Comments on Week 4 Live Meeting: Authentic Online Learning

I’m relieved that I made it to the meeting on time. I was late to the first that I attended and managed to stumble my way through, finally getting my mike to work halfway through the session. (Sorry for all the commotion, Brent.) This, my second, wasn’t problem free. When I spoke, I kept getting a delayed echo effect in my headset. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s because I chose stereo instead of mono in the setup.

I bring this up to reassure everyone who may may be hesitating about participating that Greg, Rachael, Leanne, Brent and others on the staff as well as knowledgeable participants are very patient and that you aren’t alone when you find yourself without audio or mike. I’ll probably screw up again in our next session, too!

What’s worth the effort is not so much the sound of the presenters and moderators but their spirit, their enthusiasm. They’re working with technology and ideas that excite them, and it’s infectious.

The best part is that they’ve invited us to join them on the ground floor where the process itself is also “ill-defined,” or under construction with just the vaguest of blueprints drawn in pencil instead of ink. Thus, we see minds at work, addressing questions, exploring alternatives, experimenting, innovating — creating — trying to get an idea to actually work fly. This is  authentic online learning, and this is what we’re trying to learn to do with our students.

Their working plans for AOL are out there, in the open, for us to examine, question, copy, steal. What I like best about their approach is the amount of time and effort that’s devoted to the planning phase of projects. It’s obvious that all this time could be “saved” by simply prescribing a plan, but the time saved is bought in learning dollars. It’s the planning, the often messy and frustrating process of selecting an ill-defined problem and constructing innovative strategies to address it, that ensures authenticity, or buy-in from the student. In the end, what matters is that it’s the student’s plan and not someone else’s — and that makes all the difference.

What does this mean for teachers planning to apply AOL to their own courses? My guess is that we ought to begin by giving students meaningful parameters for problem selection and methodology. The parameters should probably be reduced to a rubric, but to be useful, it would have to be both simple and facilitative, something that they can easily carry in their heads and refer to during the sometimes tedious process of planning spread out over days and even weeks. For example, in a small group, design a public service project that can be planned and implemented  in a quarter (half a semester). The project must address an ill-defined problem in the community, i.e., one that seems to persist despite various state, city, and community efforts to solve it. The process must include input from key individuals or groups in the community and formative as well as summative evaluation activities. The process must be designed so that it can be replicated and improved upon by other groups, and the results should, ideally, match the goals. Finally, plans should include a means to share or showcase the process and results, e.g., in the form of a video, public presentation, published report or any combination of the three.

The possibilities are boundless. For example, a group of students might choose to clean up a section of a public beach that’s become a dumping ground for trash and old tires. It’s a choice based on their own love for the shoreline and the ocean. Part of the challenge for them is to get members of the community to join the effort. Thus begins a planning process that involves setting suitable goals and practical milestones and procedures. Another group might decide to take a study trip to Kahoolawe or to serve as crew on a Hawaiian voyaging canoe on a limited voyage. Other possible projects might include a study of the best conditions for growing taro organically in a place that’s not known for the crop, the publication of an electronic journal that’s devoted to interviews of elders in a given community to capture what the community was like 50 years ago.

Beyond these outcomes, though, I think teachers ought to also require a more personal report in which each student discusses the experience from her own perspective and how it’s impacted her. This might be facilitated by a tweeted journal or blog kept during the project, which includes comments from friends as well as others.

As Rachael said in today’s presentation, the projects are exciting for the teacher, too, because s/he is also learning — not simply raking over old ground. The teacher’s role is to help, to guide, to facilitate students in their own learning journeys. What excites them will excite her because it’s new to her, too, and excitement is infectious.

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3 Responses to Comments on Week 4 Live Meeting: Authentic Online Learning

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Jim for your excitement about the ideas we were introduced to yesterday. I am glad to see that I am not the only person in iFacilitate who immediately geeks out after our Thursday sessions 🙂 Your discussion of these topics was of particular interest to me because I want to plan a food-based service project for my upcoming classes as a way to improve student engagement.

    In the past, I’ve allowed students to self-select a writing topic for their research papers, but some students just haven’t done enough self-discovery to know what they are interested in. However, a service project would allow them to work with other students to solve real-world problems. That kind of learning, I seem to find from the research, promotes student self-efficacy about the use of writing as both inquiry and problem solving.

    Of course, there is nothing we can do to guarantee 100% engagement in students, but I want to get as close to that goal as possible every semester.

    • JimS says:

      Hi, Tanya.

      My apologies for the long delay in responding.

      Yeah, I tend to get carried away when I hear/see/read a great idea. It’s like a piece of a puzzle snapping into place — often a piece that I was only subconsciously aware of. Suddenly, there it is, an answer or solution. The same is happening with iFacilitate. A lot of pieces are snapping into place, leaving me with a clearer sense of the larger issues and the even greater spectrum of perspectives.

      I wonder what this eureka moment means for learning. Does it mean that we can only learn when we’re either consciously or subconsciously asking a related question? In other words, is learning a response to an internal question or problem? I remember a study that was done re perception. The researchers found that we usually only see what we’re looking for. The implication seems to be that if students aren’t asking the questions underlying the “answers” that we’re giving them, they may be memorizing instead of learning. Thus, the key to learning is to get students to buy into the problem or question at a personal level.

      And this is where your “food-based service project for … upcoming classes as a way to improve student engagement” seems to fit in nicely. I can see how students “[working] with other students to solve real-world problems” in their field could zero in on a topic that interests them, a problem that makes sense to and appeals to them because they have the advantage of insights gained through personal experiences that are available to them. For example, if they’re into organically grown local foods, they could visit sites where it’s grown. They could then explore and experiment to come up with dishes that are built around the fresh and healthy vegetables in their hands. I can imagine them having a lot of fun researching how practicing local chefs are using clean greens. They might even interview some of them and videotape segments with their iPhones. The videos could be uploaded to YouTube and included in their project reports. I can also imagine them having fun concocting their own salad dressing and including locally caught or grown fish to create entrees. Writing could kick in when they present the dish or dishes in a brief write-up, aiming for a creative and memorable name for the dish as well as a vivid and enticing description. Photos could also be included.

  2. Tanya Torres says:

    Sorry, forgot to post my name in the last replay :p

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