Searching for a spark

June 11, 2011

I was encouraged by the first weeks task and very excited for the students to start task two.  However, It’s been such contrast to the first week and I feel that the magic and buzz of the initial excitement  has diminished and  a strange quietness has emerged.  I feel a little deflated by this and I’m hoping that things start to pick up otherwise I fear that the course is going to rapidly grow cobwebs and the tumbleweed is going to pass through my empty virtual town.   Last week I mentioned that two students did not seem to be participating with the task or interacting with the other students.  I sent some personal e.mails to them asking if everything was okay and if I could assist in anyway.  One student was very apologetic and explained that due to personal reasons could not take part in the course.  I managed to talk to the other student over Skype and they stated that they were very enthusiastic and excited about the course but due to starting a new job they could not find the time to start the first task but would try their best over the next week to start interacting with other students and dedicate more time to the course.  I need to realise that students are very busy and will not be able to dedicate all their time to the course.  I feel that I should encourage them and make sure I’m available for any advice or assistance but there is only so much I can do and if they are too busy then I should understand and try not to impose the course on them.

I encountered several technical problems this week which hindered the progression of the tasks and created unneeded frustration with students.  One student was unable to publish her new blog entry and sent me several e.mails detailing her frustrations.  I could tell from the messages that she was very frustrated and really wanted to publish her new post.  She gave me her blog password to see if I could assist with publishing it.  I was concerned that she gave me her password but it meant that I could see what was wrong and make sure that her post was published.  I can imagine how frustrating it must be to spend a long time writing a post and then not be able to publish it.  I hope that this will not demotivate her to publish more posts.  When talking with her on Skype she shared her screen with me and I was able to advise her how to publish the post and we eventually sorted out the problem.    Talking on Skype has proved successful as the students are able to voice their concerns and also their excitement with the course.  There are however frequent problems with the clarity of sound and it can prove to be frustrating when the voice cracks up and the reception slow down.  Along with this any background noises can be an interference and adds to the frustration.  Students expressed that they understood the task but did not feel it was easy to locate an English blog to share with other students.  Also the link I provided on my blog did not work and Chinese students were unable to view the youtube videos which I posted.  I wondered if the task was not meaningful for them and suggested that they share a website/blog which they follow even if it is not in English and then share their thoughts about it with the rest of the group.  I thought that students would enjoy discovering new English blogs/websites but maybe this is not the case and they do not see the purpose for carrying out this task.   According to Salmon stage three, information exchange should provide an activity which requires students to share information which they have gathered.  It is important for students to think about how this information can benefit themselves and others.  The task instructions should be clear and the purpose made explicit so that students can understand why they are carrying it out.  Perhaps my instructions are unclear and the purpose of the task may be vague.  These are things I need to think about and consider when planning my tasks.

I planned to meet students in second life so that they could become familiar with the basic functions and it would provide an induction before meeting with the other students.  I encountered several problems in SL.  Firstly I teleported the student to where I was and then I explained the basic function such as flying and sitting down.  I then explained how to text chat and use the voice chat.  For some students their voice chat was very distorted and it became very frustrating for both of us so we had to resort to typing messages.  Another students voice was good however they expressed that they would prefer to talk on Skype as it was clearer.  It took a long time to explain the basic functions in SL and I have to say it was difficult to explain how to do things without seeing their screen.  The time scheduled to meet in SL was also problematic as the time in China appeared to be a peak time for people using the internet which made it very difficult for students to log on.  Although there were several unavoidable problems the students did express excitement about using SL and realised how it benefits for networking.  One student told me that they really liked using SL and in particular liked shopping and talking in English with people from other countries.  I was very encouraged by this.

I realise that this post has been longer that I initially expected but I feel that I need to document these frustrations.  I find it difficult to write regular posts due to a busy schedule during the week and I can completely understand how students must feel about writing regular posts.  I need to make sure I can encourage students to continue with the tasks but at the same time I need to understand that there needs to be a spark so that students feel it is worthwhile to engage.  Learning online means that students can easily hide and if they see that other students are not contributing then they may feel less encouraged.  It need to continue to be positive and try my best to motivate and engage students through encouraging e.mails and making myself available.  I also need to lower my expectations and evaluate the tasks provided.

I recently talked to Heike Philps on second life about using second life as a component for my online course.  We talked about the logistics of attempting to schedule a group meeting with students from different continents.  It is not easy to make sure that students can meet together at a convenient time when their time zones are very different.  She suggested that students maybe overwhelmed at first by such a new environment and instead of creating complex tasks it is preferable to lower my initial expectations and instead try to create a relaxed atmosphere by just sitting down and chatting.  Heike is very encouraging and her calm and relaxed persona on SL makes it comfortable to interact.

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