Sep 16 2010

The Benefits of ePortfolios

Published by under Etec 511

As I prepare for my exchange in AU this winter, I’ve been looking over the course content and requirements of an applied learning program called Business Office Administration.  The course is mostly loaded on Moodle at this point (a school requirement) and I am trying to build some interactivity into it.  I started yesterday with a simple quiz.

One of the assessment requirements is what I would define as a portfolio – a folder with examples of completed assignments.  I’ve asked if this portfolio could be in electronic format.  For now, I was told to bring this up at the committee meeting in Feb.  So armed with this document http://www.danwilton.com/eportfolios/benefits.php, I will be glad to expound on the benefits of ePortfolios.  I have no idea what to expect in terms of different teaching methods in another country.  However, I am lead to believe that this college will be open to adding more electronic content into their courses.  So I’ll give it a try.  I can certainly use some of my many blogs as prime examples to further my case.

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Mar 07 2010

Adding opportunities for communication

Published by under Uncategorized

This week’s reading and assignment has taken us into considerations of how to build communication opportunities into our online Moodle course.  Anderson states that once the teacher has established the content and direction of the course, the second step of  “teaching involves devising and implementing activities to encourage discourse between and among students, between the teacher and the student, and between individual students, groups of students, and content resources”. (Anderson, p. 345)  It is here that we begin the task of designing communication opportunities, both synchronous and asynchronous, to facilitate this interaction between students and their community of learning, as well as between teacher and students.  This is an important distinction between an online course and a tutorial, where little interaction, and more importantly, little feedback is possible.  The online course allows assessment and feedback such that the course can evolve to suit the needs of individual students (Anderson, p. 346).  The students therefore begin to take ownership for their learning.  This is truly self-directed learning.

As a starting point to designing my course, I thought I’d revisit previous courses I wrote on Blackboard about 8 yrs ago as well courses I wrote for the Min of Education more recently.  As I read Anderson, I felt I had overlooked many opportunities to add assessment into my course designs.  This seemed like a good time to re-invent or at least improve on the wheel.  I asked one of my students to show me an online course she just started last week to see if any new features had been added to the design.  Our board uses Blackboard to host the content of courses written by teachers for the Ministry of  Education.  I recognized the format I had used in courses I wrote.

The student took me through the course as we searched for opportunities for discussion and feedback.  Sadly, no opportunities were provided other than an email link to all students and the teacher.  I asked if she would be able to see her grades and she answered that she could call the teacher or email her for any mark she wanted to see.  It was clear to me that the student had not realized the power of assessment for learning, rather than of learning.  Lastly, I asked how she was introduced to the course.  She stated that she had a short f2f meeting with the online teacher to show her the course environment and answer any initial questions.

From this knowledge, I tried to improve the format I used in previous designs.  The course I chose for Moodle is grade 11 Marketing.  I am teaching this class this semester.  In the past, students have been difficult to engage in this class simply because it’s been a mix of keen Business students with some who see it as a filler course.  Unfortunately, optional courses don’t always attract the most academic students.  My challenge has been to create meaningful activities and allow for discussion in a group that doesn’t listen well or structure their ideas very well.  Giving everyone an opportunity to join the discussion is an important aspect to building communications opportunities.  The other design consideration is offering short answer assignments mixed with group projects to balance the demands made on students who are not terribly literate in the traditional sense.  Discussion questions are well suited to thoughtful consideration and opinion giving in a safe environment.  Anderson refers to research from Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) in his model for online learning, of which one of the components, social learning, requires ” establishing a supportive environment such that students feel the necessary degree of comfort and safety to express their ideas in a collaborative context…” (Anderson, p. 344)

The elements I have built into my course are as follows:

Asynchronous discussion:

  • Icebreaker – student get to introduce themselves by researching their name and creating their own slogan to reveal themselves to the class.  I have posted the first entry as an example and in an effort to show a more approachable side.
  • Discussion – an introductory discussion on a current topic, the Vancouver Olympics, allows students to experience discussion boards and state their hypothesis on how things are done in the advertising business.  This brings in previous knowledge, another element in establishing a safe environment.  The opportunity for peer to peer communication is an added feature to all discussion groups.
  • Regularly Scheduled Discussion – each week, students are to view an episode of Dragon’s Den and answer the posted questions.  This allows students to plan their learning time and get used to answering short answer questions using terminology they have covered in the chapter.
  • Group Discussion – an assignment on Product Life Cycle asks students to answer questions related to the chapter and comment on at least 2 other assignments created by other discussion group members.  The groups are set up to reflect varied abilities.  It would be difficult to set up groups until at least 2-3 weeks into the course if you plan to group students according to ability rather than randomly.
  • Ask the teacher – the important panic button for all students.  It also serves the  function of allowing student to find answers to problems between themselves while waiting for the teacher to respond.  Students are encouraged to check her for answers in this section before they contact the teacher.  It is my hope to build a FAQ section in future iterations of the course.

Synchronous Communication:

Finally, an opportunity is given for a chat session in the form of a Q & A session with a guest speaker.  This is scheduled a little further on in the course as part of the career exploration expectations in the curriculum.  The teacher will lead the discussion, followed by an open question period from the students.  It would be a good idea to have each student prepare a question before the actual chat session to improve the amount and quality of the questions.

You can find my Moodle course at http://moodle.met.ubc.ca/course/view.php?id=118.

References:

Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an Online Learning Context.  In: Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University. Accessed online 3 March 2009 http://www.aupress.ca/books/120146/ebook/14_Anderson_2008_Anderson-DeliveryQualitySupport.pdf

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Feb 06 2010

Catching my breath

Published by under Uncategorized

I wrote a comment on Clare Roche’s blog this morning.  It’s more self-reflective than a reply.

Hi Clare. I am reading other blogs this morning, trying to get my ideas together for the proposal assignment we have due this Sunday.

I know what you mean about wishing you could spend more time experimenting but work is always waiting to be completed in the meantime.

I suppose we will have a little reprieve during the 2 week reading break. It’s funny but I have found that the 4th week of classes in MET have been the most difficult to get through. I get disoriented and start to search all over Vista because I feel like I’ve forgotten something. Once this big assignment is out of the way, I think I will find a flow and be able to enjoy myself more. Reading discussion posts is also my favourite way to learn in this environment. As adult learners, we need a place to discuss and get feedback, a place where we can bring our own experiences into the discussion and try them on within the framework of the new information we are trying to understand.

It’s been a difficult week as I started a new semester on Monday and hoped my new classes would be so much smoother. Unfortunately, I am left scratching my head, trying to figure out how to improve the class dynamic by using technology for differentiated learning. In other words, I am trying to engage the students so I spend less time disciplining and more time enjoying teaching and watching them learn.

I am preparing to leave Ottawa this coming Wed for a short trip to Key West, Florida.  I am eloping!  Unfortunately, I don’t have much time away with my new husband.  But I want to provide some interesting activities for my students while I am gone.  So not only am I trying to work on this proposal, read and respond to discussion posts, but now I am trying to see how to use all that I have learned so far to engage some very disinterested students.  I know some of them are in their last semester of high school and have little interest in being in class.  Some have formed negative opinions about using technology based on past experiences.  Some have found a way to avoid technology all together in the school setting and they are feeling cornered as they will have to use the class wiki to get their notes, respond to discussion questions and create work using all types of text and visual technologies.  And of course, there are the students who are thrilled to be in my class because they figure they won’t have to work and will basically be able to watch Youtube and play video games for the next 15 weeks!  And finally, the last small group, the ones who are taking this course because they genuinely want to learn more about Marketing and Business and they know the course content will allow them to reach their own academic goals.  This is the challenge, melding all these diverse groups together and taking them to the culmination with, hopefully, more than a moderate amount of success.

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Jan 15 2010

Response to Sections

Published by under Uncategorized

I’d like to discuss two items in this article that are particularly pertinent to my classroom situation. For some background information you might read the post (actually a rant) on my blog http://blogs.ubc.ca/cteachr565b/2010/01/13/section-2-readings/

The first item under Student is Access. At one time I was the site admin for my school. One to the main goals we had was to ensure equity in terms of access to the equipment. Historically, the Computer and Business courses were taught in a lab. That left little availability for other classes such as English, History or even Science. The Enrichement students had a special program that allowed them full access to the lab for 1 or 2 periods per day but they were a small, select few. I don’t even want to mention how under-served the 7/8 classes were.

A lot of money is spent developing curriculum and activities and updating textbooks to reflect the use of technology, yet little consideration is given to the limited access afforded to the majority of students. By now most students in our community have personal computers and unlimited (often unsupervised) internet access. However, that does not help the teacher who is teaching all classes in a portable and can only access the computer lab by booking it weeks in advance. This lack of accessibility severely limits and certainly greatly affects the chosen method of curriculum delivery, evaluation and assessment.

The second item is ease of use and reliability. Referring back to my blog post, it is frustrating to students to be working with older, slower technology. Their frustration is so great that they tend to destroy equipment, call out inappropriate comments to the tech guy (who’s office is adjacent to my classroom) or do everything with the computer except the assigned task.

The problem does not lie uniquely with the equipment. The software is frequently the problem. Our board does not provide MSOffice products. We are using WordPerfect (it’s free) and OpenOffice for our Business applications. A software that won’t load, freezes or shuts you down in the middle of an assignment is never appreciated.

The decisions as to what software is being used are made at the board level, so the teacher has little input. A further frustration lies with the network constraints that keep innocent software such as dumpr.net locked because it is interpreted as a game.

And finally, there is the issue of the slow connection that makes certain uploads impossible (like Toondoo) or watching video streaming a painful experience.

It seems to me that the teachers need a bigger say in what technology is chosen for the board. I understand that we are in a great period of upheaval with web 2.0 tools being the light at the end of the tunnel.

In the meantime, I can only hope that many of the tools I will explore in this course will be compatible with my environment. Although they show great promise, any technology that doesn’t have the basic qualities of being accessible and reliable is better qualified as an experiment than an aid to learning.

I know some of you have a lot of experience getting teachers to integrate technology in the curriculum. I’d like to hear your views on access and reliability?

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Jan 13 2010

Section 2 readings

Published by under Uncategorized

I’ve just finished reading the seven principles of good practice as assigned in this section.  I haven’t got to the Bates and Poole reading yet.  Maybe it’s just that my day started of with finding my car had been vandalized or maybe it’s just that we are at the end of the semester and the rush is on to get as many students to catch up and get the credit, maybe it’s finding students continually disregard school property as they destroy school computers, bit by bit (because they are old and slow and kids today have little respect for what they don’t own or what is not the latest technology) but… I am not very excited about what I am reading so far.

On a day like this, it all seems irrelevant that I make every effort to ensure that students try new ways to express their work, that differentiated learning and experiential learning are the norm in my class, that feedback comes from me not just in the form of a mark on a test but also in questions on discussion boards and comments about their answers.  Never mind that I use the computer to show the latest episode of Dragon’s Den so the class can discuss relevant examples or that I use episodes of The Apprentice to model good (and bad) group dynamics.  And I won’t even mention the many, many little chats I have, outside the classroom (sometimes via email) with students about what they are trying to accomplish (either with their good or bad behaviour) and what I am trying to teach them in my own style (respecting curriculum expectations, of course).

On a day like today, when I find myself hurriedly printing off copied notes for them to memorize so they can pass the final (because they didn’t settle down enough to let me teach all the material or the blasted flu caused so many absences), I shake my head and think:  “Who cares about technology?  They don’t see it as educational, they see it as a way to pass the time until the bell rings and they can get out of there (with the credit, I might add).  Gaddddddd!!!!!!!

What I am trying to say is that I think I am missing something here.  I feel like I am reaching my students less and less every year.  Are the students changing?  Am I getting too old?  Is the technology in our school outgrown?  We all know that a child’s mind is like a sponge.  I am delivering the content using as many approaches as I know how, adapting as quickly as I can.  Yet I feel as if I don’t know the magic password for them to open their minds to this information.  Is it that their minds are too cluttered with the many stimuli they are receiving at any given moment? (Not to mention the effects of teenage hormones.)

Where and what is the key then?  I guess I’d better continue my reading.

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