First Week: Introductions, Icebreakers, and Pre-course E-mails
Intro/Bio/Welcome (to be posted on the News, or first page, of class when opening up the online course)
Hi, and Welcome to WeBelong School! I'm so excited to invite you to Emotional Healing Within a Safe Online Community and the world of online learning! My name is Ruth Virginia and it is my privilege to be your instructor for this mini-course. We will be getting to know each other very well in this class, which is the point, isn't it? We'll be learning to create and maintain a safe online presence and an online support group on WeBS's discussion board, the Safety Net. You will also be learning some basics of online learning, combining student-centered, creative, interactive learning with the power -- and fun -- of internet tools. I believe in the joy of learning and creating safe havens where children and adults are free to express themselves, soak up information like the sponge the brain is, and create meaningful projects that change their worlds.
I have loved learning since childhood, when I lived in five countries and spoke four languages. In junior high a tiny farm school in Eastern Long Island changed my life with its experiential learning and safe interactivity! I graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with an English degree and minors in German and Spanish. My master’s degree in Elementary Ed followed in 2007, as did my 263-page thesis “The Joy of Education: Incorporating Brain-based Learning into a Standards-based Curriculum.”
I live here on WeBS campus in Eastern Long Island with my beautiful daughter, who is at present camping in the wilds of New Hampshire with her dad and some friends, and find all my skills culminating here and now. I'm so happy to be living next door to the Atlantic Ocean and fulfilling my dream of creating an online and residential school for emotional healing. Here's to enjoying changing our world with our online support group for emotional healing and eLearning's student-centered, creative, and kind-to-the-mind approach. I am so excited that you're joining us at WeBelong School online and invite you to come visit us here!
~Your instructor, Ruth Virginia
Welcome pre-course E-mail (to be sent early in the week before class starts to begin preparing us all for the course); this email also includes a receipt confirmation which looks like this from my side in Outlook and tells me two things -- the recipient got it and opened it!
Subject line: Online Support Group and Avatars!
Dear Students of Emotional Healing Within a Safe Online Community!
I am so excited to be facilitating our WeBelong School's introductory mini-course, where we learn to set up and maintain a safe and supportive online community together.
Everyone in this class, including me, has been on a path of emotional healing. And you know what that means? Every single one of us is very, very brave. It takes a lot of chutzpa to work with our emotions and heal ourselves in this manner. It means that each one of us has taken the initiative to become emotionally intelligent -- conscious of our feelings and figure out our own healing process.
Another thing we all have in common is that we have a supportive community at home where we live. This means we have a therapist or some sort of other healing professional we talk with most weeks. It also means we have at least one other person in our home or community who knows about our healing process and supports us in it. It means that we have acknowledged deep emotional pain, most likely from trauma, within ourselves and have reached out for help in our community with our healing process. Another very brave step to take for anyone.
And soon you will start getting to know each other and build a supportive online community together. One thing about the 1970's was we had Support Groups back in the day. Support Groups are simply people who get together regularly to support each other in whatever process they are engaged in. Mostly the process involved something hard, something for which people felt the need of support. In this class we'll be developing our own support group where we can write in and let everyone else know what's going on and ask for help or insight if we want to -- and give it.
One thing I'd like you all to think about as you get ready for your first online class with the Home School is privacy within a community. As you are probably aware, privacy online can be a challenge! The Home School has the most powerful protective online security systems available to protect the online privacy of its students and staff. But there are other layers of protection we ourselves can add to protect our online privacy. One layer of protection is Avatars.
As an online image of a tiny picture, Avatars can take the place of other students - visually! As you may be aware, online learning has many awesome learning structures, but not being able to actually be in the same room with each other can make it a challenge to get to know each other! Each student's Avatar becomes a visual focal point to help students remember each other. So, for example, here is my Avatar: . You saw it on the subject line of this email.
Every email you get and every post you see will have that tiny image to show you who's posting or sending -- because we'll make it so! This Rainbow Heart will serve as a visual identification for me, as well as my name, Ruth Virginia. Between now and the begining of class I would like each of you to choose your own - as well as an alias! I'm OK with sharing my name with you all online, but I'm a public figure as director and teacher of WeBS. It's WeBS policy to protect your privacy with an Avatar and an Alias until you're 21 and sign a Release. And to begin establishing this extra layer of privacy immediately, please, each one of you send me your digital Avatar and your Alias you will use to represent yourself online in all your online communications at the Home School. Remember, this Alias by definition is not your own name and must not be according to WeBelong School policy! If you're 21 or over, you can sign the Release (it's online) and send it in, but wouldn't it be more fun to use an Alias? Some from the 70's you could use might be Rain, or Sun, or Rainbow, or Girl! But the beauty of this is you get to choose your own.
So this is your pre-class assignment, or Module 0 as we call it in eLearning. You'll do your own research on your own favorite (or not) search engine and learn how to find or create an Avatar and adhere it to your online identity. Then you'll make up an Alias out of thin air. Then you'll email it back to me before Sunday at midnight so we'll begin class the next morning with everyone's privacy intact. Remember to use your A&A in all your communications! And guess what, this will be graded! Pass/Fail, but it will count. My receiving your return email with your Avatar and Alias by midnight Sunday will be the dividing line.
In the meantime, take some time and explore the Compassionate Curriculum, WeBelong School's Course Management System (CMS), which is the program we use to deliver our online courses. Please take the orientation tutorial to the CMS, also online, at http://www.WeBelongSchool/orientation. You have the information you'll need from your registration process to operate the orientation program -- use a different word than your Alias for your WeBS password!
Have fun! And in the meantime, if there's anything you need or want to talk about, email me at Ruth@WeBelong or Ruth@PeaceWorx.US.
"See" you next week!
Your Teacher, Ruth Virginia
First-week Prompt, or Icebreaker (the first discussion board prompt, or invitation to discuss the subject matter):
Welcome to our first week of Emotional Healing Within a Safe Online Community! Our first exercise is to to help build our online community by introducing ourselves to each other and at the same time get used to the Safety Net. Another part of the assignment is to try to speak (or write) from the heart. Remember the Online Golden Rule: Write unto others as you would have them write unto you! Congratulations on having made it this far in your first online learning for emotional healing course at WeBelong School!
Here's our first discussion prompt, the Icebreaker:
I would like everyone to post one or two paragraphs describing in some detail the most fun you've ever had in school (that you can write about in school, that is 8-). I'll start us off.
Ms. Virginia's Response : Way back in the 1970's, when I was in middle school, I heard of this tiny farm school a few miles away. It was a private school located in the middle of some potato fields in Eastern Long Island called the Hampton Day School. I asked my mother to bring me there one day so I could see it for myself and I immediately fell in love. I asked my mom if I could go there and she said sure, as long as I filled out all the papers and was accepted and she could afford it. And so I did. I even filled out the financial aid forms! Miraculously, I was able to go and got in for my very next year, which would have been 7th grade in a regular public school. But in this school it was called the Upper School, contrasted by the Lower School where all the pre-school and elementary kids went.
I loved the Hampton Day School sooo much. It was the first time I ever felt included in something and it was really fun. There were animals (it really was a farm) that we could feed and help take care of, gardens to tend, and we had our own soccer team! The very best part was Morning Meeting. Every morning we'd go right to the big basement room and sit or stand around in a circle and talk about our day coming up. The director always led the circle and all the teachers and students were there. We all talked about whatever we wanted to, even personal things sometimes. And this was the whole school! We had about 100 students, total, from pre-K to 12th grade, and these meetings always got us off to a good start. We called the teachers by their first names and were allowed to talk about our feelings at the Hampton Day School. The two years I spent there were definitely the most fun I ever had in school - and it was real fun! I felt safe and included there.
*Lehmann, K. & Chamberlin, L. (2009). Making the move to eLearning: Putting your course online. Rowman and Littlefield: Lanham, Maryland.
Reflection: This exercise is about preparing the online course and the way for students to participate in their new online class, while building community at the same time. According to the textbook "our Amazing Dr. Kay" (our instructor, Dr. Kay Lehmann) co-wrote with her writing partner, Lisa Chamberlin, Making the Move to eLearning: Putting Your Course Online*, about 70% of the work to set up an online class must be done before the class starts and through the first week. After that, because of the deep and solid 70% foundation already laid, it's mostly gravy with the 30% left to do. Since as the students' teacher in this exercise I'm welcoming them to WeBelong School for their first class there, I'm also reminding them of our purpose in being there: to create and grow a community through our online support group, to facilitate each other's emotional healing. These are young adults, some still in high school, some going to college, all of whom, without exception, have already self-chosen their own healing journey. Called the Safety Net, our discussion board is where most of this support group takes place. So the Welcome Bio, email, and prompt below are encouraging my new students to open themselves up for online communication from the heart, while still protecting their privacy, on the Safety Net.
As a result of feedback from our wonderful course intern, Rebecca Brink, I learned a lot more about the times that less is more.
Her feedback is I think the best treatise on the need for conciseness (concission? -- no, it's conciseness) and simplicity I've ever read. When people who are students are just coming in to a course, or young -- or anything! -- too much information can be overwhelming and confusing. She wrote me this in the kindest yet firmest way; it was so nice! 8-) So I've revised my introductory email, the Welcome Bio, and the first prompt down. They are now more concise.
My Welcome/Intro/Bio is also the result of feedback, but this time it's from my superlative student teaching instructor, the lovely and amazing Maggie Rouman. I'm tailoring it for my mini-course from the Welcome Bio I'm using as her course intern on the News of her online Stout class, E-learning for Educators. It went through many incarnations before I put it up there, believe you me!