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Intensity and online tutorials

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Last Saturday, I had two online tutorials and was again struck by how intense they seem to be compared to face to face teaching.  There were several instances that struck me in this regard.

In the first tutorial, there were originally three students.  One suddenly disappeared and I was left wondering why that was.  She has not written since to explain so I am left slightly mystified.  Did she have technical problems?  If so, why not write to explain?  Did she think she was not getting what she wanted? 

Then during the rest of the tutorial, there were two students.  I know one quite well as he is in my tutor group and we have met face to face.  This means I feel comfortable pitching content to his level and interests.  We can refer back to previous conversations, his TGF contributions and assignments.  The other student was unknown to me which means I was having to react to any clues I could obtain about whether what I was doing was too quick/slow, complex/simple and my judgements were not helped by the way she was keener to use the textbox facility than speak.  She was also influenced by the way her family was in the room and sometimes this would presumably have affected her concentration.  My student was very sensitive to the dynamics and was keen to not dominate and eventually, it seemed like there was useful discussion and learning taking place.

The group for the afternoon tutorial was larger and this in some ways led to even greater diversity.  Three students only used text box chat and one of these hardly even used that and so I have no idea whether she obtained anything useful from the tutorial as I have no clue about her starting level and level of understanding of what we did.  However, the three who did use the microphones were engaged. I had not met any of the students before but one was in my tutor group so I did know something about her.  It seemed like we were able to do work where the students discussed issues in quite an exploratory way.  There was use of speech and text boxes as well as the drawing tool in the whiteboard so there was a rich multimodal communication.

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I try to avoid politics on this blog and in some ways, what I write in this posting is not party political.  It seems very strange that when the government is making such consequential decisions, it is so desperate to avoid scrutiny from MPs or the public.

Scrutiny from "critical friends" and perhaps even critiques from people who are not so friendly can help develop better ideas and avoid mistakes.  I have, for example, written materials and been given feedback on these.  This feedback has often pushed me to develop better work as well as simply pointing out mistakes, mistypings etc.  Similarly group discussions can ideally lead to exploratory talk where ideas and solutions are produced that are better than any one person can produce.

MPs are not being given time to read the Bill in detail and this is simply bad practice for effective decision making.    This coincides with a period when many students are writing their first assignments of the academic year (if they are on J presentations).  I and many other tutors are advising them to make sure that they read carefully and consider what they are reading from different angles and in a critical way.

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Collaborating on materials at a distance

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I have recently been writing materials for L185 Online Tutorials with some colleagues.  It has been an interesting and generally positive experience although there are challenges as well.

We have been able to develop materials in an exploratory way with different writers challenging the logic and also suggesting alternative ways of doing things.  There has also been some checking of relatively minor mistakes.

The biggest challenge has often been in terms of coordination and knowing which is the latest version of each piece of material.


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Elluminate meetings

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I have had a couple of Elluminate meetings recently with new students from my E852 groups.

It has seemed to me that it is difficult to encourage deep thought on Elluminate and the more exploratory talk (Mercer 2000) does not really occur.  One reason for this is that wait time in Elluminate seems very awkward - much more than in face to face student where it is possible to see whether students are thinking or just completely stumped. 

I put these thoughts to one of the groups at the end of the session and there was quite an interesting response with one saying that my view was the result of being a man.  This comment seemed to resonate with the other (all were female) students in the session.   Perhaps this relates to what Rovai (2001: 41) calls “socio-emotional messages” and they feel that the sense of belonging is more important than the content.

This seems reasonable as students can really theorise and reflect on complex issues in the asynchronous forums but Elluminate helps them to feel part of the course.

Mercer, N. (2000) Words and Minds: how we use language to think together. London: Routledge.
Rovai, A.P. (2001) “Building classroom community at a distance: a case study” Education Technology Research and Development, Vol. 49, No. 4, 2001, pp. 33–48


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Second Life session 4

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 15 Apr 2011, 15:57

This session involved students in designing in response to design briefs set by other students.

There was a lot of exploratory talk (Mercer 2000) with students giving reasons for something (eg "Papier mache would be good because you can shape it) or for not choosing a particular course of action (If we used glue, it would make it unrecyclable").

There were three other phenomena that struck me.  Firstly, although there was a lot of talk, there were also silent episodes as students concentrated on the task.  Secondly, the boundaries between study and social life seemed to blur (Snyder 2000) as students chatted about their experiences after they had finished the task.  Thirdly, some of the students began to react against the use of pseudonyms.


Mercer N (2000) Words and Minds London: Routledge

Snyder I (2003) "A new communication order: researching literacy practices in the network society" in Goodman S., Lillis T, Maybin J and Mercer N (eds) (2003) Language, Literacy and Education: a Reader Stoke on Trent: Trentham 


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