Open Badges for CPD

digital badges.jpg

I’ve been a bit disingenuous in recommending digital badges for informal learning without properly investigating them. So I was truly surprised to discover that I’d already earned a badge for attending a webinar on speaking assessments.

What are badges? 

Think of them as alternatives to certificates. They’re proof that you’ve completed a learning activity or achieved some kind of outcome (such as a language level). Unlike a certificate which you download and which only sees the light of day when your supervisor demands evidence of CPD, the badge can be displayed in a gallery accessible by others.

I found my badge on speaking assessments at Open Badges passport which Cambridge uses.

Open Badges.png

However, Mozilla Backpack appears to be a lot more popular.

Mozilla backcpack.png

It’s also possible to display the badges in your LinkedIn profile.

How does it work? 

An organisation or institution designs and issues badges. They then allow participants who have completed an activity to add a particular badge. In practice, anyone can design badges using a site like Openbadges.me or Open Badge Factory. There is ostensibly some kind of quality control in place because the badge links back to the organisation or person who issued it.  Here’s a worksheet with some interesting questions for badge issuers to think through.

Badges for CPD 

Is there value in displaying the CPD activities you’ve completed or achieved? I think there might be. Beyond the obvious ‘feeling proud of yourself’, they can be useful in work contexts where performance appraisal systems require evidence of having completed a certain number of hours of professional development. I also think they provide an opportunity to members of a community of practice to check in on what other practitioners are doing and perhaps think about doing similar activities .

Badges in teacher training 

I was thinking about how badges might work for pre-service teacher training courses. Would we give badges (scout-like) for discrete skills like giving instructions or for achieving a certain number of hours of training practice or accomplishing criteria related to assignment? Or would that dilute the goals of a criterion-referenced course? It would be interesting to introduce new teachers to badges in a session like ICT where they could receive a badge on ‘Starting a class Wiki’ and encourage them to get more badges when they kick start their CPD plans.  Here’s a useful presentation on creating badges for your own course.

Badges & informal learning 

We know that a lot of learning happens informally through classroom practice, peer interactions among others. Digital badges perhaps imply that these informal learning activities don’t hold as much value because you can only earn badges for activities endorsed by someone else. I do see a link for ‘Apply for a badge’ in Open Badges Passport but I’m not sure why Cambridge or any other provider would let you have one of their badges if didn’t attend their event. And there’s always that danger of a learning provider subverting the system to serve its own interest which one major publisher has allegedly attempted.

Do you issue badges for your teachers or students? What has been your experience with using badges to promote CPD and learner autonomy?

Upcoming MOOCs for educators | Nov 2016 to Jan 2017

MOOC.jpg

Here are some upcoming MOOCs that educators might find interesting. Although the courses have a fixed start and end date, you can join at any time before it formally concludes. All the courses are free.  I’ve got my eye on the course on filmmaking and animation in the classroom as well as Art of the MOOC: Public Art and Pedagogy which sounds intriguing.

Happy MOOCing.

Teaching (General) 

Teaching (ELT)

Materials writing & instructional design 

Teacher training 

Pedagogy 

Planning & time management 

Edtech 

Languages 

Education policy 

Literature

Learning

Writing

Miscellaneous 

Reading skills for the selfie generation | Webinar summary

This OUP webinar was facilitated by Thomas Healy. He suggests that the reading skills required by the selfie generation are different than what we traditionally identify as important attributes.  He envisions this dichotomy in this way:

20th century learners  >>>> Selfie generation

Text >>>> Picture, sound, video

Single task >>>> Multi-tasking

Independent &  individual >>>> Interactive, networked

The physical world >>>> The digital world

teacher-training
It’s not just millenials who are selfie-obsessed. Here are some of my enthusiastic participants from a recent teacher training program. I quite dislike selfies and am grateful this one has come out a bit blurry.

Healy asserts that this presents a double challenge for our teaching because Ss are required to read both traditional print and digital text. Some of the other challenges he identified include skimming, scanning and all the other traditional skills in a digital environment, dealing with proximity issues (scrolling to find information as opposed to having it within frames in print), dealing with ‘rabbit hole’ issues (getting distracted by hyperlinks and wandering away from the text), and dealing with cognitive load.

He proposes interactive PDFs as a solution. Have you ever filled a PDF form before?  PDF forms are a type of interactive PDF. An interactive PDF allows users to do more than just read information; there might be hyperlinks, embedded audio or video clips, and text boxes to type information. When I was with Deloitte, there was a top down imperative to reduce the number of handouts used for courses and since all the employees had laptops, we created interactive PDFs. The rationale was to save paper rather than address the needs and affordances of millenials. Although there was WiFi everywhere, my colleagues and I were a little skeptical of creating activities that would have the Ss wander away from the PDF … they certainly didn’t need encouragement to multitask.

Digital reading activities 

Here are some of the ideas Healy shared for creating an engaging interactive PDF:

  • Hyperlink pictures within the text to existing YouTube videos and ask Ss to watch the video and answer questions.
  • Hyperlink to a private Facebook group and ask Ss to do a discussion activity there, for example, share some ideas about a topic. Ss are then required to report back in the interactive PDF by answering a question such as “Which of your classmates’ ideas do you agree with? Write them in the box below.”
  • Include text boxes within the PDF. Ss don’t have to write in their notebooks or in MS Word. Their responses are captured in a single PDF document which they could save and share with you.
  • Use screen capture tools like Camtasia to annotate text. Record yourself visually demonstrating to Ss the process of reading a text. Use different colours to highlight the different pieces of information a reader would typically look for and find. Upload the  instructional video to Youtube and create a link in the interactive handout. Ss watch the instruction video before they attempt the same process for the text in the PDF. I thought this was a particularly interesting idea – ties in with the popularity of ‘how to’ and encourages learner autonomy
  • Highlight structural or lexical elements in the text which could help Ss identify information such as using conjunctive adverbs or conjunctions – in contrast – to recognize contrast. This could be done through an instructional video using a screen capture tool or more simply, using an annotated image of the text.
  • Annotate to demonstrate scanning; for example, show Ss how they can quickly look for proper nouns, dates, and italics.
  • Give Ss a number of sources (URLs) on Facebook as a sort of webquest activity and ask them identify the source that would be appropriate for academic research. Ss must also explain why.
  • Share signposts such as words like ‘however’, ‘yet’, ‘on the other hand’, ‘whereas’ and punctuation marks like ‘?’ and ask Ss to use the search tool within the PDF to find information these signposts might be connected to. I thought this was a very relevant technique which genuinely considers the affordances of the digital medium.

Digital tools

Healy recommends Adobe Acrobat Pro for creating interactive PDFs and Camtasia Camtasia for making instructional videos. They’re both paid software but you can try out them for the first month for free.

Here are some free tools for creating interactive PDFs:

Copyright issues

As I was watching the webinar recording, I kept thinking about copyright issues which Healy addressed just before he concluded. Obviously, a lot of his suggestions for working with digital texts and media can only be executed if you own the copyright or if the text is in the public domain or you’ve got permission from the copyright holder.

Embedding video 

While Healy suggested adding YouTube links, I would recommend embedding the video within the PDF in order to limit reliance on external links. This shouldn’t be a problem if it’s an instructional video that you created – it’s quite easy to embed the video using Adobe Pro. The file size bloat a bit but then there are so many ways to share files these days so I don’t see that being a problem.

Have you used these or similar ideas for enhancing digital reading skills? Do you create interactive PDFs? What’s been the learner experience?

 

Upcoming webinars for educators | September – December 2016

Have you attended any interesting webinars lately? I’ve been missing all the good stuff and turning up for the crap ones because let’s face it, it’s not all insights and epiphanies. Here are some webinars to keep you (hopefully) engaged till the end of the year. An * marks webinars that require registration.

iatefl.jpg

Language 

Assessment

TEFL Equity 

Teacher development 

Pedagogy & niche topics 

Technology

Online conferences 

Corporate topics

Upcoming MOOCs for educators | Jun to Aug 2016

I haven’t done a single MOOC since the start of the year but I can dream right?! Here are some upcoming courses that might be up your alley. All free.

MOOCs.jpg

Teaching

Blended learning 

Language 

Other

Have you done any MOOCs this year? Which ones do you recommend? 

E-moderating Reflections Week 7 | Multimodal feedback

This post is a part of a series of posts I’m writing as a Reflective Journal task for the British Council’s eModeration course. We’re currently in the seventh week and this may be my final reflective post because the last week of the course is an introduction to the actual materials we’ll be teaching [and I’m not sure if the powers that be would be happy with me reflecting and possibly critiquing them 😉 ]. This week’s unit focused on interaction patterns, creative feedback, synchronous workshops, privacy issues, time management, and plagiarism.

———————————————————————–


My peers on the course were really enthused by the individual audio feedback that the moderator shared for an assignment. Moodle has an inbuilt feature that allows you to record audio and video messages which could potentially be a way of going beyond the traditional text-based written feedback. While audio feedback is definitely a step-up from a written note, I think we can challenge ourselves to take advantage of technological affordances and provide learners with rich, multimodal feedback.

I use screencasting tools fairly often for sharing this kind of feedback. Most screencasting applications allow you to record your screen while you’re talking and making annotations or changes. Some tools also enable you to capture your video through your webcam as an inset image as well as adding captions, arrow, highlights, and quizzes during the production process.

In an online course, screencasting could be used for: 

  • Providing feedback on written work such as a Word document or PowerPoint presentation
  • Sharing feedback on spoken work such as a podcast or a video
  • Discussing contributions to online forums
  • Sharing inputs for work created through digital tools such as Prezi, Padlet or YouTube.

There are a couple of popular free tools you can use: 

I used a paid software called Camtasia which also enables you to create flipped classrooms and video based courses with quizzes. You can download a free trial and test it out for a month.

Be aware of the drawbacks: 

  • If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll do multiple takes and end up wasting a lot of time.
  • If you’re recording in a noisy area, then you might have a lot of background noise that gets recorded which may sound unprofessional.
  • The whole process of thinking about what you want to say, recording your screen while you share feedback, processing the video and then uploading it … takes lots of time.

The guru of screencasting is Russell Stannard and you might want to check out his site, Teacher Training Videos which has loads of great resources on how you can use screencasting with your learners.

Happy screencasting!

E-moderating Reflections Week 6 | Online Rapporteur

This post is a part of a series of posts I’m writing as a Reflective Journal task for the British Council’s eModeration course. We’re currently in the sixth week. This week’s unit focused on course adaptation, needs analysis, feedback and rapport.

———————————————————————–

Picasso head

Last week, one of my peers on the course wrote about “an illusion of community” i.e., regardless of what the moderator does, we can’t really hope for anything more than “fly-by-night bonds” on an online course. You can’t compel course participants to establish a connect with each other. All you can really do is create the circumstances that might facilitate connections. While you might not have much control over peer to peer rapport, I think there’s quite a bit you can do as an online moderator to establish rapport with participants. Here are some ideas:

Don’t make it all about the syllabus 

  • Use fun tasks like ‘Create your own Picassohead’ (the image in this post) or ‘Create your own abstract expressionist artwork‘ to get participants to create a zany artwork and post it in a discussion forum for their peers to see.
  • Try to combine skills that you want to teach with creative expression. For example, if you’re teaching issues related to copyrighted images, get participants to explore Flickr Creative Commons and select a funny image which falls under a license that allows them to share. Ask them to upload this to a course wiki with appropriate attribution.

Encourage participants to share of themselves 

  • Have an easily accessible open discussion forum where participants can chat and share things which may or may not have anything to do with the course. Ensure your presence from time to time in the forum, where you can add details about yourself to personalize your relationship with participants and appear … well more human (Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened in the eModeration course. There is an open forum but Moodle is structured such that it rests in one of the initial units and you know what they say about out of sight …).
  • Ask participants to post pictures of their weekend breakfast and/or share a recipe in the discussion forum. I got this ideas from Gollancz, a genre publisher from the UK who once hosted a “breakfast share fest” on Pinterest.
  • Get participants to post a childhood picture of themselves or their family.
  • Or have them create a list that describes their morning or weekend routine. And for all of these tasks, make sure you share your own images, lists, recipes and whatnot.

Don’t shy away from Emoji

Our students humanize their digital experience with text speak, emoji, and selfies. When they are on their devices, they are part of a generation creating a universal language filled with nonverbal cues, fun, emotion, and culture. They are translating English into pictographs and abbreviations recognized and used by people around the world. They summarize, decode, translate, read, and write more than people ever could before the development of digital devices.

Shelly Terrell 

I think as instructors, we sometimes hesitate to use emoji but as Shelly poignantly points out, those little figures really do make a difference in humanising the digital experience 🙂 Moderators ought to use emoji purposefully in their own course communication and guide participants to follow their example. Shelly’s page on Emoji is a great place to get helpful strategies.

Establish a culture of responsiveness 

It’s easy to get lost on an online course and when a participant’s ‘help me’ email is responded to after days, it can make them feel that they’re not valued and affect their perception of the moderator and engagement on the course. The issue of responsiveness becomes all the more difficult in forum discussions – you need to strike a balance between making your presence felt and getting participants to discuss a topic autonomously without too much intervention/input from you.

I get a sense that it’s easy to over-commit to online courses as a moderator because it feels like there isn’t relatively much work to do (you’re not physically present in a classroom for a predetermined period of time) so you might take on lots of concurrent projects … and then find that you’re unable to stay on top of queries and discussions.

One way to deal with email queries when you have other commitments is to set up an Out of Office (OOO) message with self-access resources for query resolution and troubleshooting (NB: the links in this example are all dummy URLs):

Thank you for your message. I’m currently teaching lessons through the day with limited access to my mails. Please expect a delay in my response.

For students enrolled in <course name>, please try to troubleshoot using any of the following solutions:

  • Locked out of your account? Watch this video for retrieving your password.
  • Unable to upload your document? Go through this ‘How to’ guide.
  • Not sure what you need to complete this week? Access the Unit letter.
  • Questions about this week’s tasks? Get support from your peers by posting your question in this forum.

If you are facing a different issue than the ones listed here, please wait for my response at 7PM IST.

Regards,

Adi

Demonstrate that you’re not infallible 

Hint to participants during synchronous and asynchronous interactions, that you too sometimes face technical issues or are overwhelmed by the complexity and non-intuitive nature of the online learning platform. However, show them how you stay resilient and persevere through all the issues, enjoying the overall experience.

Recall and link back

Weave and summarize participant inputs in discussion forums by explicitly acknowledging who contributed what but go beyond syllabus related comments to details participants may have shared about themselves. Incorporate these into future questions, comments, and posts.

That’s a really creative answer Rhea! I remember you sharing with us your love for art and all those painting classes you had attended. Did you get some of these ideas from that experience?

Image attribution: Image created using picassohead 

E-moderating Reflections Week 5 | The VAKman cometh

If you’ve been following my posts over the last few weeks, you’d probably know that I am currently attending a course on eModeration from the British Council. This week’s content was focused on making online learning effective. It reviewed topics such as motivation, low participation & lurking, and catering to participant needs. Comme d’habitude, I’m going to focus on one aspect of what was covered for my reflective journal.

———————————————————————

VAKman

Early on in this week’s module was a section on Learning Styles. This segment starts off with an exercise where you have to decide whether a statement is Visual, Auditory or Kinaesthetic (you know where this is going!). My favourite statement was “You are a stylish dresser” which apparently is an indication of being a visual learner. It’s quite tragic that the exercise didn’t consider my preference for plush corduroy and velour. Would that place me in the tactile subset of visual learners?

Or would VAK proponents explain my preference away with the easy escape route that ‘you’re a mix of styles’ provides?

To the BC’s credit, they balanced this inanity with four resources from the web that criticized learning styles and multiple intelligences. Nevertheless, dragging VAK into online teaching concerns me on two levels. First, you can’t simply duplicate practices from face to face teaching into online learning environment and expect them to help you engage learners and meet objectives. Second and more seriously, duplicating falsehoods from face to face teaching isn’t helping anyone.

If the goal is to make online teaching more effective, I recommend using the seven affordances of new assessment and learning, conceptualised by Dr. William Cope and Dr. Mary Kalantzis from the University of Illinois. It’s a more robust model and one that was specifically designed to leverage technology and meet the challenges of the learning environment.

Here are some of my ideas for making online teaching/learning effective using the seven affordances:

Affordance 1: Ubiquitous learning 

  • Design learning such that it’s device agnostic and can be accessed on the go. If your platform does not permit this, create downloadable chunks which learners access through their smartphones or other devices.
  • Provide shareable podcasts and vodcasts which can be accessed and viewed outside of scheduled ‘learning time’.
  • Recommend additional resources in the form of apps or PDFs created specially for mobile devices.
  • Design activities that get learners to notice and document everyday routines – they could record these as images, videos or short texts such as tweets.

Affordance 2: Active knowledge making

  • Go beyond encouraging forum responses to getting learners to create documents in the form of basic infographics, how to guides, cheat sheets, presentations and the like as responses to challenges or ‘missions’ as Shelly Terrell puts it.
  • Give learners opportunities to create new things, not merely summarizing understanding or answering questions.

Affordance 3: Multi-modal meaning 

  • Create opportunities to access, interact with and respond to content in multiple ways. Don’t restrict learners to only text-based discussions. While synchronous chats are one way to vary communication, learners can also record themselves using their webcam, sharing their ideas or creating audio responses.
  • Curate a wide variety of resources from across the web; infographics, short videos, long videos, podcasts, blog posts, images, even tweets. But, give learners tasks to complete using these resources so they’re making sense of what they are reading, watching and listening to.

Affordance 4: Recursive feedback 

  • Go beyond the canned feedback that MCQ and drag & drop interactions provide. Design assignments that give the learners opportunities to consolidate their learning, apply and experiment. Establish systems for generating both facilitator and peer-feedback for these assignments.
  • Use synchronous sessions to provide feedback for both tasks done online in the virtual classroom and those completed offline or elsewhere.
  • Use screencasting tools to provide feedback on forum contributions, assignments, and other submissions.

Affordance 5: Collaborative intelligence 

  • Get learners to work in groups to use their collective resources to solve case studies and problems. Their responses can be multi-modal.
  • Set up forum discussion tasks such that each learner builds on the contributions of another.

Affordance 6: Metacognition 

  • Peer-reviews are one way to build metacognitive awareness particularly when peer reviewers have slightly different topics for their assignments because it compels each peer reviewer to consider the process of ideating and creating a full response to a task.
  • As learners complete tasks, encourage them to reflect on the process as this can also help them build metacognitive awareness for how they learn online.

Affordance 7: Differentiated learning 

  • Give learners the choice of completing tasks at different challenge levels, with the option of choosing a task that meets their skill and proficiency level.
  • Monitor responses in discussion forums and provide additional resources that learners would enjoy based on their level.

Russ Mayne’s blog is a good place to start if you’d like to read up on pseudo-science in ELT; I particularly recommend his concise and incisive article on learning styles.

Image attribution: Monster by Joel McKinney | NounProject | CC BY 3.0 US

E-moderating Reflections Week 3 – 4 | The double-edged sword of activity

I’m currently enrolled in the British Council’s eModeration course which tasks me with writing up my reflections for each unit. Thankfully, the format for the reflections is up to you and I’ve chosen to share them on my blog. Week three and four have focused on synchronous e-Moderating, the tools available within Adobe Connect, their affordances, and the activities they allow. My peers and I also attended three synchronous sessions on Adobe Connect and in two, were required to co-facilitate a lesson segment as a group … a painfully instructional experience 🙂 Just as I did in my post for week 2, I’m going to focus on one aspect of what I experienced this week and reflect on it.

———————————————————————-

Virtual activities

The virtual classroom is an odd animal. It warps assumptions and practices, and behaves in wholly unexpected and sometimes unpredictable ways. Perhaps its most disconcerting effect is on teacher talk time. You inevitably end up yapping most of the time. One way to overcome this is to build your content around a series of activities that will compel the participants to engage with the content and each other; and preclude the need for the moderator to ‘explain’.

Some simple activities to engage participants:

  • Read out statements or copy paste them one by one into the Notes Pod and ask participants to indicate whether they are true or false in Chat.
  • Read out statements and have participants share their opinion by using one of the icons from the Status menu. For example: Listen to this sentence and decide if it’s correct or incorrect by giving it a green check or a red x.

However, even these activities involve repeated input or intervention from the facilitator. Here are some where you can set up the activity and step away:

  • Create a table with two columns on a slide. Column a has some variables and column b is really wide and blank. Give participants access to Writing/Drawing tools and ask them to place a star next to the variables. For example, participants read a dialogue and decide which language functions occur in it by placing a start next to inquiring, apologising etc.
  • Bring up the Whiteboard and divide it into four quadrants by drawing lines. Label each quadrant and ask each participant to contribute. For example, the four quadrants could be labelled ‘thoughts’, ’emotions’, ‘fears’ and ‘hopes’ and have participants share answers for each based on a text they’ve explored.
  • Divide the Whiteboard into two parts and have participants compare two items.
  • Have two jumbled lists on a slide and get participants to match the correct items or identify relationships by sketching lines from Drawing tools.
  • Create a 5 point scale on a slide and ask participants to rate something using the the Arrow stamp from Drawing tools. For example, how similar or different was the dialogue you reconstructed than the one that you can now see on the screen.
  • Type your content up on a slide and then delete half of each sentence. Then ask participants to complete the sentences verbally using their mic (you’ll need to nominate) or using the Chat box.

Activities that ostensibly have a lot of participant to participant interaction are the ones that involve breakout rooms:

  • Divide participants into breakout rooms and ask them to discuss a topic. They should also appoint a note keeper who will document the discussion and make it available later for whole class feedback.
  • Ask participants to work with breakout groups on a plan for a given scenario.
  • Get participants to co-create a document (such as an email) or a written conversation in breakout rooms.
  • Participants discuss and answer a series of questions after watching a video or reading a text.

While conducting a variety of activities like these can help engage participants, keep them attentive, and help them meet learning needs, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. I observe a strong correlation between using more activities (and therefore more Adobe Connect tools), technical issues and time. It goes without saying that activities takes time and virtual activities take oodles of time. My co-facilitator and I planned a 10 minute segment in which we thought we would spend 2 minutes on giving instructions for a breakout activity, putting people into rooms and getting them to create a short dialogue for 5 minutes and then about 3 minutes for feedback. In reality, we took more than 20 minutes for the entire segment and this with a group of teachers who are forthcoming with responses and fairly efficient. I shudder to think how much time breakout room activities would take with learners. Similarly, the more tools you opt to use, the greater the chances of both you and the participants facing technical glitches. For example, sharing content in the middle of the lesson, breakout rooms, doing screen-sharing, and playing a video as opposed to a more staid point and click strategy with a single pre-loaded presentation and interaction through Chat.

It’s a difficult compromise to work with. On the one hand, you want to work with all the affordances that the virtual tools provide you but you need to be cognizant of the challenges they create, and how frustrating it could be for learners. A possible way of addressing this issue is to spend the first few synchronous interactions building participants’ awareness and responsiveness when it comes to using tools. Hopefully, this will enable them to complete activities faster where technical know-how is slowing them down. I think it’s also a good idea to run some activities that build ‘virtual resilience’; encourage participants to stay calm in the face of technical issues and explore their options because most people panic. This also involves building knowledge of meta-cognitive strategies for learning virtually. For example, if a participant is no longer able to hear what’s going on in the virtual classroom, she can try to follow along by reading the instructions on the slide, participating in Chat, requesting her peers or instructor to repeat instructions in Chat and using visual cues such as things that are being written in the Whiteboard to follow along.

Synchronous sessions can genuinely bring an online course to life but if moderators plan lots of activities without accounting for challenges, they risk disengaging learners through virtual classroom sessions that are potentially painful to sit through.

Image attribution: Black Knight by Andrew Becraft | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

E-moderating Reflections Week 2 | The curious thing about participation

I am currently attending an eight week long online course from the British Council on e-moderating, a prerequisite for becoming a blended instructor for one of their projects here in India. I have experience with teaching courses online although I haven’t ever used Moodle which is the platform both for the course I’m attending and any possible future blended courses I will teach through the BC. A non-assessed requirement of the course is to maintain weekly reflections and you’re allowed to do this in a range of formats including posting on your own blog. As I’ve been neglecting my blog of late, it’s only appropriate that I reflect here rather than elsewhere.

The course design has a little bit of a redundancy in that it requires participants to submit a Report of Work which asks you to report on specific assessment criteria providing evidence through URLs, screenshots etc. Despite the name, what it really works out to be is a sort of assessed reflection format. I don’t want to repeat myself so instead I’m going to choose one aspect that I touched on in my Report of Work and explore it further.

——————————————————

Participation

We know there is such a thing as very little participation, and its impact on classroom dynamics and learning. But, what’s the impact of too much participation? And in the context of an online learning environment? Online learning environments supposedly support inhibited or weaker learners who might shy away from contributing much in a face to face learning environment unless they are working in pairs. However, even in pairs, there is the possibility of being dominated by a stronger learner. In theory, an online discussion forum levels the playing field a bit. There’s no question of turn-taking. You can take your time to formulate a contribution. It doesn’t matter much if you repeat ideas that have already been mentioned or it at least doesn’t seem as obvious as it would in a live conversation. And yet, I don’t believe that the effect of logging in and finding that the discussion forum is full of lengthy posts by just a couple of participants, is motivating.

Through this week, I contributed more than the average course participant (but by no means the most active) whether in discussion forums, synchronous chats and Wikis. I am left wondering whether I or any of the other more active course participants inadvertently disengaged our peers through misplaced effusiveness. While introductions are easy to contribute and comment on (“wow, you love gardening, me too!”), tasks that are associated with content pieces are more challenging to do so. When the cognitive load is already fairly high, it’s easy to get disheartened when it looks like the online party’s gotten started without you. So, you respond laconically to achieve the bare minimum criteria that’s expected of you. Tick in the box, yes. Genuine learning, no.

I’m concerned about what that might mean for my learners when I find myself moderating an online course. I wouldn’t want to put a damper on the zeal of the ‘enthu-cutlets’ as we call them in Indian English but merely (and privately) encouraging the more reticent participants or the ones with a pattern of perfunctory responses may not take care of the affective barrier of participants whose names are plastered over every forum, wiki, and activity and here’s the thing, those names and often verbose messages associated with them are omnipresent and everlasting each time anyone logs into the course.

A possible solution is to consciously partner more active participants with less active ones in tasks that compel the former to elicit and hear out the latter’s perspectives. Another solution could focus on building participants metacognition about interpersonal dynamics in online courses. I observed that I had a bias to having a ‘conversation’ with more active participants who had meatier responses in forums. In the coming week, each time I write a response in the discussion forum, I’m also going to try to respond to someone I would not normally engage in an asynchronous dialogue. The tricky bit is building this kind of awareness in learners.

Image attribution: LT – Presentations – Audience Participation by Matt Cornock | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0