Who am I as an educator? Someone who raises her hand, often without full consideration. Here is the perfect example. Clickers arrived on my campus and nobody used them. They just sat around and the administrator who bought them grew increasingly frustrated. So I taught myself how to use them, brought them into the classroom, and even presented at a conference to spread the joy of clickers. The next exciting project was video classroom observation. I won’t go into the details. Suffice it to say that the video, along with some helpful feedback, made it clear that I was using technology as an instructional crutch that was WAY too short. I needed to step back and get a better handle on active learning and authentic assessment. Now that I have practice in these areas I think that I could use clickers far more effectively, but I no longer feel the need. I’ve also presented this experience at conferences – complete with video – it’s horrifying but instructive. Anyhow, these experiences are a frame of reference for what follows.
Some of what I talked about last week has been stripped from my class – namely peer to peer forums. As I listened to Alex’s feedback I could hear her (literally) pause at the complexity of my ice breaker activity that moved from a peer to peer forum to a discussion forum to the library cafe. Her thinking out loud brought me back to a series of unfortunate events and reminded me of the importance of approaching my course from a student perspective. While she suggested crafting clear instructions, I took time to step back and consider the bigger picture. I will be a new online instructor and my students will be Freshman (fingers crossed that this gets off the ground at some point). In order to model effective facilitation I think I should try my hand at it a few times before I expect students to do so effectively. Bill Pelz is a pro, and I think he has it right with his student facilitated discussions, but I don’t think I”m ready. Instructors need scaffolding too! My hope is that if I ask the right discussion questions and facilitate with a deft hand that the discussions will be an effective forum for peer to peer teaching and learning. We’ve seen that take shape in our course.
A few words can make a big impact – “just because you call it a discussion doesn’t make it a discussion.” I had to laugh out loud when I heard Alex say this as she evaluated my learning activities written exercise. I laughed because she was right on. I also laughed because I recently moved back to New York after 4 years in Minnesota and I find East Coast candor refreshing. My discussions were actually written exercises. Alex encouraged me to prompt authentic discussion and engagement. I immediately thought of Beth Harris and her strategy of asking BIG questions in her discussion forums. Interesting that I blogged about this but didn’t reconsider my own discussion questions. I have revisited and revised my forum prompts using the big question model. What is knowledge? What is research? What are the politics of research? This reminded me that the most lively discussions in my f2f classes were inevitably about big ideas and controversy. How enlivened can a conversation about controlled vocabulary really be? Out of library school that is!