As part of my exploration of tools for online communication I checked out Fluid Survey. It is a Canadian branch of Survey Monkey. I was intending to do a survey and was intrigued by the fact that the server was housed in Canada so use of this tool did not violate the Freedom of Information and Personal Privacy Act. It was extremely easy to use and had a great deal of options. It also has the capability of producing reports that compile statistics gathered.
In Seven problems of Online Group Learning (and their solutions) Roberts & McInnerney identify and elaborate on the challenges presented by online group work. Some of these challenges include student antipathy towards group projects, creation of the groups themselves, assessing group work effectively and a potential lack of group skills. These challenges exist at all levels, whether it is primary or post-secondary education.
Roberts and McInnery identify two challenging personality types encountered in groups. They talk about the Freeloader. The student who is all to happy to sit back and let the others group members do the work. They also address the Sucker. The Sucker is described as an individual who takes on the majority of the work. The other members of the group allow the sucker to pick up their slack while they make minimal contributions.
I propse that there is a third personality type that can make group work challenging. It is the Monopolizer. The Monopolizer is a cousin to the Sucker. The Monopoloizer possesses a domineering personality and ends up dictating the direction of the project. They have strong opinions and ideas. They dominate the conversation and make it difficult for other students to interject with their own ideas and opinions. Remaining group members can be left feeling marginalized. This can create an atmosphere of resentment that is counter-productive to establishing effective group dynamics.
Roberts and McInnery propose several solutions to challenges presented to online group work. While I find merit in several of the proposed solutions, such as the explicit teaching of the skills required for effective group work, I question the merit in others, such as rewarding Suckers (and their cousin the Monopolizer.) Rewarding students who take on responsibilities originally assigned to other group members encourages dysfunctional group dynamics and deprives other group members of the opportunity to learn and apply knowledge and skills. Annalise, a law professor portrayed by Viola Davis in How to Get Away With Murder sums it up succinctly in the debut episode when she chastizes a student who interrupts with the answer to her question before the student she calls upon has had time to respond by saying, "Don't ever take away another student's oportunity for learning." That is what Suckers and Monopolizers do.
As an alternative to rewarding Suckers and Monopolizers for contributions beyond their expectations, I beleive that the emphasis should be on the initial teaching of group skills and clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of each group members. I also beleive that it is the responsibility of the facilitator to ensure that no one member of a group is being allowed to take over the project or that any member is being allowed to shirk his responsibility. This may require intervention and diplomacy but it is necessary. We must never allow a student to deprive another of a learning opportunity.
Roberts, T. S., & McInnerney, J. M. (2007). Seven Problems of Online Group Learning (and Their Solutions). Educational Technology & Society, 10 (4), 257-268
I found the Article Finding the Right Tool posted on webtools4u2use to be engaging, well-organized, practical and informative. The quote by Abraham Maslow, “If the only tool you have is a hammer you tend to see every problem as a nail” effectively hooks the reader and provides the audience with an immediate understanding of the perspective the article will present.
There is indeed an overwhelming amount of tools currently available to educators. This article reminded me that being aware of these tools and developing competency with them is only the beginning. Not all tools are equally suited to all tasks and selecting the appropriate tool for a particular learning activity or outcome requires conscious thought. What we are familiar and currently competent with may not be the most effective tool available for the desired learning outcome we wish to achieve.
I appreciated how options for selecting tools were presented by: task, product cognitive level, learning style, instructional strategy and stage of inquiry. I have a tendency to select tools by task and had not given cognitive level, instructional strategy or stage of inquiry due consideration.
The article also posed some thoughtful questions for educators to consider when selecting a tool for an assignment or delivery of instruction, such as: How intuitive is it? How many stages are there? Does it do what I want it to do? How much learning would it take for learners to work it out?
Whether or not the tool is the right one for the job is not the only consideration. The learning curve of students to become competent with the technology must also be taken into account. One cannot assume that it is intuitive. Explicit instruction may even be required. Is the end result worth the time required for students to become competent with the technology?
The article included a great many tools available to educators. Many I was familiar with (or had at least heard of) but, as expected in this age where new technologies emerge on a daily basis, there were tools that were not yet familiar to me. Among those that I wish to explore are: Poll everywhere and Quizlet.
As comprehensive as the list of potential tools was it was by no means 100% complete. One striking omission was Zoom which has proven to be a cost effective, user friendly, effective tool for group collaboration and instruction.
I am always eager to add to my toolbox as an educator and this article provided me with some new tools to explore and a new process for selecting them.
The four directions of the compass are a metaphor used in many cultures. The First Nations peoples incorporate them into their medicine wheel. As an educator a compass exemplifies our role as a guide, helping our students find their direction. The four primary points of the compass represent our four main roles as educators. The four intermediate directions identify some strategies and tools available to educators in executing their roles.
The four primary points on the compass represent the four elements that intertwine to form an effective online or blended learning environment. An effective facilitator selects technologies appropriate to the learner and subject matter and ensures that she and her students are proficient in these technologies. As technology evolves at a rapid pace, this is not an easy task with a finite timeline.
An effective educator also realizes that it is unrealistic to be an expert in all matters. Rather than being a fountain of knowledge, she should be a navigator with a map, helping direct students to experts and resources that can help them meet their educational goals. She may use mentorship programs, Skype, Twitter or e-mail to facilitate these interactions.
Perhaps the most important role of an educator is to inspire them and encourage them explore their ideas and understand those of others more in depth. In the words of Shakespeare, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.“ (Hamlet (1.5.167-8)
As educators we have an obligation to ensure that certain learning outcomes prescribed by governing bodies are met. Finding engaging methods of helping students meet these outcomes and receive a properly well-rounded education is challenging but rewarding. Watching a student become interested in something new to them is one of the most satisfying aspects of the profession.
It is easy to lose our direction but with a compass to help us regain our bearings we can always get back on track.