Last week, my students in the Web 2.0 and Social Networking class I teach (at San Jose State) presented their fantastic proposals (via web conference) for implementing a specific social tool at a specific type of library. I was so impressed with their creativity and professionalism. Each of them made a very good case for the type of social software-based service they wanted to adopt. One of the groups even used one group member’s own library and she has actually submitted the proposal to an administrator there in the hopes of really making this happen. Awesome!

I deeply love teaching; I love everything about it (with the possible exception of giving people bad grades, which I fortunately don’t have to do too often). Probably the thing I find most exciting is to watch students go from a point where they are not particularly confident in their technology skills to realizing that they are capable of more than they’d ever imagined. One student in my class had emailed me before the start of class wondering if she should be in the class at all because she’s not “techie.” She now can syndicate RSS feeds using JavaScript, create personalized home pages for a library, create podcasts and screencasts, edit a wiki, and so much more. She did incredibly well in the class! All of the students in the class were surprised by how much they were able to do with social technologies by the end, and that’s really what I wanted to hear. This social software stuff ain’t rocket science, but it does take patience, persistence and the willingness to sometimes ask for help. I’m blown away by their accomplishments.

On Tuesday, I received an email informing me that I’ve been chosen to receive a Faculty of the Year Award for Excellence in Online Education from WISE (a group of 15 LIS schools — including UIUC, UNC, Syracuse, and San Jose State — which allow students to take online classes at other schools in the group). I don’t think anything could have surprised me more. What means the most to me is that people must be nominated by their students for this award. That my students think my teaching is worthy of recognition means more to me than anything.

What this award really validates, in my view, is the method of online teaching that I’ve adopted. I’ve been using Drupal for my classes as its flexibility supports my more constructivist approach to teaching. As one of my students wrote:

Comparing Blackboard and Drupal, I thought that the opinions and thoughts of the students are treated with respect by using the Drupal system. In other words, by using this system, students are like the main actors and actresses in movies. I thought that the features of Drupal were built around blogs and focused on connections and communication among teachers and students. On the other hand, Blackboard focuses on announcements and instructions from teachers to students.

Well put, Toshu! The focus isn’t on me imparting my wisdom to my students (thought hopefully my lectures were worth something!); it’s on their impressions and reflections about what they’re learning and the conversations that come from sharing those reflections. I believe strongly that the more students control the conversation and guide the class, the better their learning experience will be. I see my role as a facilitator — not an authority. I need to know a lot about the topic to provide guidance when needed, but I don’t want my thoughts on an issue to ever be seen as gospel. I hope my students realize that we’re all learners and teachers and that they’ve learned as much from each other as they have from me. I’ve learned from them too. Social learning is awesome, and I think social technologies enable that sort of learning better than traditional course management systems.

I’ll be taking a break from teaching for at least the next 2-3 semesters to focus on my baby. While I’ll miss teaching, I don’t want to put students in a situation where I’m not totally committed to them and I can’t imagine how I could be with a new adorable little boy to love up. But I hope to come back to teaching for Spring 2010 (if they’ll have me), as it’s become one of the more fulfilling activities in my life.