This is my tenth class in my masters program, and it is my 7th online class. As such, I have had a good deal of experience with forums, both open and closed. This is my 5th class with @courosa and @kbhildebrandt, so 5 of those classes has had the format that all of us in this class are familiar with, whereas the other two only contained closed, UR Courses forums. I shall start with my thoughts on the different experiences.

  1. I found closed forums provided me with less anxiety than open forums.
  2. Open forums made me think more deeply about my responses.
  3. I felt a greater attachment to the conversation and the people in an open forum.

I will briefly try and explain my thoughts listed above. In the two classes that had only closed forums, the forums were used heavily for assessment in those classes. In both cases, prompts were given and students were expected to respond. I felt less anxiety about my comments because I knew they were only being read by the number of people registered in that class. I guess I liken it to having to talk in front of a class of 20 students or in front of the whole school, only in this case, the school is all of humanity. The small, enclosed conversation feels less intimidating. I can say that, now in my 5th edtech class, I have become more comfortable posting in open forums, but especially in EC&I 831, my first class, I felt very anxious about having to put my thoughts and comments out for anyone in the world to read. Some people are more reserved and having to put your thoughts and beliefs out there on the table (internet) can have affects on a person. I think this is something worth considering for teachers who want to have open forums in their courses.

On the other side of this, as Jannae discusses in her blog the notion brought forth by Joshua Howard that increasing the audience size from a closed forum to an open one can encourage students to care more about the quality of their work. I can agree with this. I put far more thought and effort into crafting my responses for blogs or for Twitter than I do on a closed forum. This is how I’m representing myself to the world, I do not want to embarrass myself! You also never know who might jump into an online conversation and the broadening of perspectives and ideas can really take a conversation down many different paths, whereas a closed forum with much fewer participants is less likely to have the sheer number of conversational tributaries branching off in other directions.

Photo Credit: Travis S. Flickr via Compfight cc

The last point I want to discuss is much harder to explain. In the closed forums, I did not feel as connected to the participants or the conversation as I do in the open mediums. It could be that when you talk to someone on Twitter, you can go to their page and read through their feed and you can gain a sense of who they are, their interests and passions, their voice. I just never felt that in a closed forum. Likewise, because the conversation (at least the ones I experienced) in a closed forum is usually given a prompt and is open to only a handful of people, it just feels less rich. Responses become redundant, the same voices are prevalent, it just didn’t provide the experience that I have had with mediums like Twitter or blogging.

I will admit that open, online courses are a major interest of mine. I have really been enjoying the course prototype assignment, have enjoyed working with the Canvas LMS (as seen in the Tweet below), and want to provide rich science education to anyone interested! I am in the middle of major changes to my instruction and course design, and have been loving the results and as such, I am pushing myself hard to keep making changes, quite fast too, which is exciting but also stressful as I haven’t been giving my mind too much ‘offline’ time. One of the first changes I made was encouraging my students to take and complete a MOOC and then share their learning with classmates with a bit of an exhibition. It went very well and students asked for more! I envision moving more of my students learning online, but with my own created content, or compilation of recommended materials. I teach grades 8-12 in my school, and I have only been doing this with my senior classes. I think that students need to learn how to learn independently before they can be fully immersed in an open experience like this, however, I am very open to moving some of this course design down into younger grades. I think you need to start small, and gradually work your way up to the point that you can ‘release’ the students and let amazing things truly happen. I don’t think I would put an age on when I believe this should start happening, I believe it comes down to training and experience. The younger we can start giving kids the skills to be independent learners and experienced navigators of the web and polished digital citizens, the sooner we can start pushing them into more open mediums for learning.

Kelsie raises the concern of how can we be certain that students are producing their own work in an online course? This can indeed be a challenge, which is why I still think that blended learning with some face to face time is incredibly valuable as you can contain most of your assessment to those times for monitoring. However, in the course prototype being created by Nancy, Ashley, and myself regarding the digital citizenship continuum, we are asking students to submit assessments that at least would be more difficult to not complete themselves. Having students create podcasts, screencasts, etc., activities with their own voice or video of themselves, allows the teachers to at least be a little more certain that the work is in fact being created by the student in question and will actually demonstrate learning and understanding.

I’m excited about the future of open, online learning and how I can utilize these ideas to provide the best educational experience that I can!

Live long and prosper