Reflections of Online Learning

This has been an interesting unit on integrated course design. I was surprised to learn that the shift from Socratic lecturing to more active learning has only happened in the last decade or two. I remember both styles being used in middle and high school, but assumed it was different teaching styles based on the subject matter rather than a swinging of the educational pendulum. Maybe it seems too obvious because I’m a kinesthetic learner, but humans are thinking and doing beings. How can we expect students to think and do when we provide only information without the experience? “When you think about the goals for your course, think about what you want students to do with this subject after the course is over” (Fink p. 116). This quote helped drive the selection of learning activities for my unit. Conservation needs to include a critical examination of our own behaviors, not just identifying issues and pointing fingers. This led me to refine a home environment checklist and post-outreach public service announcement demonstrating their own “conservation in action.” Finally, I found the objective builder at ASU extremely helpful. It helps drill down the specific things we want students to do in the future and offers verb suggestions that allow teachers to assess that learning.

For me, there are advantages and challenges to an online class or degree program. I’m fairly independent and self-driven, so I appreciate the autonomy of completing tasks whenever it fits into a crazy schedule. With 2 jobs, a young family, and a work-in-progress cabin, disposable time is tight. I value the flexibility of being able to work on class when it works in life, rather than being bound to a rigid, pre-determined schedule. Fink states, “when we engage in dialog with others, the possibility of finding new and richer meanings increases dramatically (p. 118).” Although it may seem counterintuitive, I believe the online format increases this effect for me. I don’t process information quickly, I need to ruminate on it, kicking it around in my head for a while before I can integrate the ideas within the context of what I already know. Class discussions have always been tough because of this, and I’m generally left feeling dumb due to the inability to “keep up” in conversations centering on new ideas. The blog format allows me to read something, takes some notes on my initial thoughts, spend a while processing, and then come back to it when I can better articulate my response.

However, being a tactile learner, I struggle with the lack of tangibility inherent in online courses. I regret to admit that I print out almost all articles, assignments, and other materials. I process information much better when I can interact with it; circling, highlighting, taking notes in the margins and referring back to past reads are critical strategies that have got me this far in my educational life. This presents a tension of opposites, as the greenie in me feels guilty wasting trees because my dinosaur learning style is so engrained. Another challenge for me is working simultaneously with multiple platforms that are unique but often interrelated. I’m used to, and maybe prefer, having all related information in a central location that can easily be referenced. Dare I say a 3-ring binder is my style? These days, I feel like I spend as much time trying to navigate to the right spot as I do with the actual task. It took me well over an hour to locate the right place to begin updating my blog. I hadn’t worked with it in almost 6 weeks and the hierarchical order of Word Press, Reclaim, and CPanel was a foreign language to me. Much of this challenge is the newness of things. If I had a Diigo account and blog prior to this class, I would only need to figure out the UAF WordPress part. But the further behind the technology curve you are, the farther you need to go to catch up.

This integrated design unit has been full of frustrations and insights, like most meaningful learning experiences. The outreach idea has been bouncing around my head for over a year. Compartmentalizing ideas into manageable chunks with a logical sequence has been the roadblock to progress. I’ve taught students to use graphic organizers, but haven’t adopted the approach as my own. Developing a concept map(s) for this unit was a breakthrough experience for me. The purging of everything in my head to paper silenced the background noise and gave me a 30,000 ft perspective, no matter how chaotic it looked. With everything laid out in front of me, I was able to prioritize and organize ideas. It is a strong reminder of the importance of presenting many approaches to solve a problem. Students bring varied learning styles to class and this necessitates explicitly teaching varied strategies to process and retain information.

The unit design process strongly highlights the issue of individual motivation, and the way it influences effort exerted and the final product. To be honest, I’m not terribly excited to get back into formal teaching when my kids move on to school. With the Danielson model of teacher assessment, RTI, APEX, and the other silly demands placed on teachers, my conscience is at odds with the current state of K-12 education. I’m finishing my masters as a personal goal rather than a means to an end of teaching. This makes chiseling out time for school work, giving an honest effort, and maintaining a positive attitude much more difficult. I can’t overstate how refreshing and motivating it has been to develop something personally relevant and meaningful. It feels like the default setting in education is to assign tasks that are disconnected from the end goal. I can write lengthy papers on theories, methodologies, or ideal classrooms, but where does that leave me? A conceptual understanding to a kinesthetic learner is just a facade. For me, this unit design is a chance to Do what we’re being asked to do. The motivational impact of this nuance is immeasurable. Choice and control are powerful elements that teachers should utilize.

3 thoughts on “Reflections of Online Learning

  1. I wonder if in your new relationship with concept mapping you have also solved your tree killing dilemma. if you split your screen or work on two monitors and create an electronic map as you are reading with an article if, with a little practice, it would do the satisfy the need to interact with the article by circling etc. It might take a little bit to get used to but it did help me to make the switch.

  2. “How can we expect students to think and do when we provide only information without the experience?”

    Gosh, I know I’m in the extreme minority here, but I got lucky when the universe spun the big learning styles wheel with me. I’ve always done just fine sitting in a lecture and listening to the professor then going off and finding some way to apply that information on my own without having to have activities built for me. I did that fine in high school too. As such, it’s sometimes hard for me to remember that that doesn’t work for everyone. I mean, I know that, of course, but sometimes I have to actively remind myself of that. I’m starting to realize you and I lie at very opposite ends of the learning spectrum, in pretty much every way. It’s been really interesting to see the two of us develop and talk about similar topics from opposite viewpoints. I hope that continues!

  3. Hi Craig,

    Nice piece. I particularly liked this leap, “…This led me to refine a home environment checklist and post-outreach public service announcement demonstrating their own “conservation in action.” – That’s great. Transforming from talking about stuff to doing stuff is exciting.

    This line, “I regret to admit that I print out almost all articles…” really resonated with me. I got my masters online. Best learning experience of my life, but I have a 3 foot stack of papers I printed out for circling and annotating. Lately I’ve found I rely more on edocuments. But it is a hard transition and if I get really serious about something, I still print it out.

    So glad to hear this, “I can’t overstate how refreshing and motivating it has been to develop something personally relevant and meaningful.” That is my goal for all my students. Pick a topic that is relevant and go for it. Such a painful slog if one selects something that you don’t care about.

    Nice work.


Leave a Reply