More observations from the PBBL course

So we’re approaching the final week of the PBBL course and it is time to reflect a bit. My colleague Heilyn and I have managed to reflect on the course activities for every week and we have posted these reflections in Moodle, so that the participants could get an idea of why we have designed course elements in certain ways and what we have thought of the outcome. These meta-reflections  (on which the participants have commented) have proved to be very valuable in both our and the participants’ learning experience and it is definitely a course component I want to further develop in my next course. In this post I’ll highlight some of our reflections.

In the first SLecture the text and voice check took almost 45 min. and Heilyn and I agreed that this was unacceptable, so in the second SLecture we reduced the scheduled time to 15 min. and we put out further information on voice settings etc.  It worked for the majority of the participants, but there still seems to be 1-2 participants in every session struggling with technical problems. We actually asked everybody to check out if they could access especially SL before enrolling in this course, but in future courses this should be stressed, since we cannot help/ do anything about local problems e.g. firewall problems, inadequate graphics cards, poor internet connections and lack of headset etc. In designing this course we had planned a preparation week where participants were expected to solve a newbie assignment aimed at learning the basic skills in SL. These activities were optional and unfortunately very few participants decided to make use of this offer. For future courses we would recommend making newbie assignments/activities mandatory.

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SLecture 2 in session …

In this course the participants are expected to work in Teams and Heilyn and I decided to form the teams based on nationality. The argument for this type of division was quite pragmatic. We knew that all participants would have difficulties in finding time to participate, so we figured it would ease their process if they were able to work in their own languages  for some of the activities (mainly the Mini-project work), and in the second SLecture these Learning Teams met for the first time.  Whether this has been a good decision we’ll know more about in the final course evaluation …

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Learning Team Germany decided to meet on one of the Pink Elephants …

The third SLecture was Heilyn’s first real teaching experience in SL, and I think she did a great job. Her presentation was about Action Learning and by the end of the SLecture the Learning Teams were asked to go shopping for Team mascots.  I asked Heilyn about her experience and she pointed out two things. First of all she did not consider doing a presentation a creative way of teaching. I agree, but I do believe presentations are necessary when the participants have little or no prior experience with the subject matter, come from very different pedagogical cultures, speak different languages and in general have very different prerequisites. Lecturing then serves the purpose of trying to establish common ground, common language, common terminology and as a means to clarify questions. I also believe that the participants’ general SL skills should be taken into consideration before planning more difficult activities. Besides this, I do believe that lectures in SL are quite different from conventional f2f lectures due to the possibility of using simultaneous voice and text.

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SLecture 3 in session …

Another point Heilyn made was that she felt somewhat alone during the SLecture, in the beginning she felt worried because she couldn’t see the participants’ reactions. It felt like talking to an empty space, but then the comments started to appear in the chats. By the end she was more tired than usual after a 2 hr lesson. Before the SLecture, we discussed if she should ask the participants to wait with their questions till after the presentation, but I recommended her to allow for questions during exactly because I thought she might otherwise feel quite alone – and it is also more interesting for the participants if they are allowed to contribute to the discussion. But lecturing this way and in a foreign language certainly is something you need to learn and especially when there are many questions/comments it can be difficult to stay focused. I’ve logged both local and group chat from all the lectures and as an example there were a total of 33 pages in the second SLecture – that is a lot of information you need to attend to while lecturing …

Optional-MI
Discussion on the MI theory …

Recognizing that participation in lectures is not the most interesting way to get to know SL, we have also included Optional visits, and in the first visit I showed the participants Zotarah Shepherd’s MI design and Thursday Xu’s designs of Bloom’s taxonomy and Wenger’s CoP.  Touring, exploring and trying out things together in an informal way combined with discussion on topics that are somewhat peripheral to the subject matter is in my opinion a very nice activity, and judging from the feedback the participants also appreciate this kind of activity.

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Discussion on the CoP theory …

The fifth SLecture was on PBL, networked learning and web 2.0 technologies conducted by my other colleague, Thomas. I was not able to attend, but judging by the comments in Moodle the participants enjoyed the lecture. At this point in the course Heilyn and I decided to make part of the lectures more interactive, since the participants now seemed more at ease in SL. For the 6th SLecture we prepared 5 statements on PBL/AL and used them together with the Opinionater tool. This turned out to be a very interesting exercise. We had not anticipated that the participants would disagree to the extent that they actually did.

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No consensus on problem types in PBL/AL …

The Opinionater is a quite simple tool, but highly effective. We managed to have some interesting discussions on different aspects of PBL/AL and in that sense the tool also served as a formative evaluation tool giving us educators some hints on the participants’ perceptions. After this exercise I took some of the participants to U21 Global Island where we tried out the Metaphor Tour.

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The Metaphor Tour … a trip focusing on constructivist learning  …

In the second optional visit we met my friend, Inge Qunhua who is a Danish educator and SL designer. Inge has a lot of creative ideas and has made several small displays of her designs on her island.

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Investigating one of Inge’s designs …

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The Bank setting in Inge’s holodeck …

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The Kindergarden …

In the seventh SLecture this week we experimented with video display, but it did not turn out quite as we had hoped it would. However, we have not yet reflected on this experience, so I’ll return to that in a future post. This week the participants were expected to hand in their Mini-projects on Friday. Only 3 out of 6 teams did so, and this in my opinion is not satisfactory.  For the last 10 years I’ve been using project work in my teaching and I’ve never before had the experience of only half of the students/participants handing in projects. One team has asked for an extension of the deadline, whereas the two other teams haven’t given us any indication of what’s going on.

Mascot display
Learning teams displaying their mascots in the sandbox …

This course has been designed as a test course with the aim of finding out whether this certain design is sustainable and even though we all have learned a lot, I’m not convinced that this particular design is suitable for the general learning objectives.  Learning about PBL – especially the way we see this at Aalborg University, where we combine PBL with project organization – is a process that needs a lot of time. I’ve been skeptical of the very short course period (6 weeks, incl. preparation) from the beginning. We actually wanted to design a 10 week course, but preliminary investigations among our project partners indicated that a 10 week period would be too long. I can think of several reasons as to why only half of the teams managed to hand in their projects on time, but I’ll wait with further conclusions till we have done both project and course evaluation next week….

/Mariis

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