WEEK 7.75

Slipping behind on postings as we move into a conversion project due by Christmas. The frustrating reality of rebuilding (evergreening) online courses is that 99% of the work is drudgery set to an impossible completion schedule. Even if there were time for “improvements”, the mandated changes essentially edit out the quirkiness of the courses created in the first generation of online delivery at our college. This is what happens when things go mainstream–new theories meet old values and the result is cosmetic at best.

At some point I’d like to go through the multi-point “Learning Rubric” (A resource for quality online curriculum creation) that we work to and ask if anyone really thinks making every course look and function the same has ANYTHING to do with learning. In the office I’m told it has to do with “cogitative overloading.” I read this answer to mean if something attracts the student’s attention or seems compelling they will be so interested in it they will forget to learn it.

Anyway, this is my tired self speaking.

I’m still thinking about community in online “classrooms” and found this quote interesting;

 “It’s critical that training and development professionals not go overboard with command and control when they support informal learning. If they do they are likely to kill it. And since informal learning makes up the bulk of learning inside organizations, this could be a

truly perilous move.”   ~ Patti Shank, Director of Research at The eLearning Guild

From: Smart Companies Support Informal Learning


The definition of informal learning seems to be based on who is speaking though in general the idea is that it involves self-direction. Which implies interest. I’m saying this based on a total lack of evidence beyond my personal observation that “credit” for taking training comes way after interest as a motivator. Things without interest need other inducements while “interest” appears to draw attentiveness


Nowhere in our learning rubric does the term “interest” ever come up. I get it that “understanding” can create interest in a sort of self driven loop or Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow” as APA PsycNet defines it: “Flow is a state of peak enjoyment, energetic focus, and creative concentration experienced by people engaged in adult play, which has become the basis of a highly creative approach to living.” Or maybe the less dramatic “engagement with everyday life” as Csikszentmihalyi himself might define it.

Since I seem to be talking myself into a circle: If we don’t attend to interest and engagement in our course design how can we expect community to emerge? We can force community with all sorts of tricks and enducements but then we come back to killing the expression of self-directed learning. And yes, it’s possible to get people into classrooms even if they aren’t “interested” though this seems a terrible waste of a free option built into every student.

And a note to myself to quit complaining about schools not changing*:

“It doesn’t make much sense to create a school culture of success from a climate of disappointment and intractable problems. The IFT believes school change should focus on what’s working; the great teaching taking place in our classrooms. Further, if we want to know why children are successful, talk to successful students and their parents.  The IFT believes that the best strategy for school improvement is to investigate what’s working, not what’s broken. By focusing on what works in our schools and encouraging teacher independence and increasing capacity, we are more likely to have success.” http://www.teacherdrivenchange.org/

*Yale Wishnick, author of From a Culture of Dependency to a Culture of Success: Focusing on What’s Right About America and the American People

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  • Laura P.  On November 1, 2012 at 4:03 PM

    In your post, you wrote, “The IFT believes that the best strategy for school improvement is to investigate what’s working, not what’s broken.” This is interesting to ponder when it comes to student activities. If an activity doesn’t get the desired results that we want, do you think that it is better to look at the activities that are working and consider those (or the aspects of the activity that are working) instead of what is not working? Interesting…

  • Scott Johnson  On November 1, 2012 at 9:02 PM


    Those weren’t actually my words but I support the idea of learning from what works as long as it is genuinely assessed as working. School didn’t work for me so my definition of success is very different than my wife’s who excelled at school. That said there were aspects that would have made my school life easier had I been allowed some small say in the process–didn’t happen.

    My experience in life tells me that studying things that don’t work with an eye to actually changing them is usually futile. Not sure why that is, though it is likely related to change which seems harder for people to accept with than something that’s toxic but at least familiar. And then there’s the resistance factor from those who’s practice is dysfunctional, they will work against you to the death rather than adopt new practices. Or worst, they will pretend to accept new practices which is OK for the adults they fool but not good for the kids they damage. Kids have good crap detectors while adults loose the ability.

    And then there’s something about things that work that draws us to mindfulness over careless activity for its own sake. Things that work align better with…with what I’m not sure…maybe practical functionality? Not sure though I do know that people who practice by habit or by ignoring the damage they spread are unreliable candidates for doing things that are genuinely better in a system.

    Guess in the end, we’re all better off by modeling thoughtfulness and meaningful practice and changing things by example. Have you read “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher” by Stephen Brookfield? Great book.

  • Helen Crump  On November 2, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    “Kids have good crap detectors while adults loose the ability”. How loud and how true did that little gem just ring!! Brilliant!! Thanks Scott. Keep telling it like it is!!
    P.S. I’m with you on “modeling thoughtfulness and meaningful practice and changing things by example”.

    • scottx5  On November 2, 2012 at 1:01 PM

      Thanks for the comment Helen. Interesting to note that the instructional designer in our office with the best sense of connecting to students has recently moved from teaching children in the K – 12 system on Oman. It might be to do with her being no fool for theories that form the core of design at the post-secondary level. It’s as if prior to high school graduation students are quirky humans and then suddenly transform into malleable statistical objects when they hit HE. Our instructors know their students as people and not objects and I wish we could get these teachers to help us with the courses we build. But I think the kids have gotten to them first and all the theories in the world can’t bring them over to our side:-)

  • Claire Major  On November 3, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    Hi Scott,

    I really liked this point:

    “If we don’t attend to interest and engagement in our course design how can we expect community to emerge? We can force community with all sorts of tricks and enducements but then we come back to killing the expression of self-directed learning.”

    I think you are right. It’s got to start with us building something interesting and engaging. It’s got to start with them communicating with each other and with us. Then it’s got to move to community, and I’m thinking if we force it, try to “trick it” into happening, it won’t. I think the students are smarter than that!


  • Scott Johnson  On November 4, 2012 at 8:08 PM

    Hi Claire, some of our teachers and admin don’t feel we should worry about what the students find interesting but that staff is in the minority. We have students who have poorly in school in the past and don’t really have much use for what we offer. If we were some sort of fancy school able to choose only the best students this would be an issue. Except we are a public school with a mandate to take everyone who applies and do everything we can do to keep our student’s attention.

    Even without this obligation, it seems to me studies have proven that interested and engaged students learn more and will stick to it through most difficulties. A little effort making something interesting goes a long way to breaking down resistance. It shows respect too–something our students may never have been given.

    Thanks for your comment.

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