Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Networked Student with Transcript

A few people have requested a transcript for The Networked Student. You can access the transcript here.

The Networked Student is free for you to use in any way that is helpful to you. I would really appreciate any feedback you have or receive about the concept of the networked student.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

CCK08-Connectivism: Networked Student...The Movie


YouTube version for sharing
(Please share, reuse, redistribute, especially with administrators, teachers, and parents.)

As a grand finale for the Connectivism course, George asked participants to respond to the following questions:
  1. What is the quality of my learning networks: diversity, depth, how connected am I?
  2. How has this course influence my view of the process of learning (assuming, of course, that it has)?
  3. What types of questions are still outstanding?
  4. How can you incorporate connectivist principles in your design and delivery of learning?
Questions 2 and 4 are addressed in the video above. The presented scenario is definitely not a complete picture of connectivism. I think it's a good start for a k12 classroom. I view the work with my students as networked learning incubation.

I had great fun creating this video. My 15 year old son, Alex, helped with the artwork and voice over. My high school students are currently working on the project that is highlighted in the video. I owe a big thank you to Lee LeFever of CommonCraft. He kindly gave me permission to use the "Plain English" format for my project. I absolutely love the brilliant simplicity of his work.

I sincerely hope that other teachers will use the video to help colleagues, parents, and students understand the potential of networked learning.

On to questions 1 and 3...
I managed a fairly robust learning network prior to taking the connectivism course. But, I believe I'm taking a more thoughtful approach as a result of this experience. I'm reaching out to those with whom I already have a professional relationship, building new contacts, and trying harder to seek out points of view that differ from mine. I hope that the visibility of CCK08 will facilitate more research and testing of Connectivism as a theory of learning. The biggest question in my mind is whether the theory is powerful enough to have a real impact on main stream education. I see a lot of potential obstacles, especially with younger children. I'm also contemplating the best strategy for strengthening network ties and developing deeper professional contacts for learning and sharing.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

CCK08-Connecting the Concept Map

I've been posting concept maps for each of the topics covered in the CCK08 Connectivism Course. It's time to pull it all together. Drum roll please...

I need to have this in poster format so I can read it all at once. There must be some site out there that will turn this into a poster for me. Hmmm.

CCK08-Changing Space and Structure

Everything is connected. I find the day-to-day connectedness of life interesting. Think about it. You give your child a unique name. First time at a birthday party, two other kids have the same name. You buy a new car and run into identical models everywhere. You learn a new word and suddenly the whole world is using it, too. It's not that these things didn't exist before. You just weren't paying attention. This happens to me again and again in my personal network, tiny coincidences that really aren't coincidence at all. Such experiences are actually the unveiling of connections that reflect those moments where our paths intersect. I recently blogged about Scott McLeod's perception of Clayton Christensen's concept of disruptive innovation. (See the bread crumb trail here?) To my surprise, it appeared again in this week's CCK08 readings. Knowledge diffuses like a forest fire, moving in numerous directions, sometimes jumping roads to burn a whole new path.

Schools, by their structure, contain the fire. Closed classrooms contain knowledge by limiting access to available information, investing everything in the one teacher/one text model, and bureaucratizing the system in the name of accountability, thus making change nearly impossible. It is perfectly clear to me that changing the educational system will require a whole new paradigm of structure and space.

What will this new space look like? Will all learning take place online, or will we build blended connected environments that include small meetings of face-t0-face participants? Will the innovations made possible by new technologies be powerful enough to change an educational system that has managed to survive virtually all past technological advancements since the pencil? Will some of us have to start from scratch with a whole new paradigm of learning space? The chances of making that happen within the current physical structure appear bleak, at best.

Monday, November 17, 2008

CCK08-Connectivism, Disruptive Innovation, and the Long Tail

Paper #3
In this reflection, I offer a personal perspective on connectivism concepts addressed in the past ten weeks. Three major components drove my learning experience. Instructors, George Siemens and Stephen Downes provided a solid foundation of theory and concepts. Colleagues in the course and those who have blogged in the past brought unique perspectives to the content. My personal journey through blogs, online video presentations, podcasts, synchronous meetings, various articles and relationships with colleagues and students further constructed my connective knowledge.

As a result, I see opportunities for education, especially in helping students build personal learning networks that will serve them in all learning endeavors. While the connectivism that George and Stephen envision is often spontaneous and self-directed, I believe students can initially benefit from a more organized approach. Once the foundation is built, independent learning will thrive.

The challenge lies in making this possible for all students, from elementary through higher education. New technologies with connective network potential are released on a near daily basis. Yet, few teachers take advantage of the most basic benefits of network technology such as Internet search and research strategies.

Why is it so difficult to change the practice of education?
I recently listened to the 21st Century Learning Podcast, Dr. Scott McLeod on Disruptive Innovation and the future of K12 Education. Scott compares schools to the corporations in Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma (1997). Christensen’s basic premise is that “time and time again almost all the organizations that have ‘died’ or been displaced from their industries (because of a new paradigm of customer offering) could see the disruption coming, but did nothing until it was too late” (12 Manage, 2008, pg. 1). Basically, corporations are not able to handle disruptive innovation from within. Such innovation is only possible through completely new business models or off-shoots of the business with autonomous management. The sober implication for schools is that existing systems are so entrenched in bureaucracies of current practice that they are not likely to change. Those of us who are trying to innovate from within are basically banging our heads against the wall. On the other hand, online, connected learning may provide opportunities to disengage from the institution of school as we know it.

What kinds of opportunities can we embrace if we are able to make fundamental and systemic changes?

We must rethink school, structure, and power. School is not necessarily textbooks, and standardized testing. It doesn’t have to be a brick building, six or seven periods a day, and desks in rows. Teachers do not have to control the learning process. If we empower the learner and provide him or her with the resources necessary to embark on effective connective journeys, we’ll have a vehicle for innovation.

What can we learn from voices of resistance?
Resistance is good. Any new theory, or idea for that matter, needs vetting to fully develop and improve. Open-minded skepticism is healthy because it encourages creativity. There will be those who never change. However, our response to their arguments adds to the foundation on which we build a solid learning network. Learning may look different in a connective environment, but some traditional learning principles may be valid in certain circumstances. Resistance will help us evaluate those pedagogies and how they apply.

I see our current world of weak ties and easy connections as the long tail of learning. John Seeley Brown suggests, “the challenge of 21st century education will be leveraging the abundant resources of the web – this very long tail of interests – into a “circle of knowledge-building and sharing” (Brown, 2007). Success will depend on our ability to change our role from all-knowing teacher to network learning guide.

Brown, J. (2007, January 30). MIT World » : Relearning Learning-Applying the Long Tail to Learning. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from

Christensen, C. (1997). Innovator's Dilemma: Introduction: (Why Companies Need to Understand and Manage the Forces of Disruptive Innovation). New York: Harvard Business School Press.

Christensen, C. (2008, November 8). Disruptive Innovation (Christensen). Retrieved November 17, 2008, from

Ragone, A. (2008, November 14). 21st Century Learning #84: Dr. Scott McLeod on Disruptive Innovation and the Future of K12 Education | EdTechTalk. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Networked Student Revision B

Thank you for more valuable feedback on the Networked Student Diagram. A special shout out to Jon Becker for this visual suggestion.
Cindy Lane
suggested that coworkers be added to contacts. She reminded me that many older students have part time jobs or internships.

Here's the update with their input and a few of my changes. I removed the subcategories under social networking and placed it under RSS. You'll see that the diagram is actually starting to look more like a network with RSS as a separate category, but also a subcategory of Information Management. I changed Direct Communication to Synchronous Communication and connected it to contacts, as well. Any more ideas?
Click on the graphic to enlarge.

The Networked Student Revision A

Thank you to everyone who offered feedback on the Networked Student so far. Changes to this revision include:
  • Remove reference to specific tools.
  • Include RSS under "Information Management"
  • Add MySpace and Facebook - Rather than single out these specific tools, I divided social networking into hobbies, formal learning, and socializing. There may be a better way to do this.
Please have a look at this new version and let me know what you think. Click on the graphic to enlarge.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Networked Student

Inspired by Alec Couros' vision of The Networked Teacher and participation in the Connectivism course, I've decided to experiment with student personal learning networks. I'm still in the process of brainstorming a concept map to represent the Networked Student. It's not especially pretty at this point, but I would so appreciate any feedback on the content!

Today, I kicked off a project with my Contemporary Issues class. Each student is selecting an issue for which they have a great interest. We're in the process of building personal learning networks one step at a time:
  1. Internet search tips
  2. Social Bookmarking - Set up account
  3. RSS - Set up Google Reader, personal blog, podcast subscriptions, Google Alerts
  4. How to find an expert (to schedule Skype sessions with our class)
  5. Hoping to hold it all together with iGoogle Page and/or personal wiki
Students already have Google Docs accounts, so it seemed easier to keep with the Google tools.

For the selected topic, students will:
  • Follow at least 5 blogs (hopefully more)
  • Create a personal blog and reflect at least twice/wk
  • Maintain and share bookmarks on the topic
  • Facilitate discussions in our face-to-face meetings
  • Subscribe to podcasts if available for the topic
  • Schedule a Skype session with an expert in the field
  • Create a final product that can be posted to share with others (e.g.: wiki, ning, slideshare, Voice Thread, video)
A purely connectivist approach would not mandate each of these tasks. Students would be free to navigate their learning network according to individual needs. However, my students still find great comfort in structure. This is their first venture into online learning. We'll see how they venture on their own once I nudge them out of the nest. :-)

What am I missing? If you've done this before, what worked or didn't work for your students? Anything you would add? Ideas?

CCK08-Who is Teacher in a Connectivist Framework?

Changing roles of educators
Teacher roles and responsibilities are changing on a number of fronts. The accountability movement, especially in the United States, has placed considerably more responsibility on the teacher in the form of standardization of content, evaluation, and documentation of student achievement. Brain research is telling us more about child development and how humans learn, in addition to providing the means to identify auditory processing deficiencies, autism, attention deficit disorder and countless other exceptionalities. Government increasingly looks to education to solve complex social challenges. Meanwhile, technology evolves at such a frenetic pace that we barely have the chance to consider the educational value of one tool before another takes center stage. Teachers are continually asked to do more with the same or less resources. It’s easy to understand why they are overwhelmed. Some embrace these changes losing sleep over how to address them. Others find safety in their comfort zones. Ultimately, we will all have to come to terms with how these issues affect our roles as educators and learners.

Teaching and learning involves social interaction, even in the most traditional sense between teacher and student. Social technology “has fundamentally changed how we can be together” (White, 2008), so it seems natural to explore the potential impact of social networking on education and how it might change our roles. This reflection will focus specifically on the impact of connected learning on teacher roles. However, it is wise to consider implications to all of the issues listed above to further reflect on how networked teacher roles might address educational challenges beyond mere technological implications. Such is a topic for future study.

Appropriate responses to change
Teacher as entrepreneur
Teachers, by nature, take pride in their control and structure. Traditionally, this is how order is maintained. Control is further regarded as necessary to efficiently cover large quantities of content. However, managing change requires flexibility. Experimentation is essential in any dynamic environment. Effective responses to rapid change include an open mind, flexible attitude, and entrepreneurial spirit. Teachers, like their students, can learn a lot from their mistakes. Empowering students requires exchanging control for greater freedom. Greater freedom promotes positive risk taking on the part of both teacher and student. Everyone benefits. Let’s Talk Business, an online guide to business success, suggests that successful entrepreneurs are optimistic, tenacious, ethical, eager to listen and learn, confident, disciplined, and self-controlled (Prairie Public Television, n.d.). Imagine these qualities in a networked teacher, emphasis on self-controlled versus controlling.

Impediments to change
Teacher as change agent
Even in a storm of change, some teachers manage to maintain enough autonomy within the confines of classroom walls to escape administrative directives and avoid collegial pressure. Therefore, the networked teacher must assume the role of change agent. In many cases administrators are not familiar with connectivism and the potential of connected learning. The teacher as change agent possesses leadership qualities to be modeled by other teachers. He or she is a decision maker, one who doesn’t just use technology for its own sake but exhibits thoughtful applications of each new tool. Furthermore, change agents are confident, visionary, and persistent (Gwinn and Taffe, 2007). They will visit fellow colleagues one-on-one as much as necessary to influence their practice. One of Paul Skidmore’s characteristics of network leadership is helping people grow out of their comfort zones (Skidmore, 2006). The teacher as change agent helps others manage this shift.

Impact of current trends
Beyond skeptical colleagues, the networked teacher faces obstacles of limited time, contradicting pedagogy, unbalanced focus on accountability through testing, increased costs with lower budgets, and slow change at upper administrative levels. Yet emerging technologies are providing lower cost, efficient alternatives for building robust personal learning networks. As the trend toward less expensive computers, ever-expanding storage space, and user-friendly social networks continues, more educators will experiment with connected learning thereby exposing more students to its endless learning potential. Once students are empowered in this way, no one will be able to take that away.

What could be?
What does this mean for the networked, connected teacher? What new roles emerge? On his blog, Konrad Glogowski explains, “his classroom transformed itself from a place where knowledge was pre-packaged for students to a place where they are now given a responsibility of creating it, where they have to participate in existing networks (class blogosphere, for example), nurture their own (Furl or accounts, blogs), and look for connections” (Glogowski, 2005). He further identifies the point when he began teaching students to recognize and formulate connections and patterns as the point when he became a teacher of connectivism (Glogowski, 2005).

Konrad, Clarence Fisher, Alec Couros and others in my own personal learning network inspire me to take on new roles to make networked learning possible for my students. I’m about to embark on a 6-week connectivism project with my Contemporary Issues class. They will build a personal learning environment based on a topic for which they have great interest. I will take on a number of new roles including that of modeler, network administrator, curator, concierge, community leader, technology steward, information filter, Sherpa, researcher, change agent, learning entrepreneur, and evaluator. Some of these roles will be foreign and uncomfortable. But, I’m open minded, confident, ready to experiment, and prepared to learn from my mistakes. (See Concept Map in post below this one.)


Brown, J. (2008). How to Connect Technology and Passion in the Service of Learning. Chronicle of Higher Education, 55(8), 99.

Brown, J., & Adler, R. (2008). Minds on Fire. Educause, Jan/Feb, 17-32.

Cormier, D., Downes, S., & Siemens, G. (2008, November 7). CCK08 UStream Session Chat. Retrieved November 9, 2008, from

Entrepreneurship: Characteristics. (n.d.). Retrieved November 9, 2008, from

Glogowski, K. (2005, September 14). Teaching Connectivism blog of proximal development . Retrieved November 9, 2008, from

Gwinn, C., & Taffe, S. (2007). Integrating Literacy and Technology: Effective Practice for Grades K-6 (Tools for Teaching Literacy). New York: The Guilford Press.

Siemens, G. (2007, August 24). Connectivism Blog. Retrieved November 9, 2008, from

Skidmore, P. (2006). Leadership themes school leadership in the 21st century. Retrieved November 9, 2008, from

White, N. (2008, November 5). Full Circle Associates » Guesting with Connectivism & Connective Knowledge. Retrieved November 9, 2008, from

Sunday, November 9, 2008

CCK08 - The Changing Role of Teacher

This week in CCK08, we focused on changing teacher roles. As the concept map reflects, George Siemens, with the help of Stephen Downes, John Seeley Brown, and others offered a number of examples. Nancy White, our guest speaker on Wednesday, offered her views of emerging roles and practices. I'm going to address teacher roles in greater detail in my next post, but the concept map includes a few of my own contributions to the list.

On Friday, my school sponsored a professional development session facilitated by Dr. Joann Deak. She presented current research on the brain that might impact the way we teach. She was careful to focus only on well-documented research and peer-reviewed studies, and she guarded forcefully against hopping on the latest pop psychology band wagon. Almost immediately, teachers were thinking about the practical implications. It occurred to me that there is more influencing the role of teacher than just technology or social networking. The field of education overlaps nearly every other field of practice. Research is evolving at a break neck pace, and arguably all of it could impact effective instruction. This got me thinking about our responsibilities as educators. We've always been conduits of information, but we can't possibly be the keepers of all content, no matter how narrow our field of expertise. Neither can we pick and choose what is important for the learning needs of others. Rather, we become facilitators whose responsibility it is to guide others through the information filtering process. In order to do this we must also become expert researchers. The goal is not research for the purpose of regurgitation, but rather to teach the research process, how to find and filter information.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

CCK08 Power to the People

Power is a loaded concept that is hard to pull into focus without consideration from many different perspectives. The concept map below reflects my personal values. Realistically, power does not agreeably conform into each of these tidy categories. It just seemed logical for me to differentiate between individual, group, and network power, as well as perceived and actual power.

Empowerment takes place when an individual accepts or takes power in a situation. Power can be assigned or earned, but empowerment must be accepted. It was helpful to reflect back to the week we spent differentiating between groups and networks as I considered how individuals behave in these environments. Based on some of the components discussed earlier, I see group power taking the form of leadership by a recognized authority. Whereas, network power may be distributed and/or negotiated. It is also more likely to change based on situations or the environment. I think power is more complex in a network. There may be individuals who believe they have power when, in fact, others do not acknowledge it. In other cases, individuals may have power without even recognizing it.

Paul Skidmore offers characteristics of network leadership that helped me consider what it means to wield power in a network for good (rather than evil). Frankly, these are just good leadership principles in general:
  • Lead from outside in
  • Mobilize disparate supplies of energy
  • Foster trust and empower others to act
  • Help people grow out of their comfort zone (my personal favorite)
  • Lead learners, not all-knowers
  • Nurture other leaders
This is great advice for teachers who strive to facilitate students' development of their own personal learning environments.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

CCK08 Connected ID from Grainne Conole

I've really been looking forward to this week's connectivism content. Instructional design is a personal passion and I enjoy pondering design for every new learning challenge or, in the case of connectivism, contemplating a new theory. From my perspective, this is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching. It's like cracking a case, solving a mystery, or putting together a 5000 piece puzzle. Yet, it's never completely finished. There's always some way to make it better. So, from day one, I've been wondering how to practically create an effective connected learning environment. I'm not sure that connectivism is ready to make the leap from learning theory to learning practice, but I did pick up some valuable principles that apply to social networking for learning.

In New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies, Grainne Conole "reflects on the implications of Web 2.0 for education and offers two new schemas for thinking about harnessing the potential of technologies", focusing specifically on Web 2.0 technologies. The portion of the article that resonated most with me is the pedagogical framework for mapping tools (see concept map above). Conole identifies 3 dimensions that span from information to experience, passive to active learning, and individual to social learning. I immediately recognize that most classroom learning takes place in the upper left corner of the framework. Most of our students individually learn knowledge-level information in a passive manner. ESSENTIAL QUESTION: How do we move our students toward the lower right corner where they can actively experience learning with others?

Conole offers a matrix of principles against the learning characteristics they promote. For example, frequent interactive exercises and feedback promote thinking and reflection, conversation and interaction, as well as evidence and demonstration. Allowing users to build a reputation in the system promotes experience and activity. Conole further identifies personal learning networks as a means for creating a custom learning experiences.

I see personal learning environments as the key to a connectivist approach. Learner freedom to choose connections and navigate the network is crucial. It's what separates a group from a network, structured closed learning environments from open, distributive from distributed. If we put structure around this PLE, it no longer maintains all of the characteristics of an open network. Perhaps we should...
  1. focus our teaching time on effective methods for building a personal learning environment
  2. provide guidance and feedback as our students create this environment
  3. offer support and challenge students to push themselves further, especially when they fail to take ownership of the learning process
  4. share in their successes and provide additional avenues for sharing with others
It appears that Open University's Cloudworks, a social networking tool for sharing learning ideas and designs may provide a repository for networked learning objects. I was only able to visit some areas of the site to get a very high-level feel for what they are trying to accomplish. For now, the site has limited access. However, a few basic design principles are offered that could apply to the design of any social network for learning.
  • Clearly define the social object your service is built around
  • Define the verbs that users perform on the objects so that it is clear what the site is for (how many Web 2.0 tools have you visited with absolutely no clue as to what they do?)
  • Make the objects sharable
  • Turn invitations into gifts (provide motivation for others to participate)
  • Charge publishers, not spectators
The Cloudworks design framework further identifies four design domains:
  • Enabling practice
  • Mimicking reality
  • Building identify
  • Actualizing self
The Cloudworks design principles focus on actually building a social network for learning rather than using existing networks to learn. However, the design domains are useful in both situations.

I'm not sure I have all the components necessary to design an effective social networked learning experience, but I do feel that we're getting closer. I think that the lessons of this week provide some building blocks that will continue to surface as we progress through the course.


CloudWorks. (n.d.). Retrieved Oct. 18, 2008, from

Conole, G. (n.d.). New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies. Retrieved Oct. 19, 2008, from

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

CCK08: I've Had an Ephiphany about emergent learning

I've had an "aha" moment...I've experienced emergent learning!

(Then, again. I could be wrong. It's impossible to predict.)

People tell me that uncertainty comes with age. I have to admit I see less black and white in the world these days and a whole lot more gray. I continually marvel at the human need to simplify extremely complex ideas. We are always looking for that one cause to explain an issue or problem (e.g. cancer, economic collapse, student failure in school, poverty). The reality is that all of these problems are the result of complex systems. Therefore, cause is difficult to determine because it is the result of the interaction of many variables. We have to consider alternative conceptions of causality. In other words, prediction is uncertain, difficult, maybe impossible. (Phelps, 2003) The cause may turn out to be a system in and of itself. For example, cancer in one individual may be the result of a combination of genetic inheritance, exposure to a combination of environmental chemicals, and the complexities of diet. Removal of any one of those variable MAY decrease the risk, but which one? Are they all dependent upon each other? At this point that is impossible to predict.

How can we extend this concept to learning?
Can we even create specific learning objectives within a framework of complexity? (Framework of complexity...Is that an oxymoron?) Phelps points out that real life is not ordered or structured, but I submit that's the reason we humans try so hard to put structure and order around it. Order facilitates our understanding. If we took Phelps' study to the next level, we might find that students learn more from a free, open, complex content environment. But, I wonder if we would also find (as I am experiencing with this course) a motivation to impose our own individual structure around the chaos. So, maybe it's not about a lack of structure, but more about who's imposing the structure. Do we learn from artificially imposed structure conceived by the teacher, or self-imposed structure that meets our unique individual learning needs? How can teachers help students build those individual learning structures? Is that possible or practical?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

CCK08: Groups versus Networks - What's the difference?

This week in Connectivism Stephen Downes and George Siemens differentiate between groups and networks. When I first started to consider connectivism as a learning theory, I had difficulty separating these two ideas. I wondered how connectivism was any different than cooperative learning with technology. A simplistic view, I know. But, playing devil's advocate in my own mind, I couldn't immediately see enough differences to warrant a brand new theory of learning. That changed for me somewhat over the past weeks and more so this week.

A few key concepts associated with groups and networks really clarify the differences.



Connectivism is about networked learning. This doesn't mean that groups won't form within networks. It just means that connective learning in it's most powerful sense has the characteristics on the right side of this concept map. Those characteristics are what differentiates groups from networks and connectivism from other learning theories.

Just one question...
I'm grappling with the notion that networks are like ecosystems. When I think of an ecosystem, I think of critical dependencies whereby the ecosystem fails when one component fails. Yet in a complex network, a node could theoretically disappear without causing major impact to the network. Again, I'm getting caught up in metaphors when I should be thrilled that all of this is starting to make a lot more sense to me.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

CCK08: History of Networked Learning Timeline

Week 4: History of Networked Learning
I chose to create a timeline in place of a concept map for the history of networked learning. It just seemed to make more sense given the historic frame of reference for the week's content.

Of course, this timeline does not include everything. It's a compilation of content from George Siemen's "A Brief History of Networked Learning" and Trebor Scholz' Slideshare of How the Social Web Came to Be.

Be sure to click on the little plus signs at the bottom of the timeline to see all items.

CCK08: What is Connectivism? A position based on 4 weeks in CCK08, an open Connectivism Course

A New Theory of Learning?
The Internet, interactive social gaming, and Web applications designed to facilitate social participation have created a new environment for collaborating and learning. Humans adapt to their environment. “Learning is influenced in fundamental ways by the context in which it takes place” (Bransford et al, 2000, pg. 25). Connectivism seeks to understand learning within this relatively new, technology-enhanced context. “The concept of emergent, connected, and adaptive knowledge provides the epistemological framework for connectivism (Siemens, 2005) as a learning theory. Connectivism posits that knowledge is distributed across networks and the act of learning is largely one of forming a diverse network of connections and recognizing attendant patterns (Siemens, 2006)” (as quoted by Siemens, 2008, pg. 10).

Discussion continues in the scholarly and online blogging community over whether Connectivism is a new theory of learning. To answer that, we have to determine what constitutes a learning theory versus an idea or principle of learning. In Human Learning, Jeanne Ellis Ormrod differentiates between principles and theories. “Theories of learning provide explanations about the underlying mechanisms involved in learning. Whereas principles tell us what factors are important for learning, theories tell us why these factors are important” (Ormrod, 2008, pg. 5-6). Ormrod further identifies 4 advantages of theories. Theories summarize results of many research studies, provide starting points for conducting new research, help make sense of research findings, and ultimately help us design learning environments that facilitate human learning (Ormrod, 2008, p. 7).

Based on these views of learning theory, I submit that Connectivism is in its theoretical infancy. It is built on existing theories of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism (Siemens, 2005). However, Connectivism is differentiated by new requirements for learning that are evolving in the digital information age. We’re in the middle of this evolution. Therefore, more observation and scholarly research studies are required before we can effectively apply this theory to instructional design. These are exciting times. All who are participating in this exploration of Connectivism are directly involved in the process of establishing Connectivism as a valid theory of learning.

Strengths and Weaknesses
The strength of connectivism is in its ability to explore and consider learning in a complex networked environment. There is powerful learning potential in a network where learning can reside outside the individual at the same time providing limitless access to further learning opportunities for each participant.

The weakness of Connectivism as a theory of learning is in practical application. Consider the concepts of chaos and self-organization, chaos, the “connection of everything to everything” (Siemens, 2005) and self organization, “the spontaneous formation of well organized structures, patterns, or behaviors from random initial conditions” (Rocha, 1998, p. 3). We can observe complex connections of everything to everything. We can observe random initial conditions after they occur. Unfortunately, we can’t effectively recreate them. (Unless we have access to large numbers of people to pull together for a common cause as with the 2000 participants in this class.) Therefore, how do we apply this theory of learning to design? Furthermore, how can we help practitioners fully grasp the theory in such a way as to consider the possibility that they won’t be able to control learning in the same way they have in the past. The implications to education must be explored further.

Personal Perspective
Connectivism resonates with my past learning experience in that I’ve come to personally value the power of networked learning. I was an independent, introverted learner throughout my formal education until the last few years of graduate school. I did not like group work primarily because I disliked the dependence on others to get work done. The distribution of work was never well balanced. Someone always ended up with more of the burden and it was often me, not because I was so intelligent, but because I just wanted to get the work done.

It has only been in the past few years, as I have seen the emergence of online networks, that I’ve come to understand the power of connections and collective intelligence. I’ve decided that networked learning doesn’t take place as effectively in a small group setting. Technology provides a means to network with a much larger population. People can contribute at all different levels of participation without adversely impacting others who seek to learn from the network. The larger the number of participators or subnetworks, the less important an individual level of participation becomes. The smaller the network, the more motivation and forced participation come into play. I’m currently involved in a number of 21st Century learning initiatives that require my participation in a Ning. On the one hand, it’s a great way to connect with other members of the group. On the other hand, contributions often seem forced or contrived. I resent (though I understand) the requirement to contribute when I don’t necessarily have anything I feel compelled to add to the conversation.

I believe that the bigger challenge for educators and instructional designers will be to figure out how to tap into or create larger networks for learning. I think that individuals will have to build their own personal learning networks based on unique needs and desires. Educators will become facilitators who help individuals navigate these large networks and organize content in a manner that best meets the learner’s unique needs.

Outstanding Questions
Connectivism is a theory in progress. As I practitioner, I’m continuously tempted to apply the theory to my personal practice. As a researcher, I understand why we’re not quite ready to make those leaps. At the same time, reflecting on possible practical applications helps practitioners grasp the theory. It might also identify areas where further research is needed. Questions I continue to ponder include:
• Is there an optimal size for a learning network?
• Are individual motivation, participation, level of expertise, and level of contribution dependent factors?
• How can teachers make the best use of existing networks and facilitate the organizational challenges for student participation?
• Is it possible to design an effective learning network? Should we even try?
• If Connectivism is a learning theory, we must presume that individuals are learning in this environment. What are the implications for future research and how do we design effective studies to address these implications?
• What are the roles of individuals in a learning network? Are the values of each role different? What is the implication if one or more of these roles are not fulfilled?


Bransford, J. et. al. (2000). How people learn. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Ormrod, J. (2007). Human Learning (5th Edition). Alexandria, VA: Prentice Hall.

Rocha, L. M. (1998). Selected Self-Organization and the Semiotics of Evolutionary Systems. Retrieved October 4, 2008 from

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for a digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1). Retrieved October 4, 2008, from

Siemens, G. (2008). Presented to ITFORUM for discussion on January 27, 2008. Retrieved from October 4, 2008.

Monday, September 29, 2008

CCK08 Network Concept Map

I really enjoyed the conversations about networking that came out of the connectivism course last week. The concept swam in and out of my brain throughout the week. For example, an old friend came into town on Sunday morning. He invited a few other folks who he knew in the area when he lived here years ago. We all got together for breakfast, talked about old times, and marveled over the additional friends and acquaintances that we had in common. Human networks are not new, but technology certainly reinforces and enables those additional connections. At the end of breakfast, email addresses were exchanged and I ended up with 3 new LinkedIn connections. Once you start thinking about networks, it's difficult to break away. They are so pervasive in my daily life.

Some of the key take-aways that resonated this week include:
  • Multiple networks that come together are not purely additive. There is overlap, more so as the network evolves.
  • There are different roles within a network. Individuals can take on more than one role within a given network or across the networks in which they participate.
  • There is value in all network nodes, though it may be influenced by individual roles and possibility expertise.
Networks Concept Map
(Click on the map to enlarge)

I truly began to see that networks ARE everywhere, not just on the Internet, but in our face-to-face workspace, public transportation, social relationships, mobile communication, families, colleagiate football (bad week for the Gators), and our suffering economy. Recognizing networks in every aspect of life provides a virtual laboratory for contemplating and comparing those networks to online social networks. What makes them successful? How are they maintained? What are the roles within that network? Where is the power? How does this outside-world network compare to my online social connections?

These questions are important if we ever hope to grasp the complexity of online networked learning.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

CCK08 Network Metaphors and Week Three Recap

Week 3 of the CCK08 Connectivism course focused on networks. The metaphors and analogies have been flying in the forums, blogs, and chat rooms in Elluminate and UStream sessions. This is another example of how we, as humans, find meaning in confusion. We make connections with ideas and concepts we already know, comparisons that fit within the established schema.

George Seimens explains, "Knowledge is distributed. Learning is the process of creating networks. This is increasingly aided by technology." George posed a question this week, "If a network structure is a foundation of learning, are our education systems designed to appropriately take advantage of networking opportunities?" A number of course participants have asked for practical applications of connectivism theory. I long for that myself, but I'm beginning to realize that we're putting the cart before the horse. It's a lot easier to observe a highly functioning networked learning environment or situation than it is to create one. Though many early adopters are trying. Newer web applications such as Nings and wikis offer some structure for networked communities. But, it's still quite messy. I'm increasingly challenged to sift through the networking opportunities that come along each day, especially as someone working in the educational technology field. I personally belong to a Powerful Learning Practice Ning, an NAIS Teacher of the Future social network, a Florida Master Digital Educator's Ning, a University of Florida Department of Ed Tech Wiki, student AP Human Geography Wiki, student Great Debate 2008 Ning, K12 Online wiki, and the connectivism course. These are just the ones in which I'm supposed to be currently active.

This is not a complaint. Nor, am I trying to win the most-networked teacher award. I'm actually trying to embrace the cognitive dissonance that is the result of my immersion in this 24/7 connectedness. On the one hand, I'm picking up tidbits of useful knowledge that greatly enhance my research and pique my curiousity. I also hope that I'm sharing useful information with others. On the other hand, I'm losing a lot of sleep and feeling extremely disjointed in my participation in these networks. So, if I exist as a single node within all of these networks, what is my value to the network? Would I be of greater value in one network to which I could devote a greater amount of my thought processing? Or, am I of some value in each of these networks? Furthermore, do I personally get more out of full participation in one network - or disjointed participation in many?

Back to George's question. My answer today is.. we won't be equipped to design a system that supports networked learning until we understand it much better than we do now. It may even require us to rethink our definitions of learning, structure, scaffolding, and other concepts we relate to a learning environment. Rather than teaching students how to learn, we may have to teach them how to effectively manage learning. We don't do a good job of that, even in our current system.

Monday, September 22, 2008

CCK08 Knowledge Concept Map

Some of last week's conversations defining knowledge were very theoretical and a little difficult to follow. Still, they were thought-provoking and certainly had me questioning my perspectives with regard to knowledge and knowing. In the simplest sense, I am able to view knowledge as qualitative, quantitative, or connective. George Siemens verified via our UStream discussion that knowledge can be both qualitative or quantitative AND connective. That provided some clarification.

One question that continued to resonate with me...What has changed that makes connectivism a viable learning theory at this point in history? Many of the components of the theory apply to face-to-face communities as much as they do to virtual ones. Why don't we view connectivism as a general theory of group learning rather than a theory that applies the use of technology to learning? Relating connectivism to changes in the knowledge environment helped clarify the role of technology. Knowledge-sharing is becoming easier, knowledge itself more accessible. A number of trends are changing the knowledge environment. These trends facilitate connected learning. (See concept map below.) Technology is making the environmental change possible.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Connective Knowledge CCK08

Connective Knowledge is this week's focus in CCK08. George Siemens' book, Knowing Knowledge (included in my summer reading) provides a good foundation for this week's discussions. A few course members are already contemplating the difference between knowledge and information. From a conceptual point of view, I see value in differentiating between
  • Information
  • Knowledge
  • Learning
  • Education
As these are English words, I don't want to get caught up in semantics. The differences are subtle, but important to note. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition is italicized with my comments below.

1: the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence2 a (1): knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction

Webster uses the words "communication" and "knowledge" in the definition for information. I would argue that information exists without necessary communication. Information is everywhere, not necessarily communicated. In some cases, it just is.

1 obsolete : cognizance 2 a (1): the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association (2): acquaintance with or understanding of a science, art, or technique b (1): the fact or condition of being aware of something (2): the range of one's information or understanding knowledge

Knowledge is a noun, but attaining it requires action, either passive or active on the part of the one acquiring it. Note the phrase "through experience", "being aware", "understanding".

1 : the act or experience of one that learns 2 : knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study 3 : modification of a behavioral tendency by experience (as exposure to conditioning)

Learning is the action. It is what happens as one acquires knowledge.

1 a: the action or process of educating or of being educated ; also : a stage of such a process b: the knowledge and development resulting from an educational process education>

A favorite quote of mine: Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.
- Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

I digress. Seriously, Education is what exists after exposure to information, acquisition of knowledge, and the learning process take place. Education is dynamic and continuous. It is constantly being constructed or built upon.

This is where it is important to differentiate between an individual's experience within a networked learning community and the overall group experience or contribution. One person may contribute a lot of content or very little. Another may learn extensively from that content, or barely skim the surface.

From an individual's perspective within a networked learning environment, varying levels of knowledge may be negotiated and/or acquired. I'm going to use the
Teach Web 2.0 Wiki as an example of networked learning because I'm close to it. But, I believe that this is a simplistic view compared to the connected learning going on in CCK08 where numerous tools are being used at once.

One of the frustrations of the Teach Web 2.0 design is getting participants to move beyond information gathering to application, synthesis, and evaluation of content (Blooms Taxonomy, 1956). Arguably, this transition must take place for deeper learning to occur. Information is the low hanging fruit in a learning network. People are happy cutting and pasting, moving content from one location to another. But, is that really learning? Is than even knowledge? The Teach Web 2.0 wiki was designed to encourage participants to evaluate Web applications and their potential value to teaching and learning. However, few contribute at this level without guidance. There's a much greater commitment of time and thought processing required to participate in this way. It's very easy to list a new tool, much harder to assess and articulate how to use it effectively.

I see a similar circumstance within the CCK08 community. Many are in the discussion forums typing a paragraph or so. Others offer drive by praise or criticisms. Still others pop in for Elluminate or UStream sessions. How many are diving into all of these things while closely digesting the readings and trying to offer new perspectives? I want to be in that last category, but time is an enemy.

I'm very interested in understanding connectivism from an instructional design and learner role perspective. How do we move from information collection to knowledge construction? I wonder if we'll skim this topic when we look at power, control, validity, and authority in week 8?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Learning can be painful and very messy

Thank you George, for your comments to my "disconnectivism" blog post. Now that I've had the chance to vent some of my frustration, I should clarify. While following the discussion has been overwhelming and at times (I REALLY hate to admit this) intimidating, I feel extremely fortunate to be part of the process. I appreciate Andreas' Walk in the Woods analogy and Stephen's reflection that "people want to cover the entire subject in the first five days". It's clear that the discomfort stems from trying to make sense of a complex environment. It almost feels like I'm personally experiencing every learning theory to which I have been exposed in my educational graduate work. Learning can be painful, confusing, and very messy. In this case, I see that as a positive.

So far, this has been one of the most intriguing and personally enlightening learning experiences I have encountered. I'm now mentally prepared for week two. :-)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Connectivism or Disconnectivism

My head hurts. It is day 5 of the connectivism course, and I have more disconnects than connects. I've been reading through the Moodle forums, specifically the skeptic thread. I strongly support challenging discourse and disagreement. However, I'm frustrated by the human tendency to over-simplify complex concepts and ideas. It's even more frustrating because I can't adamantly disagree with anyone at this point. All of the arguments have merit. I'm questioning everything - my educational philosophy, my profession, even the name of my blog and wiki.

The skeptic discussion thread includes a number of Web 2.0 criticisms. We tend to put every new web-related technology under the Web 2.0 umbrella. That's a mistake. I want to strike out the "Web 2.0" in my blog and just leave "Teach". At the same time, some of the so-called Web 2.0 tools have significant educational potential. Those of us who live in educational technology must continually remind ourselves that many of our colleagues do not. There has to be some guidance to help teachers navigate emerging tools and differentiate between those that facilitate learning and those that don't. I do not apologize for that. The tools are especially important if we are able to harness them to manage complex learning environments. Why bother? For one thing, our current system of education is not working, at least not for everyone. More importantly, I've seen a flash of light and I'm curious.

Professional experience at IBM in a socially networked environment and countless online courses in my graduate program have given me glimpses of earth shattering learning events, moments when concepts, contributions of others, and epiphanies collide on multiple levels - monumental a-ha's. How do I replicate that for my own students? Is it even possible to create an environment conducive to those experiences, or does it happen just as randomly with the help of technology as it does in a face-to-face classroom? I'm not sure, but those brief moments are what I hope to capture. My interest in connectivism is rooted deeply in the quest for understanding those "connected" moments.

I see the tools of technology as future potential to manage those moments. We're not there yet. The contributions of over 2000 participants in this course are confusing, overwhelming, and uncomfortable. I have to keep walking away. Then again, they certainly have me thinking.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Motivation and Connectivism

My previous post asked the question...

Shouldn't motivation be included as an influencing factor in Connectivism?

With a little more time to think about this, I realize that we have to differentiate between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Stephen Downes post Connectivism and its Critics: What Connectivism is Not states that "learners are not managed through some sort of motivating process, and the amount of learning is not (solely or reliably) influenced by motivating behaviours (such as reward and punishment, say, or social engagement)."

Delliotthk (see comment to post below) related my motivation question to our system in Florida, in which 1/3 of students do not graduate, contemplating whether networked learning might be a motivator for these students. I think it might, but my gut feeling (for lack of the requisite knowledge to make a stronger assertion) is that connectivism does not address this type of external motivation. In other words, it does not encompass those things we do as teachers to get our students to care about the work and do it.

I would, however, argue that intrinsic motivation is an influencing factor in the quality of networked learning. I do not mean the motivation of individuals. I'm talking about the motivation that exists within some larger number of participants. Not much learning will take place if no one is motivated to contribute. This begs the question, how much learning takes place when the network includes just a few highly motivated participants versus large numbers of motivated participants? What about those who lurk, but do not contribute? The thought-provoking concept here is just how does learning take place within a connectivist framework? Isn't motivation a critical factor?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Connectivism and Connective Knowledge

I'm taking George Siemens' and Stephen Downes' open Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course through the University of Manitoba. My blog is coming back to life with thoughts and questions based on the experience. Hopefully, you will see a deeper understanding begin to evolve. George posted a number of supporting documents for review, one of which was a comparison chart that differentiates connectivism from various other learning theories. This is helpful as I am still trying to grasp the concept of connectivism.

A couple questions came to mind as I read through the comparison chart.

  • If learning is distributed within a network, how do you centralize understanding? In other words, each participant only holds a piece of the complete puzzle.
  • Are the tools that help put those pieces together the new tools of learning?
  • Shouldn't motivation be included as an influencing factor? My personal experience with online learning communities is that levels of contribution vary greatly. Learning therefore depends on individual participants' motivation to support and contribute to the group.
More to come.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

NACOL Webinar - Online Student-to-Student Collaboration

Thursday evening I had the opportunity to attend a NACOL Webinar presented by Susan Lowes from the Teachers College at Columbia University. "What Works in Student-to-Student Interaction in Online Courses" was attended by a number of virtual school teachers from across the country. I was able to ask questions in the chat room and learn a little more about online collaboration. Dr. Lowes presented the structure of interaction in threaded discussion. This was interesting to me because I've experienced some of the situations she spoke about in my online graduate courses. She explained that early posters in a threaded discussion get many responses. Those who post later get fewer and thus become "orphans" who may feel isolated from the rest of the class. This makes sense because early posters tend to move on, not returning later to read additional posts. So, the question becomes how to motivate everyone to post early enough in the thread and return to respond to others. One teacher on the conference gives additional points for students who post early.

Dr. Lowes also addressed the quality of student discussion threads. Respondents who question and challenge posts stimulate increased, deeper discussion. Cheerleading (attaboy) stops discussion. Somehow, students must be motivated to post quality content and thoughtful responses that facilitate the learning process. One teacher suggested only giving credit for substantive responses. Attaboys don't count. Another teacher designed a rubric for evaluating the quality of posts and responses.

Grading or rating posts seems logical to me, however Dr. Lowes pointed out that a minimum requirement for posts may lead some students to do a little as possible. I think this can be true of any assignment. I have found that many students will post much more if interested in the particular thread. Designing a good prompt is also important.

Dr. Lowes identified different types of "talk" in threaded discussions.
  • Disputational Talk - assertions are made in the post followed by counter assertions (arguments)
  • Cumulative Talk - post says something. Somebody adds to it.
  • Exploratory Talk - post presents new information. Different ideas are discussed before a decision is reached. This is the optimal threaded discussion talk, but doesn't happen often.
I'm thinking about how I will integrate threaded discussions into the courses I will be teaching next year. How will I create captivating prompts that motivate students to participate enthusiastically? Will these be graded? Will I require a certain number of posts and responses within a given timeline? How can I discourage cheerleading and reward thoughtful responses? What is the best way to design a prompt that encourages exploratory talk? This is a lot to think about. But, it helps to have some focus and direction when thinking about threaded discussion. I also wonder how these principles might be applied in the virtual school I'm observing.

Lowes, Susan. (April 17, 2008). What Works in Student-to-Student Interaction in Online Courses . Retrieved April 17, 2008 from NACOL webinar series in Elluminate at .

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Student-to-Student Interaction and Collaboration

In A Study of Student Interaction and Collaboration in the Virtual High School, Andrew Zucker's poses the following questions:
  1. Does encouraging online student participation through grading practices increase student interaction and thus increase the value of the course for students?
  2. How do teachers and students assess and value the role of interaction in online courses?
    (Zucker, 2005, pg. 49)
Zucker randomly selected 8 pairs of virtual school teachers who taught the same course. All teachers encouraged interaction between students. Half of them gave double point grade values for the following interactions: ice breaker posts, minimum number of responses each week, one or two small group activities, and a student lounge for socializing.

Measures included the number of posts to the student lounge, student grades, quality of communication as defined by the teacher, and value of communication and overall satisfaction with the course as reported by the students. The survey findings indicated high satisfaction with more than 2/3 agreeing or strongly agreeing that "communications with other students have been an important part of my learning in this VHS course" (Zucker, 2005, p. 51). The survey further indicated that interaction is important for getting to know other students, learning the material, and motivation.

Andrew, Z. (2005). A Study of Student Interaction and Collaboration in the Virtual High School. A Synthesis of New Research on K-12 Online Learning, p. 49-56. Retrieved Apr. 17, 2008, from

More in the news...

The Winterberry Christian Academy is under construction in Marco Island, Florida. It's on target to open in the fall even though construction will not be complete. The school will initially operate as a virtual school until the building is finished. It plans to continue operation as a blended school once students have been moved into the building. I can't help but think that more and more schools will be using blended learning options. We already know that virtual schools can supplement brick and mortar schools by providing a wider range of subject offerings, keeping students with illnesses on track, and meeting the needs of kids who travel or have special needs. The Winterberry solution is one more item to add to the list.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Collaborative Principles

I'm led to reflect on many aspects of the educational experience as I observe virtual school teaching strategies and techniques. It's clear that the virtual school applies solid principles of instruction to address the differences between face-to-face and online learning. Yet I continue to hear about the challenges of designing and delivering effective collaborative opportunities, especially between students. I've addressed some of the key obstacles to collaboration in earlier posts on this blog, the most challenging of which is student pacing. However, I think it's important to get a better grasp of the basic concept of collaboration before addressing specific issues. What makes online collaboration effective? Is it possible to design authentic collaboration into courses?

D.R. Garrison identifies the following online collaboration principles for design, facilitation, and direct instruction.
  • Establish a climate that will create a community of inquiry. In order to build trust, students should have formal and informal interaction with each other.
  • Establish critical reflection and discourse that will support systematic inquiry. Course design should support the students progression from awareness to knowledge construction and application, in other words through the proper stages of learning.
  • Sustain community through expression of group cohesion. Group cohesion is built upon a solid educational goal toward which each member is focused. Stronger bonds can be facilitated through calculated feedback.
  • Encourage and support the progression of inquiry through to resolution. The instructor facilitates conversations throughout the learning process.
  • Evolve collaborative relationships where students are supported in assuming increasing responsibility for their learning. It's important to define and communicate expectations and help students become more self-directed.
  • Ensure that there is resolution and metacognitive development.

    Recent research has begun to emphasize the importance of strong leadership to ensure discussions stay “on task and on track” (Garrison, 2008, p. 1).

    "Faculty may need to be more direct in their assignments for threaded discussions, charging the participants to resolve a particular problem, and pressing the group to integrate their ideas and perhaps, even, to prepare a resolution of the matters under discussion" (Meyer as quoted by Garrison, 2008, p. 1).

Bottom line - Design is critical in the potential success of online collaboration. Beyond that, instructors must monitor the collaborative process, provide calculated, balanced, timely feedback, and communicate expectations. I believe that making this work takes practice and experience. Like face-to-face teaching, it's also a bit of an art.

We as teachers are so influenced by our personal learning styles and the ways we were taught. I'm even more certain of this as I observe the virtual school. I find myself comparing the virtual online courses with those in my graduate program. As I continue to explore the existing research, I can see the foundation upon which our graduate courses are built. I can see how some of the techniques I've experienced as a student and online graduate facilitator might work in a k12 online environment. At the same time, I'm trying to be mindful of the unique challenges associated with teaching middle and high school students as opposed to college students. I have a much better understanding of the benefits and challenges of teaching in virtual school. I just keep wishing that I had the same understanding of the design component. I wish we had the opportunity to observe and interview the instructional designers.

Garrison, D. (2006). Online Collaboration Principles. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 10(1). Retrieved Apr. 14, 2008, from

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Making Connections - What are you afraid of?

Yesterday, I observed another Elluminate session facilitated by a virtual school AP U.S. History teacher. The session was scheduled for Saturday afternoon further highlighting the need for flexibility in the virtual teachers' work schedule.

I've been focusing my recent observations on collaboration. This is a good time to differentiate between synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Synchronous online collaboration takes place in real time with group members engaged via telephone, video conferencing, chat, or some other communication tool that allows real time conversation. Asynchronous collaboration takes place between a group of participants who provide input at different times. It might take the form of discussion forums or contributions to wikis or other shared documents.

Elluminate is a synchronous conferencing tool. About 13 students participated in the AP U.S. History session on the Japanese Internment of WWII. This was an optional session, however students were permitted to attend this session in lieu of completing an AP document-based question (DBQ). DBQs are a requirement of AP courses. Students are given an essay question that must be supported by primary sources or other documentation. Thus the motivation to attend the Saturday afternoon Elluminate session.

The teacher started the session with a question. What are you afraid of? Students wrote their answers on the Elluminate whiteboard. This was an excellent segue into the exploration of fear as a motivation for the Japanese Internment. The teacher did an great job of helping the students make connections. She gave a number of personal anecdotes throughout the session. Adding this touch personalized the experience for the students. All were engaged in the content. She also posed a question about the constitutional limitations of a racially motivated internment in the United States. Twelve blanks were posted on the whiteboard to represent the word c-o-n-s-t-i-t-u-t-i-o-n. Each student took turns guessing a letter. It was clear that one of the students was not paying attention during this process. This simple activity gave students an opportunity to collaborate while identifying those who were not on task. Virtual school teachers, like their traditional counterparts, find ways to ensure that all students are engaged.

Elluminate also has a tool that allows for small groups to meet in separate "rooms" to complete an assigned task. This feature was not used in Saturday's session, however we used this feature during the internship orientation. I can see this as another means for engaging students in online presentations.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thank you to Jay and NACOL

A very big thank you to Jay for responding to my collaboration thoughts in the post below. One of the limitations of blogging is the inability to respond directly to those who post comments, especially when no website or email address is provided. But, Jay's response also reflects the power of blogging. What better way to compare collaborative activities between virtual schools than to get feedback from actual teachers.

On a related note, one of the news stories from my sidebar highlighted an upcoming webinar sponsored by the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL). What Works in Creating Student-to-Student Interaction in Online Courses will stream at 6:00 on Thursday, April 17. The webinar will include interviews with teachers at virtual schools who are using interactivity and collaboration effectively in their classes. I hope to attend to learn more.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Collaboration at Michigan Virtual School

Dr. Ferdig pointed me to a recently published article in which he, Meredith DiPietro, Erik Black, and Megan Preston discuss best practices at the Michigan Virtual School. I found it interesting that the state of Michigan requires all high school students to experience online learning prior to graduation. I'm assuming that this initiative significantly increased enrollment at the virtual school.

Putting students and learning first is a common theme at the Michigan Virtual School and likewise at the school I've been observing. Other similarities between virtual school teachers at both schools include a general interest in technological advances, the need for good organizational skills, extensive content knowledge, and alternative assessment strategies.

As I reviewed the list of best practices, I was most interested in collaboration and how this is facilitated at Michigan Virtual School (MV). "MV teachers encourage support and communication between students" (DiPeitro, Ferdig, Black, and Preston, 2008, p. 24). This appears to be accomplished via discussion boards. Discussion threads are not used in the courses I have observed. It's not clear how widely they are used in other courses. My supervising teacher explained that collaboration is difficult because individual pacing allows students to be at different places in the course at any given time.

"MV teachers understand the impact of course pacing on course design and the pedagogical strategies they use". The MV teacher quote continues, "in the Flex 90 courses we don't see the strong sense of community that we do in the AP classes" (DiPeitro, Ferdig, Black, and Preston, 2008, p. 19). The reason for this is not clear. Is it because the Flex students are working at a variable pace, or is it because the AP students are better organized and more participatory?

I wish I had a better understanding of the extent to which collaborative strategies are used in both of these virtual schools. At this point, I feel limited to my personal observations and those of my blogging classmates.

Dipietro, M., Ferdig, R., Black, E., & Preston, M. (2008). Best Practices in Teaching K12 Online: Lessons Learned from Michigan Virtual School Teachers. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 7(1). Retrieved Apr. 10, 2008, from

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Facilitating Collaboration in Online Learning

Some of the upcoming posts will highlight a series of articles from the February 2006 issue of the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. This issue focuses specifically on online collaboration. I became interested in this topic because the virtual school I'm observing is trying to integrate more collaborative projects into the curriculum. Apparently, this is a challenge. I hope to research best practices for designing collaborative components of online courses and determine if those examples would address some of the issues at the high school.

In the article, Facilitating Collaboration in Online Learning, Caroline Haythornthwaite makes the following recommendations:
  • Be aware of the model students have of how class work progresses and work with that to ‘sell' the change from individual, proprietary, single-owner work to joint, collaborative work.
  • Factor in the extra time needed to collaborate and to collaborate online when establishing course requirements.
  • Make students aware of the collaborative process, including the need to get to know others, create common goals, and establish their own communication practices.
  • Make students aware of the differences between offline and online work and learning practices.
  • Keep message load manageable by limiting class or group sizes, and by creating ‘small within the large' both for groups within larger classes, and for message threads within larger topics.
  • Teach collaborative online skills as part of the practice of being an online student: e.g., use of conventions such as message subject headings, proper message thread use in bulletin boards, topic management. (Haythornthwaite, 2006, p. 1)
The themes that stand out to me include the need for time management, organization, and actively teaching students how to collaborate. If I were to guess, it's this last item that is most difficult for online instructors. Course designers try to incorporate collaborative activities. Yet teachers are already bogged down in the existing curricular requirements.

Considering these constraints, why is collaboration so important? Haythornthwaite points out that collaboration is more efficient than learning alone. It also supports a constructivist theory of learning. "The goal of the collaboration is to create a community of inquiry where students are fully engaged in collaboratively constructing meaningful and worthwhile knowledge" (Garrison as quoted by Haythornthwaite, 2006, p. 1).

In my brief observations I still see some of the same time constraints and limitations in the online environment that I see in the brick and mortar school. Change takes time. Once fully ingrained in the prescribed curriculum, there is just no time for teachers to think creatively. Yet effective collaboration requires time to plan, time to organize, and time to teach students how to do it properly.

Haythornthwaite, C. (2006). Facilitating Collaboration in Online Learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Network, 10(1). Retrieved Apr. 8, 2008, from