Archive for the ‘online learning’ Category

The extrovert and introvert in the collaborative classroom

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

I’ve been reading The Introverts Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Demblingwhose blog “The Introvert’s Corner” I have been reading for a couple of years now. I like the blog she writes, even when there are things I disagree with, like her article on how Halloween is an extroverted holiday. I, for one, am an extreme introvert (clinically) who adores Halloween, mainly because I love hearing and telling scary stories. But, for the most part, I can relate to the majority of what she discusses.

As I was reading her book, I started thinking about how we often educate our students. For instance, in the classroom, collaborative learning is all the rage. We want assignments to be collaborative, not only because it cuts down on our amount of grading as writing teachers (an added bonus, we must admit), but because so much of what one does in the “real world” is indeed collaborative. And I usually do have one assignment each semester that can be done collaboratively, or one that I purposely created to be collaborative, like the group marketing project for my English 320 class. I don’t think doing any of these things is problematic since it is important we teach students how to effectively work together in groups. What I do wonder about, however, is how much we push collaborative learning in the classroom. Are we leaving out the introverts? Are we stressing them out further? Are we causing them unnecessary anxiety?

I think back on how I used to, and still occasionally do, react to group work in the classroom. While I don’t mind it, I do dislike it when it becomes overdone. This happens if I come to a class and every class period involves a heavy dose of group work. When this happens, I begin to yearn for a lecture where I can sit quietly and take notes and think. I start to romanticize the lengthy lecture professors sometimes give, even though they typically do not constitute what many of us consider good pedagogy today. The point is, after too much group work, I become exhausted, slightly angry, and rarely, but occasionally, apathetic toward that specific classroom environment.

The problem with my feelings, however, is that I am guilty of doing similar things as a teacher. I have students do what I consider is quite a bit of small group work in my classroom. Sure, I often break this up with mini lectures and individual activities. I even often allow students to choose their own group members, and they usually have no problem with this, being juniors and seniors. They easily group themselves together. And I have noticed that when they get to choose their group members, they often are more engaged than when I choose their group members for them. But all the same, I can’t help but wonder if the quieter students are getting frustrated with the levels of group work, even though I do try to break it up with other activities. I know as a student I would feel this way from time to time, even in the way I structure my own classroom.

So as I was thinking of this I grew concerned that our present learning environment is problematic for introverts. I did some surface level research on this and found out the way we teach isn’t necessarily fantastic for extroverts, either. For example, most of our assignments are individual assignments. We also tell students they need to study, which is often a solitary activity, or  at least traditionally speaking it is a solitary activity. We also ask students to be quiet and work independently a fair amount of the time, even if our current pedagogy is collaborative in the classroom. Like I said, they still have to create most of those assignments alone and they still take tests independently.

To be fair, I did try to change a lot of my pedagogy this semester in consideration of the quiet kids. For example, I often emailed discussion questions for class a couple days before they were to be discussed. I had a couple of my introverted students tell me they appreciated me doing that for them, since they know they take more time to think than other students do. And this isn’t because they aren’t as smart, but there really is a biological difference in the brains of introverts and extroverts.  I also asked students to send me a professional email where they discussed how they participated in class, with a few examples, and articulate to me the grade they felt they earned because of that. Of course, most students claimed they earned an A, but from these emails I did learn a lot about my students and how they felt they had participated. The quieter students talked about writing a lot during free write activities or talking more in small groups or coming up with ideas during group work that were instrumental in the completion of the activity. They also talked about how they helped other classmates solve problems. These two changes I made, I feel, really did help the quieter students. It also allowed the introverted students to speak up more, so I wasn’t constantly hearing from the 3-5 overly social extroverts in the class.

Still, I feel there is more I could do. I still feel guilty about how we push collaboration so much in the classroom and in ways that are so directly collaborative. What I want to start thinking about are more ways we can be collaborative, and yet be a little more subtle about it or quieter about it. Perhaps doing some online discussion boards or using other forms of social media for discussion will help. That way, the quiet students can participate more freely and without having to speak up in a classroom of 22 students. They will still be doing this, only on their own terms and from the comfort of their laptop. I understand it is important to push collaborative work, but I think collaborative work is a more loaded term than we immediately consider.

So, here are some solutions that I thought of during this post:

  1. Simply ask students how they feel they learn, and politely ask them to forget what they know about learning. Make them think of a time where they had to learn something new. How did they do it? Why did it work for them?
  2. Ask students what they value in collaboration. Work from this and build a discussion from the responses. Incorporate the findings into pedagogy.
  3. Ask students for feedback during the course and collaborative work. Check in. Maybe this will help us with what I discuss above, for both personality types.
  4. Have some individual work included in the group work. As a teacher, we could make this information clearer and help with assigning certain tasks and have students give us some feedback regarding this. A big problem here would be making it seem as if we are micromanaging them in their group work, though.
  5. Have students work on something individually and then create something collaboratively from the individual work. This might be a really good exercise for everyone.
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Goals for 2011-2012

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Am I ready for a new semester? I suppose I am as ready as I will ever be. Summer was good overall. I took time to redesign my apartment a little, for example, and I am still working on that. (The last phase will arrive on Wednesday and be implemented on Friday, I hope.) I will certainly miss the mornings of reading what I want while I drink coffee in front of an open window. I will miss picking out books to read at the public library downtown. I will miss going shopping at the mall during the weekday because I can and I have the time. I will miss going for walks and the park and swingsets. Yes, I still enjoy swingsets. Don’t judge.

But my feelings don’t stop the approaching semester. The only thing that could stop the approaching semester is perhaps a crazy flash flood and the Red rising to something like 44 feet. This isn’t going to happen from the looks of things. In fact, classes start at four pm today. My first class is tomorrow at 2pm. My first day of teaching online is today and my first day of teaching in the real time classroom is Wednesday. With this in mind, I have set some goals for this new academic year. I like to split these goals into goals for my professional development as a teacher and my goals as a student. Though they overlap in some cases (which is undoubtedly helpful) they are still very distinct.

Teaching

  • For 358, I want to improve the following assignments: Genre Memo and Final project. Though I am always improving assignments, I want to work on fixing the flaws I see in these for the present school year. I’ve implemented changes to the final project this fall whereas Genre Memo improvements are coming out for Spring 2011. I’ve also deleted the book review assignment and replaced it with a Forum Analysis, which I am confident will rock. Of course, as soon as you say “I’m confident it will rock” it means that it will not rock so much. But remember, I’m an optimist at heart.
  • 358—Focus more on professionalism and design. To do this, I have instituted a new assignment (Forum Analysis) that will hopefully lead them toward research ideas and further their scholarship and understanding of their field. I also have a unit on cover letters/resumes along with information for applying to graduate school. As for design, I have come up with a couple new lesson plans to better teach this. Being someone who never took a design class and kind of functions through the idea of design, I have a lot of work to do. (Actually, my goals in student/scholarship will also help with this design thing.)
  • 358—Improve the way I teach genre. I already have some good ideas thanks to Doc Mara for helping to inspire this with the reading he had us do for the UDW workshop day and the discussion we had as well.
  • Online Crookston course—this semester I’m teaching Composition II instead of World literature (I’m scheduled to go back to world lit in the spring. I have no idea if I will be teaching Comp II each fall. We’ll see.) With this change, I’ve set up a way of doing peer review on the discussion boards in Moodle instead of having students do this relatively privately in their groups. This allows for more accountability and makes grading this easier for me.
  • And of course, just be a better teacher than I was before. This goal is pretty continuous. I learn from my students just as much as they learn from me, I think.
  • And I wish we could get rid of Blackboard at my home university. If only this could be a goal we all could achieve in this academic year. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Ugh. I. Detest. Blackboard. Moodle is superior. Even D2L is better than Blackboard. Kids these days. Really.

Student/scholarship:

  • Finish up that essay on using literature in the writing classroom and submit for publication.
  • Kick ass in my coursework. I’ve done well in this so far. I hope this continues.
  • Solidify my potential dissertation topic a little more. I’ve talked to some people about this last spring. I’ve bought some books. I’m terribly interested in taking history of architecture I and II at my home university.
  • I’ve gotten super interested in the history of rhetoric, so I plan to do a lot of reading into this. I hope this will also be complimented by my English 754 course. (It probably will, to an extent.)
  • Hopefully submit a proposal to a conference and actually get to present. I presented at conferences last year and I hope to do just as many for this year.

And above all, survive all of this relatively unscathed. 😉

Lawmakers need to stay out of classroom

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

I understand that politicians exist to help in maintaining what is a good about a nation or state and improving what needs to be made better. But when it comes to education, I feel they need to stay out of the classroom.

Take for example what is going on in Miami-Dade county in Florida. Students were “automatically registered” for e-learning labs because of a new amendment in FL aimed at reducing class sizes. Now, I think reducing class size is a good idea. As a teacher, reduced class size means I can give individual attention to each student without too much stress or constraints on my time. After all, one person can only do so much on a given day. But having people outside of the school enforce these rules is a bit ridiculous, not to mention counter productive. Lawmakers are not the ones in the classroom, teachers are. I think decisions like these need to be made at the individual public school level, with the work and support of teachers, administration, parents and students. You can read more of what I am talking about here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/education/18classrooms.html?_r=1&hpw

A similar problem consists in lawmakers deciding to have a certain percentage (I forget exactly what percentage) of degree programs completely online by 2015. When I first heard about this, my argument was “we as teachers and administrators can’t be ready by then” and I still partially feel this way. But I also think that the view many students hold toward online learning is incorrect. Here are some common myths I have heard about online education:

  1. Online learning is “easier.”
  2. Online learning can always be done at a student’s own pace
  3. Online learning is more convenient.

If I had to pick the top three myths, these would be it. There are probably others you may be thinking of, if you have encountered these as an online instructor or just overheard comments about online learning and teaching, but these three are always the ones I find repeated.

First, online learning is not easier. Oftentimes, the instructor is seen only as a “facilitator” of information, and this is particularly true for the for-profit “educators.” Further, a student is expected to be self-motivated enough to get the work done on time without too much aid from the instructor. Because you do not meet in a brick and mortar classroom on a regular basis, you don’t receive that regular interaction from the teacher nor is it always easy to find a place to receive extra help. Online tutoring and online writing facilities, at this moment, can only take you so far. I know more advanced online tutoring exists, but many of these are not yet connected to public or private schools or universities. Not all communities have Sylvan and other learning centers.Sometimes we are not yet ready to meet the demand required nor always have the full understanding of the technology to keep it running as efficiently as it could be.

Secondly, online learning does not mean you always get to work at your own pace. Yes, I have completed “courses” where I could work at my own pace, but there were always deadlines for assignments and modules to be completed. And I do realize you are able to work on your homework whenever it is convenient for you, but you can also do that in the traditional university setting, for the most part.

Third, online learning is not necessarily more convenient, an idea also discussed above. For instance, you don’t have the option (in all cases) of listening to a lecture. Instead, you are to learn that material on your own, in whatever fashion is given or in whatever way you find necessary or best for you at that time. Sure, many online schools do offer “online chat sessions” and recorded lectures, but this is not always done. As a student and as a teacher, we also need to realize there is only so much we can do online to facilitate (I am using that word again) learning. And online, group work is one of the most difficult elements of teaching to organize. Some students don’t show up, others are unengaged in it, and most students don’t see online group work to be very helpful to them as learners because group work has not yet found a way to work well online. Teachers in the traditional classroom even have problems with group work, so the problems of group work online are even more insurmountable.

I know this discussion of the problems has been quick, but I feel I have covered the “biggies” I have encountered as an online educator. There are other problems out there and problems and solutions will continue as we further think about and refine the concept of online education, or e-learning. I hope we are ready to take on this task as completely as we need to.