Dear Newbie Coetailers,

Jeff Utech and I were having a conversation the other day and he mentioned that some of the new Coetailers wanted more direction and were feeling a bit lost since the instructors weren’t “grading” their blogposts.

I thought I would write a letter to you about how I saw the “Coetail” way of learning and what worked for me. (I’m not attempting to speak on behalf of Coetail—but just to say how I saw things.)

You’re past course 1 and by now, you’ve probably come across a number of webarticles using buzzwords like 21st Century Learning, education reboot, education reform, paradigm shift etc. etc.

I’d been out of full-time teaching for many years when I started Coetail. I had left full-time teaching when my youngest was born (17 years ago!) I registered for Coetail hoping to update my qualifications before attempting to return to full-time classroom teaching. I had thought I was keeping in touch with education by teaching part-time and covering maternity-leaves during those years when I was home with my kids. Heck, I was following my children’s private International School education closely. They were in a state of the art, brand-spanking new, richly resourced International School in Hong Kong. It was 1:1 Macbooks from the day their doors opened. My 1:1 teaching education started at that school when I taught there.

So, it was a huge SHOCK to me after two weeks in Coetail, to find out that pretty much what I understood about teaching & learning was being upended and even turned upside down. I blogged about my shock, even: Gulp, you mean I signed up for a revolution?

It only took a moment after understanding that the landscape was completely different for me to embrace it. Do you know why? During the six months before I started Coetail, I had just completed my first online graduate course and it was a miserable experience. I blogged about my misery too in a post entitled, “I Failed at Spelling Anachronism in University“. My online university course was fashioned after the traditional education I had received growing up. It had assigned readings, assignments, tutors, and GRADES. I won’t go into what made it a miserable experience. You can read my blogpost for details about that. I will say that in terms of Technology, it was definitely doing “old things” in rubbish ways. (I was going to use a word starting with “cr” but have edited it for a family audience 😉 )

Before Coetail and during this first online grad course, I had spent 6 months jumping through hoops and not knowing where the floor or the ceiling really was. Have you laid in bed stressing out about the fact that you were swimming in a deep, dark ocean with no idea of your bearings? I was panicking as I had no idea whether I was going to fail, barely pass, or do well! I wouldn’t know until the day I got back my mark. My mark was based entirely on single 5,000 worded essay referenced to research journals that I handed in. I got back my mark one day. It was 60%. My first thought was to have a freak, “Did I fail or just barely make it??!!” You see, in my music studies, 60% is the pass mark. I was assuming that a Grad course would have higher standards and maybe 70% was the passmark?! I couldn’t find the grading table so emailed the university. I was told that 40% was the pass mark. My 60% actually meant I had passed WITH MERIT! OMG. Something is radically wrong when one minute you think you’ve failed and the next minute, you realize you’ve passed with Merit! What was wrong was not me. What was wrong was this traditional system that had been crammed into a Technology delivery. I had no idea during the whole six months what I was doing or how I was doing. The threat of failing hung over my head the entire time.

So, whereas some of you were expecting and maybe hoping for a learning engagement somewhat close to what you’ve experienced in the past, I was MORE than ready to dump the old way and construct MY way. Happily, Coetail is more than ready to allow you that freedom. So, I COULD construct my way without feeling like I was going to fail the course and lose all that money I had invested in my tuition fees (the two worries that sent me into a panic with my other online grad course!).

The way I see Coetail is that Coetail asks us to spend time in the shoes of our students and to experience learning engagements the way we want to eventually deliver our learning engagements. How can I explain this? Instead of just hearing about it, we’re going to experience it. Experiencing it will increase the likelihood that we’ll buy into it, after we graduate.

Do you want your students to construct their own learning? Well, start constructing yours… Do you want your students to blog? Well, start blogging. Do you want your students to learn how to work collaboratively with people around the world? Well, do your AUP course assignment with other Coetailers around the world. Do you want your students to have positive digital footprints? Well, start making yours. Do you want your students to make a video presentation? Well, start making one…

Do you want your students to stop worrying about grades, jumping through hoops to please you,— and instead care more about what they’re learning? ….Do you want your students to stop worrying about grades, jumping through hoops to please you,— and instead to care more about what they’re learning? (I purposely wrote that out twice. Not a typo! 😉 )

You may “fill in the blank” with the reply. Whatever you filled in the blank is the Coetail way of learning.

So, I was ready to break out and sing the Hallelujah Chorus when I stumbled upon Coetail after my “misery course”. I am hoping that this letter will— at the very least, make some of you feeling “directionless and lost” feel a bit better. At its best, help you break out of your old chains, celebrate and let loose!

21st Century Learning is about students constructing their own meaning from learning engagements. It’s kind of difficult for us to grade the construction of your own meaning. Only you know if you’re challenging your ideas and pushing your limits. Your weekly blogposts and course-end assignments only give us a glimpse into what we hope is only the tip of the iceberg of what is really happening in your lives and classrooms. (I see you checking your RSS and Twitterfeeds while you lay in bed at night! Actually, I don’t and that’s the point :p)

If we want our students to learn to construct their own meaning, then Coetail is going to afford you that freedom too. So, if you’re feeling lost and directionless, just take a direction and go forward. (Hint: There is no wrong direction! Who’s going to go up to you and say you’re using Tech all wrong?! You’re on an iteration and I bet you’re miles ahead of your colleagues just because you’ve joined Coetail.) So, if you would like a grade on your blogpost, just grade yourself. You know intuitively whether you’ve done your best effort or not and let that be your grade. Or, take the blogpost comment thread as a “grade”. If you would like a grade on your assignments, I would say the same things. You are building a PLN that reaches the ends of the earth. Anyone of those connections could give you a grade if you asked for one (if you really want a grade).

Up until Coetail, I had spent 15+ years on the Internet but anonymously. I used a nickname handle when I participated in online communities (sewed, quilted, learned, fellowshipped with quilters around the world). I had a panic attack the first week of Coetail when I actually had to tell the “world” my REAL name. (You’ll still find it hard to find my surname 😉 ) Because of Coetail, I was forced to crawl out from under my rock and come out of hiding.

I would really recommend giving Twitter a serious try. I know there are other platforms but Twitter doesn’t take up too much time. It’s only 140 characters. If you’re nervous about having a public profile (as I still am!), 140 characters isn’t too risky.

Coetail is about helping our students make connections online to access expert information and instructors. It’s about helping them to make authentic products and sharing them with an authentic audience. Jeff and the instructors will get you started on your connections. You have to take the ball and run with it. Start extending your own connections. I found that seriously easy to do through Twitter. You’ll be asked to make authentic products during Coetail but it will be up to you to share them with an authentic audience. Having a public blog is just a teeny start. After I finished an assignment, I would Tweet about it using the #Coetail hashtag. You’ll get a lot more people reading your blog if you Tweet about it. Link to your blog on your Twitter profile. People will visit your blog as you tweet and when you follow them. Find a hashtag community that works for you. For me, it was #pypchat. Participate in some Twitter chats. Your connections will grow exponentially and your Coetail blogposts will cease being about assignments and more about sharing your learning, and making connections with your new-found teacher friends.

For those embarking on Coetail Course 2, follow and tweet to the #CoetailAUP hashtag. You will need to submit evidence of global collaboration when you do your AUP assignment. Here’s one method…

Get a website counter. I got mine from Revolver Maps. If you need help with it, let me know and I’d love to help you with it. A website counter helped me to see that I was making meaning for other people even if they didn’t leave a comment. For me, that was my extrinsic reward for writing my blogposts. I had spent two years writing a personal travel blog that had less than 100 visits over two years! After two weeks in Coetail, I had reached 100 visits. My mind was blown away when I saw that. What a difference! After that, I was off and running and writing…for the right reasons that had nothing to do with a grade.

For someone who is afraid of being public online, I’ve come a long way. There are still days that I feel like crawling under a rock. I’ve strong beliefs and write very transparently. Sharing like that makes me feel very vulnerable afterwards; I’m afraid of being trolled or flamed.

Reflecting back on my Coetail journey, I can’t imagine teaching students about blogging, digital citizenship, making a personal learning network (PLN), owning their learning—without experiencing it firsthand myself.

That is how I look at my Coetail journey. I stopped looking at my Coetail grade sheet after the first course. I wrote my authentic self and even offered pushback to some of the tech ideas floating around. No one looked down on me and no one failed me. (Jeff would celebrate with you if you said you tried something and failed, actually. Only in Coetail is failure something to be celebrated! 😉 It means that you took a risk and tried something!) If you wanted me to pin down what Coetail is looking for, I would say it’s looking for evidence of change. I think you can handle that! That’s why you signed up for Coetail, I bet?!

Yes, it’s a bit strange at the beginning as you’ve lost your traditional bearings of assignments and grades, but embrace the change and the challenge. We have to, if we want to be convincing to our students about how they have to…

I end this letter by referring you to the Youtube video entitled “Bronze Orientation Day” by Mitchell and Webb at the top of this post. I chanced upon this video during my second week of Coetail. You just can’t go away without looking at it! I played it numerous times in my first month of Coetail. It’s incredibly funny but the message is spot-on! It comes from David Truss’ blogpost entitled “Still the Same Conversation“. His blogpost about it came through the RSS feed that Jeff asked us to create. It’s about Change.

Once you finish the video, you’ll understand why I entitled this letter in a blogpost, “Coetail Orientation Day”.

Remember, you have all our love and all our support!

On your marks! Get set! GOOO!