We are at the half-way point of our third Morehead Online Summer Institute and as reflection is both one of our major themes and my summer research project, I thought it appropriate to reflect on where we are so far using George Williams’ midterm evaluation post on Profhacker as my guide.
What is going well?
There is so much writing, reflecting, sharing, supporting, learning, growing, and stretching going on that I am amazed. Why I am always caught off guard by the tremendous surge of energy I don’t know. I’ve seen this before, after all, but it always seems that when we begin we are always tired from the recently completed school year and this year was particularly difficult as so many participants were still in the classroom when we began. I always fear a slow start due to this low energy and I always fear we won’t gain momentum. So far they have proven my fears groundless — again.
I love that all I need to do is share an idea (just introducing Flash Fiction and Micropoetry inspired a flurry of new writing, for example) and the MOSI participants seize it and make it their own. Not only have we had intense discussions about reflection and the ways we can harness it to grow professionally as well as improve our classrooms, participants have been sharing lots of ideas about gamification and project-based learning and flipped classrooms. And the writing… they are writing and experimenting with forms and supporting each other in this wonderful community of writers. Makes me so happy to see so much inspiration and energy. While we are still working out some confusion regarding my gamification of the MOSI, I am pleased with the way it allows participants to craft an experience that serves their individual goals and interests while still addressing the core goals of the National Writing Project. I especially like that it places an emphasis on coaching and supporting the participants before and during the process rather than focusing on final assessment.
What needs improvement?
We are using Google+ and Google Drive – both of which I love for this purpose of community building, collaboration, and sharing resources and writing – but it is messy and can be overwhelming especially when people are posting furiously. I love that using social media to support this type of community enables us to respond quickly and from almost anywhere, but sometimes the number of notifications when I am away from my electronics for a time can be awe-inspiring and I’m a social media junkie. However, the real concern is that I need to work a better system for introducing the community and providing an on-going map of activities as well as addressing questions and concerns as they pop up. I created an Information Booth category and a Course Handbook. I think the Handbook idea is a good one, but I think I need to use a different format and break out the introduction separately as well as return to the FAQ document I used in the past and forgot to create this time around.
Some students are aces at participating and contributing. They are writing, providing feedback, and offering resources, tips, and information on a regular basis. Others not so much. There are a lot of good reasons for this. Some are still in school or end-of-year professional development and others are teaching/leading summer classes and programs. In addition, some are nervous about the new technology (Google+ and Google Drive) and other tools that we are using and may be a bit overwhelmed by so much novelty and being pushed outside their comfort zone. I don’t ask them to be instant experts (I’m still making mistakes and discoveries using these tools, after all) but I do want them to try and to experiment, to ask questions when they get stuck, and to offer solutions and help to those they can help. Just leap in and contribute.
I also hope they will all open their minds and hearts. Trust the process and the experience. The NWP model has been around for four decades and this is not my first rodeo either. Even if they don’t understand why they need to share their shitty first drafts it is important to do so not only for our own benefit but also to give us a greater understanding of how we can help our students become better and more confident writers. Similarly, don’t start from a negative place and instead actively seek ways that an idea or lesson can be adapted to serve all our students. The simple truth is that our students have more in common than it appears on the surface. Writers are writers are writers.
What can the leader do to improve the experience?
I noted structural things I need to do above, but I think I need to continue as I have by offering individual support and coaching as necessary and continue to think about ways to challenge and support the participants’ individual goals. I’m still working on my coaching chops. I’m sure the participants have other thought as well…