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.


5 thoughts on “Setting Climate Matters

  1. Pingback: Network a Shared Experience of Creating Together | Learning Design

  2. Joan Rhodes

    Joyce, thanks for sharing this information. I particularly like the idea of using a learning project to begin a class. In a recent conversation with literacy professors at a national conference, the issue of establishing presence was discussed. Although the term playfulness was not used, it is exactly what the on-line instructors were describing as the way they interacted with their students at the beginning of a new class.

  3. Paul Signorelli

    Like Alan, I adore your phrase “teaching presence and setting climate.” It captures so much of what we need to do face to face and online with our learners: greet them at the physical or virtual door, acknowledge their presence, listen to why they are joining us, and then treat them as the co-learners they so clearly deserve to be. With that level of climate control, we’re fairly certain the learning weather is going to be conducive to rewarding, memorable co-learning/connected learning experiences.

  4. Alan Levine (@cogdog)

    I love this framing. it seems so obvious, and no one would disagree that “setting a climate” is a good idea. It’s probably in a few hundred books on instruction.

    Yet so may course experiences don’t. We start with a list of objectives. I for one have never been motivated by a list of bullet points telling me all the action statements I will do. No movie starts with a list of plot objectives. Objectives are important as an underpinning for design, but why are they so often put out there at the welcome mat? The same for a long scrolling syllabus. Or a grading policy.

    Setting the climate means also letting your humanity show (even your faults), something Alec does so well in his classes and his community building. A colleague, Jonathan Finkelstein, wrote a book on “Learning in Real Time” where he makes an analogy of treating online experiences like a dinner party, where you carefully consider the seating, you monitor the room for people who are talking too much, or are standing alone. It’s about being a host.

    What I also liked in last night’s conversation was (a) that Alec invited #ccourses participants to speak, not a panel of experts who are nit active in the community) and (b) they way they spoke about the importance of doing things together, the lip-dub project. It’s one thing to have all the tweeting and commenting, but quite another to have this shared experience of creating together.

    It’s pretty simple. And yet so rarely done.


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