I haven’t done the readings yet, but here are some preliminary thoughts and concerns. I’ve found that both a challenge and an advantage is the openness of online learning communities. In other words, as a teacher, I can’t and shouldn’t want to control the networks that students naturally create with classmates — individually and in small groups — as well as with me and course spaces I’ve created. In the students’ personal learning environments and networks, the line between social and educational becomes blurred — but this is a good thing, I think, and a natural part of learning.
One way I found to encourage this inter-networking is to refer students to other students when one needs to learn something the other has mastered or is in the process of mastering. My first impulse as a teacher is to answer the question or solve the problem. But in resisting this and asking students to explore self-learning alternatives or suggesting ways to learn from peers, I find that I can jump start the horizontal networking. The goal, I think, is ultimately to empower the student as an online learner and not necessarily for me to become the fount of wisdom or the know-it-all. Some students will gradually realize what I’m doing and appreciate the independence I’m cultivating while others might, at first, complain that I’m not “teaching.”
I also found that a few students will inevitably need a lot of handholding before they can remove the training wheels, but the time I devote to them can be accommodated when the others become more peer network oriented. I always have to be careful that I’m not enabling those who require a lot of help. I notice that these students will often wait until the last minute to complete activities and use that as an excuse to force me to help. Their argument is that they don’t have time to learn how to do it on their own since the deadline is near, and the implication is that I, the teacher, must therefore help. If I fall into this “trap,” chances are I’ll end up doing all their online work (such as posting in blogs and forums) for them for the rest of the semester. Fortunately, if I catch this early, the problem doesn’t develop.