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: (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?