Friday, November 28, 2008

CCK08: Motivating and engaging students in networked learning

The connectivism course that I have been following as an informal student is coming to a close, and now I am left to think about how I can apply what I have learned into my teaching. In particular, I am thinking about how I can work with students in a way that captures their imagination and increases engagement with the course.

I also want to evaluate the 'Reflection on Practice' course I have been running, and to do that I want to provide myself some 'standards' with which to compare the course design and construction against.

The networked student
To be honest, I could just finish this post with Wendy Drexler's video because it encapsulates what I have learned about connectivism over the last few weeks, and illustrates so beautifully what networked teaching and learning is all about.

Back down to earth
But the reality is that I have to run a course and deliver online content in a way that is meaningful to the student. I've got all fired up about networked learning, but wonder if the existing online midwifery network is 'strong' or 'big' enough to support midwifery students, especially undergraduates looking at clinical issues? When you look at the material relating to midwifery in Delicious, YouTube and SlideShare for example, there is very little that can be used in an 'academic' way. Peer-reviewed articles in credible journals that you find in Google Scholar are often unavailable without paying. And there's only limited access to full text articles through online databases. Blogging midwives are currently extremely wary about what they write and many have closed their blogs to public view.

Quality of the network
And what about the quality of information that is freely available? Is it information we want undergraduate midwifery utilizing in their practice? It's one thing for a history student to get a date wrong, but if a midwifery student accesses and implements wrong information there could be fatal results. How do we manage this?

Is networked learning enough?
As you can see, I have more questions than answers. Is networked learning sufficient motivation in itself? How do I help students develop networks - what about those students whose learning style does not suit this methodology? Is networked learning more suitable to post-graduate students who are already registered midwives with a little clinical experience under their belts; who are already familiar with the concept of networking, and have an understanding of midwifery principles? On the other hand, if we do not introduce undergraduate students to the concepts of networked learning, are we not disadvantaging them and reducing their ability to become life-long learners?

Where to from here?
Whilst I am still working my way through these questions, there are several aspects of design that I feel is important to be mindful of in relation to online courses

E-teaching is more than content delivery
In order for students to be motivated and engaged with e-learning, courses have to be more than just content delivery - courses need to be interactive. To my mind, the problem in the past with e-learning has been that many teachers (myself included) have considered that all you have to do with an online course is to load up some PowerPoint presentations into a learning management system (LMS) like BlackBoard, and throw in a few questions on the discussion board. But my experience (as a teacher) has been that these courses are boring and fail to engage the majority of students.

Klemm (2005) contends that teachers should be using activities and technologies that encourage students to share learning and resources, and form communities or cooperatives of learning. He says that students should be encouraged to
"build their own knowledge and understanding, typically by doing some task and producing some kind of deliverable. The deliverable could take the form of a report, a plan or recommendations, a literature review or Web quest, a data sheet, problem-solving exercises, insight challenges, a presentation, Web pages, portfolios, or other tangible materials that emerge as learners construct their understanding of the required subject matter".

Even synchronous teaching using tools such as web conferencing requires careful thought and planning, with an emphasis placed on involving students in activities that will orientate them to the technology and support them to interact with each other. Strategies include making full use of white boards, quizzes and 'games' to encourage participation - ideas for using Elluminate can be found from Jo Hart and Sue Waters.

Initiating a sense of community
What ever learning theory and methodology you subscribe to, it appears that students in the online environment learn more effectively when there is interpersonal interaction, sharing and a sense of community. Klemm also talks about cooperative learning that brings the students together to support and learn from each other.
"Cooperative learning requires a group of learners operating as a team to help each other learn. Paradoxically, though seldom used in E-learning, cooperative learning works better on-line than it does in face-to-face classrooms. The reasons include: 1) All students can find the time to do their share of the work. No longer do they have the excuse of conflicting work or study schedules; 2) Thinking is more focused and clear because everything is done in writing; 3) Everybody is more accountable. Everyone sees what everyone else is doing (and not doing); 4) All inputs are organized and archived for later review and update" (2005).

McElrath and McDowell suggest that a sense of community can be fostered by using three steps, first suggested by Ruth Brown (2001, cited by McElrath & McDowell, 2008):
  • making friends
  • community conferment
  • development of “camaraderie”
It is important that this is done as soon as possible after commencement of the course to reduce likelihood of drop-out (Berge & Huang, 2004). From a practical point of view, this means the teacher needs to capture the students' interest from the beginning; orientate the students to the course and the technology; role model by using personal examples; provide opportunities for students to share ideas, resources etc, and listen to students' feedback (McElrath & McDowell, 2008).

Growing a learning network
Beer and Jones (2008) suggest the best way for students to grow learning networks is to move courses out of the LMS, and instead encourage students to develop a personal learning environment (PLE). The PLE overcomes the restrictions that LMS put on the learning experience by allowing students to take control of their learning as opposed to it being dictated by the teacher and LMS functionality. The PLE allows networking with the wider professional community and provides ongoing support and learning after students have finished their formal course (Beer & Jones, 2008). For further information about the concept of the PLE and the tools that may make up a PLE, have a look at this slideshow by AJ Cann called "What the heck is a PLE and why would I want one?".

Cognitive overload
Whilst an aim of a course may be to encourage students to utilize a variety of technologies to develop a PLE, it is important to avoid cognitive overload which has been shown to cause high attrition rates, especially for first time students in the online environment (Tyler-Smith, 2006). Overloading students at the beginning of a course with information and material, as well as requiring them to engage with many different pieces of unfamiliar technology may cause students to lose confidence. This in turn affects their ability to learn and ultimately leads to drop-out.

Remembering that students have a life
A lot of the research that looks at students' satisfaction with e-learning concludes that they are motivated by online courses that are flexible in delivery - that fit in with their various life commitments, give them geographical freedom and allows them access to learning opportunities that would not otherwise be available to them (Jain & Ngoh, 2003). A flexible approach to teaching and learning will involve thinking outside the square and being creative when it comes to communication, delivering material and designing assessments. And the teacher has to be especially mindful that students have other life pressures on their time and resources which impact on their learning and academic performance. Therefore, it is really important to make sure content, tools and assignments are relevant and appropriate so that students do not feel they are wasting their time, and can see the practical application of what they are doing (Anderson, 2008; McCloughlin & Luca, 2001).

Scaffolding and support
Finally, but by no means least, students will be motivated when they feel they are being well supported by their teacher and education institution. This support may range from help with study skills and digital literacy, to regular formative feedback on their progress through the course and in relation to assignments (Allen, 2003). Scaffolding students through the course is vital (Caplan & Graham, 2008);
  • providing clear information and support at the beginning of the course, especially if unfamiliar technology is being used
  • keeping in touch with the student whilst she is working her way through the course, especially when she faces issues that have the potential to impede her learning
  • making use of a range of communication tools as the student becomes familiar with online tools eg text reminders of online meetings and assignment due dates
  • creating opportunities for problem-solving as individuals and as a group or community
  • create activities and opportunities for reflection and community dialogue
  • building assessments in a way that supports students to grow and learn, and receive feedback as they work their way through the course (Wilson, 2004).
This post was written as part of course requirements (which is why some of you may find it rather boring). Is there any comments and feedback you would like to give on any of the topics I have raised here? What are your experiences as a teacher or learner with regard to motivation and e-learning? What works for you and what doesn't?

Allen, M. (2003). Michael Allen's Guide to E-Learning. Hoboken:Wiley. Retrieved 3 December, 2008, from,M1

Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an online learning context. In T. Anderson (Ed.), The theory and practice of online learning (pp 245-263). Athabasca: Athabasca University Press. Retrieved 18 November, 2008, from

Beer, C., Jones, D. (2008). Learning networks: harnessing the power of online communities for discipline and lifelong learning. In D. Orr, P.A. Danaher, G. Danaher & R.E. Harreveld (Eds.), Lifelong Learning: reflecting on successes and framing futures. Keynote and refereed papers from the 5th International Lifelong Learning Conference (pp. 66-71). Rockhampton: Central Queensland University Press. Retrieved 1 December, 2008, from

Berge, Z., & Huang, Y. (2004). A Model for Sustainable Student Retention: A Holistic Perspective on the Student Dropout Problem with Special Attention to e-Learning. DEOSNEWS, 13, 5. Retrieved 2 December, 2008, from

Caplan, D., & Graham, R. (2008). The development of online courses. In T. Anderson (Ed.), The theory and practice of online learning (pp 245-263). Athabasca: Athabasca University Press. Retrieved 18 November, 2008, from

Klemm, W. R. (2005). Interactive E-learning - Why Can’t We Get Beyond Bulletin Boards? Educational Technology & Society, 8, 3, 1-5. Retrieved 30 November, 2008, from
Jain, K., & Ngoh, L. (2003). Motivating Factors in E-learning – A Case Study of UNITAR. Student Affairs Online, 4, 1.

McCloughlin, C. & Luca, J. (2001). Quality in online delivery: what does it mean for assessment in e-learning environments? Retrieved 3 December, 2008, from

McElrath, E., & McDowell, K. (2008). Pedagogical Strategies for Building Community in Graduate Level Distance Education Courses. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 4,1. Retrieved 30 November, 2008, from

Tyler-Smith, K. (2006). Early Attrition among First Time eLearners: A Review of Factors that Contribute to Drop-out, Withdrawal and Non-completion Rates of Adult Learners undertaking eLearning Programmes. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 2, 2. Retrieved 2 December, 2008, from

Wilson, C. (2004). Learning about e-learning. Retrieved 3 December, 2008, from Retrieved 2 December, 2008, from

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Compliant students?

By hook or by crook I am determined to introduce my third year students to one networking tool that will stand them in good stead for their studies and ongoing development as new graduate midwives. So I made them join Delicious with the view that it is a tool that will help them with their academic assignments in the research course that I coordinate. So the allusion to compliance in the title of this post comes because I gave them no choice about joining this particular network!

The question is...will they use Delicious; how will they use it; and what will they think of it?

Research project
So my plan is to carry out a very small audit project and review the students' use of Delicious and ask them what they think of it in six months time when their course comes to an end.

On Monday I carried out a session with the students and asked them all to set up a Delicious account. I also set up an account called 'MidwiferyResearch' which will be the account that I feed resources into for the whole class. The only thing I didn't get around to showing them was how to share resources to other people in their network. And I am not sure they realize how they can see all the bookmarks saved by their network. I plan to rectify this by showing them this screencast.

48 hours later
So, 48 hours after I ran the Delicious workshop, here are a couple of facts that I will review in six months time to see how the students have used their accounts:
  • All of the students have networked to each other bar one student (and I haven't looked to see if it is a specific person)
  • Eight of the 13 students have networked with the course account
  • The number of bookmarks saved by the students linked to the course account range from 1 - 12. The average number of bookmarks saved by those students is 6.5
  • The most popular tags are: midwifery and guidelines
  • The course account has 14 bookmarks saved with 8 tags. The most bookmarks saved are tagged: guidelines, nzmidwifery and presentation. As I am the account manager, I am saving the bookmarks that I think will be most helpful and interesting to the students which will be pertaining to research, midwifery practice and academic study.
Is there anything else you think I could include into my analysis? Do you think it would be a good idea to run a very quick survey to ask them what their experience of social bookmarking is up to now? Have you used Delicious either as a teacher or student? If so, how has it gone?

Image: 'alpine strawberry' van swearingen

Advice needed on how an organisation can form a network using web 2.0 technology

I have been asked by an organization for ideas on how to develop a network between themselves and other organizations who are interested in the same issues. And I wondered what your advice would be.

The organization is a non-government organization(NGO) made up of members who provide health care and accommodation services to the community. The NGO is particularly interested in how it can provide education and professional development opportunities to its members. It is also very concerned about recruitment and retention, and is keen to investigate ways of supporting staff. And it is very keen to communicate and collaborate with other organizations who are looking at the same employment issues, not just in health.

Where to from here?
The NGO would like ideas on how it can utilize social networking technology and networked learning to reach out to organizations and individuals who are interested in similar issues. It has a traditional website and uses Elluminate to deliver education packages.

Initial ideas
Here are some of my initial ideas:
  1. Contact and network with people who are 'experts' in social networking in the NGO context such as Beth Kanter. Network with them, see what they say and seek their advice. For example, Beth has a great blog called 'Beth's Blog: How nonprofits can use social media'. In it she talks about issues facing NGOs, develops strategies and shares links and resources.
  2. Also, contact and follow people who specialize in workplace learning, life-long learning and professional development such as Michele Martin and Tony Karrer. Their blogs are hugely rich in ideas and resources. They are also founders of the Work Literacy project which aims to support "individuals, companies and organizations who are interested in learning, defining, mentoring, teaching and consulting on the frameworks, skills, methods and tools of modern knowledge work."
  3. Become familiar with the technology that is available, and think about how it could be utilized to communicate, collaborate and share. Going back to Beth, she uses Slideshare to publish and share her presentations such as this one: Nonprofits, healthcare and social media.
  4. Don't waste time looking at media and technology that costs - make it a rule to only utilize 'free stuff'.
  5. Make use of free learning events and opportunities that will help educate everyone on how to use technology. For example, for information about the ins and outs of blogging, I would recommend the 31 Day Bogging Challenge and 31 Day Comment Challenge.
  6. And don't forget that YouTube provides thousands of instructional videos that gives information on how to use particular tools and resources. Here is a video on how to make baked lemon cheesecake which I know has nothing to do with social media, but I think it illustrates really nicely how YouTube can be used to teach and share collaboratively.
  7. Start to incorporate social media into everyday working life. For example, for collaborative projects that requires the development of a document, use Google docs instead of sending emails back and forth. Another suggestion would to be to use a social bookmarking web site such as Delicious to share resources, which is particularly useful if working on a collaborative project.
  8. Start to build a network by 'getting out there' and sharing ideas and resources. Start to build a reputation for sharing and collaborative work, and then people will ask to connect with you. This may involve starting an organization blog or wiki. But at the same time, be mindful that it can take time and effort to develop a meaningful network.
Over to you
What other tips would you pass on? What has worked well for you and what hasn't worked at all? Is there any difference in how an organization would approach networking to an individual?

Image: 'Meeting Table' mnadi

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Reflection on Practice: forming a community of practice

The postgraduate course 'Reflection on Practice' ended a couple of weeks ago, and I have still to record my impressions, student evaluations or plans for the future - I will come to it in the next few days.

However, in the meantime, here is an Animoto video showing the blogs, wikis and ePortfolios that the students have started as a rather unexpected (on my part) outcome of the course.

New community of practice
The other outcome is the forming of a group blog that the students are planning will be the hub of a community of practice that they have formed: New Zealand Midwives Practicing Reflection. This community of practice will be considering the part that reflection plays in midwifery, and exploring ePortfolios for use by midwives.

Do pop along to the blog and give them your feedback.

Some thoughts on evidence based midwifery

I know the' talking head' is a little boring, but couldn't resist the opportunity to test the camera of my new Ausus eee PC.

This video will be a resource for midwifery students thinking about the value of research in their practice.

How do you feel about what I've said - any thoughts or comments?

Facebook vs MySpace vs Second Life

Just love this video about the social networking wars. Thanks to Rachel Boyd for the link.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Blogging and research

This week I went to a local conference: Spotlight on Territory Teaching and and Learning, and there I met the team from Ako Aotearoa, which is a body that funds research into teaching and learning. I have a couple of ideas about projects and hope to apply for funding, so my next step is to start formulating a more structured plan about what I want to do.

Blogging my ideas
My natural inclination is to start blogging about my ideas because the blogging process will help me get things straight in my head; generate a record of my processes for my ePortfolio and hopefully attract feedback and peer review that will improve my ideas (and thus increase my chances of a successful application). As Alexandre Enkerli says in his blog post Blogging Academe, hashing out ideas on a blog allows you to access perspectives outside your immediate disciple. This is particularly important because I want to carry out projects that are transferable from midwifery to other health disciplines.

Research competition
The problem with openly blogging about research ideas before you have the funding is the danger that someone else may steal your ideas, and go into competition against you. However, Hugh McGuire believes that blogging about your research 'protects' your ideas - after all, blogging is publishing, even if it is self-publishing as opposed to journal publishing. Once your ideas are published, you have the evidence of your blog and your readers to verify where and how your ideas developed.

Naive or ground-breaking?
I am not 100% sold on this - I know how academia works when it comes to research, funding and outputs. Academics' jobs and careers depend on the funding they receive for research so people are very protective of their research and ideas. At the same time, attitudes and practices are not going to change if people do not take a stand and show the way.

Ideas for research
The two ideas I have that I would like to develop are:
  1. the program of free online seminars that I have been providing for midwives. This program merits further development and evaluation;
  2. support of midwives in developing their ePortfolios using freely available platforms as opposed to propitiatory software. At the moment there is a lot of interest in ePortfolios for midwives, but nothing concrete has been put in place. I would like to evaluate how feasible it is for midwives, and any health professional, to develop their ePortoflio in an open format such as a blog or wiki.
There are my two ideas - what I need to do now is frame them up so they fit the criteria for Ako Aotearoa funding. The main snag I can see for both ideas is that they involve health professionals, not students. To fit the funding criteria, I would probably have to adapt the ideas to students, undergraduate or postgraduate, and I'm not too sure that is really what I would want to do - it is professional development/life-long learning/vocational learning that I am especially interested in.

Any thoughts about this issue?

Image: 'Exploring an idea' JJay

CCK08: Networks and Midwifery

I've talked before about the concerns of colleagues who are afraid that by being online teachers they will lose the ability to have those serendipitous moments that happen face-to-face, which lead to the 'aha' moment. I have argued that connecting with people increases opportunities for serendipitous communication and learning - that is the power of connectivism.

I hope you'll forgive me if I keep documenting the stories of how this happens to me, even if they are only 'little things'. I am hoping to show by practical examples what is possible to achieve when you have a developed network.

What to do with my research students?
I teach evidence-based practice to third year midwifery students. We have one face-to-face class, and then they scatter across the country on long clinical placements, and we have no further face-to-face interaction or content delivery until six months later when they are back in class. Then they are expected to present a poster which looks at a clinical issue and the evidence about its management. I ask that they send in an abstract beforehand so I can see they are on the right track with the development of their ideas.

In the meantime, the students are out on placement and are extremely busy with clinical practice, and have limited access to the Internet.

Thinking about being a midwife
My theme next year is going to be how students can develop good practice that will carry on into their lives as midwives in 2010. In other words, not only do I want them to produce excellent posters that meet assessment criteria but more importantly, I want them to start developing ways of finding information, critiquing it and integrating it into practice that will be sustainable when they are midwives.

They need to think about how they can find information when they no longer have access to resources that are available to them as students. For example, as students they have access to the institution's Cochrane database. They need to know that the following year when they no longer have that access, they can use the free Cochrane database provided by the New Zealand Ministry of Health.

Making connections
My other objective for the course is get the students thinking about how they are going to develop and maintain their own network, which is going to inform and support their ongoing learning and professional development as midwives.

There will be no point in introducing heaps of tools because the students will have minimal access to the Internet. But I do want to introduce them to one tool that will support them in their research for their assignment, and show them the power of networking. It must be a tool that they can contiue to use when they are midwives. I have been collecting online resources on BlackBoard for some time, but students will not be able to access them when they leave the course, and the resources are not available to the wider midwifery community because they are locked up in a closed system.

I immediately thought about Delicious because it is a fantastic tool for noting web resources and sharing information. But the fact that you have to download it onto your computer before you can use the 'tag' facility has put me right off. Students will be using Internet cafes and hospital computers, so will be unable to do that. I also thought of a class blog or wiki, but to be honest, decided that it would be unlikely that they would engage with that, especially as there are no marks attached. They have a class Facebook/Bebo account, so why would they use yet another technology?

Power of technology
I put out a call on Twitter asking for suggestions, and Stephan immediately replied with his suggestion for Delicious. We continued our conversation on Gtalk and I explained my reservations about Delicious. Stephan described another way of managing tagging, but I couldn't get my head around what he was saying. So he showed me on his computer using his free Elluminate Vroom and desk top sharing. And by the end of the evening I had a Delicious account set up called MidwiferyResearch, which I am confident will become a really useful resource for any midwife and student.

Power of my network
At this point I should say that Stephan lives in Australia and we don't know each other from Adam, apart from our conversations on Twitter. Yet he was kind enough to take 20 minutes of his time to show me something that will have a significant impact on my teaching practice - so, thanks for that, Stephan.

I have to be honest and admit it has taken over a year to develop my network using this blog and Twitter, and I do spend time working on it, not unlike growing a garden. But the value in terms of learning and support is unmeasurable.

What stories do you have about little serendipitous moments you've had with your network? What advice would you pass on to my students about growing a network that will sustain their lives as health professionals?

Image: 'Girasoles para los amigos / Sunflowers+for+the+friends' Claudio.Ar - Hermes - Out until Nov 26th

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sustainable Christmas

I just looooovvvvveeee Christmas lights! I would be one of those mad people who have lights all over the house and enter competitions. But my hubby won't let me - he says we can't afford the electricity bill.

Solar lights
In a bid to be environmentally friendly and do my bit for a sustainable Christmas, I bought some solar lights that you plant in the garden. But hubby won't let me put them in the garden because of the danger of them being nicked. So I've got a lovely pile of boxes in my hall way.

I've had my eye on solar fairy lights for some time but they have been extremely hard to come by, and very expensive. But today, I found them for sale in a big local department store and bought a box of 139 lights.

The beauty of these is that I can string them high up on the roof to prevent them getting stolen - or at least, I can get hubby to climb a very tall ladder and string them high on the roof!

So now I'm happy - I can have as many pretty flickering Christmas lights as I like strung about the house without worrying about melting the Arctic ice cap. All I want now is someone to invent one of those big Father Christmas arrangements out of solar lights. If you know where I can get something like it, please let me know.

Monday, November 17, 2008

CCK08: Assessment and Networked Learning

I am feeling a tad uncomfortable with the assessment I chose for the online 'Reflection on Practice' course I have been running.

I asked students to write at least two comments on the blog course, dealing with the issues that were being discussed - I asked that the comments be 'meaningful'; demonstrate a critical review of information presented; demonstrate reference to appropriate literature, and demonstrate reference to midwifery practice experience. The assignment was to be completed by the end of the course, which was seven weeks long.

The reason I attached assessment to the comments was to ensure that the students communicated with each other and got some sort of critical dialogue going. It has been my experience in the past that motivating students to engage with each other with computer-mediated communication is difficult, especially in a learning management system such as BlackBoard.

Feeling uncomfortable
The reason I am feeling uncomfortable is that I am not at all sure that assessing blog comments is actually achieving anything - does 'forcing' students to comment facilitate learning? Will they write meaningful posts or just the 'bare minimum' in order to pass the assessment? How do you assess someone else's reflections? What makes it a good reflection, or not, as the case may be? If reflection is all about personal learning, what right have I to come along and put a mark to it?

On the other hand, if the students do not communicate with each other and start the networking process, the course will be extremely dry and flat. Indeed, one criticism of connectivism is that it favors self-directed learners (Stack, 2008), so people who need more structure and guidance are less likely to engage without some sort of carrot and stick.

Assessing e-learning
Clearly there will always students who recognise the value of networking and participation for their learning, but a number will only take part in activities if they are aligned to assessment - I know this - I've done it myself. No doubt there are a number of reasons for this, not least time constraints, prioritizing with other assessments, and lack of interest in the content.

Assessing online activity is difficult because of uneven rates of engagement of students (Goodfellow, 2001 cited by MacDonald, 2002) . And then there are the lurkers, the people who not participate - how do you 'measure' their learning? Just because they do not participate doesn't mean they are not learning (MacDonald et al, 2003).

So what is the best way of going about assessing online activity and learning? Helcat (2008) writes "we must spend some time rethinking assessment in order to create assessment centered classrooms that foster learning rather than simply measure it".

Designing assessment
There appears to be a lot of agreement that assessment needs to be integrated into an online course, especially formative assessment because that produces valuable feedback for students as they progress through the course (Caplan & Graham, 2008). Feedback not only gives students an idea of how they're doing, but it also acts as motivation to keep going (MacDonald, 2002). At the same time, teachers need to get a balance between being driven to give instantaneous feedback to students and setting realistic time frames so they have a life of their own (Anderson, 2008).

Assessment should also be congruent with the activity it is based around. It's no good me setting an assessment that involves demonstrating how to deliver a breech baby, when I have been teaching shoulder dystocia (MacDonald, 2002). However, networked learning can be chaotic and distributed, so the learner may not have learned what I think she should learn. Nevertheless, it is valuable learning for her because it meets her own particular needs. Jenny Mackness makes a similar point in her blog post 'Intervention in students' learning'. In this instance it would pay to be flexible in one's approach to assessment in order to capture that 'distracted' learning. And it may be more appropriate to use a reflective assessment framework as opposed to a more rigid assessment criteria (Anderson, 2008).

Assessment of networked learning should be done carried out in a way that reflects the way that knowledge is produced. By that I mean that assignments should encourage student participation (McCloughlin & Luca, 2001). MacDonald (2002) advises

If students are to be given greater autonomy in their networked study, then assignments which encourage greater student participation may help them to develop a self directed approach. Networks can be employed to deliver enhanced versions of innovative assignments used in face to face situations. For example, electronic scrapbooks, online peer review and iterative assignment development.

Helcat (2008) suggests using a range of tools and strategies from researching and writing collaborative reports in Google documents and wikis, to reflecting in blogs, discussing in Ning and evaluating resources in social bookmarking sites such as Delicious. And then all the artifacts generated during this learning and assessment can be deposited in an ePortfolio.

Assessment rubrics
Requiring students to participate by commenting for course marks appears to be common practice. But if you are going to use that strategy, you have to be clear to students what exactly is required and how it is to be presented. A number of rubrics have been developed over the years (Anderson, 2008). I think it is really important to know what you are aiming to achieve when you develop a marking rubric. Is it just participation you are wanting which may mean anything from a supportive statement from one student to another or exchange of resources, or do you want specific reflective statements or critical examination of evidence/literature.

If you are wanting to see assessment of online learning and get some ideas, have a look a few open courses that are currently running:

If you are a teacher using online courses, what assessment strategies work for you? What assessment rubrics or criteria do you use? If you are a student, how do you feel about assessment? What works for you?


Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an online learning context. In T. Anderson (Ed.), The theory and practice of online learning. (pp 245-263). Athabasca: Athabasca University Press. Retrieved 18 November, 2008, from

Caplan, D. & Graham, R. (2008). The development in online courses. In T. Anderson (Ed.), The theory and practice of online learning. (pp 245-263). Athabasca: Athabasca University Press. Retrieved 18 November, 2008, from

MacDoanld, J. (2002). Developing competent e-learners: the role of assessment.
Learning Communities and Assessment Cultures Conference, University of Northumbria, 28-30 August 2002. Retrieved 18 November, 2008, from

MacDonald, J., Atkin W., Daugherity F., Fox, H., MacGillivray, A., Reeves- Lipscomb, D., Uthailertaroon, P. (2003) Let's get more positive about the term 'lurker', CPsquare Foundations of Communities of Practice. Retrieved 18 November, 2008, from

McCloughlin, C. & Luca, J. (2001). Quality in online delivery: what does it mean for assessment in e-learning environments? Retrieved 18 November, 2008, from

Helcat. (2008). Rethinking assessment. Retrieved 17 November, 2008, from

Stack, R. (2008). Curriculum as Connectivism. Retrieved 17 November, 2008, from

Image: 'Nathan Setting The Tone For The Exam' rileyroxx

CCK08: Power to the people?

Many years ago I used to watch a pretty hopeless TV comedy called 'Citizen Smith' in which in Robert Lindsay played 'Wolfie' Smith, whose catch phrase was 'power to the people'. And I think that should be the catch phrase for connectivism.

Attributes of connectivism
Steven Downes (2008) in his post 'Networks, Power and Ethics' lists autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness as attributes of a good network. Indeed, to me, connectivism is all about being able to identify one's own learning needs and use one's network to meet those needs. In other words, I am a fully autonomous learner (Michele Martin (2008) Liveblogging Stephen Downes on PLEs at Brandon Hal).

Connectivism and power
So if connectivism is going to work for education, as a teacher I have to forget the traditional teacher position ie "I am the teacher so therefore you must do as I say", and take a collaborative approach to teaching and learning (Grant Casey (2008) Wk 8 Power, Control and Authority.) In a previous post I have talked about my role of steward, curator, guide and so on, and none of these roles take an authoritative stance over students.

Connectivism and curriculum
But does this really work in an educational setting? Can connectivism really balance out power and authority relationships between teachers and students?

Stephen Downes generated considerable discussion in the connectivism course when he subscribed all of us students to the discussion forums in the course Moodle. Very quickly I got sick of all the emails and unsubscribed myself from the forums. I had previously made a conscious decision to follow the course via blogs as opposed to the Moodle forums, so I wasn't pleased that the 'teacher' overrode this choice. But ultimately it didn't matter because I am an informal student in the course and can do whatever I like.

What this exercise did bring home to me was that I do exactly what Stephen did. I 'force' students to take part in forums by making their contributions to be part of the assessments. The rationale is that if I do not do this, then students will not take part in discussions. And if they do not take part in discussions, how will I know that they are learning? And how will I know they are meeting curriculum learning outcomes?

Where to from here?
There are some things I currently have to live with, curriculum and learning outcomes being two of these things. And encouraging student participation is another challenge that I suspect will always be with me, especially in view of the 1% Rule which suggests only 1% of people actually participate with online activities.

I don't think there can ever be an equal power relationship between students and teacher, while teachers have the ability to 'pass' or 'fail' the student. But as Mike Bogle (2008) says in his post Question Authority I can help students to recognise that "the world around them is filled with learning opportunities and networks that need only be seen and embraced" and support them to develop their own networks and personal learning environments. In that way, I will be supporting autonomous learning and encouraging students to take full responsibility for their own learning.

Dedicated to everyone still hanging in with the connectivism course

Sunday, November 16, 2008

CCK08: How connectivism changes my teaching practice

Over the last few weeks I have been running a short postgraduate course for midwives looking at reflective practice and ePortfolios. I have been focusing a lot of my energies on thinking about tools and technologies, and how I can encourage the students to interact with them. But have I been looking in the wrong direction? Should I not have been looking at myself, as a teacher, and my role in relation to connectivism?

Not just content
The first thing that has struck me is that teaching isn't just about providing content, but facilitating the means for students to connect with each other so they can learn from the content together. D'arcy Norman (2008), in his post 'Content is not enough' says

"Content is the least important part of education. What is far more important is what takes place between and among the students. The activities of the community of learners. What they actually DO with the content and with each other.

Great content IS important, but only if there is also a functioning and active community working together to learn, create and share. Otherwise, all that takes place is content dissemination. And that’s not education..."

So how do I encourage, facilitate or support the formation of a community of learners amongst my students? If knowledge is in the network, how do I work with the network in my role of a 'teacher'?

Being a networked teacher
I think it is time for me to review how I 'teach' and how I am as a 'teacher'.

I have been thinking for some time about my role and it has been interesting to chart my thoughts about this over the last year. Last November I was questioning how open I am with students, feeling a huge degree of reluctance to reveal myself as a person as opposed to a 'professional' teacher. I came to the conclusion that I need to be more willing to share who I am in order to break down some of the teacher/student barriers. Bit I continued to recognize that there was a tension in this at times because the issue of power does not go away very easily.

In January this year I was asking myself if I was a web 2.0 teacher, but at this point I was focusing very much on the online technologies. But just because I have a blog and Delicious account doesn't mean I am an effective teacher.

So maybe I need to get away from the idea of being a teacher who 'teaches'.

Teacher as steward
One way to align the use of technology with networking and learning is in the role of technology steward as defined by Nancy White (2008) in her presentation 'Stewarding technologies for communities' and blog post ' Definition of a community technology steward'. Nancy says that a technology steward is a person

"with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs. Stewardship typically includes selecting and configuring technology, as well as supporting its use in the practice of the community."

With so many of my students having minimal knowledge of how to network and with what tools, I feel it is vital for me to recognize what technology is appropriate, and lead and support the students as they identify what tools they require for effective networked learning.

Teacher as curator
Over a year ago I heard George Siemens (2008) talk about the teacher as curator. He says in his paper
"Learning and Knowing in Networks: Changing roles for Educators and Designers".

"a curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map. A curator is an expert learner. Instead of
dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and
connected. While curators understand their field very well, they don't adhere to traditional inclass teacher‐centric power structures. A curator balances the freedom of individual learners with the thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored. While learners are free to explore, they encounter displays, concepts, and artifacts representative of the discipline. Their freedom to explore is unbounded. But when they engage with subject matter, the key concepts of a discipline are transparently reflected through the curatorial actions of the teacher."

I have to admit that when I first heard George present this idea of the teacher being a curator, I didn't fully understand the concept - I had images of rarefied museums where visitors were kept well away from the exhibits. Even now, I'm not 100% sure I fully grasp the concept because I think there are times when students need very strong guidance and direction as opposed to being left to freely wonder around. And I struggle with the tension between facilitating fully autonomous learning and trying to adhere to learning outcomes, timetables, program rules and curriculum, not unlike Dean Shareski (2008) in his blog post "I'm sure I'm doing it wrong" and Sarah Horrigan "Learning outcomes and random musings....". Nevertheless, I totally agree that part of my role is to provide access to learning resources, support students' networks and support students as they critique the resources.

Teacher as jack of all trades?
What I am rapidly beginning to think is that we cannot truly label what a connected teacher does or is because I think teaching is a constantly evolving role depending on any given context at any given time. What a teacher does need to be able to do is quickly adapt to her rapidly changing environment:

  • "Content and course materials are no longer necessarily something to be owned and hoarded, but freely and openly shared;
  • Curricula is no longer centrally organised and dictated, but instead contextually interpreted and adapted;
  • Enrollment is no longer controlled, but instead open to all ages, levels of experience or existing knowledge, and geographical regions;
  • Information no longer flows one-directionally from an expert to a novice, but is instead discussed, interpreted and negotiated by a network of its participants…"
Mike Bogle (2008) The Role of the Educator and Institution in a Changing Educational Landscape.

So are we actually jack of all trades? Wendy DG (2008) in CCK08-Who is Teacher in a Connectivist Framework?' talks about the teacher as being a "modeler, network administrator, curator, concierge, community leader, technology steward, information filter, Sherpa, researcher, change agent, learning entrepreneur, and evaluator". Whilst Maru del Campo (2008) in Formal CCK08 2nd paper. Shorter version. suggests a teacher should be a lurer - luring students to learning.

What I feel confident about is that while I may be a 'jack of all trades', it doesn't matter if I am a 'master of none', because I will surely find that 'master' somewhere in my network, and be able to direct my students to the 'master'.

Teacher as learner
The other facet of my role as a connected teacher is of learner. And along with Elizabeth DG (2008), I am "open minded, confident, ready to experiment, and prepared to learn from my mistakes".

Image: 'When it all blows over' davebluedevil

A change of scene

I'm going to take the plunge and change the template of this blog because it's looked like this a while and I'm bored with it. Plus, the poll I ran the other week agreed that it was time for change.

So I am needing a few recommendations:
  • I want a template that allows me to have tabs at the top of the page, like Leigh does with his blog.
  • I only want two columns
  • I would like a template that allows me to utilize the whole screen, like my current blog.
  • The whole process of changing templates has to be fairly easy because I have no experience or understanding of html.
And finally, the template must not be too fussy - I'm not into flowers, love hearts or any other such things - plain and simple, that's me!

So if you have any suggestions, please let me know.

Image: 'Time For Change' David Reece

Yet more fun with cartoons and Pixton

Here's another fun cartoon program from Pixton that can enhance teaching resources.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The safety of birth

A number of presentations that were given at the 'Safety of birth' conference in October have been made available in pdf form. Go to the conference web site for topics that range from evidence about place of birth to information about management of emergencies.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Playing with ToonDoo

Instead of doing something really useful like updating my ePortfolio or cutting the lawn, I've been playing with ToonDoo which is a fabulous program for making cartoons. It's great fun to use, both as a serious teaching aid or activity for the kids.

I'm just scratching my head to think how I would use it in a teaching session for student midwives. Any ideas?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reflections on the first year of online seminars for midwives

As we rapidly approach the end of 2008, I thought it would be a good time to reflect back on the program of free online seminars I have been offering midwives this year.

What inspired the program
The idea came about as a response to the free online seminars that MIDIRS offers in the UK. The problem for us in the southern hemisphere is that the time zones never match, although you can access the seminar recordings at any time. So I thought it would be good to offer a similar program for us, focusing on midwives in New Zealand and Australia.

I also hoped the program would support the midwives who were not able to physically go to the ICM conference back in May, that was held in Glasgow, especially the midwives in developing countries like Pakistan who could not afford to go. I had hoped that people who presented in Glasgow would replicate their presentations online for the benefit of those of us who could not go to the conference. This hasn't happened, and I think that is because there is still a lack of understanding and interest in online education and professional development. I also wonder if there is a concern about the 'academic value' of online presentations compared to face-to-face conferences - do online presentations have the same credibility and gain the same academic 'brownie points' as face-to-face presentations? What do you think?

I decided to use Elluminate as I have access to it via my employer, Otago Polytechnic. However, the program is my own individual responsibility, and not necessarily endorsed by the Otago Polytechnic School of Midwifery.

There may come a time when I utilise a different conferencing platform such as WiZiQ or DimDim, but for the time being I'll stick with Elluminate because it can be used fairly easily by people with dial-up Internet access. I am looking for feedback on WiZiQ - have you used it and if so, how did you find it?

The speakers were mostly colleagues whose arms I was able to twist. I deliberately chose more clinically focused subjects because experience has shown me that this is what interests midwives, as opposed to more theoretical subjects. I found during the year that there was a lot of interest in being a speaker, but it was difficult to pin people down to actually doing it.

So if you'd like to present a session next year, please let me know. You can present a specific clinical topic, or a more general topic that will not only be of interest to midwives, but also women and health consumers interested in pregnancy and childbirth.

We had a total of five seminars all together looking at subjects ranging from midwifery in Pakistan to breastfeeding. I have recorded all the meetings and archived them on the wiki I have been using to manage the program. The last two seminars planned for October and November had to be canceled for various reasons.

The first session was attended by one person other than immediate colleagues. And the final session was attended by 16 people. This does not sound like a large audience, but it has been very encouraging to see a steady growth of numbers. I was also very interested to see that a good number of non-midwives have attended. I love the idea of joint sessions between midwives and health consumers. To me, this is real partnership, and I believe this will lead to collaborations and synergies that may not otherwise happen. I have had attendees from New Zealand, Canada, UK, Pakistan and Australia. I have also had a number of private emails from people, mostly health consumers, wanting to go on a 'mailing list' and be notified about future presentations.

I have developed a wiki to support this program with the aim that people could use it for information and to volunteer their services. But the impression I have receieved is that people do not really understand how a wiki works. In particular, the speakers have not understood that they can add their own information. This has not been a problem because I have been able to do it for them. But my vision that the wiki will be a collecting point for speakers to volunteer their services, and reduce my work load has not been realized.

Changes for next year
  • Formally evaluate each session so I have concrete data which can be written up and published.
  • Need to work out a way of keeping track of how many people access the recordings.
  • Make the recordings into an audio podcast.
  • Be a lot more organized about how I advertise the sessions. I have regular places I use to advertise such as the midwifery research discussion list and various Facebook groups. But I am not very consistent. And I have had a number of people ask to be notified about sessions. So I think I need to make a simple database with email addresses and contact details which will ensure that everyone who is interested in the sessions gets notified on a regular basis.
  • Have a back up plan if speakers are unable to attend. But at the same time, I think I have to emphasize that a commitment to being a speaker is the same as committing to present at a face-to-face conference. It is very difficult to disseminate the news that a session has been canceled because I have no idea how far afield my advertising has gone.
  • Work on helping people to understand how they can use the wiki.
Future plans
I am very pleased with how this 'experiment' has gone this year, and look forward to developing a full program for 2009. I believe there is a huge need for online synchronous events to happen, both in midwifery and health generally. And I think we shouldn't be afraid to open up to health consumers as well as other health professionals. For example, I would dearly like to replicate the very positive experience I had at the aged and community care conference I attended last week in an online environment.

My big plan for next year? Well, I would like to organize a 24 hour online event for midwives and health professionals so that whatever time zone you are in, you will have the opportunity to attend at least one event. So if you have any ideas, or would like to work with me to organize this, please let me know.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My nominations for the 2008 Edublog Awards

It's time to make nominations for the 2008 Edublog Awards. These awards are made to educators who use blogs and technology in their teaching practice. Last year I hadn't been blogging long enough to have a sense of who or what was what. But this year, I would like to make the following nominations:

Best individual blog
Leigh Blackall: Learn Online
I don't always understand what Leigh says or agree with it, but he regularly challenges and stretches me to see outside and beyond my boundaries.

Best group blog
Sarah, Angela and others: Salford University Occupational Therapy Education Blog
These occupational therapist educators are fairly new to blogging and have just set up an online Masters' degree in occupational therapy. They are blazing the trial in the use of technology in health education, and have been very supportive of me in my personal efforts.

Best new blog
Carolyn McIntosh: Fled: Flexible learning education design
In this blog, Carolyn discusses issues in relation to midwifery education.

Best resource sharing blog
Sue Waters: Mobile Technology in TAFE
Sue is always so incredibly generous in giving her time, being supportive and sharing her resources.

Most influential blog post
Michele Martin: Becoming a More Reflective Individual Practitioner
This post is sums up what reflective practice is all about. I use it extensively as a resource for students.

Best teacher blog
Alan Cann: Science of the Invisible
I love the way that Alan write things that are always of interest or relevance to my situation, and the way he honestly shares his experiences as a teacher in a way that I learn from.

Best educational tech support blog
Rudd Lucier: The Clever Sheep
I regularly get ideas from Rodd on how I can use technology in my teaching and learning.

Best elearning / corporate education blog
Tony Karrer: eLearning Technology
Am really enjoying his current work on work place literacy and learning.

Best educational wiki
Sue Waters, Silvia Tolisano, Michele Martin and Kim Cofino: 31 Day Comment Challenge
A great learning activity that was started in May this year.

Best educational use of a virtual world
Has to be Jo Kay:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Web 2.0, social networking and practice

I have just got back from Surfer's Paradise where I attended the 2008 Community Care Conference sponsored by Aged Care Queensland.

The presentation I gave was about how social networking could be used as a means to support staff in the workplace, which will hopefully have a flow-on effect in terms of improving recruitment and retention.

How it went
I have to say I was extremely nervous when I stepped up on the stage because it was the biggest audience I have ever talked to (160 people). Following the last conference presentation I gave, I made sure that I had practiced thoroughly beforehand, but that did not stop me feeling like I had dried up, and forgetting half the things I wanted to say. I had notes with me, but forgot to look at them to remind myself what I was going to say. At the same time, I think it is really important not to rely on notes because that makes it so much harder to connect with the audience, as well as very boring for the audience to listen to.

Using humor
Inadvertently, I made the audience laugh half way through the talk and that helped me relax, and then I felt things went much better. I do deliberately try to crack a few jokes right at the beginning of a talk as a strategy for warming the audience and calming my nerves, but I was too nervous to even do that this time. So I am extremely grateful for the audience's sense of humor which I feel rescued me - what made them laugh was a comment I made about the high cost of Internet access in the hotel.

I think it went alright. I didn't have any questions from the audience, which always worries me - I like questions because it means that the audience is thinking about what you say. Does a lack of questions after a presentation mean that the audience didn't like what you said, or does it mean that they are still mulling things over?

Having said that, I'm probably being much too hard on myself. I did have half a dozen people talk to me after wards and they were very complementary, with several people saying I had a very nice presentation style. They were mostly interested in the actual tools I talked about so now I am wondering if I should have spent more time talking about the tools and demonstrating them, as opposed to the more theoretical aspects of social networking.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful (if nerve racking) experience which will only help me consolidate my presentation skills. So a big 'thank you' to Aged Care Queensland for their invitation and sponsorship of my trip.