Monday, November 16, 2015

Essentials For Engagement

I just got back from a week of super-intersting-exciting-total-immersion in the iNACOL symposium. This was my very first time at this conference and I am completely blown away by this experience. The Keynote Speakers were all remarkable and the educators presents were powerful. For the first time EVER I was able to find 3 other "white flies" like myself teaching foreign languages online in an asynch environment... one is from Oregon, one is from Wisconsin, and the last one is from Minnesota. We bonded right away and collaboration flew right on... but this is the topic for another
post! :)
Let's get back to iNACOL.... "Competency-based Education" was the buzz word this year, and a good number of sessions focused on strategies for switching to this type of education where students are not seeking a grade but learning!.. what an odd concept, isn't it? - chuckle -  I deeply agree with these principles and this is what I envision for my ideal online courses. This is my most ambitious goal and I am not sure how long it will take to achieve it, but I strongly believe that this is the greatest investment I can do for my students.

When I look at my courses critically, I have to admit that students are working for the grade, which somehow I find sad, however I can identify myself in this kind of rat-race for the A whenever I am enrolled in a college class. Unfortunately our educational system is focused on grades and GPA is an extremely important element of every students' life from high school level on. Grades define who you are, how good you are, which prizes or scholarships you might earn,  which college might accept you, and so forth. But what about what students really KNOW and MASTER?
In my opinion the overall "design" of education should reflect encourage and promote mastery and competency and be the framework upon which creating individual pieces of education, such as our courses.

Why am I going off on Competency-Based Education when I am trying to talk about students' engagement in online courses? Well, in my opinion the actual educational framework of a course creates the premises for the effectiveness of all the bells and whistles needed for promoting and supporting students engagement.

I have been reading several articles about students' engagement in online courses - I found a great collection of resources on Edutopia  and there is a lot of scholar articles on this topic as well - and I see that all strategies have in common one aspect: the importance of the human connection!
In spite of the technology in which online students and teachers are plunged in, the element that really connects educators and students and hooks students is the human connection established with the instructor and among peers.

John McCarthy, author of "Igniting Student Engagement: A Roadmap for Learning"  places "being real" as first practice. He meant to focus on the the authenticity of the learning process, however this step requires the knowledge of students for being able to create a connection between the authentic component and their personal lives and interests.
Ali Briggs in "Ten Ways to Overcome Barriers to Student Engagement Online"provides a very nice outline of steps to follow for establishing a positive environment that would support and promote student' engagement in online courses.
I went through the checklist and I did a self reflection... I did not need to go too far for finding my "guilty" spots. It is so hard sometimes to organize your days for fitting everything, but I like having this checklist now as reference for what I need to prioritize, considering that the consequences could be failing my students and loosing the priceless connection with them.

Going back to the connection between competency-based learning and engagement, I think that it is pretty straight forward recognizing how a student would feel more connected with the content studied in a course when he/she has the feel for it and can see and measure her/his own progress in a realistic manner, not framed by grades. 

I am going to make a checklist sheet with these important steps and I will post it here in the blog for whoever wants to use it.

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