For the past three weeks I was moderator and guest expert for the Tech Change online course, Global Innovations for Digital Organizing. The course explores how technological innovation has resulted in the development of new channels of communication which are democratizing access to and production of media. The impact on social dynamics is evident from the Obama campaign’s youth mobilization efforts to the ongoing uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa. The three-week online professional development certificate course evaluates case studies where new technologies have been used for activism and what factors and contexts are most influential on outcomes. It also provides participants with strategies for maximizing the impact of new media and train them in the effective use of analysis and message management tools. This was a fascinating experience that put me right in the middle of an innovative organization that is truly advancing both content related to technology and peacebuilding and the creative ways to engage people in learning experiences online. Continue reading to learn more…
The role of digital media in helping bring about social change and as an educational tool has been central to what I have been doing professionally for the last couple years. So it was great to have this opportunity to engage with several people from around the globe on this topic.
What fascinated me the most about this course, however, was the way in which Tech Change designed the learning platform and developed the online pedagogy. There are three things I will take- away from this experience as an educator interested in online learning.
First, the course offered an assortment of materials for the participants to absorb – readings, videos, and websites – and there were forum conversations that delved into each one of those resources. Participants had the choice, however, to decide which of the materials they wanted to discuss with others. I think this is important for professional level courses because participants may be interested in the overall topic of the course, but all the materials may not be that relevant to their work. So, to provide people with a choice in terms of what resources into which they want to delve deeper with others, I think, makes for a healthy and effective learning environment.
Second, participants were asked to reach out to another member of the course that they would like to interview and then arrange a live Skype call or chat. I think this is important because one of the biggest challenges in online learning is creating those personal connections and building the learning community. If a course is entirely asynchronous, has no live interaction, and is entirely text based, its tough for learners to feel connected to one another. I had Skype conversations with a couple people and it really felt good to hear their voices and to have a more intimate conversation about our interests in the field. During one of my Skype conversations, my interlocutor and I learned of a great, unexpected connection that we had. She lived in Jamaica but was born and raised in Guyana. My dad’s side of the family was born and raised in Guyana. And sure enough, she knew and had met my uncle at a Guyanese heritage festival in New York City. These are the kinds of connections that emerge in live, vocal, unscripted conversations that are less likely to pop up in structures, rehearsed, edited text based conversations.
In addition to the live Skype conversations we were asked to initiate, there was also a chat function available on the online learning platform. So anytime I was logged on I could see all the other people who were logged on and send any of them an instant message. This is a good feature to have on a platform because it provides another opportunity for live interaction with others and serves as a constant reminder that you are not going through this course alone, but that there is a larger community of learners joining you in this experience.
Third, there were about 40 people in the class and they were all broken up into subgroups of about 5-6 people each. Each of those subgroups was assigned to one of the course moderators, whose job it was to send updates and reminders to the group and to check in with them informally from time to time. The subgroups were also encouraged to live chat with each other each week, either through IM or Skype. With various time zones and work schedules at play, it was tough to get everyone to link up at the same time, but it was worth the effort. At the end of the first week I was in a conference Skype call with three of the participants in my sub group – one person was in Falls Church, VA another person in New Delhi, India and another person in Sana’a, Yemen. I think the subgroups are important because in a three-week class of 40 people, all of whom are scattered across the globe, its almost impossible to try and create bonds among everyone all the time. The subgroups, which is a method I recommend TechChange use based off my experience taking a “Learning to Teach Online” course, allow for those participants to feel committed and accountable to one another throughout the learning process. They also know that there is someone who is specifically tasked with addressing their needs and reaching out to them to spur and encourage participation.
I see a lot of great things coming out of TechChange. I think they are very much part of the online learning evolution currently underway. I look forward to participating and working with them as they continue to innovate and educate.