Case study: Highly synchronous online course

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At risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m going to write again about my first significant online course design and facilitation experience: the online restorative justice class at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), which ran this past spring (and will run again this coming spring). It was what I would characterize as a highly synchronous online course[1].

Rather than storytelling and reflection, though, I’m going to lay out below “right brain”/”left brain” representations of how this course was conceived, structured, and conducted. By doing this, I hope to communicate succinctly why this course continues to inspire my thinking and work – but more importantly to inspire other faculty to take tidbits from this experience into their own online teaching.

Right brain: Visualizing virtual classroom space

Hand-drawn visualization of our online classroom, matching technologies with familiar objects. (Click for full-size.)

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Partnering with faculty for online instructional design

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Photo by Teo Romera via Flickr

This week I found a helpful article by Laura Lea on the Moodlerooms blog…

Best Practices: Sharing the Lanes of Design and Facilitation in Online Courses

I’ll get back to this article in a minute, but first let me set some context for how it factors into my work…

In my role as Distance Learning Technology Analyst for EMU, I’ve been primarily focused for the past five months on assessing,  acquiring, and rolling out new online ed-tech platforms for educational delivery. My first project over the summer resulted in the acquisition and deployment of WebEx for synchronous online class sessions, and lately I’ve started to focus on an online video platform to capture, store, and deliver video educational video content.

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Change of venues…

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photo by tonystl via Flickr

After four years of life in the campus of Eastern Mennonite University, the majority of which was spent as a graduate student, but also these past five months after graduation working full-time for Information Systems, I’m returning to my home state of Iowa. It’s been a tremendous gift to be part of such a wonderful learning community.

I continue my work for EMU from my new home in rural Iowa as somewhat of an experiment. In my role as Distance Learning Tech Analyst, one of the things I strive to do is help make remote students feel like a part of this community as best we virtually can. So that we’re trying this remote working arrangement has an “eat your own dog food” aspect to it.

In the coming months, I’ll be focusing my energy on a few new technology platforms for education, as well as developing more intentional programs and resources for getting this stuff into the hands of faculty – inspiring, equipping, and supporting. Very much looking forward to this next chapter!

Notes from the Teaching, Learning, and Technology conference at JMU

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[Editor's note: It's been far too long since I've posted here, and I need to address that with something more substantive than a mere copy/paste of my notes from this awesome conference today at neighboring James Madison University. But until then...]

Keynote speaker, Jim Groom of Mary Washington, showed us his exploded open class – #ds106

I hopped on my bike this morning wearing flip-flops, which quickly ended up being a mistake. Despite our lovely warm fall days recently in the Shenandoah Valley, it was cold this morning, so my toes got really cold really fast before passing into that state where they feel warm and you know they shouldn’t feel warm so that’s probably a bad thing. But it turned out all right and I was treated to a great day of wonderful presentations, great ideas for EMU, and wonderful food and hospitality from our hosts at JMU. Below you’ll find my somewhat-edited notes from each session…
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The frailty of community in MOOCs

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“Whooooo are you? Who, who?”

Now that the PR hysteria around MOOCs has died down and there are actual courses running, I’m trying to track the experience of MOOC students, some of whom are blogging about their experiences. Here’s a helpful piece from Audrey Watters that talks about the peer feedback system in Coursera, one of the big two MOOC platforms, and its weaknesses…

 The Problems with Peer Grading in Coursera
(Hack Education/Inside Higher Ed)

The last problem she lists – “lack of community” – isn’t a surprise to someone like me who’s spent a lot of time in online social media over the years. I’ve reflected elsewhere about the kinds of things that eroded social cohesion in my own dearly departed virtual community. But in a higher ed context, it’s particularly troubling, especially for us at Eastern Mennonite University. One of the things that consistently gets pointed to as a value here is the premium placed on the building and sustenance of community. We often point to our Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition as the source of this value.

If, as seems to be commonly suggested, MOOCs are to be seen as a marketing tool – a way to get a message or brand out into the world – I think that raises at least two problems. First, it puts the cart before the horse. MOOCs deliver educational content, not marketing materials. Second, if MOOCs aren’t particularly good at developing a thick learning community, a school like EMU should be wary to engage in such an environment. To turn a phrase from McLuhan, the community is the message.

I’m not entirely opposed to a school like EMU experimenting with MOOCs. But in doing so, we should be looking hard for ways to overcome the severe limitations of the platform…limitations that cut against the very things that EMU believes make us “a Christian university like no other.”

An ed-tech ecosystem…always evolving

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Yesterday a stool, today a flower…

When I started my work in May, my task was deceptively simple: Help EMU standardize on a web conferencing platform to facilitate a synchronous online classroom experience. Virtual/online class sessions had been used previously in a few of the graduate programs here at EMU, but with no standardization. The Nursing and MBA programs used GoToMeeting, and the course I helped design and facilitate for the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding used Adobe Connect. But IT departments crave standardization, so that was my task. (We standardized on WebEx, by the way, but that’s not the point of this post…)

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Higher Education in an Age of Disruption

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While the focus of my work since starting in May has been on the selection of a web conferencing platform for virtual classrooms, my director and I wrote into my job description some responsibility for helping develop bigger-picture/strategic elements for educational technology at EMU. This is of course a widely-shared responsibility here, so my part in it has been more “archaeological” than anything; spending a lot of my time doing R&D external to EMU and then working with faculty on what they’re already doing for ed-tech in their online or traditional classroom-based courses, helping them envision new opportunities…and periodically meeting with my director or higher leadership to talk strategy.

This week I had the pleasure of working with my director and EMU provost, Fred Kniss, to develop the following Prezi for an upcoming meeting of EMU’s Strategic Planning Council. This post takes its title from the presentation…

I’d embed it here but our WordPress software doesn’t allow me to do so! Yeah…I’m a technology guy, and yes this annoys me.

Reflecting on “Elicitive Pedagogy in the Digital Age”

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Lost in translation? (Koru photo adapted from Jonathon Colman via Flickr.)

In the spring 2012 semester I played the role of tech facilitator for an online class in restorative justice at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP). At the time I was their resident tech/web/social media nerd, so I had also been involved in the design process for this class, which was the first online class the CJP had ever delivered. To design and deliver this course I worked with CJP administration and faculty, including restorative justice pioneer (and my mentor), Howard Zehr. It stands as one of the high points of my tech career and played a major part in my coming into this new role of Distance Learning Tech Analyst in Information Systems at EMU.

But why did CJP wait until 2012 to do online ed, you may ask? Well, the concerns were born out of organizational-cultural value placed on community at CJP. This program is world-renowned for its peacebuilding and conflict transformation education and work, most recently enjoying one of its alumna, Leymah Gbowee, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Community-building is close to the heart of CJP’s approach to teaching and doing peacebuilding work, and there was a shared sense that previous generations of online education – primarily text-based – simply did not provide the grounds for teaching and showing substantive relationship and community building.

But the new generation of social and collaborative web technologies have begun having a deep impact on higher education, online or otherwise, so we decided it was time to take the plunge. Here’s a blog post at CJP’s Peacebuilder Online I wrote back in February in the early weeks of the class:

Elicitive pedagogy in the digital age

It continues to be an emphasis in my work at EMU more broadly to foster the values mentioned there, of relationality and co-creative learning.

Hello world!

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Photo by Juan de Dios Santander Vela via Flickr

As a former programmer, I love the “Hello world!” – that rite of passage whenever a new programming language is picked up for the first time and the coder tradition implores you to write, compile, and run that few lines of code to get your first taste of the language’s conventions and its runtime environment. While I did it many times myself in languages – C/C++, Java, JavaScript, among others – this is the first time I’ve administered a WordPress blog and kept the default post, editing only its content. So here it stands.

My bit of nerd reminiscing does have a purpose, though. As the About page specifies, this blog is intended to be a narrative-oriented knowledge base for educational technology at Eastern Mennonite University. This bent toward narrative in the formation of this blog is largely due to my own predilections as a life-long lover of stories. With a graduate education just recently completed, I’ve been drawn to the philosophy of ordinary language that’s found in Wittgenstein, which is attuned to the linguistic, story-shaped quality to human life. And as a life-long Christian with a theological education being a major part of my graduate studies, it’s a particular story to which I commit my life, participating in distinct ways amidst this messy world.

So my hope for this blog in the weeks and months ahead is to start a conversation at EMU about the use of educational technology. I want to act as a kind of journalist, visting faculty and administration and listening to stories about how technology has been used for teaching. But aside from the obvious choice of success stories, I’m also drawn to “bullfrog stories,” those times when things don’t go as planned. Those moments of failure can be just as instructive, or more so, than the “rainbow stories” when everything’s great and everyone’s happy and amazed and the institution’s bottom line is strengthened.

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