Thursday, February 11, 2010

“How Teams Work – and How to Work Better in Teams”

This semester I am taking an online class offered by The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL). I wanted to take this class because I thought it would help me become a better organizer for all kinds of volunteer activities I am and will definitely be involved in. Besides, I had never taken an online course and I was deeply curious about how it worked and whether it would be efficient. (I could have had a really long paragraph here revealing my distaste for the conventional education methods, but I am instead planning to write a science fiction novel on that matter.)

Our instructor is Patricia Rankin, a physics professor from University of Colorado. The students are joining from the USA and Japan (I do not know why Japan only but no other country besides the USA). We use a virtual environment called Elluminate Live. Everyone connects to the virtual classroom with their headphones and webcams ready. The classroom looks like this:

As you might have guessed correctly, this is not our classroom, I googled it. On the top-left, there is a list of everyone in the room, below that is a chat window. In our class, only 6 people can have their webcams transmitting at a time. But we usually have only the instructor's webcam turned on. However, whenever someone wants to talk, they turn their microphone and webcam on. On the right is the white/blackboard (whichever color you like, it will be that color). The instructor can have the powerpoint slides up there, or it can be used as a board everyone can write on. This way you can brainstorm or list ideas or just be mischievous (I mean it really is up to your imagination, as with any board, really)... Right below the list of people, there are buttons to show your emotions or answer yes or no to the polls, results of which will be calculated immediately and posted on the board. (Awesome, no? You do not have to count heads, I am sure the instructors appreciate this feature a lot).

What I love most about Elluminate, though, is the fact that these sessions can be recorded. Have you missed the class like I did last week? You go to the class website, click on the session video and watch it in your bed. (Well technically, you could have participated the class in your PJs anyhow, this is seriously fabulous stuff I'm telling you).

Result: I am happy about taking this class. I have no other experience with other virtual education/conference environments, but I think Elluminate Live has a very user friendly and efficient design (I promise I am not getting paid by them). I am enjoying the class as well. Our instructor, Tricia, said she has been very interested in social sciences, especially women studies in the last couple of years. Before the classes started, I thought the course was going to have an "Orrriight kids, tell me how do we setup an efficient team, ideas?" kind of theme. Instead, so far we have been learning about diversity in teams, implicit associations, gender schemas, social studies that show how people or organizations have gender bias or bias towards certain ethnicity. Becoming informed on these topics that I actually was curious about but did not have time to read is great. I hope I'll write more later about the details of what we have been learning and my experience with this online class. I'll end this post by saying "Happy Birthday" to Darwin. He is 201 today and I cannot believe it's been a year already since his 200th birthday!