Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Who's your 12th Man?

Living in the suburbs of Seattle, it is impossible to escape the unbridled enthusiasm and excitement about a team called the Seahawks.  Even for people who are only vaguely aware of Sports, the Holiday season has somehow evolved into Seahawks season. Red has been displaced as acceptable holiday clothing is now Blue and Green; 12th-Man banners can be seen in yards, hung along with blue and green Christmas lights and above manger scenes; Seahawk stickers and bling are everywhere, on everything.  (There's a Dr. Seuss poem here somewhere, but that's for a different day.)

I am not complaining.  The closest I have come to actually seeing a game was when I watched this guy with braids flying straight out from under his helmet running and jumping over and around and through people at what seemed to be impossible speed and force (someone said his name is Marshawn Lynch) while out shopping last year. It stopped me in my tracks and stayed in my mind afterwards, and I carried away with me a small seed of understanding of the excitement about supporting this team.  That Guy. Our Team.  Yes. Then my un-sports-connected life continued.

But the concept of the 12th Man permeates beyond the usual fans around here.  As I prepare to teach College 101: Student Success to new students at our technical college Winter quarter, I am considering starting with talking about the student as a member of a  team, and the 12th Man.  A cursory look at the enrollment list has shown me that most of the students are multi-lingual learners with a variety of ethnic backgrounds who may know even less about football, not to mention 12th Man, than me.* As a cultural introduction to the Sea of Seahawkness around our community, I plan to start with having them think about who they will be depending on for their own success. First their own team:  Our class. And beyond - will they be able to count on their families for time to study? Can their kids help quiz them with flashcards? Can they form study groups to work on readings? Do they know where and how to visit a counselor or get financial aid?  I want them to pro-actively and consciously think about forming a team, being part of a team, and in doing so, achieving more than ever.

I want to discuss some concepts - like winning. And yes, losing. What kinds of strategies are important? And how does one move forward from those unfortunate moments of losing? And how does helping others play into winning? As connected learners with the internet at our fingertips, we can all win by sharing. Wikipedia-like attitudes of knowledge-sharing and skillful use of google tools and more will take us much farther in school. work, home and inner life than anything else. We are no longer alone, and need to be aware of that team out there. And become players ourselves.

Who will be their 12 Man? Me. I will be cheering them on and making sure they hear it. I want them to succeed no matter what.  Everyone needs a 12th man.  Who is yours?

*I am sure others out there will correct whatever mis-informaiton I may accidently pass along regarding football and how this all works.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Connected Courses is Starting!

I have excitedly signed up for Connected Courses -  an open, community-based project:

The goal for Connected Courses is to build an inclusive and expansive network of teachers and students, and provide educational offerings that make high quality, meaningful, and socially connected learning available to everyone. The go-at-your-own-pace collaborative course is free and open to all.

That description has all the words that I am growing to love: Connection. Education. Possibilities. Vocabulary like this triggers the explorer in me,and compelling ideas in my mind that I think about every day.  I put them together in to a wordle:

The first unit will be: What is, or should be, the future of higher education?  What do we stand to lose or gain in pursuing the possibilities opened up by the Web?  What are the underlying logics and effects of different approaches to teaching with technology/online?

I will keep updates on activities in the Connected Course page, above.  

You can still sign up!  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Weed the Garden

     Our front yard garden is something fairly invisible to me as I walk past it daily from the house to my car. Last weekend was the first time this year for me to actually step into our garden with the intent of improving it.  The weather was perfect for gardening; an early spring day that makes you want to hold on to the warm sun and never let go. As I bent to begin weeding one area, my eye was caught by a huge dandelion in another. After I had removed it, I looked up to see another group of waving yellow dandelions.  There were a lot more yellow dandelions than any other flower in our yard, and as maneuvered from one to the next,  I was struck at how aspects of my once carefully-planned yard were simply not working.

digging up dandelion weed from garden
Removing the Dandelions

      It wasn't just the proliferation of bright dandelions - that was just Spring's way of saying hello.  But I suddenly realized that I had been trying to make the moss section by our front door work for almost 10 years....and it was still a mossy mess. It had never been clear before, but suddenly it became clear to me that I needed to stop spending my energy arguing with it, and to try something new.  I began to dig it up.

     Teaching - especially online teaching -  is like that.  We need to keep weeding our garden and adjusting for things that aren't working. We can't expect to set up a course, and leave it to run as-is, quarter after quarter, without seriously contemplating how to improve it as we use it. The online tool that was so amazing when you first implemented it...have you looked to see what other tool may now be available that is even more fitting for your students?  The students who got lost in your second module...maybe they needed clearer directions on what to do. And that quiz that no one seems to be successful in...perhaps there is another way to assess student understanding.

     Spring quarter is almost here. Time to weed our gardens.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The fine art of the discussion forum

When our statewide system implemented the Canvas LMS, one of the most compelling offerings was the ability for students to join a discussion verbally -with a recording or video - rather than having to type their thoughts. Since many of our students are not native English speakers - and because writing is often the most difficult area to master - I felt this would be an incredible offering for community colleges. However, when I look at discussion forums in various classes, I can see why getting students to participate is still a challenge. Many instructors are still getting used to the video format themselves, and many view the form as a mini-quiz tool than as an actual discussion. I believe the discussion forum can often be the seed from which the course grows, and I also believe that creating successful discussion forums is akin to a fine art, like making a tea bowl.
There are many steps and for a seemingly simple bowl to be created; shaping, glazing, and firing before the cup of tea can be shared and enjoyed.

1. Shaping: Your forum can be about anything; it is a piece of clay with no shape until your hands form it. Take time to shape it carefully, the way a potter would; work with the clay and mold it carefully. You also have to let the bowl become the shape it is going to become; allowing your students to feel safe, to express doubts and confusion, to build on each others' ideas, is crucial to a meaningful discussion. As with clay, you have some control, but not absolute control.

2. Glazing: Allow your students to feel they are helping to add beauty to the discussion. Find ways to include visuals (such as we have done here) to allow students to express themselves beyond words, and add visual of the best features of teaching online. Watch as the plain piece of pottery you started with becomes glazed and imprinted with the singular thoughts and ideas of those students, that forum.

3. Firing: When you put a pot into the kiln, you don't know what will emerge. The circumstances of the heat changes everything -that is one of the unpredictable aspects that the potter both relishes and dreads. As soon as your discussion starts, the glaze you thought would be brown turns red; the shape changes slightly because of the heat. Interactions too evolve and shift in unexpected directions. It is what it is, and you can experience the uniqueness of each piece as they emerge from the kiln, even (or perhaps mostly) if they weren't what you were expecting.
(This is a tea bowl made by my friend Chika Oumi.)


First and foremost, do not confuse a discussion forum with a quiz! Pose questions that have more than one answer. Here is a link to some great ideas on active discussion forums that resulted from Stephanie Delaney's presentation at a recent NW eLearn Conference that I was lucky enough to attend: Beyond the Discussion Board: Ten Tips for Engaging Online Students

Below is an infographic I created as a reminder that at the heart of every great online course is....heart.