Over the course of the last six months I have been examining the history and practices of online education. Were I not an online teacher nor in a master's program, I highly doubt I would have ventured down this research path. But since I have found myself on a journey that requires me to both teach and learn online, the topic could be not be more pertinent than now.
What I have taken away from all the research and my personal experiences is that online instruction is much more time consuming than most people would imagine and that there is a greater need to for relationships to be built in online classrooms than most people would expect. In addition, I have learned that Spiderman's famous quote, "with great power comes great responsibility" can take on a new meaning when one considers the "power" the tools of technology and training in best practices of learning and instruction. I feel I have been put in a place of great responsibility because I have the "power" of knowledge and the tools of technology, but just as Spiderman faced opposition, I too face a lot of obstacles in utilizing this power and channeling it into creating the best possible virtual learning environment. But when I face opposition that questions some of my practices I keep in mind some of the articles I have read during my review of literature reading and writing process.
One such article was, "Empowering knowledge-building pedagogy in online environments: Creating digital moments to transform practice (Barber, Taylor & Buchanan 2014)--see file below. The following quote sums up the heart of the author and the goal of implement “Digital Moments” in an online learning community: “Working and living in the digital landscape requires that we do more than just build knowledge that is measured, assessed and framed by what we currently know. It requires us to step into worlds as yet unknown; to create new knowledge, and to use that knowledge to begin to address some of the complex social problems that exist” (p. 136). Barber, Taylor and Buchanan’s philosophy on the important aspect of online pedagogy align with the views I have, in that they put a very high emphasis on the creating of safety, trust and positive emotional connections among students and between students and the instructor. They point out the importance of narratives, and know one another’s narrative: it creates bonds and allows students to be more engaged and invested in the classroom. The emphasis of this article is on “Digital Moments” (which were never clearly defined in the article) that I gathered to be activities and assignments that draw students in to the lesson by including them in an activity each week that allows them to share something about themselves: ice breakers and community building activities. They argue that without these activities as foundations to the class the content may not be absorbed and students may likely lose interest more quickly. These activities get the students onboard and involved from the start, and then keep them involved because of the connections they make with one another.
Another resource that empowered me to seek after creating a healthy online learning environment was
Hockly and Clandfield"s book, Teaching online: Tools and techniques, options and opportunities (2010). This book of just over one-hundred pages is chalked full of ideas, resources and explanations of how to effectively implement both into an online or blended course. The authors, Hockly and Clandfield (2010), walk the reader through the process of how to set up an online course. They heavily emphasize the creating of an online learning community with a positive dynamic. Thus, many of the activities and resources offered adhere to these two aims. Much of the focus is on language learning but the activities easily lend themselves to modification. Regardless of the topic at hand, most of the activities can be used as warm-up activities that draw the learners together as a community. Most often the activities have a dual purpose: to practice a skill or learn about an online tool, plus, encouraging interaction among members of the class.
This book remained on my desk throughout the semester. I was able to read through all of the activities and label the week I plan to use them in my research writing class. I made a plan of when to use each activity on a document to be able to easily keep on track with my plan for usage, as well as for posting to my VLE (virtual learning environment). I was very excited to start the year with at least one, if not two, learning activities ready for each week of the course. This source is well worth the paper back purchase.
From these sources, and others, I determined to research if the inclusion of community building activities in my online classroom would build relationships among students. I was also looking to determine if students making connections with one another would aid in them completing work throughout the course.
Now that the semester has come to a close I am ready to go back through my surveys, the students' grades and the tracking of student participation to determine if the efforts I put forth in community building had a positive effect on the students' experiences and learning. We'll see what the data says...
Links to all the, Go and See Study, sessions.