OLE-S16

Posts written specifically for the Spring 2016 offering of the VCU Online Learning Experience

Parenting, teaching, and learning

I’m taking a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC). I try to take a couple of MOOCs each year. It keeps my mind exploring and it’s interesting to see what people are doing out there. I have started more than I have completed and have explored on two of the major MOOC platforms; I seem to have better luck on edX than I do on Coursera, but I have no good reason for this. Both have topics of interest to me and both are pedagogically similar, with videos, readings, quizzes, and discussion boards. They may have a course project that takes a different shape, and there may be some assignments that are a little different, which is one of the reasons I continue to explore them as much as I do. There are different University players, but that does not seem to be a factor for me; I just looked at the courses I’ve completed over the last two years and all six are from different Universities. But I digress. The point of this post is to talk about how a project idea for the course I am currently taking came about and the connections between learning, teaching, and life are being made.

The MOOC I am currently enrolled in, Body101x, is on the edX platform. It’s full name is “The Body Matters: Why Exercise Makes You Healthy and How to Stay Uninjured.” I figure that title is enough of a description for you. An eclectic mix in my family of activity levels and eating habits combined with my training as a pharmacist and interest in complementary and integrative health science make this topic rather relevant both personally and professionally. The stated goal of the project is “to plan and implement a physical activity promotion program.” The scope is left wide open. It could be a personal plan for oneself or it could be a program developed for a small or large targeted group of people. After seeing the form provided for student use in designing their programs, the teacher in me sees more than the stated goal of the project. I see: 1) to increase activity in someone, somewhere, 2) to increase awareness of the importance of physical activity to people beyond the course participants, 3) to gain knowledge of and loosely apply the scientific method at the level of thinking about program development in a systematic way.

I still have not managed to talk about my project idea, have I?

So there I was, sitting on my couch, watching one of the videos for the course. As often happens when there is a video being watched online, the children come from everywhere, much like cats who have heard the can opener. “What are you watching, Mama?” I explain that it’s a video in a course I’m taking. “What’s the course about?” I talk about physical activity and exercise and how much we are supposed to get, etc., and I say that I have a project to do for the course and I’m trying to decide what to do. “OH, Mama! Can we help you?” Kayleigh and McKenna asked this almost in unison. Before the girls had entered this picture, the scientist in me had already gone down paths of a pre-test post-test control group design in some target group of people with outcome measures and statistics. I took a step back at that moment and considered for a minute how I could use this project to educate the girls at a level they could understand while also meeting the project requirements.

Ready to go with her new Fitbit Flex

Ready to go with her new Fitbit Flex

Long story short (too late)…Pi got a Fitbit Flex for her birthday on March 14th. As I mentioned before, my core family of 5 people all have rather varied eating habits and activity levels, and it has been the topic of discussion in my household lately. Pi is, hands down, the best eater in the family. She has the greatest variety in what she will eat and likes to try new things. But she may be TOO good. Having always been praised for being a “good eater,” she has felt encouraged to go back for seconds and thirds. In conjunction with the fact that she would rather sit and play quietly with her kinetic sand, or modeling clay, or coloring books, rather than ride her bike and run around outside, you can see where this could become problematic. Her desire for a Fitbit, recent conversations about eating and activity in my household, and the timing of her birthday and the project were the perfect storm. My project, then, is more of a personal improvement program than a research study, but for program assessment in “researchy” terms, it will be handled as an n=1 pre-test post-test design. Baseline measurements for activity level are being measured from March 15-26. Activity level is being measured in three ways: number of steps, number of active minutes, and distance (miles). Once we get a baseline average, we will talk about how much we should increase it, and how we might do it, and set a plan that incorporates new daily goals. We will collect data for another 12-14 days after implementation, and compare.

Pi is incredibly excited about this! Informed consent. Check. “I fear that her initial enthusiasm may well skew my baseline data,” I tell my husband with a smirk on my face. But you know what? Her excitement about increasing her activity levels and measuring things and seeing progress is far more important in this context. This is not a giant NIH-funded grant. It’s a crossroads of parenting, teaching, and learning, and I for one am enjoying standing in the intersection.

Zoom zoom zoom?

As part of the Spring 2016 VCU Online Learning Experience (OLE), I participated in a synchronous video chat using Zoom. While it was the first time I used Zoom, it was not my first time using video chat for communication. I have used Google hangouts, appear.in, Facetime, and Skype at the very least. That being said, this post is about video chatting in general, not about Zoom itself.

I don’t really love the synchronous video chat, personally, but come to think of it, I don’t really like talking on the phone, either. Video adds the added “bonus” of seeing oneself on camera, which can be lovely for some, but not so much for others (myself included in that last group). Still, it can be a useful tool for varied situations.

The idea in the OLE here is to introduce possibilities. There are many. Some will resonate more than others with participants. Some will get excited and decide they want to USE EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD BECAUSE THIS IS ALL SO COOL!

via GIPHY

Yes, I might have been that person at one point. The neat thing is the different perspectives that show up. For example, the conversation that I had in my group talked about various uses of video chat, in small groups and in large groups. Some saw it as a useful tool for one-on-one or small group meetings with students but felt that with more than about 4 people, it becomes unruly. Another possible use was that of recording a chat between a few people and posting it. Another took that a step further and said that it was a good way to get a message out to a large group all at once, where maybe only one to three people were actually videoconferencing while the other hundred folks were engaged in back-channel conversation either within the video chat platform or via something like Twitter. The next thing I know, two of them have figured out how to embed Twitter into their Blackboard course sites to create the back-channel conversation within the LMS they’re required to use. A few minutes after we wrapped up our video chat, one of them tweeted a link with the how-to instructions. As my team leader would say, “Connected learning, FTW.”