Riding the Waves of Change


Recently I was blessed to have the opportunity to travel abroad to recharge and refresh. During this trip I had an opportunity to snorkel over a barrier reef for the very first time. On the day that we went, the ocean was very choppy and the guide asked our group if we preferred to stay in shallow, calm waters or deeper, rough waters. The caveat of all this was that we were likely to see more wildlife in the rougher waters. Ultimately our group opted for the deep sea experience.

Riding out on the ocean with the boat bouncing and sea water spraying, I admit that I became a little nervous about our recent group decision. Soon enough we were at our starting point and I found myself taking a deep breath and jumping in to the deep blue sea. The cool water felt invigorating, but as I rose to the surface the rough waters distracted me and I could feel myself starting to panic. My mind flashed to the snorkel techniques my husband and I practiced prior to our trip and realizing that I was getting nowhere other than more panicked by trying to stay above water, I took a deep breath and dove under.

Beneath the rough waters was a colorful world of fish, coral and other sea life. As I let my body ride the choppy surface and my breathing finally returned to its normal pace, I was in awe of all that I was able to see. I found myself gesturing emphatically to my husband all the wonderful things I hoped we would remember later. Our guide zipped just ahead of us, pointing to other creatures and leading us over the world’s second largest barrier reef.

In my life I have willingly taken on many personal and professional challenges, all of which I have never regretted. For someone who has been quite accustomed to change, even this brief experience, out of my element, was for a moment terrifying. So what has this experience reminded me about change? What can leaders bring to a community that is going through a change process?

Recognize that people need to know why change is important and help them to make sense of it

One of my favorite TED talks is Simon Sinek’s How Great Leaders Inspire Action. The premise of his talk is about articulating the why before the how or what. When we embark on change in our communities, individuals need to know why the change is important and more importantly, the reason should be one that resonates with the community. At times in education, we can be too focused on the change process itself and we must slow down to involve those impacted by the change. In our ocean adventure, our guide clearly explained our options for the day and ultimately let our group’s feedback shape the outcome.

If you are the leader of the organization, jump in with your team.

Change is never easy and it takes courageous leaders at all levels of a community to inspire others to be a part of the journey. I suspect if our guide had not jumped in to the rougher waters first, he may not have had many volunteers to jump in. Once he did, a few others were quick to follow and within minutes the whole group was in the water. For added support, there were staff that remained in our boat, not very far away from where we were snorkeling at all times. So leaders, invite others willing to take the first steps with you and also look for others who will be able to support the initial risk takers and ultimately the group, along the way. Failures and mistakes are an inevitable part of the process and with the right team can turn these situations into learning opportunities.

Take a look beneath the surface and explore, don’t be too focused on outcomes right away.

Of course when we embark on any change, there is an ultimate goal we hope to achieve. I support the use of goal setting and success criteria as they are essential to any endeavour. It is also important that individuals in a community have time to acclimate and dive beneath the rough waters under their own terms. I needed that moment when I first dove in to the water be slightly panicked, to catch my breath, and dive in when I was ready. When I saw what was beneath and how surprisingly more calm it was underwater, than above, you couldn’t get me out of the water.

The point is people need time to explore and adjust when change is in progress. If you stay solely task oriented and rush too soon to the next task, you miss opportunities for individuals to see the beauty in the change and embrace it. More importantly, they will not have a chance to engage in their own explorations that could bring great value to the team’s overall process and goals.

Let the group explore, but also remind them of the focus.

Our guides were great about letting us explore, but also did not let us wander way beyond our limits. Our guide in the water wore bright swim shorts so we could easily identify him from afar and he would take the time to show us the beautiful wildlife that he thought would make the most of our experience. Change is messy and while it is important to let individuals find their own way (see above) and work through this process, it will be necessary to bring individuals together and remind them of what is most important.

Change has never been easy and never will be, but with these few reminders from my recent vacation experience, I hope to make future change processes I am involved in meaningful to my community.

What other analogies could you add about change? What opportunities should leaders take to make the change process a more meaningful one?


Ten Things I Learned About Teaching Online-Part 2

This blog is the second part of my blog post, Ten Things I Learned about Teaching Online-Part 1. Below are my takeaways from weeks 6-10 of the course.

Week #6-Affiliation is essential for successful online learning experiences. (Dabbagh, 2007).

This was the week when we had the opportunity to dive deeper into various scholarly articles about online learning. I was particularly interested in Nada Dabbagh’s article, The Online Learner Characteristics and Pedagogical Implications. It notes the popularity of building of communities of practice in online spaces. Since such communities rely on the social network to drive learning, it emphasized the importance of affiliation (Dabbagh, 2007). I plan to apply this concept by recognizing that I must build trust early on, community over time, and engage in knowledge building efforts to develop the online community.

Week #7-How will group projects be managed in online spaces? What is the role of management and facilitation in online spaces?

In comparison to a face to face classroom, the dynamics are different in online spaces. This week brought forth a greater awareness about the need to consider how I will manage group projects. (Check out the resources our facilitators for the week assembled on this topic.) A conversation evolved in our course about the differences between management and facilitation and what that meant in online spaces. I consider management in an online space as the instructor’s efforts to set up the structures for group success, as well as effectiveness in addressing situations that violate community norms. On the other hand, I see online facilitation as the efforts taken to empower individuals and the group to go in the directions needed for learning to occur.

Week #8: Know the difference between crowdsourcing and knowledge building so that you can leverage both in your online courses.

For years I have just assumed that these two terms meant the same thing. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In short, when I consider using the two, I will start by asking myself the questions:

  • What is my goal/purpose in engaging in this activity?
  • When do I plan to do this in the course?

The answers to these questions are important because if I hope to gain a wealth of ideas/perspectives and am not concerned about the level of expertise or depth, crowdsourcing would be an appropriate choice. However, if I was looking to engage in a shared task with a group of committed members, knowledge building would be a better approach. In terms of timing, it seems most appropriate that crowdsourcing would be done earlier on in the start of the course, when individuals do not know each other well, if at all. Knowledge building would seem to be more effective once some rapport has been established within the group and shared ownership for learning has been maintained.

Week #9: What the purpose of grades/marks?

I recognize this very question can be subject of another blog post. At this point, I am questioning whether I need grades in my course. Assuming I have a choice as an instructor, I would like to have a structure set up where students assess and grade themselves. In situations that require grades, I will be using student created assessments and self/peer assessments as much as possible.

Week 10: Reflection is powerful.

In this particular course our last week was designed for reflection. That was the first time in a course where so much time was devoted to reflection and I enjoyed the opportunity. So often when we take professional development courses, we hurry through the course and may devote our own time either through blogging or informal conversations to deconstruct what we learned. What a great opportunity to do this formally in a course with those you have been learning with for an extended period of time. I recognize that it may not always be possible to incorporate a week of reflection in my future courses, but I plan to build in more than the obligatory course evaluation moment for such purposes.

Lastly, I owe a big thank you to my co-learners for a wonderful ten weeks of learning. I have learned so much because of each of you. Also special thanks to Sheryl for all your expertise and wisdom. This time together has opened my eyes to so many possibilities!

Dabbagh, N. (2007). The Online Learner: Characteristics and Pedagogical Implications. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(3), 217-226. AACE.

Ten Things I Learned About Teaching Online-Part 1

For the last few months I have been taking a Teaching Online and Blended Learning course with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. It was a fast paced, rigorous course which has inspired me to jump into the world of online teaching. The following are my takeaways for each week of the ten week course. This blog is part one of two in which I will share highlights of the lessons learned from the first five weeks.

Week #1-Have a vision for your course and be clear on your purpose and goals.
What skills, habits and competencies do I want learners to walk away with after completing my online course? The answers should guide the development of my future course. Our class work on analyzing various theorists and constructing a learning philosophy helped to remind me that what I plan in both asynchronous and synchronous spaces should be aligned with my overall purpose.

Week #2- Hit the “sweet spot” of planning.
When I asked Sheryl for the advice she would give to new online instructors, she noted the tendency of new online teachers is to either under plan, relying too much on “winging it” or to over plan and not allow for flexibility. I will consider in advance how I can best structure the learning for my students, and also want to be open to the unplanned opportunities that may arise in a course. I would also like to incorporate the goals of my students, so that as much as possible, I can create a program that will result in meaningful learning experiences.

A consideration for instructors of adult learners is the need to be mindful of the juggling act that students face when taking online courses. Sheryl was excellent at considering what format might work best for learners juggling work, family and life. She was able to maintain high standards, while encouraging us to jump in when we can and always welcoming us if we hadn’t been able to pop in for awhile.

Week #3: Leverage your syllabus and multimedia to set the tone of your course.
Having only taught face-to-face courses to this point, I now recognize the importance of and committing to creating an engaging syllabus as this will likely be my first point of contact with students in an online setting. Also, in my first email to course participants, I would like to include two videos. The first will be an introductory video to help learners get to know me and encourage relationship building. The second will be a course video to help students learn more and get excited about the course. To address any questions that learners may have, I will be constructing a course website that students can access and obtain further information. I hope creating these resources will help students to connect with me and the course, as well as allow students to focus on the learning ahead.

Week #4: Online instructors jump into the learning.
In my early years of taking online courses, my interactions with instructors were largely consultative in nature. After taking this course, I know when online instructors jump into the learning, it pushes the learning of all. When instructors adopt a learning stance, they demonstrate all three types of online presence. Understanding social, cognitive and teaching presence and adjusting your approaches to your prospective learners’ varying strengths in these areas are part of constructing a dynamic learning environment. I plan to use the different types of presence as another framework in which I can assess if my approaches as an instructor are balanced and meeting the needs of various learners.
In addition, understanding how a group develops is important to forming a learning community. Through Sheryl’s modelling, I learned that it is important to be very present in the beginning of a course and then slowly back off as the group develops. (If you are unfamiliar with the stages of group development, this may be a helpful resource.) By giving your class more space in the later stages, it helps them to grow as a cohort and lets the class take learning in the direction that makes the most sense for their needs.

Week #5: Community Building is an essential part of online learning, not an add-on.
I have taken a variety of online courses and what strikes me as different about PLP courses is the focus on community. This focus on community building early on and throughout has really deepened my learning as a student. This is because when an environment of collegiality is created and supported in the course, you learn from more than just the instructor. Your peers become a critical part of the learning process. Your thinking gets pushed, new ideas and reflections abound, and once the class is over, you have an expanded network of colleagues to learn from.

So how will I build community? It involves being mindful of opportunities to build community in synchronous sessions and asynchronous realms. It can be as small as incorporating a brief collaborative activity at the beginning of a synchronous session or structuring in larger collective knowledge activities in asynchronous discussions. I plan to incorporate a designated social space such as a virtual café or lounge. This is a place for learners to gather during the course so that they can get to know one another beyond academic discussions. I will also create a community bulletin board to post questions. These small steps will help individuals build rapport and trust over time.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post (Weeks 6-10).