Tag Archives: flatclassroomproject

Continued Action Research as a Practice

Image:_1030339 29/12: Getting creative

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Chiew Pang

Having spent last academic year immersed in an action-research project of my own through my work on the teaching of writing as a Calderwood Fellow, I finished feeling very much like I had only begun a much longer journey. The Calderwood Fellowship for the Teaching of Writing really helped push me into a new direction in my career. The lead facilitator and primary investigator, University of Massachusetts – Boston Professor Denise Patmon, has long been a great a wonderful mentor, advocate and dear friend to me. Her guidnace and encouragement were and continue to be invaluable. Still, there were a number of aspects about Calderwood experience into which I wanted to dive deeper, including many of the readings I collected, as well as the design of my study.

Enter the South East Alaska Collaborative Classroom Research Massive Open Online Course, which is a mouthful and otherwise goes by SEACCR MOOC.

I started circling the same spaces as Professor Lee Graham sometime last year, during the MOOC MOOC, if I am not mistaken. Then some months back I got the privilege of meeting Professor Graham through my connection with the Flat Classroom Project, where I was honored to help advise on a developing project for some K-12 schools across the state of Alaska. Having followed her for awhile and spending a brief amount of time working together, I knew of her interest in MOOCs and projects that extend the reach of individual classrooms at the K-12 level and in higher education. So when I saw that she was conducting a MOOC on action research and that the timing of it was pretty good for the prospects of my participating, I was excited to join.

An Early Objective

My goal is really to refine my still growing understanding of action research, as well as prepare a new inquiry rooted in some of the work that I began last year. In some ways I am hoping that this experience will help me design another, better study that will deepen the constantly emerging understanding I have about writing instruction. I can already see that there is a lot of supportive material about methods, design, and more that I will find helpful in refocusing my efforts. Already I am enjoying the readings quite a bit. In fact, I have already shared the first one, “10 Things Every Educator Should Know About Research,” with a couple of colleagues.

Additionally, I am looking forward to working with Professor Graham again in a new capacity. What I know of her I like a lot. So, I am desperately hoping that I will be able to stay with the MOOC for the duration, which will be a challenge, but should dovetail with what I was already planning to do this year. I also hope that I can contribute to the mix of other students engaged in the MOOC too.

What is My Understanding of Action Research

On a fundamental level, I always want to flip the words around and say that action research is really research in action. It is the elbows deep, in the thick of it kind of research that teachers engage in right in their classroom. It is self-reflective and, while systematic, can be a bit messy. It is not necessarily the kind of narrow, control-study-tested idea that many people associate or think of as being the only form of legitimate research. It is both legitimate and more flexible as a concept, usually focusing on a smaller scale.

At the core, it is almost more about a disposition, an inquiry stance that a teacher possesses. It recognizes teachers as practitioners and begins with a problem or question that seeks an answer. Answers demand some action and application, but the process always raises more, new questions. It is in this way that action research is born of out of self-reflection, but not limited to it. Being systematic about the research, design, and data collection becomes essential to ensuring that the work is not limited to simply being a reflection. The goal is to be more methodical in an effort to become more critical about a particular problem which is linked, in some way, to a  teacher’s own practice. Thus, action research may begin again, much like I expressed in the opening. It is a practice, like a doctor or lawyer, both noun and verb.

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Thoughts on the Curtis Bonk MOOC and Learning Management Systems

Recently, I have been pretty actively engaged in some coursework about blended and online teaching. While I have been teaching in both arenas for few years now, I am always on the lookout for new wrinkles and developments. Plus, I am just a learning junkie.

Were it completely up to me and I didn’t need to chase graduate credits to climb the wage scale for my teaching position, I would almost certainly focus a significant amount of professional development efforts on Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). For the past few years I have been following and continuously fascinated by the work that George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier have been doing. While I have never been able to stay completely focused on one of their MOOCs for the entire run, I have been following along in one way or another since the  CCK08. I was quite excited for year’s Change11, yet have been only able to dabble a little here and there, pretty much for the aforementioned credit chase. I am hoping to spend some more time this summer poring over more of the change11 weeks that I was too busy to investigate.

Still, timing was ripe and I was well primed to start following Curtis Bonk‘s attempt at a MOOC, called Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success. I first discovered Bonk a few years ago during one of my forays with the Flat Classroom Project. Since then I have gotten a lot more familiar with his work. He is one clever and comic professor. So his presence and the topic were instantly interesting.

As week 1 wraps, the course has me reflecting on a few things. It has reminded me of just how much I dislike Learning Management Systems (LMSs) in general. Bonk’s course is using Blackboard’s new CourseSites product, which is their new free application. In what is kind of a product debut, this course has already exposed not only its flaws but the flaws of an LMS being used for an experience that includes so many people. Currently this course is at over 3000. These kind of tools are really just built to scale like that. This product is particularly feeble in its ability to handle this kind of load. As in all MOOCs the discussions are enormous and overwhelming. Despite participating pretty strongly, that aspect can be pretty dissatisfying. Clearly others have felt similarly, because the discussion board for week 2, at least check on day 3 only has 30 posts.

All of my previous MOOC experience strengthens the notion that some of the best online learning happens across distributed networks. Even for Bonk’s course some of pretty interesting conversation is already happening outside the course itself, here and here. Even Dr. Bonk, himself, jumped into the fray of the Comments sections for both blogs’ rich exchanges. After all, LMSs are a whole lot more about management and whole lot less about learning, to be sure. Even the idea of blogging within an LMS seems to defeat the whole purpose of the activity. Yet somehow the CourseSites folks have served up that possibility. Truth is, threaded discussions might be the only real value added by an LMS and mainly because they simply act as a single repository. Even Siemens, Downes, and Cormier have gradually angled away from linking to an LMS.

An LMS is by its very nature closed . Also seemingly closed is the content or resources.  As much as I like Bonk and his work, I am a little disappointed that essentially all of the resources for the course are written or produced by him. That belies a little of the openness, despite Bonk’s clear open nature. This makes participating a bit like being an outside observer in one of his Indiana University classes, which is certainly worthwhile to me. However, I can see how that limits the appeal and weakens it claim of MOOCness, if there is such a thing.

I am going to stay with it, in part because I am interested in the content. Plus, it weaves nicely with some of the other PD on which I have been working deeply. However, were that not the case, I am not sure I wouldn’t be feeling a little like some others. There definitely seems to be some serious criticism flying around the blogosphere, which I have joined. Still, in spite of any criticisms I am still fascinated and want to continue.

Wrapping Up Flat Classroom Certification

I remember the first experience I had with Vicki Davis and Julie Lyndsay. It was the first NetGenEd Project, a couple of years ago. I have even written about it a few times. It all started when a couple of administrators had asked me if I would be interested in participating in a Flat Classroom Project. To be honest, I am not sure that they thought my application would be accepted. I am glad to say that it was the beginning of a valuable professional relationship with two of the busiest women I know.

Still, in the school where I work, I was the teacher that would most likely have the desire to do something as progressive and outside-the-box in my classroom. Also, with a background in edtech, I also have the strength of will to persevere through the inevitable obstacles that would lay along the path of participating in a globally collaborative project that leveraged so many Web 2.0 tools. They were right, I am glad to say, and I was accepted. Better still, it began a valuable professional relationship with two of the busiest women I know.

Since then I have done another project, that time the original Flat Classroom variety, and now intend on it being an annual part of my practice. Yet, one one of Vicki’s statements has stuck with me from the very first teacher orientation meeting, “The thing about working on the bleeding edge is sometimes you bleed.” That sentiment was all that I needed to get hooked, because that is where I wanted to be, asking my students to take big risks, solve complex and messy problems, and sort out more of the meaning and value after some immersive wayfinding that provided no tidy, easily found answers. I want them to do some scholarly pioneering. Thus, being a member of the first Flat Classroom Certification course has mirrored that desire, as well as being a valuable peek behind the curtain of how the wild ride is built from the ground up.

Participating in a globally collaborative project that has been designed by someone else, with a set of criteria, expectations, and assessment strategies, is an entirely different experience than building one. This course peeled back the finish of all the Flat Classroom flavors and showed the how they were built and why. Then we participants were asked to begin building our own.

The process of designing a globally collaborative project is no small task. Defining a problem or topic that is accessible around the world requires a kind of depth and breadth of vision and awareness that not as altogether common. It crosses disciplinary, as well as geographic, boundaries. Teachers designing and operating in this new unbound educational space need to be both generalists and specialists. More than anything though, they need to be expert learners, modeling an openness, curiosity, and cultural sensitivity, not to mention a facility with the technology tools that have flattened our world.

As onerous as designing a project modeled on the Flat Classroom approach can seem, the course provides a scaffold for meeting the challenge. More importantly, the course was a constant reminder to me that building, and even managing projects of this nature, is a recursive, iterative process. It is truly rooted in a design ethos. Prototyping ideas, testing them, assessing, revising, collaborating, expanding the network of connections, revising more are all aspects of “flattening” and expanding a classroom through designing a project.

Picking up on the notion of collaboration, this course allowed the participants to instantly become part of a Personal Learning Environment and Network. In so doing, all of the teachers involved are actively modeling precisely the kind of learning and practices that global collaborative projects like the Flat Classroom Project demand. Just being a participant offered a platform for collaboration, and collaboration by its nature is a recursive and iterative process, sharing and building on the sum of the course’s parts.

Coinciding with the drafting of their forthcoming book, Vicki and Julie continued their vivid efforts to make their groundbreaking work even more transparent then they are already wont to do. They share because their vision is broad and deep, and their evangelism holds a sincere recognition that they cannot be agents of change alone. Connecting classrooms around the globe and promoting collaborative efforts of inter-cultural synthesis requires an ever-growing network of like-minded educators. This course provides the seedbed for that network to take root and grow. While this course is only one of many efforts, the community of educators that has begun developing has fostered relationships that will remain long after completing the course. I encourage anyone that has the opportunity to take it to do so.