Initial Learning Goals

As I explained in my first blog post for this course, I’ve always found group work to be both the most challenging and most engaging way for me to interact with new learning concepts.

“…Revising collaborative work can be especially complicated due to authorship and personal opinions. In my experience, even grammatical edits in group work can become difficult or impossible when the author feels attached to their original contribution. However, I think the drawbacks of collaborative content production can easily be outweighed by it’s benefits. Whether in small group work like I’m familiar with, or on large-scale websites like Wikipedia, collective intelligence is much more representative of our understanding of topics on a societal level. Group projects in school have always made it necessary for me to reevaluate my own thinking, and I’ve found that one of the best ways to learn is through collaborating with someone whose views differ from my own. Collective intelligence may not be flawless or refined, but it’s certainly more dynamic, unbiased, and flexible than a single expert’s opinion.”

Given my take on both the importance and challenges of group work, I made it an objective at the beginning of the term to improve on my group work skills. I aimed in our D2L discussions to contribute as actively and thoughtfully as possible, and to take each of my group members posts into account—even if they didn’t align with my personal beliefs.

Looking back, I’m pretty proud of how I managed to engage with our group discussions, and am really satisfied with how my classmates seemed genuinely dedicated to the discussions as well. The only challenge I really faced throughout the course was maintaining my own discipline regarding deadlines; I managed to submit nearly all my work on time, but I tend to edit my work, seemingly forever, without feeling like it’s satisfactory and complete. On one hand, I could interpret this “perfectionist” mindset as proof that I care about the quality of my work. On the other hand, though, it makes procrastination a really appealing option. While I only turned in one or two late assignments, I’d still like to improve in that area. I think I can achieve this by embracing rough drafts, and continuing to ask for constructive criticism from my group members.

Becoming an Active Listener

I think I improved most this term in my role as an active listener. Because I made it a goal for myself to consistently participate in the D2L discussions, there was more than one occasion where I read ideas and opinions by classmates that were new to me. Rather than replying exclusively to the people whose opinions I shared, I managed to also ask questions and write responses to classmates whose identities were less familiar to me. Admittedly, this wasn’t a huge challenge—each member of my discussion group was kind and open-minded, and it helped to feel that my own ideas and opinions were being listened to as well. Still, though, I’m confident that I gained a much better understanding of my classmates and their different identities by taking all stories and philosophies into account.

Working to become a more active listener also gave me the opportunity to improve my own work, since classmates often made clever observations about aspects of our reading material that I myself might have overlooked completely. More than once, I found myself replying to classmates not only to explain that I agree or disagree, but also to acknowledge that I’d learned from their point of view.

Excerpt from response to a classmate’s comment on the Course Blog:

“…I didn’t even realize how little information [this article] gave about the two missing individuals. Now that you mention it, this seems like pretty critical background information in understanding the events, especially considering how few details we receive about the investigation. I wonder if the article left out personal information about the missing people because they themselves were lacking the info, or because it could be dangerous to provide the public with personal details in a potential kidnapping case? Or, perhaps the article leaves out this information intentionally to minimize the word count or something. What do you think?”

By asking questions and admitting when ideas were new to me, I achieved more dynamic interactions with my classmates. I also think this allowed me to gain a more complete understanding of the course material by working to view it from my group members’ perspectives.

Knowledge and Skills Gained from this Course

I’ve taken several online courses prior to this one, and I honestly never felt like I gained many skills that would be applicable later in life. Maybe that’s due to the subject-specific work in the courses (Art History, Health, etc.), or the fact that there was no communication aspect between the classmates or with the instructors. Needless to say, this course has been the most constructive and interactive online course I’ve ever taken. On top of being able to bounce ideas off my classmates and revisit topics from their points of view, I feel lucky to have been exposed to material I find genuinely interesting and engaging. Two ideas that strongly resonated with me this term were the topics of expert status in the age of information (Week 1), and media literacy (Week 5). These were two topics that I’d been wanting to explore in an academic context, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on them for class. Because weeks 1 and 5 focused on topics I personally found very interesting, I think some of my most authentic and engaged reflections appear there.

Excerpt from my response to the Week 1 course blog:

“I think we tend to presume that information is, by default, best and most reliable when it’s published by an expert in a book or peer-reviewed journal. Consequentially, it’s very easy to discount blogs and websites as invalid sources of knowledge.”

Response to a classmates comment on the Week 1 course blog:

“I was also really impressed by how dedicated Kvaran is to contributing on Wikipedia. It totally made me reconsider how our society decides who’s an “expert” and who isn’t. On one hand, it makes sense to me that expert status should require qualification, like some sort of degree, to prove how devoted an individual is to their area of study. But, after reading this article, I almost think it shows a more genuine interest when people (like Kvaran) work to master a subject in their free time. I agree with you that this sort of passion for knowledge is honorable and deserves more recognition! I wonder, should he receive the same merit as an Art Historian if he’s read and written about the topic as much as a college degree would require? If not, I wonder what differentiates Kvaran’s knowledge from that of a college grad with an Art History? After all, he probably reads from the same books, and has written enough on Wikipedia to make up dozens of essays!”

Response to a classmate’s comment on the Week 5 course blog:

“I think many people (including myself) are reluctant to admit that they aren’t as aware of world news as they feel they should be. I don’t think I’d be as quick to acknowledge how I’d rather spend my free time watching movies or browsing friends’ blogs than familiarizing myself with current events in distant countries — but now that you mention it, that’s totally the case for me as well. I’d like to be more aware of what’s going on in the rest of the world, but it’s really difficult to prioritize that when I’m privileged enough to choose how I spend my free time. After reading this week’s texts about media literacy, though, I feel a bit more motivated!”

A second response to a classmate’s comment on the Week 5 course blog:

“People probably don’t discuss these major events as much in person, because we all presume that the people around us have already looked at their smartphone and gotten up-to-date. I’ve noticed this pattern to be particularly strong in regard the the recent Baltimore riots. Personally, my ONLY understanding of the events come from what I’ve read online. My Facebook and tumblr feeds are full of news stories and opinion posts, but I haven’t heard a single person at school or in my neighborhood discuss the events aloud. On one hand it’s remarkable that we can all express ourselves and form opinions non-verbally, but this also seems like a very limited way for our culture to interpret events. After all, if for some reason I’d had no internet access over the past week, I’d be totally unaware of the events in Baltimore.”

As someone who regularly communicates and keeps up with current events over the internet, I know the brainstorming and reflecting I did for weeks 1 and 5 (above) will influence the way I use the internet from now on. I’m also glad to have gained awareness of media literacy and critical source analysis, since those skills are invaluable for people (like myself) who want to utilize the web as an accurate source of information.