Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Student-Centered Online Learning?

Student-Centered Online Learning?     Is it possible?

This is one thing that I have been having problems with in my online learning classes.  Years ago, I was teaching online though Adobe Connect and some other video conferencing tools but I was unsatisfied.  I wanted all of us to be able to see each other online, but we just didn't have the bandwidth. I would complain to our technical gurus but they just reminded me of the laws of physics that limited the amount of data that could be shoved through a digital hose at one time.

So, I began to teach online like the rest of the professors where the students watched me and then responded by typing their comments in the chat box (see lower left box above.)  The problem was that it was too ME-centered. Yes, some of you may have just dropped your gum hearing me say that, but learning isn't about the teacher talking. It is about the students interacting in the process of discovering new ideas.

Anyway, this is the way that I have been using video conferencing as a teaching tool for the past couple of years and it has been less than rewarding. I would talk and students would type.  I was proud of my ability to read the scrolling written discussion as I spoke and incorporating it into my talk without a stutter.  It just didn't have the interaction that I typically have in a face-to-face classroom.

Last semester I was teaching my Selection and Integration of Instructional Technologies course to our Instructional Technology Masters students. One of the assignments involves small groups of students finding journal articles that relate to our study module. They lead online written discussions about the articles but then they also have to lead a video-conferenced discussion as well. This process involves these students using their webcams to show their likenesses and then leading the discussion. Please note, I (Dr. Z) turn off my webcam AND mute my microphone so that I have no input into the discussion except for an occasional text message telling them that we need to "move on."

I LOVED this!!!!  This is the way it SHOULD be!!!!  Students are sharing their ideas and leading the discussion. They are taking control of their own learning and I am sitting at the side guiding the process in a forwardly direction - whatever that may mean.

SOOOOOOOO, I am teaching my Selection and Integration class again this semester. I have been talking and the students have been typing in the notes section. We haven't begun the Articles assignment yet, but I wanted to get the students more involved tonight. The question was - How?

I begin each class (before we begin recording) by verbally greeting each student. I expect them to respond verbally. I even ask them to use their webcam when available, but they seem a little shy for that. Tonight, we were discussing the definition of Literacy and New Literacies.  I began the discussion but asked students to use their webcams when they responded. It was slow at first, but most of them allowed us to see them as they spoke. I shared the screen with them for while, but eventually turned it off and the light "only shone on them." I spoke to provide some direction occasionally, but found that just sitting quietly when students weren't talking was quite successful because teachers can't stand "Dead Air" and they rush to fill the void.

As class proceeded, the students took over. See the screenshot ↑↑↑↑↑ UP THERE ↑↑↑↑↑ The students are in charge and Dr. Z is no where to be seen.    HOOORAY!!!

It was a successful evening and I look forward to our future discussions.  Many of the students mentioned that they enjoyed the process and looked forward to doing it next week and in the future.

I believe that this is a significant step in my journey to make my online courses more student-centered.  Online learning is not necessarily 21st century learning.  It can be just as 19th century as boring lectures in the flesh only they can do more damage across a larger stretch of land.   =-)

The key is in the pedagogical design that places students at the center of their learning experiences.

What do you do to help your students take control of their learning in your online courses?

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  1. I did enjoy it, but I have to say, I am a much better thinker when I can push the delete button and rewrite my response! I am not a fast thinker and talker, especially when I am really learning something new. BUT, that being said, thank you for pushing us forward in new directions! I know my students hate it when I get them up and in front too, but over time they love it!

  2. Dr. Z:

    I thoroughly enjoyed our learning environment the other night. Even though I am not teaching in a solely online learning format, I like the possibilities of creating this type of learning environment with my high schoolers... only in a blended way. I plan to use a backchannel and encourage learners to take over the discussion whether it is solely on the backchannel or through f2f interaction in the classroom.

    I see many challenges in this type of learning format, but I also like the possibilities of giving all learners a voice and the learner-centric model that can come out of it. I will keep you informed as to how it worked out. Any tips would be appreciated!


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