Sunday, July 16, 2017

My Own Worst Enemy: Using Communities and PLNs for Faculty Development

I promise this isn't another post about LMSs. Well, okay, maybe just a little.

Until this class, I never thought too much about the limitations of LMSs and the impact that has on learning. As an instructor, I always incorporated other tools for students and got mixed results. In an ENC 1101 course, I set up a wiki. For ENC 1102, I created a Facebook group. For an ENC 4531 course, I asked students to post a video presentation on YouTube. The students had fun, and I was happy that I was able to show them ways to make their voices heard.

Those assignments, though, were designed with many objectives in mind, but collaboration wasn't one of them. And because I taught mostly face-to-face and hybrid classes, I never worried that students weren't getting enough interaction. I designed the hybrid shells for several English classes, but as long as the information was clear, I didn't worry too much about the ways that the students would interact. There were discussions, and I assumed that was enough.

Fast forward a few years to me being solidly in the world of online learning, as a student, a designer, and an instructor. When I started working on this grad certificate in instructional design, it wasn't out of necessity - it was out of curiosity and my own desire to feel like I was growing in my field. I think we should always strive to be more educated, and when the opportunity to take classes at FSU presented itself this summer, I knew that's where I needed to be. So as someone who had never taken an online class, I thought that the interactions would be lost and that I would be working, in some ways, in isolation. I could not have been more wrong. In this class in particular, I have already learned so much about the ways we can connect and use online forums to build communities. If my full-time job was still in the classroom, I have no doubt I could implement tools that would help students establish PLNs and online presences. 

But my job is a little different, and this week I found myself having a rather harsh internal dialogue as I finished putting final touches on some advanced faculty enrichment courses. All I could think was, "Why is there so much text?!" I can't tell you how many times I advised faculty to avoid walls of text, and yet, that's how some of the modules I just created looked. I struggled to understand why I couldn't figure out a way to make this more interactive. I have the tools and I know how to use them, so why didn't they turn out like I had planned?

Part of it has to do with audience, at least that's what I'm telling myself. These courses aren't designed for students - they are designed for faculty who have voluntarily gone through online development courses. This group in particular is made up of faculty who have successfully finished two levels of development and are now moving into the final level, which makes them eligible to become mentors. It's a small group, and they are divided by topic area, and that means that some of these mentor courses have only one faculty member in them. And now that I know what I do about course design, it's difficult to plan out interactions with only one person, especially when limited to the features of the LMS. 

With this week's community paper on my mind, I started thinking more about the roles of PLNs and communities. Through all of the readings and the outside research I did for my paper, I suddenly realized what I needed to do. These courses are meant to be somewhat self-paced, so I needed to rely more on communities and established networks, like the ones we've been participating in for class.

Just a few weeks ago, I reminded a faculty member who was designing a course that he didn't have to provided all of the information. We know that 21st Century learners need to know how to find answers, so I advised him to keep that in mind. Once again, I realized that I wasn't following my own advice. I've been so busy worrying that I couldn't provide the framework for a community, I forgot that more than likely, our faculty probably already belong to communities of their own! 

The answer I needed was right in front of me the whole time, literally, right in front of me... in a wall of text, under a submodule titled, "Ways to Improve Engagement in Your Online Class," that I created. 😑

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