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Back to School

By Kim Johnson

August 25th

I am teaching an asynchronous, fully online course this semester. We started yesterday and I can tell it will be an interesting experience. Some of you may already be experienced online instructors and clear about how to optimize using online platforms to enhance student learning. I have to confess that I am more in the stage of trying to figure out how to translate what I do in the live class into the online platform. I think it is probably like a person learning a new language – I am in the stage of translating everything in my head. I know that translating is slow and indicative of my lack of understanding of the new language. If I were fluent, I would understand that the new language is completely different and that the difference is not just vocabulary or syntax. I would understand that I needed to change the way I think because language defines perception and that often there is no good way to translate meaning between two languages. But I am not there yet.

I had a similar experience when I was doing research. I was involved in the first study to develop and test a mobile app for providing recovery support for people with substance use disorders. The iPhone had not yet been released when we were working on the prototype design. Most of us had the idea of a small computer and tried to create things that worked well on the computer but miniaturized. One of the engineers that was working with us was a genius and could already see that a mobile phone had utility beyond being a small computer. He was the person who talked about using sensors, GPS, the camera and other aspects of the phone that were quite different from the computer. He talked about how we needed to think about what our goals were and how this tool could help us achieve the goals. No translation, but a new way of thinking.

We had Susana Henriques present at the ICUDDR conference on teaching in a virtual environment. Most of the people that asked questions or participated in the discussion groups were in the translation phase like me. Dr. Henriques talked about using a virtual pedagogical model – in other words, figuring out what our goals are and using the tools to meet the goal. Learning the new language, not translating in our heads. During the group discussion portion of the session, we all agreed that we needed to find a way to continue the learning and share our experience with each other as we move in the direction of virtual education.

As a follow up to our discussions, I asked Dr. Henriques if she would be willing to help us all learn this new pedagogy. Dr. Henriques has agreed to facilitate a learning process for us. The learning collaborative will begin on September 14 @ 10:00 AM EDT. (See to get the time where you live. Use Tampa, FL or New York as the city you are comparing to yours.) She will host the learning collaborative that will meet twice per month through the semester. (see my earlier blog post on what a learning collaborative is: or Richard Pates on why he loves learning collaboratives: development.aspx).

The first session is open to everyone who wants to participate. We will learn the new language of virtual education together. Join us!.