Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Strategic design in Online Education: Skill Streams in Courses--Page #2

Referring to the previous rough diagram, the following points need to be made to clarify the headings in the diagram:

  1. Vision of Online Education:  From our vision of what online education should be will come the context by which all decisions regarding course objectives, teaching methodology and the design of engaging educational experiences will derive. All of the design should refer back to the guiding vision for online education. As a result of following process, more innovations might lead to a refining of the original vision. If the vision is to create a culture of innovation then this should be reflected in the design of the course.
  2. Course Learning Objectives:  From the vision should come the definitive course objectives. If the course is to focus more on process skills than information accumulation skills then the objectives should be designed to do just that.
  3. Identify and Prioritize Skills Streams: In this category it is extremely important not only to identify the skills that will be emphasized throughout the course but also the interconnectedness of these skills must be shown. As a simple example suppose a learning objective is to enable students to take and defend effectively a position on a real world problem in a collaborative simulation. What skills are necessary for a student to possess so that in the end they can effectively demonstrate mastery of the objective? Surely you can not speak of the production of an argument if a student does not know and can demonstrate the difference between a fact and an opinion! Is this a real world skill that is relevant to a student's life? Consider how often in the real world and especially in the online environment, that a theory is repeated as if it is fact instead of something based upon an educated guess. How do students determine what websites contain valid information and which are either distorted or completely wrong? This is why teaching students how to think is more important than having them repeat information they have found without critical evaluation. In the online environment they will be confronted by people who want to teach them what to think and will use all of the multimedia of the Internet to shape what they think. Whether a student addresses skill stream #1, 2 or 3 will depend where they are in their understanding of the skills that are being addressed.
  4. Skill Streams # 1, 2, 3: The skills streams represent a hierarchy of skills that are connected by priority as described in the previous step. Students stream into the skill stream that they still need to acquire.This is determined by the educator online for each student in an appropriate interrogation format. The goal is to see whether or not a student can demonstrate mastery of the skill. The design of the interrogation should produce measurable results. In the diagram, only three skills streams are indicated. This can be changed but must be done with care.
  5. Collaborative Reinforcement and Mastery of Skills: At the end of the previous step, students will move into the skill stream that they have been identified as being at. This new step involves a collaboration between all three groups. Students are advised that in the next step, labelled the logic pit their understandings will be put to the test in an intense session in which the instructor will be the questioner. Students in the skill stream #3 will have the responsibility of collaborating with students in skill stream #2 to teach them what is needed to understand the skill that they have mastered. Additionally, students in skill stream #2 will have responsibility of teaching students in skill stream #1 what is need to understand the skill that they have mastered. At the end of their session, students in skill stream #3 will have the responsibility of teaching students identified as skill stream #1 the skill that they have mastered. Students are informed that at the end of this collaborative session, they will proceed into the "Logic Pit" which is a timed collaborative intense session where there understandings will be put to the test by their instructor.
  6. The Logic Pit Challenge: The logic pit is where students demonstrate their skills by being challenged by the instructor. The reasoning behind this is two fold. First, I have found that when it comes to asking students to defend statements that they make in a discussion of an issue, educators raised on the child centred learning philosophy had the tendency to allow students to opt out from defending statements so that they will not be embarrassed in front of their peers. They then start to depend on this opt out strategy which means that they never have to re-examine their thinking and delve into the issue in more depth. Secondly, one of the great failings of school systems is that they do not mentor students effectively on logical reasoning and how to build and deliver a sound enough argument to the point where they can make an effective stand on an issue and are able to defend what they believe using verifiable evidence. I found that when I first introduced the concept of the "logic pit" to students, there was a great deal of trepidation on their part. However, after they became use to it, I found that they looked forward to taking a stand in the logic pit to present a strategic case and were self-motivated to prepare for it. This occurred across student skill levels. After the instructor has put them to the test in a timed intense session, they move on to the online simulation.
  7. Online Simulation (all skills in play): The online simulation can take many forms. The purpose is to test students' ability to apply their learned skills in a novel situation and test their ability to collaborate as a team. The collaboration concept is not new to students because they often collaborate in online gaming scenarios. The simulation could take the form of a debate where they are divided into two teams and must defend a point of view that they do not necessarily hold. This tests their ability to predict counter-arguments to their position and defend against them. The simulation could be an online court room presided over by a real world court justice, where they may play the role of a prosecutor, defence attorney or a member of the jury, witnesses, suspects...etc. The instructor can during this simulation introduce confounding variables that will force students to be innovative. For example, it may be stated that a prime prosecution witness has died of a heart attack during the trail proceedings. The instructor is no longer the "sage on the stage" in terms of his or her role but instead is the moderator and conditions changer for the simulation. The ideal form of the simulation would be to have a virtual immersive world that the students enter, taking on the role of a particular avatar personality, and then are faced with critical decisions during the play that could have and does have an impact on the direction the simulation takes. The simulation needs to be a timed event.
  8. Assessment of Simulation Performance: This stage is the debriefing stage in which input about the simulation is collected from the participants, the moderator and any real world expert participants. In this stage both strengths and weakness in regards to students' command of the skills that have been in play are assessed. From the information gathered, a second simulation is cast in which the variables that represented weaknesses on the part of the student are emphasized.
  9. Online Simulation #2:  Students enter the second simulation which could be a variation of the last run simulation. The idea behind this is similar to when students engage in online gaming and their turn ends because of mistakes made. They get a second chance to try again. The difference is that in doing the second simulation, the educator has changed the variables. Innovative students in collaboration will devise and think strategically with the purpose of beating the simulation and achieving the group goal.
  10. Collaborative Online Real World Project: In this final assessment of student skills, students are given a challenge in which a real world issue involving a set of problems is put before them. They are encouraged to come up with a innovative solution to the described issue. They are then to access an online community dealing with the issue and be open to comments concerning their solution from the members of the community. How well they respond with their own arguments and defences becomes part of their assessment. The moderator of the community is asked for her or his input on the discussion and is also asked whether or not the students' work could be highlighted in the community for a period of time.
 This process is far from perfect. However, if it stimulates discussion in the online education community it is a beginning towards building a culture of innovation.

The convergence of technologies are on the horizon, are you ready as an online educator for a seismic shift that will force you to re-invent your pedagogy? Converging technologies and the impact on virtual education will be the subject of my next post...........

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