EdTech Veteran: An Early Adopter Reluctant to Commit to Google Classroom

Classroom LogoProgramming the VCR

It’s tough to say, but I’m middle-aged now. When we are young, we are always the ones to master technology in the family. Take the VCR for example. Back in the day it was always easy for me because while my parents were busy being parents, keeping the house in order, working to pay the bills, spending free time relaxing, maybe reading, I was tinkering with my surroundings. If something wasn’t working out, I tried other ways and overcame each challenge. As I grew older, I always tinkered with the next new thing I was faced with. I grew into each version of personal computer, palm pilot, cell technology, etc. My parents? Not so much. This trend is important in what I’m about to say next.

 

The rug pulled out from under

I just discovered that the learning management system (LMS) that my school has been using since I arrived eight years ago is about to go away. I built up my technology class curriculum on countless proprietary web pages hosted on a third-party educational platform.  I did it because it was new. It was new to the district, and I was also new to the school. I had nothing to lose, and I went all in. The entire staff was asked to upload their content to the platform for students and parents. Since I ran a computer lab, I put all of the lessons online so students could access immediately the tasks conveniently in a calendar, much like an online class. Soon I was asked to give workshops on how to use the platform.

 

Before my arrival at my school eight years ago, I spent 11 years creating web content delivered using Frontpage, Publisher, PowerPoint (as a website), shared network folders and so on. Each of my lessons had to be changed with each update and revision of the software. MS Office, for example changed so much that literally every two years I would have to update my tutorials.

 

In the past 18 years, I’ve explored each new buzz in technology. From Edmodo, to iPads to Google, I’ve invested time and energy into each new thing. It’s no wonder my job seems the most stressful of any educator I know. I’ve been shell shocked by many rugs being pulled out from under me. For example, a few years after NING came out in 2005, I saw classroom potential for social networks. I created one for each class and engaged with students online, each student creating a digital portfolio. I found it useful as an educational platform for engaging students. I gave workshops and even presented at my local state conference. I had decided to let it go once it moved to a paid model. Besides, other platforms were coming online. Edmodo — remember Diigo and Delicious? I was accepted into the beta of Google Wave which was quickly dropped by Google. From the onset of Google, I was all in. I still have the same email since Gmail was introduced. I’ve been a faithful Android user with the very first Motorola Droid, currently loving my GalaxyS5. Making the most of everything Google — from personal calendars, Drive, Maps, Keep — I consider myself, well, skilled in the Google arts.

 

Frustration with school-based services

When a few of us recommended Google Apps for Ed, we set it up for the high dchool embracing the platform and all its greatness. My students build digital portfolios using Blogger. After about five years, the district took on a second district-wide account. A year later, the district administrators announced that we would suspend the high school accounts and migrate to the district model. After deep research, via trial and error, it was clear that this would greatly impact my already invested curriculum. Google states on its help pages that while you can transfer Blogger blogs and Google sites, the “images will only exist IF the account that made them is NOT deleted!” This is a huge issue for me! With graduated seniors for example, they will not be able to take their digital portfolios with them if the school deletes their Google accounts. Google goes on to say “there is no provision for this at this time.”

 

Eggs in one basket

Along with Google Forms and YouTube videos (hours upon hours of tutorials) not transferring well, I’m reluctant to invest my energy into the school Google Apps for Education platform. What does it mean if I were to transfer to a new teaching job? Would the school want my curriculum? Sure some things transfer well, but the links do not. So all of the linked documents, YouTube videos and forms? There is a convenience with the Apps for Ed platform, especially with the Google Classroom, but growing into such an environment has me feeling a bit uneasy.

 

So I’m at a crossroads. My LMS is going away and while I am already settling into our district Apps account, I’m trying out Classroom full throttle. It’s no LMS. In the meantime, I’m also exploring Google Course Builder, but it seems too new and unstable. But I have faith, even knowing it could go either way. Google has been a long-time friend of mine.

 

So when we look at the big picture and we see veteran teachers reluctant to latch onto new technology, we need to consider their journey before we pass judgement. We’ve seen too many trends to allow ourselves to spend too much time on the newest ones. Like my parents when I was a kid, I now need to choose carefully how I spend my time. Lately I am more reluctant to tinker as I have all these years. Call it shell-shock. Call it wisdom. In any case, I’m sure in time, I will find my new LMS home.

 

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Gamified: a Personalized Learning Path in Technology-enhanced Learning

Gamified3The buzz about gamification in education has been in my Twittersphere for some time. I’m only recently beginning to examine the importance as it relates to differentiated instruction. How can I provide learning opportunities at different levels and reward students for achievement?

When we ask kids what work is, they would respond “school” and if asked what is play, they would respond “games”. Everyone loves a game. Why not? A game gives challenges with a lighthearted dance of successes and failures. Games consist of positive reinforcements and negative ones too.  Kids truly need to get points for showing up. Don’t you think? Kids may not see the long-range goal, but can find motivation is shorter ones.

My computer technology courses have developed into a blended model of instruction whereby the content is presented online with tutorials and clear steps for completing tasks. These “webquests” as they were once called, allow the student to work steadily at his/her own pace. Over the years I’ve created more and more activities and sorted them into modules. Students are given start and end dates for completing the module assignments. The difficulty level of the activities are sorted from easy to hard. I’ve created so many activities that I’ve come to a point where we do not have time to complete them all. I also find some students take longer to complete the tasks than others.

A research project aimed at individualization in Technology Enhanced Learning analyzes personalized learning describing the way that learners work and solve the problems they are given while learning.  It is noted that the use of the word personalization is often confused with individualization and differentiation. Personalization is learner-centered where the learner is driving their learning and actively participates in the design of their learning, while differentiation and individualization are teacher-centered where the teacher customizes instruction based on the needs of the individual learner.

Gamification is personalized because it gives students an opportunity to choose their learning experiences. Students are empowered to seek engaging activities which will help them find success. The learner has a voice and choice which means that the learner can decide which activities are more engaging for them and shape the course in collaboration with the teacher (Zajac, 2014).

Differentiation of instruction should coexist with the personalized experience. Along with multiple projects and activities, there should be a number of instructional modalities. For example, the instruction can be in the form of text on the screen and video tutorial. The personalized product can be generated on paper, in a slideshow or made into a real-time video. With the aid of technology, the four learning styles (visual, aural, verbal and logical) are addressed by different forms of learning content while kinesthetic, social and solitary are reflected in adequate activities  (Zajac, 2014).

Gamification implications include individualization with project-based learning as well as collaboration. Group work in the gamified environment may include roles of leader, researcher, co-worker and player. The breakdown can allow for opportunity for the teacher to assign individual tasks to students based on strengths.

To make things confusing for myself, I kicked off an experimental unit of gamification last year with my unit on making games here called The Scratching Post — programming games in Scratch. (It is the first time I’ve attempted to build a quest using a Google document published as a webpage. Google needs to work on the formatting – I’m not fond of sharing documents “can view” as that looks horrible too). Enough of the visual critique. The most challenging component is the scoring. It is difficult to determine what success is. While students could elect their path for the final product, points are given based on the percent of elements used in their product. It is hard to determine what was acceptable for kids to skip and what is an essential skill I want them to gain. I attempted to implement levels. I didn’t think I made the most of those. Overall I think it was fun. The students enjoyed it, but I don’t think they paid any attention to the gamified elements. This may be because the content was making games, which is confusing. If it were built around learning about internet safety, there might have been more awareness of the gamification.

Gamification Vision

Platform –  I am happy with my current delivery method. I create content in modules and time release them using the Edline website.  I may explore third-party software as described above. Leaderboard may be displayed on the website or in the classroom using digital signage software. There is web-based software available for assisting with the creation of a gamified experience. These include Classcraft, 3DGameLab, Gradecraft, and TheVirtualLocker.

Goal – The unit of study is considered one module – Rules are outlined clearly with a tutorial on how to play the game.

Personalized–  Modules contain multiple small quests with product options that practice a skill. It can be as simple as providing tool choices to produce the same outcome (example: video, paper, slideshow). These detailed quests are delivered at once, however, suggested due dates assist with time management.

Individualized – Each project option comes with multiple modes of learning. The goal is to provide at least text and videos/video tutorials for each learning objective. The instruction is delivered in the multiple modes as well.

Playful – the content needs to be playful. Rather than stamp “game” on a packet of worksheets, the content needs to be challenging and engaging in a playful manner. A story line can be added.

Collaboration – Students are encouraged to collaborate and team up to complete tasks or modules. Team play is equally engaging in games. This can motivate non-engaged students.

Modding – Students may choose to modify their experiences as needed to reach their goals.

Scoring – Point values are experience points and they vary based on level of difficulty in each module. If a particular skill is challenging for a student, he/she can elect two easier tasks with lower point values versus one more difficult task valued at higher point value. Each project option contains a point value as well as the components within each project. Badges may be awarded for completion of key tasks. For example, students may earn a collaboration badge for choosing to work with others.

Final/Unit Grade: The goal is to complete each module attempting to accumulate points. Within each module, there is a threshold expectation of points which translate to the “A” – students can reach above that point value in search of the “High Score” for each module or each unit.

High Score (to be debated) is posted and rewarded with an achievement award at year end. Semester or trimester format classes each have High Score, but there exists a Grand High Score.

There are several teachers already running with the movement. There are plenty of examples to learn from. My journey begins now.

 

INDIVIDUAL LEARNING PATH IN GAMIFIED ENVIRONMENT
Challenges for Research into Open & Distance Learning: Doing Things Better – Doing Better Things Proceedings of the European Distance and E-Learning Network 2014 Research Workshop Oxford, 27-28 October, 2014
http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Blazenka_Divjak2/publication/269992399_Decision_Making_on_e-Assessment_Criteria/links/549d22dc0cf2b8037138e681.pdf#page=31
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The Writing on the Virtual Wall

jetsonsI clearly remember the day, it was 1995 and the UMASS OIT department handed me a disc which had kind of a beta version of Netscape. Before that time, text-only web was dominated by IRC chats and bulletin boards. My vision of the future seemed to have exploded. We are in the age of Star Trek and The Jetsons.

vhspic (1)Here we are 20 years later and we are talking about how The Blackboard Collaborative, VHS, is becoming more mainstream. In the OTM training through The VHS, many of us shared our excitement about teaching online. We all have taken courses online and now prepare for our next step of the journey.

It seems foolish to not explore this avenue for teaching. Not only does online teaching expand opportunities for students, it enhances our own f2f teaching practices. Educating students today is more than the f2f we grew up with. It incorporates more asynchronous tools and strategies to meet the learning demands of our kids who are constantly adapting to new technologies every day.

Why do I seek online teaching to be added to my repertoire? It’s for the obvious fact that the writing on the wall is clear. Like colleges that have previously embraced learning online, it is growing more and more in the public school system across the globe. Why else? To stay competitive as an educator when districts are asking teachers to teach in multiple areas or when school districts try to stay competitive by offering a variety of courses by utilizing online course collaboratives.

VHS on wallThe writing on the virtual wall is clear, and I am on board. The online teaching community is filled with energetic explorers. These early adopters are leading the way into the uncertain future. I am excited to be a part of such a wonderful community.

 

Cheating in the Online Classroom; Online learning and Plagiarism

Academic books-584999_1280honesty is really about personal integrity. I feel that if a person will be dishonest, they will be dishonest no matter the medium. In a f2f class or online, if a student is going to cheat, they will cheat. What is important is that the course has assignments that are integral part of learning. Content is important in keeping students engaged with their learning. In the article, Deterring Plagiarism, the author suggests that students need to know that the work they do will contributes to their learning (Procter). If the assignment is not engaging and does not generate a voice from the students, it may not be worth giving. By improving the quality of assignments, it will deter students from plagiarizing. That is not to mean that it’s the fault of the instructor when a student cheats. It means that when there is value in the assignments, when faced with the temptation to cheat, students will choose to perform their best.

Appropriate level of material

When designing an online course, it is important to think about the sequencing of course material. In computer science, the assignments build up as the semester advances, and the students will make connections and find success if the course is sequenced well. If the assignment is far advanced of current study, the student may seek a cheating solution due to fear of lowering a GPA. It will be clear if a student tries to use advanced methods and syntax if it was not covered in previous assignments. In a foreign language such as Spanish, the same is true for sequencing. It is easy to detect when a student tries to use an online translator. If it shows skills beyond the expected output, the instructor can begin to determine if the student is indeed cheating. For other disciplines, electronic tools are necessary for detecting plagiarism such as Turnitin.

The “Turn-it-inator”

I have never used Turnitin. I hope to soon. With programming languages, copying and pasting code is very possible as code needs to be in exact order to function. It would be foolish to say that if the program works, you must have copied the code from someone else; therefore there needs to be other ways to determine if a student is cheating. In programming, this can be dealt with by reading the comments written inside the code. If the comments are exact to another student’s comments, then there is a possibility that he/she has cheated. There still remains the possibility that the student can tweak the comments to his or her own words. This is where it can get really difficult. It wasn’t surprising to see that turnitin.com reports social- and content-sharing tools are highest in cheating. In computer science, I often see students copy and paste the programming problem into Yahoo Answers word-for-word but make it sound like they are tackling the program for personal reasons. Some simply say “This is for my class”. Answers are shared, then available for the next 100 people who search it. I think creating new problems each semester would help, but one would have to revamp the curriculum more than reasonably possible.

Proper citations

The effort needed to apply citations has always been a deterrent for using them. The student met with time pressures may choose the easy road and “forget” to apply a citation especially if the information, like author and date are not readily available. This expectation might also be relaxed in certain courses and if not addressed early on, could run rampant.

Sore Subject

girl-421458_1280Confronting students on plagiarism can be difficult. A teacher needs to tread lightly and ask the student what he/she thinks is going on. A conversation with the sponsoring school’s SC or the VHS adviser can be helpful. It is good not to be so much an enforcer by dedicating so much energy to trying to catch the offenders. But what should happen when we do determine that someone is plagiarizing? Should we give second chances?  I’m thinking this may be a testing ground for students to see what they can get away with.

Maybe being more strict would improve the quality of writing and citing other material. Or maybe we should enforce the idea that it is important to support your claims that you make in your own words and that if you do not support your claims with citations, you are not supporting your argument.

I also feel that many teachers do not follow through with proper citation teaching and enforcement. As a result, the atmosphere for copy-paste grows exponentially. Whenever I suggest to a student that he/she needs to cite their work, they easily become agitated and angry. It becomes a dark cloud filled with frustrations. Even after I explain the importance, have meaningful discussions around it, even the honors-level students criticize the fact that I’m enforcing it. I feel like if the enforcement and support had been consistent through earlier educational experiences, it wouldn’t be such an issue as I’m seeing in high school. Expectations need to be firm from the beginning.

It is important to note that private institutions often have a strict zero-tolerance policy. Students attending expensive schools feel tremendous pressure to do the right thing or risked being expelled from the HS the parents are paying for. I feel like in the public high schools, kids have an obligation to attend. Because school is a requirement, expelling seems out of the question. In this scenario, kids do not flinch at the idea that the worst that could happen to them is be given a warning.

Cheating in the Online Classroom

Venturing into the online teaching world, It will be difficult to detect academic dishonesty without f2f human contact. So to help, Procter suggests that teachers show interest in what students have to say. Ask real questions, use material from current class discussions, be creative with the assignments. In other words, be real. Integrity on the part of the teacher will aid in improving the integrity of the students. In recent research it was determined that there is no statistically significant difference in the level of plagiarism traditional and online institutions (Ison). While the today’s technology tools make it easier, the teacher is ultimately the one to make the difference.

Ison, David C. “Does the Online Environment Promote Plagiarism? A Comparative Study of Dissertations from Brick-and-Mortar versus Online Institutions.” ERAU Scholarly Commons. Department of Graduate Studies World Wide College of Aeronautics, MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Vol. 10, No. 2, June 2014 n.d. Web. 4 June 2015. http://commons.erau.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=ww-graduate-studies

“Deterring Plagiarism: Some Strategies.” Web. 04 June 2015

http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/faculty/deterring-plagiarism

“Turnitin : Results : Plagiarism Report.”Web. 04 June 2015. http://turnitin.com/assets/en_us/media/plagiarism_report.php

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Meeting All Students’ Needs Online

Online courses can accommodate multiple learning styles and disabilities.  Specifically the D2L learning system used by VHS collaborative has features with auditory playback and ALT text or the Null attribute. The VHS collaborative also advises that the use of sans serif font, and the use of colors to be kept at a minimum. It is also suggested that underlining be reserved only for hyperlinks and color or bold for emphasis. Additionally, it is best to avoid many animated images on a page. Like in f2f models, there also can be accommodations for the quantity of material expected. For the online discussion area, there can be a variation of summarizing discussions rather than formulating one’s own.

puzzle-210784_640 (1)There is no doubt that a student who has difficulty reading will certainly have trouble with an online course. However, some benefits could include the fact that students get extended time on task. For example, in a f2f classroom there might be 30 minutes to work on an activity, but online the student can take an hour of focused time with fewer distractions. Time being equally beneficial for gifted and talented students, they can achieve high order thinking skills and dig deeply into concepts, thus pushing themselves to learn more.

Below is a tabled-summary of an article put out by Richard Felder and Barbara Solomon for North Carolina State University. It describes the various learning styles and gives suggested strategies for being successful learner in those categories.

Active and Reflective Learners

 

Active Reflective
Tend to retain and understand information by doing something active think about it quietly first
“Let’s Try it out and see how it works” “Let’s think it through first”
Like group work Prefer working alone
Difficulty sitting through lectures Can sit through lectures

 

Sensing and Intuitive Learners

 

Sensing Intuitive
Like learning facts Prefer discovering possibilities and relationships
Like solving problems by well-established methodsDislike surprises Like innovation and dislike repetition
Patient with detailsgood at memorizing facts Better at new conceptsmore comfortable with abstractions and math formulations
More practical and careful Work faster and more innovative
Need real-world connection Don’t like a lot of memorization and routine calculations

 

 

Visual and Verbal Learners

 

Visual Verbal
Remember best with pictures, diagrams, flow charts, time lines, films More from written and spoken explanations

 

Sequential and Global Learners

 

Sequential Global
Gain understanding in linear steps Learn in large jumps absorbing material randomly without seeing connections but then suddenly “getting it”
Follow logical stepwise paths in finding solutions Able to solve complex problems quickly or put things together in novel ways once they have the big picture, but have difficulty explaining how they did it

 

How does your brain process information? Take this short quiz to see what learning style you are: Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire

 

This is me:

learning styles2

 

Looks like I’m an intuitive, visual, global learner. I do often find it easy to tinker with things. Really, that is how I came to learn what I know about digital media and computers. What helps my teaching is the ability to take the global concepts and package them for my students in what I hope is a similar, intuitive, way.

 

Technology, such as web 2.0 tools are interactive tools which empower the learner to creatively design his/her learning. Active learners need interaction with lessons – games, interactive learning objects, hands-on projects, etc. A student using technology has more interactive opportunities with creative tools and more time to process information before presenting to the wider audience. Online learning can help students in some cases, if the activities allow time for creative tinkering and reflective processing. A challenge is if the content is reading-based. My online teaching discipline this fall will be teaching programing. Currently the pre-created curriculum is heavily text-based. Also my course is very sequential. I admit it was very difficult for me to learn programming, a lot of patience and trying to see the bigger picture is what helped me prevail. I believe this will aid me in being an effective teacher of the course because I’ve been in the trenches with the blindfold. I know what a learner of this type will need to do to accomplish the tasks. It is similar to why I felt I was an effective Spanish teacher. Being non-native, I found tricks to help me visualize languages and help those who struggle with memorization of vocabulary. I plan to supplement my course material with video tutorials.

 

 

Felder, R, Soloman, B.  Learning Styles and Strategies

http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/ILSdir/styles.htm

 

Felder, R, Soloman, B. Learning Skills. James Cook University http://www-public.jcu.edu.au/learningskills/resources/lsonline/learning/index.htm

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Challenges of Facilitating Online Discussion

exchange-of-ideas-222789_640The most important function of an online facilitator is making comments on discussions. Discussions are not like a checkmark on a paper. Online teachers need to be thoughtful in responses. It is important to engage with students, but not every student all the time. Online educators need to provide them with opportunities to work things out together. The role of the online teacher is to guide the conversations gently by engaging with students and bringing in antidote, and should end posts with thought provoking questions. Another technique is to summarize many posts while choosing some elements of everyone’s posts. This little step celebrates good writing and lets the student know he/she has made impactful statements in his/her discussions.

Of the “roles” of a facilitator (pedagogical, social, managerial and technical) the social roll, I feel, is most important. The student needs to feel like the work is essential to the learning process. If there is a social expectation, then the student will be motivated to do the assignment more than just turning in a paper. The online teacher is not the conveyor of information or “guide on the side”. He/she is the guide to the information. Teachers should not try to be the “expert” as much as a co-learner, one that assimilates information in real time from the perspective of a student. There may be no right answer.

I imagine that at some point discussions could have problems. For example, perhaps at some point the discussion goes the wrong way. Students might try to take advantage and test out the teacher and make general comments based on the discussion but not incorporate the reading. If students miss the point, and try to get out of doing the readings, they might not get the full experience.

In the online article, “Tips for Overcoming Online Discussion Board Challenges”, Errol Sull offers some great tips to help me with my anxieties for working the discussions. These include:

Challenge Solution
conflict in the discussion be an active presence
personal attack or bullying active intervention, single out only positive comments, contact via PM or email
students who do not contribute to discussions pick some of their positive posts to include in summaries or news items, PM or email
plagiarizing other students’ work contact student PM or email, do not leave unnoticed
off track discussions constantly monitor discussions, acknowledge “students’ zeal and excitement” (Sull, 2012) but remind them they are to master the topic
students offering weak posts choose weak posts and show how they can be expanded

I’m excited to teach online next year. I feel like I am going to be reading all discussions, responding to everyone’s posts, and letting VHS consume my life because I really want to be impactful with my teaching. I’m sure that with time I will learn how to regulate that. As with everything we do, experience matters.

 

Tips for Overcoming Online Discussion Board Challenges, September 2012. Retrieved on May 20th, 2015 from  Facultyfocus.com:
http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/tips-for-overcoming-online-discussion-board-challenges/

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Are (Online) Teachers in the Classroom Even Necessary?

teacher-403004_640Mike Kalin describes the Khan Academy trend in an NPR radio commentary. He describes the transformation of teaching with the advent of these online teaching tools. He states that teachers are no longer the most important conveyors of content. While online learning may seem dry to someone who has never done it, online experiences can be more engaging than listening to a lecture for 45 minutes. In this electronic realm, teachers act as a curator or facilitator to nurture a classroom environment.

Real teachers are still needed to help students navigate the river of online information. More importantly, teachers try to exemplify the civic virtues we hope to instill. These are curiosity, empathy and integrity. When I think of teachers’ primary roles, I think of the connections I make with students every day.

Technology has not undermined teaching. We need to transform our teaching in order to transform the lives of our students. We can not ignore the potential benefits of online learning, nor can we forget the importance of a real person to keep the experience alive.

How do we educate our children for economic reasons and cultural reasons? In Changing Education Paradigms, Ken Robinson (RSA, 2008) gives an interesting look at the educational system as it has been and what it could potentially include. Some of the concepts described include that ADHD has risen in parallel with increase in standardized testing and the arts are the victim of this. The arts are an aesthetic experience. Anaesthetic, meaning shutting off your senses is what the prescription ADHD drugs are doing. Schools are organized by the industrialized world. It’s about conformity and standardization. Divergent thinking isn’t creativity but an essential capacity for creativity — being able to see multiple answers in multiple ways.

It Takes a Community…

People close to me know I’m not a fan of automated toll booths and self checkouts. I still pay cash on the MassPike, and I will wait in line at the supermarket rather than use the machines. I worry we will lose opportunities for human connections, as subtle as they are. A VHS course won’t automatically teach itself. Kids will always need human connection and role models. As we move toward more and more online learning in schools we need to remember that the human educator is still essential, a valued component to teaching and learning. We can not forget that humans require human connection. As the saying goes, “It takes a community to raise a child.” When we fear new ways of teaching, we need to remember that human connections are essential in raising a child.

Are Teachers in Brick-and-Mortar Schools Even Necessary? 90.0 wbur Boston’s NPR news station, Jan 2014

Robinson, Ken. RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms – 2008  https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=21&v=zDZFcDGpL4U

 

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I will Never Learn – Examining My Online Teaching Journey

freelancer-593325_1280

Being a blended teacher for over 15 years, I have been teaching my classes as if they were online classes, always being present as a facilitator to aid in learning. More and more I am able to provide independent studies or second versions of courses. Often these can be offered while another section is meeting or independently in another location. My journey as an online educator has been fueled by my service as a Site Coordinator through VHS Collaborative and having completed the certificate professional development program offered through VHS.

I am presently undergoing the Online Teaching Methodologies (OTM) for VHS, which is a capstone or “student teacher” experience for Online teaching though VHS. I have the opportunity to co-teach a specific content area. I have elected to co-teach Computer Science Honors. This will help me understand the specifics to teaching online.

 

In an article put out by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) in 2012, it indicated that 27 states have virtual schools. Our school belongs to the VHS Collaborative, a service whereby students take online elective courses in a variety of disciplines. This allows for students to select courses not offered at our regional high school. My students who go through the VHS experience are very grateful for the opportunity. The number of participants increases every year. Online learning is not going away. Training to teach online is the smartest thing I could have done professionally.

 

vhspicMany criticize online learning as a mode of disconnect, where teachers and students are like machines. In a survey conducted by VHS Collaborative, teachers were asked about their feelings about online learning. “What do you find most striking about the difference between teaching online and face-to-face?”

“…I actually feel like I get to know my students sooner than in traditional teaching.”

Often teachers in a traditional face-to-face classroom will do icebreaker assignments, but sometimes shy students may not speak up; and class time limits make the activity rushed. When students can post lengthy introductions, or when they respond to assignments in a thoughtful way, we begin to learn more about the personalities of our students. It is important to pay attention to our students.

There are some overlaps in characteristics between the virtual and face-to-face teacher and student. A virtual teacher or student needs to be motivated and thorough, I’m thinking almost OCD. A teacher needs to be thorough with responses to student’s discussions. If the students are going to get the most of their VHS class, they are going to need reinforcement from the adult in the room. Every kid needs an “attaboy”.

Here’s a quote from another teacher interview:

“Online teachers have no choice but to be prepared, organized, methodical, and meticulous in their online lesson planning. Similarly, they have no choice but to be accessible, empathetic, timely, and sincere in their online communications.”

These are qualities that start with the teacher. Becoming a teacher, I think this is what you sign up for. My biggest concern is if when I begin teaching online, will it consume my life so much as I begin to neglect other areas. There is no bell. I feel that with my OCD-like personality, I may over do it and get lost in the shuffle. Only time will tell.

Will I ever learn? I’ve taken over 15 online courses while completing my certification in Instructional Technology and online teaching. I’m a creative person who can’t sit still. I need to be constantly tinkering with things. I feel that helps me as a virtual student. I am a self-starter, independent and self-determined. I’m consistently trying to better myself. I am loyal to my priorities, although I’m often stretched thin. I volunteer for everything; I say no to almost no one. Lately, I’ve tried to reign it in. But here I am. Again I am seeking the opportunity to learn how to teach online course which I am certain will mean more work for me. I guess I will never learn.

Read more Fast Facts About Online Learning – NACOL 2012

http://www.inacol.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/iNACOL_fastfacts_October_2012.pdf

Quotes provided by VHS Collaborative

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Google Drive Scripts for Education: Add-Ons for a Healthy Classroom Workflow

Screen shot 2014-03-30 at 6.47.44 PMI’ve been waiting for the right tool to commit to for classroom management and assessment. I’ve tried several teaching tools and quiz apps online. Each time, I’ve reserved my commitment level thinking that soon the app may go away. I did not like to have many logins for me or my students. Wading through Quia, Quiz Star , Ning and Edmodo, I finally found one I could sink my teeth into. By far my favorite app isn’t an app, but rather a platform inclusive of many apps online filled with a vibrant community of teacher developers. Google Apps not only provides the one-stop, one-login solution for all my teaching needs, I discovered that hidden underground are scripts or now called Add-Ons which allow for a healthy workflow. The menu of Apps Scripts, which was recently rebranded as Google Add-Ons, can be found at the top-level menu of Google Docs.

I’ve always been a spreadsheet geek. I’ve always loved to generate content and assessment tools customized to my needs. While at first Excel wasn’t an online tool, over time I created downloadable rubrics and auto-grading quizzes. Within the past few years, Google Drive online has facilitated my spreadsheet use with the addition of forms.

Now I find scripting and an educational community behind it. Add-Ons such as Flubaroo,  Doctopus and Goobric are three great discoveries. With one login to Google, I can distribute, collect, autocorrect or grade with a rubric all student projects and have the information shared instantly back to my students.  I like the direction of Google Add-Ons.

 For more information, go to:

New Visions Cloud Lab

 

flubaroo

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A Computer/Foreign Language Teacher’s Quest for a Mobile Language Lab Solution

As a former Spanish language teacher, my experience of integrating technology into my Spanish teaching has not yet included mobile technologies. Six years ago, I left a computer language lab with rows of computers in cubicles. While I enjoyed having computers to open the world of cultures and digital discourse to my students, I had not looked back until now. The past few years I’ve been teaching students how to use computers for learning. I thought it was about time that I see how new technologies were now being used in foreign language classrooms.

I had the privilege of attending a workshop put on by the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA) where Renée Dacey and Daniela De Sousa of Burlington High School put together a fabulous presentation called iPads in the Foreign Language Classroom. Many already know that Burlington is a pioneer in the one-to-one initiative providing their students with iPads to use everyday. Over the past two years they have grappled with many of the benefits and pitfalls of mobile learning.

As I recollect the language lab of my past, and dream of what could be, this experience has prompted me to make comparisons to what a non-language lab could be. I aim to find out how much savings can come from not having to purchase a full-blown language lab, maintaining a goal that these mobile solutions compared to the old wooden cubicles would have to demonstrate that they can enhance students’ reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in the foreign language classroom.

My following analysis is based on common essentials of a foreign language lab.

Question and Answer, Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the-blanks and so on

Renée and Daniela highlighted one of my clear favorites, Google Apps. Creating forms is a great way to gather student work. In teaching a foreign language there is always a place for the “fill-in-the-blank” websheets. It is a staple in language learning, and a must for mastery of grammar and syntax. Google forms is quick and easy. Over the past few years, I’ve discovered several grading scripts to make the experience even better, such as Flubaroo which automates the websheet/quiz experience complete with grading.

There are numerous web-based quiz sites available, too. I’ve used Quia and Quizstar. Your online textbook may have plenty to choose from. Polling sites, like Poll Everywhere, are great tools for formative assessment.

Hands on Practice

7691519996_162e98b0ecTeachers across disciplines have heard of Showme and Educreations, but the Burlington duo introduced me to one I was not yet familiar with. Notability, it uses a very user-friendly interface to interact with PDF documents, images and more. Students can open a PDF document and begin annotation. They highlight key parts of speech, draw on images of works of art to illustrate significant aspects of history and culture. Renée and Daniela demonstrated writing in words and highlighting vocabulary to song lyrics while listening to the music play. Students play with realia using sphere or Arounder  or Sphere 360 to view museum tours. Students in their classes read and watch news in the target language on the BBC World app. There is no better way to learn than to have the information at your fingertips to interact with in a holistic way.

Photo by mikecogh

Interactive, multimedia exercises

Mobile devices, tablets, laptops, Chromebooks or even iPods and cell phones have interactive creative potential in a foreign language classroom. As the standalone computer has done in my language classroom, these mobile devices come with a plethora of tools for interaction and creativity. These tools can also be used for teacher-created interactive exercises.

My favorite multimedia project for years was having my students create animations using PowerPoint. Students created very unorthodox slides with animated characters, callout bubbles and voice-over recordings. Finally with the 2010 version, those projects can now be converted into video ready for YouTube.

Needs to be intuitive and easy to use

mzm.fmhxwkdi.175x175-75The iPad has many neat tools similar for creating with multimedia. Some include Puppet Pals, Story Kit, Movenote, Video Editor Free, and many other comic-strip creators perfect for illustrating language usage. Students can listen and record their own voices using many already familiar apps. There are hundreds on any tablet platform and many more on the web that can do whatever creative project a student drives him/herself to do. Plus, many students come already having used said devices.

Recording exercises

One of the main purposes for purchasing a language lab is having the ability to do open recording, simultaneous recording, active-comparative recording, live speaking and listening exercises. Apps like Garageband, SoundCloud, Evernote, Google Hangouts, YouTube has a record feature now. Audio recordings are better with video as the instructor can see how comfortable the student is with the language. This helps the teacher know if he/she is reading from a script or if any editing had been one.

screen568x568Apps like Showme make recorded speaking and illustration more powerful . Imagine walking through a family photo album introducing and describing each person. Draw over a photo of a bedroom describing contents in the room. Soundboards can be created a number of ways to deliver soundbytes instantly to student for aural exercise.

Movenote allows the student or teacher to show video of him/herself while illustrating a concept, place, or story.

Motivation

There is no question that a shiny new device raises motivation, however, as Renée and Daniela cited, at their one-to-one environment, kids can be overwhelmed by excitement one day, and then over-apped another. They quoted students as saying “death by ShowMe” (or any app inserted). Too much of one thing can be just as bad. The important takeaway is that even a cubicle language lab will likely also be highly motivational at first.

Relia is important in language learning. Using online radio, Skype calling or a number of messaging or chat tools, will engage the student to become a global citizen.

Portable, Internet-based

My years of having my classes scheduled in the language lab by default has actually had a negative effect on my teaching. When other teachers turned down their days of using the lab so I could in turn use a standard classroom has led to claustrophobic experiences. Many times I longed for the open classroom floor where students sit in a circle and we just talk, drill and practice while throwing a ball around the room. Face-to-face interaction was indeed compromised. A portable solution enables the teacher to “turn it off” and it doesn’t seal up an entire classroom.

Oh, and cost-effective, too (cheap)

Researching for a potential language lab in my new role at my new school, I am discovering pitfalls I had experienced with my old lab. Many teachers of other disciplines managed to use the lab. Many classes, foreign language and non foreign language, pulled and tugged on the headsets, toyed with the hardware and eventually rendered much of it nonfunctional over time. The need for training, pricey repairs, software upgrades, incompatibilities with networks and other software made the overall lab experience unfavorable.

3017586278_2d3562dbf6The costs involved with a full-fledged language lab are enormous, not to mention the maintanance fees. The proprietary systems make it impossible for standard IT to handle the repairs. You need to purchase computers as part of the process. There is some value in isolating sound with cubicles.

Photo by E. Castro

Mobile devices are cheaper by the day. In fact, the iPad2 is currently a fantastic buy for anything mobile. Look out for the less expensiveandroid or Microsoft devices. There are many web creations and interactions, why not Chromebooks? Starting a BYOD? There, you have little or no costs. Sure you may want to purchase some apps, but most are free.

The difference for me is that a real-world tool can be learned through the experience of using a mobile device. As a computer teacher, I find value in real world tools and find little patience for proprietary educational tools.

Renée Dacey & Daniela De Sousa are language teachers at Burlington High School in Massachusetts. Burlington has been awarded an Apple Distinguished School award for their one-to-one initiative.

I have taught 11 years a s a Spanish teacher — 10 of those while using a computer- and hardware-based language lab. I am currently teaching my 6th year at Frontier Regional School as a technology teacher and integration specialist.

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