Sunday, April 13, 2008

A heartfelt reflection

Thank you Jenn, for the invitation to write a heartfelt reflection. That is about the only kind I know how to write. I've been gone from the academic world for such a long time that my formal writing muscle is pretty lax.

There have been some real lows in my experience, mostly related to my anxiety about doing it (everything) properly. This is too bad, since I know just plunging in, and doing something advances my learning. In fact, I would say this experience has been transformative. I began my first on-line course at the University of Alberta very aware of some major holes in my knowledge base and here, at the end of this part of the journey, I have lots of new language, new ideas and new tools---all kinds of resources that will continue to impact the contribution I can make as a teacher.

First, the low points.

*My confidence plunged pretty regularly. I kept forgetting my intention to be playful in my learning. I kept forgetting to allow myself to be a beginner.

*Getting used to the online course was the first tech challenge for me. I took quite a bit of time to understand where things were and how to access them.

* I needed more human contact at the beginning. I was disappointed in myself for not just reaching out. (Every time I did I was encouraged and supported)!

*I found it very frustrating to spend so much time looking for things---again, when I asked for direction it was offered freely. I spent a lot of time feeling stupid (which is the antithesis of the zone of proximal development). A counter-productive use of energy.

* I loved and hated reading the other class blogs. I was impressed and amazed by the quality and variety of the I frequently felt that mine was inadequate, which contributed to my mountain of self-doubt. Not that I needed any help with that! I thought a lot about the powerful experience of learning from others, the knowledge of the collective. I felt privileged to read my classmates' blogs.

* I struggled to get everything read--course readings, blogs, research. I appreciated receiving comments from others, but I struggled to find time to make comments myself. I thought a lot about making useful comments but again, didn't feel that I had new or insightful comments to share.

*I found the pace quite overwhelming. There are many things I want to go back to, to play with and learn more about, outside of the structured time-line. The RSS was especially confusing.

The Highlights

*One of the highlights was working on the wiki project with Elizabeth and Ronda. I learned so much from each of them. In one phone conversation we planned how to bring our different pieces of the wiki pie together. Because Elizabeth had created a wiki before, she jumped right in and got us started. She was also brave enough to change hosts when it became apparent that the wikispaces site was not too user-friendly. Ronda took the lead on the Asselin research article, summarizing and synthesizing a lot of dense material. Working together shifted my sense of isolation and I learned so much through the process of creating together.

*Following conversations on different wiki topics was eye opening. The posts seemed vividly connected to the real world of teaching. I preferred the wiki format to the discussion board because it was easier to follow the thread of the discussion--both visually and thematically. (The dense text on the discussion board hurt my eyes! I'm sure I will eventually learn how to make an adjustment to what I see on my screen, but this is another area where to figure out how to change the screen image, took time I couldn't find).

Things I loved about wikis--

*Having the ability to contribute from different places was amazing. This opens a whole new world of group possibilities.

*The shared conversation was powerful. Scheduling the presentations and discussions over several days brought a real focus to the experience. With the discussion board system our class conversation was more scattered, though once I realized I could follow a 'thread' I had an improved experience.

*As we moved through the different wiki presentations I felt more connected to others, began to see aspects of personality (which made it less intimidating for me). The personal stories are profound.

*I deeply appreciated the richness of reflection from teachers in the field--because I don't have all those teaching years behind me these professional conversations helped me gain a more current understanding of educational realities.

*At some point Jenn reminded me that the research based on my experience was valuable. I realized then that lots of people are like me--not technology experts, but open to the possibilities. The fact that researchers are actively seeking ways to help adult learners develop the interest and ability to use Web 2.0 tools is exciting. Being involved in an innovative area makes me feel like I'm making a useful contribution.

*I really got to love playing around with the blog. I love writing informally, with a focus on reflection. I enjoyed bringing my personality to the blog. Creating a learning log of my experiences will help me remind myself that I've come pretty far from where I started.

*Having my kids help me with different aspects of the class was amazing. Right from the start, Thomas helped me get going on the new computer, got me established with the U of A site, and was available for answering my frequently befuddled queries. Basically he helped me through a lot of stuff that the HELP desk never could.

*Daniel was my in-house go-to-guy.There are some deep chasms in my understanding of all things computerish. Daniel's calm, unflappable ways of talking me through times of intense distress when I 'lost' something I'd spent hours on makes me want to send him directly to the faculty of Education. The guy is a born teacher.

*Sarah was my Facebook and photo expert. She very gallantly let me use pictures of her in my Voicethreads piece. In fact, watching her play with my mac helped remind me that this technology stuff could be fun.

*Creating the podcast with all three of my kids was a real high point. Because Thomas is podcasting regularly he really knows the ins and outs of editing and posting. Trying a podcast without his support would be quite a different experience. Reading about the challenges and frustrations other classmates experienced as they fought to bring their podcasts into the world made me appreciate the gift of technical expertise he shared with me.

*I liked the regular, specific feedback. My entries improved once I had a better understanding of the format.

* Realizing how far I've come is the ultimate highlight. At the beginning of this course I didn't know how to create a hyperlink, or add a picture to my blog. I had never used any of the tools we explored. No photo bucket, no facebook, no youtube, no RSS feed... you get my drift. Just re-reading my own blog is a highlight!

My final highlight is the sense of gratitude and appreciation I feel toward my classmates and instructor for their company on this learning adventure.


elizabeth said...

Being new to online learning, taking this course and working full time must have been an incredible challenge. It is amazing what you have learned and I hope it gives you the courage to keep going. It has been wonderful meeting you in real life and working with you in the virtual world. Thanks for all your insight. Its time to relax and celebrate all that you have accomplished!

Val said...

Stephanie: My hat is off to you. You perservered through the tough times and came out triumphant. I loved your blog and looked forward to your weekly entries, especially when you involved your kids. It was so wonderful to see. The games podcast with them was amazing.

I too had never tried any of the tools, I came from not allowing my kids on the computer at home to now giving them 45 min most days to explore on safe sites. Wow have the tides turned.

I hope the Island ladies Elizabeth, Elisa, you and I can get together for lunch or at least a coffee in April. Elisa and I had coffee last month. It was so nice to meet in person.

I look forward to taking the summer course with you and am proud of your strength and committment to take on such a heavy course, while working full time (after being off) and raising three teens (20+). You are an inspiration.