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 …

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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.

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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

SLecture 1 – observations from the PBBL course

In the PBBL course we have planned 10 lectures in SL and a number of optional informal meetings. Last night we had the first lecture and in this post I’ll reflect a bit on some of my observations. We have 23 participants from 5 countries and an unknown number of Danish on-campus students enrolled. As one of the requirements to pass the course we have asked the participants to attend a minimum of 5 lectures of their own choice (for the students the requirements are different) – so first of all it was interesting to see how many participants/students would actually show up. I’m using the MystiTool to keep track of this and at a certain point in time I counted 22, incl. my colleagues Heilyn, Thomas and Jacob, but some attendees did unfortunately have technical problems so my estimate is that 17 is the most reliable number.

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SLecture 1 in session …

Based on my experience from the two other courses I’ve run in SL and our preparation meetings last week, I anticipated some voice and text chat problems, so I had posted the following program and guidelines for in-world communication in our Moodle platform prior to the SLecture and of course had these slides on the CZ presenter:

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Commnunication010909

My overall impression is that the SLecture went well, not least since those who managed to get voice and text working engaged in eager questioning and commenting on the different topics for this SLecture; BL, PBL and the various course elements. But there were also challenges and some serious technical problems:

·         The voice and chat check lasted 45 min. which was longer than anticipated. I did point out in the beginning of the SLecture that it should be regarded as a test lecture, but I’m still somewhat surprised it took that long. There were, however, completely new faces in this SLecture and there are still some participants struggling with general voice settings, use of headset and unstable Internet connections.
·         There are still a few of the enrolled participants who have not yet joined our in-world COMBLE group, and a few who do not know how to change their Active Title. The course preparation week was optional and I expected people would join the activities based on their own judgments. This is something I would seriously consider revising in a future course …
·         Since none of the participants or us as facilitators are native English speakers we all struggle with the language. It’s the first time I’ve personally run a course in English and I must say I find it very time consuming and challenging.  With 7 open chat windows, lots of new names, and the language barrier I did find it rather difficult to stay 100 % focused on my presentation. But this is just a matter of experience, so I do not worry too much about it. According to the feedback my main points came across reasonably clear.
·         When we sent out the initial materials for the course, I had made a tutorial for creating the SL account, and in this I recommended that they created their first names so that they would be easy to say/write in English. But I don’t think this message came across clear enough. At least there are a few names I find very difficult to say/write. This could also be a cultural thing and for sure my Polish, Estonian, German and Argentinean pronunciation needs work ;-) I also suspect that for some of the participants the fact that I address them by their first avatar names takes some getting used to – most likely many of them do not identify with those names (yet) and some seem surprised when they discover that I’m actually speaking/writing to them. This probably will change in time. In a future course I would try to explain the name issue more detailed, though.
·         It was the first time I used the CZ presenter and it worked fine. Nonetheless, I will try to find some sort of podium to place the laptop on, so that its position is fixed and I can return to it more smoothly without having to adjust its position.
·         In the two previous courses I’ve run in-world I’ve been the only facilitator and I must say I enjoy having my colleagues with me this time. Not only are they able to help and answer some of the questions (that I might miss!) in the chat, but it is also very beneficial to be able to get their immediate feedback on these SLectures afterwards.

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After the SLecture my colleague, tryberg and I stayed and reflected a bit on the event…

Next SLecture is tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to that, because this has turned out to be a great learning experience :-)

/Mariis

Problem Based Blended Learning course next 6 weeks

Monday August 24th my colleague, Heilyn Camacho – also from e-Learning Lab at Aalborg University, and I kicked off a 6 week course on Problem Based Blended Learning (PBBL).  We have designed the course as part of an EU funded research project called COMmunity of integrated Blended Learning in Europe (COMBLE). In the COMBLE project my colleagues and I from Aalborg University work together with 3 other lead partners from Estonia (University of Tartu), Germany (The University of Applied Sciences Wildau)  and Poland (Marie Curie Sklodowska University).

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We have all been offering the course to our affiliated partners which means that we have participants not only from the above mentioned countries, but also from Argentina and since Heilyn is from Costa Rica we really have an international cross-cultural setting. Most participants come from the academic sector, but we also have a few participants from the cooperate world. Besides this my colleagues, Thomas Ryberg and Jacob Davidsen will at some point bring in Danish on-campus 7th semester students from Human Centered Informatics.

The main objective of the course is to provide the participants with a combination of conceptual, theoretical and practical strategies with regards to designing, implementing and teaching/training courses of different duration in blended modality using an overall PBL approach. There is no consensus on how to define Blended Learning. We will, however use this definition from Sonja Trapp (2006:1) as a starting point:

Blended learning can be defined as the combination of multiple approaches to pedagogy or teaching, e .g. self-paced, collaborative, tutor-supported learning or traditional classroom teaching. Blended learning often refers specifically to the provision or use of resources which combine e-learning with other educational resources.

What makes this PBBL course particular interesting and challenging is the fact that there are no f2f activities for the adult participants – we only meet each other online in different platforms. For the on-campus students this of course will differ a bit, but as I understand it their main activities will also take place online. Heilyn and I have chosen Moodle as our main platform for the teaching and learning activities.

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Flexibility not only regarding place, but also time is a keyword in this course, and in our point of view Moodle provides a good environment for especially text-based, asynchronous activities. Our participants are located in different time-zones and should be able to contribute at any convenient time, but a far more important argument for using an asynchronous platform for the main activities can be found in our pedagogical foundation. We have chosen to blend Problem Based Learning with elements from Action Learning and in both strategies reflection is a keyword.

By and large the course design is heavily inspired by another course I run at the Masterprogramme in ICT and Learning (MIL), and based on my experience from that course we have also chosen to use Second Life (SL) as main platform for synchronous activities in this PBBL course. The course outline can be seen in the picture below:

CourseOutline

Since Aalborg University does not own land in SL – I only rent a small place on the Island Wonderful Denmark for my MIL course – our Polish partner has kindly let us use their Second UMCS Island for the course. Below is a picture of what the main teaching and learning area looked like, when we fist arrived there:

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Second UMCS owner, UMCS Maximus, and I discussed the design of the area …

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Later Heilyn and I met to discuss the design …

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One of the first changes was replacing the existing presenter with The Clever Zebra presenter …

My dear friend, Coughran Mayo, recommended the CZ presenter and thanks to Fleep Tuque’s great video, I easily managed to set it up :-) Even though Heilyn, Thomas and I will use traditional presentations in our in-world lectures we still wanted the environment to better reflect our pedagogical foundations, so we also had the white chairs removed.

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Yeah! .. lots of empty space to play with …

This week of the course is preparation week meaning that the participants are expected to familiarize themselves with both Moodle and SL. Only a few of the participants have prior experience with SL, so this week has been spent on learning the basic features of SL. As a preliminary setting I put up a few objects to enable the participants to practice very basic, but important skills such as learning how to walk and sit:

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I rezzed 5 chairs close to each other – trying to walk in between without bumping into any of them is not an easy task for newbies ;-) I also rezzed “The Opinionater”, created by Entropy Hax, which can be bought for the tiny sum of 99 Lindens at this location. Besides being a great tool for decision making I like the fact that “The Opinionater” is interactive making walking practice a bit more fun.

This week I’ve also held optional in-world “Get-off-to-a-good-start” meetings, and here are some pictures from those meetings:

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Heilyn and I getting ready to embark the Testis Tour with participants Dido and Ina

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Um, “immersed” inside a testis …

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and outside a womb in Doctor Asp‘s (my regular landowner :-) amazing holodeck

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Participant, Hans and I trying to build Bears … LOL not easy, since the Bear is meant to wear!

The Bear was created by Danish resident, Kaj Bing, and can be found in Wonderful Denmark’s Freebie Factory, where you’ll also find my favorite SL object; The Pink Elephant created by Asp himself :-)

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Last night participant, Marcus and I met in my place …

Marcus is one of the participants with a couple of years experience in SL. BTW Marcus directed my attention to an interesting post written on this first week’s impressions by participant, Susanne from Germany :-)

Both Heilyn and I are using this PBBL course to collect empirical data for our PhD-projects and we will meet later today to assess this first week as part of our own Action Learning cycles. We will post our reflections in Moodle, so that the participants are able to see how we actually try to apply the chosen research and teaching and learning strategy in our own projects encouraging the participants to comment on our thoughts. Furthermore Heilyn and I will rearrange the teaching and learning area to match the next weeks’ activities …

And I will for sure return with more posts on this as the course progresses …

/Mariis

Theoretical bricolage

This week a vicious feverish flu has influenced my research stay at The Danish School of Education. Nonetheless – or perhaps because of the fever ! – I’ve been able to make some important decisions regarding the use of theory in my PhD. Yesterday I presented my PhD project and SL (hands-on) to a bunch of colleagues from the Research Programme, Media and ICT in a Learning Perspective. It was really nice to be among colleagues who were interested in my findings and had fun exploring SL :-)

In my presentation I focused mainly on theory of remediation, PBL , Experiential learning and the Community of Inquiry-model.  However, I’ve also decided to investigate another meta-theory (or Didactic theory as we would say in Northern Europe); The Theory of Interactive Constructivism. This theory stems from Germany and the work of especially Kersten Reich. Reich founded his thoughts back in the 1990’ies when he called this particular branch of constructivism Systemisch-konstruktivistische Didaktik.  It’s not a theory that I’m particularly familiar with but from readings this week it shows potentials!

Reich and his colleagues at the Cologne Dewey Center have published most of their ideas in German, but have recently started to write in English too (luckily, since my German is a bit rusty!).  Reich and colleague Stephan Neubert have set up a site for their work on Interactive Constructivism, and from a text by Neubert (2008) I quote these theoretical perspectives that demonstrate the foundations of the theory:

  • observers-participants-agents in cultural practices, routines, and institutions
  • processes of communication with particular focus on the dimension of lived relationships
  • the interplay between the symbolic resources of a life-world, the imaginative desire of subjects, and the occurrence of real events
  • the connections between processes of construction, reconstruction, and deconstruction in the cultural production of realities,
  • involvements of discourse and power,
  • cultural diversity, otherness, and incommensurability in multicultural contexts. (p.1)

There seems to be many interesting and relevant perspectives for my PhD work, but what I found especially interesting is their thoughts on reality de-/re-/construction.  Since my object of study embrace 3D virtuality I’m always on the lookout for theories that might be able to include what I call a mixed reality perspective. I don’t think Reich and Neubert have 3D virtuality in mind, when they discuss “the limits of reality constructions”, but I have a feeling that it might be possible to expand their ideas.

I was also delighted to learn that they speak of “imaginative desire” and the social aspect;

According to interactive constructivism, furthermore, these imaginative constructions cannot be separated from contexts of social interaction. That is to say, imaginative desire is always involved in mutual mirror experiences between self and others (…). (p. 9)

By bringing in this theory, I’m hoping to be able to focus more explicitly on the social aspect of teaching and learning – an aspect which Kolb often has been (wrongly in my opinion though!) criticized of neglecting.

In any case, what lies ahead of me is extensive reading and work on trying to create a coherent and relevant theory bricolage, and I’m quite positive, since all of the above theories claim to have found their inspiration in the great work of John Dewey.

More on this will follow for sure …

/Mariis

Lublin – in-world and out …

The COMBLE meeting my colleague, Heilyn and I just attended in Poland was held in the town Lublin.  What was especially interesting for me was that I actually recognized the Old town of Lublin from my visists to this part of Lublin in SL – quite a surreal experience: “Wow, I’ve been here before :-)”

Evidently the weather RL was not as good as in-world, but I do think the resemblance still is quite easy to see …

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Cracow’s Gate – RL

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Cracow’s Gate – in-world

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Royal Court of Justice – RL

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Royal Court of Justice – in-world

Heilyn and I did find time to explore the city a bit, and I must say that it was worth visiting – despite the somewhat unfriendly weather!

/Mariis