It seemed a simple assignment – design an online class on how to make the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We had been divided into groups of three or triads and were to work online to create this e-learning lesson. We had one member of the team going on vacation but factored that into our online meeting schedule, set up a Google “Hang out” and delved into the assignment. Simple, right? Simple, that is, unless . . .
1) You had little to no flexibility in your work schedule because it was the busiest time of the year for you
2) You had to factor in four additional hours to your week in order to drop off and retrieve you child from summer camp
3) You were involved in providing care to a hospitalized family member
4) You volunteered months ago to do a project for your church which also happened to be due at this time
5) You found yourself juggling the tasks of reading about how to do this project, while simultaneously doing the project, reading and researching materials, videos, etc. to include in the project, teaching yourself how to use Prezi while attempting to create the project in Prezi, communicating with team members by phone, through email (at all hours) and online chats, identifying and reading the next article you must post by Sunday, reading other classmates’ blogs (which highlight how badly you suck at blogging), providing comments to the Class Rubric, continuing to post comments in Blackboard, while attempting to pull your weight and successfully collaborate on this project.
Then, you might have found yourself as did I, in the midst of the “perfect storm”!
Ironically, the end of the week culminated in a severe thunder storm which left us without power and without the ability to communicate online. Having finally some time to sit down and reflect on lessons learned from this third week of class, here are some thoughts. T
1) Collaboration was as important as technical skill and/or knowledge of learning theories in the online environment. It didn’t seem on the surface that the creation of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich required much discussion, however it proved to need more than I anticipated. Prior to this project, I knew little about either of my teammates. I know quite a bit more now. Just gaining more understanding about how they think, their personal preferences in approaching their work will aid in the generation our next project, “The Online Classroom”. Although it felt a bit like being tossed overboard in the transition to online collaboration, in retrospect, it did prepare us better for what is ahead. Additionally, although keen technical skills and knowledge of multi-media applications would have eased some of the tension in creating the PB & J Project, ultimately, it was the commitment to collaboration which enabled us to pull this off. You may have thought that you heard the emergency siren go off on the VCU Medical Campus mid-day on Friday, but in truth it was only me, Wallace, wailing in dismay because I inadvertently removed the paths connecting the frames in our Prezi presentation. In case you don’t know, when you do this you lose the ability to edit the presentation. It was Journey Girl to the rescue! After remaining calm, focused and spending quite a bit of quality time with the Prezi support team, she was able to fix the issue. Much of what was discussed in the video attached below contributed to the cohesiveness of our team, however, with one exception. The members of our teams were more or less randomly selected, with little consideration as to whether or not we would likely succeed at collaboration. Despite no prior attempt to find a good fit, I believe cohesive collaboration was achieved.
2) The issue of time was critical, particularly to the novice student, like myself. This, for me, was the most frustrating part of the experience. I’m not sure how it could be made easier. This is an eight week course and it didn’t seem unreasonable to transition to online collaboration in the third week. However, for the student who is already grappling with many other new experiences, who doesn’t know a “Wiki” from a “Waki”, “Diigo” from “Lego”, who has never blogged or created a presentation in Prezi, who is even somewhat challenged to navigate in Blackboard, this added more stress than may have been beneficial. The solution? To my dismay, it occurred to me that perhaps I was simply not up to the challenge of this course. I also couldn’t help but wonder if the opportunity to obtain knowledge of some of the tools utilized in the course and time to practice with them might have eliminated some of the pressure. The instructor did provide extensive information from the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence in Blackboard (http://www.vcu.edu/cte/resources/OTLRG/OTLRGchapter5.pdf). Unfortunately, I never found sufficient time to read through it all, let alone incorporate it in my learning. It was my understanding that there is a course which introduces students to the various multi media applications. Perhaps, re-considering the order in which the e-learning courses are offered might provide the opportunity to acquaint students, especially the novice learner, with tools and time for practice in applying these tools to projects such as this. Just a thought.
3) One’s sanity is more important than any grade. Okay, I’m an overachiever; I admit it! This desire to achieve, however, does not come from having a long track record of achieving, but rather from the previous experience of squandering academic opportunity. It’s as if I’ve been trying to make up for lost time. For the first time since I entered this program, I realized I can’t do that. As students, each of us came to this class with varying motivations, support, time, and circumstances. I need to accept where I am and the limitations I have either by choice or by nature. It is what it is. I wanted to complete this project and feel good about the end product and the effort I made. I was however, concerned about my grade. Somewhere in the midst of this experience, I realized that when they bury me (and I actually thought at one point during the week that might be sooner rather than later) my family and friends will not care what grade I made in this class. They will only remember the time I spent with them and whether or not I made them feel important even when I was in the midst of the “perfect storm”. Did I learn something about how to create an online course? You bet I did, but I also learned a great deal more about what’s important to me in the process.