The Squad as a Multiplier for Experience and Perspective: We Are Each Legion – A #SquadGoalsNetwork Reflection from Dr. John Stewart

The Squad as a Multiplier for Experience and Perspective: We Are Each Legion – A #SquadGoalsNetwork Reflection from Dr. John Stewart

A reflection by John Stewart on the power of personal learning networks.

ACCESS – Does regular access to other individuals from other institutions and institutional perspectives challenge your definition of access and what it means? If so, how?

The SquadGoals PLN serves as a microcosm of the broader community that OLC has built. This squad is composed of people who are in the first couple years of their careers and those who have been working in education for many years. There are people from research universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges. Both within the PLN and at the OLC conferences, the most valuable thing for me is access to the experiences and perspectives of others. I am lucky to be part of a great team at the University of Oklahoma, but the team is limited in numbers and experiential perspective. The SquadGoals PLN multiplies each of our capabilities in that we can share our questions, projects, successes, and failures with people we trust. It also pushes us to consider the privileges, limitations, and local histories of our home institutions as compared with those of our peers.

FACULTY SATISFACTION – How has your participation in the PLN benefitted faculty and colleagues at your home institution?

The faculty that I work with benefit from my participation in the SquadGoals PLN, but they are most likely unaware of it. Most of my work is consulting, designing, and building digital projects with and for faculty. A faculty member might come to me with a question about how to build a blog in a class with 900 students or how to organize the data for a project or how to present their work for a public audience. For them, I’m just drawing on experience and creativity to help them design solutions. Even without a broader network, the faculty would benefit from my work within a team at OU, because I can draw on the experience and creativity of my team. However, the PLN multiplies this pool of experience and creativity. Moreover, as we discuss a particular challenge, the idea can be developed and iterated through discussion amongst squad members. By the time I follow up with the faculty member, I may have already discussed their project with 20 people, a whole design team working through multiple possible solutions and multiple iterations of each. I think it’s easy to discount the value of experience, particularly so in the era of distributed knowledge. I’m sure I get the credit (and occasionally blame) from faculty who are happy to have something that looks like a simple solution to their problem.

LEARNING EFFECTIVENESS – When you reflect on your work, how has meeting and learning from individuals from other institutions and institutional perspectives helped you to clarify or re-define what it means for learning to be effective?

My own experience and my view of the experiences of others suggest that our field (online, blended, technology-enhanced learning) is filled with people from a broad variety of backgrounds. I came from a history background where learning effectiveness is often measured in how well students can remember the dates and names you told them. I’d like to think I had a more robust understanding of learning effectiveness, but the #SquadGoalsNetwork has definitely helped to expand the breadth and depth of my thinking.

At the level of educational philosophy, this network helped me to shift to a more experiential model of learning. I now try to create experiences for my students. I want them to actively do in almost every class rather than passively listen. I want to create memorable experiences that they will excitedly tell others about. That came from my work with people in this network.

At a broader level, I’ve also been forced to think about what educational success means. Not everyone is after the same things that I personally am. In fact, very few people define educational success as getting a PhD in the history of chemistry. Being able to draw on a broad pool of people to get perspectives on what success means and how they apply learning has been transformational in designing experiences for students. Our squad includes people who work with adult learners, community college students, professional students, large state school students, and everything in between. For learning to be effective, it needs to meet the needs and desires of the student and be transferable into the challenges they’ll face in the world. This network broadens my view of both what students need and what they want to do with that experiential knowledge.

SCALE – Is the PLN scalable and/or replicable by others at other institutions/organizations? If so, how? What challenges do you encounter?

This learning network is 100% replicable. It is simply a bunch of people meeting at conferences, introducing their friends, and taking the time to get to know each other. I think that OLC is better than most other conference communities in providing time and space for people to meet and talk, but the basic concept of a PLN should be universal for all educators and more broadly for people in all fields. This PLN is notably inclusive and welcoming, but I’d like to think that’s replicable.

I work in several disciplines, which is fairly common for this PLN. Many of us are instructors or faculty with specialities in a varieties of fields. Others are administrators or educational technologists or a variety of other roles and responsibilities. For this reason, we each participate in other conferences and other groups outside of online learning and educational technology. I am trying to take what we’ve done at OLC and within the #SquadGoalsNetwork and implement those concepts in my own research community of history of science. Building venues both at the conference and between the conferences to open up communication about our daily challenges and work will accelerate the work of historians or any other field in higher education. For me, the #SquadGoalsNetwork is about breaking out of our silos and sharing our stories with each other, and that should be replicable at any scale and in any organization.

STUDENT SATISFACTION – Do you feel that your involvement and/or collaboration with the PLN has helped you create better student experiences at at your institution?

Every institution has its own challenges and opportunities. Some of my favorite ideas that I’ve heard from this PLN can’t be applied by my team, because we don’t have the responsibility/authority/opportunity to enact them at OU. Particularly when it comes to student satisfaction and learning outcomes, I think the ideas are often refracted through the prism of different opportunities. If you knew where to look, you’d see the light of the original idea that came from someone else in the network, but the application looks different.

With that said, I know that I’ve been challenged to honor the student experience by this network. I’ve moved from trying to figure out how to deliver a course as a content package to thinking about the design of a learning experience. I’ve thought more about student rights, student privacy, and the value of what we as educators are doing because of my participation in the network. I fully trust that that has improved student satisfaction for every course I’ve worked on.

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