Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Final Texas A&M Meeting

My final meeting with my Texas A&M group went better than expected. Learning from my 2 previous meetings, I felt as though I had nailed down organizing my group. This time around I gave them plenty of time to respond and sent a follow-up e-mail reminding them of their deadline. This wonderfully as every student responded by the deadline and setting a date and time quickly set. 

Of all the discussions we had, the last one was not as involved as the other previous two. It may have been because the students were coming back from Spring Break or the novelty of Second Life was beginning to wear off for them. Realizing that early on, I was glad I had prepared questions ahead of time to keep the conversation on target, questions that got a quality conversation going. What was good about the meeting was the level of comfortability we had developed as a group even though we couldn't see each other face to face. In the end, it was sad to see this collaboration come to an end but it was encouraging to hear how much the group enjoyed working in Second Life. This collaboration showed me how much I enjoyed managing an online group and I hope to do more of that in the future.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Second Virtual Meeting with Texas A&M

The preparation for this meeting began the week before in class. My classmates and I got together and talked about our experiences with our groups. It was encouraging to hear that other people ran into some of the same problems I did and how they handled them. We all shared our lessons learned, which gave me new perspectives and ideas going into planning and organizing the second meeting.

After the huge success of my first meeting with my group in Second Life, I was genuinely looking forward to our second meeting. However, organizing my group proved to be more difficult than the time before. Following my lessons learned from our last meeting, I set a deadline to reply to the poll I sent of possible dates and times. I was surprised to find that after the deadline has passed, only one student had taken the poll. I found this to be discouraging because I thought my new organized approach would have made a difference. I informed the students that I was extending the deadline and that night I would make a decision based on those who replied. I'm not sure if that was the best way to handle that. Was I rewarding an inability to follow through by giving them more time? In the end, everyone showed up, which is what I really wanted.

For our second conversation, I encouraged the group to really listen to each other's response before responding to make comments more insightful and prevent the chaos of our first meeting. The students did well with it but I noticed that it slowed down the conversation considerably. There were more gaps where several people were typing but nothing was showing up because they were trying to take turns. I didn't like that but their responses were better and there weren't as many repeat comments so it worked. The biggest difference between this meeting and the last one was the level of preparedness of the group. The group didn't participate as actively as they did last time and they didn't seem to give the pre-discussion work as much attention as they did the first time. I asked them to write down any questions or comments they had about the videos they watched but none of them did it. As disappointed as I was, we were able to have a fairly good conversation.

Lessons learned from this meeting:

  1. Be flexible! Unforeseen issues can arise (we ended up with two groups in the same location) and it's always good to have a plan B in case your original plan needs to change.
  2. Be prepared! Make sure you know the material and have extra questions and talking points for those moments when conversation falls flat to keep it moving.
  3. A learning community is a powerful thing. The ideas, suggestions and shared experiences talked about in a groups of learners can make you better prepared and you'll have some "tricks" up your sleeve if you need them. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Texas A&M Collaboration

My second online collaboration was with a group of undergraduate students from Texas A&M. I was more nervous about this conversation than my first one because I was in charge of organizing the date, time and location of our first meeting.Organizing the group proved to be challenging as it was difficult getting replies from students. An error that I made was leaving things open-ended, which may have held up proceedings. 

Once the scheduling was figured out and everyone showed up, it was time to begin our discussion. I found the best place to start was by asking the group what they wanted to get out of our discussion; that made it easier for me to steer the conversation. As the conversation got underway, I quickly discovered that part of my job would include keeping the students on topic because it didn't take long before they went off on tangents. A difficulty with online chats is that it's difficult to tell how people are reacting to the conversation because there are no facial cues to reveal what people are feeling. I just had to use their replies, or lack thereof, to help me facilitate the conversation. In the end, our conversation went well and I was very pleased when the students told me that after this, they were prepared for their assignment; I had done my job. Now that this first meeting is over, I am more confident moving forward with our second meeting.

Here are the lessons I've learned after doing this collaboration:
  1. Keep the time difference in mind. It sounds really simple but it's easy to think in terms of your time zone, which can make scheduling confusing.
  2. Provide deadlines. If you allow people to respond whenever they like, they usually respond slowly which makes it hard to get anything done in a timely manner.
  3. Keep the groups small. With larger groups, it's difficult to agree on a time that accommodates everyone's schedule.
  4. There is no such as a stupid question. It's always good to keep the lines of communication open because it prevents any surprises and you're less likely to forget anything.