Reluctant Connector: Final Reflections on My First MOOC Experience via Independent Study

23 May

I went into my first MOOC as an adult learner unseasoned in the self-directed approach to learning. The idea that my learning is directed by me and not facilitator-centered is a concept I am gaining comfort with. I am still getting used to the idea that I must take ownership of my learning. Additionally, I was highly reluctant to embrace social media to connect with friends. I prefer to connect with people face-to-face in conversation. While the thought of being a part of a massive open online course was very exciting, connecting with strangers and building my personal learning network was an uncomfortable thought.

MOOCs are a great way to learn due to their open, social nature. They are available to anyone, and students are encouraged to connect and discuss content together in and out of sessions. By their very nature MOOCs are a great way to enhance one’s personal learning network. Due to my guarded, private nature, I was not comfortable connecting with strangers. For this reason I got a limited benefit to my MOOC experience.

How can I improve my ability to connect in the future? In order to get to the solution, I had to first identify the root cause of the problem. Apprehension to connect would be a block to my future learning and one that needed to be overcome. If I understand the nature of the learning block, in the future I can make progress in this area get a greater benefit out of a learning experience. So reflect I did. I concluded that I was unmotivated to connect since I was not particularly interested in much of the subject matter of the MOOC. Due to a lack of interest, I did not feel motivated to search through tweets and blogs to get to “the good stuff.” I also realized that since I am so young in connectivism as a method of learning, I am not yet efficient in sorting through all the connections to find valid, relevant connections to expand my PLN.

Upon further reflection I had a few more realizations. I had made progress in the area of connecting. Some of the new ways I learned to connect include tweeting, blogging, commenting on blogs, replying to comments. I participated in Goggle Hangout sessions with members of my independent study. I had never heard of such a thing prior to the MOOC experience. I thought the only way to connect via laptop was Skype or Go to Meeting! Those methods did not appeal to me, as they seemed laborious and unstable. Additionally, I used an aggregator (Google Reader) to organize my connections.

I found the Blackboard live sessions throughout the MOOC to be very exciting. Seeing people log on from all over the globe and comment in real-time was a new experience for me. The real time, interactive nature of the session kept my attention, even when the subject matter was not of great interest to me.

Prior to this MOOC, my online learning experience had been in the form of reading through and commenting on threads and posts. This process impeded my learning and connecting. Blackboard live sessions are the way to go with an online course. The ability to playback sessions of interest to me was most beneficial. I was able to pause the replay and make notes of pieces of the session I wanted to explore further. I particularly enjoyed the session on Intro to Blogging. I connected with the facilitator since her method of teaching was simple, direct and focused. She one of the people I found to be relevant to my PLN, mostly due to her teaching style. Her session had underlying instructional design framework and therefore highly effective. In the online learning environment, with it’s fast pace and varied learners, it is most important to have solid design behind the instruction.

Another change in behavior post-MOOC was my relationship with Facebook. I am not so much a lurker but participant now. While I am not connecting more with friends, I am much more active in two communities of practice. I am using Facebook to participate as a more active member of my CrossFit and running communities. I am looking at videos, following links and commenting on posts. Again I see the importance of interest in subject matter in providing the necessary motivation needed to make connections. I have already determined the relevance and validity of certain members of these communities. Therefore I am motivated to see what these relevant and qualified participants have to say about the subject matter. Conversely, I do not care in the least that my “over-poster” friend found a good deal on bananas 2 hours ago and 10 minutes ago she saw a story on WCVB that upset her. I will not invest my valuable time in looking at her posts as I know see her as providing irrelevant information to the community. In fact, I hid her posts!

The technology used for the connections in the MOOC and independent study did not impede connection. I did not have to learn an entire process to connect, it was simple and intuitive. I enjoyed these sessions with my fellow learners, discussing the MOOC experience and being able to do so remotely. The MOOC got me interested in StumbleUpon and I have started using it. I find it a very valuable tool. I wish there was a built in StumbleUpon type aggregator built into Blackboard, it is what I needed to make connections as a MOOC participant– an aggregator to go out and bring back things I am interested in. I love this. I told StumbleUpon what interests me and almost everything that comes back to me is of interest. I do not have enough time to explore all the content it brings back to me.

What was the solution to the learning block? To sort through connections, rejecting irrelevance to gain access to pertinent information. One must build the “sort-through” skill by doing it; there is no short cut. I have to crawl before I can walk and walk before I can run! I feel empowered to have figured out a solution to my block so I can benefit more from a future MOOC experiences. I did make progress in this area, if I look at where I came from rather than where everyone else is and where I am going.

I have concluded that I made great strides in my ability to connect as a result of participation in my first MOOC and will take this into my next experience.

To be continued …

Digital Citizenship- A Timely Topic for Reflection

25 Mar

Digital Citizenship- A Timely Topic for Reflection

Digital Citizenship has proven to be a very timely and relevant topic in my life. When I recently replayed the ETMOOC session on Digital Citizenship, I found it very interesting and pertinent. A few days after the session, I had planned to upgrade my iPhone and give my 13-year old, free-spirited, somewhat impulsive son my old iPhone. This would be his first phone that would be capable of ruining his life is he did not receive guidance and guidelines around it’s safe and responsible use. To be honest, I was not completely certain he was responsible or mature enough to handle this technology appropriately. However, I saw this as an opportunity to remind my son of being responsible in the online space.

It would be necessary to remind him of the incredible power of the technology soon within his reach. Boundaries would be set and rules would be followed. In more ways than one, there would be no second chances. Once the send, deliver or post button is hit, what is typed, posted or entered lives forever and permanently with potential to affect his future opportunities.

The discussion of digital citizenship and responsibility started on the way to the phone store. I had the pleasure (?) of being accompanied by three other 13-year olds. The four 13-year olds were in the car, texting and talking, being loud and annoying and loveable all at the same time.

One of the boys attends BC High as a seventh grader. I started asking some questions since he was the only one interested in having an adult conversation where I could regurgitate what I had just learned via ETMOOC.  He told me how it was required that every student rent or purchase an iPad. He went on to tell me that all the books were on the tablet, all assignments and homework were delivered and completed on the iPad. I asked him about the responsibility of such a powerful tool. Are students reminded of that immense responsibility?  I was encouraged to learn that the students are reminded constantly of the rules around being a good digital citizen. This boys Dad told him, “don’t put anything out there that you wouldn’t want your grandma to read.” A good rule of thumb. A simple message that anyone can understand. It was an interesting discussion. He went on to tell me that the school should somehow block games since he sees many students playing games during class. Sounds like a motivated learner.

Alec’s session reminded me of some things that children and adults cannot hear often enough. What is posted lives forever, even if  deleted or taken down. I reminded my son not to write anything online that he wouldn’t say face-to-face. He was reminded to be a nice, caring person online just as he should be face-to-face. The same rules apply.

I was left thinking about a potentially problematic situation around digital citizenship. I considered that if some fundamental basic social behaviors are not yet developed in a child, the introduction of technology into their lives too soon could be disastrous for many people. The basic foundation of good citizenship must be developed and nurtured prior to technological tools being added to the child’s toolbox.

Thoughts on the Challenges and Opportunities of Modern Learning

12 Mar

Will Richardson’s MOOC session, “The Challenges and Opportunities of Modern Learning” got me thinking about where we are and where we need to be with technology in instruction.  I was engaged and interested in this session.

I am interested more in adult learning than K-12, however the ideas brought up in Will’s session were relevant to all learners and educators. One of the points to consider is how can we, as educators (or as a student in education in my case) put students into a more modern connectivist learning environment?

Before putting students into a comfort zone around technology, first educators/instructors must become more comfortable.

The place to start with this massive shift in this approach to teaching is by facilitating a change in thinking of the educators. The change in thinking must occur before all the tools are thrown at the learner. Prior to the submersion of learners into the vastness of technology, a basic understanding must occur of the benefits of connecting as a way of learning. Learners must get used to this a little at a time. Chunks.

There is no doubt that the future of teaching and instruction must embrace technology, but first it must be considered where most learners are with entry skills. The learners in this case would be the teachers/instructors. Once those learners are exposed to the benefits of technology as just another tool in their toolbox, just like the textbook or science lab, they will be more on board with considering these tools as aids, not replacement, to their teaching.

Technology is moving at a whirlwind speed, but the process by which educators will embrace technology and not be threatened by it, must occur at a slower speed.

You Never Know Where You Will Be Inspired …

28 Feb

I have been grappling with keeping up with my blog. Today was the day I was to blog. I set this as a goal. Put it on the to-do list. So I went on my way, thinking I would multi-task and post to my blog while getting a mani/pedi. I didn’t feel any particular inspiration as I set out.

As I entered the nail salon, laptop in hand, I sat down next to the most interesting lovely women. I did not realize that our very brief exchange, while our feet soaked in the tub, would inspire me.

I felt compelled to talk to this women because she was striking to me. She was working on her IPad with her feet soaking in the pedi tub. Working it like a native. I was struck by her advanced age, using such innovative technology. I judged her to be older than my father, who is a very young 73. My father uses technology only in his work environment and only because they require him to have a computer at his desk. The GPS, digital camera, cell phone and home computer remain in the original packaging. And so I wanted to know more about this older women with an IPad and IPhone.

She is 77 (with a 57-year old boyfriend she met online). As I sat next to her I couldnt help but strike up a coversation. “You have an IPad?” I asked, without boundaries. Something about her was very approachable and I felt it was safe to question her and be nosy.

“Oh yes, and an IPhone, Kindle and HP PC at home. I love technology!”

“Really?” I asked with a smile. I told her about my Dad and we both laughed.

She got me thinking. I wondered if she were new to the acquistion and use of these tools. How does a 77-year old women come to be so comfortable with this technology?

“Did you come to find these devices later in life, or was your use slow and steady?” I asked.

“I am comfortable with computers. I went to school to learn computers.”

She got me thinking.

“Did you get your Bachelors?” I probed.

“Yes, in Computer Science, at 44, with all sorts of children at home, while working full-time. My boss was so good to me. He used to let me do my homework on Saturdays in the office and pay me. I had teenagers at home and couldn’t get anything done. He was so good to me. Even paid for my degree.”

I stopped thinking and became inspired.

She went on to tell me about how determined she was to learn, that it took 6 years to get her degree. The more people that said she couldn’t do this, the harder she tried to prove them wrong. She told me all this with a big smile and positive attitude as she played with her IPhone. She went on to tell me that of all the computer languages she learned (and she named them all) were obsolete, with the exception of a couple.

“So that explains your comfort with technology!” I felt so proud that I had figured out the riddle!

I love to learn, I still take courses at Massasoit. It is free you know if you are over 60?”

There must be 30 people in the class or the class is cancelled she told me with disappointment. Her sign language class was cancelled due to lack of registrants.

I told her she was a life-long learner and asked if I could blog about her for a course I was taking.

“Sure, I dont care. I dont blog or tweet, but I do post to FaceBook!” She said it rapid-fire, as if she blurted those words out on a daily basis.

I could have talked with her all day, but she went on to the mani part of the process and I stayed in the pedi. Our exchange was done, but she left me with such a great feeling about adult learners and the joy mutually experienced when two learners talk passionately about learning.

She was an inspiration as she left me with, “You are as old as you feel.”

I thanked her for that and told her I needed to hear that as I am in the last year of my forties and back at school in an effort to change careers.

You never know where you will be inspired …

Six Word Story

15 Feb

Arrive– defeated. Stay– conquer. Teach– influence.

My MOOC Experience- Reflections on the First Two Weeks

4 Feb

This is my first blog posting done so to fulfill a requirement of the independent study I am participating in at UMASS Boston. I am a student in the MEd Program in Instructional Design. The independent study is titled, “Be the MOOC– See the MOOC.” 

My goal in this study is to participate in a MOOC and to reflect on that participation. My task is to explore in my own unique, self-directed way. Self-direction is a concept I have needed to get used to, especially while participating in the MOOC. I would rather someone tell me what to do. This discomfort will cause growth and thus learning.

And so here I am, blogging about the experience of the first two weeks. The miracle of it all, I am still here, participating. I have learned through my study advisor that participation in a MOOC drops off significantly after the first couple of weeks. I feel victorious!

I will recapture some of the things I learned in the mass of chaos. I do not use the word chaos in a disrespectful or judgmental manner; it is just the most concise word to describe my MOOC experience in one word!

I have found it very valuable to participate in the live sessions. I am amazed at the level of interaction afforded using Blackboard Collaborate to reach a huge, worldwide class of participants in real time. Being completely new to educational technology, I have never used technology such as this to learn. I have used Blackboard in a more static manner, participating in chats and collecting assignments and instructional material for a blended class.

I found myself very comfortable jumping into chats and white board sessions. However, when Dave Cormier called me out during his Rhizomatic Learning Session, I was not so comfortable with the technology! I wanted to leave the chat room! He commented on a question I posed during a discussion on whether or not learning MUST be measured. I suppose Dave’s question to me was suggestive that I actually formulated a relevant point.

My question was regarding entry skills as an essential consideration in designing instruction. I feel that some learning MUST be measured if instruction is to be effective. How can I design instruction without know my learner’s entry skills? While I felt unsure of myself, I did continue on with the discussion. I walked through discomfort in order to learn. In hindsight, the whole experience was pretty funny. Most important about the experience was the interaction this technology brings about between facilitator and participant. While it was a technological interaction, it felt as personal as being called on in class to discuss a point. All the feelings of “ick” were still there even though Dave was a million miles away!

I became aware during the Intro to Twitter Session of the consideration of technology’s limitations. As an Instructional Designer, one cannot be too reliant upon the technology since it can be unreliable. The designer/facilitator must plan for the limitations of technology when planning an online session. Is there a Plan B? One of things I learned in my very first ID class is to always have a plan B (thank you Jane Buckley). Technology can fail– sites go down, audio stops working, what then? How does one go on to instruct during a MOOC if technology fails? In a face-to-face instructional situation, the instructor can pull something out to save the day so that instruction continues, seemingly effortlessly. If properly prepared, the instructor has a plan for such unforeseen circumstances. This would not necessarily be the case during a technical glitch during a MOOC.

The sessions I found most helpful were the very basic introductory sessions. Intro to Twitter and Blogging provided me with the basic entry-level skills to jump in and tweet and blog. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, I gained an understanding that many feel unsure and insecure about blogging and commenting. Commenting, I have learned, is an essential component of participating in a connectivist MOOC. Commenting is foundational to forming connections.

And so I forced myself to comment. The first week I started small and commented on Sue Water’s blog on blogging. Very safe, and she was most supportive. From there I just started skimming blogs and found myself drawn towards those bloggers who wrote in a very logical, instructional manner. I suppose I see those bloggers as my life preserver in the sea of chaos! Reading a blog about copyright that was written in a clear and concise manner reinforced what I have learned in the live session. The writer had a writing style that allowed me to learn and feel comfortable connecting.

I got some very valuable, supportive direction from one of the connections I made during the first two weeks. This is worth sharing to other first time MOOCers and novice bloggers. I will paraphrase, as I am still learning about referencing material while blogging and do not want to do anything controversial, illegal or immoral:

  • Make contacts
  • Find interesting people to follow
  • Engage in conversation

If that is all you do the first time around, you might find that is valuable enough. Then the next time you dive into the fray, you can go deeper, farther, wherever your heart and mind might lead you.

What a supportive community I find myself in amidst the chaos.

Who Do I Follow?

1 Feb

As I recently considered who to follow, I found myself reading blogs and getting more overwhelmed. I felt unfocused in my venture. However, as I sifted through the sea of blogs and skimmed and moved on, I found a commonality in the blogs I invested time in to read.

That commonality has served as a starting point for me.

The blogs I was attracted to reading were not those where I found the subject matter all that interesting. I did not find that the blogs I read were those of other graphic designers turned instructional design students. I did not even find that those I read were instructors of adults.

So what was it that got me hooked and willing to invest the time in a full read?

The blogs that I found the most interesting were those where the author had a distinctive style of writing. I would call that style concrete, focused and therefore instructive! I could understand the major points and the writing was organized. What a pleasant surprise to stumble upon this unexpected realization! 

I now have a starting point. This adult learner needs a certain delivery method in order to learn and connect. I shall continue to seek out writers with that style and that will be my starting point.

What an unexpected surprise to find a way to make sense in the madness!

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