Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Documenting for Learning

Please read this blog post on the importance of documenting for learning. The blogger says that "documenting serves a larger… big picture purpose in education." Documenting is viewed as :
·         - a process of intentional documenting serves a metacognitive purpose
·        -  a creative multimedia expression (oral, visual, textual)
·         - a component of reflective practice taking ownership of one’s learning
·        -  a memory aid
·        -  curation
·         - professional development
·         - being open for feedback
Furthermore, documenting for learning is broken down into how it can better serve teachers, students and school boards. I want to highlight the ways in which it can serve teachers and students, in particular:
Teachers
·         - to share best practices with colleagues
·        -  to make teaching available for students outside of classroom hours
·        -  to inform further instructions
·        -  to reflect on their own lesson plans, delivery and teaching pedagogy
·         - to gather and showcase their teaching portfolio over time
·         - to evaluate student progress, growth and for assessment
Students
·         - to articulate (via different forms of media) and showcase their learning
·       -   to become aware of their own learning growth
·         - to gather and archive their digital work via E- portfolios
·        -  to build their footprint in a digital world
As a teacher, it's important to think of any new strategy or idea in two ways: how it will impact me, and more importantly, how it will impact my students. In so many ways, being a teacher means being a life-long student. In fact, the two roles can be considered very similar. So what caught my eye the most about this blog post was that most -- if not all -- of what is listed under the student section could be applied to teachers. For certain, conscientious teachers will showcase their learning, be aware of their growth, create portfolios, and utilize digital media in their teachings. Moreover, many of the points listed under the teacher section could be considered important skills for students: the importance of sharing work, self-evaluation, gathering information, and reflecting.
All of this is to say that I appreciate the message of the blog post: documenting for learning can be beneficial to many people in education field. But what struck me the most was perhaps an unintended message: the best teachers are students themselves.
Don't lose sight of the student perspective.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Resolving an Issue: Absenteeism

What tools and strategies could you include in an online course to prevent absenteeism from happening in the first place? 

1. check to see how often the student is signing into the class

2. build-in fair and flexible due dates

3. monitor his progress by designing major assignments in steps

4. have direct contact with the student at the start of the course

5. send email reminders

Determine how you would address the problem, should the situation arise in your class.

The best way to address the problem would be with direct contact. Try emailing the student first, but if there’s no response within a day or two, call home to try to talk with the student directly. If the student is under 18, talk to his parent(s); sometimes they don’t know that the student is absent, or they might be able to provide a legitimate reason why the student is absent. It’s good to have the parent as an ally too. Early intervention can help in that regard.

Supporting Student Learning

What strategies and/or LMS tools could you use to support these students’ abilities to work independently and those with weak literacy skills?

1. Design lessons that are structured as competitive games, and with short, structured tasks.

2. Differentiated instruction is important in order to engage all types of students. Student choice, for example, gives students a level of ownership and control over their learning, which makes it more relevant and personal.

3. Having the proper resources, as well as varied resources, can help cover a variety of learning needs. Texts can include: books, e-books, websites, blogs, graphic novels, movies, advertisements, magazines, poetry, songs, etc.

4. Understand your audience - some studies have shown that boys are more likely to comprehend informational texts versus narrative texts. As a result, non-fiction texts can be a good strategy for male readers.


Sources:

Hawley, R. & Reichert, M. (2010). Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys. San Francisco, California: Jossey      - Bass.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2004). Me Read? No Way! Toronto: Queen's Printer for Ontario.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Online Community

Cuthbertson and Falcone’s 5 strategies for building a strong online community:

Strategy 1: Regularly give students a place to be themselves and share their experiences, thoughts, and interests. Help them see the value of their participation by representing the information back to the group.

Strategy 2: Give responsibility to individuals or groups for discussion threads on select academic topics.

Strategy 3: Encourage student-to-student advice regarding assignments.

Strategy 4: Use synchronous communications to strengthen ties to the classroom community.

Strategy 5: Leverage students’ love of mobile technologies.

One specific strategy that would help build a strong online community -- which Donna has offered us the chance to do in our course -- is to have students create their own blogs. This has multiple benefits, and fits in with a number of Cuthbertson and Falcone’s strategies. For one, it provides a student with his own personal space wherein he can share his experiences with the rest of the class (Strategy 1). Moreover, if created in a public space, the learning can be shared with others outside of the class.

In addition, many blogs are compatible with mobile technology, which would allow a student to use a device of his choosing; also, many blogs allow the blogger to instantly share his posts to his social networking site(s), which could potentially lead to even more people reading his posts (Strategy 5).

From an assessment perspective, it would be nice to have a large chunk of a student’s work in one spot. By bookmarking the page in your web browser, it’d be relatively easy to access as well.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Online Assessment

How can assessment be challenging in an online environment?

One of the benefits of teaching in a regular classroom is being able to sense when a lesson isn’t working, or that students need some sort of prompt in order to help them along with a particular task. This is something that would be absent in an online environment, at least in terms of something that can be addressed immediately.

Not seeing students every day is another factor that influences assessment. For example, a teacher can tell when a student is having an "off" day - perhaps he comes to class in a different mood than usual, or is displaying some other sort of body language that would indicate a change in mood. As such, you could be more lenient about how much that student contributes in class that day, you may decide that he needs more space than usual, or that he may benefit from you pulling him aside for a chat after class. That type of scenario would be absent from an online class.

How can an online learning environment support assessment for, as, and of learning?

1. Assessment for learning: this is when teachers provide feedback and coaching to students for improvement; give them chances to improve.

Example: A Skype call near the end of Module 1 in order to provide feedback, and to provide tips on the summative assignment for the Module.

2. Assessment as learning: this is more student-directed learning, whereby students develop their capacity to be independent, autonomous learners, set goals, etc.

Example: Students choose their best way to complete a character profile: written, podcast, video character portrayal (acting), visual art, etc.

3. Assessment of learning: this is the summary evaluation, may be used to form further assessment (the one you do the least)

Example: A summative assignment, such as the character profile given above.

Universal Design

Keeping in mind the tenets of Universal Design, the 2 strategies listed below would benefit a lot of different students, but I'm sharing them as examples that could be used in an online classroom with a particular student. Perhaps you've had a student with similar challenges. This is a student who I taught recently; ultimately, he did not receive his credit for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the reasons why he requires extra supports:

- He’s often absent or late to class (2 days a week on average), due to a variety of reasons, including “needing to get more sleep” and trying to avoid the classroom (most of his friends are in higher grades - he is a Gr. 11 student in a Gr. 10 classroom)

- He does not use class time well to complete assignments

- He spends a lot of class time on his phone

- Because of the age difference, he’s a bit out of place in a Gr. 10 classroom

- He procrastinates, but submits some assignments, when working independently

- He does not work well in a group/team setting; he distracts others

Part of why working with this student was so frustrating was because he was bright and could be a good independent worker when he put his mind to it. What he struggled with (besides what’s listed above) was getting started with certain assignments. Once he had specific direction, he could complete tasks. As such, here are a few strategies that I think could work for him, if he were to take an online course:

Strategy #1
Provide story starters – for example, if the task is to write a short story, I’d give him 3-4 opening paragraphs to choose from that he could use verbatim, and then he could finish the story from there. Or perhaps I could give him 3-4 character profiles, upon which he could base his story. With this specific direction, I believe he could complete the task.

Strategy #2
Allow him to write about his interests (student choice) – He loved dirtbiking, or racing of any kind, really. A few of the assignments that he did complete were racing-related, like when I asked the students to share a funny story from their past. When I was able to engage him about the things in which he was interested, he had more success, so assignments in his online class that are more flexible or have an element of student choice would be recommended.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Examples of Interactions in eLearning

Student-Teacher interaction – getting off on the right foot is a necessity, in order to build a good working relationship, and to ensure that the student is feeling comfortable at the beginning of the course. Having a face-to-face meeting within the first week or two would help, in addition to scheduled meetings at various points throughout the course. Skype is one example of an online tool that can be used for such meetings.

Student-Student interaction – there are several Google Apps for Education that make working in a small group or with a partner a lot easier. Docs can be edited and saved by multiple people once it’s shared amongst a group. In an online setting where many students wouldn’t know each other, it may make the most sense for the teacher to assign groups/partners, especially after a period of time during which the teacher would have assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the class.  

Student-Content interaction – As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s important for the content to be differentiated so that multiple types of learners can succeed in the course. That’s why it’s important to display the content in multiple ways: through discussion boards, audio and video recordings, games, etc.

Student-Interface (LMS) interaction – an introductory screencast would allow a teacher to present the navigation of the interface in a visual way. For some students, that will be more helpful than text-based instructions, and it’s certainly better than expecting all students to be able to figure it out on their own. Any time saved by making the navigation of the course easier allows students more time for learning. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

Scenario #1 – Use a Synchronous tool

A student has an essay due tomorrow and has a last-minute question to help. Obviously, a synchronous tool (i.e., Google Hangouts) would be best for this scenario, so that the teacher could answer the student’s question immediately, and the student would be able to submit the assignment on time.

Having said that, I think it would be unfair to expect a teacher to always be available to answer questions immediately on the night or day before an assignment is due. However, perhaps a teacher could plan ahead and build-in an occasional Google Hangout within the last day or two before a major assignment is due.

Scenario #2 – Use an Asynchronous tool


After the first 2 weeks in an eLearning course, a teacher wants to gather feedback from the class on how they are doing so far. An asynchronous tool (i.e., Google Forms) could be used to gather the information over a short period of time. 

What to Look for in an LMS

When considering an LMS to use, the following would be some of the questions I would ask:

1) How easy is it to navigate?

2) Is the design and layout both simple and visually appealing?

3) Does is allow for interactivity in a variety of ways? (discussion, email, audio, video, games, etc.)

4) Can it be accessed/is it compatible with multiple (mobile) devices?

5) What additional resources and tools does it offer?

Perhaps an even more interesting question, as suggested by Donna Fry in our Teaching and Learning Through eLearning course: is an LMS necessary? It's an intriguing question, and one that I'm not sure how to answer. How would it work? 

Certainly, to keep things simple, it would be nice to have a one-stop hub for the content and tools in an eLearning course. There are other benefits, too, for a board to use the same LMS. From an administrative perspective, it would allow for streamlined training and perhaps easier to keep track of enrollment, instructors, etc. From a student perspective, once you get experience using d2L, for example, that familiarity would be beneficial for the next online course you take.

What do you think?

Top Tools for Learning

Jane Hart's list of the Top 100 Tools for Learning (2015) is worth I look.

#13 – Pinterest
#25 – Audacity
#27 – Screencast-o-matic

From that list, I’ve purposely chosen 3 tools that I have only a passing familiarity with. I know a little bit about them, and have either used them myself or have seen others use them, so I’m somewhat familiar with what they can offer. What I find amazing about the list, in general, is how many tools are out there – it’s even a little overwhelming. But I like the idea of picking a few to try out; obviously, it would be unreasonable to expect a teacher to use them all. 

Pinterest is very popular. For an eLearning class, I could see it being used to put together a photo collage or photo essay. Or a student could create a Pinterest page as a character from a novel, with character-appropriate photos, captions and hashtags.

Many of my colleagues have used Audacity. I’ve used it sparingly, just to try it out, but never in my classes. I’d love to incorporate a podcast assignment of some sort – it’s such a fast-growing form of entertainment, and on my long drives to work or during my runs, I listen to podcasts every day. Podcasts could be made collaboratively or independently, and would be a great way to display one’s speaking skills (and editing skills), without having to present live in front of an audience

Screencast-o-matic is a tool I’ve just recently downloaded onto my laptop, knowing that screencasts can be an effective way to show students how to access certain aspects of the course, or other areas on the internet, like accessing online databases.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A tiered approach with eLearning students

Photo credit: Learning for All

I'll be repeating myself a bit from earlier posts, but I appreciate the overall message of the pyramid: start broadly as a way to assess the different levels and learning styles of students, and then take a more individualized approach after you've gathered more information. 

I think it's fair to start off any online course gradually, especially for those who are new to it. Allow students time to become familiar with the set-up and layout. An introductory video that shows the 'student-view' of where to find discussion forums, an assignment submission dropbox, and course readings is a good idea. Making sure to have face-to-face time (via Skype or other means) with students with the first 1-2 weeks is essential. A common refrain I hear from students taking online courses is "I feel disconnected." It's understandable, and teachers reaching out beyond email and text can go a long way. Audio-recorded feedback to assignments can add a more personal touch as well.

From an eLearning perspective, Tier 3 is especially interesting. The suggestion is made to utilize an "in-school team" for more intense assessment and instruction. Unfortunately, such intervention isn't always available to students taking eLearning courses. However, I've found in my board that with online learning becoming more prevalent, student success teams, resource teachers, and librarians are becoming accustomed to helping students taking online courses. eLearning teachers should encourage their students to utilize these human resources, in addition to providing links to helpful online resources.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Inclusive Strategies

Consider these complementary strategies to the ones listed in my post on Differentiated Instruction and Universal Design:

Student choice – student choice gives students the chance to access prior knowledge and strengths, if applicable, and makes them feel like they are a more active part of the learning process. This could be done for a major project or something smaller, like a discussion post.

Utilize the assistive technologies that are available to you – according to the research from Assistive Technology Tools: Supporting Literacy Learning for All Learners in the Inclusive Classroom in this module’s readings, if “efforts are made to implement assistive technologies effectively for student use, they can enhance: literacy acquisition, flexible and differentiated learning experiences, student engagement and independence.” Especially in an eLearning environment, anything that can enhance a student’s independence is a good thing. Programs such as Spicy Nodes and Live Binders can be used as organizational tools

Consistent conferencing – every student is different, but most students are used to working in a regular classroom environment, which means they’re used to interacting with their teachers almost at any point during a 75 minute period. And usually, teachers are available before school, at lunch and after school for conferencing as well. As such, eLearning teachers should make themselves available to students at scheduled times – whether that means scheduling weekly or b-weekly “visits” with students, or offering “office hours” during which time the teacher can offer immediate feedback.

Encourage student interaction – introductions at the beginning of a course allow students to get to know each other a little bit. From there, with encouragement from the teacher, students can work together on collaborative assignments, perhaps based on the similar sensibilities that they see through the introductions and regular discussions.

Provide encouraging, positive feedback – especially in a new learning environment, students benefit from positive reinforcement. In addition to letting students know what they need to improve on, make sure to be a constant source of encouragement.

Differentiated Instruction and Universal Design

Identify several strategies that you would use to support students in your online learning environment. Describe how you would implement these strategies in your online class.

1. "stimulate interest and motivation for learning" - find out as much as you can about your students' personal interests, hobbies, and learning styles. This will allow you to tailor certain assignments to individual learners, and give them different choices. Teachers can find out this information through Google Forms or through scheduled face-to-face time.

2. "present information and content in different ways" - utilize text, graphic organizers, videos, audio recordings/podcasts, images, games, etc. to display information.  

3. make adjustments, as needed - if you find students aren't displaying success, consider trying something new. Talk to students directly, in order to see why they're struggling. Be flexible in terms of the ways that students can display their knowledge. 

4. present opportunities for students to make personal connections - the more the students can relate to the content, the more likely they are to display motivation and engagement. 

5. emphasize critical thinking
a) ask open-ended questions that can have multiple right answers
b) give students the opportunity to think and reflect with their peers, in order to encourage collaboration and negotiation 
c) challenge conventional thinking


Resources:

http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.V7zkE5grLIU

http://www.ortingschools.org/cms/lib03/WA01919463/Centricity/domain/326/purpose/resources/Key%20Principles%20of%20a%20Differentiated%20Classroom.pdf (This is a very useful resource!)

Voices of Wisdom: Learning from Elders


Monday, August 22, 2016

21st Century Learners

As educators, we're always trying to prepare our students for their future. Some attend college, some university, and some go straight to the workplace. Technology is ever evolving, which has a dramatic impact on what types of jobs will be available to students in the next 5, 10, 15 + years. We have to do all we can to prepare them for a workplace where computer skills are a given, and where more specific types of computer skills -- like coding -- will give them a leg up. 


Obviously, a teacher's technical expertise can be an impediment to teaching those more specific types of computer skills. However, all teachers can emphasize the development of practical skills, such as teamwork, communication, creativity, problem solving and critical thinking. Let's focus on critical thinking. When employing critical thinking tasks in the classroom, it's best if the teacher explains why a certain topic is being examined, and why the processes being used are important ones. This will hopefully lead to more students 'buying-in."

Indeed, critical thinking is such an important real-life skill. We have more knowledge at our fingertips than ever before. But what will distinguish students is those who can apply that knowledge in different ways and in different experiences. One strategy I’ve used to encourage critical thinking is open-ended ‘what if’ questions, such as, “What if the Allies had lost WWII?” Students will then consider what they already know about the relationships between countries (Germany and France, for example) and try to come up with hypothetical terms of a new treaty. In a regular classroom, these types of questions could be used as a 15 minute hook to engage students at the start of the lesson; in an eLearning environment, they could lead to a multiple-day collaborative negotiation amongst enemy countries. Regardless of how the critical thinking questions are utilized, such questions stimulate creativity and collaboration, among other skills, all of which are valuable skills that will help students as they move forward in their careers. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Introduction - How can we make eLearning more accessible?

Hi everybody!

I've started this blog in Module 3 to act as the hub for the research I'll be doing throughout the remainder of the course.

I want to find out the different things people are doing to make eLearning more accessible, with a particular focus on what's been done to bridge the digital divide in rural and remote areas. I've spent most of my career thus far teaching in rural areas, and I'd like to think eLearning will become a more viable option. What is being done, and what can I/we do to make that happen?