I've talked before about the concerns of colleagues who are afraid that by being online teachers they will lose the ability to have those serendipitous moments that happen face-to-face, which lead to the 'aha' moment. I have argued that connecting with people increases opportunities for serendipitous communication and learning - that is the power of connectivism.
I hope you'll forgive me if I keep documenting the stories of how this happens to me, even if they are only 'little things'. I am hoping to show by practical examples what is possible to achieve when you have a developed network.
What to do with my research students?
I teach evidence-based practice to third year midwifery students. We have one face-to-face class, and then they scatter across the country on long clinical placements, and we have no further face-to-face interaction or content delivery until six months later when they are back in class. Then they are expected to present a poster which looks at a clinical issue and the evidence about its management. I ask that they send in an abstract beforehand so I can see they are on the right track with the development of their ideas.
In the meantime, the students are out on placement and are extremely busy with clinical practice, and have limited access to the Internet.
Thinking about being a midwife
My theme next year is going to be how students can develop good practice that will carry on into their lives as midwives in 2010. In other words, not only do I want them to produce excellent posters that meet assessment criteria but more importantly, I want them to start developing ways of finding information, critiquing it and integrating it into practice that will be sustainable when they are midwives.
They need to think about how they can find information when they no longer have access to resources that are available to them as students. For example, as students they have access to the institution's Cochrane database. They need to know that the following year when they no longer have that access, they can use the free Cochrane database provided by the New Zealand Ministry of Health.
My other objective for the course is get the students thinking about how they are going to develop and maintain their own network, which is going to inform and support their ongoing learning and professional development as midwives.
There will be no point in introducing heaps of tools because the students will have minimal access to the Internet. But I do want to introduce them to one tool that will support them in their research for their assignment, and show them the power of networking. It must be a tool that they can contiue to use when they are midwives. I have been collecting online resources on BlackBoard for some time, but students will not be able to access them when they leave the course, and the resources are not available to the wider midwifery community because they are locked up in a closed system.
I immediately thought about Delicious because it is a fantastic tool for noting web resources and sharing information. But the fact that you have to download it onto your computer before you can use the 'tag' facility has put me right off. Students will be using Internet cafes and hospital computers, so will be unable to do that. I also thought of a class blog or wiki, but to be honest, decided that it would be unlikely that they would engage with that, especially as there are no marks attached. They have a class Facebook/Bebo account, so why would they use yet another technology?
Power of technology
I put out a call on Twitter asking for suggestions, and Stephan immediately replied with his suggestion for Delicious. We continued our conversation on Gtalk and I explained my reservations about Delicious. Stephan described another way of managing tagging, but I couldn't get my head around what he was saying. So he showed me on his computer using his free Elluminate Vroom and desk top sharing. And by the end of the evening I had a Delicious account set up called MidwiferyResearch, which I am confident will become a really useful resource for any midwife and student.
Power of my network
At this point I should say that Stephan lives in Australia and we don't know each other from Adam, apart from our conversations on Twitter. Yet he was kind enough to take 20 minutes of his time to show me something that will have a significant impact on my teaching practice - so, thanks for that, Stephan.
I have to be honest and admit it has taken over a year to develop my network using this blog and Twitter, and I do spend time working on it, not unlike growing a garden. But the value in terms of learning and support is unmeasurable.
What stories do you have about little serendipitous moments you've had with your network? What advice would you pass on to my students about growing a network that will sustain their lives as health professionals?
Image: 'Girasoles para los amigos / Sunflowers+for+the+friends' Claudio.Ar - Hermes - Out until Nov 26th www.flickr.com/photos/8991878@N08/2150890145