Colin's Sandbox

Goal Six: Learning Community

My graduate coursework at the University of Alaska Southeast has taken place entirely online.  The importance of establishing a safe, respectful, and responsive learning environment cannot be understated.  The K-12 classroom that can effectively pull this off will have students who are more engaged, which leads to easier classroom management (Burgess).  Among the techniques cited by Burgess: get to know the students and their passions as well as you can, stay on top of current events, build rapport with them, allowing for space where innovation can thrive.  Perhaps most importantly, make sure that you display a caring attitude; students who perceived higher levels of caring will report that they have learned more, will view the content in a more positive light, and will be evaluated at a higher level (Teven and McCroskey, 1996).

Transforming the Online Learning Collective

How do we take these techniques and understandings and transform them to our own online learning collective?  We’re in the enviable position of being in a transitionary phase right now in higher education learning.  When I first started in my Master’s, “online learning” often meant a weekly synchronous session, assigned readings, and a forum (“blog”) post, all held within one environment, Blackboard.  Just within the span of a year, we have moved largely to open educational resources and environments, and while we seem to be converging on a set of tools, there is a lot of room for personal choice and change as the collective sees fit.


Twitter continues to provide an open platform through which I communicate with a large group of learners from around the world.  Anyone can search for any string of characters in posts, and entire communities form around a common search string, known as a “hashtag”.  A discussion between members can be prearranged to start and end at about a particular time (a Twitter “chat”) but in reality posts and conversations can continue to happen at any time.  Threads can quickly swell as people start paying attention, due to retweets or mention by others.  Twitter was a regular communication feature over several classes whose hashtag reference became synonymous with the name of the course (#diffiMOOC, #oltak, #seaccr, #aktechplan, #etlead).  In later courses I started facilitating these conversations periodically along with other students and I found it to be a great method of keeping me engaged in the material.

Google Plus

I have used Google Plus most recently as a part of the Digital Citizenship MOOC offered by Jason Ohler and enjoyed the sense of community that has evolved there.  In the past few weeks of the course, due to the open nature of the course, we’ve had guests come in from around the country to explain and support pieces of the curriculum that they (or their organizations) helped create.  Like Twitter, all of the interactions take place out in the open and the community is very supportive.  Unlike Twitter, there are features in place to organize the content by topic (e.g. weekly discussions or additional resources, etc.).

Google Hangouts On Air

A new feature this past semester, as part of the #gamifi-ED OOC online learning community I have helped facilitate a series of Google Hangouts on the Air with Verena Roberts, educational consultant from Calgary, Alberta; Dr. Lee Graham, professor, University of Alaska Southeast; and Vicki Davis, teacher and technology coordinator of Westwood Schools in Camilla Georgia.  This feels closer to some experience I had as a weekly volunteer DJ years ago than anything else that I can compare it to.

Personal Blog

Even though I don’t get nearly the amount of interactivity from the medium, this blog itself has been an integral part of connecting with the much larger educational world.  Given that other mediums such as Twitter and Google Plus serve that purpose, the greatest advantage for having a blog is in the reflection piece and control over the presentation.  Twitter famously limits posts to 140 characters, Google Plus and Facebook limit the formatting you can do in your posts (along with links, images, etc.), so you can’t always use external media for impact as easily as on a blog running on a modern framework such as WordPress.

Carrying the Community Forward

Maintaining and Developing the Personal Learning Network

One major advantage that I see to setting up courses in the open fashion is that at the end you still have those same contacts that you made in the course in the same mediums.  You don’t have to exchange email addresses, contact information, etc.  You have the power to continue working with the same people informally over the same modes of communication as you did before.  What’s more, you have an opportunity to connect with outside individuals who are communicating with your classmates over those same services.

Transferability of Skills

The communication skills I learn while using open education tools are the same tools that I will be using in my everyday social networking life outside of the class.  Skills that I learn in a walled-garden type environment, such as Blackboard, are limited in their transferability to other pursuits in life.  Working out in the open on platforms that are changing rapidly keeps me actively learning and improving my communication skills constantly.

Dynamic, Open Profile

When you hold class over open resources, you are actively developing your digital profile one post, one comment at a time.  This provides a great resource for future employers, coworkers, students, and teachers to get a holistic view of the person they could potentially be working with.  A resume or C.V. can only provide so much depth of past experiences and areas of interest and mastery.


Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate. San Diego: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Teven, J., and McCroskey, J. (1996).  The relationship of perceived teacher caring with student learning and teacher evaluation.  Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association.  November 23-26, 1996, San Diego, CA.  Retrieved February 15, 2014 from

Goals and Standards

University of Alaska Southeast School of Education Standards, Education Technology, Goal 6

a. investigate and use a variety of techniques to establish and maintain a responsive environment for all learners (K,S)
b. establish and maintain a positive climate in which learners develop self-direction and collaborative skills. (S)
c. commit to ensuring learner well being and development of self-regulation and group interaction skills. (D)

ISTE Standards for Coaches (2011)

2d. Coach teachers in and model design and implementation of technology-enhanced learning experiences emphasizing creativity, higher-order thinking skills and processes, and mental habits of mind (e.g., critical thinking, meta-cognition, and self-regulation)
3a. Model effective classroom management and collaborative learning strategies to maximize teacher and student use of digital tools and resources and access to technology-rich learning environments

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!