as my internship comes to an end….

At the start of this internship experience, I was asked to craft a set of desired learning outcomes for this experience.  As this second semester comes to a close, I revisit those goals to reflect upon my growth and provide a brief statement about my on-going learning in this internship.

1. To increase knowledge and understanding of instructional design principles and best practices.

I had the opportunity to explore designing and observing a group activity for online learning;  I also had the opportunity to work on enhancing the design of a previously delivered certification course to try to in corporate principles of andragogy, community of inquiry, and critical thinking as I worked to move it from ANGEL to Blackboard.  I tinkered with ideas for designing in learning modules, by topics, and by tasks – all valid approaches to design, but each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks.  There is also the unique caveat that sometimes a course needs to be designed to be delivered by any one member of a team of individuals – all of whom may have different delivery instructional styles and different ideas on facilitation and where the balance lies between supporting student construction of knowledge through social interaction and expert guidance or apprenticeship to clarify misconceptions and misunderstandings as well as to lead learners toward learning and consolidation of key principles and capabilities.  For me, facilitation is critically important to maximizing student learning and satisfaction, but I also recognize that to do it well requires time that may not be available to instructors these days.  As for design, I think I have come to the tentative conclusion that the key is to examine alignment between desired outcomes, content, and learning activities.  This is not a new concept for me, as that was a big take away from my early learning in IDD&E over 20 years ago.  The idea that emerges now however is the multiplicity of valid options (not just one “correct” approach) available to solve instructional problems and the need for intentional leveraging of the affordances of each.  Making intentional choices about which limitations to accept and which to avoid, examining potential content and technologies critically, and varying activities to make learning accessible to the widest range of learners is the essential foundation for design.

2. To increase proficiency in varied technologies related to online teaching and learning (such as, proficiency in LMS platforms and troubleshooting, use of webinar platforms, creating/updating websites, and development of learning objects/instructional media).

This semester I had the opportunity to build in the Blackboard LMS.  It was a great chance to explore and apply some of what I had learned in the first semester about Blackboard in a real hands-on, embodied way.  I learned the limitations and affordances of the LMS as it pertained to the visual layout of the design as well as the functionality of the LMS features and learning activities.  Blackboard’s environment demonstrates some pedagogical assumptions that may or may not match individual instructor’s assumptions and goals, nevertheless, it is the environment in which the instructor needs to function.  It’s an interesting dilemma.  What drives instruction – the LMS or the pedagogical beliefs of the instructor?  This kind of goes back to what I wrote about facilitation and designing a course that needs to be delivered by any one of a team of people.  Nevertheless, I digress.  I have learned to build content and manage the content collection; create discussion forums and manage the discussion board; set up self/peer reviewed assessments; set up and manage the grade center; and quite a bit more.  I hope to have the opportunity to deliver a course at some point so I can learn about other LMS features that support managing enrollments, interaction and communication – i.e., announcements, messages, and other administrator level things.

3. To gain insight into the practical reality of online teaching and learning and to learn about innovative solutions to practical issues encountered.

Helping with the delivery of the last certification course gave me some perspective, especially in observing the participants’ interactions during the group project.  Again, noting benefits and drawbacks and the role of facilitation.  Students were also asked to share reflections on the experience and I think this was critical because it really underscored that the activity had benefits and drawbacks and that no one activity is likely to meet everyone’s preferences.  There aren’t really black and white solutions to instructional matters in the online environment, but there are options and perhaps creating options is a good way to go to ensure that there is something for everyone.  For an online environment, communication is critical to meeting student needs responsively; designing for that communication is as important as planning on facilitating in a way that gets students to open up.

4. To develop a flexible, collaborative approach to working with designers and instructors that supports their efforts, generates comfort, and promotes a safe community for exploration and co-construction of effective approaches for meeting online teaching goals.

In working on the redesign of the certificate course and its move to Blackboard, I had a unique opportunity to feel out these waters and to experience the act of collaboration in a new way.  I haven’t had that many opportunities to work collaboratively, having spent a lot of time homeschooling and self-employed.  However, in this project I was working with the course as laid out by another individual and was quite conscious of the personal investment inherent in that.  Truth is, any recommendation I make can be viewed as criticism in the negative sense and I was rather concerned about that potential.  My intent was to try out potentials and try to enhance the already strong ideas to incorporate the key principles of critical thinking and community of inquiry as espoused here at SLN.  I found it stimulating and exciting, but worried about appearing critical in a negative sense.  I found it helpful to bring that out directly and speak to the personal aspect so that collaborative efforts and budding friendships could both flourish.  I do hope to have continued opportunities to collaborate in a way that allows me to contribute, but also to learn; to recognize that there are many valuable perspectives and how integration of perspectives can lead to outcomes that no one party would have envisioned; and to develop open honest work styles that allow for all to feel valued as products/projects are completed effectively.

5. To contribute to, and support the efforts of, SLN through completion of work on target projects related to the Education Services provided by SLN.

This semester, my main contributions were to help design and facilitate the last four-week course in the ID certification sequence and to recreate the first course in the sequence for its upcoming deployment in the summer.  I am hopeful that these efforts have helped the organization and the Ed Services staff to meet their goals.

 

This internship has been a very rewarding experience that will inform my decisions as I go forward into instructional design work and/or online teaching related to my field of study in education – reading and literacy.  Thanks to SLN and everyone there for this learning experience and for making me feel integrated into the organization.

flowing with the tide of technology….

I have always been one of those people who likes to know as much as possible about whatever I’m doing so I can do the best job I possible can.   I am learning though that in the age of technology in which we live, new technology – both hardware and software – seem to pop up daily, and older technology disappears (or at least is treated as obsolete) just as fast.  How are people and organizations to function?  I really feel that technology is the big equalizer these days.  No matter how well you know your field, you can be brought to your knees by the technology.  In that regard, I kind of like it.  I think it reminds those in positions of expertise what it feels like to be the novice.  I think it reminds us as a people that we are all really just people with the same basic vulnerabilities.  But I digress…..

My point is really about being able to flow with the tide of technology, to dive in and swim even if you don’t quite know where the next wave is coming from or where it will take you to.  In this internship, I have been given the opportunity to explore the Blackboard Learning Management System by helping move a course from the ANGEL  LMS to Blackboard.  I was able to explore ways to redesign it within Blackboard to leverage the functionalities offered by Blackboard to enhance the goals and objectives of the original course.  I was provided a wide range of latitude to explore and given the access needed to re-create the course for the organization.  The content and discussion prompts of the original course remained the focus and foundation for the redesign. I was able to explore how to create and work with a content collection, how to set up discussion forums and the discussion board, how to utilize self and peer assessment for assignments, how to set up and manage the grade center, how to build different kinds of content, and so forth.  I’ve gained alot, but I know that it will quickly change and Blackboard will issue updates or another LMS will emerge that gets taken up in  a feverish way.  I’ll have to avoid being afraid of not knowing everything about it.  I’ll have to embrace learning as I go, exploring, experimenting, and appreciating the missteps along the way.

For me, this was a great way to engage in thinking about the pros and cons of various design ideas, to experiment a little with the tools provided in Blackboard, and to gain some hands-on knowledge of the functionality Blackboard  does (and doesn’t) allow.  I am looking forward to other opportunities to continue to build my knowledge and skill with LMS, both on the design side and the actual instructional side (i.e., facilitating or teaching a course).  As a doctoral student, one of my goals is to teach online at some point, and all of these experiences with SLN are helping me feel more secure about my success when that time comes.

participatory activities on a webinar….

Yesterday, I participated in two webinars on Quality Matters.  The formal program website is at www.qmprogram.org .  The webinars I attended were SLN’s  QM program.  In any case, the webinars were vibrant spaces.  Why?  Was it just a question of the people who happened to participate on this day?  Was it something about the activities were asked to complete?  There were some application activities that required some independent examination of materials followed by discussion through the chat area in the webinar.  The exchange of view points and deep thinking that was occurring, the genuine interest in understanding, and a sense of having our sleeves rolled up and connecting on the intellectual level over the material, was invigorating.  I think some people wonder if you can get that kind of engagement through webinars – the answer is clearly yes, but it is not something I have often experienced on the webinars that I have attended.  I think usually it is difficult to get that level of engagement.  Perhaps it was the group of attendees and their vested interest; perhaps it was the facilitator of the webinar and his skillful injection of social presence along with the cognitive challenge of the application assignments.  It is difficult for the facilitator to know if the attendees are engaged or not and this participatory activity made that engagement visible.  The conversation in the chat area was evidence of that as was the variety of people who took control of the screen and mic to illustrate and explain their points.  I think that was a very important facilitative move – to give over control of the webinar to attendees.  It makes them more active in the process and I think makes for a more dynamic environment in what could be a rather sterile environment.  Two very successful webinars and participatory activities that really got me engaged, not just tasks to get through and tolerate.  I wonder what it was about those activities that brought about genuine connection and investment where often such experiences feel contrived and lacking in authenticity.  That must be it, the authenticity.  The activity did place attendees in authentic courses to play the role of reviewer which is what the course was designed to trained, so the participatory activity, while a simulation, was about as close to the actual experience as you could get.  Hmmm….  well designed, well facilitated, well attended.

shift in stance….

Just a quick entry to keep my thoughts on how I’ve been shifting my stance in life.  I am finding that the interning experience has prompted a shift toward a genuine learner stance, toward the idea that failure IS an option and a good learning experience, that risk-taking in learning is a GOOD thing, that trying new things without fear of mistakes is freeing, that sharing feedback with/from colleagues can be a non-threatening space.  These have always been part of my philosophical stance, but are now becoming part of my lived experiential stance, and it feels good.

I have been working on a redesign of certification course here at the internship.  The course is due to run again soon and we needed to move it to Blackboard anyway, so I have been the freedom to try out some redesign ideas.  I have confidence and misgivings, but it is an experiment based on theoretical ideas and may appeal to some users very much and may be disconcerting to others at first.  I think I will set up a back up plan – just in case – but I think with attentive facilitation and support it can be a successful approach for a short-running course like this one.  I hope most find it to be an intellectually challenging, stimulating, and satisfying experience.  It’s been tons of fun for me so far!

designing in Blackboard…

This week I have been given the opportunity to get my hands dirty in Blackboard.  I have been tasked with moving and redesigning an existing ID Certification course from ANGEL to BB in preparation for the next iteration of the course.  The ideas I have floated for the redesign were well received and I am diving into a new BB course shell to set it up.  I will tweak prompts for the discussions and assignments based on what was learned from the first ID Certification cycle, and I will also prepare course info docs and participation guidelines based on some of the theoretical paradigms discussed across the ID Certification Program – things like andragogy, cognitive presence, teaching presence, social presence, constructivism, critical thinking, communities of practice, and personal learning networks.  I hope to make these theoretical foundations for the design transparent to the participants in the hopes that they will get more out of the experience that way.   This will be my first construction in Blackboard and I am finding my way relatively easily so far.  (fingers crossed)  Having reviewed alot of BB materials when reviewing a colleague’s BB training courses earlier in the internship is paying off and serving as a foundation for the work I am doing now.  This project is a great opportunity to learn about BB and instructional design, while also gaining some valuable, practical experience in the LMS.  I really couldn’t ask for a better learning experience within this internship.  I am learning a great deal, but also find satisfaction in being able to actually contribute in meaningful ways to the organization. I am feeling quite a part of SLN and appreciate the collegial atmosphere I have been welcomed into.

summing up my thoughts on online group work…

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to assist with an online course for instructional designers.  The course is one of four in an ID certification program offered where I am interning.  In this course, I had the opportunity to help design and facilitate the activities within the course.  My thoughts kept returning to the group work we incorporated, and believe me, I had so many thoughts about it!   I learned a great deal and pondered many questions in the process – how might different adjustments in the design impact the experience, how might navigating different learning styles be facilitated, who might benefit (or not) from group activities, and sooooo much more!  Nevertheless, at the end of the line, I looked over all of the reflection journals to learn from the course participants, and what I found was very interesting.

First there were some areas of agreement. Timing the activity requires careful consideration  for success.  Group work online takes longer is harder to implement than one might expect.  Asynchronous communication takes time; inactivity and/or later responses need to be planned for; coordinating roles within the task  is delicate.  Will someone emerge as a leader?  Is that best?  Does early leadership by some take opportunities away for some other style of working that might be more appealing to others in the group?  I myself am an early leader usually but this experience has made me re-think that a bit.  Perhaps I can learn something important if I learn to sit back and wait for the process of others.  Hmmmm….. Other areas of agreement amongst the participating designers was that a synchronous session would have been helpful for planning the task as well as an interactive collaboration space to create their product.

Second there were some areas of disagreement.  These demonstrate the challenges of planning instruction for a wide range of learners.  Some indicated a preference for step-by-step guidance and deadlines while others prefer more open and free exploration of the task.  How do set up an activity that appeals to both kinds of preferences?  There was also the degree of focus on process vs product.  For some, the focus on completion of a task detracted from really connecting as a community of learners.  How to balance the kind of collaborative , co-constructive interaction sought with successful joint completion of a required product?  How to ensure deep learning?  How to ensure an equitable distribution of effort?  How to ensure learner satisfaction in the experience?  Hmmm…..

Finally, there were a number of beneficial outcomes identified in terms of learning and student satisfaction.  They include :

  • Development of, or addition to, a personal professional network of designers
  • Deeper learning
  • Increased motivation to do research
  • Feeling valued as a contributor
  • Sense of belonging
  • Growth as a learner (i.e., time management, understanding of group dynamics)
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Intellectual challenge
  • Elevated thinking
  • Seeing others’ viewpoints
  • All sharing in the role of MKO (more knowledgeable other – Vygotsky)
  • Feeling of shared experience
  • Experiencing theory in action firsthand and getting the insider’s view of the student perspective
  • Promoted critical thinking
  • More robust product

It seems that the frustrations were more logistical in nature and were outweighed by the benefits – beneficial bumps in the road.  In such a situation as this – a course for instructional designers – would it be a good idea to plan for bumps in the road?  Would it give a greater sense of the key issues in designing for students?  Hmmm…….

 

pondering the group experience in online teaching…

As part of this portion of my internship, I am assisting with the design and facilitation of a certification course for Instructional Designers.  I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to the design of a group project and related discussion forums, report dropbox, reflection journals, and rubrics.  Observing the group processes and reading the final reports and journals has been an eye opening experience, causing me to wonder many things about design as well as to examine my own social learning processes and how they might impact my classmates.

First, this experience has underscored the importance of front end explicitness when designing for online (although I would argue that is really needed in any instructional design – online, face-to-face, or stand-alone/self-paced curriculum).  Second, in a course designed for people who are working full time, and who are expected to spend no more than 5 hours per week interacting within the course, how might the group experience be set up differently and how might any differences impact learning outcomes and opportunities for the participants.  For example, the design we worked with informed the group up front that the outcome of their small group investigation would be to prepare a summary report that would serve as an introduction to the full class – a way of sharing the learning of the small groups with each other across the class.  Some chose to divide and conquer the task; some chose to examine ideas and express the group’s thinking in its own words.  Each took a different tack on the process.  How might that have been impacted if for example, we had asked the small groups to discuss their topic without instructing them to create a group product?  Or, what if we mentioned the group product after their discussion had matured?  Third, we included a reflection journal to bring awareness to the process the participants had just experienced.  The goal was to use the group experience as content for the course (which was focused on constructivist learning theories, critical thinking, and communities of inquiry), as an object to examine and critically consider in terms of course content and how it converged and diverged from what they were reading about and thinking about throughout the course.  I am looking forward to reading more insights from the class in their journals as they have really sparked alot of critical thinking on my part and have instigated some real learning.  Finally, we also have another discussion planned as part of this experience – one in which the groups will discuss each other’s reports and in doing so have the opportunity to learn about other constructivist theories than the one for their own project.  I’m eager to see how that goes.

While I won’t get into it here at this point, the whole experience of observing the class and facilitating within it has caused me to wonder alot about my ways of interacting both as a student and as a facilitator.  For example, as a facilitator, how quickly to respond, when to wait just a bit to create space for students to rely on each other, when to correct misconception and when to guide toward realization of the mistake, and so on.  As a student, I began to wonder how my learning approach may impede the learning approach of others; for example, when I jump in to a group assignment in courses that I take, am I imposing a structure I need on the learning processes of others who may approach learning differently?  Too many insights and wonderings to detail here, but at least it whets the whistle….

what makes for meaningful social learning online…

Today I spent time thinking about designing group experiences for online courses.  First of all, I’ve never been a fan of group experiences in learning; I happen to be more of an individual learner for most things, requiring time to sit with new material and work out a framework for it, before moving out to more public experiences with it.  That said, I have come to see considerable value in social learning methods for a wide range of people.  In both face-to-face and online situations, I have witnessed or participated in some productive group experiences.  Often though, there is someone who takes charge and controls the event; often the learning becomes task centered and participants divide up the work, then compile their separate pieces.  I have also encountered true knowledge building in which participants build on the ideas and wonderings of their group members.  I think this is where social learning really has meaning.  I think divide and conquer limits learning somewhat; the product may turn out impressive, but the learning of each member is often limited to the part they contributed.  In knowledge building (Zhang and colleagues), everyone is constructing the conceptual understandings and clarifying misunderstandings together; they acquire and appropriate the metalanguage; they question and examine how constructs fit together (or don’t); they build a truly jointly constructed understanding of the topic, the problem, or process at hand.

I think there are two very important aspects to successful group design whether face-to-face or on line.  The first is ensuring your students understand the expected interactional patterns for the learning context – i.e., knowledge building versus divide and conquer.  The second is careful monitoring and facilitation of the interactional process to apprentice students into the desired social learning processes (Rogoff, Vygotsky, Lave&Wenger, etc..).  I think these are critical instructional components to minimize student frustration and maximize student satisfaction in the process.  For the online setting, there is an additional piece of acclimation – the set up and navigation of the virtual environment for the group work (what they’ll see, how to post, where the group space is located, etc….).  I think too there will need to be a way to address different student participation styles, like the early birds, the late comers, the dominant discussants, the nearly absent and absent students, etc….  my feeling is that these are best handled through the interactional expectations document, careful facilitation of the forum, and private email when needed.  Of course, as with any learning activity, the assignment itself needs to be well described and broken into its component parts with somewhat of a road map for completion to guide students, especially when coordination of efforts is involved. There are different kinds of social learning with subtle nuances; each is similar but also different – constructivist/collaborative approaches as a broad category with knowledge building, cooperative learning, discovery learning, cognitive apprenticeship, experiential learning, problem/project-based learning, etc… as specific instances with unique “slants” on the concepts.

Group activity was one thing I had planned for the course I was developing last summer, but had to eliminate because my course had grown too large, so this has been on my mind for a bit.  As someone who has never really been a fan of group activities, but also someone who has seen it work really well (even found some experiences quite beneficial myself), I find myself thinking about how to make it more productive and successful for all learners, so no one is left to do it all and no one misses out by being lost in the crowd, to where everyone is challenged in their thinking and new points of view are heard, “tried on”,  and considered.  Making everyone’s thinking visible and every voice heard.

digging deeper and “knowing” differently…

As I continue my journey in online teaching and learning, I am seeing two things in a practical way.  I have “known” these things in a cognitive way for some time, but I am coming to “know” them in a practical way by engaging in actual practice through the opportunity to assist a seasoned instructional designer.  I am finding that my learning is becoming “owned” in this manner.  Because I homeschooled my daughter for 10-11 years, I do not have as much real world work experience in my areas of interest and expertise.  It’s a bit of a catch 22 – you need experience to get a job that would be a good fit your skills, abilities, and potential, but you can’t get that experience without having a job – the old chicken and egg problem!  This internship opportunity is a great space for bridging that gap and I believe it is one of the goals of the program – to offer real world experiences that make the intern more marketable.  For that I am extremely thankful!

Anyway, back to the two things I am seeing through practice – first, that creating in the LMS is a very effective learning practice for me when it comes to technology – especially with the available support of experienced professionals for any questions that arise – second, that even when planning instruction for saavy online students, you really can’t assume anything and must be abundantly explicit about how you have designed the learning activities, what students should expect to see on their screen and how to navigate it, and what your purpose and objectives are, so they are comfortable and successful in the experience and can learn as much of the content as possible without the distraction of technology related confusions.

I have also had the opportunity this week to explore resources about Quality Matters, a course quality program that includes professional development, peer-based course reviews, and a guiding rubric grounded in research on good instructional design.  The rubric is rigorous and the criteria for completion are demanding, including an 85% criteria expectation along with the inclusion of all of the essential components outlined within the rubric.  The goal is to provide collegial, formative feedback to instructors to help them continually examine and improve their courses to have a maximum impact on student learning and satisfaction in online education.  I have the opportunity to become involved with the administration of a Quality Matters based peer review process at SLN.  I believe that would be a good experience for me,especially if it leads to taking the full training program through QM at some point and becoming a certified trainer and online teacher.  I definitely don’t mind the organizational and management aspects of coordinating such a program; as a detail oriented person with a good client service ethos and persistence of effort, I feel I would be successful and be able to add value to the organization as a contributor.  However, I am also interested in creating, designing, developing materials,  training/teaching, and collaborating with instructors and designers as they travel on their journeys in online instruction.  Opportunities to assist with (1) development of BB migration resources, (2) design of ID cert course activities, and (3) the continual improvement of the QM-based review process offer me ways to dig deeper and come to “know” what I “know” in a more visceral and embodied way.

PS – I’ve also done some reading on the SLOAN Consortium and learned that there is also an online teacher certification program through them.  It may be a good complement to the possible QM professional development opportunities.  Lots to consider!  Too many good opportunities to choose from!   hmmm……

the journey continues…

Today, I began the next chapter in my interning experience in online learning.  I had the opportunity to help design the first module of the next ID certificate course.  I explored a couple of interesting websites that I would call “mega-resources” – compilations of links on a topic.  Both were focused on Theories of Learning .  I will link to them here for ease of reference: Theories of Learning and Learning Theories.  I was pleased to see so many familiar names on these lists; it reaffirmed my sense of being a knowledgeable professional in education with real potential to offer in the area of instructional design.  Having the opportunity to design right in the LMS was quite enjoyable, even though my working knowledge of ANGEL is limited at this point.  While I have read alot on it, reviewed resources, and attended workshops/webinars, I haven’t had much experience building in ANGEL.  I’ve got the gist of the basics, but today I wanted to do something I little more complex with the discussion.  The goal was to have students work in teams and collaborate on a group document utilizing constructivist  approaches and a community of learners framework as they also learn about theories of learning that are often driving the collaborative approaches utilized in online learning.  While I could set up a discussion forum and prepare directions and instructional prompts easily, I wasn’t sure how to set up groups within a discussion and how to provide the virtual space to support this sort of group work efficiently due to lack of working knowledge in the LMS.  The instructor I was working with will do that and perhaps I can learn about it through him.  Nevertheless, I was able to contribute to the development of the next installation of the ID certificate program, and that feels good.  I really enjoyed the work today as it is exactly the kind of thing I like to do – design and develop instructional products and spaces – to teach, facilitate, and create.  I am a detail oriented person and organizing content and learning activities to meet specific objectives is a very enjoyable endeavor for me.  Every time I have had the opportunity to create instructional materials – whether a course, a mini-course, a module, a learning unit, or other instructional materials – I have found it invigorating, not like work at all!  This was a fun day…