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.


Mark said...

Elluminate as a synchronous conference tool seemed to provide a good opportunity for student interaction in that Saturday meeting. It sounds like the teacher used questions to encourage a level of collaboration that went beyond just interaction. The separate rooms feature seems to have potential for facilitating collaboration as well. I wonder if you have any ideas for how the teacher could have taken the collaboration to the next level? Could it have been more collaborative?

JeanneW said...

I'm curious about how the virtual teacher noticed and engaged the student who wasn't on task. I also wonder if it's possible for an online student to completely skip the optional Elluminate session and avoid collaboration altogether. Perhaps that would be okay, if one's preferred learning style isn't suited for that type of collaboration.

I'll ask my virtual teacher about this next.