This summer I enrolled in a series of classes on Teaching in Online Learning Environments through the Global Online Academy. As with anything digital, change happens at lightning speed in the Internet world. I thought this would just be a refresher course on using technology in the classroom, but in reality it has been like stepping into a whole new world of education.
Ten years ago I received my Masters in Educational Technology through an online course offered by Walden University. At the beginning of each course I was sent VHS tapes full of hour-long lectures and books to read. We collaborated on group projects through email. I logged onto a student information system daily and took part in discussion groups, uploaded assignments and papers to a drop box, or received feedback from my instructor.
The Master’s courses back then were designed to teach project based learning using digital resources. The online world was then seen as a place to receive knowledge. The Internet was not yet seen as a place for our students to collaborate, even though I was collaborating with my colleagues enrolled in my class digitally everyday.
As the years have passed more and more digital tools have allowed more and more people to access learning on all kinds of subjects. People are sharing ideas through Facebook updates, Tweets, and Instagrams. The Google suite of apps all include some sort of collaborative function. And think of all the times you have gone to YouTube to watch a short tutorial on how to do something. Lately, my daughter has been addicted to Rainbow Loom tutorials. Children, as young as 6 years old, are giving instructions to a global audience on how to make rubber band bracelets.
Earlier this year I took a private class with a highly acclaimed blogger and writer. Caitlin Kelly and I skyped the night away discussing the genre of the personal essay. We walked through examples of her own published work and I shared with her my ideas and struggles with my own writing. It was such a treat to be able to attend a private master class, right in my very own living room, using this kind of digital medium.
My Global Online Academy course used Haiku as the portal of instruction for the class. And even though the subject of the class was about creating an online classroom, the focus of the course seemed to be on how to create community amongst our students online. This was done mostly through online face-to-face meetings. At different times in the course we were asked to digitally “hang out” with each other. We discussed readings, problem solved scenarios, or gave each other feedback on projects that we created. Just as in a brick-and-mortar classroom, the learning happened through positive relationships.
Things in the online classroom have shifted from something static to something dynamic. It is a given that the Internet is a vast resource of information for our students. The Internet is, for most of us, the first place we go to when we seek answers to a question. Our focus in the digital classroom can no longer be solely about the harvesting knowledge from the Internet. Our focus now should be about connecting our students to each other. It should be about connecting our students to resources that will build their knowledge. And it should be about connecting our students to their own learning.
Rather than just staring at words in articles on a screen, our students can communicate through their screens. They can make tutorials to teach the world something new. They can Skype with an expert to gain new knowledge or get help with a project. And they can hang out together online with their classmates to share ideas and collaborate.
Have you ever taken or taught an online course? How do you use online tools to increase collaboration in your classroom or workplace?