Last week, I had the pleasure of volunteering with Mozilla for the biannual workweek. A workweek is a meeting where all the Mozilla employees meet in person with their teammates to work on their projects while planning and discovering more about the goals of the organization for the next quarter. As a K–12 teacher and doctoral student at the University of Calgary, what fascinated me most about the experience was the emphasis on learning throughout a workweek.
Although the communication was primarily face-to-face during the Mozilla workweek, these participants are usually communicating and working collaboratively in digital asynchronous spaces around the world. Throughout the week, online tools and mediums were integrated as a key means to work and collaborate as teams. This workweek experience is an example of a week in the life of the world in which our K–12 students are and will be living and working.
I am working on a collaborative project called the Open Innovation Toolkit with Emma Irwin (Mozilla-Open Innovation), Greg McVerry (Assistant Professor of Education at Southern Connecticut State University), and Mikko Kontto (Finnish schoolteacher). We are working with fellow volunteer Mozillians in a wide variety of projects around the world, to remix content and create workshops to support key personal leadership skills and behaviors focused on four key pillars: Build, Empower, Communicate, Open. I’d like to share two of the many workshops that hold particular significance for classroom teachers seeking to support students’ communication in digital learning environments.
The first project is designed around the concept of deep listening. Originally, I started a workshop about giving and receiving feedback, but the feedback for version 1 was that it was too complicated; we needed something that helped describe what to do before you give feedback, which is to listen, read, and/or watch. Considering that Mozillians work around the world in multiple time zones, online communication (through a variety of tools) is mostly asynchronous. As such, the way in which they communicate with each other and respond to each other is key in ensuring collaboration and the success of any project. Kerri Laryea writes in “A Pedagogy of Deep Listening in E-Learning”that deep listening can lead to transformational learning. Although her research focused primarily on e-learning in particular, it reminds us of the importance of deep listening in multimodal contexts in order to scaffold deeper and more meaningful learning opportunities.
Using powerful questions
Jane Finette created a second workshop titled “Using Powerful Questions.” In her current Mozilla work examining communication throughout the Mozilla organization and in her coaching work for future women leaders, Jane noticed the need for examining how to use powerful questions. Jane turned to Judith Blanchette’s research in her article “Questions in the Online Learning Environment” to inform the development of her workshop. This research examined the syntax, structure, cognitive function, and communicative characteristics of questions in asynchronous learning environments. Results of the study suggested that unlike face-to-face interactions in postsecondary classrooms, students in the asynchronous online learning course asked most of the questions. In addition, students in the online course exhibited higher levels of cognition, as they asked more rhetorical questions, using them to persuade, think aloud, and indirectly challenge other participants. Findings from this study may provide guidance for other educators seeking to engage learners in asking powerful questions that lead to deeper learning.
As we consider how to communicate in digital learning environments, it is important to consider the intention and clarity behind our communications. As research and experiences suggest, there is a tremendous opportunity for transformational and deep learning for all in technology-mediated learning environments. Anyone considering contributing to the Mozilla Open Leadership Project should contact Emma Irwin.
Verena Roberts is a K–12 educator, consultant, Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) fellow, and doctoral student in the Learning Sciences program in the Werkland School of Education (University of Calgary). Verena has taught, designed courses, and consulted about curriculum and technology integration from pre-K to higher education in Canada and the United States. She has facilitated and developed a wide range of open networked learning projects with a focus on open educational resources, emerging blended learning professional learning opportunities, and personalized learning pathways for teachers and students. She was the 2013 iNACOL Innovative Online and Blended Learning Practice Award Recipient. Verena is currently a technology for learning specialist with Rocky View Schools, in Alberta, Canada.
This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).