Living the Digital Divide in rural Colorado

Well this late post comes in part from procrastination and in part from experiencing the digital gap/divide/inequality.

As we speak I am “borrowing” some internet access from a nice gentleman across the road in a rural area of Colorado. I am visiting family here after their relocation to the State as well as a recent illness and surgery by my Aunt. It took some rejigging of my work and personal life to get down here, and for me this also meant abandoning my connection to my internet social circle – including you. It took two days of driving from Calgary to Colorado which culminated in a snow storm that was reminiscent of southern Alberta last weekend. Some of you will know exactly what I am talking about – white-out blowing snow and newly formed ice rinks across interstate highways.

Luckily, I was able to participate in the past weeks communications via my new best friend – Evernote.  When I was stopped at a roadside rest stop with my fantastic little Mac, I was able to log on to your blogs, grab your posts with Evernote and keep them on hand for breaks between books on tape (Catching Fire) and the alphabet game with my husband. However, posting is an entirely different matter.  Can you believe there are hotels out there that DON’T offer WiFi to their guests?  And it just so happens I was able to book one such southern Wyoming hotel room through an online travel site. I didn’t even think to ask if WiFi would be available – isn’t that a given? Speaks to the assumptions “we” make about access.  What is a girl to do?  Well….McDonalds does offer free WiFi zones around North America – just in case you’re ever wondering.

So through my second day of driving, I thought well at least I have all of my content to read – then I can begin writing my post and send it as soon as we either hit another WiFi zone or when I reach my family’s home…  Well, it just so happens that the family I am visiting consists of three, over-sixty, retired women living in rural Colorado, who don’t particularly feel the need for internet connection. So my first night, which ended in two hours of the previously described snow storm, did not include internet access.  However this evening is including access – if I position myself in the right room of the house, after asking a neighbor to please let me borrow his wifi – which if I’m not mistaken could be dial-up.

So what can I say about the digital divide – well I have had my eyes opened, through your posts this week and through my real life example of navigating only the access side of the issue. Thanks to Laura and this class, as a producer of social media – I bring to the table some significant assumptions about what should be out there, what I should be able to do and how I should be able to get it done. I have had myself a little chuckle while ruminating on Brian’s post on MOOC’s and the “McDonaldization” of education, while I sat in the parking lot of a McDonalds, downloading articles. And I also sit here wondering how organizations can expect to provide any digital equality if so much about the divide is based upon not simple access but repeated and “everyday” use. How can organizations be expected to take on the responsibility of teaching these “skills” when they are less skills and more like routines in how many of us function in our daily activities. 

I don’t have any reasonable answers…just questions and a new insight into the impact of the digital divide.

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Don’t we all just want a gold star?

So I’ve been pondering my contribution to the conversation about higher education and social media for the better part of a week now.  I’ve read articles, done multiple database searches, scoured youtube, google searches, Tedx, TEDMed, Vimeo, and your blog posts, trying to come up with something enlightening to say specific to higher education.  And I haven’t found it. So I’m going to give you what I’ve got.

And here it is.

 

The thing about many of the online environments/communites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc) that we inhabit, is that we can get quick, nearly instant, response. The technological age we are in has altered the expectations about how we receive information. God, I’m beginning to feel old, but it used to be acceptable to wait for a phone call for a day or so (or even days for snail mail!) but now, we know if someone has read our text message, and waiting several minutes for a response seems rude. So it is unlikely that the next generation is going to have the ability to be patient; and likely they won’t often have the need to be. 

So this brings me to the topic of online learning in academic institutions. It has been my experience that learners do not appreciate online learning.  We have come back to this time and time again in our blogs and the literature for this course. The mode of delivery of educational material is what really seems to be the issue, in my experience. A recent discussion I had was a  around converting a teleconferenced orientation seminar in my workplace (four weeks in length) to a blended learning model. While this sounds good in theory, there are so many different needs and wants from those delivering and designing the program that we finally came to a point where the exasperated team lead said, “Maybe we should just record all of the content and post it online.” This completely lost sight of our goal of creating an engaging program that resulted in staff who were prepared for the work environment. This is without even considering the needs of the learners! 

I will admit that although I have a genuine interest for social media and am in awe of the tools out there at my fingertips, I can’t identify what to use and so I definitely cannot make the time commitment to really investigate what seems to be endless options.  And if a single individual feels this way, the people that make up a group inside an institution are likely to have exponentially more struggles to identify, investigate and become proficient with the technologies out there that could be incredibly useful for learners. So what are we to do?  Online doesn’t necessarily mean engaged or effective. There are a multitude of tools out there at our fingertips, but so many that the options are overwhelming. Well, the one concept that I came across that resonated with me is gamification. 

No it isn’t the answer to everything; but if there is any conclusion that I have reached out of this weeks thoughts, it is there are a thousand ways to skin a cat…I mean teach a person. The underlying motivations that people have are similar. We want to feel connected, important and we want to win. Yes this is to varying degrees and yes the drive is stronger in some than others and probably also depends on the subject-matter. But at some level, the gamification strategy reaches people. It’s why I see so many people standing in line or sitting at their desks playing one more round of Candy Crush. My husband regularly asks me what level I am at…that competition is effective stuff.  But I have more “gold stars” than him right now. 

If the tool itself were not the limiting factor, how would you see gamification in working in our experience as students in this program?  What about in your workplace?

 

The Balance…

 I’m sure you all share my experiences in designing thorough educational objectives while trying to balance the resources you have to deliver said learning opportunities. The following quote from Fuller, Chapter 8 caught my attention:

 “The objectives should be established first then the appropriate online pedagogies can be determined to meet those objectives. Don’t allow the use of an online learning platform to drive the objectives.”

While much of my experience wouldn’t necessarily speak only to online pedagogies, this did speak to a current situation in my organization. I am a part of a larger provincial group of critical care nursing educators who have been responsible for the development of a provincial critical care nursing orientation. Because of the number of critical care sites across the province the delivery of the material has been delivered via teleconference. This mode of delivery has been less than ideal when evaluated by staff going through the orientation. As a result of this, the leadership has decided that the program should remain provincial (as it saves resources) but should move toward a blended model of delivery. Several methods are being considered, including high fidelity simulation, eLearning modules, case study groups, and online/ Elluminate type lectures.

 The possibilities for changing modes of delivery have spurred discussion regarding the current learning objectives. As described in the Fuller quote, learning objectives would be developed primarily with the learner and their needs in mind. But as we have found when opening up the possibilities for this orientation program, the group is reviewing the learning objectives and revising them based on the opportunities provided by the various modes. And what is so horrible about that?

Yes, in the environment where resources are unlimited, and the organizations highest priorities are staff engagement and quality, and leaders are dedicated to staff development, this seems completely reasonable.  But in the reality of our workplaces, which come with certain limitations, it does not seem pragmatic to design learning objectives without the awareness of these constraints. It seems very unlikely that anyone would design educational delivery without (at least unconscious) awareness of this reality. And to me, it doesn’t seem particularly useful to commit energy and time to objectives that cannot be met realistically.  But I do find value in maintaining the goal of learning objectives to be based on needs assessments and be learner focused. 

A belated Week 3… Online Support Group, a CoP or sharing interests?

Although the terminology of a Community of Practice (CoP) is not new to me, I find that the definition is not as defined or sharp as one (me) might hope. Perhaps this is because CoP’s, by definition, are developed in response to a need – something that is identified as a problem to be solved. Typically these groups are formed inside or integrated with other structures – organizations, businesses, working groups, teams etc. I had several examples of CoP’s that came to mind as I tried to evaluate that these groups “belonged” in the CoP group or not.

The first example that came to mind is an online forum that which our ICU nurse educators use to develop content for orientation. Educators identify a subject for orientation and join the group that works on this content. The content is developed by online discussion, posting online content for others to review, asking questions about the subject matter and ultimately results in the lecture content that we present to new staff in their orientation.  Is it a CoP? Well, it isn’t mandatory. Participation is voluntary based on interest and expertise in the subject matter. To a degree, membership within each group is limited to the interest one has in participating (although we expect some level of short term commitment and follow through with the subject matter). 

The next example that came to my mind was a google.group that I participate in. There is a national group that shares information regarding critical care practices and standards across Canada. Again, participation in this group is completely voluntary. Individuals post questions to the group, and those members who have something to add to the discussion share their ideas and resources with one another. It has proven to be an invaluable tool when trying to determine what the rest of the country is up to and why changes in practices are occurring. We often are able to share policy documents and academic resources as well as connect with specific individuals who can help answer questions or provide expert knowledge.  Is it a true CoP? The group does collaborate to share expert knowledge, but the goal isn’t necessarily to provide a final consensus for all members. But this input does help specific members find answers they are looking for. 

Lastly, I have to share a resource that I have been looking at recently in regards to a presentation I gave on Transitions out of ICU: Life After Life Support. The focus of this work has been to examine the psychosocial and emotional deficits and experiences of patients and families who have been in ICU. Much of the literature shows long-term and significant impacts on patients and families. An interesting solution to coping with these issues is the online community of the icusteps.org website. This website was developed specifically for ICU patients and family members (in the UK). It was developed and is managed primarily by ICU patients and families as a way to provide information, be responsive to questions, provide direct contact with people with shared experiences and to provide both online and face-to-face support groups. While you might critique this as being only a support group, I would argue that this is absolutely a group of subject matter experts sharing their knowledge and developing solutions as a community. There is no one who better understands the experience of patients and families than the patients and families themselves.

A little bit about me… That’s not me, that’s Fergus.

A little bit about me... That's not me, that's Fergus.

Hi all,
My name is Jacquie and I live in Calgary. I am a clinical nurse educator and work in critical care. My husband, Ian, is the most fantastic person I know and keeps me afloat when I feel like I’m drowning in work, volunteering and school. I don’t have kids; just a ridiculously cute dog, Fergus. He is full of personality and keeps us thoroughly entertained. I also volunteer as the Southern Alberta chapter secretary for the Canadian Association of Critical Care Nurses and I have the privilege (and terror) of speaking at the CACCN National Conference this month in Halifax!

I’m very excited to be starting off this course in such an interesting way! I have always wanted to blog but recently haven’t had the time to figure it out. What an amazing convergence when the wants and the needs in your life intersect.

My professional background is within healthcare, although whatever work I do, I find myself consistently being drawn to education. I entered into graduate studies with the intention of teaching inside academic institutions. I think this is because of my perception of education and teaching was limited to what I was exposed to. Fortunately for me, as have I progressed through my graduate studies I have been surrounded with others who have diverse experiences and work environments. My eyes have been opened to some very interesting opportunities which to consider in my future career.

I’ve already got more out of this program than I expected to and I’m very excited to share this experience with all of you. What I hope to get out of this course, specifically, is a broader understanding of the impact of online learning. I’m especially intrigued by social media and how it can be used successfully in employee engagement and education.

Happy blogging everybody!