Sunday, March 12, 2017

Communicating about the Ways We Can Communicate & a Few Tardy Thoughts...

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Over the past week, I have been working not only on my course prototype for the Faith-based Digital Citizenship, but also helping to nurture an interschool digital book club, or otherwise known as, “The Digital Dystopian Book Club”. So it is actually quite timely that we are examining forms of student/student-instructor interactions in this week’s blog post (actually this was for last week, I’m just a week late in composing this post). One thing I have learned in trying to nurture online book clubs is the importance of establishing expectations. This doesn’t just mean share the expectations, but ensure all stakeholders (students and teachers) understand and buy-in as well. In this interschool book club community, we have several ways of sharing in place for both teachers and students. Although the book club is not my course project, there are several things that I have learned that I will definitely be applying to my course. In addition to this, there are some things that were shared in the readings last week that I will also be integrating.

Furthering Student Skills in a Space They Know Well

The first item that needs to be acknowledged, is the importance of making sure that everyone understands how to navigate the online space. This means whether you are using Today’s Meet, Kidblog or a Moodle Discussion Forum, all members of the community must understand not only understand the logistics of how to navigate the space, but also the established expectations or norms. So to get ready for the interschool digital book club, as teachers we ensured that all the teachers understood how to navigate Kidblog and Today’s Meet, and that all the students knew how to participate in the asynchronous and synchronous discussions and reflections.  So how can I apply this to my project? The importance of How-to documents and videos (as well as face-to-face training), especially because other teachers and their students will be using this course in their classrooms. Although Flipgrid and Today’s Meet are quite intuitive, Moodle is not.  

Second, ensure that everyone understands how to effectively
Created by J. Stewart-Mitchell via Bitmoji
in the community. Perhaps this is a little more challenging than just understanding how to navigate the online space.  For the digital book club, we used a collaborative OneNote notebook, then had discussions face to face and via Skype when establishing student expectations. Later the expectations were shared with students via the teacher’s blog and face-to-face.

Establishing Norms in a Space that is Constantly Evolving

Going forward with the Digital Citizenship course, one thing that I learned from the Yuan and Kim article, “Guidelines for Establishing the Development of Learning Communities in Online Courses” and from the Edutopia article, “Mastering Online Discussion Board” is the importance of students being involved in establishing the norms and expectations of the learning community at the beginning of the course. Which makes sense, as teachers would also have students involved in the establishment of classroom expectations and procedures at the start of the year in non-digital learning environments.  Therefore, in order to have student ownership and engagement in creating the learning norms and culture, it makes sense that this practice would be mirrored online.  

For this reason, as one of the introductory activities, prior to getting into the course content, there is a group activity that will be conducted partially face to face and online (to reflect the blended nature of this course), where students will brainstorm and create these expectations and needs of nurturing online engagement. The hope is that this will not only set the tone for engagement but hopefully establish a sense of partnership.

This leads to my third consideration in establishing a learning community, make sure all participants feel that their contribution and voice is valued. Regardless if the classroom is online or offline, there has to be consistency in following the established expectations of the community, but even more important than this, there must be a sense of trust. This means all voices count - and that the teacher’s role is to guide and lead from alongside the learner, and not just control from above. With a changed role of the teacher, this can lead the establishment of a non-traditional learning community, where all members can be teachers and learners. This shift has been evident in the digital book club. For some teachers, engaging in this type of project has definitely moved them out of their comfort zone. But what is really fantastic, is that the students are able to see that they play a role in helping their teacher learn how to engage in this new platforms for sharing. By taking risks and finding new ways to bring the Internet into learning, students of the book club will see other ways that they can integrate these online spaces for more than socializing. Just as Rochelle says in her post, “If we begin to teach them at a young age about how to use the Internet for good, then that will last them their lifetime. But, if we shy away from it, then what are they missing out on?”  To further Rochelle’s point, if educators don’t take the risk, how will we help our students make the connection between socializing with others online -  to learning with others online?

Ensure all Voices Count

Whether it is online or offline, the role of the teacher is to establish the framework of what will be learned as well as provide on student progress. However, for effective ownership of learning, students must feel that their voice counts and that their questions and interests are recognized. This is where I see the blended model being especially valuable in my course. Even though it will be one where the teacher signs up their class, they get trained, then they start -  The course should still reflect the needs and interests of the students. So how do you do that? How do you personalize a predesigned framework? I suppose it’s all in the course design… create one so that the students care about the content.  In a post by Danielle, she said, “the best way to have student interactions that are meaningful, relevant and supportive, is to have the students engage with relevant content and actually care about what they are talking about”. Perhaps the key to establishing a learning community is to give the students the opportunity to talk and make personal connections to what is learned - later the content will be shaped through these connections and what is brought back to the learning community.

Never Assume that They Already Know

In addition to building the Community Learning Expectations, students need to be explicitly taught how to participate online - it can't be assumed that they will just "know".  This means not only how to effectively engage in synchronous discussion, (ie. stay on topic), but also how to meaningfully contribute to the posts of others in asynchronous communication such as blogging. In previous blog posts, I explored the 3 C’s + Q Blogging Framework, for the digital book club, we not only teach students how to comment effectively, we model it as well. By modeling the effective commenting structure, we ensure that students get meaningful feedback and that they see the framework in action. Therefore, for the Digital Citizenship Course, the 3C’s + Q format will be examined for both Flipgrid and in the Moodle Discussion Forum.

Overall, I am fairly happy with the spaces I have chosen for student interaction. Moodle is not exactly the easiest to navigate, but it fits in well with the format we have already established for Learning Online and will serve well for sharing the content of the course. Plus, it is flexible space for duplicating and sharing courses with other teachers. By combining Moodle with a paid version of Flipgrid (although I will incorporate options for the free version) there will be many opportunities for establishing a space for student voice. My goal is not only to have students share thoughts in the Moodle Discussion Forum but also collaborate via Office 365 tools such as Sway and shared documents. In addition to this, students will also use other online tools for creating artifacts of their learning. However, I suppose I might leave exploration of these ideas for another blog post! In closing, I would love to learn more about how others are encouraging spaces for creativity in their courses. So, how are you encouraging creativity and other digital literacies in your course?

Documents for Students 

I would love feedback from members of this class regarding what else needs to be included for students. My goal would be for teachers to share the expectations below in person, but also provide these documents via Moodle. 


  1. This is a really great reflection on the importance (and struggle) of developing community vs. just creating another forum/webspace/etc. I'm happy that you brought in the Yuan and Kim article as I feel that the norms and expectations piece is the really important (and often very difficult) work. The documents that you created for students really reflect your understanding of this work - I look forward to seeing how this works out.

    Also, I hear you on Moodle but it's really great to see you integrate other more sophisticated tools within the framework you've been given.

    Great stuff Jenn!

    1. Thanks Alec. Actually your comment in class regarding adding other platforms for sharing in Moodle has kind of inspired me, I have decided that I will share other ways of connecting student voice through Mentimeter and Flipgrid... I will not let Moodle limit the opporutunities!

  2. Jenn, you create such amazing helpful documents for students. Great post!