Collaborative Classrooms Reflective Community:  Ruth Virginia Barton

Module 8:  August 23, 2015:  I am getting used to miracles here because the transformation I have experienced this week is absolutely phenomenal.  It started with an emergency visit to my family during which I was offline for three days and is resulting in a profound acceptance of myself as not only a human being but as an online facilitator.  I am so happy and excited to be making this miraculous discovery that, by dint of extensive work and insight, finds me transformed into someone who believes in myself in old ways and new ways, and who experiences myself as a Professional at life and can see the light at the end of the tunnel of being a professional online instructor.  Triumph!

 

Only after I came back home from being with my family and got back online did I realize that this very week, this last week of my regular classes for the E-learning and Online Teaching graduate certificate, was also the same week as the beginning of being an online instructor!!!  Up until Thursday, I didn't realize at all the extent of pre-course work -- or Module 0 -- involved. But somehow, weathering and working these transitions, happening during the same four days, of ending life primarily as a student and beginning it as an instructor, has got to be the beginnings of uncovering mastery.

 

Now, four days later, after working almost all my waking hours, I have discovered online teaching professionalism in my DNA.  It all has to do with being down to the wire and having so much blessed work to do that it's like marathon swimming under water and coming up for air only sometimes to breathe.  In order to do this work, and really get into it and allow its excitement to flow, I have to really get into it!  Which means diving into the present moment and concentrating on the work, following where it leads me, and not worrying about the amount of time it's taking!  I can't enjoy it without allowing myself to lose track of time, and enjoying it is paramount.  I'm allowing the present moment to be like a puddle, and I'm diving in and the moment is expanding outward and I'm just staying there, floating and swimming and breathing -- and working.

 

It's been beautiful and hard -- but not so hard!  First I finished up my Mod 8 classwork for Collaborative Classrooms and then I did much of what I must do to get ready for student teaching and the practicum; and then I updated my exercises based on feedback from the Amazing Dr. Kay and the Rad Rebecca Brink on this website and started reflecting on those changes, and that is where the magic came in!  Imagine that!  I swear, it has to do with the excitement Professor Bonk (2011) talked about when he wrote, "Life at Internet speed is highly accelerated, personal, engrossing, and exhilarating!" For when I started actually writing my reflections on my website, within the Internet, as I upgraded my work, I transformed before my very eyes. And heart.  Astounding.  What is this magic of combined reflection with writing on the Internet?  What is it???  Dr. Ruben Puentadura (2014) talked about it in his SAMR ladder when he wrote about the highest level of integrating computers into learning: "Redefinition:  Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable."  It's the "previously inconceivable" part that means exciting, and reflection must be involved for the magic to really take off.  And I learned long ago to trust excitement.  

 

Risky, I know, but what is life without risk and the courage to take it?  

 

 

 

Module 7:  August 16, 2015:   I guess just about all things in life are more challenging than you think they will be until you fully experience them and learn their secrets.  True professionalism cannot be faked because it is based on experience - the constant leveler!  No substitute for experience.  It's an aspect of being on the physical plane that absolutely insists that we fully descend into 3-D if we're really going to learn anything here.  Maybe with experience we can fake it till we make it, but with life we won't learn a durned thing unless we immerse ourselves in it and experience it for real - fully.  

 

And this is again why we need a full measure of humility.  If we're to learn anything and extract life's value from it, we must first acknowledge that we don't already know how to do it!  

 

So I'm now a beginning teacher.  I've decided to call where I'm at in the teaching profession a beginner - which is true.  I have taught informally with a bit of formality thrown in.  I have in some ways a lot of experience in teaching because there are so many ways to teach that aren't called teaching yet nevertheless are - like parenting.  Being an auntie.  Advising.  Modeling friendship.

 

So this week I actually got to teach!  Formally - in front of my teachers and fellow students - so now I really am a beginning teacher.  I was the last temporary facilitator of our small group discussion forum and this last week we had to do something new:  hold a synchronous chat.  Which means:  talk together in real time from locations around the world!  In this case it was typing-talking together at the same time.  Now this may seem an obviously simple thing to the uninitiated to eLearning; why not simply pick up the phone?  Make a conference call?  Or even Skype?  Why not?  

 

Good question!  

 

Here's the reason why:  We're not just learning how to hold an online meeting.  We're learning how to do our level best to ensure the technology works when we do so!   We're learning how to make sure the event is archived, which means the software keeps a record of what we typed.  We're learning how to schedule 3 out of the 5 people in our group who live across the oceans from U.S.  We're having this real-life-virtual experience to show us what can go wrong!  And, hopefully, how to fix it if it does.  And if not, what to do from there.  And in the meantime, actually have an educational conversation that enlightens us and furthers our understanding of how to collaborate in the classroom.

 

And I in the meantime learned so much because of this opportunity to facilitate this synchronous chat, or "synch chat," as I have been calling it.  Facilitating, just like everything else, is not what it seems when you look under the surface and actually experience it.  You have to prepare your students for what's coming but not overload them with details.  You have to try out the tech beforehand to make sure your version of it, at least, is going to work when the time comes.  You have to learn new software and give just enough information that your students can absorb it, too, but more easily than you did.  Because they have you.

 

And scheduling!  Did you ever try to schedule a trip to the movies with 5 different people?  Never think it is a simple thing!  Or maybe it is and I have yet to experience that.  Actually, I did experience it; it just took time.  There's an online free scheduling program called Doodle.com that if you program it correctly - which just means inputting email addresses correctly and making sure the time zone differential is accounted for - it will show a small calendar with the times you have available in an email to your other group members.  Then they get to check off what times they're available that you are, too.  And then it presents back to you one schedule showing everyone else's availability.  And I had to have the faith in my teacher that the program really would translate the time zones correctly so everyone would have that information already calculated on their schedule - and it worked!  When I checked off a box that asked them to do so.  Doodle.com was a thing of beauty because it was simple, it made sense, and it worked.  It just took time for all the emails to go back and forth and the program to float across the oceans so we could all agree.  And then when one person couldn't make it we asked nicely and then they could so we all met at 9:00 on Thursday morning - almost all of us, because for one of us the technology wouldn't work despite 6 hours of trying.

 

I had a beautiful experience actually facilitating the meeting, because compared to setting it up, facilitating was easy!  Well, kind of, but I knew my subject matter well enough and I had pre-planned the questions so was actually prepared and ready.  My experience validated the 70/30 rule that Kay Lehmann (my teacher in Collaborative Classrooms) and her writing partner Lisa Chamberlin came up with their in the online teaching book they wrote in 2009.  The premise of the 70/30 rule is that it'll take 70% of your teaching time to prepare for your online class and get through its first week, and then only 30 percent to actually continue the class to its end.  That's about the breakdown of the work it took me to facilitate.

 

Facilitating was really fun because I got to ask and answer a question I had really wanted to deal with in our class:  What does critical thinking mean to you?  My answer:  thinking for yourself.  Everyone else had cool answers, too.

 

We could have filled out our ending discussion (not the synchronous one, just our regular one) a little bit more but I have a feeling everyone was burnt out.  I gotta find out more about that.

 

lurries in August.  That's the humble part.  I kept forgetting things to communicate to my class members so I'd send off another email to include that last important bit of information, but there were too many details, I know.  Too confusing.  At another point I took pictures of a process but the email program would only send one pic at a time so I had to send it as four or five emails.  As facilitator it's important - I now know from experience - to present the necessary information to your group members that they need to know in a timely and calm manner that prepares them without overwhelming them!And I had f

 

So I'm learning.  Again!  One of my favorite things to do.

 

 

Module 6:  August 9, 2015:  Wow.  A whole week in August has already gone by and I can hardly believe it.  August!!!

 

This week I thought about critical thinking a lot and why the term is so popular in education circles.  I didn't understand at first because of course you're critical in your thinking but isn't it nice to sometimes not be so critical?  Like, as in non-judgemental?  That can be a refreshing change, eh?  (Except for editing, where it's really fun to be critical. 8-D)

 

So because of my intent to discern rather than judge, I kind of dropped the term critical  from my vocabulary and thus had forgotten why it might be such a critical term!  (In this case, it means important.)  And this week I realized why critical thinking  is used.

 

The reason it's such a popular term, I believe, is because it's a misnomer.  I figured out that what people really mean when they say "critical thinking" is actually "thinking for yourself" -- but "critical" sounds so much more critical, doesn't it?  

 

I have been wishing for my impact on education to be facilitating kids and grown-ups to think for themselves; to adopt a concept and make it their own, in their own way.  This is really what is so exciting and creative about education, isn't it?  The Joy of Learning!  And now I know how to make "thinking for yourself" sound pedagogical or androgogical (adult learning):  use the term "critical thinking"!

 

I've also been learning about making mistakes in public.  I've worked with two groups this week; one my Skype buddies to create the tip sheet and the other my small group discussion buddies.  Whatever mistakes I made with my Skype team was sorta public, and I lived through it.  (I find with this being human thing that it's very easy to make mistakes; do you find this to be true?)  And this upcoming week it's my turn to be a team leader, as we're all taking turns facilitating our small groups.  I had to learn some new technologies, though, to implement my facilitation starting tomorrow, which meant familiarizing myself with the new tech this weekend.  I tried three times and I think I got it right!  The trouble is, each time I tried I involved four other people in my efforts!  So each time I made a mistake it affected them -- I hope in extremely minor ways 8-).  

 

My habitual inclination is to apologize profusely for causing any possible inconvenience, frustration, harm, or time lost because of my mistake.  But this past week has been a doozy and I am changing this deep-seated habitual inclination.  For a very long time I have believed that all kinds of things are my fault that simply aren't.  Therefore, whenever I made a mistake where something actually was my fault, I would feel terriblehorribleno-goodawful because I was adding all this history of self-blame onto whatever teeny-tiny (or huge) mistake I had just made.  My mistakes would loom above me like a tidal wave, threatening to rob me of my well-being, peace, and even my life.  But the doozy of this week was that I finally realized how much I blamed myself -- even for things I didn't do -- and how much deep "trouble" (;-) this has caused me.  This week, being such a doozy, was my opportunity to learn how to finally release all this self-blame so I can move into the world minus this catastrophical burden I've been carrying on my shoulders all this time.

 

And so, making these mistakes in public in my roles as team member and future facilitator has given me plenty of material to work with in terms of practice in dropping the self-blame of the past and just simply working with what really happened this week, which definitely wasn't catastrophic!!!  I acknowledged my mistakes but did not apologize too profusely or take responsibility for something I didn't do (I don't think).  Progress, not perfection! -- which is real progress!

 

My favorite time management techniques from Time Management Strategies for Online Instructors* were answering emails that require an answer when I open them, unless they can be set aside for later, and providing a multi-media explanation for how to do new tech things!  I love the idea of immediately responding to emails when I open them, unless I can put them off, because I am one of those people who saves a lot of emails.  Developing the discipline with my teaching email files of answering them directly is an excellent idea which I feel I could definitely do when I am an online teacher - and enjoy doing, because I would have time set aside specifically for that.  Then I could file them neatly away -- and save them, too!  Setting aside emails involves putting them in a file to do later, and then following up with them, which seems very wise, sound advice that I plan to follow.

 

I would personally LOVE to have a Jing video available for all the new techy things I need to learn to do in eLearning!  I have used films such as these in my classes and have found them very useful and helpful.  As an audio and visual learner, it is wonderful to have both going on at the same time, as with a movie!  Knowing how useful this technique is will definitely inspire me to do the same for my future students.  Great idea!

 

https://www2.uwstout.edu/content/profdev/rubrics/time_management.html.*University of Wisconsin-Stout. Time Management Strategies for Online Instructors. Retrieved 8/9/15 from  

 

 

Module 5:  August 2, 2015:  Our facilitator of the Blue Group this week did this outstanding thing to keep delving into the subject of how to relate online to a prospective future student who brought negativity into the class.  When we wrote how we'd handle such a situation in terms of emailing the student, she gave us feedback and then had us pretend the student had responded to our emails in a certain way, and what then?  How would we respond to the student after that?  That was a really creative way to keep the critical thinking, or "interactivity" moving and deepening.

 

I find this term "critical thinking" very interesting because it is such an academic term but it actually encompasses an emotional aspect as well, without acknowledging it!  What I've been learning from our group discussions in this class is that critical thinking is the objective of our online conversations.  Critical thinking to me, technically and specifically, means thinking very clearly and asking questions to clarify.  And I find critical thinking under this definition interesting as an academic exercise.  But what I have been finding, both from life, past academic experience and this class, is that the emotional component of learning is what makes it truly exciting!  In other words, learning is not merely an academic exercise - it is a holistic experience that engages the brain and emotions!  

 

And, to me, excitement truly is the goal of learning, much more than mere critical thinking.  This is how my critical thinking about this subject goes:  Learn something new, discuss it with my peers with facilitation from my teacher, and create another level of learning together!  It's this level of creating together that I believe is the truly exciting part.  And what we're doing when it's exciting is learning together!  So, for me, I think critical thinking is the first step as we apply it to new knowledge.  The second step, of collaborating, can get really fun just because of its interactivity.  But when it gets exciting is when the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts; students interacting together in a discussion with excellent facilitation is greater than students learning separately together.  They become something new together - as a result of doing learning together!  And this added component which makes it exciting is much more than purely a mental exercise; the excitement is a result of the joy of learning together - the fun of it - which I have to say is an added emotional component to the excercise of learning together!

 

Learning alone is fun; that's the absorbing content part, which involves critical thinking, I believe, as we find ways to apply the new information in a relationship with what's already structured in our brains.  Learning is fun.  But learning together is fun-ner.  We become a verb instead of a noun; collaboratively learning instead of students.  It's really fun and spills over into joy.

 

 

Module 4:  July 27, 2015:  I have been continuing to learn how to more effectively facilitate discussions - and augment them!  I took a few more risks this week.  My colleagues and I, in our small group discussion, I think came to a working agreement that interactivity was the byword for an exciting discussion that keeps building upon its own "critical thinking" to "successful learner-facilitator interactions."  I of course believe that critical thinking is the "safe" way of expressing exciting discussions that absorb the brain and the heart!  Discussions that grow and ebb and flow and eventually come full circle are the secret magic to teaching.  Start in one place, tell a long story, and end up at the beginning of the circle with a much greater awareness than at the beginning.  A spiral, really, because we end up further along than where we started!

 

I learned a wonderful thing from Rebecca Brink, one of my teachers in this class (the course intern, to be precise), in her feedback to me:  "We need not be too polite in thought, but we need to be polite in how we address."  Isn't that beautiful?  I modified that into my own, "Sharp thought, soft expression."  It's a way to give myself permission to own my direct, hard-headed thinking by kind phraseology.  I think the bottom line is, there can never be too much kindness in the world, including kindness to ourselves in claiming our freedom to self-express.  

 

I learned a great question from our facilitator, A., to draw people out with:  "Could you expand a bit more on this experience?"  That was a highly professional way to ask for more personal information, if the assignment is indeed to express a personal experience.  I really enjoyed expressing with and hearing from my other small group partners.  After half a year together for some of us and a few months or weeks with others, it is wonderful to feel like we're all getting to know each other!  I also acknowledged my experience that posting four times a week, as we do in this class, tips the balance into interactivity in a way that three times a week, the standard in other classes, never did.  

 

In the large discussion group I learned about a lot more Web 2.0 tools and how smart my colleagues are!  Their questions about the wiki developer I chose to write about, PBWorks.com, inspired me to learn more about the program so I could answer them!  Their facility with tech and the writing about it is inspiring.  I'm very grateful for learning these tricks of the facilitation trade because I am getting to know these wonderful people better and more effectively!

 

 

Module 3:  July 18, 2015:  Wow, what a week this has been.  I learned to push my own envelope in the "too polite" realm.  And my classmates challenged me to go there!  That was pretty fantastic, because they nudged me very politely, actually.  Wow!  In our small group, the Blue Group, we were addressing these issues led by our fellow student, Connie, who started us off.  And off we did fly!!!  It is so nice to be learning together with other adults who are also so committed to their own learning.  I almost got rude by learning to challenge in my own way but found out later that it wasn't rude; it was standard online challenging behavior and I was learning it!  We all pretty much agreed, as well, how important it is to disagree!

 

In the large group it was even more challenging because we had to express our feelings to our fellow students - as if we were their students!  Our assignment was to write as a teacher to a student to correct something they were doing.  We were tackling the issue of tone, which is so important in regular life but even more important to be conscious of online.  Because without eye contact or voice inflections it is so hard to intuit the intention of the speaker - indeed, writer!  Therefore our writing style becomes super-important - we must write so as to not possibly be misunderstood!  So important in all communications but especially online where there is so much back-and-forth; it takes time but the time is well spent.

 

What was so hard for me was to express my vulnerability, when I read the teacher's message as their student.  Because after writing to our pretend students we were then supposed to read our fellow students' posts to these fictitious students and give feedback to them, pretending we were their students!  I lost quite a lot of fear.  Very often I liked and was comfortable with what a fellow student had written to their prospective student and it was easy to make a constructive comment then.  But a couple of times I wrote that my feelings would have been hurt by that post.  And this was hard because a) I was afraid I would be blasted for expressing such vulnerability and b) I was afraid I'd hurt the feelings of my fellow students!  But it worked out OK, I think because I worked very hard to be as kind and gentle as possible in my communications.  I got a chance to figure out my own style for when I am a teacher.  I also learned more of a habit of pointing out features I liked before I ever-so-gently lambasted.  I also learned more deeply the value of being genuine because other people like students pick up on that, even in the written word.

 

I don't think there is such a thing as "too kind," although there may be such a thing as "too polite"!

 

 

Module 2:   July 12, 2015:  I am positively floored by how much I learned this week in Collaborative Classrooms - how much I've evolved!  I had such a healing week.  It started with realizing how much more posting is required in this class than other classes I've taken in this certificate process:  my feedback last week was less than stellar because I totally forgot to respond to both discussions!  Anyway . . . .

 

Once I decided to drill down and pay more attention to following directions (8-), and after I had completed absorbing the reading, and after I had chosen my own article and read that, I was more-or-less ready to post.  And I wrote for hours.  I wrote and wrote and wrote what was for me a summary of learning theorists having to do with constructivism and social constructivism.  I got really into it because I had actually studied these people before over the years, in my educational pursuits, and I really admired what they had to say.  So I wrote a pretty long (for online purposes) summary of what I had learned and then posted it.

 

And then Dr. Lehmann posted to "everybody" that we needed to think like online teachers and write concisely so as to leave room for our own students to write and explore what they think!  

 

And bells rang off.  By her explaining that she was teaching us not so much as her students but as teachers ourselves, I understood something I hadn't understood before.  I was totally wrapped up in being a student, a role which I love and treasure.  When she explained she's relating to us as teachers, everything fell into place.  I think.

 

So I started responding and wrote my next post with conciseness (concission?) and out-loud appreciated the conciseness of everyone whose posts I read!  Everyone I read had managed to pack a powerful whallop of meaning into one screen-sized page.  It was wonderful!  It did invite me, as my peer's student, in to their writing so that I could absorb what they were saying and then respond.

 

So I 'umbled myself and accepted more of a need for conciseness on my part.

 

And then, something even more powerful happened!!!

 

We're learning and writing about social constructivism, which means we construct our own meaning around content within a social structure!  Vygotsky, the father of social constructivism, wrote that there is an area of potential learning just outside our reach, on the edges of what we already know, called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), and here's the kicker:  This ZPD, according to Vygotsky, can only be accessed by us if we have another person in at least a somewhat supportive position around us while we're learning.  This person can be the teacher or another student or a sibling doing their homework over there.  

 

And what really got my flag flying was THAT EVERYONE I READ AND RESPONDED TO, INCLUDING ME, WAS OPERATING WITHIN OUR OWN ZONES OF PROXIMATE DEVELOPMENT!  We were zooming, and we were doing it together, and it was really fun.  It was work, and it was time-consuming and required thinking and consideration, not to mention looking up citations, but it was literally the Joy of Learning in action - together!

 

And then something truly amazing happened:  one student responded to my summary in a way that melted my heart.  She had actually read the whole thing, and she totally grokked what I was saying and why I was saying it.  She thanked me for writing it and introducing each theorists in a way that invited further learning by the reader!  It was powerful for me to have my work acknowledged like that.  And really, really, nice.  Thank you, Lisa!

 

And a lot of us have been posting together for many months now.  Each class in our certificate program takes two months and quite a few of us have been in the same or similar classes together now for more than six months.  But I've never seen us zooming like I did this week.  It was really fun learning together like that.  It's like we've been learning together all these months but it took this build-up of learning and familiarity to get us where we are now - together.

 

And I'm pretty sure it has to do with the number of times we're posting in this class - at least four times per week for the highest grade.  And we're posting in a large group (our class) as well as a small group (four or five people), for which we also had to come up with material and study it to present it.  And all this presenting has to be done by Wednesday!  So we've all geared up by this second week of this fourth class to do so much research and posting, due to the expectations of our wonderful teacher, and we are rising to meet those expectations!  s'Wonderful!  s'Marvelous!

 

 "Students choose to learn because of the encouragement that they receive."  Isn't that beautiful???  Simply beautiful!  It captures the very essence of the Joy of Socially Constructivist Learning:  It acknowledges the empowerment of students to choose how to learn, how to construct their own meaning - and indeed, whether they will; and, it acknowledges the importance and power of the teacher or other student or other person on the other side of the student's Zone of Proximal Development.  It is so beautiful.  Because it's really true, isn't it?  That whether the teacher is the sage on the stage or the guide on the side, teachers are really important.  We don't remember our best teachers because of what they taught us.  We remember them for how they taught us.All of this, for me, centered around the meaning crystallized in one sentence by my classmate, Connie Schauer:

 

Thanks for reading! 8-)

 

Reference:  Discussion Post on D2L from Connie Schauer, Jul 8, 2015.

 

 

 

Module 1:  July 4, 2015:  Happy Birthday, America!  I'm glad to be having this reflective time on our nation's birthday.  I'm so proud of our ability to grow as a community based on our living document, the U.S. Constitution.

 

I'm grateful for this course, Online Classroom: Creating Collaborative Communities, and for its timing!  I'm looking forward to gaining expertise on how to facilitate a close-knit community in my own school that I'm creating online, The Home School. This school in its manifestation will be made up of children and adults who have been on their own individual journeys of emotional healing; being at this online school will give everyone an opportunity to join their journeys together within our online community.  In my last class I started having a lot of questions about how to create such a community and then I learned I would probably be able to answer those questions in this course!

 

We will use the Home School's discussion board, called the Safety Net, to stay in touch and build community and just be there for each other.  For my final project in Assessment I created this safe haven school, The Home School.  Then, in my Instructional Design class I created a mini-course called Emotional Healing Within a Supportive Online Community.

This is the very first course every student at The Home School takes because it's the basis of the support group they create within their online community while they are at The Home School.  It's about learning to communicate together through creating a socially and emotionally safe online community.  The students taking this 5-week course learn about Social-Emotional Learning and Netiquette (online etiquette) and how to navigate a Course Management System (the computer program that delivers the online learning), but most of all they learn to build an emotionally and socially safe online community together.  

 

Here's a new word:  Creativing.  It means, the act in gerund form of being creative!

 

I am looking forward to filling in the gaps of my own understanding through Creativing Collaborative Communities.