Online Learning: Why Libraries Could Be the Key to MOOCs’ Success


Some studies found that about five percent of those enrolled in massive open online courses (known as MOOCs) completed the course. And those who took the courses tended to be more educated already – 70 percent of survey respondents had bachelors degrees and 39 percent identified as teachers or former teachers. Online courses can be a helpful tool for self-sufficient, highly motivated learners with reliable computers and internet at home, but others may need a little more support. For those who haven’t found success using free online courses, Learning Circles might be an answer.

Learning Circles add a social element to what is otherwise a solitary learning experience by bringing people together in person to take an online course together over six to eight weeks, with the help of a facilitator. Librarians at Chicago Public Library (CPL) partnered with the nonprofit Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) to make online education more accessible through this program.

Libraries are a perfect setting for Learning Circles for several reasons: they already serve the local community; they are equipped with meeting spaces; many have computer stations, and most importantly, librarians know how to help people find answers.

“Most people take online classes in solitude and that’s when you put on the headphones,” said James Teng, a CPL librarian at who facilitated a course on public speaking. “Sometimes you feel alone. Learning Circles bring people together to work together and develop teamwork.”

Learning Circles aren’t for everyone; some people prefer a more traditional lecture or feel more comfortable having a content expert who has all the answers. But Learning Circles give participants a community, which does a lot to help with motivation. Librarians said it was important to set expectations at the outset, so they developed a Learning Circles contract.

“You come up with this contract: no cell phones, you’ll pay attention, be respectful of your fellow learners,” said Edson “so it gives them a sense of accountability in that first week. How serious they take it, it depends, but I feel like setting some ground rules in the first week is helpful.”

“Public libraries are often referred to as the people’s university,” said Mark Anderson, director of Learning and Economic Advancement of CPL, at the SXSWEDU conference. Library patrons traditionally come in, find resources, and are left on their own to learn the material. But with the P2PU partnership, funded by a Knight Foundation News Challenge on Libraries grant, Anderson said librarians were able to take a more active role in facilitating learning.

“The idea of working and creating these Learning Circles really helped us move closer to that ideal of being the people’s university to help people progress, with some facilitation on our part,” Anderson said.

Original source – Mind/Shift

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PhD Lifestyle: Are Most Academics Lonely at Work?


There are clearly benefits of being part of an on-campus community. If you listen to PhD students talk, you might get the idea that poor supervision is the main problem, but survey after survey shows that PhD students everywhere think universities are doing a poor job of creating a sense of community.

So why are students reporting a lack of community? Some element is clearly missing – but what?

‘Community’ is defined in two ways: the first as a ‘being together’ in the same physical place, and the second as ‘feeling together’ – a sense of belonging that comes with working with people of like mind and heart.

Community is not just about being in the same place or having the same events to go to – it’s about that ‘feeling of fellowship’ that comes with sharing common interests and goals. The quickest way to achieve a sense of belonging, aside from perhaps religion, is shared work.

If you think about it, the structure of academic work does not give us many opportunities to work together on shared goals. Being an academic is nothing like my previous careers where I worked in large teams. On my research days at home it’s common for me not to speak to a soul.

Last week at a dinner party, someone said that being an academic is a bit like owning your own small business. This struck me as being very true. Being an academic is like managing a small shop that doesn’t get many customers each day. You set the performance targets. You decide if your ‘product lines’ (research, teaching) are profitable enough. You might have a few people in to help you during the busy times, but essentially you open and close the shop most days.

In fact, if I think too much about it, often my working life feels this way. No wonder many academics report feeling intensely lonely at times. Kate Bowles wrote beautifully about how academic work can make us feel estranged from the rest of the world. For many, the loneliness starts with the PhD itself. I’ve written before about how weird it feels that no one seems to care as much as you.

So what can we do about it?
Here are a few ideas on how to make the experience more communal:
1) Book Club Model: Simply make a regular meet up time for your group or department to have coffee, discuss the course content together and your reactions to it. The course content will launch on a Wednesday because I think this a good, midweek catch up day.

2) Blended Classroom Model: If you are a supervisor or researcher developer, consider using the course as part of your own workshop series and convene discussion sessions around it – either for students or supervisors. If I were doing this, I would take the opportunity to build my own content or activities around the course.

3) Virtual and Local Communities: Create your own Facebook group to connect people online to discuss themes and organise meetups, either as a ‘virtual community of interest’ (such as for people in African studies as an example) or a ‘local community of practice’ (for people in your location, meetups, etc.). A virtual community of interest would help you connect scholars in your discipline, the local community of practice could help you connect with and meet people in in your physical location.

4) Get Social on social networks with national and international peers.

The Best Way to Learn a New Skill on the Job


TIME

Week one of my new job I was in a full-scale internal panic. Why? I was a Web Producer who only knew the very basics of coding.

Yeah, the justified kind of panic.

I certainly didn’t misrepresent my skills in what was a very short interview for a temporary position. I had online marketing experience, graphic design experience, Photoshop, Illustrator, WordPress, yes. But Dreamweaver? No. Experience designing web pages from the ground up? No. Big no.

But as they needed someone ASAP and I believe my boss was told by a previous boss that I’m a fast learner, I was hired as a 30-hour-a-week temp for four months. Now two and a half months into the job, and while I’m certainly not designing templates from scratch, I can look at a page of HTML/CSS, read it as the language it is, make adjustments and additions, and even put together a…

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