This post summarises some points of reflection having completed the first week of the module “Supporting Virtual Communities”, on the DIT Msc Applied E-Learning. The first week of the module had the theme induction and socialisation, and I have incorporated some thoughts on the week, prompted by the reflective prompts given by the module tutor, Roisin. Before these thoughts, we were given an article to read from the Crafting Gentleness Blog, which prompted some thoughts on my view of e-learning.
The use of e-learning as a teaching method could be seen as a panacea for all education problems – design high quality materials and deliver them en masse with Tutor X, Y or Z available to deliver the well-designed content. Materials, designed with the principle of ADDIE in mind, will be of good quality, and relying on the quality of the materials, these will be scalable, relatively independent of the teacher who collects the grades at the end of the online session.
This slightly tongue-in-cheek scenario (unfortunately only slightly) of course reduces the concept of e-learning to content and delivery. What the blog post teases out carefully though is that the role of the teacher is of course central to the informed engagement of students in the module and the promotion of learning. While a model like ADDIE (to which I subscribe as a suitable model for design) is useful in the development and redevelopment phases, it is not a learning model. The shift in concept therefore moves from one of content delivery to one of interaction, involving questions and problem with discussion. A simple analogy would be that we would not expect students to come into a classroom with a textbook, read through it and use its beautiful graphics and carefully framed worked examples, answer the questions and submit them for marking. In short, the teacher has a role.
With this in mind, I approach Roisin’s two feedback prompts. The first is on the thoughts of the induction and socialisation that we as students experienced in our first week on the module, and the elements of these that we would like to use in our own practice. In my own situation, I have used online modules with students who otherwise see each other every day, so there is not the same need for personal socialisation. However, there is a need to break the online ice in terms of getting them to post online, express their thoughts and confusion and ideas in a manner they are not used to. Online socialisation is the second of Salmon’s five stage model (Salmon 2002) and she says that “you create a special little cultural experience belong to a group at this time”. To recognise that online socialisation is different, and illustrate this point to a group of learners who know each other well, I think it would be useful for learners to post what they want to achieve from the module, perhaps in reply to some prompts. Salmon (ibid) lists a large numbers of ice-breakers. My opinion of ice-breakers is mixed; I know they have a role in pushing people across a barrier, but I find if they are silly, there may not be buy in, from me or students. Therefore, I would prefer authentic/realistic ice-breakers, activities that in themselves may be picked up or developed later on in the “real content”.
Linked in with this, is the second prompt of the week; namely the role of the online tutor. For the moment, I will just consider the role in terms of online socialisation and socialisation of the tutor. This comes back to the points made above about the value and integration of the teacher in the online module. Roisin achieved this very effectively by making her presence felt in the boards and behind the scenes in a subtle but obvious way (example: a quick email of reassurance). In addition to this, audio feedback on the weekly chat session added another dimension to her persona as tutor – as well as displaying a level of personal commitment that gives the environment a real sense of value. Roisin’s subsequent posting of her own thoughts on the progress of the week emphasised this sense of a learning community worthwhile engaging in. Salmon (2004) mentions one of the qualities of a more developed tutor is they can show “a positive attitude, commitment and enthusiasm for online learning”.
These are the elements in which a tutor has a central and unassailable role. Online learning, no matter how good the materials, needs a good teacher to engage and interact with learners. Reliance on the materials alone, may mean that learners become disassociated and unwilling to commit. It is tempting to get caught up in the tricks and tools, but amidst the gadgets and technology, it is worth reminding oneself (me!) about the value and the role of a teacher in the online environment.
Salmon, G. (2002) E-tivities: The Key to Online Learning, Routledge Falmer: London.
Salmon, G. (2004) E-moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online, 2nd Ed., Taylor and Francis: Oxford.
*Image: MarcelGermain’s Photostream [reproduction with attribution permitted]