, then you’d have something like a Q&A or FAQ interface."

I really, really like the idea of either discussion tools or blog tools that give the instructor some ability to manipulate display based on pedagogy. I'll have to do some thinking about what this might look like if the instructor wanted, say, problem-based learning to be happening. Could the instructor have the display organize posts by steps in a problem-solving process?

And I know that the goal isn't always discussion. Some instructors have a tough time imagining how "discussion" can be used effectively to have students work through their content. I'm pretty confident that discussion can be used for just about any topic, but sometimes the goal is not discussion. And it doesn't have to be discussion to be social meaning-making, either, in my view. Those of us reading each other's blogs are engaged in social meaning-making without necessarily being engaged in discussion.

But here's my thought about Cole's class blog: it doesn't seem to be about discussion for me--students only seem to post one comment per blog entry, and it's hard for it to be about discussion if everyone's just saying one thing. But the other thing that I notice is that it doesn't seem to be about depth to me--there's a lot of territory covered in these comment posts, but is it going deep? is it possible to go deeper and not just "wallow in the shallows" if you're not really facilitating a discussion?

Or maybe depth isn't the goal, either.

Thanks, Michael, for giving me lots more to chew on with regard to discussions versus blogs as pedagogical tools.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Diablogging: Reflective AND Social Sense-Making Through Blogs

Sebastian Fiedler wrote a couple of items recently about "Webpublishing as a reflective conversational tool." He concludes one recent entry:
"By explicating some of the 'phrases' we set in a verbal, retrievable, archived, and accessible way on a global network we appear to gain one more tool to 'discover the bases for likenesses and differences,' " reflecting on writing of one George Kelly.

In another entry of Sebastian's, he details his views on the idea of a reflective conversational tool.

I'm intrigued by what Sebastian has to say, but I can't help but think that the idea has to extend beyond "reflection" and into the realm of social sense-making. It seems to me that Blogs can and should serve as social sense-making tools, too. I'm certain that Stephen Downes must have some thoughts about this, and will have to go digging through his stuff about educational uses of blogs.

Earlier today, I created a new blog in which I want to offer advice about online teaching. I don't, however, want this to be one-way advice column, so I invite others to make it a "diablog" by contributing comments to my pieces of advice. I was pretty proud of that word--"diablog"--but of course have since learned that it's not all that original. A Google search for the word turns up 3,500 hits. So I guess this idea is out there--the use of a Blog for exchanging ideas, not just espousing them.

Earlier in the week, I responded to a blog article by Lee Lefever at CommonCraft on the differences between message boards and Weblogs. My read of the article was that Lefever doesn't see Blogs as social in the way that message boards are. I think they can be, though he's right that they are differently social.

In any case, I'm just doing some internal dialog here. Trying to tease out the idea of a Blog as a social meaning-making space. Of course, it can only be social if someone reads and responds. Anyone there? Care to share your thoughts? Click "comments" below!

Friday, September 03, 2004

It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know: Work in the Information Age

This article poses an interesting way of thinking about the development of work-related social networks. What most interests me about the idea of "intensional networks" presented by the author is the notion that these networks are "ego-centric"--entirely driven by an individual's needs and their own development of connections. Since part of my work involves trying to get faculty in various disciplines to come together and share resources, these "ego-centric" idea caught my eye...

From the conclusion of It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know: Work in the Information Age: "The reduction of corporate infrastructure means that instead of reliance on an organizational backbone to access resources via fixed roles, today's workers increasingly access resources through personal relationships. Rather than being embraced by and inducted into 'communities of practice,' workers meticulously build up personal networks, one contact at a time."

This is true in academe as well as the corporate world. Especially at a school like the one I work at, Southern New Hampshire University, which relies on the work of a lot of adjuncts. And the adjuncts working in distance education are far flung.

So finding ways to help instructors "build up personal networks, one contact at a time" seems to be an important part of our strategy to foster communities among our adjunct and full-time instructors, within and across disciplines.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The Librarian and the Instructor

We've just begun discussing ways we can get our librarian involved helping our online instructors get students oriented to all of the resources that are available to them through the online databases and such. Far too many of our students report in evaluations that they don't even know the library resources exist. Knowing about those resources is important to helping students' complete research and work of quality and substance.

I tripped across the article linked above, and quoted here:

Embedding online information resources in Virtual Learning Environments: some implications for lecturers and librarians of the move towards delivering teaching in the online environment: "if the librarian is to impact upon this new environment it seems that he or she may need to heed Burge's advice (2002) to, 'introduce yourself as an innovation to make their (lecturers') lives easier and their academic reputations bigger.'"

There's definitely another role that can be played when the librarian meets the instructor--helping to vet the online resources that the instructor has chosen. If only we can set up that consultation in a way that makes it feel like the introduction of an innovation.

There's one other objective we'd like to reach with the librarian consultation--educating students and instructors about plagiarism and what's okay (and not okay) when citing other people's work. But that's a topic for another blog entry.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Common Craft - Online Community Strategies: What are the Differences Between Message Boards and Weblogs?

Common Craft - Online Community Strategies: What are the Differences Between Message Boards and Weblogs?: "Weblog topics have comments and message board topics have replies. This subtle difference in syntax reveals a difference in the roles. The word comment for weblogs implies that the author does not need further participation to reach a goal- comment if you want. Reply, on the other hand, implies that participation is explicitly requested by the poster. A discussion is not a discussion without a reply."

But blogs can still be a community builder, can't they? And message boards can be just that--message boards. I'm not sure I agree 100% with Lee Lefever on this stuff. I think communities take different shapes and go through different kinds of interactions. Discussion and dialogue are one form of community connection, I think. But somehow I also believe that people who've all commented on the same thing--who've all shown an interest in that thing and made a connection through it--are somehow a community.

Still, this is a great article and contributes a lot to my thinking about online communities.

Arthur C. Clarke Gets It. Can We Figure It Out?

elearningeuropa.info: "Adult Learning and ICT": "'We have to abandon the idea that schooling is something restricted to youth. How can it be, in a world where half the things a man knows at 20 are no longer true at 40 -- and half the things he knows at 40 hadn't been discovered when he was 20?' (Clarke, Arthur C. The View from Serendip)"

Pleased to find this quote from one of my favorite authors included in this article on approaches to adulty learning. The article covers some of the basics about what we know regarding how adults learn, and why our approaches with them need to be different than they are with traditional college-age students.

My colleagues in continuing education at SNHU and I are having a discussion about how can we make our courses, adopted from the "day school" programs for traditional college-age students, more vital and relevant to adult students. Some of it is just good teaching instincts--many of our faculty (especially the aduncts) adapt their approach to make sure they are tapping into those qualities of adult learners that make them unique.

I think one of the benefits of using online tools for these learners is that these tools can make it easier to incorporate things like problem-based learning. Rich, broad, and deep conversations about real-world applications can flourish online. While good teaching instincts can help us develop some of these approaches, I think some course re-design is necessary to help create some models. Now where's that funding source to make this happen?