Category Archives: Peer Suppported

Connected Learning Principle

Why Online? “Access Trumps Knowledge”

I’m writing in response to Harold Jarche’s post, moving to social learning, where he describes a decentralized social learning approach to change in our organizations. Since we are now so technologically connected with communication networks worldwide, access to a trusted network of people to guide our change in work practices makes sense. By engaging with our networks to cooperate, share knowledge and collaborate, learning online gives us the ability to do complex work more readily. We must create the structures necessary to support it.

Research shows that an effective knowledge network is open, transparent, and diverse. Social networks are by nature open; they can enable knowledge-sharing; which in turn fosters a diversity of ideas and opinions necessary for innovation.

If this adaptive social learning is happening in our workplace, helping students learn “how to search, find and make the connections”  is essential. We’ve labeled these principles connected learning in a networked world – access to information and a trusted network of people in order to collaborate and learn.

Knowledge workers – that’s us – also need to develop emergent practices through social relationships outside the workplace – and classroom. This keeps learning connected to the changing external environment, through human relationships and social networks. As educators, we help our students and colleagues connect the ideas worth exploring.

Setting Climate Matters

Lately I’ve been thinking about how Connected Learning principles and the Community of Inquiry framework intersect when designing a connected course.

cc-header1This morning I spent time listening to the group of people discussing connected courses , describing their experience in the #etmooc.  What struck me about the conversation was that they were describing how important it was that they had “set climate” first. They understood that tools can mediate the connections but people using the tools are the most important. They talked about their personal connection with the real humans also in the course around playfulness, but more important, kindness, openness and the knowledge that mistakes will be helped but not judged. The relationships among co-learners endure because there were one-to-one connections made that became part of their personal learning network.

They recognized that playfulness is often difficult in a serious academic course, but orienting students first to being learners together makes the difference for becoming co-learners. Let them adjust to the open, connected communication. “It’s different. Self-directed is new.” Howard Rheingold admits “This model takes more time” for faculty but makes a difference for learners developing trust… “Checking each other out…”  Allow personal pace. Let them watch for a time, becoming comfortable in the connections. It can be “a transformative experience.” How do we make our courses more inclusive, engaging, accessible to all levels of learning and skill? Pre-course orientation to being connected in this way might be helpful…”more of an onramp.” Allow students to decide the way in which they communicate and interact.

I’m taking the liberty of naming their description of what made a difference to them personally in the etmooc as “teaching presence and setting climate,” defined in Community of Inquiry. Teaching presence becomes a way to develop trust among learners. The panel suggested: Model ways to present yourself to your co-learners. Call people by name. Recognize when someone joins the conversation. Be kind to the people in your learning community. Welcome engagement and comment thoughtfully on posts. When people are generous, so much can happen. A community can build in this emerging medium.

Another way to “Set climate.” is to begin with a learning project, as described by Professor Alec Couros in The Connected Teacher. Have students begin by seeking the answer to a real question they are intrigued by. First, they find and consume lots of media with information about the topic. “At some point, they make a connection with a person. The internet can mediate that connection.” They learn something and then share what they’ve learned, how they learned, and what mattered. They answer “How are you making learning visible? How are you contributing to the learning of others?” It begins the development of a community of learners. They begin to commit to teaching others what they know.

Teaching presence takes a leadership role in setting the climate and appears to precede both social and cognitive presence in the community of inquiry.


Gives Prompt Feedback

Getting feedback on a performance feels great if it’s positive.

“Gives Prompt Feedback” is one of the Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (Chickering & Gamson, 1987)

Knowing what you know and don’t know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses. When getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge and competence. In classes, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement. At various points during college, and at the end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how to assess themselves.

Providing ways for students to assess their own work and the work of their peers would help them learn to critique and understand the critiquing process. Peer/self assessment won’t always replace feedback from an expert but it can certainly be helpful to use specific criteria and focus questions when learning the process of evaluating your own work compared to others.

What is a simple way to present these criteria and questions for students to use? Forms could work. I’m searching for good questions. I’m also wondering if the feedback given would help other students if it were available? Open assessment feedback is a larger question…

Why I Teach

Just listened to Mike Wesch’s question — Why we need a “Why?”   when we teach. I’ll attempt to describe my personal Why?

There was a time, decades past, when I was criticized because there was too much movement and talking in my classroom. I had moved my students’ desks out of rows and into groups so students could talk with each other (cooperative learning, serious play) about data and how they might represent it in graphs.

Even though it was messier and certainly noisier, I felt then that the students, especially the English Second Language students, were doing authentic problem solving and asking questions together — learning.  Connected Learning describes this principle as Peer supported. It involves curiosity and fun, shared purpose and doing. It was the conversation that made the difference — the conversation about why.

That was the year I purposely questioned my choice to teach as a profession. And decided I would continue to study teaching and learning. That was the same year they added a computer lab… It’s been an amazing journey and I’m pleased to be part of this current conversation that emphasizes the construction of knowledge by learners studying together.


Using Contracts and Forms to Support Groups

Peer-Supported. Connected learning encourages participation in peer-led learning, assessment, and feedback. Peers often are the better sources of performance feedback. In addition, working well with others is a prerequisite for success in the increasingly team-oriented work environment. But groups are not necessarily automatically successful. In our site forum, Dianne Simons provides an excellent description of how she organizes groups in her courses.

I provide clear small group expectations on two levels – task and interpersonal (product and process) and I use peer review forms that “spell out” those expectations… the secret of small group learning is to prepare students and to make the expectations explicit. It is also to “teach” that the groups are intentionally designed to address product and process.

Students do not always have positive experiences working in a group. By providing information about ways to establish working communication among group members, we prepare them to understand the process of small group formation and the best ways to create a product together.

An example of a group contract:people sharing contact info through smart phones

(1) How will you communicate?

(2) How often will you be expected to check for any updates from your group members/teammates?

(3) Will there be a permanent group leader?

(4) Who will be assigned to post the group’s assignment solutions per the due date policy in our syllabus?

(5) What will be your group’s policy, if any, on absences and covering for one another if need be?

(6) What policy will you have in place in case of resolving any intra-group conflict that may arise?

(7) Any other issues you deem as important


We often find that being able to critique the engagement of the other members of our small group eliminates the possibility of one member benefiting from the work of the group without contributing. It also provides an opportunity to learn critiquing skills.

This example set of Peer Review questions can help describe your expectations of group work and gather information about individual student involvement with their group, separate from project grades. These questions can be provided as a document to students, but a Google form and linked spreadsheet can make the process of Peer Review easy to organize that keeps student responses anonymous.

• Use one (1) peer review form for rating each group member. For example, if your group has 5
members, you would need to complete 4 review forms (1 for each of your peers).
• Complete your forms on your own. Do not “grade-fix” with other group members. Orchestrating high reviews for each other will not benefit you if you have done much of the work.
• Rate each member’s contributions to the project by circling the rating (1 to 5) which corresponds best to the person’s performance.
• Be honest. Accurate ratings will help differentiate the grades received in accordance with each
person’s contribution. Giving everyone the same rating probably is unrealistic and will not help reward the better performers for their efforts.
• Your peer review forms are due along with the group project.

This link provides the Google form with possible questions. Make a copy, edit questions, and rename for your own use in your own Google drive. Form settings must be unchecked. Confirmation page settings:  Do check “Show link to submit another response” so students can fill out the form for each member of their group. Do NOT check “Publish and show a public link to form results” to keep responses anonymous. or “Allow responders to edit responses after submitting”

Please share your own strategies for establishing Peer-Supported work by commenting on this post or adding your ideas to the forum in Participate.