Edu690 Week 5 Post: It’s better being connected

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Prior to this class, I guess I really didn’t have a PLN. Aside from the small learning communities in my school, I did not have a recognizable group of professionals with whom I could dream and innovate. The potential was already there, having been a presenter at some national conferences and making connections with people from blogging and being “Linked-In,” but nothing was purposeful, and it certainly didn’t have a fancy name like “Personal Learning Network.” Does it even need a name, or is it just networking of yore?

Regardless of terms, I dig it. I just started tweeting and blogging more, after having started a few years ago, and with persistence have seen an increase in my productivity and generating of ideas. I recognize my need for other people and their insight, and this is huge. I felt like I needed to do it all before: be different, do different, create different (but in a vacuum)…and it was a lesson in reinventing the wheel. Colleagues from around the world are interconnected and share in the spirit of a better education for all, so why I wasn’t locked in before is beyond me. And it isn’t quite like networking; it’s more. While it’s great and all to “know” people on LinkedIn, I’m not benefitting from their output, and they mine. Places like Twitter and Google Communities provide a steady stream of ideas and resources that I can use right now…and that’s just what I need. I can read a tweet, quickly assess if opening a link would benefit me, and either spend the time or not.

While I think some people tweet nonsense sometimes, or tweet just for the sake of tweeting, it’s just like anything else. Weeding through the mass of information is like browsing through clothing at a Thrift Store…sometimes you happen upon a two dollar Gucci blouse in perfect condition, and you immediately know how it will fit into your already existing wardrobe. Score!!

I tend to follow people on Twitter as they are recommended to me. Now that Twitter knows the kinds of people I connect with, it makes some excellent recommendations, and I’m enjoying building my PLN or whatever you want to call it. While at iNACOL, I truly saw the benefit of tweeting, and I managed to win a much wanted rubric book through Quality Matters. Not only did I gain a physical prize, but I made a couple of nice connections with people who review and analyze online courses for quality assurance. Where before, schools did not have much governance over quality of teacher-created online courses, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that oversight and evaluation will become paramount, like now. I’d like to have the upper hand on this one, thanks.

So most definitely, yes, I’ve become a believer of the benefits of building and maintaining a PLN. I recognize that it should be a two-way street, and so I will share my own ideas and creations with the larger community. Who knows? Maybe Jenn Burke and I will get that book deal we’ve been talking about for years by being more connected. #tweetingandwinning

Edu690 Week 4 Post: Excuse me while I take a sample of your brain tissue.

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Audrey brings up a number of excellent questions at the conclusion of her post, some of which I hadn’t considered before. I have been so saturated in media and technology myself, that I haven’t seriously considered any implications of bathing in it. I can’t say that I am petrified or even frightened of being part of the data, but I do feel a righteous need to protect my students, since they don’t seem to have any control over what is collected on them and what is done with the data. It actually ticks me off a little bit, to be honest. I’m a grown adult and am able to take full responsibility for my own actions and for what I “put out there”; however, my kids are just kids, and everyone deserves the right to privacy.

I think I take for granted that the platforms we use like Blackboard Collaborate, Desire2Learn, i-Ready, Google apps, Edmodo, CDT, etc. are safe and private. I suppose I have been naïve with this thinking. After all, I can drill into any one of my students’ Blackboard profiles to see how and when they use any particular function of my course. If I can do that from a teacher standpoint, I wonder what the administrator side or corporate is able to pull. In D2L, I can see at what time and for how long a student worked on a particular question in a quiz. I-Ready gives me a red flag if a student spends less than a few seconds on any question, alerting me to the fact that it may be an invalid test. When a class of mine responds to questions on a Google form, I can analyze the data by clicking on a button and instantaneously organizing the results which are all time stamped. I don’t know, I guess I have enjoyed the fact that I can access more information on my online students that I really ever could on my brick-and-mortar school students. Having inside looks into their use of technology and digital footprints, I think I really have been able to be a more effective teacher, at least from my perspective. But I am a trusted collector of their data, and I only have their best intentions in mind with my use of it. Where the data goes beyond me and my school is what makes me a little nervous, and Ms. Watters did a wonderful job at increasing my distrust. I will add this to the list of things in education that make me lose sleep.

Even writing this blog post, I am hyperaware that anyone can read it. Now I am worried that one of my students could potentially Google my name and search to find this particular blog. I have to think about what I am writing and about my audience (anyone!). I most definitely would not want to offend anyone who I care about, student and parent alike, nor would I want to turn families away from online education because of privacy issues. On the flipside, I also know that this post will never go away, even if I delete it. One only needs to go and use the Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/web/) to see what it looked like on any given day. Everything is recoverable. It is a really murky ocean that we are swimming in, and I have more questions than answers at this point.

EDCE 690 Week 3 Post: Sure, We’re Social!

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 Social Media by GDJ

The topic of socialization within a fully online school is a popular one, and it is one that critics will point to as the downfall of cyber schools. My voice has always been pretty loud negating this, but I have to say that I learned some new things from reading this week’s articles, especially the Odyssey of the Mind piece. Since I teach middle and high school, I hadn’t really considered the idea of socialization as an important development skill of younger learners. Maintaining safety and control of content is critical for young students, and so there are heavy considerations for using social media to promote socialization among them. I personally would not use Facebook or Twitter with any class, nor do I promote student use of such platforms. We have a fairly conservative group of parents who honestly do consider their children homeschooled despite being enrolled in a Pennsylvania public school. We really are in a unique situation, and we have to consider the comfort levels and sensibilities of all stakeholders.

Thankfully, socialization is inherently part of our model, especially with the use of daily synchronous classes. Since I see and hear my students each day, and they see and hear one another, the isolation that may exist within a fully asynchronous model isn’t felt. I am not seeing them live once a week or twice a week, but rather every day, and this lends to an expected continuum that we all rely upon. Student absences are noted and felt, and there is most certainly a class community vibe. Since we have a small and contained cohort this year, the students are creating their own social situations and are sharing links to personal blog spaces, wikis, Minecraft servers, and more. These are ninth graders, and so I wonder how our elementary and intermediate school teachers are promoting socialization within their classrooms. For us, it seems rather organic. We have provided them with online systems such as Edmodo, FlipGrid, and all of the features of Blackboard Collaborate to interact. We provide a number of open office hours for students to join voluntarily and have additional sessions which are geared more towards socialization and fun academics. These are all in addition to their required daily synchronous sessions for each academic subject. Our attendance levels are very high, and students seem to want to be together as much as possible.

In fact, most of our classroom management revolves around quieting students down and keeping control of their vibrant social interactions during class in Blackboard Collaborate. We often have to remove chat privileges due to side conversations, and we kindly interrupt long-winded students sharing personal experiences on the WebCam in order to get down to business. Class would be an hour and a half of show and tell on the WebCam if we allowed it! Their willingness to share their lives and their interest in their classmates’ lives is really quite wonderful, but not when you have critical content to guide them through.

I, personally, marvel at the students’ interactions, often getting caught up in their excitement over what they did last night and what their newest Minecraft creation looks like. I have never felt more connected to any group of students than I do this year, and that interconnectedness is what makes us all want to do our best and bring our best selves to the table, even if it is a virtual one.

EDCE 690 Week 2 Post: Generate, Produce, Create!!

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Are you currently fostering a participatory culture?  Tell us how you work with your students to create.

As a creative individual myself, having my students create is a natural extension of who I am. An end product, an artifact, is something the students can look back on as proof that they created something that will last. There is a multitude of ways for students to create and share in a participative culture within an online classroom.

The first thing that comes to mind is that each time we complete a live session, a recording is generated that can be accessed and reviewed at any given time in the future. That is a creation of our own collective doing, and I always remind students of this by saying a little hello right at the start of the recording to the folks who may be watching after-the-fact. The kids also say hello to their future selves on the video. It’s adorable. Fighting to use the microphone, each one seems to want to take part in producing one really effective hour and a half long recorded class each day. Based on statistics tracking enabled in Blackboard of views the recordings receive after the live session, I can tell exactly who is going back and re-watching the recording, and I imagine a student saying, “Hey mom, let’s look at the recording from Ms. Sample’s class today. Wait until you see what I said and how she responded!”

I firmly believe in giving students choice, especially when it comes to assessments. For them to be able to show me what they know, I like to employ a variety of methods, even working with students to come up with their own ideas. Last year, I decided to throw out my old Romeo and Juliet test and come up with something completely different. I left it fairly open-ended and gave criteria for content and a rubric that lended itself to all different types of products. I was absolutely blown away by the level of creativity and the time commitment kids put into completing this 150 point assignment. Professional looking student produced videos, a full piano composition and original lyrics performed on video, an interpretive dance set to an original violin score, elaborate scenes built in Minecraft so intricate it was unbelievable, a recorded debate that included one’s whole family, rewritten scenes using modern-day language, original poetry scrolling on a video and set to music, original artwork that deserve to be framed, and many more…and all required a one-page single spaced typed explanation and rationale for the project chosen. It was the most successful creative assignment to date, and all I had to do was give them the freedom to explore.

It was so successful that I offered an additional 50 points for students who wanted to present their products in a live session with a large audience in Collaborate. They had to explain, using text-based evidence, what led them to choose their method of knowledge delivery. One student got on the camera on performance day and said that he was inspired by the suicides to help prevent anyone else in the play from making that decision. He said that he feared for the lives of the remaining family members who may kill themselves out of grief. So he made a PSA for suicide prevention, using the events of the play as content. Another student was inspired by the seeming fickleness of teenage love and created her own ballet to demonstrate it. She set up her camera and performed a full, spot-on ballet routine live for the audience. You could virtually see Romeo’s lack of maturity as he pined for and got over Rosaline and moved right on to Juliet. So many students wanted to perform that we had to take two days to complete them.

Point is, students want to create; they need to create. It is part of who they are. Instead of educating their passions right out of them, we have to start un-educating them and letting their talents and abilities take center stage. How is this done? I think it starts with educators dropping old ways, starting to take risks, and releasing some of that control we think we so desperately need. Designing authentic assessments that contain a high level of choice and variety, and being a model of creativity for students is a great place to start.

EDCE 690 Week 1 Post

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The most important reason to understand online teaching and learning is….  

…because the educational landscape is changing. At some point in the near future, every single learner is going to be required to learn online, so all stakeholders need to be prepared. Educators of the old school and new need to be well-versed in how to create effective online learning environments, and students need to know HOW to learn online. We have to be able to model how it is done for them, providing them with authentic learning opportunities and assessments, guiding them through the vast mountains of information available at their fingertips.

…because our PA government can’t pass a budget. There may come a time, also in the near future, when online education will be looked at as the savior of budgetary deficiencies, since it is often a cheaper way to educate kids. No need to hire an art teacher now! This online class guides kids through drawing still life and creating origami! No reason to spend money on books. There are open source materials for the low, low cost of free! With some schools on the brink of collapse due to lack of funding, I really do thing that eyes will be turned to online education to defray the cost. We must be prepared.

…because it matters to us, well, some of us at least. As a fully online K-12 educator, it’s my JOB to understand the ins and outs of online teaching and learning. My school is in competition with other cyber charters, and now we are in competition with blended models coming out of school districts, so if I want to remain employed at the school I love, I not only need to know how to do XYZ, but I have to be the best at XYZ.

…because it’s just cool, man. There is something for everyone in online education, and the opportunities for learning are so vast, one couldn’t experience them all in several lifetimes. If a person has access to a laptop and is shown how to extract the best and most valid resources/sources, there simply is no excuse that learning cannot or will not occur. Everyone can become an expert on anything, and it really is kind of amazing.

Week 3 Article Reflection: The New (old) Science of Learning

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I just discovered that I AM one of my teenage students. It has been so long since I’ve been in a typical student role, that having assignments and readings within the VOLT program places me squarely in their shoes. What level of motivation will I need to complete this week’s tasks? What is my previous knowledge coming into the readings and what will I be able to relate them to? What is my assessment of the learning this week and how will I (will I even) retain any of it beyond this week? This week’s readings, I think, kind of touch on the answers to those questions, and I am once again thankful that my learning is relevant and my time well spent.

The R. Keith Sawyer piece discusses learning sciences, and I found that I was able to really delve into this particular article. Opting for deeper conceptual understanding and reflection over instructionism, the old guard, means that education will become more meaningful and will carry us into the future better equipped to handle whatever is ahead.  While I respect researchers’ need to put the word science with many things, I believe “learning sciences” can be substituted with “the Art of Learning.” My limited logical brain knows it is important to theorize, experiment, clarify, quantify, qualify, measure, conclude and summarize; however, that which governs me, my creative side, narrowly sees teaching as an art. Observation has been my greatest instrument toward knowing how to design my instruction. Followed closely by reflection and revision, I have been able to spend my career so far trying various strategies, observing students’ reactions and successes or failures, and tweaking various bits to get more desired outcomes. I think of sitting to draw a picture, conceptualizing what I want it to look like, making some strokes, and erasing or redoing sections to make the figure match or at least resemble the image in my head. Sometimes, the sketch page ends up looking like a bloody mess. I guess sometimes my classroom has looked similarly. Thank goodness for resilient kids (and large erasers called summer)!

So, the new science of learning to me is not new at all. Walking into the classroom just like logging into an online class shouldn’t take a student out of the real world into a completely new learning environment. The learning environment should mirror what that student is already familiar with to some degree. Or maybe, the learning environment should mimic what the real world is actually like. The idea of situativity really spoke to me, as I think students are missing authentic situations in which they can apply their knowledge. But even prior to that, we need to consider how students learn. Before we can give them real world situations, we have to teach them, or rather provide them with opportunities to learn in authentic and meaningful ways. This year, I am proud to say that I have taught less than I ever have. This is truly a victory for me. I have been making a conscious effort to imagine what skills students are going to need in their real lives and replicating that in their learning activities. It is easy for an online student to forget that he or she is in a community of other learners. An online student can become an island unto themselves if not guided in the right direction. Knowing this, my partner Jenn and I push them beyond their comfort zones, requiring them to collaborate, reflect, discuss, rethink, etc. They are taking responsibility for their own learning and actually for the learning of their peers! They would not be doing this if Jenn and I taught our subjects in isolation a la instructionism. Bleck.

Vygotsky was onto something when he talked about articulation and learning. I think it is the best way to make learning stick. Hand-in-hand with learning in relevant and practical ways is what to do with the knowledge once it is obtained. For many students, they learn just as much as they need to in order to do well on a test, and then it escapes their brains after 3pm on test day. New to me this year is this exact fear. I don’t want my students to forget anything. This is why discussion and reflection has been such an integral part of our class. What is so cool is that students are using the tech tools we’ve shown them and tools of their own selection to engage in this articulation and reflection. They have started to make unbelievable connections between what we are learning in class, what the learning is in their other classes, and what they experience in their lives outside of class. Sawyer discusses technology as a part of learning sciences research that support deep learning. In my inbox right now are videos, glogs, pamphlets made in Word, and original illustrations students have created in order to showcase their knowledge about Japan’s history. They use a wide array of tools to articulate and reflect on their own learning. Tomorrow, in class, students will present their learning and will engage in peer review that supplants my own assessment of them. At some point, I don’t want my assessment of them to carry as much weight as their own assessment of themselves. This will be another victory.

As for how science and data collection play into this new “learning science,” I welcome any researcher to do one of those yearlong studies of Jenn Burke’s and my class. We do an awful lot of our own data collection and have already come to some valuable conclusions about teaching and learning through 3 years of grant projects, but we often come to conclusions similar to Ertmer and Newby when they state: “Is there a single “best” approach and is one approach more efficient than the others? Given that learning is a complex, drawn out process that seems to be strongly influenced by one’s prior knowledge, perhaps the best answer to these questions is “it depends.” It truly does. It depends on a lot…but I am comforted knowing that our present methods and strategies are being supported by more and more research and that we’re on the right track as verified by our kiddos who are truly learning, articulating, reflecting, and connecting.