Big and little TEL questions

Activity 0.1 for the ALT #ocTEL asks me to reflect on my experience and ambitions for developing my teaching – specifically by identifying the most important question, or cluster of questions, about TEL for me.  My initial reaction to this is activity is – good one – an activity that gives participants the opportunity to reflect on why they are doing the course, what they expect to get out of it, while at the same time building a sense of community among the participants.  This leads me to my first question, and probably the one most asked of me:

How do we build community in a ‘fully’ online course?

Of particular interest to me is how this might be done in a course with small numbers, and limited capacity for synchronicity. In courses that I have participated in as a student, a lecturer/instructor, or have provided support for as an Educational Developer, I have not yet experienced a good sense of community that is sustained within a fully online offering. Whilst I understand some general principles around designing for social aspects of learning, and can see how they might work when there are large numbers of participants so the small proportion that actively engage from the start build dialogue and generate wider participation, leading to cooperative learning and more, I struggle to get a sense of good and or solid possibilities for this in smaller cohorts, particularly with competing demands and  limitations on synchronous learning opportunities or activities.

I am currently completing an MTeach via distance (ie online) with classmates who are either studying online as well, or on campus, have participated to varying levels of completion and activity in numerous MOOCs, miniMOOCs and other online and open courses, lecture into a course taught predominantly on campus, with some online features, and work as an Educational Developer, provided advice, support and learning materials and activities for teaching staff (lecturers and tutors) on TELT.

Accepting my Teaching Vocation

The OCL4Ed mOOC asked the question:

“If you’re an educator, why did you join the vocation or related profession?”

This post attempts to answer that question, although for me the answer is not simple. I joined the teaching profession without a clear intent to do so, but I have had a teaching vocation since I was in Primary School.

I initially joined the profession in order to earn money while I waited to discover what I wanted to do in my life, and my teaching career began without any formal training. Soon after this beginning, however, I recognised the value and need to educate myself about education in order to optimise the effectiveness of my teaching. This led to my first foray into formal studies in Education. I continued to teach for many years as it enabled me to travel and live in interesting countries while I tried to work out what I really wanted to do. While I knew that I was passionate about facilitating the learning of others, I did not want to join what I saw as the ‘family business’ since my parents and many of my aunts and uncles were educators of some description, predominantly working in schools or universities.

Due in part, perhaps, to my family background, I have always valued education, and had an interest in helping others to learn. From playing school with my siblings, to being assigned to help my classmates in class in both primary and high school, to coaching sports teams as an adult, I have had informal connections to teaching since I was very young. The desire to forge my own path and avoid following in my parents’ footsteps, however, was equally strong and I actively resisted becoming a fully qualified, formal member of the teaching profession. Because teaching was my job, however, I actively engaged in informal learning, read literature, attended seminars and conferences, was self-reflective, and sought peer-review and feedback. I simply did not seek qualifications which would enable my registration as a teacher in Australian schools.

It was through my involvement in politics that I surrendered to my vocation and chose to accept my fate and commit to being a member of the teaching profession. When a soccer teammate who knew I was an active member of a political party asked me, “who should I vote for?”, my instinct, which I followed was to ask her what was important to her and to then give her a short summary of where the different parties stood in relation to those issues.  Another teammate, overhearing the conversation, and a supporter of the same party as myself, said to me, “She just wants to know who to vote for” and then turned to our teammate and told her to vote for our party. This very simple event brought home to me how strongly I feel about people making informed decisions for themselves, and my driving need to help people learn, know and understand things so that they can. I embraced my teaching vocation, enrolled in formal studies  the next week, and have been committed to the profession and vocation ever since.

Reflection on creating a blog

This introductory post is my introduction of myself to you, as well as a reflection on the process and purpose of maintaining a blog to support my learning.

I am an Educational Developer at the University of Tasmania, where I spend much of my time providing advice about the use of technology in order to enhance student learning. I am also completing a Masters degree which will qualify me to teach in Secondary and Senior Secondary schools in Australia. I am very interested in the opportunities that the use of technology, and particularly online technologies, provide for both teachers and students to enhance learning and facilitate self-directed learning.

The process of setting up a blog was a relatively simple one, and the resources  provided in the OCL4Ed mOOC were useful. I have set up blogs before, but I have not maintained one for longer than two or three posts. I would imagine that for someone who is not accustomed to setting up tools for themselves online, the basic set-up would not be too intimidating, but the large number of options available in relation to tools and settings could prove slightly overwhelming.

For myself, I hope that maintaining a blog will support my learning by giving me an audience for my ideas and thoughts on the topics to be covered, as well as helping me to incorporate ‘blog-writing’ time into my day.  The process of bringing together information and ideas from other sources, combining them together to draw conclusions, adding my own thoughts and ideas, and forming them into a coherent whole, should be one which enhances my learning in the area.  I also hope that by tagging and sharing my blog with other participants in the OCL4Ed mOOC, I will receive useful comments and feedback on my musings which serve to further develop my understandings.