I’ve completed half of Master’s program, a graduate certificate, and now I’m pursuing the MA in New Media online. I’ve experienced a number of different professors with different personalities, expectations, and teaching styles. With one or two exceptions, I can say that my online education experience has been largely formulaic. The professor assigns readings, hosts a discussion forum for ‘critical reflection’ (whatever that means), I write a paper or two, and this course ends with little fanfare. It is a little like that scene in Office Space, where Bill Lumburg asked Peter to not forget the TPS report. Many of the online courses I have taken have their own version of TPS reports, tedious busywork that a professor insists must be turned in a certain way. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike online education. I’m largely a self-starter and if I like the topic of the course, I will learn about the course material on my own. This course, on the other hand, has none of the familiar TPS reports.
Like I mentioned on the first week, I was bewildered by the lack of a ‘social script’ to handle this course. Three weeks into this course I still find myself confused. I have not seen a course syllabus or rubrics for my assignments and I’m somewhat anxious to know how I’m doing in the course. I do like some flexibility in a course, but I also like having a mission and clear goals to work torwards. This encourages me to work hard. So far, I haven’t seen a clear direction for this course. In the absence of clear instructions, I have found that the students in this class have been most gracious in bonding to form a real learning community. The Facebook page now has 15 members. In fact, I believe that all of the active students in this course have joined the page. We ask questions, we share answers, we crowdsource ideas, and we inspire on another on that page. My online learning experiences in the past have been largely anonymous (to my chagrin), but no so for this class! I already feel a connection with my classmates. I believe that having everyone videotape themselves at the beginning broke the down wall of anonymity and set us up for creating an authentic learning community.
Sadly, most of us do not have a social script for communal learning. Our educational experiences, particularly in the online environment, treat students like individuals silo who receive information. Discussion boards, however helpful they might be, feature superficial interactions among classmates. The Facebook page has been a successful experiment in that participants have shared their feelings with near-complete strangers. Being known in a community is risky as it exposes one’s flaws. By bringing our weaknesses before a group of gracious peers, I believe that we have learned from one another. I do hope more of the group members will take the risk and expose their questions/anxieties/curiosities, but again, being vulnerable in a learning environment is novel concept for most of us!
The workload in this class has been substantial. I don’t recall a course where I have had to do as many weekly assignments as this class. The assignments have been enlightening, however. For one, I have dusted off some Web 2.0 tools that I have left on the shelf for a few years, such as Delicious (which has gotten really awesome), WordPress, my YouTube Channel, and my Wikipedia editor account. I learn technology by tinkering with it and I do believe this course has encouraged me to ‘tinker’. Until the course assignments compelled me to learn new skills, I didn’t know that YouTube has an advanced editing screen where you can merge videos (which I had to use for the 1st video). I can even add subtitles, background music, and captions! Who knew?? By tinkering with Wikipedia, I finally discovered how to fully edit a page using Wikipedia’s markup language. I used these skills to format my resume with links to schools I’ve attend and places I lived in my Wikipedia editor profile. Knowing how to edit the world’s largest (and most trusted, no joke) encyclopedia empowers me to create not only content, but to spread knowledge. As a librarian who lectures about the importance of good information, I can now teach students how to make the world a more informed place by showing them how to edit Wikipedia. I’m keeping a list of the Web 2.0 tools this class created for future tinkering. By having as many tools in my arsenal, I hope to have a tool for nearly every situation. Given the broad experiences of the students in this class, I’m looking forward to testing them out and sharing new insights with classmates and colleagues.
Overall, I’d say this class has been an interesting experiment in learning in the absence of structure. I’m still waiting for the ‘a-ha’ moment when I figure out why the course has lacked structure, the purpose/learning objectives or how the assignments connect with these objectives. I guess I’ll wait and see.