This past spring I decided to enroll in a masters program through Lesley University. I am a member of a 20 person cohort and we are four months into our 22 month program. Using a blended model, our class meets roughly once per month, and we complete the remainder of our work at home, communicating with the professor via email and engaging in the occasional asynchronous discussions with classmates. As nice as it is to work at our pace and in any place, I look most forward to my “Lesley weekends” when I get to spend the two days with my cohort of educators. Undoubtedly, I learn something new from them, something that I can take and develop immediately.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to give back. As part of my final project, I agreed to develop a Ning community for the class and I proposed to my professor that to introduce the class to the Ning I would give a web2.0 presentation that I had given earlier in the week to 30 administrators. While I was presenting, my classmates would participate in a back channel chat. It wasn’t surprising that no one in the class had participated in a back channel chat before, so I new from my own first experience, that this was going to be a challenging 30 minutes for the group. I asked the professor, who had never done so before, to facilitate the chat.
Five minutes into my presentation, members of the class were throwing up their hands and giving up. I challenged them to stick with it, to see if their comfort grew. It really didn’t and most people disliked it from start to finish.
The next day we spent the morning presenting media files we had created in between our “Lesley weekends”. I volunteered to facilitate a backchannel chat during the presentations. About 15 of the 20 class members participated and it was greeted with a bit more success. At the conclusion of the weekend I posted the following prompt in our Ning:
Now that we have engaged in two back channel chats, I’m curious what folks think? Were they useful? Did you see your engagement change or evolve from one chat to the next? What challenges did you overcome or still need to overcome in order for the back channel chat to be useful for you? Please take a moment to make a few comments. I’m interested in blogging about our experience on my blog using your comments (anonymously, of course). Thanks. I appreciate your efforts.
For the most part, results were mixed. Here are a few excerpts:
I still worry that I missed things on different presentations.
The back channel piece got me thinking about the benefits of co-teaching.
I am probably old fashioned, but I found it to be distracting and detracting.
I could see an example where a speaker may be using terms that you don’t know and you don’t want to interrupt, you could ask in the back channel chats?
I found after we learned a little bit of etiquette i.e. @ “so and so” the whole back channel got a lot easier to follow.
Day One. When the activity was introduced on Saturday I was immediately unsure. The idea of following a presenter, participating in an online conversation and staying engaged in both seemed impossible.
I enjoyed sharing my thoughts and questions as the presentations continued. I also liked the opportunity to ask questions and quickly have them answered rather then interrupting the presenter or waiting until the end.
As I expected, the results were mixed. Some liked it, some did not. But one comment startled me:
I asked my college daughter what she thought and she actually thought it would be rude to do the chat and not look like you are at least listening to the teacher.
What strikes me is that this college student would rather pretend to pay attention than participate in her personal learning network via a back channel chat. It is more important to her to appear interested in what her teacher is saying than to be be engaged in a participatory learning experience because she is afraid that the teacher will think she is being rude.
Her behavior is not innate, it is learned. It is conditioned. She has learned in a system that has rewarded perceived behavior over authentic, participatory engagement and now that she is presumably in a place where she can begin to explore her learning in a deeper and more personal way, she doesn’t know how to do it. In a way, we have failed her. We haven’t prepared her to become a participant in her learning networks. Instead, we have taught her to behave, be complicit, and passively consume, even if it means to pretend to be interested. We failed because she doesn’t know that she has the power to direct her learning. We failed because she believes that she must be a consumer and not a producer of information. We failed because she is more concerned about how she will be perceived instead of how she will learn. We failed because we didn’t teach her how to learn, instead we programmed her to think there was only one way to learn – passively and compliantly