Sunday, September 9, 2007

Peer support - sense of community - collaborative learning

This was a blog I started in September before going to Japan. I will post it even though it is not complete, as my thinking underlies why I have been so interested in SecondLife for language learning, and hence why I plan to be doing my facilitation in SL.

From my on work in fostering student reflection and self assessment, I came to realise the importance of dialogue between teacher/student and student/student. The e-portfolio I trialled with first year students was not as successful as I had hoped. A key factor could have been because students were isolated - their only dialogue was with the teacher. Yes they had the discussion board, but I did not have the necessary facilitation skills to make it work. This year in another paper, I tried blogs for DIEs (description, interpretation and evaluation) and wikis for group work, with much more success. Two things were different: the DIE process was very much integrated into the course and the dialogue was weekly between teacher and student. The wikis were open to group members. Next year I will use open blogs for the first few weeks so students can get to know each member of the class earlier. It is both motivating and helpful.

Nancy White's talk impressed I particularly like the visuals - the chairs creating the group. It's an idea I would like to use.

In this course, I have enjoyed the peer support both indirectly through sharing in blogs, and through discussions, particulary using Skype, and the learning as a result. This is something to capitalise on with my own students.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Time as a key factor

RSS - why did I think it would be so difficult? Time? Because I was pressed for time, when I listened the first time to the YouTube explanation, it seemed too complex, so I left it for later. When I looked at it again, in a less pressured frame of mind, it was a very different experience. No problem at all - at least the basic use. This really brought home the realisation that time is the critical factor for all students, and whilst we academics bemoan the increasing demands made on us, I wonder how many actually realise the demands on students in terms of assessments, and volume of content. Do we need to assess so much, can we assess differently, and do they need to know so much content? It could be different in some disciplines, but for many, isn't it more important to know how to get information, and how to use it?

In language teaching, this is a consideration particularly for vocabulary, or in the case of Japanese, the number of characters we require students to be able to write from memory. Just how many characters will they remember two months after graduating? Now we use computers more than the pen, why do we still insist on accuracy of writing, when it is recognition that is important? It really is time to shift the paradigm from focus on content to one of process in the curriculum, and more importantly, to recognition of the increasing use of the world many of our students inhabit especially with respect to technology. Life long learning is not about learning facts, but how to find them, and what to do with them - interpret, evaluate and apply, and the most effective way to do it. All part of the experiential learning approach.

Also I wonder if it is because I now feel more comfortable - James Farmer said he thinks it takes about five weeks for his students. I certainly feel more comfortable and less anxious. I am enjoying feeling part of a group, the blogs, the lectures, and the acquisition of new knowledge, especially as I see it relating more and more to my own teaching. I wonder if I would have got here sooner had I had a buddy or made more use of the peer support that Nancy White talked about? That is something I am working on in my next blog.