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 "...my 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.

Technorati tags: ,

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...