Tag Archives: Online Courses

Community, Engagement, Audience – and the stuff between the bricks

After watching the presentation given by Dr. Richard Schwier (yes, the recording again – my night owl days are over) I was left with moments of “a-ha” and “hmmm”. Here’s my attempt to make some sense of it all.


The stuff growing between the bricks — A great analogy: Dr. Schwier talked of learning in terms of formal, non-formal, and informal – formal learning can be thought of as taking place within a fence: a structure that sets up what is inside and outside, a perimeter existing around what is learning and what is not learning in a specific context, such as a class. Non-formal (and informal?) learning can then be thought of as the stuff growing between the bricks that make up the fence: the weeds, flowers, moss that make the fence that much more interesting. They are similar and different in terms of those things that make the learning happen (catalysts); the ideas, places, and relationships around which learning is focused (emphases); and the actions and conditions that encourage or discourage the learning process (elements). My apologies to Dr. Schwier for my superficial treatment of this work – explore the research around Virtual Learning Environments.

Interaction/Engagement — The definitions of these two terms in the context of learning and education are becoming more distinct. Interacting is not necessarily engaging… but is engaging a form of interaction? In my mind there is a continuum of action here, levels of participation, of doing something. A simple example might be my review of the recorded presentation in Elluminate. My interaction included clicking the link to start the recording, taking notes on the speaker’s lecture…but then something in the chat caught my attention (a related conversation on the importance of trust among participants in these environments) and I was off exploring URLs that were presented in the chat, reading other students’ blog posts about this issue. As I read I began to relate all of this to my own past experience in online courses and in deciding how much information I wanted to include about myself in online profiles, accounts, etc.  That to me is engagement.


“Does the audience matter” … in your online social networks and interaction? — I am inclined to say that the audience does matter. When I post to my blog, tweet, or send an old fashioned email, I am very likely to edit and censor. It’s all representative of me, personally and professionally, and public. Since I am making the choice to put myself out there in these ways, every post is a choice I make about how I will be perceived. (Whether or not these things are read is another issue.) I am creating an online identity. Dr. Schwier’s work involves the importance of trustworthiness, empathy, forgiveness, intimacy… in online learning communities. Trusting a large group of people that you haven’t met, with information about yourself and your thoughts can be daunting – especially for someone who is more inclined to be introverted or private. I’ve been watching a couple of exchanges on Twitter this week about whether or not to use a real name or create a “handle” of some sort. You have to make choices about privacy and transparency – what is suitable for work, home, friends, school….what is suitable for public consumption. Is it possible to be carefully adventurous? I think that is how I would describe my own efforts over the last couple of years.

Two related items found recently on Twitter:

“Community is a tired but useful metaphor” — I admit to never having liked the word community in the context of learning and education. Perhaps it just seemed too formal, too structured, too limiting, requiring too much effort to be a member…hmmm…requires membership. In Hawaii the word of choice might be hui meaning “club, association, firm; to join, unite, introduce, meet; a plus sign +”. There must be other ways to express a group of people gathered together to learn about something they are all interested in – without crossing the line into what might be too personal, too intimate. Tribe? Team?…

Other stuff to pass along…

Dunbar’s number – Applying this to online communities, online courses, social networking.

MOOC – Massive online open course There are more!

CIDER – Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research

Introductions – Social Media and Open Education

As it turns out, I am two hours ahead of the University of Regina, so I chose to view the Elluminate session recording the following morning, instead of attending the live session. My first impressions were related to how well organized the whole course is, even for non-credit students. I saw announcements on Twitter and then was able to review a page in the course’s wikispace that included the slides, a written agenda/outline for the meeting, links to some of the tools that were mentioned, and assignments for the coming week.

How did it go?

I thought the instructor did a great job of addressing a pretty large group mot of whom were non-credit students. (There was a “for-credit only” student session the previous week.) Since I am not taking the course for credit, and there are no expectations for me, other than I should get what I can from the experience and share what I can along the way, it seems only right that the for-credit students have their own thing going on.

The session itself was well-run on Elluminate. There was another moderator, besides the instructor, there to continuously react to student questions in the chat and to provide all of us with URLs throughout as references for the many topics covered. A pretty great “intro session” as they go – no going down the list to ask where everyone was from, etc. (thank you). The course was outlined as far as the tools go and Alec provided his rationale for the course and vision for where we are going.

What did I learn?

There were some nifty things going on:

  • Tweetdeck – I had heard of it but not used it…. until putting my name on the roster for this course. Now I am truly addicted.
  • “The Back Channel” – all of the chatter, passing notes, off line (and maybe online) discussion going on behind the formal instruction.
  • The thought of a “Network Sherpa” leading the way (I like this eversomuch more than the digital native lingo).
  • Greasemonkey – what is this? It was mentioned several times. I need to investigate.
  • And…Wordle was used to display where everyone was from (thanks, again). Over 200 participants overall and 50 or so in the Elluminate session.

Why stick around?

There are a lot of talented, creative, passionate, and curious people in this group. I tend to lurk more than actually engage in this sort of thing, but perhaps I’ll be motivated to jump in a little deeper. The idea that Knowledge is a river, as opposed to a reservoir, was included in this presentation. It’s moving. We can’t take it all in at once. We are going to miss a lot, but we’ll find a lot, too – if we jump in.

I have some reading to do for next week…

Another Open, Open Education Course

I am going to try it again. I just signed up as a “non-credit student” in EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education offered online by Dr. Alec Couros and the University of Regina.

The course runs from September 15th to December 8th, 2009, and the website invites us all to join in, even if it’s just to view the weekly lectures (live but recorded in Elluminate). Those of us just jumping in are also encouraged to post comments on other students’ blogs and respond to the weekly sessions on our own blogs. It was my (admittedly limited) participation in another open course, one offered by David Wiley through BYU, that required me to start this blog.

Except for the use of Elluminate, it looks like the majority of the course will be delivered via GoogleDocs, Delicious, YouTube, wikispaces, etc. The session topic information is already posted with the list of guest speakers – including George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dean Shareski.

One more thing, the Elluminate sessions will be on Tuesdays at 7pm… in Saskatchewan… I need to find a map.

See you there?

Can we post this in the course?

Working as an instructional designer in a higher education setting to develop online courses, I find myself answering this question on a pretty regular basis. Deciding what is “Fair Use” can get complicated. What is okay to make available or present in a traditional classroom, may not be okay to post online. The act of adding it to a course website  is distribution and can violate the copyright of a document, presentation, video, recording…. Earlier this year I found a document that helps.

ARL’s Know Your Copy Rights website offers a helpful brochure subtitled: Using works in your teaching – What You Can Do: Tips for faculty and teaching assistants in higher education. This is a user-friendly, six page document that provides the essential information about using material in courses – face-to-face and online. Four factors are outlined to help you make a decision about using copyrighted works without permission. In brief:

  1. Purpose and character of the material – nonprofit, educational use? restricted access to students?
  2. Nature of the copyrighted material – published, out-of-print?
  3. Amount of the material used – part or entire work?
  4. Market effect of the material – is the material for sale?

The last page provides an easy matrix to assist you. I have urged faculty and course developers alike to review this if there are any questions at all. There are many shades of gray here, but the legal-speak is at a bare minimum. The author(s) are trying to assist those of us out here making these kinds of decisions without the benefit of a law degree.

This is a brochure of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), published in 2007. Thank you, ARL, for making this available for re-use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License!