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Introducing Chapter 4 on Tone and Climate in my New (Free) "Adding Some TEC-VARIETY" book
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Introducing Chapters from the TEC-VARIETY Book One Day at a Time:

This is Day Four of Blogging (Chapter Four Principle #1 Tone/Climate (includes Psychological Safety, Comfort, and Sense of Belonging). Note: This is the most downloaded chapter of the book.

As I announced back on July 24, 2014 (2 months ago), my new book, written with Dr. Elaine Khoo from the University of Waikato, was published in May 2014. It is titled: "Adding Some TEC-VARIETY: 100+ Activities for Motivating and Retaining Learners Online." It is free as an e-book. Just visit the book homepage and so are each of the 15 chapters.

This is the fifth day of blogging on the book, one snippet per day for several week. It is the first of 10 application chapters that spell "TEC-VARIETY." This one is on creating a safe learning tone or climate. It is the most downloaded chapter in the book. It is longer than my last three posts. Why is that? Perhaps the creation of a safe learning environment is the most important element of an effective online or blended course.

Below is a listing of what the TEC-VARIETY Framework stands for. We are on the first principle today.

1.       Tone/Climate: Psychological Safety, Comfort, Sense of Belonging
2.       Encouragement: Feedback, Responsiveness, Praise, Supports
3.       Curiosity: Surprise, Intrigue, Unknowns
4.       Variety: Novelty, Fun, Fantasy
5.       Autonomy: Choice, Control, Flexibility, Opportunities
6.       Relevance: Meaningful, Authentic, Interesting
7.       Interactivity: Collaborative, Team-Based, Community
8.       Engagement: Effort, Involvement, Investment
9.       Tension: Challenge, Dissonance, Controversy
10.   Yielding Products: Goal Driven, Purposeful Vision, Ownership
 If you like ideas for social ice breakers, you will like this chapter. You will learn about the eight nouns activity, personal commitments, online cafes, accomplishment hunts, video introductions, goals and expectations and much more. They are all detailed in this chapter. Each activity has a variation, so there are not 10, but more than 20 activities detailed in Chapter 4. Take a look.

I will blog on Principle #2 related to Encouragement and Feedback next. Chapters 4 through 13 are the application chapters. There are 10 activities or ideas related to online learner motivation and retention in each of those 10 chapters or 100 total ideas. I hope that you can use them.
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Chapter Four Principle #1 Tone/Climate (includes Psychological Safety, Comfort, and Sense of Belonging (below is the first section of that chapter. There is much more including 10 detailed activities related to creating a safe and effective Tone and Climate).

I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide
the conditions in which they can learn.
—Albert Einstein

Perhaps the most obvious place to begin a framework related to online motivation and retention as well as to start a course is to introduce ideas related to the tone or atmosphere of the class. How an instructor welcomes learners into a course is perhaps tantamount to success. As noted in Chapter Three, those adhering to principles from Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and other humanistic psychologists start with a focus on establishing a psychologically safe climate for learning. From this humanistic perspective, learners must be comfortable with the course, the instructor, and themselves as online learners. In addition, such learners must feel that their ideas are respected and encouraged. Establishing a welcoming environment allows the student to settle in and adjust to this relatively new form of instructional delivery.

Ideas from Carl Rogers have been influential in education for decades. His Freedom to Learn (1969) and Freedom to Learn for the 1980s (1983) are considered classic texts by many espousing learner-centered instructional approaches and opportunities for students to construct and share personal ideas and innovations. For Rogers, at the core of education, learning should be open and active, involve genuine tasks, respect students’ backgrounds and ideas, and embed student-driven activities where and when possible. These principles should hold no matter what the age group or discipline.

What becomes apparent from reading Rogers’ Freedom to Learn books is that there should be invitations for learners to make decisions and take responsibility for their own learning. In collaborative settings, there is a unique sharing of ideas and perspectives among the students. In effect, for Rogers, the more that learners are free and open to experiences, the more likely that they will be creative and participate in productive ways in the world at large.

When people feel valued and understood, there is a sense of safety to explore and a freedom to continue to grow. Such a perspective would resonate with those who incorporate aspects of Web 2.0 technology in their instruction. For instance, an instructor could be considered a Rogerian if he relied on student reflection blogs, Twitter feeds, and podcast shows. Such a humanistic and learner-centered approach is also apparent in collaborative document building using Wikispaces or Google Docs, as well as in social networking activities using systems like Facebook or LinkedIn. From a pedagogical perspective, an instructor could be a Rogerian if she relies on product- and problem-based learning and emphasizes the construction of knowledge and learning participation in the classroom. With such technologies and activities, students take ownership over the learning process. There is a freedom to express ideas, create new products, share inventions, and, in general, make significant learning contributions in the classroom, be they physical or virtual.

Instructors, no matter the situation, can create climates that are learner-centered and invitational in nature. Such environments are filled with a sense of meaning, individualization, belongingness, and encouragement. There are challenges but also supports to meet those challenges. Challenges do not mean roadblocks.

The initial sense of understanding or empathy expressed by an instructor can create strong bonds with students. These interpersonal connections can nurture student support early on in the course when some of them may feel lost or confused by the structure of the course and assigned tasks (Salmon, 2011). Opening activities can foster mutual knowledge among those enrolled as well as a set of expectations that the course will be highly engaging and interactive. Students will realize that an active learning approach will be utilized and that their productive participation is required.

While that is the optimistic side of education, opening moments in the course can also isolate students as well as disrespect them in some way. When that happens, there is scant motivation to participate in the course. Think about some new organization or conference in the physical world. When you arrive and no one is there to greet you, or you feel uncomfortable with the surroundings, you are unlikely to be an active participant, at least not immediately. The same is true if you do not know the mission or purpose of the institution, organization, or event. However, if social icebreakers or meet-and-greet activities took place before the start of the event or at the very beginning, you would likely feel greater dedication, commitment, and willingness to pursue difficult tasks later on.

Activities that set a positive tone such as social icebreakers help learners and instructors become acquainted with each other. This mutual knowledge can facilitate later small-group activities and hasten the effective functioning of online teams. Opening social activities like scavenger hunts of online course resources can also help to familiarize learners with the content that they will encounter in the course, as well as with the very tools that they will need to effectively access that content. There is far less stress in experimenting with passwords, access issues, and tool features at the start of a course than later on in the semester or term when one or more assignments are coming due.

When used effectively in an online or blended course, these early class activities help overcome emotional, social, or cultural discomfort and establish “swift trust” (Meyerson, Weick, & Kramer, 1996), a social glue that binds the online class participants together during the duration of the course to successfully complete the course’s learning activities and goals. Feelings of trust, rapport building, and a sense of camaraderie are typically assumed to be quite difficult to establish in online courses compared to F2F courses due to the separation of distance, space, and time. A study by Meyerson et al. (1996) indicated that online instructors can shortcut this process by putting in place building blocks for establishing swift trust.

The first week of an online course is especially crucial for developing trust via instructor actions such as initiating early communication with students and developing a positive tone and social climate through activities, such as those exemplified in this chapter. Online courses where swift trust had been achieved early in the semester were deemed to be more successful than those that had not (Coppola, Hiltz, & Rotter, 2004). Online lecturers who downgrade the importance of setting a psychologically safe class tone and swift trust do so at their own peril, leaving their students vulnerable to a higher likelihood of feeling isolated and uncared for (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1998).

Once established, that sense of trust is sustained through frequent and predictable communication with the instructor as well as regular feedback from him. There are also opportunities to provide feedback back to the instructor. Such a course is designed for high levels of interactivity and trust building. Many of the activities in this chapter as well as the nine that follow are meant to help in that regard.
 (see free book for more from this chapter.. Note also the references and the many Web links associated with this chapter.)
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Note: for the rest of Chapter One and the entire Adding Some TEC-VARIETY book, you can find it FREELY available (and the entire book as well at the book homepage or you can purchase it via Amazon in softcover or the Kindle via Amazon. Comments and questions are always welcome as are stories and examples of how you use the ideas in the book (just write to: curt at 

This is an experiment in self-publishing using Amazon CreateSpace and my website My highly talented son Alex did the book cover. This book and other free resources such as 27 videos for how to teach online can be found on my personal homepage.

Bonk book blogging so far:
1. Announcing the Adding Some TEC-VARIETY book, Posted: July 24, 2014.
2. Introducing the Preface, Posted September 18, 2014.
3. Introducing Chapter One: TEC-VARIETY, Posted: September 19, 2014
4. Introducing Chapter Two: Online Learning Attrition and Retention, Posted: September 20, 2014 
5. Introducing Chapter Three: Online Motivation from Four Perspectives, Posted: September 21, 2014
6. Introducing Chapter Four: Principle #1 on Tone/Climate, Posted September 23, 2014.  

So, what tone do you ring? In what tone do you sing? And in what tone do you start or begin?

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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Click here for information about my recent book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

Visit the Indiana University Home Page of E-Learning Expert Curtis J. Bonk.

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