Saturday, 25 February 2017 00:59

Mid-course Reflection - Feedback

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Dear Students,

After reading through just about all of your reflections and reviewing your performance, I would like to share some overall comments with you in order to give you a sense of how you are doing generally and to highlight what I find are some essential skills, some essential readings and some essential pieces of advice for success in the future.

You were asked to reflect on your progress up to this point in this course. I have not included any student reflections or writing in this feedback.

Here are excerpts from what I sent back to you.

Paul Leslie – Comments


For me, the reflections are often the source of the most inspiring comments and the most telling pieces of writing about your ideas toward the course and about you and your professional lives - and sometimes even your personal lives! Of course, I do learn a lot from the discussion boards, but those are often written for a larger audience and students have a tendency to be cautious and rather effusive with praise. That is good, but we also need some gritty, nit-picky questions in the mix to get people thinking and to delve deeper in the issues.

Some general comments about, or inspired by your reflections include:

“I loved reading your reflection piece. It was very detailed, thoughtful and demonstrates an understanding of the core concepts that goes beyond the concepts themselves and extends to their practical application and reality in the classroom. I particularly liked your discussion of Freire’s comment about being responsible to make the conditions for learning in our classrooms.”

“I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which you have approached both this reflection, and your overall work. I can see throughout the course that you have been challenging your classmates, and producing work that is clearly informed by the reading and reflection in your own experiences in the classroom.”

“I think your use of the term, “fidelity” is very interesting, It conveys a sense of doing the right thing combined with staying true to your original purpose. Is that what you mean?”

“As I always tell my students: I want more of whatever you are doing, and I want you to do it better. We are all individuals and we want to be judged on our own merits, not in comparison to our classmates.”

“I appreciate your comment about ill-structured problems. In fact, the whole debate over ‘authentic’ assessment or ‘authentic’ learning materials comes out of this notion that ‘real life’ is messy whereas the problems and situation we pose for students are contrived with the wrinkles ironed out. You could argue that a well-structured problem is not, in fact, a problem at all!”

“To get back to your reflection, I would like to offer a suggestion to look at strategies for ‘Making thinking visible’.

( or )

In my own work, I have found this approach really lets students and teachers see what is in front of them in terms of the ‘problem’ to be solved and then what strategies are most appropriate for addressing those issues.”

“The issue I see with ‘best practices’ are that they are highly contextual and personal. So, while there certainly are ‘best practices’, I think we need to be very careful what we label as such. We need to do more of presenting the whole body of our work to each other so we can see the context of our work, not just isolated activities.”

“I wonder if ill-structured problems have ill-structured answers? That is why they are difficult to deal with and why they are good teaching and learning tools. They make us think and do not have clear answers. “

“With your students, how then do you let them work on a ‘common’ problem if they are to be self-determining and self-sufficient? I want to know how we adapt and give each student their individual support through group activities?”

“In your case, how will you get help from colleagues who are teaching different levels, different subjects, yet can offer help. How do you work with them?”

“The topic of education is a funny one. If you are working with Math teachers, you have the pedagogy, and you have the Math as a separate item or body of knowledge. But with teaching and education, the body of knowledge is the pedagogy.

Discussion boards


I find discussion boards to be a great tool to give students a challenging question and then let them share ideas and build a community of ideas around a particular topic. I have used them as assessment tools for years in my own classes and have a journal paper in review right now about their use.

When they have a rubric for use and an assessment value, they do take on a different tone, and often a much more thorough and in-depth tone. I have given you several references to the Community of Inquiry model from Athabasca University. In my research, I have found that the key to a successful discussion board, or in fact any type of collaborative interactions is the notion of ‘teaching presence’.

In the model, participants, including the teacher, display three presences, social, cognitive and teaching. Social presence is what lets us interaction and feel like we belong to the community. Cognitive presence is the ideas and knowledge that is contributed or generated in the community. And teaching presence is what gives the community direction and focus through thoughtful and challenging questions.

There is an assumption that teaching presence comes from the teacher. Of course it does. However, in our course for example, there are 20 students and one of me. So, I cannot possible ask enough questions to provide rigour and challenge and depth to the entire community in a sustained manner for the entire course. So, teacher presence must also come from the students. As I have pointed out, not only do you have the right to ask questions of your colleagues, but you have an obligation!

Some comments to you about your discussion board participation:

“After reviewing your discussion board entries, I see that you have interacted very well with your colleagues and have provided them with in-depth and thoughtful answers. I see that you took the time to respond to most questions and comments made on your work. I also see that you posed a few questions for your classmates. This is excellent work.”

“I do encourage everyone to ask questions and I see that you have been very encouraging with your classmates, and I encourage you to continue to feel free to really question everybody. That is what we are here for – to ask questions and to learn from everybody – that is another form of collaboration. I know that people sometimes feel a bit self-conscious, and when challenged may feel somewhat affronted. Nevertheless, in our quest for epistemological freedom (a la Freire), we must challenge each other and ask questions.“

“Thanks for the extensive feedback you gave me. That is the power of asking questions. You get answers!”

“Your posts to the discussion board have been great! I have read through them and you especially your very detailed response to my question. The thing I love about discussion boards, is that now the answer you posted is available for all students to read and be inspired by.”

“Did you see my post here:

“I appreciate your comments about working with others and the continual question of trust and how do we know our thoughts and comments are being taken in the spirit that they are intended. I encourage you to read up on the community of inquiry model (and see how that might apply to your work. The same issues arise in the discussion boards here. You mention that you need to establish trust. I wonder if you can apply an appreciative inquiry model and assume a level of trust as a measure of good faith?”

“My advice is to try and read a bit more of your classmates work and perhaps try to be a bit more regular. I see that you are logging in regularly, but you seem to have posted many of your comments in just a few sittings. It is better to check in more often for shorter periods of time. I know some people try to save up their work and do a big check at once. But this style does not work so well in the online course format and you really need to do ‘bits and pieces’. It takes time to digest the work and instructions and if you look at some other work first and ask questions, you will get great insights to your questions.”

“You also need to ask more questions, because not everyone will answer! In return, you will be asked questions. Always answer! You know the old saying, the best way to learn something is to try and teach it. Well, similarly, a great way to understand something, especially your own thoughts is to explain them to someone else.

“My advice is to try and ask more, genuine questions that you have. I see that you are asking some questions, but might suggest that they are ‘easy’(?). Don ‘t be afraid to ask challenging questions. I see that you commented in this issue in your reflection and you are concerned about how this will be perceived. Well, hopefully it will be perceived as exactly what it is – you asking challenging questions!”

Concept map and montage


The concept map and montage are important elements of the course. The map gives you a chance to show your overall understanding of the concepts and processes of problem solving and collaboration. The montage gives you a chance to think about some tools to use to bring those processes and collaborative techniques to life.

Some comments:

“I liked the revamped version of your map in Mindomo. You have a lot of information packed in there. I think you have really covered the topic, but encourage you for your students’ sake to think of it as a map to other, more detailed information. The details should be linked from elsewhere. If you are teaching online through D2l, use your available tools to make connections and draw attention to other sources.”

“To go back to your map, you use the terms ‘shared vision’ and ‘common goals’. I think these are important, but often do not elicit the self-determination you are looking for. Sometimes, we work with the same people because our goals align for the moment. As soon as they stop, we tend to drift apart. This is a natural progression. So, I wonder if the question is about how do we work together and get the best from each other even when we don’t always have common goals. I am working with a small group of people at the moment with very different goals, but we get together to share ideas and collaborate on topics that might not have a shared vision, but the ‘shared’ part of the vision comes through when I see how the others think. It is very rewarding.

“Your map conveys a great sense of the complexity of collaborative inquiry and it is very well supported by your technology montage. You have done a great job to link the collaborative processes to tools that will support such work. Between these two artefacts, you have demonstrated a strong understanding the overall concepts.”

“In light of your comments in your reflection, I ask you if you designed this for yourself, or for others to read?”

“I like the focus on Sustained knowledge as an end point. That is many ways is what we are after – to learn something and attach it to our schema and long term memory. I also love the focus on problem solving as means toward that end with strands going out to types of problems and strategies for solving them – this is excellent work. You should make sure you share it with your colleagues and you should put it into a learning and teaching portfolio. This is something you can show to students and then point out to them on the map where they are going to work for the day.”

“For example, having the characteristics of CI overlap with the 4 stages was a great example of the relationships.”

“I think that you will do well to spend some time go back and look at some of the later maps and second attempts. Some of your classmates have produced spectacular maps. They will be great examples for you to look at. As for using maps on your teaching, I think they are a critical tool both for you to explain concepts, and for your students to make to help dissect concepts.”

“Personally, I think Poplet is a great tool, but it is a difficult tool to use to represent more complex ideas.”

“I totally agree with your points about using a suite of tools rather than a collection of different tools that may or may not work together and that will require a set of passwords, some of which may be different. 90% of people already have a Google account.”

Burning questions and PLC


Finally, the burning questions and the start towards working with a PLC were very interesting! Technically, the burning questions and PLC discussion were not part of the mid-course consultation, but of course if you have not started this section of the course yet, you need to get busy! I gave considerable feedback to many of you on the communities. Because the nature of much of this feedback was directly related to your questions, it may not be relevant to share here. 

Nevertheless, in the following comments, you will see the main points you need to consider.

“Is that a more formal group, or are you an active participant? In other words, do you know the participants and engage regularly with them. If yes, you could easily use that group as a PLC. I have encouraged others to go with a PLC that they work with directly rather than one that is more distant and from which you may not receive regular or direct replies.”

“One note to consider is to try and pick a PLC that you have some chance of getting a reply from. In this light, you might be better off with a smaller group, rather than a larger one.”

“Although you are supposed to engage online, I think that nowadays, even with F2F, so much of the engagement process happens online, especially in terms of sharing documents, synchronous editing, cloud storage and other such collaborate tools.”

“Going forward, I encourage you to take some time to read about the Community of Inquiry model if you are not already familiar. There are some interesting comments about establishing ‘presence’ with online groups and even f2f groups. Specifically, look at the social presence. This model is intended for online communities, but the work translates very well into f2f or blended situation as well. Under the social presence section of the model, there are lots of papers and measurement tools that will help to define what behaviors contribute to making the interactions more engaging.”

“There is no doubt that this is difficult and stressful. My best advice is to consider the concept of ‘tolerance for ambiguity”. There will be lots of unanswered questions through this process and that is intentional as an effort to develop such tolerance. One way to clarify, is to then consider the notion of ‘making thinking visible:

“It is a challenging topic and I advise you to go with it. I think there is a great deal of research to be done in that area and it would make a great PhD topic down the road for you!”

“I see that one of your burning questions is directly looking at the idea of digital working portfolios. ( )! This would be a great focus for your professional communities. How can we use portfolios to engage with our community? Look at the AAEEBL ( ) as a professional community.

“I guess one question is, what is the difference between formal and informal? Is that the difference between group work with a group submission versus working with groups but submitting individually? How will that work in a ‘real life’ situation? Also, I was very interested to note that you have brought in the element of the size of the group. Very interesting! I am currently involved with designing some processes that are being developed by a small group, but that will impact 100s of academics across our entire school. How does that fit?”

“How does the level of formality affect the level of participation?”

“I see that you have contacted some others about questions regarding resistance to collaboration. That is a highly worthy topic and one that will challenge you and the other students.”

“In this case, you might need to be much more direct and forthcoming with your own ideas than you are accustomed to. In Canada, we are far too polite and unwilling to impose or burden others. However, the spirit of collaboration needs to start somewhere, and it might as well be with you. I am sure they will welcome every bit of advice and experience you can share.”

“You should look at Kolb's experiential learning model.”

“Going forward, I encourage you to think about this specific question. If you cannot work with others, you are clearly not collaborating. While it may not be incumbent on you to be the initiator, it is always good to take on that role and see where it leads.”

“The real essence of collaborative inquiry is to learn from each other and more importantly to appreciate other viewpoints in an attempt to broaden our own understanding. The point isn’t to persuade or be persuaded, but rather it is to achieve a greater sense of freedom through understanding what those around us believe, think and feel ( ).”

Read 531 times Last modified on Tuesday, 28 February 2017 16:36
Dr. Paul Leslie

Associate of Taos Institute:

Education is a Community Affair. 

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