Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hybrid PD - Online Community Development Pt 2

Learning Pod at LWF 2012 Conference
I have just returned from a week in Scotland and London, some of it personal vacation and some of it professional growth on my part, as I attended the Learning without Frontiers conference in London.  That experience in itself was amazing - listening to so many great speakers (Noam Chomskey, Sir Ken Robinson, Conrad Wolfram, etc.).  I will be posting some reflections on those talks at a later time, after I have had some time to reflect and gather my thoughts on what they said.  Overall, my time in the UK last week was just an incredible experience on so many levels but as I am still suffering from jet lag, I think it best to hold off on sharing those experiences!

I did want to update on the hybrid PD I am working on - we are currently in our second online Unit and it is not going as well as I had hoped, as I still am struggling with participation from many folks in both cohorts.  As I posted in my Part 1 piece, I had made some executive decisions about 'forcing' the online community development by making everyone a subscriber to the discussion forum.  This forced them to get an email anytime someone posted to the forum as a way of reminding them to post.  At the last face-to-face, I gave both groups the option to choose to subscribe or be forced, and interestingly enough, one group chose to continue to be forced to receive postings and the other group chose not to, rather to make the decision to receive the email postings on their own. 

What are the results? The group who chose NOT to be forced is not participating. So now I am faced with a dilemma - do I go back in and force the issue? I think the biggest problem is that with their busy lives on top of planning, teaching, and grading, many of the participants literally forget that they have a commitment to the online components and the cohort work.  I have sent out reminder announcements, which definitely make participation spike, but it is frustrating on my end to have to be the policeman in a sense.  I think this is a tricky path online instructors walk - when do you 'lay down the law' and intercede, when what you really want to do is have participants become, in a sense, dependent on the support of the online community and want to participate on their own. 

L&L Article v34 n1 August 2007
Granted, my situation is slightly different than an online course where an actual grade is attached - in that case, there is a direct consequence for not participating and it is much more acceptable to lay down the law.  In my case, we are not grading their participation, though their participation is connected to a monetary stipend (which you would think would be an incentive, but apparently is not enough). It is interesting - the online community that has developed in both cohorts has begun to talk to each other rather than just responding to the prompts.  They are sharing ideas, they are asking each other questions - so in that regard, I am very excited about what is happening.  The problem being this involves only about half the participants - so how do I get the others to 'participate'?

I am going to send each 'non-participant' a personal email seeing if perhaps there are other issues at stake. I have already sent a class announcement gently cajoling those who have not been active to come join the fun, while at the same time reminding them of the expectations and requirements of being members of the cohort and grant (this is grant funded).  Even mentioning the district leader who is in charge of a veiled 'threat' you might say - participate or else! I also think, as I plan for the next Unit, that I will incorporate some online partner work, where they must accomplish something with someone else, which in a sense is forcing participation as well.  I think the dependency on others might bring in those non-participants.  I am also considering including some type of game, another strategy to get participants communicating and involved.  In a way, this is quite fun, as I am having to pull in many of the things I have learned and researched about online learning. Even going back to the L&L article I wrote years ago. Mostly though, right now, I am frustrated.

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