Thursday, February 12, 2009

Teaching in a New Networked World

I didn't know that a high school teacher in our school system was teaching an online course to twenty students from our school and various other locations within and beyond the states. I googled the teacher and found nothing more than his name listed as a staff member and assignment in our school district. How did he shield his online identity so well? How connected is this teacher? What basis is he using to develop the course work offered? I really began wondering.

I have often, lately, felt that I would love to offer a course purely online in writing. Could I do it? I am sure I could; however, would I do it well?

In reading George Siemens' book Knowing Knowledge "Designing" chapter, he states "Perhaps even our notion of design is worth rethinking—do we design learning? Or do we design environments in which motivated learners can acquire what they need?" His notion of the "motivated learner" made me do a retake of the passage. I know I design learning opportunities for my students; however, not all of my seventh graders are motivated. Perhaps it's my job to motivate them, but do you know that there are always a few that escape motivation? A few of these students will make fostering an environment of knowledge acquisition a challenge. Discipline is always going to be a necessity in a classroom.

I wonder what kinds of issues arise with the instruction of an online course? I can image that, like the traditional classroom, motivation is a factor. However, I would believe in both cases the motivated learners flourish. Do the poor behaviors come through and impact the other students in a class? Certainly their lack of participation would impact the opportunities for others to obtain knowledge from their contributions, but it's nothing like having to remove an unruly person from the room (though this rarely happens in my class).

I have recently had the opportunity to do some Flip Camera Videos with my Winter Wellness writing students (Thursdays once a week for six weeks). All but one of the computers repeatedly rejected the Flip program. How frustrating was it to not have the technology work! Perhaps due to the limitations of my student's account status; perhaps due to the limitations of the operating systems. I don't know. What I have learned is that with the volatile state of our in-house hardware, I have had to ensure that a second, back-up lesson is prepared and ready to go. Otherwise, we're talking chaos and not the Chaos Siemens refers to as the place where learning and connecting can occur unless he is talking about the middle school students form of connection.

Siemens also remarks that "we need to step outside of the destination view of learning and embrace the journey view." On a personal level, this is the approach that works best for me as a learner. Perhaps for many of my students this is best for them--I see it in many of the technology-based activities they do for class. (I had one student come in so excited about figuring out how to edit a YouTube video and include it in her Windows Movie Maker presentation for her book review.)

It's this area of releasing control in a classroom that creates personal and professional dissonance. Do parents understand that it's okay for their children to be curious about the tools of technology? Do parents understand that sometimes they don't have to be able to answer their child's questions, and it's okay for their child to find the answer through trial and error? When students have shared the work they have done using various technology tools, other students want to explore those tools on their own. When a parent questions why a teacher didn't warn them or give explicit directions to their child for using various tools, how comfortable is a teacher in encouraging this self-exploration, the most valuable tool for learning?

George Siemens captures it perfectly when he says: "Rather than being excited that we can participate in the rich, diverse world of differing perspectives and opinions, we pull back because 'we do not know.' It is not that we fear the state of not knowing. We fear others seeing that we do not know. How do we teach learners to accept (and value) not knowing?"

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