We're just beginning to figure out how to include undergraduate and graduate students more “visibly” and more often in our online professional development sessions. In my first conversations about this goal I’ve found some interesting backlash: faculty and other academic support professionals who are worried that students will not participate well in this environment, may not behave as intended, may not prepare adequately, or may express opinions that are more personal than thoughtful.
For those worried that students will not be treated respectfully or behave respectfully and contribute thoughtfully, I often suggest to people who are beginning to think about online education – and to worry about things getting out of hand and wasting time in that environment which is still so new to so many – that they consider the differences between a cocktail party and a symposium. Please see more about this comparison below.
I have no doubt that we should include students. I don’t want to be one of those who advocate various forms of “learner centered-ness” and claim to know what students want and need – without asking the students, without giving students opportunities to be heard, without really listening to students. Whenever I visit campuses, I always ask for an opportunity to chat with some students, and I always learn something useful about that institution (often something quite positive that my hosts may not have noticed or thought to mention; occasionally something negative that is being ignored and that could be easily remedied).
But I have more enthusiasm and questions than answers about HOW to include students. So we welcome your suggestions about ways to involve students in our live online sessions likely to enhance the events (and avoid embarrassment) for everyone involved. And we also seek nominations of specific students for specific sessions. Those invited will receive complimentary registrations. Click here for an online form for recommending students, topics, and roles. Or to respond more publicly, leave a comment by scrolling to the very bottom of this TLT-SWG blog posting.
Cocktail Parties and Symposia
I often suggest to people who are beginning to think about online education – and to worry about things getting out of hand and wasting time in that environment which is still so new to so many – that they consider the differences between a cocktail party and a symposium.
What these events have in common is the effort to bring together an interesting mixture of people who are likely to enjoy each other and benefit from interacting. The success of both venues relies on the verbal contributions of those invited, and to some extent on their improvisational skills.
These events differ in the devices and skills used to facilitate interaction among the participants. Many cocktail parties go flat because the combination of people and booze cannot be relied upon to produce something meaningful or even pleasant. It is much more likely that symposia participants might prepare to offer useful or interesting observations on the topic known to all in advance. The cocktail party host/hostess might attempt to encourage one or two individuals, to introduce a few newcomers to some others. However, it is much more likely that the leader would feel responsible and authorized to redirect the entire flow of conversation in a symposium than in a cocktail party.
Symposia can fail too, but when they succeed it is usually because a leader thoughtfully designs the activities and TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR GUIDING AND INTERVENING.
So, too, with online courses and workshops. Just as teachers in traditional courses are responsible for guiding and shaping the way in which their students prepare for and participate when face-to-face, those who lead online sessions are responsible for students’ preparation and behavior as well. And, many students are still much more likely to be uncertain about the boundaries of appropriate behavior when participating in an online event than when in a more conventional classroom.
I'm happy to take or share responsibility for guiding and intervening in future TLT Group online sessions that involve students.
Fortunately, we've already found some colleagues willing to help us find students and develop and experiment with different roles for them. These colleagues have worked with many students in a variety of unusually constructive and successful activities involving technology: technology assistance, adult literacy training partnerships, first year experience advising, teaching/learning center support, service learning, ….
Please help the TLT Group involve students actively and effectively in our live online sessions in ways likely to enhance the events (and avoid embarrassment) for everyone involved. We also seek nominations of specific students for specific sessions. Those invited will receive complimentary registrations.
How should we prepare the students? Should we give the students access in advance to the description of the workshop and/or specific questions on the topic? In what ways can we realistically expect students to prepare for these live, synchronous, online, multi-way audio sessions? [Should we pre-record the students instead of having them with us live? Only if necessary!]
What roles should we offer to students in our online sessions?
Why should/shouldn’t we include more than one student per session?
Again, you may click here for an online form for recommending students, topics, and roles. Or to respond more publicly, leave a comment by scrolling to the very bottom of this TLT-SWG blog posting.