Friday, December 19, 2014

Dan Beaubien 20% Project Collaborating for Community Course

Way back in 1999, when I was a young buck at the University of St. Thomas, I had my first exposure to an online discussion forum.  The technology was very new and the idea was slightly obtuse.  However, as I began participating in this new wrinkle of the class, I found myself becoming excited about how easy this medium was for me to engage with.  More importantly, I found myself really connecting with a lot of classmates that I never really got the chance to talk with in class.  Most of the time, the discussions were related to class, but oftentimes, the chats were about what was going on in the world and on campus.  It was a great way to enhance the class and I got a lot out of it.  

Now, as I am in my 14th year of teaching, I finally have the tools to allow my students to have the same experience.  I have many reasons for wanting this for my students.  It is a way for all my students to participate and not just the ones with the self-confidence to raise their hands.  It is a way for students to engage each other without the high pressure of engaging someone they don't know interpersonally in class.  Most of all, I want to offer my students a chance to enhance their class experience.  

My students are digitally programmed.  However, they are still 13 and 14 years old with maturity levels to match.  How to we ensure that with all the power that they have at their fingertips to send out communications to literally thousands of people, they are doing so with the understanding of respect and common sense?  That has been the thing that has prevented me from doing this before now.  I worried that they lacked the ability to do an online discussion in a way where it would be beneficial to all involved.  Since we have planned a lesson for our cohort and educated our students about how to act in an online setting, I had the courage to press on ahead and start having online discussions in my own class.  

Some resources that really got me headed toward this path were the Digital Life 101 video and an article in the New York Times article that talked about the role that technology can play and the power it can wield.  I was also really helped out by the group I was assigned to and our community building project, which centered around being a good digital citizen.  Through the use of Meet Today and a practice run at a discussion board, we discussed and I modeled positive online etiquette and interaction.  Through some of these conversations, my classes all understand that they share many common online communities and that organically growing an online community based off of the offline community that already exists is a great way to enhance their engagement.  

The first online discussion we had was simply about what they were excited for about Thanksgiving.  I showed them how to post comments and respond to other people's posts.  This allowed them to hit the ground running and the dialogue just took off from there.  Now that they have the process and the etiquette down, I will be having more curriculum-based discussions.

This project was a great way to mesh with my constructivist learning style.  I am very abstract and an open-ended assignment is something that I really like because it allows me to make connections in a way my brain understands.  I always want my students to be at the center of the creation of learning experiences in my classroom.  This assignment allowed me to play and find something meaningful for me and my students.  The online discussion is paying immediate dividends as I can already see a positive online community forming right before my very eyes.  

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