I am always ambivalent about mandatory interactions (group work and discussions) for courses. I understand the need for them in terms of learning, but as a learner I’ve never enjoyed group work or discussions, so I try to maintain that awareness as an instructor. Certainly, during high pandemic, many students needed to have a form of socialization for mental health and engagement. That, I completely understand. And many people are extroverts who enjoy (and thrive) on socializing, but there are also many people who are introverts preferring to be on their own and work independently. There are a multitude of reasons for such a preference. There are also other considerations such as social anxiety, mental health issues, learning uniqueness(es), personal situations and safety. By safety, I mean depending on the course (environment) and group of students, it is the teacher or facilitator’s job to ensure that students feel safe in group work/environments. There are attitudes, mindsets, and personality differences that can come into play for group work/environments. And often times, we as employers/teachers/facilitators push for these collaborations because we want “work bullies” to change and learn how to “work together” rather than taking the safety of other employees/students into consideration. In my opinion, it is not the job of other employees/students to educate other staff/students. They may choose to do so, and that’s great, if they choose to do so (not because they’re forced to do so because no one else will), but it is not their role. We can write all the codes of conduct we want, but aggressions will still happen, and often times employees/students will not approach an employer/teacher regarding these, in particular, because they are hard to “prove”. This may correspond to what we read regarding cultural and epistemological considerations in Chapter 4 of the text.
My daughter completed her first year of studies at Concordia University. She dropped a course that required 3-4 breakout rooms per class. It was just too much for her as an introvert – and as someone who has social anxiety. She was willing to do 1, maybe 2, breakout rooms per class, but for her, 3-4 per class was too much during a 1.5 hour class that ran twice a week. She dropped it and never looked back because her stomach would be in knots the day of class as she tried to mentally prepare herself for that class. Indeed, people require the skills of working as a team, communication, and so on, but for my daughter, the amount of interaction required was just too much. Further to this, sure, people with anxiety can overcome anxiety by challenging and pushing themselves, but this usually works best when it is at their own pace. I’ve seen my daughter challenge herself and do very well, but at her discretion. There seems to be a push for group (interactive) work during/since the pandemic, and I understand why, but I really don’t recall doing as much group discussion/work as students are required to do today (way) back when I completed my undergrad and Master’s degree. I recall marks being allocated to class participation and discussion, and the occasional group activity, but not as much as I witness my daughter having to partake in today. (Note: I got my daughter’s permission to blog about her personal experience).
Having said that, I enjoyed the readings Building Community in Online Learning Environments and Building Community in Online Courses as both offer a lot of great ideas in building community for online learning. I’m completing an asynchronous online course that I’m really enjoying. In my opinion, it’s set up for very well. Recently, the professor of this course who checks in with us regularly provided individual feedback for our midterm synthesis via video, which was a nice surprise – and very useful. It was personable and warm. As mentioned in Michael Wesch’s video, it “validated and motivated” my work in that particular course because it provided me with great comments/feedback and offered words of encouragement. And as mentioned in the Andrea Harkins Parrish piece (respect/relationships/relevance), I felt like the professor was connecting, building relationship (addressing students directly in the feedback video), while at the same respecting the choice of us registering in an online (asynchronous) course. This is also mentioned by Wesch when he suggests that teachers personalize videos by addressing students by name, it humanizes the online experience, offers connection and warmth.
Currently, my course prototype has a Parlay discussion for asynchronous student to student interaction. The students are required to answer four questions and they must respond to at least two classmate responses. In my course prototype peer feedback, it was suggested that I use a rubric in the discussion so that students are supported in their responses/interactions in the Parlay activity, so I will be integrating that idea into my final prototype so that students are better supported in that space for writing their responses. I may also include an assessment that falls in line with OCL’s intellectual convergence asking students to submit a type of synthesis assignment that demonstrates what they’ve learned from their peers’ responses. However, they’d do this assignment independently, not in “joint construction of some artefact” (Chapter 4 of course text).
I chose to use only one asynchronous student to student interaction for my prototype because it is a blended course; thus, students will have plenty of in-person synchronous class time together, which will entail opportunity (the option) to work together during class time at a computer completing online work. This, I think, falls in line with the Harkins-Parrish piece in that it offers flexible option for online participation because students who enjoy working online (and independently) may do so, but those who may find this part difficult can complete the online work (with others who feel similarly) in the in-person synchronous classes.
As for the teacher and student (T-S) interactions in my course prototype, these will take place during the in-person synchronous classes; however, I enjoyed some of the ideas shared in the two readings mentioned above as well as in the Michael Wesch video, so I’m considering integrating another form of teacher-student interaction into one of my two modules. I’m just not sure what type would be the most effective to use on the LMS when most T-S interaction will take place in in-person synchronous classes. I’ll have to ponder this one more.