iAlja's blog

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Helping People Find Answers

My experience with teaching online courses (and participating in various online communities) has led me to believe that there are three basic groups of people when it comes to finding answers to their questions:
  • Social learners: people who prefer finding answers by asking other people.
  • Resource learners: people who prefer finding answers on their own using any available resource.
  • Passive learners: people who prefer waiting for answers to find them.
We can be part of a different group in different settings, although usually people tend to have a preference for one of the groups. And why do I find this important? I think it’s important to be aware of how people prefer finding solutions to their problems when you’re trying to teach people or provide technical or other types of support. And be willing to accommodate differences in their favorite approach. This is especially important in an online setting, where there’s a spatial and often a time barrier when you’re interacting with your students, colleagues or clients.

What the first group, the social learners, needs the most is an easy way to ask other people their questions. Provide them with different channels, make yourself available. And if you want them to keep asking questions, you have to make sure they get their answers in a reasonable time frame and that the answers provide enough information value and that they don’t make the person feel bad or even stupid for asking the question. Thank the people when they’re asking questions, and try your best to answer them. And don’t forget that often an honest “I don’t know, I’ll have to look it up.” can be the right answer. Also, be prepared to answer the same questions all over again, but don’t be afraid to link to previous answers when you’re working in an online environment.

In a large group of people the second group, the resource learners, can also help you provide the right answers for social learners. Resource learners often like the challenge of an open question and will gladly share what they’ve learned on their own to help out their peers. Just take a look at Twitter or Yahoo! Answers. What you can do to help resource learners solve their problems more effectively, is providing a lot of different resources, which should be easily accessible and searchable.

The most difficult group to deal with are the passive learners. They tend to solve problems by following what others do, find answers that are not related to the question or simply walk away. Different circumstances can make an individual a passive learner, such as lack of time or interest, lack of confidence when using an unknown communication tool or even fear of asking the wrong questions. They often complain when they don’t achieve the expected results, but you just can’t seem to be able to convince them that asking questions when problems arise can help them solve problems.

So what can we do to help passive learners? My usual approach is to provide regular directions from different angles, sometimes provide answers to questions nobody is explicitly asking, and to keep offering help. Some people just might need some time to start feeling comfortable before they start asking questions, and I try to make sure they know it’s never too late to start.

But at the end of the day don’t forget that you probably won’t always be able to turn every passive learner into a social or resource learner. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done something wrong or they are not successful learners. It might just not be the right time, place or circumstance for them. You can’t always help everyone, but do try to find out how you can best help each individual.

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2009/09/helping-people-find-answers.html

The Problem With Workshops

Here’s the thing: I don’t believe one or two days long workshops really work when you’re trying to change the way people do something or convince them to use a new tool. These workshops are like a first date. It can go really well, you get all excited… but then, the next day, you have this urgent thing at work to do, so you don’t have time to call back… and then you have another big project to plan and… oh wait, what was the workshop all about? I’ll go to another one next year.

The problem with short workshops is that you usually make a good impression, but you don’t develop a relationship. Sure, you might get one or two people excited enough to get involved with the subject further, but most people won’t. Most people won’t really get it after a day or two. They need the time and place to figure things out on their own. If there’s somebody by your side immediately solving all your problems for you, you don’t really learn much.

So, what do I believe in? I believe in longer lasting workshops where participants are gently guided by a tutor, but require participants to invest their time and energy in solving problems. I believe in workshops that keep participants active with regular challenges and that provide a lot of feedback for the participants. And workshops that provide some follow-up, opportunities for keeping the relationship alive even after the workshop is officially over.

For example, I recently guided several groups of teachers through a three weeks long Moodle introductory workshop delivered online, through Moodle. During that time I was there for the participants to help them get through problems on their own, and to encourage them, to let them know they were doing a great job. The time we spent together was enough to start developing a good relationship, but I also tried hard to let them know that was just the beginning: Yes, you have successfully completed the training, but this is where the real work begins. Go into your own classrooms now, and practice. And nowadays there’s always a way to get more help online; either from other users or from me. The important thing is that you keep asking questions!

The thing to keep in mind here is that adopting a new tool/way of thinking (aka learning) is not an event, it’s a process. And not an easy one, so don’t expect to be done with it in a few hours by having people clicking together in the same room!

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2009/07/problem-with-workshops.html

Google Squared - a Great Tool for Educators?

Yesterday Google announced Google Squared, a new release from Google Labs. From the official announcement: “Google Squared is an experimental search tool that collects facts from the web and presents them in an organized collection, similar to a spreadsheet.”. I’ve played with it for a while today, and while it might not be the best way to search for things, I can imagine a lot of great ways to use it in classrooms.
A sample Square on cloud types
The most obvious use is for teachers to use Google Squared sheets as learning materials. You can easily create a list of US presidents, african countries, renaissance artists, cats breeds, learning management systems, … and much more. Textbooks are all full of lists, but they are static. With Squared, you can create your own list, edit rows, columns and data, and easily change the whole list whenever you want to.
The automatically generated lists are (of course) far from perfect, but that’s exactly where I see the biggest learning opportunity. You can present an incomplete list to your students and have them find missing data or check the validity of the provided data. You can also have students try to create their own lists (you can even start with an empty table), save them on their Google accounts, and then compare lists with peers. Who got the data right? Is your data source reliable? I think this can be a great exercise on how to deal with online resources. And even the Squared Help page emphasizes double-checking the information in your Square! :)
Do you see Google Squared being useful in classrooms?

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2009/06/google-squared-great-tool-for-educators.html

Virtual Worlds in Education and Moodle

Today I’d like to share with you my recent paper about using virtual worlds in education, with a special focus on how we can use virtual worlds with Moodle. I wanted this paper to be a basic introduction to why virtual worlds are good for education, and also provide a basic overview of some of the most interesting virtual worlds/tools on the market today.
Here is the embedded version from Scribd:
I presented this paper at the 3rd International Slovenian MoodleMoot with a live demonstration of Webline.lite (a super easy way to add avatars to any website), and I hope I managed to encourage some teachers to think about virtual worlds as a possible addition to their online courses. This year I was positively surprised to hear so many teachers using blogs and wikis in their classrooms, so perhaps next year I won’t be the only weirdo talking about virtual worlds anymore :)

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2009/05/virtual-worlds-in-education-and-moodle.html

New Moodle Presentation

It’s been almost two years since I created a brief video presentation of Moodle, and now I finally took the time to update it with a new version. Initially, I just wanted to update the usage statistics, but I ended up doing a redesign, and I also added some information, so it’s slightly longer than the previous version. In addition to that, the video is now available in better quality and in widescreen format. And now, without further ado, I present you the new, improved Moodle Presentation:

You can view the video presentation on YouTube, Vimeo, and blip.tv. I created the presentation in Apple’s Keynote, so you can also view the slides that I used on SlideShare.

I hope you enjoy this presentation; and feel free to use it to spread the word about Moodle!

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2009/03/new-moodle-presentation.html

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day

If you haven’t heard it yet, today is Ada Lovelace Day, “an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology”. I must confess I haven’t heard much about Ada before today, but I have of course heard much more about Charles Babbage, the inventor of the computer she was programming on. And that’s a good indicator of how history often forgets to mention women’s contributions. Let’s all take a moment to remember who Ada was:
“She is mainly known for having written a description of Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. She is today appreciated as the “first programmer” since she was writing programs—that is, manipulating symbols according to rules—for a machine that Babbage had not yet built. She also foresaw the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on these capabilities.” (Wikipedia)
Luckily, times are changing, but women in technology (and many other fields) are still a minority, and that’s why I, as a woman in tech myself, can relate to the idea of Ada Lovelace Day. For me, today is about thanking the women in our lives, who have the power to inspire us all in unique ways.

And I’m glad that it’s with the help of technology that I came in touch with several women, who use technology in inspiring ways. Today, I’d especially like to thank Angela Thomas, a researcher with a unique approach to digital media, Alanagh Recreant, who is using technology to promote sustainable development, Aliza Sherman, an unstoppable web pioneer, Chris Collins, a passionate educator and community builder, and Grace McDunnough, an innovative musician and explorer of new worlds.

And, last but not least, I’d also like to thank my mom. She showed me that it’s ok for women to know about technology, and she brought computers and the internet into our home at a time when these things were still considered irrelevant by most people. It was thanks to her that I practically grew up with computers and that I saw the great potential of technology from an early age.

Thank you all, and keep up with the good work!

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2009/03/celebrating-ada-lovelace-day.html

Interested in Moodle? Find a MoodleMoot to Attend!

Moodle is a great open source and freely available online learning management system, but what really makes it special is the large community of teachers and administrators that are using it in many different and innovative ways. And that is why Moodle conferences called MoodleMoots (gatherings of wise Moodle users) are always great events to attend for anyone already using Moodle or trying to learn more about it. They are a great opportunity for people to share best practices and to find new connections and even friendships.

And it is with great pleasure that I’m now helping organize the 3rd International Slovenian MoodleMoot, which will take place on May 22nd in the lovely and sunny coastal city of Koper, Slovenia (my birth place!). I would like to invite you all to attend our Moot and present your experience with Moodle; and if you can’t make the trip to Koper, you can even present remotely via Skype. If you’d like to learn more about our MoodleMoot, see the official Call for International Presentations.

In case the timing of our conference isn’t right for you, I’d also like to encourage you to take a look at the list of other MoodleMoots that are being organized all over the world. So far I was only able to attend the Austrian Moot once, but I sure hope I get the chance to visit others as well! Moodlers are usually a really great crowd, and I’m already looking forward to seeing some great practical uses of Moodle and related tools at our Moot. I hope to see you there too! :)

P.S.: Speaking of great conferences… don’t miss The Virtual World Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference this weekend (March 27-29) - it’s a free conference taking place in the virtual world of Second Life.

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2009/03/interested-in-moodle-find-moodlemoot-to.html