Reflections about Learning in Public Spaces

There are many concerns about online learning. Some concerns are valid and require the instructor to address them. Others are created under false pretenses. As Northwest Indian College transitions into offering more online and online/hybrid courses we see more and more of these concerns in the Native Studies department. Though we are trying ensure online learning environments are a place where students feel safe, there are some instances where we feel that we can accommodate every student issue in these courses. So weighing the concerns to determine the value is something we have to do as educators.

One of the main concerns that I see is insecurity. This insecurity emerges in many ways. There are some students who don’t feel they know enough about the topic to create an opinion and post about it. These students are predominately non-Native students and at Northwest Indian College these students are the minority. In Native Studies our topics and discussions in online classes are about Native issues. Non-Native students sometimes feel insecure about posting in a public place when they feel they don’t have enough context about these issues to form an opinion. Some don’t feel its their place to even form an opinion on these issues. Online learning communities are a different space than face-to-face. Sometimes people feel more inclined to voice their opinions in online spaces. Non-Native students sometimes feel like they could get attacked if they voice their opinion.

Another form of insecurity come from Native students. I’ve observed some students feel they don’t know enough about the topic to comment publicly. Students react to this insecurity in different ways. Some students just avoid the situation all together, causing them to not do the assignments. Some students will struggle through, get feedback, and improve. I think both of these examples are valid. These insecurities impact student engagement and success in the course. The instructor should address these issues.

Other concerns that I’ve seen, given we haven’t had much experience with online courses in the Native Studies program, have to do with technical competence. Technical competence isn’t really an issue with dangers in public spaces, but it is really the only one I could think of. This concern  I feel could have easy solutions if they are approached properly. Faculty have reported that some of their students haven’t checked into the course at all. Canvas is new to our campus and  there are many instances where students don’t know the new software. This results in students not knowing how to access the site. At Northwest Indian College we have one person implementing online programming. These  factors should be considered when placing a value on this concern. But overall if a student communicates with the instructor and the the instructor responds to correct the issue, it wouldn’t  be a hinderance on student learning.

4 thoughts on “Reflections about Learning in Public Spaces

  1. Hi Lexi,

    I think you bring up some really good points. If the angst over social discourse is too high, we risk sabotaging the very learning community that we hope to create. I do think it is important to push people outside their comfort zone while learning. But not too far and for not too long. I think that is where teaching as an art form rather than a science comes in. I also appreciate the cultural perspective in your comments. With both the majority and minority having a basis for discomfort. But I think their is also a certain anonymity in an online venue that allows some personalities that would otherwise be silent in a face to face class, feel confident to contribute to the conversation. Some people are stimulated by quick back and forth conversation, while others appreciate the time to collect their thought and consider their responses made possible in an asynchronous online class that are not possible in a room full of people. Its good to build confidence in the arena where you feel comfortable but equally important to practice pushing the boundaries of where you are the most comfortable.

  2. Good post Lexi! I think you hit one big resistance square on the head with your point about insecurity. It makes me think about our conversations about the definition of an “expert”. Students enroll in courses as learners and engage in the process of acquiring new knowledge as learners. It’s a big leap in confidence to take that limited working understanding of a new concept, form an intelligent opinion, and then put it out there for judgement and scrutiny from the larger community. Especially when we don’t FEEL secure about the depth or completeness of our understanding. Like Kim mentioned, though, being forced outside our comfort zones into vulnerable places leads to a different type of learning experience. In this case, it hopefully leads to a dialog that enriches the original posters understanding.

  3. Nice work Lexie,

    Along with Craig, I also thought back to our conversations about novices and experts. We all have, I think, a cultural predisposition to being hesitant to share our opinions when we feel like novices. The trick is creating an environment where sharing as novices feels comfortable. That’s how we get to be experts. Creating that environment is the job of the instructor. Being purposeful in the design of those initial sharing and connecting activities so that they are very low stakes, and everyone feels comfortable is a good way to begin to get students to acclimatize and share.

    I find it fascinating that some of the Non-Native students feel intimidated by their surroundings – feel like cultural novices. Most of my online experiences have started with these feelings as well – to some degree or another.

    How does this relate to face-to-face learning? Are there similar issues to be overcome?

    What about your own experience here? Reflecting on that – how has this course been for each of you?

  4. “There are some students who don’t feel they know enough about the topic to create an opinion and post about it.”

    I had not thought about that…as a non-Native interested with a lot of Native studies and educational issues I will admit sometimes the conversation can get rather awkward when I know my words are out in the open for people to pick apart! The instructor can only do so much to mediate this, especially if your students have to interact IRL. I said on Craig’s post that maybe a semi-anonymous class forum would be more conducive to issues like this, but, to be honest, I’ve been anonymous on the internet and in most situations (especially race situations) I just don’t trust it. There’s gotta be something there though; some possibility of removing that anxiety through semi-anonymity.

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