Skype chat – a reflection

Today I hit a bit of a dip. I’m sure it happens to most participants at some stage, but all of a sudden the reality of what I’ve got myself into dawned on me. After struggling but persevering through the readings from week 2 (some of them I found more accessible than others, namely the Gert Biesta paper), I’d then learned what would be required in weeks 3 and 4.

How will I ever find time to do the extra reading?

How do I keep up with everyone else on the course?

The blogs seems to take me ages, how I am going to ever going to tackle a more academic style of writing?

Luckily then, we had our first skype chat this evening. It was hosted by a couple of course tutors, and it came as a breath of fresh air.

As mentioned previously, the beauty of a course on a topic such as ‘Digital Education’ is that we are very much learning by doing. I think the sense of overwhelming is contributed by not only the effort and time to work through the course itself, but trying to maintain a close eye on how the course has been designed and is led by the team. I feel there is as much to learn from the latter as the former, and am keen not to lose the opportunity to recognise the excellent course design and delivery in play. While I am aware that this blog should reflect on and critique the discussions, motions and readings been proposed, I’m finding it is increasingly more useful to record my observations of the course I’m taking part in.

Tonight’s Skype was a chance to discuss ‘critical perspectives’. The brief for week 3 and 4 felt a little daunting, particularly since it’s such a leap into the known for someone who hasn’t been involved in formal education for such a long time (and at a significantly higher level than previous). Having now reflected on the skype chat, I feel more assured about what’s involved and required.

In terms of the chat itself, I think it came at a really good point in the course journey so far. Week 2 had felt a step up, and given some of the content was more difficult for me to contribute to when compared with the discussions in week 1.

I felt like we’d established strong early connections through the forums, but for me, this was the first time that there was a sense of a learning ‘community’. Perhaps this synchronous, fast-paced dialogue, through a platform like Skype, is an important element to establish those human connections, in a way that other platforms, such as forums cannot yet deliver. This format felt like an online version of a group face-to-face discussion (with many other distinct advantages), and I’m yet to consider what the stronger elements are at play here – am I finding comfort in a recognisable form of learning, or is just appealing to my human traits? Perhaps a bit of both.

Throughout the Skype session the example from week 1 – The disembodied student – was at the back of my mind. I’d built a dialogue with these people already, some of them more than others. How would the interactions change in this new format (especially given the pace of comment is more rapid)? Would I learn more about the other students I’d engaged with already and those that I’m yet to meet? Who is really at the end of the other computer (and do I really care)?

For my own reference, I wanted to document the practical aspects of what I feel made the session a success:

  • We already knew of each other, through our forum postings. Enough connection had been made (and enough common ground established), before putting the students in the increasingly involved environment.
  • Rory and Clara gave ample opportunity for chat participants to say hello to each other before getting stuck into the real purpose of the chat. Like the ‘ice-breaker’ in an instructor-led session, it knocked off some the edges and made us all more comfortable in offering our opinions.
  • I sensed that all the participants had been involved in chat environments like this before. In many ways, this is a pro and a con of the course. By the very nature of what we are studying, there’s shared knowledge we can apply in the very practicalities of how we are learning. However how transferable the format of a course such as this to those with less experience is one to unpick.
  • Using chat, rather than voice and/or webcam felt appropriate for the development of the group so far. Very well judged, and certainly reduces some of the apprehension some may have about the voice chat next week.
  • Having two chat hosts working in tandem added real value. WIthin such a big group it ensured the conversation could continue at a good pace and with a strong direction. Of course, and it goes without saying, that both hosts were obviously very experienced in the format and knowledgeable in the subject matter!
  • Rory had either prepared a list of questions to pose (and in a logical order), or he is particularly quick thinking. Either way being equipped to direct the conversation well is key.
  • Not every student was in the group. I’m looking forward to meeting others online already connected with on the next session next week!

Bravo on a well-designed learning experience!