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).


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