Reflections On Online Learning [LIBR203]

I was an online student for 2 1/2 years at the University of Colorado, Denver. The first year was so frustrating that I nearly left off trying to do an online masters at all. After encouragement from my wife, I resumed the program and had some of the best learning experiences I've known.

Despite being very literate in computers and their use the biggest difference between those two terms was understanding how to communicate online. This was a skill I took for granted coming from an IT background. I knew e-mail, I knew team meetings, I knew setting goals and priorities, I'd done it all before, etc, etc. The biggest shifts for me came in embracing the limitations of how I related to the teams and being much more careful in how I communicate in writing.

Relating to teams for me was very difficult. Most of my peers in the first term were all in the same timezone and would only do team meetings in the evening their time. This was unworkable for me, coinciding precisely when I would get up and leave for work in the morning, an unalterable time of day. I would not be able attend meetings and be behind the team in planning and activities. Essentially with these team I spent the entire time "storming". A very unsatisfactory experience for everyone.

When I came back to the program I had the good fortune to work with people that were better at being in remotely dispersed teams. Only a few of the team members were in the same timezone. As a result we were able to much more effectively move through the stages of forming a team (Haycock and others forming, storming, norming and performing). My own "displacement" in time from the teams was now able to be used as an advantage. Since I was a day "ahead" of my US teammates, but still worked to the US schedule I would finish early and be in a position to give final edits or other last minute support to team mates. (Per Haycock's slide 7 I evaluated what my contributions to the team could be and lent them, allowing us all to perform better.)

Enid brought up some interesting points about teams and sports. The "GO TEAM" mentality. Students approaching the word "team" with no work experience only have a sports reference for what the term means. Quite possibly this is automatically a negative reference for them. So they approach the idea that they have to be in a team in a negative manner because they don't have the proper idea what a team in a workplace does. I think my experience with the team mentioned in the paragraph above was an example of people that new what a team was in a work place and how to work in and as part of one. There was no false enthusiasm, but there was no fear either. We all felt we could and would contribute.

Of course, key to that was the later team had very well done team agreements based on consensus. Haycock touches only briefly on consensus in team building, but then later implies that teams that vote on this face difficulties. I think what worked in our team was the ability to build consensus and select leaders in a natural fashion. As a group we were able to parse the assignment, talk about our strengths, and from that select who was team leader, who were responsible for creating sections, who was the backstop program manager and so on. It was a very positive experience. One facilitated by having a team agreement, and clearly deciding who was leading the team and what that meant at the beginning. Haycock mentions this, but it cannot be stressed enough. Enid would say we were successful because we had proper attitude and we did our planning (Enid slide 18).

I'm going to sum this and get it posted. My own thoughts on what makes for successful teams and successful online learning:

When working alone:
Be sure you understand the assignment.
Recall that you aren't alone.
Remember that answering questions about what you don't understand is why the instructor is there.
Be aware you will make mistakes. Correct them and move forward.

When working in teams:
Know what you can contribute to the team and communicate it.
Speak, or write, gently with others.
Be honest with deadlines.
Make a team agreement before moving forward.

For both of these, I'm reminded of something from one of my earliest classes in military leadership during university. "Know yourself and seek self improvement", after all, that's why you're in a university program.

Finally, some art for the day since I've put the blog in the FlipBoard format. Something to give a cover picture.

View from the window of an inn in Italy. No particular relation to the topic, but a photo of mine that I like.


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