Facilitating a Discussion Forum

I had the pleasure of facilitating a discussion forum for the learning community of PIDP 3250.  The topic was self-directed/determined/regulated learners. I was really looking forward to a great turn out since all of the students enrolled in this course are themselves self-directed learners with a wealth of knowledge and experience about the topic.

I was not disappointed.

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One thing that I thought worked really well was rolling out the discussion in progressive stages. Rather than starting out with several threads covering multiple questions, or relying on a single thread to carry the discussion over the course of ten days, I decided to open a new thread every few days. I anticipated that this would help keep the conversation going by engaging participants in a different aspect of the topic, with a logical progression through each stage.  The conversation was staged as follows:

  1. Forum Introduction (Day 0)
  2. Creating a body of knowledge (Day 1)
  3. Self-assessing our contributions (Day 4)
  4. Reflecting on our learning (Day 7)
  5. Summarizing our efforts (Day 9)

The other aspect that I thought helped engage participants was sending them a private message once they had contributed to the forum.  The message thanked them for their contributions and invited them to post again once the conversation progressed to the next stage.

Overall, there were more than 80 replies to the forum over the course of 10 days.  There were some phenomenal contributions and I think the learning community really benefited from the open and honest discussion.  We really came together to deliver exemplar peeragogy.

The forum was a demonstration of self-directed learning by having self-directed learners go through the stages of self-directed learning while discussing our own awareness and knowledge of our thinking about self-directed learning.

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It was VERY META.

Field Trips

Take a look at this infographic about Field Trips by a classmate, Linda Dooley.

I was interested in this digital project because 1) I love infographics; and 2) I take my students on quite a few field trips – an instructional strategy that works really well in my occupational health and safety program.

It’s one thing to teach students about a construction site, it’s another thing to show them what it looks, sounds, feels and smells like.  To experience it.

While there are many benefits to this activity, the biggest drawback is logistics. I’ve experienced challenges such as finding a welcoming host, having the necessary class time, coordinating transportation, and planning induction training requirements.

One course I teach, for instance, is 4-hours per week, which I usually split into 2 x 2-hour blocks. But in order to accommodate field trips I had to have the foresight in the previous semester to ask for the course to be scheduled in 1 x 4-hour block so that I could gather the students, travel to a site, get a tour, and travel back to the college within the scheduled class time.

A great method of debriefing and reflecting on the field trip is Dyadic Interviews. In the next scheduled class, students pair up and interview each other about their experience on the field trip. Then they write and submit a short summary of the interview.

The Power of Introverts

I recently reflected on a TedTalk by Susan Cain called The Power of Introverts:

It really opened my eyes to the fact that I might be overextending my introvert students by having too great a focus on collaboration, small group discussions, and high stimulus activities.  I thought I’d investigate a bit more about how to harness the power of introverts in my classroom.

The first thing I figured I should do is have my students complete a test of some kind to determine where they fall on the extroversion scale.  But once I got that data, what would I do with it?  What could I do differently in my classrooms to make the learning environment more positive for introverts?

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A few things noted by Tony Baldsaro in his article on edutopia are that intorverts need time and space. While time is really difficult to give in modern institutions, one thing that crossed my mind might be to end the class with a discussion question that student could ponder until the next class, at which time we could discuss the question.  This would be in lieu of getting together in small groups to immediately discuss an issue.  Regarding space, Tony has a great idea to let students wear headphones. This allows introverts to cancel out noise distractions and can prevent other students from interrupt their thinking.

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Another idea Tony had, which is supported by Tanner Higgin’s article, is using a digital space where students can question, comment and discuss course topics during and after class. This provides introverts with the ideal space needed to freely explore and connect with similar learners, and the time to participate at their personal pace and depth.  I will certainly be making more of an effort to foster an online learning community for my students.

Listen to Learn

I really enjoyed this video by former classmate, David Visentin. It had just the right amount of storytelling and humor to keep me engaged throughout. I thought the GoAnimate platform made an excellent choice for the digital project and I will be investigating that further. More importantly, his video taught me about this intriguing instructional strategy.

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Listening intently is an important aspect of communication and I suppose it is what I am expecting my students to do when I stand at the front of the class and lecture. While I know they’re hearing me, are they really listening?

Perhaps incorporating the listen to learn strategy, even for something as simple as a short lecture, would increase student engagement.

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One thing I like about this technique is it’s synergy with the chunk and chew model.  I also really like how the approach involves collaboratively reflecting about the listening in progressively larger groups. That reminds me of a jigsaw, which I’m already a huge fan of.

I guess the only question is: what should I get my students to listen to?

Perhaps a current, relevant podcast about a learning objective might do.  It’s kind of similar to a lecture but could be a bit more entertaining.

I can’t really think of any learning objectives in my program that require students to discern various sounds, but perhaps after learning about the hazards of construction, they could listen to the sounds of a construction site to identify the hazards that might be present.

This is another great tool for the toolbox that I hope to try out when the moment is right.

Classroom Discussions

I was recently involved in a really healthy discussion about discussions, facilitated on our online forum by Donna Ferguson.

The question I was most intrigued by was:

Describe ways you can evaluate classroom discussions.  Or should you?

My initial reaction was no way.

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My reasoning was that evaluations of classroom discussions can’t be accomplished with any reliability or validity.  I believe that given the same rubric and evaluating the same classroom discussion, my colleague and I would not be able to arrive at the same grade for every student.  Further, what were we even trying to measure?

Don’t get me wrong.  I totally believe in the merits and value of classroom discussion.  It’s something I’m constantly engaging my students in. My program, for instance, has a number of outcomes that involve teamwork, communicating with all levels of management, and even being persuasive and engaging in professional relationships. Classroom discussions help our students achieve those outcomes by the time they graduate.  But those type of criteria don’t show up as learning objectives that have to be evaluated on a course outline.  That’s why I’ve always viewed classroom discussions as an instructional strategy or an assessment technique – not as an evaluation.

There were, however, some strong advocates for evaluating classroom discussions and they backed up their arguments with experience.  That’s why I was really glad to learn how to differentiate between the various types of rubrics.  I quite liked a holistic rubric that was presented to grade class participation, by the Center for Teaching Excellence of the University of Virginia:

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While I would still find it difficult to justify using this rubric for evaluation, I would definitely consider introducing my students to this rubric as a way of explaining the purpose and objectives of a classroom discussion.  This may help to facilitate more effective discussions in my classes.  Taking some additional advice, I could have students peer-assess the other students in their small groups using this rubric.

So at the end of the day, I won’t be grading classroom discussions or participation any time soon.  But I will definitely be incorporating a rubric and peer-assessment into classroom discussions to increase engagement with the learning activity and to provide students with formative feedback on their progress towards program outcomes.  I think what I’m after is a culture of conversation, as suggested by this recent tweet from Teaching Channel:

Chunk & Chew

I really enjoyed this video by a former classmate, Jacquie Dale.  She created it by using mysimpleshow.com and I’m definitely curious enough to give it a shot.  Those were simple, clean, engaging animations that provided a crystal clear explanation.  I think I’d like to try my own narration, rather than the electronic voice, but I should probably be careful what I wish for.

Apart from that, I’m really excited about this overarching principle of a lesson plan. Chunking information into a maximum 10-minute block, then having students chew on it for a few minutes. This has the potential to create a dynamic flow in the classroom.  I can imagine weaving in different “chunks” like videos, reading, storytelling, or lecturing, with several “chews” such as small group discussions, reflections, or focused list writing.  The combinations are almost endless when you consider the possible classroom assessment techniques and instructional strategies available.  Take a look at an infographic created by another former classmate, Melissa Ashman:

An infographic on the "chunk and chew" instructional strategy

Lately I’ve been teaching long blocks in one of my courses – 2 classes at 4-hours each. I could definitely build in quite a bit more chunking and chewing throughout those lessons. While I certainly provide plenty of active learning opportunities, there are times I can lecture upwards of 25-minutes, with participatory learning activities sometimes taking 45-minutes to an hour. Part of that is certainly based around having to fill 8-hours a week, but I am really going to try to incorporate this concept as I move into my next round of lesson planning.

Team Classify Concept Map

I decided to give the instructional strategy “Classify” a try, as proposed by Barkley in Student Engagement Techniques.

I’m currently teaching a course about occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMS), which culminates in an international certification exam. With the exam a few weeks away, and the content now covered, I thought this would make a perfect active learning opportunity for my students. Now that they’ve learned the component parts of an OHSMS they should be able to make a determination on how those parts relate to the whole.deming-cycle

As I started creating the list of component parts, based on the 21 learning objectives in the syllabus, I got a bit carried away. I began to realize what I was envisioning was a concept map.  Since I was planning a collaborative effort for this activity, this strategy seemed to be morphing into a “Team Classify Concept Map”.  I was OK with that.

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A former manager once described one of my weaknesses as “too meticulous”.  I see what she was saying now.  I was definitely hating my decision at this point.  This can obviously be a lot less time consuming in the future, but this lesson was really important to me.

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It was time well spent.  I had a huge chunk of a whole bunch of inter-related components of an OHSMS for the students to chew on.  It would be up to them to figure out the relationship between them and graphically organize them in a way that made sense.

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In small groups, students worked with a piece of poster paper, coloured markers, and a set of the classification components. The purpose of the activity was explained, a goal was set, some suggested models of graphic organization were presented, and off they went.

While there was definitely some pain and confusion during the 90-minutes that students spent trying to come to terms with an entire semester worth of information, the results were pretty stellar:

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Overall, I was pleased with the value of this activity – it was worth the time I spent making it happen. I felt like there was a good balance of expectancy and value and the active learning strategy had students engaged for 90-minutes.  All levels of cognition were being used as I overheard students evaluating, synthesizing, analyzing, remembering, understanding, and applying what they’ve learned to create the finished product.

It was summed up perfectly by a student who openly reflected about the activity:

“What we did was just like a management system:  We planned our approach; We carried it out by pasting everything onto our model; We checked it with you to get some feedback; and now we can act on what we learned.”

Frames

Check out this incredibly cool online course about the instructional strategy “Frames” by a former classmate of PIDP 3250, Amanda Klassen.

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Instructional strategy aside, the Articulate 360 Rise platform seems amazing. Considering the current trend in mobile learning – and the fact that I’m a big believer in people being able to access education on any device, at any time, anywhere in the world (with an internet connection) – I will be investigating how to get involved in developing on that platform. At $500-$1000 per year it’s not cheap, but if your life was trying to develop online courses it seems like a great option.

Frames is a strategy that I’ve earmarked in the textbook and I’ll be looking for the earliest opportunity to use.  It’s meant to foster analysis and critical thinking, is collaborative, focuses on reading and writing, can be done in a single lesson and has a high degree of online transferability.

Self-Assessment

You may have noticed I’ve become a big fan of infographics lately, so I decided to reflect on a recent infographic submitted by a classmate, Charlene Hutchison, on Self-Assessment.

Her layout is really clean and concise and provided an excellent overview of the concept of self-assessment.  It’s a strategy that I am incredibly supportive of as an adult educator, ever since I’ve been engaged with it as a student in the PIDP.  Charlene’s infographic summarizes the reasons I’ve incorporated self-assessment into my own teaching:

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It hasn’t gone entirely as planned so far.  There can be plenty of downsides if this strategy isn’t managed properly.  I couldn’t have stated them better myself:

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All of these caveats have rung true to me as I’ve tried relentlessly to foster this skill in my students over the past 5 months.  However, none of the downsides of this strategy can’t be overcome by proper explanation, collaboration between student and instructor, a positive classroom environment founded on trust and respect, and effective rubrics.

What I’ve observed is that students have learned, through practice, that it’s best to be honest with themselves and take responsibility for their own learning.  This will help take the edge of the transition into the workplace when graduates won’t necessarily be given the feedback they’re used to when asked to write that first professional report or deliver a presentation.  They’re going to have to know for themselves if it’s good enough before their final product “goes to press”.  Being able to effectively self-assess is a huge step towards easing that burden.  It’s even starting to be a more integral part of early education:

At the end of the day, there’s no harsher critic of ourselves than ourselves.