Since January 2013, I’ve been working with the Inclusive Transdisciplinary Practices through Collaboration (ITPC) project at Johns Hopkins School of Education (SOE) to develop a Conflict Analysis and Intervention professional development module as part of its Maryland State Department of Education and Johns Hopkins University (MSDE-JHU) Coaching and Mentoring initiative. Using the “training the trainers” model, the project is designed to offer customized technical assistance and consultation, support and resources to a cadre of early childhood special education teachers, administrators, parents and service providers in nine Maryland school districts who will be prepared to use coaching and mentoring with adults in early childhood environments.
I bring to the team my knowledge and expertise in conflict theory, conflict skills training, mediation, and dialogue facilitation. I possess, however, little professional knowledge in special education; and I was at the time of joining the project, only beginning to learn more about instructional design through my courses from the Technology for Educators graduate program at JHU. As several ITPC clients have expressly communicated their interest in receiving conflict skills training, the ITPC team and I devised a plan that would enable me to adapt my conflict transformation expertise toward creating content-relevant professional development modules in line with MSDE standards for professional development, and the International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) standards for 21st century learning. The plan includes providing me with the opportunity to conduct pilot workshops on behalf of special education graduate students at SOE to gather feedback, as well the time to continue fine-tuning the module as I learn more about instructional strategies and online learning through my courses.
Although the process of developing the module has been slow, I have since gained many useful insights and learned various useful tools for online course design through the pilot workshops and my courses. Slowly but surely, the professional development module is taking shape, although there are still areas of doubt/concern that I’ve yet been able to think through over the semesters; one of which concerns the issue of creating and maintaining a safe space online for potentially sensitive and vulnerable discussions of personal experiences. However, that is a topic for another time.
This semester is particularly significant, because I have set Spring 2014 as my own personal target for putting together the PD module. For this, my timing in taking the 893.645.91 Designing and Delivering e-Learning Environments course this semester could not have been more opportune. After three sessions, it is apparent that the course not only combines both theory and application, but requires learners to consistently connect course concepts to a variety of hands-on experiential learning activities. The substantial number of learning components each week can sometimes seem overwhelming, but the learning opportunities they present have increased my level of confidence in online learning design; and I believe that they will continue to prepare me for the challenges ahead in designing and delivering high quality instructional content and strategies. To that end, I see the final project that involves designing an e-learning initiative as part of the course requirements as a most valuable opportunity for me to finally begin conceptualizing, developing, and putting together the ITPC module.
As I reflect on what I’ve learned over the past few weeks, I feel that I’ve come to better understand concepts of online design that are grounded in evidence-based practices. In particular, I realized the importance of job-embedded, just in time, just right, and just enough content to adult learning initiatives. Differentiating module content for participants from various background and levels of experience in conflict theory and practices would therefore be an intricate endeavor. It would also be extremely challenging to encourage the building of consensus around clear expectations for what participants should know and be able to do upon completion of the module, for the premise of conflict transformation revolves around the normative values and approaches of each individual. For example, some see conflict as an undesirable occurrence that requires resolution; while others see it as a part of life that may have both destructive and constructive manifestations. Those who hold the former view would be more inclined to external interventions; while those who identify with the latter would prefer self and community learning to help facilitate the transformation of conflict toward non-destructive outcomes. While it is probably unhelpful to highlight this philosophical divergence in a PD module, establishing a conceptual framework is nonetheless an important part of the course design. In addition, the lack of a clear articulation of outcomes and expectations would severely reduce participant and leadership buy-in. In this regard, course readings and discussions on adult learning and professional development have given me many useful starting points as I think through and evaluate the various approaches for crafting a content-relevant, job-embedded PD module.
Although I have been exposed to concepts of community and collaboration as part of my conflict transformation background, course content and discussions on the topic have given me new insights into community and collaboration in an online environment. I’ve always believed that for normative subjects such as conflict theory, the most important learning takes place in communities and during collaboration initiatives. As individuals and communities bring to the mix their own unique and diverse experiential backgrounds, avenues for learning and relearning among them have the potential of extending beyond imaginable horizons. Indeed, many of my most transformative learning experiences take place outside the classroom in professional learning community settings. This is perhaps most relevant for conflict related learning initiatives, as participants must first feel safe to examine and share their own conflict styles and hot buttons before moving on to learn about the conflict styles of others. The relatively tight-knit professional learning communities can often serve as such a space, although the extent to which this could effectively be replicated in an online environment is a question that I’ve continued to ponder over the semesters. Until I can ascertain, in my professional judgment, the ability of an online professional learning community to provide an equally safe space for the sharing of sensitive and personal experiences among its members, the format that I would go with in my e-learning design would feature a blended approach that combines online and face-to-face sessions.
Finally, session 3’s essential elements of online course design offer many instructive pointers for incorporating different aspects of best practices into an e-learning module. I have found each element important in different ways; and I’ve already been able to mentally connect each element to a rationale for the module I’ll be designing. For example, tone and style would be central toward creating and maintaining throughout the course an inclusive and supportive space for learning and collaboration. Mid-week commentary and follow-up questions can serve as a mechanism for checking-in and gauging group temperature. Higher order thinking is most essential to encourage reflection and introspection. These are some of my thoughts at the moment, but I truly look forward to fleshing out each element in the coming weeks.