Creating Community: Leveraging Forums in Online Learning

Courtesy of Flickr User mjsonline

This semester, I am teaching a course on Global Systems and Societies that is completely online.  Previously, I taught it as a blended class with in-person and online portion.  Having struggled in the first semester with communication and sorting out the line between in-person/online expectations, moving to the all-online format allowed  for a clear delineation of assignments and mediums for communication.  On the other hand, it also meant that these students would not be interfacing in a way that lead to natural learning community-feeling and ability to have discussions in a traditional format.  I knew that I had to be careful and cognizant of the ways in which I would engage the class and foster that kind of participation.

Anyone who has taken an online class knows this and that lack of interaction contributes to some of the dissatisfaction with online learning. Some surveys suggest that online courses with clear online communication streams are preferred by students.  Others conclude that discussions are not particularly preferred or favored, but consistent homework and assignments are cited as the greatest learning vehicles.  Yet, from Dewey to Bandura to Hatton & Smith, educational theorists and researchers have proven that when students have the opportunity to reflect and construct their own perceptions of experiences and material, they learn more.  Thus, maybe it is the type of reflection and discussion offered that matters and not the mere existence of it in the coursework.

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Not a Battle nor a War, but a Quest for Balance

poster reads "Keep Libraries and Learn Stuff"

Image cc license from Flickr user LaurieJ

Friday afternoon, we received a phone call from another library.  While this is a not a memorable event on its own, what was surprising was the caller’s request — could we please send them one of our organization’s knowledge products, specifically a print version of an enormous online database?

Although the library regularly receives requests for publications, which we fill or forward to the appropriate party for fulfillment, the problem was that, while publications have been produced using content from this database, no print version of the database’s full contents exists. It has been deemed impractical to try and reproduce the entire database in print format, for a number of reasons. One reason the product exists only as a database is that content is updated and added on a regular basis, meaning a print version of the product would quickly become outdated or incomplete. A second reason is that the key feature of the database is the system’s ability to allow users to play with the information, generate maps, analyze data and produce graphic interpretations of the information, features that could not be reproduced in a print document or on a single CD-ROM.

The most surprising aspect of this call, though, was the insistence of the caller, a librarian, that we should provide this product in print format, that we were in fact obliged to do so;  by choosing to not produce this product on print format, we were forcing libraries to print the entire thing themselves. Even though we explained the reasons the print format did not exist and the benefits of instead using the database with it’s up-to-date content and analytical features, all accessible online from anywhere in the world, the caller was persistent and nearly irate — we must provide this information, in both analog and digital media or we were failing our constituents and neglecting our responsibilities.

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Co-Authorship and Sharing Credit

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Toban Black

Every year, I tell myself that the Spring semester is going to be so much quieter than the Fall.  I tell myself I will set goals.  I will take this time to reflect and prioritize.  I will not get overwhelmed… And then, suddenly, it is April.  Response papers need to be graded, graduation ceremonies to be planned, and my inbox is proliferated with conference announcements for interesting events going on nationwide.  With those announcements come calls/requests for proposals to present, and eagerly, graduate students go into overdrive to assess their research and where it fits in to the conference theme.  As I entered this phase of my semester, I was lucky enough to have some great possibilities to propose to conferences, many of which were products of a research partnership.

As I began preparing the proposals, it occurred to me that I had little idea on how to properly determine the author order.  As I have gone through my professional career, I have seen different expectations for collaboration, ghost writing, and sharing of credit based on rank rather than the contribution to the research.  Some projects have been an egalitarian experience with appropriate credit-share.  Others have been more… let us say… inequitable.  Up until now, I never gave it much thought past the idea that this is what is customary based on age, notability, rank, etc.  What I failed to realize until I got further into the PhD process is that formalized guidelines do exist to help you figure out the complex puzzle of co-authorship.

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Living in a digital world, part 7 — in which our heroine joins Twitter

Blue bird graffiti on a light post box in Winchester

Image cc license from Flickr user R_rose: http://farm1.staticflickr.com/53/113353654_446ec6af9d_b.jpg

Back in 2010, I attended a presentation given by Michael Stephens on libraries and social media entitled “The Hyperlinked Library — Trends, Tools and Transparency”.  As I had followed his blog Tame the Web for few years and had also read a few of his papers and presentations, this was possibly the first time I was looking forward to an event co-sponsored by our library association. I was impressed by his straight-forward, animated and engaging way of speaking and the fact that the presentation left us feeling excited and encouraged to try and use these tools in our libraries.  Although many of the newer staff had personal experience using LinkedIn and Facebook, our library was only just starting to create a Facebook presence and there was only a weak interest among staff and administration to take steps forward with social media, particularly Twitter.

I changed jobs and my new post overwhelmed me. I postponed thinking further about using Twitter or any social media for the library, hoping to get my feet beneath me before taking such steps.  So it is with a bit of sheepishness that I admit that I only finally joined Twitter last week. I feel a bit like a Johnny-come-lately, to say the least.

In addition to Michael Stephens’ inspiring presentation, SES and my husband had both made convincing arguments in favour of my joining Twitter.  Twitter could give me entrance and access to a wider community of similar interests, both academic and professional, with whom I could share information and experiences and from whom I could gather advice and ideas.  I would be able to have interactions and connections with other librarians, invaluable for a solo librarian if only because it would help me step beyond my home library and my personal echo chamber. I could gain better familiarity with a technology whose usage is still increasing and whose applications could be both personally and professional useful.

But still I dragged my feet.

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