My mind is doing mental gymnastics as I consider the many ideas and concepts I’ve read and discussed over the last few weeks. I’m trying to stay on my virtual balance beam and not get lost in cyberspace.
My on-line learning journey has been bumpy so far. When I blog or tweet I seem comfortable and grounded – I can interact and think at my own pace. However, when I dive in head first, in Elluminate, for instance, I’m treading water and looking for land most of the time. I’m catching bits and pieces of information, and I feel unable to interact as meaningfully as I would like. When I do have ideas to share or questions to ask it seems that the moment has passed by in a flash and my ideas are already yesterday’s news. I contribute to the back channel from time to time, but mostly I’m trying to follow the audio, visuals, and text. I still haven’t decided how I feel about an extraordinarily large class mostly because I really like connecting with learners and educators from all over the globe. But, the cost of this seems to be not getting to know other students very well. I would like to be able to read every entry of everyone’s blog (here I can’t help wonder, does anybody read mine?), and I would like to be able re-watch Elluminate sessions, but there simply aren’t the hours in the day. Multi-tasking isn’t the issue as I’m a mom, high school teacher (with over 200 students this year), and a graduate student currently taking 2 different courses at 2 different universities – one f2f and one on-line. I realize as a high school teacher that I am challenged to design lessons that include all learners and consider different learning styles. I’m not sure if I understand how this plays out in the on-line environment. Are there are a range of virtual classroom styles and what might they look like?
Another type of balance beam I walk every day is that of an educator (and learner) in both formal and non-formal learning situations. One explanation of formal, non-formal, and informal education I discovered was in an article by Alan Rogers. He writes “When we step into a pre-existing learning programme but mould it to our own circumstances, we are engaged in non-formal education. When we surrender our autonomy and join a programme and accept its externally imposed discipline, we are immersed in formal education.” Informal education occurs when we control our own purposeful learning and individualize it, we learn what we want for as long as we want and stop when we want.
I feel extraordinarily fortunate as a teacher of elective courses in media and creative arts that I tend to lean to the non-formal to informal end of the spectrum. Most of my students arrive open to new ideas and (usually) they expect to take responsibility for both their processes and products of creation. I am very aware that I mustn’t muck this up by getting in the way. It is not unusual for my students to challenge the typical conventions and structure of public schools precisely because they are searching for better possibilities for their learning. I have the luxury of teaching subjects that allow for this rethinking to occur. Interestingly, Alan Rogers example of formal education is a chemistry class (which has clear and necessary outcomes) versus a non-formal creative writing class which is not as clearly defined until the class and teacher meet (and even then it remains flexible). My role is to teach a broad range of foundational skills, facilitate and question my students’ creative choices, guide them to places they might not have known, encourage them to learn from each other, listen to them, and, ultimately, learn with them.