My name is Mary Waters and I am one of four Associate Directors at VCU’s University Academic Advising office. Our office primarily serves freshmen transitioning from high school to college; advisors teach introductory courses about the university helping them acclimate to VCU and discover their educational/career goals. I supervise a team of 6 advisors who advise students already in a major as opposed to those who have to start in a foundation program (just think mainly those awesome liberal arts majors like english, political science, philsophy, etc.) We use a learning management system called Blackboard (which most people are familiar with) to assist with course instruction and web-based engagement about important university policies and processes. Utilizing Blackboard is the only eLearning tool I have used. I’ve not delved into social media for learning and instruction, which is why I’m looking forward to seeing what types of tools this course could offer that I could apply to my student population or share with my advising team.

To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t be more uninterested in social media, especially Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram (except I like the cool photo filters). I’m looking forward to seeing how I can become a better learner and educator through digital media tools. I know eLearning is major buzz word in higher education and I want this class to provide me more context. I tend to come from a position where eLearning can’t come close to replacing the benefits of face to face interaction, so I’m looking to be convinced otherwise. In the chapter, I liked how you mentioned that “…with advancements in digital communication technologies, the field now looks to improve on traditional face-to-face teaching methods.  Emerging technologies such as virtual worlds provide students with the ability to build vast virtual structures, to redesign themselves as they envision in their imagination, and to collaborate with others across the globe.”  What intrigues me is the types of technologies available that build these healthy virtual environments. I especially enjoyed reading about teacher presence and its importance in building connected online communities. I agree  with both of you that instructors must be able to effectively communicate using the digital tools they teach (and preach:).

I am a student in the Adult Learning masters program with a focus in Human Resource Development. I love helping individuals achieve their own personal and professional goals.  My passion is building relationships with diverse groups of people. I pride myself on connecting with others through dialogue. I initially started the program to simply get a masters in education. The first course I took was HRD and I quickly became focused on employee development. I’m fascinated with the idea of corporate education and universities – online platforms to provide real time learning opportunities for employees. So often, I think tacit knowledge isn’t captured in the workplace. There are many things employees just do or know that isn’t listed in an employee handbook or policy guide. Truly effective and high performing organizations have wonderful online knowledge platforms that share vital “common” knowledge. I hope this course can help me in online student engagement initiatives, curriculum design, and cross-collaboration techniques. I’d love to get into HR training and development one day, so perhaps this course could also give me the names of emerging techologies used in that field. I recently saw a seminar on Canva and Storyline. Will we get into instructional design tools?

In regards to setting up Twitter and a blog, those two technologies are not new to me. In the masters program, we are required to blog in each course. From the learner perspective, I am a big believer in transformational learning through reflection. The blog assignments are wonderful ways to “educate the reflective practitioner” (total steal from VCU ‘s School of Ed:) Learning comes from reflection and critical analysis, so I’m eager to continue blogging in this course and reading other student’s posts. I also had a Twitter account set up years ago, and thankfully remembered the password so I could send out my first tweet. Twitter is actually the one technology where I’m unsure  how it can facilitate learning. Tweets are so brief. I suppose it could help facilitate learning if you posted a cool article or literature on a topic of interest. You mention it can be a powerful tool, so I am open to learning more!

In my free time, I’m chasing around two children. My youngest turns 1 tomorrow! We tend to frequent the local Richmond brew scene – also known as the new family friendly hangouts. I am a big fan of running, so I enjoy signing up for the long distance races that Richmond has to offer. In the one hour my husband and I have to spend together after the kids go down, we tend to watch House of Cards, Game of Thrones, VEEP, The Americans, and 30 for 30’s on ESPN.



10 thoughts on “Mary

  1. Mary, thank you for sharing—I am so glad to be in class with you again this semester! I think the spirit of inquiry with which you’ve considered/questioned the utility of social media in eLearning is refreshing and will be a great place to explore opportunities in dialogue! I am looking forward to experiencing the semester with you, as I believe your perspective on this will add really valuable dimension to my own approach and thought process around these tools and topics.

    I think purpose is key to engagement when utilizing these tools, as the novelty itself (as you noted) will not inherently carry learning forward without intentionality in facilitation. Considering the discussion of your experience with reflective blogging as a learner, when the intention behind the incorporation of a learning tool is clear, learners are better empowered to leverage that tool. To paraphrase Dr. Jane Vella, clarity in structure paradoxically offers learners more opportunity to be creative in the learning task, as they are not focused on WHAT is being asked of them but rather how they will apply and share out the content (Vella, 2008, p. 54).

    Considering twitter, your focus on and enthusiasm for dialogue would be a significant strength in using this tool—most of the eLearning I’ve observed which successfully utilizes twitter focuses on encouraging connections between people and in sharing information/resources (media, links, etc.) to support a given inquiry or discussion topic. There are also some interesting possibilities in the speed of delivery (if a topic-focused discussion happens in real time or is scheduled) and in grouping information (using hashtags) so that collected insights can be reviewed and expanded upon. I thought this article provided a nice introduction to some of the potential benefits and questions involved in incorporating twitter into instruction:

    As a completely unrelated aside, your children are so cute! Wishing your one-year-old a very happy birthday!

    Vella, J. (2008). On teaching and learning: Putting the principles and practices of dialogue
    education into action. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    • Brie, your Varella comments remind me so much of Schein (I love him!). His argument about process versus content reminds me of what Varella is saying in terms of giving the

      In terms of Twitter, I agree if there was a topic-focused discussion that can happen in real time, it would almost turn into more of an aol instant messenger chat forum. I think those can be a good substitute for virtual conversation. Your posts always get me thinking. I liked the article you sent me too – great points that offered me another way of looking at collaborative knowledge building. So true that students will feel uninhibited to freely express their ideas and opinions. I often find my introverted friends are very active in posting personal things on facebook. I’m a huge extrovert that first picks up a phone to talk, so I think digital technology can accommodate for a range of personality types.

  2. You certainly do have you hands full right now. Your kid are adorable. I look back at that time (mine are 7 and 9 now) fondly but also clearly remember not having a full meal without my wife or I having to chase kids around, apologize to the entire restaurant, and/or cleaning up spills. It gets easier and easier (at least until teenage year I hear).

    Also, I am a big fan of the Richmond brew scene as well, finally made it to Veil Brewing this week, which was cool, but The Answer is still my favorite (we can walk there, so that helps).

    So do you teach courses at VCU online now? I couldn’t tell from your narrative if you manage people who do, or you do, or if you guys use Blackboard in another way.

    You mention, “I tend to come from a position where eLearning can’t come close to replacing the benefits of face to face interaction”. What would you list as benefits of face to face instruction?

    You bring up great points about knowledge sharing in organizations. This is also an area I am interested in as well. The “Communities of Practice” theory by Wenger (and Lave) was the theoretical foundation for my dissertation. You can google it to get a good explanation, but it arose somewhat by Wenger looking at IBM copier repair people and how they learned from one another. It also kind of ties into apprenticeship models of learning, which I also find really interesting. I will try to remember to go into this more in this course. I think it ties in well to other adult learning theory.

    In this course, we wont get into too many “tools” per se, but instead will consider strategies and methods concerned with eLearning. As a foundations course, we felt it was more valuable to understand underlying assumptions, theory, and broader strategies than look at specific tools. Tools change quickly, but if you have an understanding of teaching and learning in this context you are more likely to utilize whatever tools arise in the future effectively. Hope that makes some sense.

    Like you mentioned, I am most interested in how virtual learning can improve on face to face. For example, through this blog, I am able to give everyone a chance to introduce themselves, and then we all can take our time, think critically about what we are saying and put forth a thoughtful response. I think this is a very different dynamic than what would occur in a f2f course. I know that I am able to listen to each of you this week very clearly, and hold conversations with each of you based on your narrative. I dont know if I could accomplish this in a 3 hour f2f course. Maybe, maybe not.

    You also have a opinion of using twitter for educational purposes that is shared by many others. I think twitter is really interesting. For example, who is Micheal Dillon and why did he post something for us using our hashtag?

    Great post. I look to forward to working together this summer

    • Thanks, Monty! I bet we were at the Veil at the same time – we finally made it over there last weekend too. I’m slowly getting back into IPA’s so I liked the selection. I can’t imagine living close to the Answer where I’d have over 40 taps to choose from! How nice 🙂

      I teach courses every fall – UNIV 101 (Intro to the University). It’s not solely online, but I use Blackboard for online journal assignments, posting videos and moderating a discussion board – super basic stuff. I also have an org page on BB that I utilize mainly as a resource guide for students. It’s sort of turned into just a listserv where I send out announcements about important policy info. One of the things I have discovered is that my students don’t actually take the time to go to my Blackboard site to look for stuff – perhaps it’s quicker just to shoot me an email or ask a friend than take the time to look at my site. Half the time I’m also fighting the battle of them not checking emails either. I feel for students these days that get inundated with emails. I was tempted to try Twitter as another means to get important info to them a few years back (which is why I developed an account). I guess the skeptic in me keeps thinking that I’ll put all this time into creating online platforms to engage my students who will still never take the time to go check it out. Do you ever feel that way?

      Perhaps the biggest benefit of face to face education/advising/instruction – you name it – is the relationship building. I can quickly pick up on facial expression, tone, body language, which is telling me a whole lot more than just the content. I try not to focus only on the content of our discussion because what a student comes in to ask me is typically just the tiny tip of the iceberg. Conversations that can flow easily and fluidly among an instructor/teacher/advisor and student tend to go into greater depth than an online chat. What a student thought they were coming in to see about me about can be completely altered by the time they leave.

      I also just commented on Katherine Drumm’s post (we are colleagues) about how long it takes me to read each person’s post and respond. I’ll never have the time to probably respond to everyone’s blog post each week, and I wish I could. For instance, I wish we were having a much quicker face to face conversation where information exchange, relationship building can happen at a greater rate! Perhaps if we were having a face to face convo, I could figure out what your favorite type of beer is, Mekong pairing, AND teacher presence in digital technology in about a span of 10 minutes. The possibilities are greater with face to face in my opinion. Sometimes I also think my obsession with speed is that I have two tiny children. I joked today with a fellow mom that I gulp down my food in 2 minutes just so I can have all hands on deck in case disaster strikes with my kids 😉 Maybe it’s all relative to age and stage in life.

      Looking forward to fun summer though where I can see things from a different perspective. Brie sent me a Twitter article which I really liked – she’s always making me think! I think you and Bri will do the same! Thanks!

  3. I can answer Monty’s question :). Michael Dillon is a board member of AAACE, which focuses on adult learning. I recently did a webinar for their organization, so I included him as one if the experts to follow. I’m excited that he chimed him; everyone at AAACE are GREAT resources for Adult Learning, especially Adult Learning online!

    After reading a few of these blogs, and especially yours Mary, I am wondering if I should write a narrative for the class outlining my personal experiences with Twitter and how I have found it to be VERY transformative, not only personally, but professionally. I was VERY skeptical as well about both online learning as well as Twitter until I was in a position, mostly due to geographic concerns, where virtual options were the only that existed. Since, I have discovered that while there is a LOT of bad practice, the good is better than I could have ever expected. I look forward to showing you what I mean over the course of the semester!

  4. Hi Mary,
    Nice to see you in the interweb! I share your concerns about the value of the face to face format and whether or not we can recreate that virtually. I also have real concerns about the time I’ll need to devote to this course to feel like I’m getting the same connection. I wish that I could devote as much time as I wanted to reading everyone’s post and responding critically to each post, however, I don’t have the luxury of that endless amount of time – kids call! One efficiency of the face to face format is that there are certain learning objectives that have to be met in a certain time period. It’ll be interesting to see how my thoughts on that progress over the semester.
    TTYL – Katherine

    • Thanks, Katherine! I enjoyed reading your post as well. I agree – that one disadvantage of interweb communication is the time it takes to read through each post and then comment back. Conversation flows so easily and at a much faster pace that information exchange is exponentially greater in my opinion. However, I see a lot of value in taking the time to really think through a response and think critically before responding. Glad we are in this class together! Looking forward to our digital exchanges 🙂 It’s a nice mix up and even an enhancement to our every day face to face interaction. Perhaps a combo/hybrid course model that Carol Scotese (and other business professors) have adopted seems like the perfect balance?

  5. Hi Mary – I enjoyed reading your post. You mention that you come from a position where eLearning can’t come close to replacing face to face interaction, and this resonated with me. I was recently in a debrief meeting after a hybrid course had wrapped up. The course includes one day a week in asynchronous study and another day of the week in-person for eight weeks. There were three faculty members in the meeting and they all had different views on how we should be testing the delivery of the material. One professor wanted to try a course that was all online, but a mix of synchronous versus asynchronous delivery. This would obviously make the course more accessible to a wider audience, and he argued that this would also give him an opportunity to deliver more valuable material to the participants in the same amount of time. On the other end of the spectrum, there was a faculty member who valued the face-to-face portion of the program so much that she wasn’t willing to sacrifice this piece just yet. She felt that the eye contact and classroom conversation can’t be replaced in an online environment. I believe they both have great points, and it will be interesting to see how the environment continues to evolve.

  6. Hello Mary,

    First off your kids are crazy cute! I have a niece and nephew that keep me entertained for now and I can’t imagine juggling the family life with work and school. Major kudos on that one. I too am one of the non-believers in Twitter despite my attempts to harness the ever growing reach it has in society. That being said, classes like this where I am challenged to use it as a means of communication among classmates will hopefully make it a more useful tool in my social media arsenal. I like that you were so blunt about your skepticism regarding various social media outlets and eLearning. It sounds like you have an open mind and eagerness to understand the various strategies associated with implementing these tools effectively. Like you, I’m eager to really delve into understanding sounds use of these technologies in various cases, as my experience has been primarily limited to public education and teacher workshops.

    I also enjoyed your angle on employee development. As a manager, that was by far my favorite aspect of the job. As an employee, I’ve often been frustrated by online modules/eLearnings being used as an alternative to sound training vs. a supplement. Often, I’ve been encouraged to click through and take the evaluation at the end just by the very nature of a poorly designed module.

    Regarding your comments on virtual worlds…EXACTLY! I just returned from a conference where VR was HUGE and the discussions I had were…out of this world. The most intriuging concept we discussed at length was creating an entire virtual universe that can be accessed from anywhere, at anytime, by anyone with the proper equipment/software. Perhaps there could even be a possibility of taking these online knowledge bases and translating them into some kind virtually accessible form. Neat stuff.

  7. Mary,

    It’s great to finally put a face to the name in Academic Advising! I have a friend who actually works under you over in Hibbs. I appreciate your feelings about social media as well as eLearning. My generation was the dawn of all the social media craze (Facebook, MySpace, Path, Twitter, etc…) but I must say I only choose to use FB, IG and of course SNAPCHAT! It would be interesting to see how all these can be tied into eLearning. Thanks for sharing!

    C. Oliver

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