Creating learning experiences

Just as you set up the normal classroom and use a variety of teaching practices to create an environment that supports and encourages student learning, so too should you apply this to the online environment, says Konrad Glagowski, in his recent talk to us about ‘classrooms as third places’. The theme of his talk was about creating a place that allows an online learning community to emerge; not building it for the students but building it with them.

Using the four key attributes of a great place (uses and activities, comfort and image, sociability, and access and linkages), Konrad described the teacher’s role in helping to set-up “the kind of environment where learning experiences can take shape”. He does this by providing opportunities for creative and expressive writing that is personally relevant and beyond the normal coursework; allows students to customize, define and build their own web space and online presence (individual student blogs); promotes dialogue by using a readerly and participatory voice aligned with instructional scaffolding / conversations; actively encourages interactions and the formation of networks; and provides a visual representation of the community so that the members, content and interactions can be seen and easily accessed.

His experience involves online learning as an extension of his normal classroom teaching where he sees the students daily, so that the two overlap and build on each other. Even so, he takes considerable time (about a month) establishing the community before they then start on course-related work; is this related to his young students (13, 14 yrs) or does it actually take more time than we realize to lay good foundations? Personally I like the idea of taking time and allowing everyone to become comfortable with the environment, technology, and the process of revealing one’s thoughts. I particularly liked his visual representation of the community (eg a building with named windows that link to each student’s blog). I think this representation can help to create a feeling of ‘a group’ with everyone having a place in that group. It’s good to be reminded that very simple things can have a big impact!

In his blog, Konrad talks more about the five stages of creating learning experiences that have emerged from his own teaching.
1. Discover: student looks for a topic of interest from a course theme and begins exploring
2. Define: student narrows and defines their research topic and how they will approach it
3. Immerse: student becomes immersed in topic: blogs, reads, creates, and becomes part of online learning communities/networks
4. Build: begins to build their own knowledge that is evident on their blog
5. Contribute: creation of unique and individual artifacts to the field they are researching

Constructivism in action! This framework along with his talk reinforce important characteristics of online learning that have become increasingly evident since beginning this course: personally-relevant learning (authenticity), having an online identity, ownership of material, co-participation of the teacher and student, social learning networks (collaborative learning), transparent learning and the importance of the process rather than just the product.

I’m still considering the extent to which blogs and the processes described here could be used in a meaningful way in my teaching context, in that it adds value to the students learning. I can see that a project investigating a topic related to the body would provide the type of in-depth exploration Konrad describes with his students, but I’m also weary that for many beginner-level tertiary students, simply managing the large amount of content in the bioscience course in an online learning environment is challenging enough already.

I would certainly like to create more opportunity for interaction and social learning in the online environment, perhaps using student blogs as learning diaries where they have a place to share relevant knowledge / experiences / links, explore a topic of interest in more detail if they wish, make comments on topical issues (I think this incidental learning is really important), begin to have relevant conversations, and to reflect on their own learning. Maybe this is how it starts out in the first half of the course, progressing to using it for a project in the second half of the course. It certainly has given me lots to think about.


  1. Yvonne said...

    Hi Veronique

    Nicely summarised. Thank you.

    Putting these ideas into context is the next step for me too.


  2. Carolyn McIntosh said...

    I loved the pictures he used to allow students to establish connections and identity. I am wondering if we need to build these sorts of tools ourselves or do we get a techno-whizz to come and do it for us?

  3. Sarah Stewart said...

    Hi Veronique, have been reflecting on my experiences of trying to build an online community, which to date, has not been terribly successful. I looked at the 5 stages of creating learning experiences and I think I need to consider how I will facilitate immersion into the community. We have moved from longer 5 month courses to short 6 week courses -I think this may be very difficult.

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