Charting the course

I am very excited to implement the course design which was inspired by participation in Connected Courses. In January, I’ll be teaching a course on “E-Collaboration for Instructional Technology” which is intended to introduce students to the ways we can use technology to promote social and collaborative learning. The course is in the master’s program in Instructional Technology Management.

In many ways, the course is traditional – it’s 15 weeks, primarily on Canvas, open to registered students only; the syllabus contains learning objectives and course flow that I have designed, and I’ll be using traditional grading practices. Some readers may be dismayed with that list, but I have gleaned some important ideas from my participation in Connected Courses and I’ll be pleased to consider any suggestions you may offer.

Course Features
These were the major innovations (for me) in the new course design:

> Students will inject content into the discussions as a major part of their required activity in the course. (Minimum is for them to contribute to 7 out of 13 of the weekly discussions, as their own interests dictate.)  I will provide a short list of resources to get us started on the weekly topic and will seed the discussion board with comments and questions based on these. Students are invited to research the topic and share additional resources for our joint consideration. I made a list of suggested student contributions for each week to scaffold this activity but I am open to other ways the students can contribute. (The still-evolving draft syllabus is attached, so you can see the list as it stands.)

> I wanted to underscore that the techniques we talk about that they can use to support learning in organizations are exactly the same techniques they can use for their own personal learning environments. I have them documenting the components of a personal learning environment they are engaging themselves (I’ll share an example), and I’ll be asking them to review a peer’s approach and provide critique and advice on what might be enriched to make it more impactful.

> Their big “make” for the course is to design and prototype a collaborative learning environment for a specific learning need – to curate a set of resources rather than design a course to support learning. This has been the final project for the course, but I am scaffolding it differently – and strongly encouraging students to complete this as a collaborative project.

Alignment with Connected Learning Principles
I’ve tried to check this design against connected learning principles, even though the course will not be open. And I feel pretty good about how far I was able to get.


  • Invited students to make substantial contributions to course content.
  • Devised ways for students to get official feedback from peers on major projects.
  • Encouraged students to collaborate on contributions and on major final project.

Interest-powered (the student’s why)

  • Laid groundwork in the beginning to promote application and benefits of learning e-collaboration tools and techniques
  • Allowed students to select topics for their projects and to sign up for the technology they will review

Academically oriented (rigor)

  • Will include academic material as core reading.
  • Suggested contribution list frequently encourages students to contribute and comment on academic articles.
  • Put tips for finding academic material on syllabus and on Canvas.


  • Students will document and sketch an aspect of their personal learning environment.
  • Students will design an e-collaboration exercise for an example situation (multiple options).
  • Students will design and prototype a collaborative learning environment as their final project. Could be suitable for students’ portfolio.

Shared purpose (joint attention)

  • Each week will focus on a topic, but contributions will come from a variety of perspectives.

Openly networked
This one, not so much. I am required to use the course management system, plus I am concerned about FERPA and the fact that my experience tells me half the students would be uncomfortable being required to engage in public spaces. Nonetheless:

  • Will use Google docs (linked in Canvas) for collaborating on our technology review framework.
  • Established a course hashtag.
  • Students may prototype on the internet if they desire.
  • I will publish course readings on my blogs and invite contributions. I can also update my blog readers on progress and insights as the course progresses.

Thank you, Connected Courses colleagues, for many terrific discussions and for strengthening my understanding of connected learning and the web. I will continue to tweak this design as we move forward in Connected Courses and I gain additional insights.

Latest version 11/25/14: ITM 640 Syllabus Notes 2014


Ruminating on the hard questions

Connected Courses is giving me quite a bit of food for thought in reconsidering how to facilitate my course on e-collaboration. Reading the Connected Courses posts on “why I teach” has generated questions that are a bit deeper than what I would typically ask myself when designing a course. This post shares those questions (feel free to adopt them for yourself) and documents some initial notes to myself in response (feel free to offer suggestions!!!). And thank you to all of my co-learners in Connected Courses for sharing the ideas on which the questions are based.

The course

By way of background, E-Collaboration for Instructional Technology is a graduate course that focuses on collaborative technologies, often introducing students to blogging, Twitter, dashboard tools, and other technology and functionality that can be used to support collaboration for learning and performance. It’s 100% online. Historically, many of the students do not have personal experience with these technologies (it pains me to say) so it’s something of a crash course. (Canvas is their learning management system, and all course materials and interactions are there.) Here’s the catalog description approved by the university:

This course provides an overview of electronic collaboration processes, design, issues, and applications. Types of electronic collaboration tools will include electronic mail, intranets, portals, online communities, Weblogs, dashboards, conferencing, forums, meeting rooms, learning management, calendars, workflow, and knowledge management. Students will critique different types of collaboration tools.

I count myself lucky that even as an adjunct faculty member, I am able to make substantial changes to the actual content and activities in the course (with the approval of the director). Currently, students design a collaborative space as an outcome of the course (they can collaborate on the project if they wish), and they do this with varying degrees of success. I think they can do better in this project if I scaffold it more effectively, and I think the course has more potential to change the way the students think about supporting learning in organizations, and about how they approach their own learning goals. I can incorporate more of my learning environment design framework in the course.

The ruminations

With that as context, here are the hard questions and some thoughts in response. Your comments welcome!

How can I invite students to own a specific “why” for the course; to truly decide what THEY want to take away (besides passing the course and getting the degree)?

  • Spend some time at the beginning of the course laying the groundwork for how L&D is changing in the digital age. There are plenty of readings available. I’ll need to think of an activity to help them interpret those materials in light of their own contexts, opportunities, and challenges.
  • Lay groundwork for the importance of collaboration in creativity and innovation, and in accomplishing everyday performance.
  • See previous post for why I think the students should engage in this course; bring some of these thoughts to bear in making reading selections.

What are the broad professional skills I should be targeting in the course (in addition to the knowledge base and skills specific to the topic)?

  • Digital and social media learning skills are critical for professionals, and this course can really help students learn how to utilize these tools and techniques for their own learning. Developing their own learning skills should be an explicit goal. Perhaps one of the course deliverables is a report on how students expand their own personal learning environment in light of that week’s discussions of tools and techniques.
  • Students also need to hone their communication/persuasion skills in order to advocate for modern techniques that clients may not quite be ready to adopt. I can include some material and exercises related to that (especially in asking for a proposal that is ready for presentation to powers-that-be for their final project).
  • This course could obviously be used to develop online collaboration skills. Student locations and schedules need to be taken into consideration, but that is often true in organizations as well (with collaborators potentially world-wide).

How can I bring joint attention to the topic at hand?
(Joint attention eloquently elaborated by Gardner Campbell and Jerome Bruner)

  • Running the course more like a seminar will be most helpful. By providing a variety of materials and asking students to add to these, students should be able to find materials that are appropriate for their level of experience and their interests.
  • Use a discussion leadership strategy that assigns each week’s topic to a team of students. Their assignments might be to post additional materials, to pose the discussion topics for the week, and to comment extensively on the discussion board. Consider setting aside a week for planning up front so students aren’t trying to do too many things at once.
  • Consider letting the students drive some of the topics we pursue (let them build parts of the syllabus). Use a front-end survey and the first webinar, perhaps, to establish some of the specific tech topics. What tools/functionality are they most interested in learning more about? This will also help the syllabus to live on without my having to change it as the relevant technologies change.

How do I ensure rigor; how do I challenge the students?

  • I’d like to bring in more academic material on collaboration and how to encourage it as well as studies that link collaboration to outcomes.
  • The project could be more challenging if I scaffold it differently.
  • I would like to see them more rigorously evaluate the various technologies we survey – they’ve been pretty light in the past.

How do I make the coursework more embedded in the real world? How can we produce an outcome that has impact in the real world?

  • If students are not working on a project that is important to one member of the team’s organization, then I can suggest or encourage projects that could live on the internet.

What is the appropriate measure of learning when the course is complete?

  • It would be a great exercise for students to define the rubrics for success based on our early-in-the-course readings and some exploration of e-collaboration environments already existing on the internet.
  • Should I assign students a reflection paper on their own habits of collaboration?

How can I invite connection with students?

  • Actively curate articles and resources to tweet out to the class during the course. Plan to write blog posts on collaboration in that timeframe as well.
  • Actively welcome students to Twitter or blogging if they take up the charge. Follow students.
  • Should I actively invite them to connect on LinkedIn or shall I stick with just verbally inviting them to connect with me?
  • Plan to email students once a month or so for 3 months with new news or articles of interest on the topic. (Will I be able to go through Canvas to do that?)
  • Ask students to share email addresses with me directly? Once they stop reading University email, I have no way to contact them.
  • Arrange phone calls with students whose work projects are specifically interesting to me (contact them at end of course; careful to separate from role as professor).


Five Whys

We are challenged this week to speak to “why I teach” – and I’ll get to that point. But I thought I would start by reflecting on the learner’s perspective… why learn?

“Why learn” is best answered from the vantage point of a specific topic or course of study, and in this case, I’ll use my e-collaboration course as the context for reflection. The course is intended to bring students up to speed with social technologies and strategies for using technology to mediate collaborative learning. (Note: E-Collaboration for Instructional Technology is a graduate course in the Instructional Technology Management program at LaSalle University. As an adjunct faculty member, I am designing the course around the defined course description (and the program director’s requests), although I have some flexibility with specific learning goals. One of my Connected Courses goals is to use what I am gleaning to redesign this specific course.)

Student: Why learn collaboration technologies?
My why: In both corporate learning and development and academic instructional design, we are moving toward a more open approach to learning. Our goal in designing learning strategies is not to communicate content, but to launch students on a professional journey that no doubt requires ongoing learning. Increasingly, technology provides the access point for learning any knowledge area or skill set. We need to understand how collaborative technologies support learning in order to be able to design instruction and ongoing learning support for others. And if you never take on a role that requires you to actively design collaborative learning environments, you’ll have the skill to set up your own learning networks and activities to support your own learning goals.

Student: Why take this particular course to learn about collaborative technologies?
My why: This course will both “teach” the topic and provide deep experience in engaging with collaborative technologies. You’ll learn the why’s and how’s of e-mediated collaboration, and you’ll actually design a project that is intended to generate collaborative learning in a specific arena. While the course will delve into the use of specific technologies that are currently in use, we’ll also learn about how collaboration works so that you’ll be prepared to design for/with as-yet-unreleased technologies that you will no doubt encounter in your career.

Student: Why take coursework rather than learn in practice?
My why: Working your way through a well-considered curriculum will broaden your perspective and help you to develop a foundation of knowledge and skill that will make you better at what you do. As you work in a specific role in learning and development, your view of the field can be pretty narrow. A good graduate or certificate program expands your understanding dramatically and positions you to continue your development throughout a long career in the field. Learning alongside others who work in different areas of the field will also enrich your overall understanding of the goals and challenges of our work – and you can build your professional network from this group of peers as well.

Student: Why pursue a career in learning professions? (e.g. designer, instructor, consultant, learning facilitator, faculty member, etc.)
My Why: It has never been a more exciting time to be in the learning and development field. Yes, things are in a state of flux and jobs that currently exist are changing dramatically. But whatever your chosen role, you are entering a helping profession that supports learning – an activity that is natural for every human being, necessary for day-to-day living and working, and – if we do it right – enjoyable and fulfilling. What could be better than that?

With those reflections as a backdrop, I can see that I teach about networked collaborative learning environments because I believe these strategies are essential to our work in learning and development in every context. In a recent keynote, Catherine Cronin said that education is “the process establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity” – what a beautiful way to put it. I want students to have a solid understanding of collaborative online learning because it is how they will continue to learn, AND it’s how we best facilitate learning in others.

My Why I Teach

I teach to advance the profession. I’ve been in my field (learning and development) for 30+ years and have seen many, many changes in our tools and techniques. I’ve also seen improvements in our understanding of exactly how to support learning and development in workplaces as well as in academic contexts. What we do in L&D and in higher ed – facilitating learning – is vitally important to human endeavor and flourishing. We should aim to be as effective at it as we can possibly be. So I teach to support fellow professionals in learning their craft.

I teach to learn. An old Latin proverb says, “by teaching you will learn,” and I have found that to be profoundly true. My students, participants, and colleagues teach me every day. And my quest to effectively facilitate learning keeps me deeply engaged in my own learning.

I teach because it brings me great joy.


Not ready, get set

We have something of a dilemma in the learning and development world these days. On the one hand, the vast resources of the internet, the reach of social media, and the availability of videos, webinars, free courses, and MOOCs make learning easy to access. On the other hand, many people have neither the time nor the learning skills to pursue the learning they really need. They simply aren’t ready to take advantage of new tools and strategies for learning.

Whether in the corporate L&D space or in the academic world, there are challenges to changing our strategies for facilitating learning. Open, self-directed learning can be hard. Learners have to find helpful resources, which can be a daunting task with the world wide web as a database. Even when we curate the resources, many people are not accustomed to facilitating and processing their own learning activities.

We’ll get better at all this, I am sure, but in the meantime, we need to scaffold open, self-directed learning. I am convinced that there is more that we can do as designers of learning activities to help people get set up for success in the world of open learning.

That’s what is prompting me to join the Connected Courses active co-learning course over the next few months. I am looking forward to learning from and with all the folks who are joining in. I recognize some of the participants as people on the leading edge in developing open learning strategies, and I’m seeing posts from fellow participants who are thoughtful explorers like me.

To introduce myself, I am a consultant to folks who work in corporate L&D and a faculty member teaching designers, human resource development specialists, and learning technology folks. I design and teach courses for those who design and teach and consult on learning strategies. I am also actively promoting a learning environment design framework that I believe can help us to set learners up for success, even when they’re not quite ready to manage their own ongoing development. So learning more about connected learning is a priority for me. (More About me)

I am not immune to the challenges of participating in a loose “course” like this one. Like many, I have started and not fully engaged in a variety of open learning offerings, so I know that unless I have some pressing goals for staying on top of the conversation, this, too, will get buried by other priorities. (Self-directed leaning 101) To begin, then…

My goals for Connected Courses (not in any particular order):

  • Observe facilitation and learning in the course and leverage strategies that might work in the environments for which I design learning.
  • Deepen understanding of underpinning strategies and theory to better discern what is essential (and not essential) and how to customize approaches effectively.
  • Connect to people whose ongoing work I find interesting (and who may be interested in my work).
  • Curate resources useful in the context of courses and topics I currently facilitate.
  • Strengthen my skills in engaging in connected learning in an open learning context.
  • Actively apply what I’m learning in Connected Courses to the redesign of my e-collaboration course for January 2015.

So I’m in. I’m gearing up and scheduling time to engage. I look forward to working with you all.

Get ready, get set — Catherine Lombardozzi