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Friday, August 27, 2010

Building community in the online classroom - I have to go first

This summer I took several classes that involved social media in one way or another. The last one focused on social media for online teaching. Now, at the conclusion of that class, I can say that I had three major ‘aha’ moments that changed my understanding of the online class community.

First, that it takes time to build community: the forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning phases are vital; they cannot be hurried of skipped if one’s goal indeed is to build an online community. Yes, this takes time. It’s an investment of resources that currently are not captured in any SLO, yet they can make or break the learning success in a class.

The second main point for me is the fact that participation is key. I read in “Stages of Group Development” that collaboration is, essentially, interaction. This means that I have to make a change in how I facilitate my online classes. I have been very tolerant of lurkers - the lurker, the person who is around but not visible through contributions – and I now realize that the lurker is not part of the community. Hence, I will privately encourage lurkers to participate, and set minimum requirements for all.

Third, that I, as instructor, should model the process, and actively engage in the collaboration. Until now, I had considered the instructor’s presence as a distraction (at best) or as a pace setter, not to be overtaken. I now realize that my participation in the activities and on discussion boards will increase the feeling of “all of us are in this together,” and that my mantra, we are all learning together, can become a reality.
I already recorded a welcome message using VoiceThread for my late-start online class. I am not using a new toy just to use the new toy, I am starting with the end in mind: Building community, increasing social presence, and engaging as a whole person.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I am in the transportation business?

Thoughts after the 2010 Convocation at Diablo Valley College.

During one of the speeches at yesterday's convocation, somebody, I think it was President Judy Walters, stated, "We are in the transportation business." That stuck with me.

I get it - it's a metaphor for education. Taking people from where they are now to where they want to be.

But the way my brain works, it latches on to this metaphor, and creates a whole movie around it. The transportation business as a metaphor for community college education, for me, means public transportation. Let's make it a bus.

We have established routes and schedules, fees and types of buses. We desperately are trying to create a system that serves the most people most of the time. But there are some people that just can't make it in this cookie-cutter system.

Let's see. There are those passengers who take really long to get on the bus; those who get on but then want to get off right away; those who get on the wrong bus; those who don't have the money to pay; those who wait on the wrong side of the street; those who don't correctly identify a bus station as such, and wonder why the buses pass them over and over again...

Then there are those passengers who get on the wrong bus, but don't know it. Those who get on a bus because their parents make them, because their friends get on that bus, because they have nothing better to do...

And then there are changing patterns and needs. One bus line used to be crowded all the time - and now it's running almost empty. Or at certain times, the bus is really, really full, and at other times it's a ghost bus. And on the other side, passengers have to walk a long, long distance to get to the nearest bus station, even though more and more people are having to make that long walk.

Ok, I'll stop milking this metaphor totally dry - the bottom line: If we community college educators are indeed in the transportation business, then, "Because we've always done it this way" just isn't good enough. We need to be in touch with passengers' needs, and change routes, create new schedules, offer a variety of buses, and place bus stops where the people need them.

"Trans" - a prefix indicating "change." For us as educators, too.

Monday, August 9, 2010

From Zappo's to the Community College Classroom

I just finished reading Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappo's. Why I read that? Well, it was mentioned in a UC Berkeley marketing class I took this summer, but also because I teach entrepreneurship, and I am always looking for good stories students can relate to.

Here's what I got out of reading the book: Yes, as expected, I am inspired and impressed by Hsieh's entrepreneurial spirit, instinct, commitment, and success. I am also intrigued by the emphasis he places on nurturing the Zappo culture, and the many interesting and entertaining stories. Very appealing, and I will definitely talk about it in class.

But what really got me was at the very end of the book. Hsieh talks about happiness. Yep, touchy-feely happiness. He actually studied happiness, and the different frameworks for happiness. And here's the one that really, really got to me.

  1. Perceived control
  2. Perceived progress
  3. Connectedness
  4. Vision/Meaning
This framework states that if we have those four things in our lives, we feel happy. So, I thought of the classroom culture I endeavor to create. Why? Because there is a direct connection between the emotional engagement of a student in a class, and academic success. Now, what if I call that emotional engagement "happiness"? Let's see...

  1. Control: In as many areas as possible, the students get to have a vote/voice on what happens in the classroom. Who are your group members; what will be the consequence when a cell phone goes off during class; when will the homework be due; how many questions on the exam; students create exam questions...
  2. Progress: Rather than designing assessments for the class to be limited to one midterm and one final, assessments happen at least weekly, and in several formats. Also, all grades are available 24/7 through the CMS.
  3. Connectedness: We spend time to get to know each other, and mix up groups for team projects. We use the CMS to stay in touch outside the class meeting time, and put on at least one pot luck. We laugh, talk, teach, and learn together.
  4. Meaning: What happens in the classroom has a larger meaning for each and every student's life. That will not be the same for every student, rather, it means that we talk about the many facets how our classroom learning applies to 'real' life. Also, it means that students bring in their experiences, current situations, and dreams to make those connections.

I am so glad I read this book. How perfect is the timing, too: As I am starting the new semester, I am reminded that community college teaching is about so much more than checking that students are retaining facts. It's about meaning-making, about the emotional connection with the subject and the class and then college. The process is the destination.

Did I mention that I am so glad I read this book?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The new face of marketing - communicate, communicate, communicate

So, we think we are so cutting edge and hip these days - revolutionizing marketing, right?

Well, here's some food for thought.

Jerry Della Femina, the advertising legend, wrote:
"The 22-year old is like an old man next to the 18-year old, who is really far out ... It's the kids who are really revolutionizing the advertising business today. The kids are pushing ahead, mainly because the communicate to consumers like we've never communicated before." (Della Femina, 2010, p.108)

Sounds like relationship-era marketing alright, doesn't it?

Here's the thing: Della Femina wrote this in 1969.
Yep. Caught my attention, too.

We 'old' people need to lead, no doubt about it. We still carry the responsibility to show the ways that have worked before, to move some obstacles out of the way, and throw some others in that are useful.

And then we need to have an open mind, and follow. Those 'kids' really do have their fingers on the pulse of what's going on out there, and not just when it comes to useful tools for marketing and advertising.

As a teacher interested in learning theory, I know that learning needs an emotional connection. I have a great opportunity to meet the students where they are, connect to their lives, help them help me make their life experience real when I invite their realities into the classroom.

Communication, communication communication - that's still where it's at. Today, it's texting, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and the next thing that will be invented just about NOW.

Standing still means going backward, even in teaching. Oh, go ahead, enjoy the wild ride forward!