“Authentic conversation is our human way of thinking together” (Brown, 2005, p. 204).
A few years ago I realized that a common theme in my life is the formation of community. After I had my first child I started a play group that met weekly for several years. I have been part of a women’s spirituality group for over eight years. When my son started a new school for first grade I quickly went about compiling a class roster and helped create a Facebook group so that the parents could connect and support each other. The part of my job that I enjoy the most is fostering community and knowledge sharing within MSLOC’s private online social learning community. Not surprisingly, I quickly found a community within this massive, global E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC course. It was not planned nor do I know where it is headed. But I do know that it has increased my level of engagement and connection. I feel supported and validated. What was initially a bit scary, sharing my learning journey publicly, now feels energizing.
As I work my way through the videos and readings for the Reasserting the human topic (week 3) in the EDCMOOC, I have been reflecting on community and how to support learning with authentic conversation and human connection. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how community forms and is sustained within a complex adaptive system, such as a MOOC. Complex adaptive systems are unpredictable, nonlinear, adaptive, emergent and self-organizing (Pascale, 2000; Tsoukas, 2005; Uhl-Bien et al., 2007). I’d say this #EDCMOOC qualifies! The self-organizing piece is what I find fascinating.
The Kolowich (2010) reading called The Human Element resonated with me on several levels, as a higher education learning professional, as a former graduate student who took classes in various formats and as an EDCMOOC student.
The Human Element in the Blended Learning Environment
Over the past several years, my colleagues and I in the MSLOC program at Northwestern University have identified that making emotional connections has been a key factor in supporting a healthy, collaborative blended learning community. Some ways that we do this is by sharing webcams in virtual class sessions, by taking time to end virtual sessions with intention and reflection instead of just abruptly hanging up, and by creating instructor welcome videos for our alternative schedule classes that include sharing some personal information. (See more info here.)
Similar to Douglas Hersh, Dean of the School of Media Arts at Santa Barbara City College, who is referenced in the Kolowich article, we have found that incorporating more video and audio into our courses has helped our students feel more connected to their instructors before they ever meet them in person. We coach our faculty to share their authentic selves on camera as much as possible. Our videos are not heavily produced – the focus is on the authentic human connection, not on creating slick videos. You can see an example of one of our instructor videos here: Managing Transitions (notice how Dorie Blesoff shares her personal stories in the video).
Just like Hersh, we have also moved mostly off of Blackboard in favor of a private social learning community powered by Jive Software. In this nonlinear, organic online platform, members of our community are able to make connections, collaborate and share knowledge across and above class instances while still allowing for private class groups. Members of the learning community are able to have social presence in various ways, such as micro-blogging via status updates.
My Human Element Within EDCMOOC
The description of Hersch’s Human Presence Learning Environment where students can post audio responses to discussion threads sounds like what I’m calling My Human Element within the EDCMOOC course, a Voice Thread discussion started by Felicia Sullivan on February 6, 2013. Basically, we each upload a picture to a Voice Thread profile and then we can make audio or text comments when we are able. The comments get put into one long recording and it is easy to move to a particular location – I typically find the last comment I heard and then start listening there. Visual cues are given to show who is talking.
I drew the image below to represent my EDCMOOC group which has slowly grown each day as new people join in.
Felicia Sullivan (@feliciasullivan) kicked off the Voice Thread by asking fellow MOOCers the following questions:
What is really most present in your mind right now related to EDCMOOC? What is the burning thing you are seeking out or researching or questioning? What really is top of mind?
She has adeptly continued to facilitate the conversation by responding regularly and making us feel that we all own this conversation/convergence. We have been discussing various topics such as e-learning and social media tools, the interesting position of studying something that you are also doing at the same time (going meta on MOOCs), the priviledge afforded to English speakers in this EDCMOOC, the possible inequities of MOOCs (see a recent post about this by Jen Ross – @jar) as well as the Voice Thread tool itself.
banksy – bird singing in a tree – 2
By sharing our voices, we hear each others accents, share a bit of personal information and make an emotional connection. Simply from hearing the background noises in the audio tracks and picking up on visual images in the pictures students have chosen to share, I have learned the following: Beth D. has a Dachshund (listen), Virginia has birds chirping nearby (listen), Rick seems to like the outdoors, Beth and Virginia both like to drink tea or coffee from mugs. Rick from Fresno, CA reflected on the power of sound in one of his Voice Thread remarks, “Hearing the birds chirping and dogs barking helps to personalize some of these interactions we’ve been having, largely via text.”
So I’d like to thank the students who have shared their voices on this Voice Thread: Felicia (Boston, MA), Rick (Fresno, CA), Miguel, Beth S. (Yorkshire, UK), Beth D. (Wisconsin), Virginia (USA), Sherene (USA), Fran (Australia), Luis Rafael (Venezuela), Marianne (Gainesville, FL). You have inserted a bit of predictability and safety into an otherwise nonlinear, sometimes overwhelming experience. This Voice Thread is the place I go before starting my EDCMOOC reading/viewing or checking my various streams. It is what I’ve been listening to as I start and end my day. I look forward to hearing more voices as the course continues! I have a feeling others have been listening and wonder what will compel (or prevent) people to join in.
What have been your experiences with self-organization in this MOOC or other similar environments?
What is the story of your own small group if you have one?
What does community mean to you within this context?
EDCMOOC Voice Thread by Felicia Sullivan
Online Content from members of the Voice Thread
Felicia’s Blog: http://www.feliciasullivan.net/
Rick’s Blog: http://drrbb2nd.blogspot.com/
Beth D.’s Blog: http://selfdirection.blogspot.com/
Fran’s Blog: https://elearningmoocedinburgh.wordpress.com/
Reasserting the Human – Week 3 Readings / Viewing
Humanity 2.0: defining humanity – Steve Fuller’s TEDx Warwick talk (24:08)
Badmington, Neil (2000) Introduction: approaching posthumanism. Posthumanism. Houndmills; New York: Palgrave
Kolowich, S (2010) The Human Element. Inside Higher Ed
Monke, L (2004) The Human Touch, EducationNext
Photo Credit: Make Emotional Connnections by sorokti cc
Photo Credit: My Human Element by sorokti cc
Photo Credit for bansky bird: Eva Blue via Compfight cc
Brown, J. (2005). The World Café: Shaping our futures through conversations that matter. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Kolowich, S (2010) The Human Element. Inside Higher Ed http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/03/29/lms
Pascale, R. (2000). Surfing the edge of chaos : The laws of nature and the new laws of business (1st ed.). New York: Crown Publishers.
Tsoukas, H. (2005). Chaos, complexity, and organization theory. In Complex knowledge: Studies in organizational epistemology (pp. 210-229). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., & McKelvey, B. (2007). Complexity leadership theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4), 298-318.