This week was one of the most contentious since the “What is connectivism” debate back in week one. The week one forum had 159 posts, and as of 31 Oct, the post “Power and Auto-Subscribe” has generated 108 posts. It all started one day when Stephen decided to play Zeus and sign everyone up for the weeks’ forum to see what would happen. Then all hell broke loose. Lurkers were complaining they were suddenly being flooded by forum emails. I actually wondered why I was getting emails without having to go through the tedious effort of having to sign up each week (and often forgetting to do that until Tuesday, thus missing out on a lot of early week discussion). I actually appreciated this “god-like” course administrator action. It turns out I am a minority. And guess what? When Stephen shut off the email notifications at Wed noon, I forgot to turn it on and did not pick up on the lack of traffic until Thursday. Here’s why I like email notification.
Most people want to sign up for things that they actually have the time to pay attention to. If they don’t have the time, they would rather relegate message traffic to their RSS feed or just drop in on the website. I have a notoriously bad memory (since the arrival of Bradley Shoebottom release v1.0 (6 years old) and v2.0 (3.5 years old)) and I forget to go to websites to check status. I actually appreciate being notified some thing has “changed” via my one piece of technology that I can handle: my email.
I learned that the majority of “users’ of this course preferred a very egalitarian method of accessing the information. They do not like to have information “pushed” to them; they would rather pull it from the network or connect to it on their own terms. The majority of people in the forum would appear to be non-credit participants. Now, there are some credit participants who use RSS and some who drop in on the forums daily without using RSS or email. It would be interesting to find out what their access preferences are. But I would not want to send out a survey and be accused of spamming anyone! Thus, I would not find out what users are truly like. I could only make some assumption of notification methodology based on forum sign-ups.
As an information architect for my day job, I routinely talk to users like the participants in this course, to find out how people use information. I would discern there are 2 administrative statuses: credit and non-credit. There are also those who have certain technology platform alerting preferences: Email and RSS. Then there are those that do not care for alerts. In my day job, I would then attempt to determine how many users are in each category so as to determine how important each feature was for a new tool implementation. It turns out I would need to be considerate of all types of access (Feeders (email/RSS) and non-feeders. As a course instructor, this puts me in a dilemma: how do I ensure that the participants get the information they need initially. Perhaps everyone is signed up to News or Administration Forum that only sends out messages on occasion (Thanks Lisa for that idea!) about significant changes in the course (assignment due dates) or changes in class times or cancellations. (This is not different than the system demonstrators welcome message when you sing up for a service) Everyone should get this kind of broadcast to ensure no one is left wondering, where the instructor in the UStream session only to discover it is moved up an hour. Broadcast via RSS, Email and The Daily would seem to be a legitimate notification effort, similar to doing community announcement via radio, TV, and the print medium. (I really should have signed up to the RSS feed and I would not have missed that session as my email on my profile is my home email which I do not monitor during the day).
For my day job, I use SharePoint (by Microsoft) as the Content Management system and Intranet. It sends me daily emails about changes to documents and sites where I am a project participant. Our SharePoint is also integrated with Microsoft Project, so when I am given a task, update my hours on a task, or get a new task, I get emails telling me I have work to do, even before I get the email form the Project Manager telling me what the task is, who I will work with, and what I need to get done. So I am used to lots of emails, but would like some things to be reduced into a Dashboard that I could consult about static things that have not changed.
My evening job as a lecturer fro RMC sees my using Desire2Learn’s LMS to run my online courses. Interestingly, that system does not have either an email or RSS notification system implemented, instead relying on the student to regularly log on to see what is going on in the course. In my professional experience, a very user unfriendly what of ensuring students keep abreast of the course. Even though I post changes to the course homepage, I can’t be sure everyone has seen it, so I have to send out email alerts letting them no of a change and to read the details on the course homepage. Many students do not use RSS (Military types) and some do not even have military email that they need to check because of their job function (private in the infantry)!
So to summarize, I work in a complex information environment. Each environment has to be judge for its uniqueness. Each has to way the pros and cons of how communication needs to happen between instructor and students or project manager and worker. What works for RMC (or does not as I have pointed out) does not work for CCK08, because there are different users and different tools being used. So the authority of the instructor has become a negotiation between various parties as they try to figure out what works for each course or organization. As the Elluminate and Ustream discussions pointed out, the authority has to be “given” by the participants, and reasonable. Failure to consider the users (students) will result in no one in the classroom. That being said, the user also has the responsibility of have to constantly “redefine” or interpret the operating parameters of the learning environment (course objects, assignments, technology being used), with an understanding of the communication model needed to ensure success. (However success is to be defined.)
Well, I’ve rambled on long enough and its Friday night, kids in bed (only one piece of candy after trick or treating) and only one beer in me. Luckily this post comes at the end of the week, so most CCK)8 participants will not likely ever be forced to read through my tedious “real-life” examples of how to design communications systems that aren’t either an authoritarian Goebbels’s propaganda blaster or a grass roots telephone pole notice system.
See ya in the forum.