Social Learning: Making ONLINE graduate classes better!

Let me preface this by saying that I thoroughly enjoy the quality of teaching and project based approach that the Boise State Instructional and Performance Technology (BSU IPT) online program offers.  What attracted me to BSU IPT program was 1 ) the convenience of earning an ONLINE degree that was from a  highly ranked graduate school program, 2)  knowing that Boise State IPT name and degree opened up doors and gave me the credentials to advance my career,  3) completing real-world projects that prepared me for on the job experiences, and having 4) access to  industry experts in IPT and HPT.   However I do have some suggestions that I think could make the online experience better and promote increased learning, social presence, and a sense of community building with fellow geographically dispersed classmates,  After all, evaluation is the key to continually improving our methods. I really started thinking about this after a recent conversation I had with a fellow IPT class member and friend. Here are my thoughts

At the core of each class is the discussion board (we use Lotus Notes).  The discussion board is THE heart and soul of the online classroom.  In class we have some great, insightful perspectives and opinions. However, with the increasing evidence that learning takes place through social learning, it would be nice to add some synchronous technology and/or social media  into the mix.  VoiceThread and Skype are two great examples of Web 2.0 that would greatly enhance our IPT ONLINE classroom.

The online website Faculty Focus presented a great article entitled “Pump up your Online Discussions with VoiceThread“.  Here are the highlights below

What is VoiceThread ?

A VoiceThread is a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos. It allows users to navigate slides and leave comments in five ways – using voice (with a microphone or telephone), text, audio file, or video. Typically, the instructor loads his or her narrative slides and students can then add their comments at any point within the lecture.

What are some advantages of using Voicethread in ONLINE classes?

John Orlando, instructional resource manager at the Norwich University School of Graduate Studies, shared some advantages of using VoiceThread for  online discussions:

  • Student driven discussions: Discussion originates from the students themselves, and thus students tend to bring more of themselves into the conversation. Discussion is freer and more open, touching on a wider variety of issues. (My thoughts: Discussions forums are great but they lack the interactivity and dynamics of a REAL conversation. We all have experience how a conversation twist and turns. )
  • A growing lecture: Discussion in a traditional online forum never leaves the classroom. The class is archived and discussion forums are wiped clean for the next group, meaning that the insights are lost. But because discussion in VoiceThread is attached to the lecture itself, which can then be used for the next class, students are adding to the lecture, which grows from class to class. Students contribute to an ongoing conversation with future classes. (My thoughts:  What an wonderful way to harness knowledge, experiences, insights and best practices.  We would be able to learn from the experiences of other professionals in our program because many of us come from various backgrounds.  Imagine if a fellow classmate was tackling the SAME problem that your company was facing and it was recorded for you to listen too)
  • Improved social presence: Students find that the ability to see and hear their instructor and classmates improves the sense of social presence of others in the classroom. (My thoughts:  The power of hearing someone’s voice really does create a sense of connection.  I have progressed through  many classes and have forgotten that I have shared classes previously with other class members.  I simply forgot their names.   Having that voice attached to a person’s name would be a fundamental step toward building a community
  • Better understanding of nuance: Students are better able to understand the nuances of discussion when they can hear the tone in someone’s voice. (My thoughts: see previous thoughts)
  • Student projects: VoiceThread is a great way for students to deliver projects and solicit feedback from others. (My thoughts: One of the aspects I love about the IPT program is that we have real-world relevant industry based projects that we are working on.  In addition, the IPT program takes a team-based approach on many projects.   The goal is to mirror real like work experiences, where you work with teams (many times dispersed to solve problems).   The concept is great however we create connections with our group members but at the peril of missing out on other connections with other classmate that were not on our team.  As a fellow IPT classmate iterated, “Meanwhile, in our [online] classes there’s not a huge amount of informal interaction except within teams. I don’t “know” anyone in the program except my various teammates”. )

Other avenues for incorporating social media into the classroom

  • Skype in the Classroom (this could also be done through IPTs current use of GoToMeeting): Currently IPT host a few IPTtalks with various learning professionals on applying IPT and HPT in the workplace but this could be expanded to include
    • Talks with authors of the required text that we are reading
    • Students sharing their insights, challenges, best practices on class projects.  Having the opportunity to share your experiences with not just your teammates but others can decrease the learning curve and offer graduate students the opportunity to help construct their own mental models
    • Instructors and teams talking on Skype to get clarification, expertise, and understanding on issues encountered during a project.  Instead of relying solely on asynchronous contact, Skype would help instructors understand the thinking (right or wrong) of team members and provide needed feedback
  • The Boise State IPT program has recently started a LinkedIn group that connects faculty, students, and alumni and is a great place to get answers to IPT and HPT questions, network, best practices, job opportunities, access to current research, and more.  I love it!! It’s like our own little Community  of Practice.  However as my IPT friend and I noted,  the LinkedIn group  is dominated by a few voices and gets little input from the majority of potential participants.

In closing, there are no easy solutions (especially since we are geographically dispersed)  but just as we tackle learning and performance problems for our employers so to must we offer suggestions on improving the learning  and professional development experiences of OUR online program in order to become better learning and performance improvement specialist. Just as ASTD, Bersin & Associates, Human Capital Institute, and PDI Ninth House and many other organizations that focus on researching how to optimize learning and development report, many  businesses are realizing the added value of incorporating social learning into their training and development programs.  I think adding a social learning aspect to the Boise State IPT program would further increase the reasons why learning and performance improvement professionals would seek out the Boise State IPT program career advancement, increased knowledge and skills,  and/or career change

What are your thoughts on incorporating social learning in online courses?  Do you have any other ideas to suggest?

Great resources that I found along my journey


About IPTtoolkit--Eboni DuBose

Hi!! I'm Eboni. A Masters Candidate in the Instructional and Technology program at Boise State. Come along and join in on my learning experiences. I look forward to having wonderful conversations from other learning professinals
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3 Responses to Social Learning: Making ONLINE graduate classes better!

  1. Hope Colbourne says:

    Hi Eboni
    I enjoyed checking out your space. Good luck in your studies.


  2. Diane Weir says:

    Hi, Eboni.

    I agree with you! There have been many times — particularly when working on group projects — that I wanted to use online chat. Chat is available thru our broncomail accounts, but it doesn’t seem many people take advantage of the collaborative authoring and chat available there.

    I hadn’t heard of VoiceThread. I’m going to take a closer look.

    I also like your idea of being able to build on the discussion threads of prior classes. I have done this for corporate classes, and it works well. But, we don’t have nearly the volume of conversation as the BSU courses do. I find it challenging to just keep up with — let alone reflect and respond to — conversations from a large class.

    I’m wondering too, if there would be a problem that downstream courses would post as much because thoughts would have already been stated by others. Often, someone posts “my” thoughts before I get a chance to. It makes it difficult to come up with a post needed for class participation pts. when you’re thinking “ditto”.


    • Hey Diane..Thanks for responding..During my group’ meetings, we would use chat as well. We used Yahoo Chat. Once you got your group members email you could add them to your contacts and they would pop up when they were online. This would mean they would have to logged into their gmail, yahoo, hotmail, etc account. One team member was able to do this from work so I guess his job allowed IM

      I agree with your statement of managing conversations from prior classes and having the “ditto” effect. It is quite a conundrum.Maybe other readers could offer some suggestions.

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