the pros and cons of scaling back….

This week I decided to scale back my course ideas.  It was seeming as though my course would be too big to create in time and too heavy a workload for students to actually keep up on.  The piece I took out was the most interesting piece to me, but the one with the most “issues” for design and implementation.  Perhaps when I am more experienced in online design I can take another run at it.  I liked the conversolving piece because of the high level of interactivity it offered, the student generated questions as the focus, and the authenticity of it as a useful form of on-going PD that students could take with them and implement on the job in a face-to-face format.  I am nervous that I am losing alot, but relieved that I can hone in on the other elements and perhaps create them better and more thoughtfully.  I will be mindful of trying to ensure that I keep some of the key principles in  mind that were embedded within the conversolving activities – the intergenerational grouping, the varied mediated responses possible, the collaboration, the student generated questions, the real-world experience, the opportunity for creativity, the opportunity to take on the role of teacher amongst peers, the different learning styles, and so forth.  I was concerned about how to operationalize it though, so it is good I guess to cut this piece, but I fear it makes my course too individual, too isolating.  I will have to figure how to ensure very interactive and productive discussions.  I do still have the sharing of kids books via avatars in the Coffee House every module and I guess I could set up some of the teacher training center activities to be in pairs or groups.  Hmmmm…….

I have had some interesting conversations over the last couple of days with my classmates online and with my students in a face-to-face class I am TA-ing this summer.  All were focused on discussion groups – the difference between face-to-face and online, the constraints of discussion forums, and how I have been interacting.  I am fortunate to have the group of students I have in the course I am TA-ing; they are truly a community of learners.  I can see it in action, and it works!  That community has developed over the course of their rather intense program, but it manifests as genuine conversation, real concern, real questioning without fear, collaborative problem-solving, no posturing, and real learning – real co-constructing of knowledge.  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen group dynamics that really approximate a true community of learners.  I see it here in this online course as well, especially over the last few days where people have begun to share their experiences of going through this course – especially their experiences in the discussion forum.  I really do think that Alex has intentionally planned pitfalls for us so we would be authentically prompted to consider them, not simply from a distanced academic viewpoint, but rather from an insider’s viewpoint, one who went through it.  If so, how does one structure the learning context to be ripe for that kind of learning?  How does one ensure that it won’t be overlooked?  For example, how many of really considered the quality of exemplars before the course profile assignment?  Yet, after following the one exemplar that didn’t really show the qualities Alex was looking for only to receive confusing feedback, how many of us thought hard about the quality of exemplars then?

I for one have found this course a bit of a roller coaster so far.  (I am happy to be on the ride though, and I see it as very useful and productive.)  Sometimes I’m too overwhelmed to thoughtfully engage the material shared and the ideas put forth.  Sometimes finding thought-provoking gems and taking the time to sit with them.  Feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.  Feeling unconnected.  Sometimes feeling taken in and a valued part of the community.  Sometimes inspired.  I posted a few times on feeling like I was missing the point.  Failing to hone in on my own questions and dig into them to try to answer them.  Failing to thoughtfully employ research in my decision-making more intentionally.  Failing to be part of the community that has been developing.  After putting together my At-a-Glance documents (which I entitled “What do I get to do in this module?”), I realized the linear instructional design format that Alex is guiding us through.  Linear in a way, but nested in another way.  The first activities were to nail down objectives, learning contexts, and evaluation criteria for the course; these serve as the course information documents.  The second, is the objectives, learning materials, and activities for each module.  They will serve as the foundation for building the actual materials we will need to implement the modules.  For someone like me, having that organizer at the start would have been helpful.  I am more comfortable with a skeleton to dress that a pile of bones to build.  But, I do believe I read somewhere that there is deeper learning from the opposite process – I believe it is called concept formation.  I wonder if that ‘s true and if it is a universal or if it varies by learning style. I decided to go google that term, and here is what I found – a quote from this pdf object by Zirbel found at http://cosmos.phy.tufts.edu/~zirbel/ScienceEd/Learning-and-Concept-Formation.pdf:

“We claim that learning is more at ease when specific thinking networks already exist and difficult if new networks have to be created.  Changing students’ prior concepts might involve the creation of new neural networks in the students’ brains as well as the rewiring of preexisting neural circuits.  It is suggested that to form new concepts or change old inadequate ones, the student has to be led through several processes.  First, he has to consciously “notice” and understand what the problem is; second, he has to “assimilate” more information and try to fit it into already existing neural networks; third, he has to critically think through all the argumentation in his own words and reorganize his thoughts – he has to “accomodate” the knowledge and evaluate against his prior beliefs; and finally, he has to work towards “obtaining fluency” in the newly acquired concept so that this concept itself has then become a mere building block for future, more advanced concepts.”(p. 1)

I have however come to realize that I need to ask my own questions and pursue them, go on a QUEST to find answers, to locate research and ideas that relate to my own burning wonderings.  There is a QUEST in every QUESTion!

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2 Responses to “the pros and cons of scaling back….”

  1.   lisamartin371 Says:

    Diane,
    Great blog! It is amazing to see your reflection on the process you have gone through. I loved how you said “I am more comfortable with a skeleton to dress that a pile of bones to build.” Me too! But I do feel like I have learned much more this way, and am more prepared to be truly empathetic with students and foresee any issues that they may encounter.
    Keep up the good work,
    Lisa

  2.   diane Says:

    Thanks, Lisa! I agree with you about the empathy piece – that’s so important and you really don’t get that from the “dress a skeleton” method.

    :)

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