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Connecting – Networked Learning

October 4, 2009

This post is my reaction to the George Siemens presentation on 9/29. The main topic was connectivism, but he covered much more ground ranging from a review of learning psychology theorists/theories to artificial intelligence and neuroscience. Using a couple of the presentation’s prompts as a guide, here are the ideas that resonated with me.

LightMyPath-FaithGobleHow do we teach (design) differently?

Since I am an instructional designer, not an instructor, I modified this question a little: How do we design formal educational experiences differently? As noted in the presentation, we have technologies available that allow us to store information and knowledge (and lots of it) outside of ourselves, outside of our own memories. These technologies offer ways to “off load part of our thinking”. Designing courses, particularly ones that will be delivered online can use these technologies, should incorporate these storage tools in ways that make the massive amounts of stored information accessible to learners, and allowing them to move beyond. Designers are thinking more about how to get students to interact and engage with these knowledge stores through course assignments and activities. The days of weekly quizzes are not gone, but I see them less and less as a ‘must-have’ presented by a faculty content expert.

George Siemens also brought attention to the idea of resonance. One of the definitions of this word is “a quality of evoking response“. What resonates with a student? This is a question instructional designers should respond to more often when working with development teams, especially ones that include teaching faculty. I often ask the question: how should a learner be different after completing the course? Perhaps this question should be tweaked to further delve into resonance. What has meaning to the learner? What will have meaning to the learner? Motivation is part of this. Context is a part of this. Engagement is a part of this.

Capturing that opportunity to engage a student is related to resonance. Identifying that opportunity is another thing. More careful evaluation techniques might help. End-of-course surveys are fairly common, but maybe adding interviews or focus groups with students throughout a course, especially in its first run, would be helpful. Certainly not all students are motivated by the same things, and not all students find resonance in the same things within a course.  What about including students in the course design process? Not instructional design students, but students from the department to which the course being designed belongs. Analysis (learner) and Evaluation seem to be the two areas most likely to be abbreviated or left behind completely in course design. Why?  Time and budget constraints, I suppose, but think about the lost opportunity there.

What about lurkers? Which is what I suppose I am, in the eci831 course where I find these presentations. What resonates with them and how are they engaged? What is their motivation for being in the course and for lurking? George suggests that being a lurker may not be a good thing. Not a bad thing, mind you, but a lost opportunity. There is an assumption that those who lurk are 1) less knowledgeable and 2) less confident members of the group. The idea is that these beginners could be helpful to the overall learning process of both their fellow learners and their instructors, if, they allow themselves and their own learning processes to be transparent to the others. In doing so, they offer a new and different perspective from that of their expert instructors and add to the experience of the rest of the class.

Designers should consider lurkers as part of the audience, finding ways to pull these people into the conversation and making it more appealing for them to want to choose to be transparent to the other participants and their instructors. Alternative assignments might be a way, particularly in F2F or blended situations that easily lend themselves to this – students could choose to participate in synchronous discussion or asynchronous discussion but experience both. I once worked with a faculty member who taught one of those undergraduate, auditorium courses with little class participation, except when he opened up a space in the courses companion LMS site. There he saw not only active participation, but also small study groups forming. This kind of thing could be designed into a course.

Where do we turn for guidance?

George pointed out that the youth culture of today is making up its own rules about how these technologies should be used, how to participate in networks, etc. Their parents and teachers aren’t modeling these things, showing them the ropes. They didn’t have these kinds of technologies and networks. It’s a similar situation in higher education. We need to turn to those who are actively using these technologies and networks. Encouraging these individuals, groups, and institutions to talk openly about what they are doing, to document what works and doesn’t work in their context(s) is enormously important. Disseminating this information should be more instant than publishing books and in journals. It just takes too long to get the word out. This will mean changing the mindset of higher ed at-large regarding what is appropriate and scholarly work. While many people, like George Siemens, are actively blogging, can you get tenure this way? Maybe not.

Other stuff to pass along…

Photo credit: Faith Goble, Fickr

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2009 6:07 pm

    I like your point about involving students in the design of courses. If the designer is also the instructor, there are ample opportunities to involve students. When the designer is not the instructor, there are two possibilities: 1) We ask students for opinions before the course begins. In this case, while it is possible to include students who are in the same department or program as the students who will be taking the course, we cannot know if it is the exact group of students that will take the course. 2) We ask the students in the course for feedback during or after the course. In this case, we can (normally) only make changes that will affect the next group of students that will take the course.
    Just some thoughts. I am still processing the implications.

    • Melissa Venable permalink
      October 5, 2009 11:40 am

      There are definitely going to be some logistical issues if we want get students more involved in the design process. Thanks for thinking it through to the next step. If it’s going to happen, I think we need to include time for it in the project’s schedule, develop protocols, etc. and then actually analyze the feedback so that it can be used in a practical way.

  2. suifaijohnmak permalink
    October 6, 2009 1:21 am

    Interesting insights.
    About lurking, it’s important for participants to “lurk” especially at a start. Not everything of a course is appealing to every participant, so it is natural for those learners to pop in and pop out. I got your blog here through Alec, would I be a lurker to you? May be..
    I have composed various posts that relate to lurking, resonance here
    Resonance is like tuning into a channel, and when the “frequency” matches, then connections continue, and engagement and interaction follows. But it also depends on the emotions, the context.
    Relating to the design of the course, I think this is an interesting area, and I resonate with yours in the input of the learners in such design.
    Thanks for your interesting ideas.

    • Melissa Venable permalink
      October 6, 2009 11:45 am

      Thanks for your comment, John, and for linking to your blog. I think there is an interesting niche here – students who lurk, how long they, lurk, why, etc. and what might resonate with them as far as learning and educational pursuits are concerned. I look forward to reading more about your work! Thanks again.


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