Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Missing Virtual Classmates...

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.


Tonight is the final session of the semester of MSTU 4083 Instructional Design of Educational Technology. It was way more like a Science course than I had bargained for and so it was probably the hardest course I've taken so far in my part-time Masters program, but I feel nostalgic already about it ending.

All semester, we met via Adobe Connect and never in person, which was truly strange, yet it had its virtues, e.g., one of our classmates, an animator from Los Angeles, was able to participate, since it was online, and she enriched my learning experience; I'd not have had her as a classmate, if it had been face-to-face.

Two of the 18 students and I had been in classes face-to-face prior, but the rest were just little square, animated heads to me the whole time, including the three classmates with whom I worked on a group project. One of the classmates with whom I had previously learned face-to-face wrote to say how odd the virtual experience was.

My response was, "The minus is not being able to see one another. The plus is being able to go get an orange from the kitchen and nobody knows!" It was also nice to be able to attend the first session from the B&B, where we were vacationing in Maine.

Another classmate, after the first or second session wrote to me in the chat space: "I like you. You're funny." I was startled and thrilled at the distance being eliminated with her quick expression of what she was thinking/feeling, but it proved too tough to launch and sustain a new, virtual friendship. We spoke about our learning and our experience of the class once by phone, but then let our busy-ness take over and never spoke again by phone.

It wasn't till today, for example, that I learned anything at all personal about any of my classmates, which, historically, happened inevitably when we were face-to-face in my experience.

Today, feeling a bit panicky about all of these people disappearing from my life at 8:30 pm tonight, I looked for whoever I could find on Facebook to "friend" them. I found just a couple, including one of my small group.

All semester, I had stereotyped her: She is Italian-American and teaches in a Catholic school of mostly Italian-American kids. When I looked at her info in Facebook, she had declared her religion as Bahai. What an interesting surprise!

And I wondered what surprised her, looking at my Facebook entry. I know she did look because she wrote on my "wall." At the start of the semester, I searched for my professor; he's got a Facebook profile and he readily accepted my friendship request, and so I had a personal sense of him during the semester...but I thought it would be presumptuous to try to connect with the pure strangers that were my classmates at the outset, and then I forgot to do so till today.

What does that mean about the learning experience? Usually, I relish becoming close with at least one of my classmates during a semester. And I did feel especially kindred with one of my classmates this time, too, but it was strictly around the group project we were working on...and that was neat, actually -- that it could be such a nearly purely academic friendship.

I enrolled in the course because the topic interested me, and also to gain empathy for our learners at work who we serve, increasingly virtually. And I did. Whereas they learn virtually for a matter of hours, over as many as several weeks, I learned online for an entire semester. I learned that I save ~US$30 on parking weekly, and gas to school; I learned that I could learn with anyone from anywhere; I learned that I missed the walking-out-of-class together-with-my-classmates-or-arriving-early time, when we learned personal things about one another and also got to debrief about especially interesting features of a particular session...which I think could probably be replicated a bit if it were set up consciously, or committed to by my classmates and me; and I learned that I can learn meaningfully and create substantial learning experience 100% virtually...and I haven't even shared what my group and I designed. I'll save it for another blog entry.

Here's one of the assigned papers I submitted:

MSTU 4083 Instructional Design of Educational Technology, Fall, 2008, D. Shaenfield; My Journaling Experience During this Course by Sarah Siegel

The “After each class” questions you asked us to use as the basis for our journaling were terrific….I did use them as the template for each journal entry and they helped me understand my feelings in relation to the course, which was excellent, since we were not face to face as a class; historically, in face-to-face settings, my feelings felt more obviously manifest and noticeable, and there, perhaps my classmates and professor offered a more visible mirror.

Even the fifth question, “What about the class this week surprised you the most?” always led me to respond in the realm of emotions and not about an intellectual epiphany; on October 15th, for example, I wrote, “Didn’t get scolded for length of presentation.” It surprised me that you did not criticize our group for that when you did for a much less egregious lack of time management during a previous presentation we delivered.

In answering the second question, “At what moment in the class this week did you feel most distanced from what was happening?” I wrote initially in my journal that online learning was more intense, since I could not rely on seeing body language of the professor or my classmates….

The course proved to be emotional for me for the whole semester – sometimes, more frustrating than gratifying during class-times, particularly when I experienced technical infelicities – my own and others’ – and often exhilarating when I was working with my small group, or reading a particularly interesting article or chapter on my own, such as Chapter 3 in Trends and Issues…, “The History of Instructional Design and Technology.” For example, just one of the many margin comments I made in that chapter was, “I don’t know why people don’t approach new media with a sense of adventure. Why is there such conservatism?” I wrote that on p. 23 despite that most of the page referred to the increase in usage of new media….
With my small group, when we decided to develop an online module on immigration for Challenge III, I responded in my journal with the answer to the first question, “At what moment in class this week did you feel most engaged with what was happening?; I wrote that I was delighted that our own group represented such an interesting diversity of ancestral immigration experience, including one, who was in the process of deciding whether or not to immigrate to the United States and one whose ancestors have been here since the American Revolution.

On the September 10th, you asked us to consider for the following class: “What does it mean to participate in an online course?” I reflected on that question all semester. I wished I had done more written reflection on it. This was the first course that included a journal, where I did not feel compelled to reflect prolifically. Was it being given a template of questions to answer that made me less inspired than when I had free reign to write about whatever struck me?

Did participating in an online course cause me to feel less driven to write about my experience of the class than I did when I met with my professor and classmates face to face? Historically, when I learned face-to-face, there was something delicious about considering further what went on in the classroom, and our readings, and keeping a journal on all of it. If I had been asked to predict my drive to reflect in my journal during this course at the start of it, I would have predicted being at least as driven to write what I was thinking, if not more so, since I did not have the extra stimulation of being face-to-face with everyone.

Paradoxically, I was less driven and more dutiful with answering what I was asked, but not venturing much in my responses…though I did go off-script to reflect in my journal on another question that one of my classmates asked aloud early on: “What are we as individuals looking to learn from this class?”

My journal responded: “Hoping to gain the confidence to believe in myself as having the capacity to be an instructional designer. I don’t really want to learn models of instruction even as I know, rationally, that understanding the theory behind the design is key to becoming a credible and good designer. Rather, I just want to design and design and design. I want the majority of the course to be experiential.”
Perhaps partially egged on by my own journal entry, during the course of this course, I took the initiative to design a module on Work-life integration for work nearly fearlessly, including a make-your-own podcast as one of its features. I had never before designed a module solo. I had co-designed a face-to-face one, and had revised a face-to-face one.

The module I designed was 90 minutes in length, and face-to-face, rather than online, but I did design it, so that they produced a public artifact, a legacy. It took me 17 hours over a Saturday and Sunday and when it was complete, I sent it to my favorite ORLD professor for her critique and to our chief designer at work, and both thought it was good. Had I not done all of the reading I did for this course, and all of the participating in class, I doubt I would have been so bold as to have even tried to create it, let alone to ask for feedback on it. And so the course did give me what I sought; it simply took the further reflection of writing this paper to see it.

It was also interesting to me that my favorite question to answer about each reading was, “4. What is your favorite sentence from the reading? Why?” because it tended to validate my emerging philosophy of instructional design beyond the other questions, for example, in The Cambridge Handbook…, Chapter 15, “The Knowledge Integration Perspective on Learning and Instruction,” my favorite sentence was, “Results from studies…consistently show the value of requiring students to generate connections among ideas rather than only reading or recognizing ideas” (Linn, 2006, p. 258) because, as I wrote in my journal, “It makes the case for facilitation, rather than just teaching!”

Always, I have preferred Teachers College courses that have included a journal to those that have not. This was the first time I was required to answer specific questions and through reflection in this paper, I recognized the value of them even as they cramped my typical style a bit. Probably, they guaranteed further/more visible learning than simply a free-style journal because they encouraged me to “…generate connections among ideas rather than only reading or recognizing ideas” (Linn, 2006, p. 258).


Brookfield, S.D. (2004). Chapter 17, Critical Thinking Techniques. In Galbraith, M.W. (Ed.), Adult Learning Methods: A Guide for Effective Instruction (3rd ed.) (pp. 341-360). Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company.

Reiser, R.A., & Dempsey, J.V. (Eds.) (2007). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (2nd ed.). Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Sawyer, R.K. (Ed.) (2006). The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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