Session Eleven—Virtual Meetings

Virtual Meetings
Picture of live online Business English course using Elluminate, courtesy of Buthaina al-Othman, (Creative Commons license) from her flickr account. I thought this picture particularly appropriate for us, since this week we will participate in an Elluminate session to discuss Barbara Sawhill’s and Barbara Ganley’s article, “Making Ground: How have transformed teaching pedagogies taken advantage of participatory media to increase learner engagement?.” After the Elluminate session Barbara Sawhill and Barbara Ganley have graciously agreed to continue the conversation with us for a Language Lab Unleashed Skype podcast on blogs and other social networking tools for language learning. It will be a webcast with an open chatroom for all to participate.

Here is a link to Language Lab Unleashed #22, which includes links to the audio portions of the Elluminate session we participated in and to the post-event Skype podcast hosted by Barbara Sawhill of Oberlin College. Thanks to Barbara Ganley, Barbara Sawhill and Sean (Ben, too!) for the opportunity to learn, connect and share!

At first blush, the podcast interview with Lonnie Harvel, VP for Educational Technology at Georgia Gwinnett College on the emerging use of cell phones in education might seem an odd selection for this session. But as he discusses Georgia Gwinnett College’s pilot studies it becomes clear that cell phones can become the means to create communities of educational practice. Dr. Harvel’s definition of a distance learning student has broad implications for all our students and how we choose to address the barriers in relationships that hinder learning for today’s students. As we can see from the eSchool News article, Georgia Gwinnett College is only one of many across the nation exploring the educational possibilities of this ubiquitous and highly portable device.

In Learning Spaces Malcolm Brown of Dartmouth College continues the discussion of last week’s reading on neomillennial learning styles to address the physical and virtual, synchronous and asynchronous learning environments that will engage and support our current and future students.

We’ll look at some tools that allow for virtual collaborations and continue work on our projects.


I have to admit that the use of cellular phones within learning environment as posited in the “Distraction to Interaction” interview leaves me less perplexed than I thought regarding the efficacy of these ubiquitous instruments (although in all honesty I am not well-versed enough in today’s cell phone technology to gauge completely the potentialities of its usage). The benefits of immediate interaction and in class application – through the immediacy of poling systems – are clear for course corrections during the semester. I also believe that the students would gain from the features of data collection, lecture tagging and the annotation of images. As long as the course syllabus spells out appropriate procedures and practices to be followed – the so-called “technology covenant” – there would be a definite advantage with an interface to a network through a cell phone: of particular interest is the use of Bluetooth technology (I’m still not entirely sure what it is) and keyboard to interact with a library. As every week, a reference led me immediately to the “Boldly go” universe – the see-through glasses – confirming the old adage that yesterday’s scifi is today’s plaything. There is still too much, yes, enthusiasm, regarding the role cell phone use in the classroom will have in the formation of interactive student groups and the creation of an authentic learning community, between students and between students and faculty.

The Learning Spaces article started off well enough but got progressively worse as it went on. Ok, we do have to redesign our educational methods to achieve optimal results with Net Geners and they may be more optimistic, social and team oriented than previous generations (I do wonder however is Brown is are attributing to them characteristics that are not necessarily exclusive to that generation). Furthermore, virtual spaces indeed must be integrated into our teaching alongside physical spaces (both formal and informal: the “discussion pockets” were an interesting concept, CLAS has one on each floor) and these virtual spaces may be tailor-made for the work habits of Net Gen students (although this is an assumption has been challenged, e.g. by Clayton-Pedersen).

HOWEVER, I have extrapolated some tidbits and truisms that the author’s, ahem, enthusiasm let slip in.

“Stated simply, [constructivist theory of learning] holds that learners construct knowledge by understanding new information building on their current understanding and expertise… Knowledge is constructed by assimilating new information into the learner’s knowledge paradigm.”
Does this connect in any way to language instruction or literature classes? If the answer is yes, then could someone please explain it to me?

“Literary skills now include critical thought, persuasive expression”
Meaning that before they didn’t?

“Learning is best served when it is: Contextual, Active and Social”
“Learning is strengthened through social interactions, interpersonal relations, and communication with others.”
Really?! Could’ve fooled us!

The Absurd.
“a final grade does not measure the learning that did—or did not—take place.”
Reminds me of a Calvin and Hobbes quote
You know how Einstein got bad grades as a kid? Well, mine are even worse!

The idyllic descriptions of learning spaces in the scenarios were simply so improbable as to border on the offensive for anyone who teaches/has taught a gen ed class of more than 60 students.

I did like that Sandra takes Italian, though.



5 Responses to “Session Eleven—Virtual Meetings”

  1. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:

    After reading Chapter 12: Learning Spaces, it becomes clear that we cannot think of the classromm in its mere physical dimension. I am not talking about the communication in Cyberspace, but the fact that a visitor no longer needs to appear physically, if we have the right tools: videoconference increases our chances to bring the outside world to the classroom. This simple fact adds possibilites to change the dynamics of a class. It becomes more practical to “invite” target language friends, with different accents, for example.

    I have a comment about Scenario 2. I still have to remember myself that, although Sandra’s list of activities done in class and after class are familiar to me, I still see it as something “new”. We should start to think that’s the familiar way things are supposed to be done. There is nothing modern or avant-garde from the point of view of ours students to chat, listen to music in a i-pod, download assignments, take a photo and share with 1,000 thousands “friends” in just one minute.

    I like how ironically the article refers to us as being “immigrants” to the digital, multitasking world: “The underlying theme remains the same, however: cultivating learning practices consistent with learning theory and aligned with the habits and expectations of Net Gen students (and soon professors!) who have been “raised on” IT.” (In the New Learning Spaces section, near the end of the article).The article points, though, that soon the first Net Gen of instructors will be here… So I guess we were caught at the middle of two worlds.

    I’ll finish with a question for Barbara: How common are the “virtual whiteboards” for lecture halls, as describe in chapter 12? The idea for students not to take notes during a lecture, and focusing more on the information, sounds like a simple and yet important thing to implement (especially in literature, since I tend to use the board a lot: draw maps, write historical dates, compare literary texts, etc, etc).

  2. Barbara Says:

    That’s a good question, Alfonso. While UCONN has whiteboards installed in several of its classrooms (including ours here in our lab), allowing for instructors to display digital materials, annotate them and then save those files to share with students, I don’t know if anyone here is also using virtual whiteboards of the kind described in our reading. We are going to try out skrbl in class so you can get a basic sense of how it works. In doing a Google search I came across a rather old article on the use of virtual whiteboards in a distance learning environment. We should follow up on this to see if and how these type of whiteboards are used in a variety of learning scenarios.

  3. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:

    Well, talking about virtual meetings, we just had our first two. [I refer to the e-Show n tell and the language lab unleashed podcast. I just decided to write a little bit before going to bed (if I could download my dreams I would, but I don’t think that’s possible yet, but imagine all the money saved in special effects).

    Anyway, I just wanted to let Barbara [Lindsey, just in case] how many things you have made happen for us by taking your course. I don’t take things for granted, and I decided to take this space in the blog for letting you know it.

  4. Barbara Says:

    Thank YOU, Alfonso, and Nathalie, Martina, Fulvio, Felice, Renato and Manuela for sharing with me this collaborative experience. I have learned so much from and with you and appreciate very much your willingness to undertake this journey with me! I really enjoyed our sessions tonight with Barbara Sawhill, Barbara Ganley and Sean (thank you, Ben!) and the fabulous folks at E-Learning Networks in Australia. You had really interesting comments and insights and I hope you found the sessions as engaging as I did. I’m sorry that we weren’t all able to participate tonight due to some technical difficulties, but, as Barbara Sawhill mentioned in her Skypecast, the conversation continues in the form of comments to our blogs—as you’ve done here, Alfonso! Thanks again, everyone.

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