Facilitating a distributed discussion – an experiment

Get Connected!

The latest course in my Masters is Facilitation and Community Building, and I have an interesting experiential assignment this week. I am working with 2 other members of my cohort to facilitate a discussion with the rest of our cohort.

Our topic is facilitating collaboration in virtual teams and we’re trying something a little bit different and I’m feeling a tad nervous about it (I keep telling myself nervous is good when learning). In the spirit of networked learning, instead of facilitating the discussion in our closed Moodle forum, we are going to try taking the discussion outside of the LMS and onto a couple of blog posts that we found which are related to our topic.

Part of the reason why we decided to do it this way is because all three of us facilitating this week are strong believers in networked learning as a way to engage with a broad array of voices and opinions in our field. While the assignment we have come up with may be a bit more prescriptive than constructivist, it will hopefully give the rest of our cohort a brief opportunity to try their hand at network learning.

For the past couple of days, our cohort has been reading 2 articles on facilitating virtual teams in a collaborative environment. Tonight we posted the second part of the assignment and have asked them to visit (at least) one of three blog posts related to the topic and leave a comment on the blog. The posts we have chosen are:

  • Lurking and Loafing from Steve Wheeler talks about social loafing, lurking and how to encourage participation.
  • Collaboration from Ben Grey questions the differences between collaboration and cooperation.
  • Dysfunctional Teams from Tony Karrer is a nice summary of Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Hopefully, these authors won’t mind us practicing a bit of network learning to try to spur some conversation on the topic of collaboration and virtual teamwork. So Steve, Ben and Tony, if you happen to notice a few new comments on these posts this week, take it as a good sign that you’ve engaged some of our cohort. There are 9 of us, so hopefully distributed over three blogs you won’t feel overwhelmed with a sudden influx of comments.

And if anyone in my network reading this would like to join in our conversation, that would be wonderful as well. If you get a chance, pop by these posts, respond to a few comments and help us illustrate the power of networked learning.

Photo: Get Connected by Divergent Learner used under Creative Commons license.


Image editing and embedding content in WPMU 2.9

I finally got around to upgrading our WPMU instance to to 2.9 (2.9.2 to be exact) and playing with some of the new features. So far the image editing has been a bit of a disappointment, but the oEmbed feature is, quite simply, awesome. Somehow, embedding content in now even easier than before.

The new image editor has some basic image editing functionality. You can crop, resize or rotate a photo. I couldn’t get the crop working after working with it for the better part of an afternoon. At first, how to crop wasn’t fully intuitive to me and it wasn’t until I read this blog post that the (admittedly dim) light bulb went off. Oh, I have to hit the crop button again. D’oh. Then when I went to insert the cropped image into the post, the aspect ratio of the image got skewed as the cropped image took up the entire dimensions of the original image. I also couldn’t save the cropped image back to my media library, but as others have pointed out, these issues may have more to do with folder permissions and settings in my PHP libraries than with the WP image editor, so I’ll be taking a closer look at those as I play more with image editing.

One other little thing about the image editor – it seems to be available only when you first insert an image into a post. If you try to go back and edit the image after it has been instered, the editor doesn’t appear as an option in the pop-up. You have to delete the image from the post and reinsert the image to enable the editor again.

Okay, that aside, the oEmbed support is a killer feature, especially for someone who finds themself supporting novice users. Embedding content from another site has never been so easy. If you want to embed content from another oEmbed enabled site (and a number of the big ones like YouTube, Flickr, Scribd and blip.tv are oEmbed capable), all you pretty well have to do is copy and paste the url of the content you want into the body of your post (make sure it is on it’s own line and not hyperlinked) and you are good to go. Good stuff.


Viewing my messy mind with Google Wave

While I have been dipping my toes into the waters of Google Wave for awhile, this month I am taking the plunge (to push the water metaphor) and testing it out with 2 different groups.

The first is at SCoPE where Emma Duke-Williams from the University of Portsmouth is facilitating a discussion around tools for online collaboration. In addition to the usual SCoPE forums, we have been playing with Google Wave as one of those tools (join us as we muck around group:scopecommunity@googlegroups.com).

The second project is much smaller where I am working with two members of my Masters cohort as part of our developing online communities course. We have an experiential learning task to facilitate a week long discussion around (oh, what a coinky-dink) collaborative tools. Talk about synchronicity. So we are using Wave to plan the session.

Google Wave is an interesting mix of both synchronous and asynchronous, something that is becoming more common with web apps. It is synchronous when it needs to be, and it is quite easy to chat and collaborate in real time in Wave. It is also easy to work asynchronously and come back to a Wave after the fact and add on or view an archive of a shared document or artifact. In the past year or two, with tools like Wave, Etherpad and even Twitter, I have been getting the feeling that the distinction we have used in e-learning between asyncrhonous and synchronous is beginning to blur and most of the tools we will use on a regular basis in the future will be able to be both.

Yesterday I had a synchronous chat in the SCoPE Wave with Sylvia Currie where we just happened to be in the same Wave at the same time. I am not sure why, but I find it oddly novel to go into Wave expecting to see asynchronously created content, and then suddenly seeing this little coloured cursor actively typing away and adding content. It’s kind of like walking into what you think will be an empty room and startling yourself when you notice the person working feverishly away at something at the table in the corner.

It’s this synchronous stuff about Wave that I seem to find myself adjusting to. When Sylvia and I started chatting, I noticed that, because you can see stuff as it is being typed, I became very conscious of what I was typing. For someone who is used to writing, rewriting and massaging all my asynchronous contributions to death, exposing the messyness of how my mind works felt disconcerting. When I write, I often start sentences, hit backspace 35 times, start over, move these words from over there to here and hack hack hack (don’t even get me started on my spleling). And knowing in the back of my mind that each keystroke is recorded and archived also makes me very aware of what I am typing knowing that once I hit a key, it is recorded forever in that Wave.

The flip side of that dilemma is that you can see the process – it is transparent, and if I was wanting to see an example of collaborative work when assessing a group project (for example) this kind of transparency into the process is gold.

Also, the archival ability of Wave is something I see as a real strength, but is going to require a mindshift in how I collaboratively work with others. Knowing that every keystroke is archived and can be reviewed at any time makes it slightly different than a wiki where only actual changes are recorded. I think this gives collaborators even more freedom to hack away at my work knowing the original is still there. Now, I am not sure about other people, but I know that editing someones words makes me feel uncomfortable, so instead of changing their Wave content, I find that I end up adding comments as a reply or within their post as a comment. But I am rethinking that after seeing how much crud it adds. I am beginning to realize that adding comments might actually be hurting Wave use by adding clutter. I think that, in the Wave world, we are supposed to liberally edit and change each others content. This is going to require a bit of negotiation between collaborators knowing that all content is fluid, even moreso I think, than with a wiki.

On a practical note, I notice that Google has added some notifications to Wave, which wweren’t there in the beginning. You can now get email notifications when Waves are updated. But I dislike email notifications, so instead I have been using the Google Chrome Wave notifier extension, which is turning into one of my most used extension during my Wave experiments this month. It sits unobtrusively in the top corner of Chrome and shows how many Google Wave updates are waiting for me in Waves I am taking part in. Very useful.

Photo by VespaGT used under Creative Commons license


BC Study on RateMyProfessors

Last week I attended a presentation on some research done by one of our instructors, Dr. Janet Reagan, on informal student course evaluations, specifically focusing on the website¬† RateMyProfessors . Those working within the BC college system may find the research particularly interesting as the data¬†she used from RMP was pulled from 3 anonymous BC college’s, so it is very relevant for those of us working in this sector.

One of our College’s research analysts was in attendance – someone charged with doing our in house course survey, and remarked that there was a great deal of similarity and consistency with the informal information student’s posted on RMP and the results of Dr. Reagan’s study. I am not sure what the perception of sites like RMP is with our faculty, but I think it is easy to disregard the validity of the comments made on public spaces like this as places where students vent. Dr. Reagan’s research shows that these comments are valid and, surprising to some, equally weighted between positive and negative. Very useful and relevant phenomenological information can be found on sites like RMP and there is a great deal of congruency between what students perceive is effective teaching practice and what the research literature in this area suggests.

As part of the research, Dr. Regan has developed the ACCEPT Model of Student Discernment of Effective Teaching Characteristics which can be used as criteria to evaluate student perceptions of good teaching practice.

  • Articulate: Teachers provide consistent, clear and distinctly accurate instruction to facilitate and direct the teaching and learning process.
  • Competent: Teachers are qualified to instruct in adult education settings and exhibit skills expected of the teaching profession. They are organized and prepared for content delivery in an interactive style, and understand strategies to fairly and effectively assess learning.
  • Content-Experts: Teachers are current, informative, reality-based content experts with substantive experience in their topic areas that may include their academic research background, or their career background, or their trades or industry background.
  • Empowering: Teachers empower students in their learning to build self-confidence and assertiveness. Teachers challenge, motivate and encourage adult learners to think independently and critically.
  • Perceptive: Teachers display a high level of authenticity and credibility including insight, intuition, and humour. Perceptive teachers care about the success of their students and are approachable.
  • Trustworthy: Teachers are aware of their professional, ethical and moral obligations in relation to the trust relationship of teaching. Teachers are respectful in thought and reliable in action and have earned the students? confidence.

Dr. Reagan goes on to make 6 recommendations based on the results of the study.

  1. Explore the use of informal online student evaluation of effective teaching characteristics, to promote credible and authentic teaching practice, aligned with self-regulated learning strategies that are both beneficial and desirable to adult learners.
  2. Promote voluntary faculty development opportunities that demonstrates how humour and novelty may be used to enhance learning, as many anecdotal student comments relate to the positive effect on humour and novelty in the learning environment or, conversely, the negative effect when humour and novelty are absent.
  3. Address power relations in the classroom that interfere with learning, as voiced through informal student evaluation of teaching effectiveness, and intervene when the quality of teaching is unacceptable to students and the teaching professions.
  4. Build on the framework of the ACCPET model of Student Discernment of Effective Teaching Characteristics to develop informal adjunct to the institutional rating system. The interpretive analysis of this study revealed that students informal anecdotal comments align with empirical research on effective teaching characteristics and principles of adult learning.
  5. Build on the framework of the ACCPET model of Student Discernment of Effective Teaching Characteristics to promote and integrate effective teaching characteristics. Also, with faculty agreement, conduct regular classroom research and improve teaching practice with ongoing in-service training, student and peer feedback
  6. Improve the method of retrieving student evaluation of effective teaching characteristics by accessing informal and less traditional student communication, including data accessed from anonymous online faculty rating systems, while also acknowledging that students’ informal comments reflect credible commentary; even though possible abuses could limit validity in specific instances.

Dr. Reagan’s research was on RMP, but I suspect that similar results could be found monitoring any open social network and I believe this is a great opportunity for educators. Over the past year or so I have been monitoring keywords related to our institution on Twitter and it is always interesting when I see a student comment that I know is directly related to a class they are taking, or some kind of experience they are having with our institution. To me, the realtime web offers great potential for educators to provide immediate and timely feedback and intervention based on what our students are saying about the experiences they are having with our institution as they are having them. Many large companies are doing this kind of social media space monitoring with very positive results. Maybe it is time educators took a serious look at monitoring social networking sites as a regular part of their formative assessment strategy.

The full dissertation is available at DSpace at the University of Victoria.