Supporting Student-Directed Online Acitivies

One of the things I noticed when collaborating on the skills task was that I was a lot more hesitant to offer a solution than I might usually be in a situation where there were synchronous interactions. I always find it useful to play off the ideas and suggestions of others and to build a solution jointly, but when we were posed with the task of finding a way to share and join skills, we were left to figure this out without necessarily being available to discuss it at the same time as a group.

So the first thing I did was to figure out how best to represent the information we needed to collect and then try to find the best tool that would do that. Once I did find a tool, I went through a few iterations before finding something that I thought would work. Of course, without the immediate feedback from team-mates, I was unsure if it would work for others. So this first activity was relatively individual and my confidence in the solution was shaky at best.

After posting my proposed solution to the discussion board, it seemed that most people were accepting of the solution and had already started posting their contributions before I returned. I found that my own behaviour in the tool adapted to their contributions. For instance, I discovered that I’d broken-down my skills in far too much detail, so when I returned the next time, I cleaned them up a little.

Having partially completed the activity, I reflected on some of the things that might be useful in supporting students through an online course that consists of collaborative student-directed activities like these:

  1. Knowing the Group. I think having met and talked with two of my peers on Zoom prior to the activity, made it a lot easier to work with them just by knowing a bare minimum about who they are, and how they interact. This ‘knowing’ allowed me to adjust my own learning behaviours to incorporate those of the other group members, making it a lot easier to interact and collaborate with them. Here’s an interesting article on the importance of social awareness in collaborative activities:
  2. Timing. Being an online community, everyone works at a different pace. Therefore, in designing an activity, there needs to be enough time to allow for those who are working to a more confined schedule, whilst also providing some scaffolding to ensure that those who work faster have other opportunities to extend or expand the learning while ‘waiting’. Overlapping tasks seems to help but this can also become overwhelming, so there needs to be a clear definition of the core tasks and the supplementing ones.
  3.  Promoting the Roles. Provide some prompts to get students sharing and supporting each other. The instructor asking questions in the Zoom sessions seemed to work quite well in getting our group to open up. This excerpt from the Dron and Anderson (2014) book “Teaching in Crowds” provides a great list of some of the activities that could be promoted in networked learning:
    • Provide helpful resources
    • Help them move into the next zone of proximal development
    • Solve problems
    • Create more complex artifacts
    • Present multiple perspectives and enrich connections
    • Model different ways of thinking
    • Explore ethical problems
    • Learn to work with others
    • Connect ideas from different perspectives and fill in gaps to connect
      existing ideas.
  4. Encouraging Creative Blending. Provide opportunities for the group to step outside of their formal education role and blur the boundaries a little, by providing opportunities for them to share their personal passions and meld their professional, personal, and academic identities into something creative and fun. Networked learning IS a blending of these identities and as I mentioned in a previous post, it seems that some pretty amazing things can come from this blend.

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