Last week, I had the pleasure of co-organizing the first Great Online Teachers Seminar in Asheville, NC with Steve Smith, a long-time leader of Great Teachers Seminars who I met when I attended the California Great Teachers Seminar in 2004 (which I have written about here and here). Steve, three facilitators, 22 participants from two countries and three states, and I spent three days engaged in faculty-centered collaborative activities about online teaching. The event also provided me with the special opportunity to meet one of my Twitter connections, Emory Maiden, in person, which was especially wonderful.
Before the Event
I designed a resource site (using Google Sites and Docs) for the event that served multiple purposes. First, it included a pre-seminar module that participants completed prior to the event, preparing them for deeper engagement on-site, modeling the effective use of digital tools for learning, and engaging faculty in a student role.
To complete the pre-work, faculty clicked on Google Docs I set up and shared with them. In the Docs, they contributed a summary of an online teaching problem, innovation, and a trick of the trade (a simple tip that other faculty can easily adopt). They also engaged in video reflections using Flipgrid. These video exchanges enabled the participants to make important connections with their peers prior to the face-to-face meeting. Several participants noted that the Flipgrid interactions gave them a sense that they had already met their peers when they connected at the event the first day. Throughout the seminar, a simple, editable Google Doc served as the group’s collaborative notes, which accrued a list of tools, books, links to teaching examples and policies from other systems/colleges, as well as unanswered questions.
Now that the event is over, the site serves two ongoing purposes: it is a digital archive of the participants’ contributions and a resource site to support the participants’ ability to continue to learn from one another.
Great Teachers Seminars are like a glass bowl. The GOTS event provided a space for faculty to share and discuss problems and innovations from their classes. The facilitators spend time listening and identifying themes in the conversations, which are then used to develop breakout sessions for deeper dives.
Sharing is the foundation. There are no experts. The agenda adapts as needed. Learning derives from the collective wisdom of the group. All ideas must be framed in a positive way. Laughter is frequent. Food is plentiful. Relationships and community flourish.
After the Event
I cannot detail the outcomes of the event, as they are different for each person. However, I can reflect on my own take aways. First, I feel a stronger affirmation that collaborative, face-to-face professional development events are key to supporting innovations in online teaching and learning. The trust, relationships, and community that are fostered through a Great Online Teachers Seminar provide institutions with opportunities to improve sharing and mentoring across a campus and across multiple institutions. I hope to offer a Great Online Teachers Seminar in for California Community College faculty, as part of my new role as Faculty Mentor, Digital Innovation, for @ONE (Online Network of Educators) and the CCC Online Education Initiative. I envision the GOTS experience serving as the entry point for a statewide faculty community that is further fostered and developed through online social technologies after the event.
I also sense that the faculty who participated in last week’s GOTS will:
• Think about their online classes through the eyes of their students
• Be aware that the names on their digital rosters represent people with feelings
• Employ strategies to understand the realities of their students
• Understand that their course may not always be the most important priority in a student’s life and that is ok
• Be more flexible
• Know which students need a warm, human touch
• Embrace the phrase, “I believe in you” and communicate it multiple ways
• Take risks
• Be vulnerable
• Let go of some control
• Resist re-recording every video until it’s perfect
• Continue their quest for the Great Online Teacher within
• Know they are part of a community of educators who care about making online education meaningful for students
Those are some pretty delicious outcomes, don’t you think?
Coming Soon! I will be facilitating a mini 1-day Great Online Teachers Seminar as a pre-conference workshop at the Online Teaching Conference in Anaheim, June 2018. Registration opens soon.