Online and Immersed! Go Team!

I’m immersed in Online Education

I am an experienced online-educator. I created and maintained two classes on Nicenet – an internet classroom system developed as a student project at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN by Nathan Dintenfass and Ben Archibald in 1998. I have since migrated to the Minneapolis Public Schools Moodle.

Many things contribute to the success of an online student. The first thing is the ability to read, and to understand the content. The second most important skill is time management. If a student is unable to resist the lure of the “bright and shiny” interwebz, they are unlikely to be successful. I address these two important skills in the following ways: I write all my course material at a 4th grade level. That sounds pretty pathetic – but the concepts in class are more important than the reading level. So I explain complex concepts using simple language along with lots of illustrations and podcasts to convey the information. To address time management skills, I resort to the old fashioned teaching tool “eyes in the back of my head” AKA Apple Remote Desktop. Using this monitoring system, I can see what students are working on on their own desktops, then send friendly reminders to “get back on task”. If I don’t get the results I want, I am able to lock their computer, requesting a conference at my desk.

As an online student myself, I believe I could use someone to look over my shoulder to see what I am doing too! Although I do not find myself surfing aimlessly on the web, I do have a 27″ monitor, which unfortunately allows me to do this…

Screen Capture of my Desktop
I do enjoy learning. I love exploring. I love researching. I love writing. Too much exploring and researching are what I will need to be careful about as I begin my journey with my fellow MARA students. I have such a desire for “correctness”. I tend to over-think, over research, over plan, over-write (see? I am quite aware that I write a lot…) When I need to get something done quickly, I tend to be able to focus and get the job done…but when I have time – then all bets are off. I will spend hours perfecting a blog entry. This one is a good example. I started this post 3 hours ago. I admit that during those 3 hours, I made dinner and watched Brian Cox’s The Wonders of the Universe and sat with my grandchildren as they fell asleep. Now, I have just tucked my husband into bed (because I am a night owl) and begun typing again.

To summarize: in order for me to be a successful online student, I need to follow the advice my therapist gave me when I admitted that I could be a little obsessive when it comes to writing online. He said, “You have to prioritize. Some things are important, others not so much. Choose your battles.” Sage advice. I am still working on it!

Strengths = Technical, Writing and Researching skills. As an Aspergian, I tend to see how things fit together in different ways than neurotypical people. Barbara Lester writes in her blog ASD Specialist:

People with ASDs are also skilled at being able to see how things fit and work together – that is they have strong visual spatial and design skills… Adults on the autism spectrum may demonstrate this skill by being good at engineering or at computer programming and by having an excellent sense of direction. ASD strengths also include being great at details, and facts and figures.

This pull quote describes my strengths pretty well. I find comfort in extended periods of singular focus. These things will help me be a good online student.

A special thank you is in order for the link to San Diego Community College District, I will send my students there at the beginning of the school year to test their readiness for online learning as well!

In Regards to Working in Teams

As a high school teacher, I too have required my classes to work in teams – especially in Graphic Design (and my now “on hold for MARA Video Production” class.) I have always relied on self-selected groups, but if some students are shy, I have brought them together creating some powerful teams.

After listening to Dr. Haycock speak out against self-selected student groupings, I can see his point. Groups of friends are the laziest groups. Groups formed by students in close proximity – who previously were not friends perform remarkable work. The best groups are those formed when I select students who should work together. A point well taken from the video. I shall implement that in my classes – it will probably cause me to switch up student seating as well!

In my experience working with my fellow graphics teachers from across the district- especially  – I am seen as a leader. I am not the most senior member of the group, but I have helped each of the others obtain their vocational license. I was in the “right place at the right time” when I was hired. The state of Minnesota was re-writing the vocational licenses immediately after I received mine. I joined the statewide committee to create the standards and assessments for certification of teachers for the new vocation license for Visual Communications and Information Technology. I fought to have the state separate the two areas, but they were firm, and playing by the team rules, I let it go.

I am not sure that I am a great leader. I am just the “go to” person in my area in the district. I can learn things quickly and implement them, then provide feedback faster than any other teacher. The fact that I am well spoken helps with the perception that I lead well. I can guarantee that I am not “all that and a bag of chips.” I like order and rules. I like to know what the expectations are – and I can follow them – true to form. I like to know exactly what my responsibilities are. These are all qualities of a good leader according to Haycock. These are my strengths…but behold my weaknesses…

Weaknesses = Social Cognitive deficits and Executive dysfunction. Who-da-wha-da-who-da? Please let me explain. This relates to being Aspergian as well. Autism Spectrum Disorders are pervasive developmental disorders that are caused by structural differences in the brain. Pervasive means that it doesn’t get better – but most of us don’t want to be “normal” we like ourselves just fine the way we are. So what is really going on when I interact with the world is much more intellectually-based than a neurotypical (normal) individual. Neurotypical people instinctively understand body language, facial expressions and even have actual subtle emotions.

Problems relating to social cognition means that I am just learning how to act appropriately in situations where I am unsure of the “social rules” – heck – I have trouble sometimes even when I DO know what is expected of me. But I am working on this. And being precise when writing online helps. Even if I do tend to drone on and on about topics that interest me. Which brings me to Executive Function. That is the part of your brain that stops you from being impulsive. I have trouble with that. There are lots of things that relate to executive function that I do quite well – very well in fact. The two I am not so good with is controlling impulsive behavior (this relates to writing excessively long posts) and rigid adherence to routine. I am a creature of habit. I miss a lot of appointments, because, if I don’t do it every day, then I am apt to forget. So, I deal with that using my Google calendar, and a special technique called “telling my husband to remind me” /smile.

So, to summarize. I have more than a decade worth of different team experience. Working as a project manager in the printing industry, as a teacher, serving on the executive board of MN SkillsUSA and on the Immersive Education Initiative K12 group. I am a good leader, but I am an even better group member.

A special thanks for both of the Teaming Presentations – I will be putting the ideas to work in my classroom this year. I love the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing steps – very catchy I might add!


About Susan Wolfe

In the midst of a career change, moving from educator to codifier of knowledge. I desire to be a technical writer - transferring knowledge through the written word. I received my Master's of Archives & Records Administration from San Jose State University. My research focus was developing strategies enabling effective the capture of tacit and implicit knowledge from Communities of Practice (Professional Learning Communities) so that it can be can be collected and codified. I exist in the real world and online soaking up Best Practices for Knowledge Management and Immersive Education. Specialties Knowledge Management [KM]: Communities of Practice, Digital Asset Management [DAM], Project Management. Content Management Systems [CMS]: Moodle, WordPress, Drupal, Blogger, Open Wonderland, MOOCs STEM Education [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math]: Career and Technical Education [CTE], Instructional Design, Immersive Education, Graphic Design, Digital Photography
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2 Responses to Online and Immersed! Go Team!

  1. Debbie Faires says:

    Susan–I enjoyed reading your post and I learned much from it. Thanks for sharing all that you wrote and for pulling in several examples of applications from your own work and life.

    Since you are active in Second Life, I wanted to be sure you know about VCARA? See more here:

  2. Susan Wolfe says:

    I am a member of ARA – is that the same thing? I entered Second Life specifically to attend SJSU’s virtual campus.

    I am also a member of the Archivists of Second Life and frequently visit Oregon State’s Beaver Island. Inspired by a presentation at the Media Grid, I have been playing with developing a 3D taxonomy of learning for use in a virtual learning environment – you know – just for fun 😀

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