Archive for March, 2010

Mar 27 2010

public spaces in the classroom

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I started using blogs and wikis in my classroom only last year.  Downes (2004) suggests that blog might be used as a class repository of comments, resources, links and even a calendar to follow assignments.  I never thought of blogs as such a tool.  They seem more suited to creativity and research, and possibly, given the right students, creating a community of learning.  Unlike the example of St. Joseph school in Downes’ article, I only use individual blogs and for only one part of my course.  I have used a wiki for a class project as well.

Throughout this unit, and following the assigned readings, I started to think about how self-publishing and public spaces are changing my classroom environment.  The emphasis has been placed on knowledge and understanding for many years and I always found it difficult to use the textbooks in a lively fashion.  It seems to me that the material in school texts becomes outdated too quickly and simply follows the line of thought that the author wants to explore.  Larry in etec565 said something about good books being the only place where good information was found.  In order to keep students questioning and making links, I think we need to look at other sources of knowledge.  And here is where the transition to a different way of learning/teaching starts – we have gone from knowledge and understanding to inquiry and application.

This semester, in particular, I’ve found myself getting completely away from having students read texts, news articles and have spent less and less time giving notes.  Those seem too static to me.  The past practices of making presentations are becoming more and more outdated.  Where once a slideshow would intrigue students, I now find the same glazed over look as soon as the projector goes on.  These children (16-18 yr olds) grew up with toys that were completely interactive, they don’t want to learn in a passive mode, maybe they can’t learn that way anymore.

Another skill that continues to need refining is that of active listening and discussing.  This is difficult to address and online discussion, whether on a wiki or a blog, in the form of comments, is a major benefit of  public spaces.  The other major benefit to using this style of discussion is that students can choose the direction of their inquiries, unlike sitting in a class and having to listen to every presentation before they can ask questions or are asked questions.  This is more in keeping with the constructivist theory of learning.

Downes and Fisch (2007) address the improvements seen in the quality and quantity of writing that is afforded by online journaling.  Students generally do rise to the challenge of creating material that is original, suitable for many audiences and contains fewer typos.  Allowing the public to comment on these spaces does pose privacy and security issues and many teachers/institutions are addressing these.  In our school board, we are moving to google docs for collaborative writing and web design.  Since we have our own domain, students are free to share ideas that will only be seen by our school community.  It does limit the input of expert commentators (such as a marketer or a banker) but it does not preclude the teacher from inviting outside comments in a controlled environment.

One other skill that I think collaborative writing develops is the ability to work in cooperation with others.  Some students still are adamant about working alone, while I have noted that others, when given the chance to share the workload, still cannot coordinate the final product, so that we end up with 2 projects or 2 distinct voices within one product (something that is not always the desired effect).  Still, many students enjoy the creative exchange that takes place when planning what to write about.  The availability of the online space is a great benefit to busy senior students who have difficulty managing the work/school balance.

Lastly, working in public spaces teaches the students that they are accountable for what they publish, that content cannot be simply copied and pasted and that sources must be acknowledged in order to show their writings are indeed a synthesis of what they have researched.

All in all, I see the use of wikis and blogs as an excellent tool for moving the teaching style in my classroom from knowledge based to inquiry and application based.  The final element that needs to be addressed is the ongoing education of what is safe, what is appropriate and what is private.


Downes, S. (2004).  Educational Blogging.  Educause Review.  September/October 2004 Accessed online 26 March 2010.

Fisch, K. (2007). “Blogging: In Their Own Words,”The Fischbowl. Accessed online 25 March 2010.

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Mar 21 2010

Wikis in the online classroom

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This week we had a chance to explore wikis in our course.  Although I have used wikis in my own classroom for large projects and I have collaborated on course design using a wiki, I had never really used one for group discussion.  Wikis, to me, are a place to add knowledge in a collaborative space.  Usually information is posted, then edited by other students to make it more in-depth, accurate, easy to read, what have you.  I’ve also used them where one student did and posted research, while the other wove the information into visual and textual presentations.  We have not explored the addition of visuals in this wiki as we did in a previous course I took.

The discussion is not as easy in this wiki format.  The wiki I use for my classes allows a thread to begin and others reply, more in the fashion that we see in the WebCT discussion questions.  We seemed to have felt the need to label our contributions with our names.  That did make it simpler to understand who was responding to what post.

One of the advantages to this wiki discussion format, in that all the information is placed on one page, so it would be easy to follow a thread based on the information, rather than following the author or the date.  It’s a bit like having a lots of snippets of text on a table and being able to rearrange them in some logical order.  With hyperlinks, many of us are starting to follow themes from one document to another rather than reading in a linear fashion.  It is how literature will appear as we continue to convert written text to a digitalized version.

I found it notable that we have not used the wiki for what it does best – allowing editing and additions to communal knowledge.  I sense that my colleagues have not dared to edit work, possibly because people have signed their every entry.  Perhaps it would be best if no signatures were permitted to encourage people to collaborate more freely.

As I write this, I am overcome with an urge to go organize the wiki entries by themes.  Perhaps I will attempt that next and hope others will see it as a true collaboration, not a censure or need to control the direction of the project.

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Mar 15 2010

I love Wesch!

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Each time I watch a Wesch video I am amazed at how well he describes the evolution of learning paralleled with the evolution of the internet, along with our evolving use of it.

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Mar 13 2010

Using assessment – lessons from elearning

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Our readings have outlined the theory of assessment both formative and summative; certainly something each teacher should be very conversant with by now.  The innovation that was added in this research was how assessment translates in the elearning environment.  There is no doubt that assessment provides timely feedback and that technology has improved our response time through automation.  Jenkins states many concrete examples of how assessment is being used in higher education, specifically for formative purposes. “Assessment methods involving ICT include case studies,
mock exams, group projects and the creation of authentic learning tasks (Brown et al., 1999; Peat & Franklin, 2002; Herrington et al., 2002).” (p. 70)

Jenkins further delves into the use of multiple choice questions to provide “feedback in a range of contexts. At the University of Gloucestershire, MCQs are used in weekly tests as part of a first year Marketing module (a popular module with over 300 students). Providing formative feedback on this basis using traditional approaches would be prohibitive. The MCQ tests were introduced to provide students with regular feedback on their understanding of
the key principles being introduced throughout the module. Eight  formative assessment using CAA tests, each consisting of ten questions, are made available at weekly intervals during the module, delivered via the University’s VLE — WebCT. Initial evidence suggests that students have responded positively to receiving feedback in this way. As an added incentive to completing the formative tests, the best five scores contribute to the summative assessment of the module. (p. 72-73)

This seems like a key paragraph and a solution in my own class setting.  I hadn’t though of MCQs as formative assessment until now.  And I like the idea of using the 5 best scores to contribute to the summative assessment.  In my high school Marketing class, I’ve given a few MCQ quizzes to cover material that is available on the published notes.  It’s been more a  method of checking the students’ reading as we work through the chapters.  The final exam is made up entirely of MCQs.  Other assessment has come in the form of major group projects which include presentations both oral and visual (website, posters, flyers, packaging design) and online asynchronous group discussions.

Reading Jenkins has certainly confirmed that my students are given plenty of opportunity for both formative and summative assessment and has helped me to realize why I feel the final exam is merely a formality that I must carry on because of school policy.  I now feel I have the means to justify what are becoming shorter and easier (to mark) exams.  The one thing that should be addressed next is the allocation of marks for culminating tasks and exams.  They should probably reflect less than the current 30% of the final grade.  I understand the need for uniformity within a school board and even province wide, but with the changing face of assessment, we need to revisit this point as well.

  • Jenkins, M. (2004).  “Unfulfilled Promise: formative assessment using computer-aided assessment.” Learning and Teaching in Higher Education , i, 67-80. Accessed online 17 March 2009

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Mar 07 2010

Adding opportunities for communication

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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


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

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