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We had our Elluminate-based session yesterday. Unfortunately I forgot to record the session. I think I should be able to adequately describe the session nonetheless.

The session was roughly composed of and can be considered in three phases – Access, Experience & Discussion.

 

Phase One – Access

Most of the problems with the session were computer-related (surprise).
Fifteen minutes from the session start time, I discovered that Irene didn’t have a headset. We managed to source one, and logged into the computer at the computer suite that I had booked for the purpose. Unfortunately the computer within this suite was blocked from accessing Elluminate. With five minutes to go, I returned to my office and managed to log in one minute before we were due to start. Irene now needed to install the java application to her computer, and log in to Elluminate. While walking through the audio-set up she discovered that she was unable to turn up the volume slider when trying to listen. As all of this was going on, Karole was having trouble with her mike. We had discovered previously that Irene’s headset didn’t have a mike, so here I was about to start on an Elluminate session (now 10 minutes late), and only 1 out of my three participants actually had a mike. One also couldn’t hear anything through her headset, but luckily enough was sitting next to me. Lucky for me I’m a bit of a stress management expert – BREATHE. 😉

On the upside, three out of three people were able to log into the session.

Reflection

I tried to ensure easy access to the Elluminate session for the participants (through directing them to the auto-setup wizards on the Elluminate site, and instructing them to allow time for downloading software) and although there were still problems with access, most of these were due to me trying to use a computer that I hadn’t used/tested previously for this purpose (pretty silly in retrospect). In the future I’ll endeavour to pre-test any computer and or network that I intend to use for educational purposes.

I think that I managed the needs of the participants pretty well. I’m happy that external participants had no major problems connecting with the session, as I believe that minimising technology-related issues is of prime importance in online education (Pillay, Irving, Tones, 2007). I was able to direct the participants who were already logged in to play around with the interface while I helped Irene get logged in.

I didn’t get stressed by the situation, and so was able to be calm & collected in communication with my students.

Phase 2 – Experience Technology

Once we were in the session, the participants were able to use messaging, and Ash (with the sole microphone) got the hang of talking fairly quickly. I demonstrated the use of power point in Elluminate, but unfortunately there was a lack of participation when I asked for people’s impressions of the proposed delivery model. I wanted the participants to type text-related impressions onto the screen, and then to use these as a basis for discussion but I didn’t get anything much to work with, so I moved on.

As we moved out of Elluminate into WikiEducator, blogs, and finally Pageflakes I used the hands up tool to determine if people could see on their screen what they needed for each stage of the directed exercise, and this was very successful. At each stage I was describing how each of these platforms would be used in the course. In the blog stage of the exercise, participants were supposed to login to their course blog, then copy & paste material from their WikiEd course page to their blog.

Unfortunately only one out of the three participants had managed to read their email prior to the session & set themselves up with a google account. As a result only one person was able to log into their blog & make their post. I made the most out of this by talking everyone through the process, and to finish off, we moved to look at the pageflakes-based course hub. The post that I had just made through my blog showed up, but it was at this stage that I found out the post made by the other participant had not been made correctly, as it didn’t show up (both here & on the course blog).

Reflection

The lack of participation in the group discussion was disappointing despite my use of open-ended questions, and encouragement of open discussion (Dobson, 2006). I am really interested to know what my staffs impressions are of this “brave new world”. I can interpret this in two contradictory ways

  1. When I asked for discussion, they were struggling with figuring out the communication interface, and this was distracting them from actually engaging with what I wanted to talk about (McQuillan, 2007b).
  2. They’re happy with what I’m proposing, and trust me enough to jump in & make the best of the experience

It was also disappointing that the blog-posting exercise wasn’t particularly successful. In retrospect perhaps I could have been more directive with my instructions on how to go about setting up a google account, or perhaps we could have spent some time at the start of the session. The participants are all very busy people, and probably saw this as just another thing to do. If I had either made it easier for them (being more directive), or embedded the process within the session this might have been more successful.

I’m surprised that there was a problem with the blog posting because I thought that the process was fairly simple. I did give step-by-step instructions but perhaps my familiarity with blogging has led me to see this process as easier and less complex than it actually is? I guess the main thing that I can take away from this is that engaging with computer applications will probably be more difficult than I expect it to be for a considerable proportion of the group that I am involved in facilitating. I probably need to drop my expectations of participants in terms of how self-directed they are able to be (given that self-effiacy is a pre-requisite of self-directed learning (Connor, 2004)).

However with those negatives in mind, it seems that the participants did get a sense of how the software applications will fit together in the delivery process, and were not overwhelmed with the prospect of gaining familiarity with these platforms. As these were the main objectives of the session, I still rate this section of the session a success.


Phase 3 – Discussion & Playtime

After the guided session we had some time to discuss what we’d just done, and how people felt about using these technologies next year. No-one seemed completely freaked out by what I was proposing which was a good sign, although there were requests for regular training/meetings based on working with the technology (already planned).

We spent some time after this just playing with the interface, and I have to say that the participants seemed to learn much more from this than the guided experience that I had designed for them previously.

Reflection

While participants seemed to develop skills in using the messaging window & in communication using the talk button, they seemed to learn quite a bit more and gain more confidence from the unstructured playtime in the Elluminate environment at the end of the session. This really adds more weight to Derek Chirnside’s suggestion to “practice & play with the tools before you use them” (McQuillan, 2007a), and it’s something I will definitely give more time to in the future.

Overall Reflection

Ithink that the balance of directed activities and facilitation worked fairly well in the session given the time constraints and learning outcomes. In terms of Salmon’s 5-stage model (2004), I think that the group was best characterised by the first level (Access & motivation), and to some degree the second (Online socialisation). Accordingly my aims were to provide access and an introduction to the technological platforms, and then to discuss any issues that arose. The model seemed to be appropriate in this case, and I will use it again.

Note

The reflections in this process have been informed by Bronwyn Hegarty’s three step reflective framework (2005), although the descriptions of reflection above do not follow the structure of the model.

References

Connor, C. (2004). Developing self-directed learners. Oregan, USA: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved on November 11, 2007 from http://www.nwrel.org/planning/reports/self-direct/index.html

The citizen’s handbook – a guide to building community

Hegarty Reflective Framework and Template. Retrieved on 20 November, 2007 from http://www.wikieducator.org/Hegarty_Reflective_Framework_and_Template

Managing technology glitches in online educationhttps://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/10/08/managing-technology-glitches-in-online-education/

Time, familiarity and socialisation.https://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/09/12/time-familiarity-and-socialisation/

Pillay, H., Irving, K., & Tones, M. (2007). Validation of the diagnostic tool for assessing Tertiary students’ readiness for online learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 26:2, 217 – 234

Salmon, G. (2004). The 5-stage model. Retrieved on 18 November, 2007 from http://www.atimod.com/e-moderating/5stage.shtml

What skills are required for the maintenance of a successful online learning community? After a review of my experience so far, I have come up with a list of five skills that I believe are important.

  1. Ensuring a shared vision
  2. Removing barriers to participation
  3. Encouraging participation
  4. Facilitating social interaction
  5. Sensitivity to group dynamics

 

Ensuring there is a shared vision

In a dynamic community, the members of the group will continually change over time as some members leave and others join. The vision of the community, it’s objectives and expectations of both the group as a whole and individuals within that group should be revisited regularly to ensure that they remain coherent with the vision of the community’s participants (

In the educational context the vision and objections are defined to some degree by the course learning outcomes, but within this structure there is still room for individual interpretation. It’s advisable to take time to ensure that the expectations of staff and students remain coherent.

According to )

“healthy communities are self-managing and self-governing. Members have a sense of ownership.”

How do we encourage ownership of the community?

Two ways in which a sense of ownership may be promoted are through encouraging involvement in the process of vision and expectation setting and through encouraging participation in group processes.

Removing barriers to participation

In the online environment, one of the greatest barriers to participation is a lack of computer literacy. This is often more of a psychological barrier than a technical barrier, but nonetheless can have a dramatic effect on the perceived ability (or efficacy) of participants to engage with the online environment.

“One’s personal sense of efficacy is the strongest attitudinal predictor of participation. The more people feel like they can make a difference in solving problems, the more likely they are to be involved in community activities and issues.” (Simons, 2006)

The online facilitator should have some familiarity and competence in the use of a range of communication technologies. This is important so that the facilitator can make informed choices regarding the optimal mix of communication channels (number of communication channels, synchronous vs. asynchronous, text-based vs. voice-based, etc.) and so that the facilitator can provide troubleshooting support to the participants.

Participants should be supported to develop their own technical competency & computer self-effiacy. Facilitators can support this need of participants by ensuring that they provide adequate instructions (McQuillan, 2007b) to new participants, and that they allow time and space for participants to explore any new communication technologies before they are expected to be used for community-related tasks. It has been observed that when a new communication interface is used, most of the attention of new users is absorbed into gaining familiarity with that interface until the user becomes competent. Quality interaction generally occurs after this initial period. (McQuillan, 2007d)

Another way in which participant’s computer literacy and self-effiacy can be developed is through the use of computer literacy programmes (McQuillan, 2007a) that can be independent of or integrated with community activities.

Encouraging participation

) says that one sign of a healthy online community is

“really active and consistent participation within the community. Community members … start to moderate themselves. It isn’t just the (facilitator) that handles…issues…. members… answer questions.”

As participants in online communities become more familiar with the communication technology and the community, they tend to participate more. If an online facilitator understands the stages which people move through when participating in online communities they will be better prepared to encourage them towards greater participation.

Derek Wenmoth (2006) describes a four stage level of participation model which illustrates the different stages participants move through when becoming involved in an online community. Derek’s model seems to best describe a participant that chooses to be involved in an online community out of interest rather than a student who is involved in the community because it is required by their course, however most of the ideas are probably still relevant.

 

Gilly Salmon’s 5-stage model (2004) provides a practical guide for facilitators, and concentrates on the technical support that is required, and the types of facilitation behaviour which are optimal at each stage of group development.

This model provides a guide to how a facilitator may encourage people to move towards greater participation at different stages of group development, but there are also facilitation techniques that may be applied at any stage for this purpose. Dobson (2006) describes some of these

  • Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak

  • Encourage open discussion
  • Draw people out with open-ended questions
  • Inject humor
  • Paraphrasing & Clarifying

Recognising the contributions of participants should also encourage participation. Both contributions towards the course learning outcomes, and community-focussed contributions should be recognised.

My conversations with online educators have indicated that a common strategy is to make participation a course requirement. This definitely seems to encourage activity, but does this directed rather than self-directed activity foster community & participation?

Some commentators argue that it is important for a community organizer or facilitator to view their role as being a member of the community rather than as an owner or director of the community (; Glogowski, 2007b; Blackall, 2007). The idea is that if someone is taking the role of the teacher, expert, or director of the group, then the participants are encouraged to be passively involved. If the facilitator is rather a participant in the community, the space is provided for others to take ownership of the community, and be more actively involved. Assuming the role of teacher or expert may be a barrier to the creation of an authentic learning community.

Glogowski (2007b) talks of “losing the teacherly voice”, however he says that this “is not the equivalent of losing the voice of an expert”.

“I cannot pretend that I (am not an expert in the topic). In fact, I probably shouldn’t because they are in my class to learn from me, and they expect me to be their guide and introduce them to the topic.” (Glogowski, 2007b)

“the challenge is that when I try to divest myself of my teacherly voice. I need to remember that this process is not about losing the voice of the expert but about losing the voice of the traditional authoritarian teacher who enters the classroom as an official persona armed with a pre-defined set of goals and very specific lesson plans for his students to follow. It is about giving the students the freedom to engage with ideas that they find relevant and interesting, not about dictating every step of their learning process.” (Glogowski, 2007b)

Facilitating social interaction

One of the ways in which an online facilitator my initially help to facilitate social interaction is through the design and establishment of the communication channels which are used by the online community, however once these channels are established there are many other ways in which the online facilitator can be involved in social interactions.

Glogowski (2007a) believes that one of the most important aims of the online facilitator is to “promote all activity, make it visible & easy to access”. By this he alludes to the fact that in the online environment sometimes valuable contributions may be unseen by other participants.

Dobson (2006) describes several ways in which social interaction may be facilitated

  • Encourage work in pairs or groups
  • Make space for social time and activities

Salmon (2004) sees the facilitation needs of the group changing as they gain familiarity with the online context, and describes through her 5-stage model types of facilitation that may be appropriate at each stage.

Be sensitive to group dynamics

A facilitator should consider the dynamics of a group, and should engage with the group differently depending on the group dynamics (McQuillan, 2007c)

  • In the early stages of group formation, a more directive leadership style is generally needed
  • As the group matures and becomes more comfortable in the online environment, and with each other a more facilitative leadership style become appropriate.

Conflict is a natural part of being in a community. A facilitator should know how to deal effectively with conflict. Dobson (2006) has some suggestions

  • If people seem tense because of unvoiced disagreement, you may need to bring concerns out into the open
  • Flare-ups: When two members get into a heated discussion, summarize the points made by each and then turn the discussion back to the group.
  • Grandstanding: Interrupt the one-person show with a statement that gives credit for his or her contribution, but ask the person to reserve other points for later.
  • Broken recording: Paraphrase the contribution of someone who repeats the same point over and over. This lets the person know they have been heard.
  • Interrupting: Step in immediately. “Hold on, let Margaret finish what she has to say.”
  • Continual criticizing: Legitimize negative feelings on difficult issues. You might say, “Yes, it will be tough to reduce traffic congestion on Main Street, but there are successful models we can look at.”
  • Identify areas of common ground

In online communities a participant’s lack of awareness of the principles of netiquette may lead to offense & conflict. An online facilitator should be familiar with the principles of netiquette, and should identify where inappropriate communication is leading to social issues. Simply bringing the attention of the participants involved to what is occurring is likely to alleviate the immediate problem to some degree, but it is probably advisable to direct the participants to netiquette resources where relevant.

Conclusion

There are many skills required to successfully maintain an online learning community. I have outlined the skills which in my recent experience seem to be relevant, and in doing this have realised how much I’ve learnt over the past 4/5 months. This post is not as coherent as I’d like, but I guess that’s probably to do with the nature of my thoughts on this topic at present – Many fragments of knowledge, with some overarching themes that tie the pieces together into some kind of whole.

References 

Blackall, L. (2007). To facilitate or teach. Retrieved on 18 November, 2007 from http://learnonline.wordpress.com/2007/10/12/to-facilitate-or-to-teach/

https://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/10/08/managing-technology-glitches-in-online-education/

https://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/08/15/teaching-vs-facilitation-through-the-lens-of-leadership-theory/

https://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/09/12/time-familiarity-and-socialisation/

http://www.techlearning.com/blog/2007/08/the_art_of_building_virtual_co.php

Salmon, G. (2004). The 5-stage model. Retrieved on 18 November, 2007 from http://www.atimod.com/e-moderating/5stage.shtml

Wenmoth, D. (2006). Participation Online – the Four Cs. Retrieved on 18 November, 2007 from http://blog.core-ed.net/derek/2006/11/participation_online_the_four.html

I’m going through the process of trying to reflect on the following aspects of my learning experience.

A. Discuss the characteristics of an online learning community and the   implications for learning and teaching online.
B. Evaluate online communication tools in given learning contexts e.g. in your own discipline.
C. Articulate the skills required for maintaining a successful online learning community.
D. Summarise the ideas, experiences and understanding of at least three other participants in the course and whether you agree with their postings – perceptions and beliefs about facilitation.

To do this, I’m supposed to use the following model of reflection

Stage 1 – Take notice and describe the experience.

1.1. What did you do, know, feel, think, need?

1.2 What decisions did you make?

Stage 2 – Analyse the experience.

2.1 Why these decisions?

2.2. What was your reaction?

Stage 3 – Take action.

3.1 What did you learn?

3.2 How will you use this learning?

The problem that I’m experiencing is that this reflective model doesn’t really seem to fit with the types of reflection that I’m required to undergo.  The reflective model seems to me to be designed for a specific experience that as a student you go through (lower level?).  It’s difficult to relate it to “Discuss the characteristics of an online learning community and the implications for learning and teaching online.” or “Evaluate online communication tools in given learning contexts e.g. in your own discipline. “, as these are really intellectual processes.  My experience of learning in this course has been largely self-directed rather than moving through a series of structured learning experiences.  What is the experience that I’m supposed to be reflecting on?  Is it my experience of being involved in the community?  Is it my experience of reading relevant blog postings, articles, and research literature, or participating in elluminate sessions?

In this light and realising that I need to get on with this assessment, I’m going to abandon the reflective framework.  I don’t imagine that anyone will be watching this blog at this time on a Sunday, so I’m unlikely to get any clarification before I’ve completed some of this assessment task at least.

A. Discuss the characteristics of an online learning community and the   implications for learning and teaching online.

https://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/08/24/online-environment-community-development-and-learning/

https://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/08/15/teaching-vs-facilitation-through-the-lens-of-leadership-theory/

https://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/10/19/my-experience-of-being-a-student-in-the-facilitating-online-course/

B. Evaluate online communication tools in given learning contexts e.g. in your own discipline.

https://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/11/05/elluminate-troubleshooting/

https://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/10/19/my-experience-of-being-a-student-in-the-facilitating-online-course/

https://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/10/08/managing-technology-glitches-in-online-education/

https://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/09/12/time-familiarity-and-socialisation/

https://massageonline.wordpress.com/2007/08/07/online-teaching-techno-methodology-is-taking-form/

C. Articulate the skills required for maintaining a successful online learning community.
D. Summarise the ideas, experiences and understanding of at least three other participants in the course and whether you agree with their postings – perceptions and beliefs about facilitation.

The Wiki-Educator Massage Therapy Educational Resources project has just been launched.

It’s intended that the wiki project page will act as a hub for international massage educators to collaborate on open-content educational resources.  I’ve now established the initial structure of the page (expecting that this will change over time somewhat as others become involved).  After a discussion with Leigh Blackall, have decided that it would be best if there were two categories on the front page

  1. The Library section is intended to be fairly unstructured to make it easier for contributors to load their resources to the wiki-page
  2. The Learning Outcomes section is intended to provide a logical structure for the placement of learning resources.  The learning outcomes are based on some which are commonly used in New Zealand, and it’s also hoped that as international contributors become involved, some discussion will occur around these learning outcomes.  I’m hoping that through this process we can start moving towards some internationally recognised standards for massage therapy education.

Someone will need to transfer the material loaded to the library into the structured learning outcomes section.  This will probably be me in the short-term, but there’s a prospect for government funding through AKO Aotearoa.

I’m about to send an email out to all massage education providers within New Zealand asking for interest, and from there will get in touch with my contacts in Australia & the US.  It’s going to be interesting to see how this goes.

Identification & Timing

Facilitator’s Name: David McQuillan

Class Identifier: Massage Therapy Staff

Date: 20/11/07

Time: 1 – 2pm

Reason for the meeting

Introduce staff to the technologies that they will be utilising when facilitating learning in 2008.


Medium used

Communication for the session will be facilitated through Elluminate. Elluminate is one of the technologies that staff may choose to use next year, and this will provide them with an opportunity to experience the platform. It also provides us with a synchronous communication channel. From this starting point staff will be directed to engage with the other software applications that we will use in our teaching next year. The aim is to help staff develop some experience in the use of these applications.


Description of the group

The group will be composed of my three key academic staff members. They range in age from 30 – 40-ish.

I expect that through this experience my staff should gain an understanding of how the technological applications will support learning, and how they may use them in their facilitation work.

We meet face to face semi-regularly, but have never met online. They have varying degrees of familiarity with online interaction. Karole has been teaching anatomy & physiology via Blackboard for over a year in her work with other departments. Irene & Ash both have some experience with being online, but not in an educational setting apart from some limited use of Blackboard as a shared storage facility & announcements hub. If I was to place this group in one of Gilly Salmon’s stages I would choose the access & motivation stage.

 

Planned facilitation of the meeting

I haven’t used the original facilitation template, as it doesn’t seem appropriate for the type of session that I am planning.

Learning outcomes

  • Participants are able to use Elluminate at a basic level.
  • Participants are able to find the therapeutic massage programme on WikiEducator and navigate to their course
  • Participants are able to find their blog, log into it, and make a posting
  • Participants understand the structure of the course, and are able to discuss how the elements relate to each other.

Session Plan

  • Elluminate
    • Users log in
    • Users are able to use IM
    • Users are able to use voice (10 mins | 1:10)
    • Discussion – how has everyone found this so far?
    • Illustrate course structure through a powerpoint finishing with a digram that illustrates the relationship between technological structures.
    • Ask participants to add their impressions to the diagram (using collaborative text / drawing)
      • I add an image & talk about this
      • Clarify things that need to be clarified
      • Draw out & discuss any emotional issues
      • Discuss solutions to any problems that are foreseen (10 mins | 1:20)
    • Discussion – what is eveyone’s experience now? ( 5 mins | 1:25)
  • Wiki Educator
    • Give everyone the URL of the WikiEducator Therapeutic Massage main page.
    • Users open this in a new window & bookmark the main page
    • I talk them briefly through wikis – layout and editing
    • Users navigate from this page to the course page they will be teaching & from there to the course blog they will be teaching through (Irene – Anatomy 1, Karole – Bioscience 1, Ash – Basic Massage) ( 5 mins | 1:30)
  • Blogs
    • Users open up their course blog in another window & log in
    • Users copy & paste information from Wiki Educator into their first blog posting. (10 mins | 1:40)
  • Pageflakes
    • Send URL for the pageflakes page through Elluminate
    • Ask participants to open pageflakes in a new window
    • They should be able to see how the content they have just posted to their blog is represented on the pageflakes hub ( 5 mins | 1:45)
    • Discussion (15 mins | 2:00)

I’m not sure if I’m tempting fate by being so specific with my timing here, but I guess we’ll see. 😉

Elluminate Meeting

Meeting Link: http://elluminate.tekotago.ac.nz:80/join_meeting.html?meetingId=1193877893967

Starts: 20/11/2007 12:30 NZDT

Ends: 20/11/2007 15:00 NZDT

I’ve been so caught up in the experience of the facilitating online communities course that I’ve hardly paid attention to the nature of the assessments – not something that I’d recommend to my students normally ;-).

So I guess it’s not surprising that when I look at Assessment 1 – Reflecting on your learning that I’m still some distance from completing the assessment tasks. I need to put some work in here.

Assessment 2 – Contribute to a wiki.

For this assessment I need to

i. Develop at least one page on the wiki relevant to your discipline

  • Done this.

ii. Contribute to the wiki discussion to inform others what you have been doing on the wiki, and to give feedback to at least two other participants – this needs to be a reasonably indepth critique with rationale and suggestions.

  • I think I’ve done this sufficiently, but I’m not sure???

iii. Contibute to general content on the wiki for future courses – add at least two resources.

  • I’m not sure what “a resource” is, or where I’m supposed to put this. Does the Computer Literacy Resources project count – my aim here being supporting computer literacy of online learners & therefore access?

iv. Add a link in your blog to your wiki page.

v. Write a summary on your blog about your impressions of wikis and their use in building
communities.

It’s somewhat difficult to have an impression of wikis & their use in building communities because of my limited experience with this. Yvonne has made some comments on my page which have been really useful – Thanks Yvonne. :-). I also see that the comments that I’ve made on Yvonne’s page seem to have been useful to her in the building of her page, so this is evidence I guess that when people are engaged in reviewing each others work that wikis can be a useful collaborative tool. But it doesn’t answer the question are they useful in building community?

I’ve had more experience of working with a group of people through my involvement in the Computer Literacy Resources project. My experience here has been that the wiki provides a useful space for people to collaborate on content, however most of the community building related to this project has come about through face to face contact with participants. Also, while I’ve invited people to be involved who are not based at Otago Polytechnic, it’s only been the people who have been regularly meeting face to face that are contributing to the project.

I’ve got another project planned – Massage Therapy Educational Resources – where I’m going to invite other massage educators that I’m in contact with in NZ, Australia & the US to contribute to the creation of resources that can be used in massage education. I might be better placed to make a comment on the use of wikis in a year or so, as I imagine that most of the collaboration here will come from outside of New Zealand.

Assessment 3 & 4

  • Plan how you will facilitate a discussion
  • Reflection on your facilitation of a discussion

I’ve got a meeting time scheduled, and have the session mostly planned out, but it needs a bit more work before I’ll be happy to post my plan here. I’m planning a session where I will introduce key staff members to the technological interface that we’ll be using for our course next year. Unfortunately the only time that we can all meet is 20 November, which I think is after the finish date of this course. Hopefully this is OK???

I had another bad Elluminate experience yesterday.

I suggested to the head of a group that I am a member of that we could try using Elluminate instead of the awkward teleconferencing set-up that the group typically uses. We decided to trial it with just the two of us before the group meeting.

She couldn’t connect at all to start with.  I’m aware that this has been a problem for some people who have tried to access elluminate from inside their work’s firewall, so I asked her about her computer’s firewall.  She said that a friend of hers had installed some firewall software that I’d never heard of, and when she checked she found that this firewall was blocking elluminate (without any messages).

Once unblocked she tried again and started to connect to elluminate but her computer crashed.  She tried 4 more times, and it crashed each time.  Our IT support told me that the only thing elluminate accesses on your computer is java, so suggested that she uninstall & reinstall this application.  She did this, but it still crashed.

Her boyfriend was in the same room at this stage, so she tried using his computer, which also crashed.  After 45 minutes of this we decided to give up.

I had no trouble connecting, and neither did our IT support person so at the end of all of this, I still have no idea why there were problems.

I was pondering this experience last night after another frustratingly pointless session in second life, thinking “what am I getting myself into?”.  Realistically I guess I should expect to spend a reasonable proportion of my life from the start of next year troubleshooting computer problems :-(.

OK, enough self-pity.  How can I turn this experience into something positive?

Benefits of Elluminate

  • Potential for excellent media-rich engagement with students
  • Synchronous socialisation

Problems with Elluminate

  • Sometimes people are unable to access the system
  • When they are having access problems typically the facilitator will be engaged with a class of people & will be unable to support them
  • Teachers typically have a limited understanding of the technicalities of using elluminate & therefore a limited ability to troubleshoot students problems anyway
  • Sometimes the server is not accessible &  no-one can access it

I think we discussed this last point adequately in a previous elluminate session.

With respect to an individual student having trouble with access, it seems to me that students need to be provided with an elluminate troubleshooting resource that they can use.  Ideally this would be a help-desk tech, but if this was not possible a text-based or screen-based reference might do the job.

Elluminate has a few resources that might be used.

  1. Set-up wizard
  2. User manuals & recorded instructional sessions (in elluminate)
  3. A support page for troubleshooting

These could help many of the issues, but they still wouldn’t help my friend at the top of this posting.  The support page, is fairly technical and is probably only useful to people who already feel quite confident in the use of a computer.

Perhaps the best solution is just to not worry about it, and take the attitude that some students will be able to participate, some won’t.  You can always record the session & make it available to the non-participants.

I’m not sure what the answer is here.

I’ve just finished reading through a research article which investigates the effectiveness of online learning in the SUNY (State University of New York) learning network (Shea, Fredericksen, Pickett, Pelz, Swan, 2001). The interesting thing about this research is that in contrast to other reports that I’ve read (1,2) they find that student retention is not significantly different in their F2F classes & their online classes, and that their students are at least as satisified if not more in their online classes. In response to the statement “Overall I was very satisfied with this online course” 39% of the students agreed strongly, Another 40% agreed, 6% disagreed & 5% disagreed strongly.

So what about the SUNY learning network programmes might be different?

In the SUNY learning network, courses are designed based on principles of social constructivism where learning is seen as an outcome of socialisation. Accordingly there is a strong focus on the use of discussion forums and student-teacher interaction. The authors believe that the level of interaction contributes to the development of “knowledge building communities”.

In addition the responsibility for course development is laid at the feet of the teaching staff, and they are provided with support in the area of instructional design. It is thought that this results in quality and coherence due to the fact that the teacher of the course knows the material better than anyone else.

I’m not sure how different this is from the other reports that I’ve read. Social constructivism definately seems to be the dominant pedagogical model used in online learning, but I’m not sure how long this has been the case. However it seems likely that the student satisfaction & retention characteristic of these courses are at least partially due to a combination of the factors discussed above.

Key Findings of the Research

  • Very strong correlation found between student satisfaction and perceived learning
  • Both high satisfaction & reported learning are highly correlated with
    • Prompt, high quality feedback from the instructor
    • Clear expecations of how to proceed in the course successfully
    • A high level of interaction with classmates
    • Satisfaction with computer support
    • Simplified course structure (fewer modules/pages)

    Those who experienced problems due to technical difficulties were most likely to report the lowest levels of learning & satisfaction.

  • Computer skill prior to taking part in an online course was not correlated with learning & satisfaction

These last two points are interesting. Another study (Pillay, Irving, Tones, 2007) found that computer self-efficacy was correlated with learning & satisfaction. At first glance the finding of Pillay et al. seems to be supported by the first point, and contradicted by the second point. Perhaps a high level of interaction mediates computer difficulties as students are able to gain support from their peers and/or teaching staff? Another possibility is that the course has computer literacy supports embedded within the courses or accessible by students who are enrolled in the courses (although there is no discussion of this in the article).

One other point of interest is that in their literature review, the authors found that many studies showed that collaborative learning was not effective in an online context. It’s worth noting that the study discussed here was completed in 2001. Articles in the literature review would mostly have been completed before this date, and there have been many developments in online learning since this time. It would be interesting to see some more contemporary research on this topic.

Reference

Pillay, H., Irving, K., & Tones, M. (2007). Validation of the diagnostic tool for assessing Tertiary students’ readiness for online learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 26:2, 217 – 234

Shea, P., Fredericksen, E., Pickett, A., Pelz, W., & Swan, K. (2001). Measures of Learning Effectiveness in the SUNY Learning Network. In J. Bourne, & J. Moore (Eds.), Online Education – Volume 2 – Learning Effectiveness, Faculty Satisfaction and Cost Effectiveness – Proceedings of the 2000 Summer Workshop on Asynchronous Learning Networks. Massachusetts, USA: Sloan Centre for Online Education.