Thursday, October 30, 2014

E-Learners of the Future--The Need for a Sense of Community--Part II

The question posed in the last post was:

"How Do We Create a Sense of Community in Online Education?"

I suggested to you that I have an idea that I would like to further elaborate on in this post on how we might accomplish this feat. This is an idea that is based on observation and to many of you it will surprise you as to where we can seek guidance on this.

This is a concept that has its origins in the military sector. Consider the concept of the "boot camp". When men and women enlist in one of the military services that serve different countries around the world, they enlist as individuals who usually do not know each other, don't know each others skills, talents and weaknesses. They are individuals interested in serving their respective countries. Boot camp does the following things to these individuals:

  • it gives them a powerful purpose
  • it seeks to downplay individualism in favour of team work
  • in training together, each individual gets more in tune with his or her abilities but also begins to recognize and appreciate the skills and talents that they don't have that they see in other recruits.
  • some who are unable to meet the challenges that they face during this phase, leave the group
  • when their group or team faces a challenge, they coordinate their resources to meet the challenge and arrive at a solution. Their resources are the different skill sets that each member brings to the collaboration.
  • their training officers are more or less mentors
  • the recruits become a community with a group identity and a powerful purpose
I know that you are probably thinking that the phrase "boot camp" is an unfortunate one to link with education because it brings to mind negative connotations related to experiences in brick and mortar schools that may have not been too pleasant. However, the key is here is how we would set something up that would build a sense of community right at the start of registration in an online education organization.


So, how would we set something like this up in an online education organization? Keep in mind that we are no longer following the industrial model of education and instead focusing on a model that sees the role of the students and educators as change agents in society so that a culture of innovation may become systemic throughout the working lives of a digital generation. Here are some suggestive steps to be incorporated into the protocols of an online education organization:

  1. First instead of calling this starting phase "boot camp", lets call it the "exploration" phase. This will negate any preconceptions that students and educators might have. The goals of this exploration phase are:
  • to assess the aptitudes that students are bringing into the online education organization. In other words we want to know what natural abilities the students have. For example, some students might have an aptitude for mathematical thinking, some may have an aptitude for spatial reasoning, some may have an aptitude for logical reasoning, some may have an aptitude for leadership...etc.
  • to introduce to the students the concept of effective online collaboration when faced with a challenge. Students need an opportunity to discover each others talents and to learn to trust the contributions of others in solving a challenge. Students are introduced to the concept of cross disciplinary learning where they learn that in order to analyze and solve a real world problem, skill sets from a variety of disciplines need to be applied.
  • to introduce students to the tools contained in the courses that they will be using throughout their courses.
  • to introduce students to the concept of  using a professional mentor network as an effective resource when their groups are confronted by challenges within their courses. The professional mentor network will also be the group that connects the students up with professional blogs and professional groups where they can present their solutions to real world problems and receive real world feed back.

The way we go about assessing the aptitudes mentioned above will help determine effective collaborative groupings within the courses. Assessment in the exploratory stage happens in two ways:
  1. The Mentor Group Interview:  The mentor group is a group made up of individuals on the leading edge of their disciplines. With the help of educators they are to design a set of interview questions which they feel would effectively measure aptitude in their particular discipline on the part of students. As a panel, the mentor group would interview students using the questions and any other effective resources that would give them an accurate reading of the students' aptitudes and talents. From the data collected, a starting profile of each student could be set up. The profile data would then be discussed within the mentor group with educators taking part in the discussions. The interview could be set up in such a way that when students register with the online organization, they are directed to a link that leads to a virtual interview room where the mentors and the student are represented by avatars of their own choosing prior to entering the room.
  2. Collaborative Exploration Challenge: The second means of assessment, after the interview, is to break students up into collaborative teams and present them with an immersive simulation where they are confronted with a real world issue that they must try to find a solution to. Using avatars they enter into the virtual simulation room that they will use to collaborate to solve the problem. The teacher will be the "guide on the side" offering direction to web resources that might help. The mentor network will be able to watch and hear the collaboration going on. They will take notes with the goal of making student profiles more complete and making a list of suggestions for specific students that will help them become more effective e-learners. The simulation will have a time limit and students will be able to see a digital clock labelled "Simulation Count-Down". At the end of the simulation the mentors will share their insights and observations among themselves and then assign themselves to groups of students to discuss their observations and give students feedback.
I realize that these ideas will obviously need refinement and you might have questions about different phases but always keep in mind that they start with a powerful purpose for the students. The question for you is :" Are you prepared to step outside the box and push the boundaries outside the box until the box disappears?" More later.........


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