Distance education is a lot like homeschooling.
They both have their stereotypical expectations. For homeschooling, all the girls have to wear jumpers and all the boys have to wear collared shirts, and complete schooling at the kitchen table, and not have any social life. For distance education, all the students are looking for a lazy, easy A, and all students are sitting in their mother’s basement staring at a computer screen, and all the students are social recluses.
And both stereotypes are not true. Well, there are always those few who do exemplify the “jumper people” or the “recluse” ideas. Those are extremes, nobody should judge a group based on the extremes. The average homeschooler is a self-driven, bright student with a propensity toward over-achievement, who hangs out with a lot of friends and is active in his/her community. The average distance education student is a self-driven, bright person, probably tending toward the over-achievement side, who has a lot of friends and is active in his/her community.
The keyword that makes both the homeschooler and the distance educated successful is “self-driven.” That is, it’s not for everyone. We all have known, at one time or other, the “limp” student that needs to be led along step-by-step, by the teacher. These students prefer structure over the free-rein given by distance education. That’s okay–everyone learns differently. This style of learning, however, has no place in distance ed.This is abundantly clear when you read this checklist and complete this simple quiz.
I read it as a part of my SJSU LIBR 203 class, which is meant to give us a good handle on what to expect in our online courses. As I read it for the first time, I was struck by the similarity between homeschooling and distance education. Then I said to myself, “Oh, yeah, am I prepared!”
I must confess–I am a homeschool graduate. Did that all the way through high school. Y-e-e-s-s-s I did wear jumpers once in a while, ones I made myself. I had no fashion sense–I also wore fanny packs in lieu of purses for a long time. *goes to put brown paper sack over my head* I am better now. I swear!
Now, as for another important part of education, one that everybody hates, is working with a group of people. Worse yet, working with a group of people for a grade. Did that with homeschooling groups in high school. It was like herding butterflies. Did that in some of my undergrad classes. It was like herding cats. Will have to do that in my online masters classes. It could very well be like herding ghosts.
But! But but but….all of us online MLIS students have to watch Dr. Haycock’s presentation (here it is in PPT format), and read Enid Irwin’s PowerPoint about working in teams. It can take a little bit of time reading through these, but it is well worth it.
Both presentations address problems in group projects, and offer suggestions on how to make working in teams a more positive experience. A common theme for success is attitude and participation, as Enid said. Teams don’t work very well when somebody clearly doesn’t want to be there, or when somebody is like the grumpy old man who says, “It’s the way it’s always been done!” It’s the way it’s always been done–that brings to mind the Vogons of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Government efficiency. Enough said.
The best way, it seems, to head off any sort of trouble is to establish leadership and rules. Everybody has to agree upon rules that will ensure everyone pulls their own weight. Then someone should be chosen to wield the whip. As soon as someone starts drifting off topic…Crack! Get back on track!
It takes discipline to work with a team, the same way it takes discipline to homeschool, the same way it takes discipline to take online classes. The only problem is–people can choose alternative means of education, if online classes don’t work. People can’t choose to not work on teams. There are teams everywhere. So, it’s better to read Dr. Haycock and Enid Irwin’s presentations and start learning how to work on teams more effectively starting…now.