The topic for this past week in #rhizo14 was embracing uncertainty. A familiar topic in my work context. Kimberly Scott, the Director of the Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change (my professional home), openly tells graduate students to get used to playing in the ambiguity sandbox. We joke about adding a course to the curriculum: “Dealing with Ambiguity.” Not sure when it meets, or where. Deal with it.
So I thought I would address the topic by sharing more about activity – what I do, and have done – and less about thinking out loud. I am a big advocate of prototyping and experimenting – putting something out there to see what response it creates from the network, community, or organization. Prototypes are one way I deal with uncertainty.
Questions are another.
Refining my questions
The question I came to #rhizo14 with is this: What is teaching presence – when your instructional goal is to shift power?
I am refining that a bit. I am thinking about teaching presence in the context of open courses – or if not fully open, certainly more permeable. Courses where the traditionally defined “student” also engages actively with a larger network or community, and vice versa.
So now I have several related questions, starting with the assumption that teaching presence does make a positive contribution to learning in a course. And I see the course container as simply a contract among participants involving time and topic. I am starting with the Community of Inquiry (CoI) definition and elements of teaching presence as a scaffold for this investigation:
Teaching presence is ‘the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcome.’ Garrison, D. R. (2011). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice. Taylor & Francis.
Garrison el al. also define three elements that contribute to the practice of establishing teaching presence: Instructional design and organization; facilitation; and direct instruction.
My revised questions:
- Does the definition hold for open/permeable courses?
- Do the three elements hold? If so, in what ways do the practices involved in each element need to change as you push further toward open-ness?
At the end of #rhizo14, I’ll synthesize some thoughts in a final blog post. The idea is to craft some ideas for new experiments in future courses or formal learning events.
In my experience: Teaching uncertainly
I have two sets of experiences in experimenting to share here: The course I teach for MSLOC and Exploring Personal Learning Networks: Practical Issues for Organizations (#xplrpln) the open learning event we held this past fall.
MSLOC 430. As I note in a #msloc430 class bloggers: Exploring networks, communities and knowledge, between January and June of each year I teach a course in which we explore technology and people and knowledge. The course is actually taught twice during that time period ( we are on 10-week quarters). Every year I attempt to find ways in which the two class sessions can learn from each other, and from a growing network of alumni and practitioners who know us and this course.
This year I redesigned a blogging assignment. Students work with each other and with me to define a question (or two) on a topic of professional or academic interest that can draw, in part, from content or concepts we cover in the course. But the question must tap into their interests; not mine, or what they think is mine. They map out their own blogging path to explore the question (there is a minimum number of 4 posts required to meet the assignment) and they are encouraged to use the course hashtag on Twitter (#msloc430)
I had no idea where this was going to go. I still do not. But some early outcomes intrigue me.
Andee Weinfurter’s initial post exploring trust and relationships in online communities was grabbed – via Twitter – by Mariana Funes and integrated into a wonderful Storify: The interpersonal contract in cMOOCs. The Storify explores the interpersonal “contract” in both #rhizo14 and Cathy Davidson’s MOOC #FutureEd. Mariana writes this about Andee’s questions:
She asks wonderful ‘non-googlable’ questions as she sets out to blog for her course this semester. One of them speaks to this story as she wonders ‘How do individuals develop trust over technological platforms?’ A question I still ask myself over a year after the start of my own experiment in being an open educator and learner. [emphasis mine]
“A question I still ask myself…” is exactly where I am with many of the questions posed by bloggers in MSLOC 430. As well, the remainder of the Storify explores topics of deep interest to me. Neither Andee nor I knew Mariana before this connection (I now follow her on Twitter – so yes, the rhizomes are spreading). Andee, I know, is finding value in these and other connections made through her blog post. But so am I. In this scenario, where is the teacher presence and where the learner? Or is this an example of a power-shift moment, when the roles of teacher/learner converge?
Andee’s is one example. We are only two weeks into it, with some students blogging out in the open on the web while others are blogging “semi-open” within our private online learning community of about 200 students and faculty (the setup we use is a cloud instance of Jive software ). I am inspired by the connections and random positive events that are beginning to occur.
Where will this lead? I honestly cannot predict. But I am treating the assignment as a prototype – as something that you put out into a user community, based on researching and observing and trying to understand latent needs. And when you put it out there, you need to watch and learn. That’s where I am at today.
Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln). Earlier this year, Kimberly Scott and I facilitated a 5-week open, online seminar focusing on personal learning networks (PLNs). The question we asked to set the context for the course has no clear answer: Is it possible for PLNs to be fostered within organizations for mutual benefit – for both the individual and the organization?
This is the type of fuzzy-problem organizational question we use often in our graduate program. The experiment for us was to see how some of the problem-based-learning strategies we use in our courses translated into an open, connectivist-inspired event looking at this type of question. We also experimented by using only a Google+ Community, blogs, Twitter (including Twitter chats) and a virtual classroom tool for occasional video broadcasts.
We ended up with about 130 participants who signed on; between 40 and 50 were actively engaged throughout the 5 weeks. Much of the resulting participant content is curated on Scoop.it.
But if you also look at #xplrpln as a prototype or experiment, much of what we learned is captured in Helen Crump’s excellent blog post and comments deconstructing the event design and her experience in it: My footprint of emergent learning in exploring personal learning networks. In one of her comments, Helen writes:
…the learning experience was very powerful because at heart it posed a seemingly innocuous question, or ‘problem’, that could transcend a number of organizations/contexts. However, what transpired was a genuine realization amongst the participants that what we were actually discussing was an emerging phenomena and a very complex one at that, one that was essentially about the changing power dynamics between the individual and the organization. This was the unsettling /extremely emergent aspect of the seminar…
The “seemingly innocuous question” was a scenario we posed to the participants. Your chief executive has heard about PLNs and is excited about the potential advantage it might provide your organization. But the chief exec really knows very little about them, or what it might mean for the organization. You are invited to provide guidance in a one-hour meeting. What would you advise?
In our experience with #xplrpln, this scenario actually influenced the learning dynamic more than we anticipated (in a positive way). It was one of the more interesting bits we learned as designers and facilitators.
Kimberly and I also reflected a great deal on what would be the “right” amount of content to provide, without falling into the trap of having participants trying to figure out what is the hidden meaning behind things we might post (where there IS no hidden meaning). We debated and rewrote questions continuously before our weekly Twitter chats. We worked at trying to share our own authentic voices – in video, in blog posts and commentary – and our different points-of-view and interests.
But I am beginning to think the most important lesson I learned is that we both very honestly engaged in the entire event with this attitude: We have no idea how to best answer the questions we were posing.