Article Review #3, Bob Heath, Online Pedagogy, ED 655

Original post.

Reeder, Kenneth; Macfadyen, Leah P.; Chase, Mackie; Roche, Jörg, (2004 June) Falling Through the Cultural Gaps? Intercultural communication challenges in cyberspace. Proceedings, Cultural Attitudes to technology and Communication, Karlstad, Sweden.

Working backwards from their conclusions we first learn about a concern for cultural sensitivity from all participants.  Something as simple as how participants introduce themselves (genealogy vs. resume) can indicate cultural difference.  The authors point out that other gaps in communication can be highlighted by studies in second language acquisition, their point being that communication standards should be made explicit.  “Rather, these participants may have experienced confusion or doubts as to whether basic interpersonal communication, academic language, or perhaps something in between (another site of negotiation?) was expected in the online situation” (Reeder 2004).  They finally theorized about a hybrid form of communication that seems to be developing online: “For instance, Dudfield (1999) agrees that students are increasingly engaging in what she calls ‘hybrid forms of literate behaviour.’ Gibbs (2000) has extended this to suggest that new forms of communication are actually constructing ‘new forms of thinking, perceiving and recording.’…  We might speculate however that our corpus and others like it represent a new genre, neither spoken nor written, yet drawing upon conventions of both. In any case, distance educators need to be cognizant of the relative “fit” between their participants’ origins in oral or literate cultures and the distinct genre requirements of online communication in e-learning”(Reeder 2004).

To my mind these are fairly constrained conclusions.  The idea that course participants should be culturally sensitive and that instructors do better to make expectations explicit hardly seems to move us along – sure they bare repeating but they do not constitute something unique to online instruction.  However, their final observation regarding a distinctive tone or voice in online communication is interesting – “hybrid forms of literate behavior.”  I think there are many fruitful questions that burble around that conclusion.  So, based on the conclusions this conference paper seems at least understated.

Looking elsewhere for highlights, we find a section header “3.1. THE INTERNET HAS A CULTURE” and here the authors do some interesting work:

Like all technologies, the Internet was and is socially produced – and all social productions are informed by the cultural values of their producers (Castells, 2001). The creators of the Internet were predominantly Anglo-American engineers and scientists “seeking quick and open access to others like themselves” (Anderson, 1995. p. 13). Their ethnic and professional cultures value aggressive/competitive individualistic behaviours. In addition, these cultures value communications characterized by speed, reach, openness, quick response, questions/debate and informality. Schein (1992) attributes similar values to the information technology community in general.

We observed that these communicative cultural values are embedded in the design of WebCT and similar Internet-based communications platforms. Layered over this foundational but ‘invisible’ culture of the Internet, the culture of the online modular courses under study here is similarly the product of its creators: predominantly university-educated Canadians, who are Western, English-speaking and female.  (Reeder 2004)

Here is something we can get our teeth into and chew on.  Thinking back to Owen’s first assignment we watched a thought leader speculating on “learning networks” as a new and important phenomenon.  My take away was an insight that we do not need to limit ourselves, even in formal education, to LMS.  So are there other social media sites that resonate with different cultural values?  One way to answer this is to put on our cultural diversity glasses and look for these ourselves another approach is to ask members of populations we would like to reach — where they congregate online?  This helps us identify new or new to us tools for online communication.  Another is to imagine our course design in a different way.  What if we ask participants to introduce themselves genealogically first; here I am thinking about connections to people and places (notice the discomfort we feel) and this is part of the value of this.  My friend John Schumacher called it “the insanity of place” his example was to imagine approaching a stranger’s cart in the grocery store and, without explanation, taking an item out and looking at it.  Yet even just 100 years ago we (members of the dominate culture) would have been comfortable with a genealogical introduction.  Here I am remembering a highlight from the recent nonfiction book Quiet the author traces the change from persons of character to persons of personality (pg35).   Reaching back to the authors conclusions and their curiosity in a “new genre, neither written nor spoken” I wonder if social media is likewise blurring the distinctions between genealogical introductions and resume introductions.  I can learn about others in this course by Googling them and finding their LinkedIn profiles, their Facebook pages, (Twitter, Pinterest and so on) their online brand as it were.  Their identity for me is likewise hybridized both personal and professional.  That said, a lot of online communication has happened in the time since this paper was read – plenty of time to develop and refine some new genre.  Alas, I am unsure this new voice is emerging.  Blogs seem to follow conventions of essays or journals with long expository writing.  Tweets seem to be somewhere between bumper sticker wisdom and aphorisms… though it does show a stylized kind of communication.  Forums show a wide variety of writing ability and style sometimes with posts clearly translated by Google or that ilk.  Criticism for poor writing, reasoning and argumentation are frequent and harsh.  Forums seem to be a place where cultural diversity interacts and often with little sensitivity or with reference to “online norms.”  I wonder more about silent participation.  People who read and reflect on what they encounter but do not themselves add to the “conversation.”  On one hand, I have shifted from LMS to the whole of the internet.  Therefore, my sample is larger, but not systematic as I am reflecting on my observations of online communication — not conclusive but sufficient for me to be suspicious.

In the end this paper disappoints a little; the authors seem most concerned with grinding their axe with Canadian dominant culture.

Cain, Susan. (2012) Quiet :the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking New York : Broadway Books

Weekly Reading #3, Bob Heath, Online Pedagogy, ED 655

Original post.

In my article review this week I ended up at a place calling for a blended approach to learning. In my comment celebrating augmented reality I ended up at a place calling for blended learning. Accordingly, I gravitated to the “Blended Compared With Pure Online Learning” section in:

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: a meta-analysis and review of online learning studies, Washington, D.C., 2010.

Sadly, and I will save you many words: “no significant differences” were found. That is, the research conducted thus far is inconclusive when comparing blended learning to purely online learning.   Therefore, I suggest we trust our guts and go with what we think is sexy and cool in a geeky sort of way.

My two reasons for going to blended presentation for some types of instruction: first, some knowledge, some interactions are best face-to-face, second, as in the EcoMobile videos going to the pond, as a group is incredibly important and not possible in an exclusively online format.   But wait these are claims not reasons and so I need to make arguments and provide evidence.

Returning to the Passing On video I shared in my second article review: one of our narrators describes appropriate ways to approach elders seeking instruction either for her students or for herself. Alas, I cannot interrogate her. The video is a gem but it is one-way transmission. If she were online, I could interrogate her, certainly, but in text I cannot capture inflection of tone, timing, and so on, nor can I capture facial expression. Likewise, in text I cannot capture the spiral logic implicit in instruction given by elders. Certainly, FaceTime gets us closer and closer, but it struggles with buffering and is limited to the quality of camera attached to the device. This harkens back to my friend John Schumacher’s criticism of e-mail and phone calls as representations of altogether different events – face-to-face co-making of inquiry. If we were 40,000 years old in online technology, I would have to consider that our physical evolution might have adapted to information/communication technology. Nevertheless, most of these changes have happened in the past 20 years, we are for the most part the same human beings who hunted mastodons with stone tipped lances. Those human beings learned from each other face-to-face. So, let us imagine that exclusive online learning is a human-made environment rather like the inside of the Apollo space capsules, sufficient but barely. Certainly amazing and cool but when we look back on our LMS systems in 20 years they will seem as harsh and spare as the interiors of the space ships we flew to the moon. Moreover as persons facilitating learning, we have additional obligations not just content. We have obligations to civil society, to appropriate public discourse, to fostering leaders. While some of this work can be done online not all of it can be. I think this is so because these are not just about the content knowledge but about making eye contact, about nodding, or gesturing, they are about situating the knowledge in a cultural moment – why it is that TedTalks are taped in front of an audience perhaps. I have already touched on some reasons for my second claim implicitly – learning is not just about making individuals it is about making cultures, creating psycho-social facilities and ensuring survival of the individual and the group – easy to forget in post-industrial society.

Therefore, I will hazard a claim that classes that toggle between content and meta-cognition would be better in a blended environment. I suggest leadership as one example, perhaps cycles of seasonal subsistence might be another topic that would be better served in a blended class. Second, I theorize that classes aimed at younger learners K-12, perhaps even 13, are better blended. I suggest blended in part because of the force multiplier, that various online tools offer, EcoMobile/EcoMuve as an example, flipped instruction as another. The next question is how do we formulate the research question to show results more conclusive then we see in the required reading. I am a philosopher not a social scientist so forgive me the speculation: I suspect one would have to create three courses in three formats with comparable outcomes and teach them adjacently for an extended time. Probably possible at a larger University that offers classroom, purely online, and blended presentation. However, while waiting on those results what kind of decision model can we create for the rest of us in the mean time? I suspect that like cell phones, laptops, Google documents, Twitter, we have to remember classroom, online, and blended are tools in our toolkit and in our professional roles part of our excellence is our facility and artistry in using the right tools at the right time – there is an element of trusting our guts.

Article 2 Review, Bob Heath, Online Pedagogy, ED 655

Original post.

Several co-learners in this course have raised the matter of cultural diversity in online learning “environments” — particularly in Alaska. I am intrigued with this issue and so it inspired me to some greater investigation. This review will focus on a single article:

Xiaojing Liu, S. L., Seung-hee Lee, Magjuka, Richard J. (October, 2010). Cultural Differences in Online Learning: International Student Perceptions. . Journal of Educational Technology & Society., Vol. 13 (Issue 3), p177-188.

but this is only a starting point.

The authors examine seven themes that arose out of their research: Assessment, Instruction/Interaction, Asynchronous/Synchronous Communication, Collaboration, Case Learning, Academic Conduct, and Language. Students were from the U.S., China, India, and Russia. Rather, than extensive review of the article itself, the methods and so on, I would like to focus on the findings since this is practical and immediately useful. The authors offer a table that quickly summarizes these:

seven themes

One of the themes that came out of last semester’s ED 631 – Culture , Curriculum and Community class was “both-and” that is Native Alaskan youth needed to be able to navigate both Western ways of education and Native cultural practices. In the recommendations for assessment practices we see “Multiple assessment strategies: Structured and flexible assignment schedule” this strikes me as a way to accomplish the Alaskan goal for “both-and” assuming we can actually strike a balance between process-oriented vs. exam-oriented assessment for example. Turning to instruction/interaction we are encouraged to “Incorporate features that accommodate different cultural pedagogy.” And to my mind this is the rub of exclusive online instruction, however, it might also be a place for young learners to gain esteem in the eyes of elders. As an example, working with spruce roots, I can imagine a young learner setting up their iPhone and recording a video of their work with the roots, harvesting, preparing, and finally basket making. They then use video editing software to polish their product and submit it asynchronously through the LMS, for peers and elders to watch and comment on. The Dragonfly Project out of Haines has shown how this has opened doors between youth and elders where the roles reversed and the youth taught elders computer use. It is a small stretch to imagine another youth creating a video comment refining a technique and that inspiring an elder to seek out a youth to help them add a video comment with additional improvement, or at least the Instructional Technologist at the hosting institution.

Turning to balanced use of asynchronous/synchronous communication I am forced to wonder about blended courses as perhaps most appropriate for cultural content.  As I think about online instruction and Alaskan communities and schools, the role of elders is the most perplexing. This video, Passing On worth watching in entirety but particularly at minute 7:31 poses a question that has stumped me, certainly both when I first encountered it in the 1980s as a student at Sheldon Jackson College and again this past spring – why can’t a learner simply ask for what they need? “Yo, I’m a dufus. I forgot the words to the jump rope song can ya drop me a clue?” I suspect that as a white guy from away I may never understand the answer I hear. Perhaps the best I can achieve is sensitivity to my ignorance. However, there is something going on here that is subtle and culturally unique – I am not at all certain that it can be captured in online learning. I suspect then that online instruction must necessarily be in conjunction with face-to-face interaction – particularly in Native Alaska and particularly when focused on cultural preservation.

Addressing the fourth and fifth themes together, collaboration and case learning, I am reminded of a leadership training I attended for managers in libraries and IT in higher education this summer. The national statistics for CIOs show 97% are white males. We were fortunate to have a woman and two African American men in the room as instructors all at that level in their organizations. One of the most telling comments made by one of them was “if you want to recruit for diversity then you need to create your interview committees so that when I walk into the room I see people like me.” I think this is at the heart of these themes. If I as a learner cannot find myself in the course content, I can barely begin to connect or construct with the material. In thinking about Alaska Natives, we often focus on the diversity, the differences, the factors of cultural uniqueness. I suspect that in areas of politics, law, economics, and health care, tribal groups across the nation share a great deal of similarity in the problems they seek to correct. This article offers a place both for cultural diversity and shared issues through case studies in online instruction. The student interviews conducted by the authors highlight how the cultural diversity enriched their thinking about both the local and global issues.

Owen, in a comment on this blog, pointed out that in teaching remedial math he felt he had to write a guide for the guide. For different reasons I suspect that is also the case in a culturally diverse online course. The authors say: “Several international students have expressed frustration at being severely punished for their inappropriate citation of others’ work according to the academic rules of the U.S. universities. They felt that the instructors lacked an understanding of the cultural differences in regard to educational practices” (Xiaojing Liu, October, 2010). So here we see the need for both cultural sensitivity and emotional intelligence and as instructor learns from their mistakes, hopefully that increasingly involves front loading the instruction – offering guidelines for decoding educational practices rather than reactive punishment for not even understanding that a coded message was in use.

Finally, dealing with language differences, or in the case of Alaska Natives building occasions for language practice into the curriculum — the project is one of preserving languages. This is, I think, the real value of online instruction. We have an opportunity to combine the talents of content experts and instructional designers in ways that are far more rich and productive then the “solitary sage on the stage.”  I joke that English is my only language and for a non-native speaker I do ok. Therefore, in this I would need the help of a native speaker and probably an instructional designer to build language into any courses I wanted to create. However, the value is in both preserving the language and showing respect to the cultural diversity in the class. Course creation is necessarily an iterative and collaborative project.

The LMS as an aspect of the post-modern turn, Online Pedagogy, ED 655

Original post.

Use one of the following questions as your writing prompt for this week. Compose a thoughtful and complete opinion piece to post.

  1. Recall a learning experience that you found personally effective and identify the underlying methodology. Describe ways in which behaviorist, cognitivist, or constructivist techniques were employed.

My “moment” was in a Metaphysics course taught by John A. Schumacher… in 1989. John required students in his classes to keep a notebook. Each week’s entry consisted of lecture notes, (proof you were awake and engaged), and a short essay – 2000 words, more formal engagement with some aspect of the week’s work. John would collect the journal at regular turns in the semester, read and comment in them. This was before we knew about the internet and certainly before online pedagogy. However, John was grappling with fruitful concepts. He was an anarchist and as such did what he could to disrupt our roles, his as teacher, and ours as students. I remember him getting a student talking about his belief in Wikka, handing the kid the chalk, walking him to the front of the class, and then sitting down in a student desk. He did all that he could to disrupt the architecture and structure of the classroom and school. The journal was one of his strategies to “keep the conversation going” to extend it out of the classroom and into our real lives. I loved it.

Fast forward to six or so years ago I had the great fortune of taking an online course from a professor, Thomas Easton, who likewise valued “keeping the conversation going.” I was impressed by the power of learning management systems to do that – assuming the teacher understood and appreciated it. The LMS could do more, to facilitate conversations between students, indeed to the forefront what had been silenced by many teachers or back channeled by room arrangement or architecture (think lecture hall). I have taken several online courses over the years, some terrible. The best ones utilized various tools to encourage interactions some synchronous some asynchronous. One trick Tom used was to schedule a weekly chat room. Tom prepped students for the event with a couple of questions that tied the readings together or antagonized them. Then he facilitated the conversation prodding quiet folks, or dropping links to related sources, giving us time to read them, come back, and comment. Initially, I felt overwhelmed by the technology, but quickly figured out how to write aphorisms rather than paragraphs. However, that was still very similar to a classroom meeting, regular time and same people and so on.

Additionally, Tom found ways to use forums to “keep the conversation going” over the next week. Owen in this class is using many of those same tricks. These weekly readings might be analogous to John’s notes in the Journal; the article reviews are more formal and so like the weekly essays. The difference is that rather than just the professor’s comments, my co-learners are commenting on my work too. Mostly this is valuable, sometimes just rubbish, but, if I think about all the teacher’s comments I have read, and I can categorize them that way also (and I have been in both roles as well and made my share of rubbish comments, too).

We read Skinner in that Metaphysics course, and I recall John’s criticism of Skinner and behaviorist theories of learning. Therefore, in his class, there was little room for behaviorist approaches to learning. The post-modern turn impacted John, and so, he was indeed informed by constructivist notions of education.

Learning should be an active proces… Learners should construct their own knowledge, rather than accepting that given by the instructor…. Collaborative and cooperative learning should be encouraged to facilitate constructivist learning…. Learners should be given control of the learning process…. Learners should be given time and the opportunity to reflect…. Learning should be made meaningful…. Learning should be interactive to promote higher-level learning and social presence, and to help develop personal meaning.(

I think John’s twist on this theory would be a strong emphasis on the social construction of knowledge. He would have been simultaneously suspicious of LMS systems and intrigued by them. I recall him criticizing phone and e-mail as “representation of altogether different events.” He always circled back to human interaction, to a conversation as profoundly important to human being. I suspect he would be critical of:

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning 2(1).

Critical because of the emphasis, perhaps celebration, of mediated or representational interaction at the expense of face-to-face co-making of meaning. However, he would have liked this list of questions Siemens raises:

Some questions to explore about learning theories and the impact of technology and new sciences (chaos and networks) on learning:

  • How are learning theories impacted when knowledge is no longer acquired in the linear manner?

  • What adjustments need to made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval).

  • How can we continue to stay current in a rapidly evolving information ecology?

  • How do learning theories address moments where performance is needed in the absence of complete understanding?

  • What is the impact of networks and complexity theories on learning?

  • What is the impact of chaos as a complex pattern recognition process on learning?

  • With increased recognition of interconnections in differing fields of knowledge, how are systems and ecology theories perceived in light of learning tasks?

For myself, I like these questions as well perhaps more than the conclusions Siemens arrives at. I particularly resonate with his question about “performance in the absence of complete understanding” and his last question about the role and importance of “systems and ecological theory” in speculating on learning – both of these issues are recurrent in my self-reflection on my role as a leader in a library.

Article Review 1, Bob Heath, Online Pedagogy ED 655

Original post site.

Abrahmov, S. L., & Ronen, M. (2008). Double blending: online theory with on-campus practice in photography instruction. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 45(1), 3-14. doi: 10.1080/14703290701757385

The authors through using the online presentation to augment their classroom performance were able to add learning objectives that previously were too much for the classroom (Abrahmov & Ronen, 2008). These additions were aimed at the goal teaching basic photography and visual literacy: “Our major challenge was to promote the awareness of the connotative level of meaning, and its relation to the factual aspects, in order to foster the understanding and creation of photographs that express additional levels of meanings” (Abrahmov & Ronen, 2008). The authors describe six online exercises that they created to facilitate students learning visual literacy. This section of the paper is extensive and detailed. The authors also describe their evaluation of the augmented class.

This evaluation study was based on the analysis of the data extracted from the following sources:

  • Students’ online activity and their performance in the theoretical tasks (content analysis).
  • Students’ performance in the practical final project.
  • The peer evaluation records of the final project (content analysis).
  • Students’ reflections as expressed in a questionnaire administered at the end of the course.
  • Interviews with a sample of students from each class.(Abrahmov & Ronen, 2008)

The content analysis focused on the student’s use of six professional terms. The analysis showed the adoption and use of these terms over the course. The peer evaluation was likewise subject to content analysis. Here the authors were looking for students to seek and identify the second level of connotative meaning in the images submitted for peer review. Sixty percent of the students did this. “All students reported that the study of theoretical aspects of ‘reading photographs’ had contributed to the development of their practical skills, while most (70%) stated that it had a significant impact on the photographs they have produced”(Abrahmov & Ronen, 2008). The authors seem pleased with their results and even recommend that this model may have relevance for other “similar instructional challenges.”

I selected this article for review precisely because it combined the technical skills of making something and the intellectual skills of interpretation and appreciation of the object. I suppose this course has elements of a flipped class. However, even that is stood on its head because the online instruction is about peer interaction and about keeping the conversation going outside of the classroom extending the learning outward into real life. I likewise chose the article because it was about more learning; more content added to the course, rather than more courses added to the curriculum or worse how a course could be dumbed-down because “Young people these days…”. I selected it as well because of the higher-level learning accomplished in the tension between the how and why of the inquiry.

I will now examine more closely two of the six assignments as the authors identified them as particularly effective. The second assignment was conceptually central and pivotal, and students themselves acknowledged this. In the first, the notion of “focal point” was developed and explored in this way:

  • Implementation format: open submission as a file attached to a message in a designated discussion group board.
  • Scaffolding: explanation and examples of the concept of ‘focal points’ was hyperlinked to the task page, as well as the opportunity to view peer examples.

This implementation is deceptively simple, and unfortunately, that is real all the authors give us. We are left to speculate on the conversations that ensued between instructors and students and between students. We have to imagine that the instructors have a particular knack for explaining the concepts, but they do not give away their trade secrets here. The students identified this concept as the most revelatory and the most transferable piece of theoretical knowledge learned in the course. I wish the authors had spent more time exploring and explaining this success.

The final project was the submission of a series of four to six printed photographs – thematically related. The subject was left open to the students but the goal of the project “to create pictures with a developed second level of meaning” was assigned. Each student was expected to submit two written evaluation on peers’ work. This text, as already mentioned, underwent content analysis by the authors focused on the use of terms and ability to identify and relate the two levels of meaning.

The article itself is not overwrought with theorizing or professional jargon dumping, and I like that. The authors use “writing” and “reading” as tropes, as general categories for the two sets of tasks they assign students. Writing speaks to the physical, technical skills of making pictures with cameras. Reading speaks to the interpretive and aesthetic notions that the instructors add to the class, that speak to achieving a “second level of meaning.” This is a simple provisional theory to get the practice up on its feet and see if it grew legs.

I struggled a bit with the course evaluation because it smacked of academic rigor rather than sustainable self-reflection. Content analysis is a labor-intensive research technique, certainly to write an article and for scholarly rigor it was necessary for getting published. However, I suspect the authors returned to simpler and more sustainable course evaluation tools for following classes. In truth, I would have preferred to read about those techniques – alas, their article probably would not have been successfully peer reviewed in that case.

I do recommend this article to my classmates particularly if they are dealing with presenting technical skill. However, I wonder if there is a way to make an abstract and theoretical subject more tangible by pairing it with a practical one. I recall once buying a book on framing roofs. The author did an admirable job of connecting geometry and trigonometry to the actual problem of building roofs. I would have learned the concepts in high school if the math had been taught in an application rather than just rote.