Sunday, November 6, 2011

Week 10 - Focus on discussions

Image: Nuvola apps discussion

Of the several activities that Ko & Rossen outline in chapter 7 I am going to focus on discussions, as I have been thinking a lot about this over the past few days.
When I facilitate in a face to face environment with learners who are usually new to the concepts that I am delivering, I find that I can tell them or get them to read but often it is not until they verbalise the concept themselves that 'the penny drops'. This may relate specifically to their learning style, but it is a very neccessary part of their learning. Discussion is a key component in face to face training and I have seen some trainers sabbotage the learning by taking over the explanation and delivering the answer, rather than letting the learner think it through (out loud) which leads them to the answer.
Whilst I am familiar (& comfortable) with discussions in a face to face learning environment I have been thinking about how(& where) these discussions would take place in an online environment.
There are 'discussion boards' available on CMS (course management systems) which I have used before and have found them to be very useful if the facilitator interacts regularly and draws out the ideas and discussion going on.
Social Media such as Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter provide a forum to conduct discussions. Many groups will conduct synchronous 'tweetchats' which uses a particular hashtag and they meet regularly at a specific time and communicate on Twitter using this hashtag. I have not seen many egs of this lately. Using a hashtag always allows for an asynchronous chat, but I think the synchronous sessions allow for a more lively discussion.

On Saturday I participated in the Blackboard/Collaborate session presented by Eric Robertson on how to use Twitter. He showed us how to sign up for Twitter, Tweet using a hashtag, Retweet and direct message. The session was very participatory and allowed for an active discussion within the chatroll. I always find the opportunity to ask questions and comment in the chat to be very 'comfortable'. You don't need to run audio checks to ensure your mic is working and constantly worry that you have not muted yourself. So there is another forum for discussion. During this chatroll discussion I commented that I have been using Twitter more to read tweets, since I have it available on my phone, rather than tweeting myself. I was asked why this is the case, and it made me think of an answer. I know that last sentence sounds ridiculous but it was actually very relevant to me as I realised that this is another benefit of a discussion - you are actually asked questions, which stimulates your thinking. It stimulates your thinking more than if you were provided with a list of questions that have to be answered before or after a class/learning session.
I have considered many times studying using OER course schedules and pacing myself through the readings and answering the questions in ordder to solidify the 'stuff' (information) into my head, this is so static.I always seem to come back to MOOCs or online courses that offer some form of group interaction, and now I have a better understanding as to why....because it is interactive, engaging and it is 'lively' or 'alive'. The group that participates in the learning brings the material 'to life' by sharing their thoughts and interpretations, commenting on each others blogs and asking each other questions. Therefore I believe that 'discussion', in whatever form the facilitator (or the group) decide - whether synchronous or ashynchronous, is a key component for any online course.

As an aside....
Currently there is a lively debate going on about discussions conducted within Change11 MOOC. Several podcasts that I subscribe to (COOLCast & EdTech Weekly) have raised the issue. I have found this interesting and it has made me consider how I will conduct 'discussions'. From my limited understanding there is debate about which platform is the most appropriate to use when conducting weekly discussions with (guest) facilitators and multiple participants (as I understand it sometimes up to 70 people). I do not expect that I will ever have to contend with participants in excess of 20 in a course, so this is an interesting debate to watch develop as it could determine the success of MOOCs going forward.

Note: I still have not addressed this weeks requirements ....What might be the advantages and disadvantages of using a class blog or student blogs for your class? Could a Google Site or web page make a good welcome for students?

I am very taken by Google sites and am very appreciative for Pilar introducing these, I still really have to play around with the tools that Google offers and I know they have some great tools for discussion forums too.
This is my next task but I had to get the above blogpost published as it has been swishing around in my head. 

Image: Flywheel by Creative commons licensed

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