Category Archives: community

Eeny Meeny Miny Moe – and these tools are it!

Deciding which tools to use for interactive purposes in our blended prototype felt a bit like a game of eeny meeny miny moe. With so many tools to choose from how can one possibly decide which tools are the best for what you are trying to accomplish. Fortunately my team and I were able to decide which tools we want to use without much debate. We are going to be using Canvas as our LMS so we will be using some features of that site as well as twitter and blogs. I will go into more detail as to why we selected these methods but I want to start with the quote from Shaping the Metaphor of Community in Online Learning Environments: 

For a community to emerge, a learning environment must allow learners to engage each other intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge.

This quote really stood out to me and validated the tools we have selected as our community building tools. Nancy, Andrew and I have had a lot of discussions around Twitter and how much we have grown to love it over the past few semesters. I have said this before and I’ll said it again for anyone who hasn’t heard me say it before – I used to think Twitter was pointless and really served little purpose. I didn’t fully understand the value in it. Looking back I now realize that I felt that way because I wasn’t using it to it’s full potential. I didn’t follow a lot of meaningful people, I didn’t understand how to use hashtags to my advantage and didn’t feel it was possible to share something meaningful in 140 characters. Twitter has become one of the most beneficial tool for me as a teacher. It has provided me with great resources, professional development and connections with other amazing teachers – all for free! I have really developed my PLN (personal learning network) and I can’t imagine my teaching career without twitter. I the teacher in this video has done an excellent job of discussing PLN’s and the role twitter plays in developing your PLN.

It is possible for students to build a PLN and we plan to encourage our students to build their PLN through using a course hashtag (which is yet to be decided) as well as hootsuite or tweetdeck. Students will be asked to interact on twitter by sharing articles, retweeting and quoting tweets from classmates within the class as well as people from outside of the class. By using hashtags students will be able to reach out and connect with others far beyond the four walls of our classrooms which will in turn help them improve the community within our classroom by sharing resources and information.

Another way we feel that an online learning community can be established is through blogs. George Couros shares 5 reasons why students should be blogging including developing a positive digital footprint, giving students a voice and allowing for student reflection. It is a great way for students to document their learning and share what they have been doing in class. Through comments on each others blogs the online community can further be established. Like Liz pointed out, it is important to consider digital citizenship and be sure that students are commenting respectfully and mindfully. Being that we are doing a digital citizenship course prototype we will be focusing on this early on in the semester. Students will be expected to follow classmates blogs through an RSS platform such as Feedly. Feedly is a user friendly way to follow blogs without having to go back to the individual blog and check to see if a new post has been written. We felt that this would be easier to use than creating a blog hub.

The last way that we thought we can try to establish a community is through the discussion feature on Canvas. An edutopia article lists many benefits to using a discussion board in an online course including critical thinking, improved reading & writing skills and reflection. The article also suggests having students come up with the guidelines for using the discussion board and just like Sarah I feel like this would be a really great idea. The chart discussing Bloom’s Taxonomy in relation to activities for discussion boards really opened my eyes to the endless possibilities for activities through a discussion board. Although I see the discussion board being used primary for students to connect with one another to ask questions or get help with information related to the course I can see it be useful to have an activity thrown in there every once in a while too.

I feel like there are so many other tools we could have selected but I feel like these are the tools that will help our students build a community online, much like I have experienced in all of my EC&I classes with Alec and Katia.

Are there any other great tools we have overlooked for our course prototype in terms of building community online?

Creating Community

What communities do you feel connected to? Why? Why do we need community? Benita and Melinda asked the same question this week. And I hope that I’ll leave you with one of many possible answers by the end of this post.

Whether fostering a community online or face-to-face, the instructor and students must establish expectations, participate in interactions, and develop communication skills. Like Schwier says, an environment doesn’t inherently develop into a community in which participants feel safe, belonging, committed and engaged. So, how do I plan to foster interactions using Canvas in my Music 9 prototype course?

Step #1 – Establish boundaries and participation rubric with students

Via edutech4teachers
                                     Via edutech4teachers
  • What rules are we going to follow in these spaces?
  • How often do you think you would need to participate for others to benefit from your contributions? Can you make this commitment?
  • What type of language are we going to use?
  • Learn about “Netiquette” and digital citizenship
  • Remember, chat comments cannot be deleted once they’ve been posted. You must be responsible.

Step #2 – Practice using the tools, explain their unique purposes/potentials

I plan to use the interactive and connective tools that are built into Canvas as the primary methods of communication: discussion, chat, conversations and conferences. We would practice using all of these tools and outline the expectations associated with each, before setting students “loose” to use them all.

The discussions section in Canvas allows responses to be organized by the question asked. Furthermore, students can add discussion questions if the instructor adjusts the settings to allow this. I would make sure that students would have access to this feature to increase the number of what Bryce-Davis calls “ringers,” which are new or unusual activities that “disrupt the established patterns and expectations just enough to renew interest” in the conversations. These discussions can be threaded, which allows members to focus in on particular comments of interest and follow that train of thought, rather than a stream of feed is more conducive to general comments. The threaded conversations help to ensure that discussion is organized and therefore potentially more meaningful and authentic. Small group options are available as well. Students can join particular focus groups based on interests or projects. Edutopia provides many suggestions in their Mastering Online Discussion Board Education Resource Guide. One idea is

“Instructional Discussion Boards should be used to meet specific course objectives and should be aligned with course content.”

For this reason, I would set the expectation for the discussion forum to be mostly related to the content of the course.

The chat section is a great option for students to socialize and build relationships. This area could be designed as a place for informal exchanges and for straight-forward student questions like, “When is this due?” or “What time are we meeting?”  It is important to note that comments in the chat cannot be deleted and are organized on a separate page from the discussion questions. Students would need to be aware of this ahead of time and know consequences for posting inappropriate comments.

Canvas also offers what they call Conversations, which is really just an email service. It’s a great option for one-on-one student-teacher interaction.

Finally, Canvas offers Conferences through a partnership with BigBlueButton, which is a web conferencing tool for synchronous online meetings, much like what we do with Zoom in EC&I 834. This option is ideal for group instruction or a more face-to-face feeling.

The combination of these tools is important. In his blog post this week, Adam said, “When looking for engagement amongst the class, it is vital to incorporate a number of different interaction opportunities.” The fact that Canvas has all of these tools within the same LMS means that students won’t need to check multiple providers to stay connected with their peers. When the log in to Canvas they will automatically be surrounded by opportunities to connect with each other in a variety of ways depending on the purpose of interaction.

Step #3 – Make the interactions meaningful, supportive and relevant

As I said before, setting expectations for each of the formats for interaction at the beginning of a course is crucial. The various forms of communication available, with students able to guide discussions, will make the interactions more meaningful than a strictly teacher-driven approach. Schwier says, “For a community to emerge, a learning environment must allow learners to engage each other intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge. It isn’t enough that material is presented to people and they interact with the instruction. It isn’t enough that the learners interact with instructors to refine their understanding of material.”

Students also need to be taught the skill of asking critical or higher level questions for discussions to go beyond surface-level ideas and observations. Edutopia suggests teaching Bloom’s Taxonomy to ensure that students ask high-quality, purposeful questions.

Students need skills in research and citation as well, so that they find and support answers to their own and others’ questions.

However, my presence as the instructor in each of these areas will model meaningful and supportive interaction.

Schwier, 2001
                                Schwier, 2001

I think that required participation is also necessary, especially initially, to help students develop the habit of being a part of and contributing to the community. Icebreakers and introductions are important to developing historicity, which is an essential element of community.



I would also use rubrics for participation, as well as teacher, self, and peer evaluation to give students clear expectations and opportunities for feedback and self-reflection.

Step #4 – Troubleshooting

Edutopia helpfully outlines some Common Pitfalls so that educators embarking on this journey can avoid them. I think that I have planned for each of the concerns in my plan above. But the one that I feel I have the least control over is “Students may react in an inappropriate way by flaming other students or making disinterested or disrespectful comments to their peers or in response to assignments.” If this were to happen in a chat, there is one guide that says that the comment cannot be deleted. This is very concerning to me. If one student chooses to make a bad decision, it wouldn’t go away. I’ve emailed Canvas to ask why they’ve chosen this.

Step #5 – Learn!

By Frankieleon via Flickr
                                                                                By Frankieleon via Flickr

The primary benefit of creating a blended learning environment where students can connect online is that it improves the likelihood that they will learn more. Amy noted this in her blog post this week as well.  George Siemens’ Theory of Connectivity highlights the importance of networks in learning. I know this has certainly been true of my experience in EC&I 834.

Baba’s Summary of Learning for #eci831

Well it has been a jam packed, content filled semester and I feel like my eyes are going to fall out of my head from learning everything from the internet.  Although, I have to admit because our class was encouraged to guide our own learning, use open education, and make connections I feel like I have learned more in this class then any other.

I even surprised myself with by creating my own whiteboard animation video, you can make own to through the powers of the internet (they have templates and a 7 day free trial, just click here).

So, here she is folks my summary of learning:

Questions, comments, and concerns are welcomed.

Thank you to Alec & Katia for putting up with my technology illiterate mind.  Also, good luck to my classmates, go enjoy your summer!

Life lessons on an afternoon walk with a lost Syrian couple 

Today I had been having just “one of those days” and was happy to know I was on my way home for a quiet night. Not really sure why it felt like one of those days but it just did. As I pulled into the parking lot at home I noticed a couple, probably mid 30s standing on the side of the road. Not on the side walk but right along the side, almost in the middle of the road. A truck had pulled over and I just assumed it was a group of people that knew each other. I had planned to take my dog for a walk so I went inside and got the dog and set out for my walk. As I walked out thr truck pulled away and the couple was still standing there. They looked lost and nervous. As I walked toward them the man approached me and handed me a book. On the page he shows me it said ‘if lost return to Hanan’ and it had a bunch of contact information. When he handed me the book I noticed that he also had quite a large pile of guides and maps. It was quite clear that both the man and the woman with him did not speak English very fluently but he was able to tell me that he was lost and pointed to the contact information.

I really wasn’t sure what to do from there because in our broken conversation he said the lady was his wife, Hanan… Ok so calling Hanan in the contact info wasn’t going to work because she was right there! I remembered I had my phone in my pocket because I wanted to take a picture of the great weather on my walk! In comes Google for the win!

I googled the address in the contact info and it was only a 5 minute walk from where we were. I told him, “just walk straight and you’ll be right there, look at the street sign.” I tried to use words that I thought maybe they might know but he gave me a smile and said, “no English”. Duh, Nicole! They weren’t able to understand me and I needed to find another way to help. I asked him what language he spoke and he said Arabic. Hmm, so I don’t know any Arabic, what am I going to do? Google translate! Typed in something I thought to be simple and showed him my phone. A huge smile came across his face, he pointed straight and said, “you walk too.” I thought well hey I am out here anyway might as well walk with them!

How pretty is the written Arabic language by the way?

We kept walking but they both walked in the middle of the road. Nervous that they could get hurt or honked at I said something along the lines of why don’t you come walk over here, it might be safer. I knew he may not understand but he must have understood some because he came and walked along side me but she continued on in the middle of the road a few steps ahead the whole time. As we walked he pointed to the snow/ice and said,

“not in Syria!”

He then started saying different days of the week and something about his wife cooking very good Syrian food and he showed me his phone number on his phone. He continually repeated the word Saturday. I realized he was asking me over to his house to say thank you for helping him! I used google translate again to say that he did not have to make food for me and that I was happy to help. He read the translation, smiled a great smile and walked ahead to catch up with his wife.

I won’t say that I am someone who regularly follows the news but I do check in and try to stay aware of what’s happening around me. I would probably have to be living under a rock to not know about the Syrian refugees coming to our province/country. If you’re not sure about this, check out the CBC article 100 more Syrian refugees arrive in Regina as a start. I have lots I can learn too and have a feeling I will be learning even more now.

As soon as he mentioned that they were from Syria there was something in me that empathized with them, on a human being level. Language barrier and different cultures aside. I can’t imagine the feeling of being taken out of the place that you know as home, placed in a completely foreign place where you don’t speak or understand the language and also having to find a way to live in that community. I simply can’t imagine that feeling. As I continued on my walk, thinking about the last 10 minutes I found myself wishing I had known more and offered to help in some way beyond directions. By the time I had reached this thought I looked up and the couple was gone. I wish I had caught his name and kept his phone number! I don’t think that I would have the confidence to approach a complete stranger for help in a country I don’t know where many of the citizens speak a language I don’t. Quite honestly I would probably be crying on the side of the road. If anyone who knows me well reads this, I am sure they’ll be able to attest to that fact. Not too sure I want to admit that publicly but hey why not!

This couple probably doesn’t know it but they made my day. I didn’t write this to share a yay me story, that’s not the point.  I am writing this because I was so impressed by this couple and admired them for tackling a new challenge head on. Life is so full of challenges or so we think. This kind and appreciative couple quickly made me realize that perhaps the ‘challenges’ we think we face are simply called life. This couple seemed to be taking life in stride and going with the flow, finding their way the best they know how.

***As I googled the article above to share with you I instantly recognized the man in the striped shirt! This is the man that brightened my day today and challenged me to take things more in stride. Hopefully I will run into him and his wife on another walk and can learn a little more about them! I’ll be sure to have Google translate ready and a fully charged phone! **

One Thing Leads to Another

Even weeks into this class, I was/am definitely still feeling hesitant about the whole integration of social media (here are some tips for the classroom) into most every aspect of our lives, but after listening to Dave Comier speak about his presentation on Tree vs. Rhizomes and reading “Connectivism” by George Siemens I feel as if a change is occurring within my thinking.

I have now realized that connectivism  allows the opportunity for storytellers to share their stories, for scientists to share their theories, and for Babas to share their recipes.  With connectivism the playing field is a little more level and everyone (no matter how little their voice) has the chance to be heard.


Unknown Source

With connectivism comes the aspect  of different perspectives and critical thinking skills.  It allows all angles to tell their story so that a more well rounded answer to a simple, complicated, or complex question may be found.  Connectivism allows for answers to be found when their isn’t even a question as read in “Why Even the Worst Bloggers are Making Us Smarter” by Clive Thompson.  Connectivism is an idea factory!  As The Fixx states, “One thing leads to another.”   This I feel, is why it is so easy to get lost web surfing. An idea spurs and it’s off to the virtual races to see what else or who else you can find to help develop that idea.

One question that did pop into my head while reading Clive Thompson’s article was the idea of the audience effect.  I am glad to read that students’ best efforts are being posted on the world wide web.  Yes,  this means people are putting their best foot forward when posting on the internet, but is it this audience effect (attention getting tactics) that is spawning mental health problems when it comes to social media.  Those posting their “best foot” maybe posting something that is unattainable for most people or something that only exists in virtual reality.  You can say I am being the devil’s advocate at this point, but so be it.  Shouldn’t all perspectives be suggested after all?

Now, let’s go back to some positive vibes.  Computers don’t have to mean isolation (which I thought), but instead, as Dave Comier presented – it is the community that makes the curriculum.   In the past, my biggest issue with on-line classes was that they were not able to possess the idea of social learning and face to face human interaction. I have definitely been proven wrong.  Community makes the curriculum is the quote that changed my thought process about social media and open education in the classroom.  An on-line class is a community !  The Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition states that a community is, as follows:

  • common people, as distinguished from those of rank or authority; (check)
  • a relatively small society (check)
  • the people of a district; (check)
  • the quality of holding something in common (check)
  • a sense of common identity and characteristics. (check)

Our EC&I 831 class possess all of these characteristics.  Therefore, our on-line community is curriculum.  As long as we are learning from one another we have created a curriculum and that knowledge is warranted.