Apr 13 2010


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Nothing helps you synthesize better than having a conversation about an experience you are living.  I was talking to a guest speaker at my school this week and he asked me how educational technology is addressing the varied needs of the learner and the specific needs of some specialized curriculum.  More precisely, he was asking me how veterinary students could learn in a distributed learning environment.  I drew on my experiences with MET so far and on my designs trials with Moodle to answer his questions.

I feel it is possible to provide much of the training required for such a specialized, hands on curriculum.  I think what I have learned about feedback and assessment – using discussion forums to analyse cases, quizzes with automated feedback, wikis and blogs – has convinced me that these web 2.0 tools can be integrated with experiential learning opportunities (coop education) to create a well-rounded curriculum.  Much of the shortcomings of early online courses, lack of feedback, sense of isolation, copious amounts of reading what amounted to textbooks being uploaded as some form of learning resource repository, have been overcome with our ability to communicate more easily, either through synchronous or asynchronous modes, and gain a sense of directing our own learning (Anderson, 2008)

Looking back – a précis

When I started this course, my goals were to familiarize myself with web 2.0 tools, especially blogs and wikis, learn some assessment techniques that would translate well into this environment and try creating my own Youtube video.  Looking at the progress I’ve made, I would say I was very successful in reaching these goals.  The evidence is all over this blog and the Moodle site I created.

What I expected in contrast to what I learned

Moodle was not a great source of curiousity to me.  I have worked with LMS before and thought they were all pretty similar.  I have not drastically altered my opinion of Moodle but I have improved my ability to design a course that I feel would engage and  teach students.  Through our readings on Assessment, I have looked at creative and proven techniques and come to realize that timely and appropriate feedback is an integral and vital component of a successful course. “Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses.” (Chickering & Gamson, 1987) With the help of the e-learning toolkit, I’ve finally been able to create an online quiz with varied features, including selective release.  The importance of this being that I will be able to shorten the turnaround time between giving an assessment and commenting on the results, thus enabling students to have constant reassurance and direction in their learning.  Although this is considered self-directed learning, the teacher can and does set the pace and path of the learner.

What is particularly interesting in this whole process was the way in which we were all being lead down a path of learning.  At first glance, we were instructed to complete certain tasks.  We did this with minimal intervention from the professor.  As the course neared its completion, it became apparent that we were learning much more than the varied educational technologies – we were engaging in experiential learning as we discovered the dynamics that develop when discussions are rich in problem-solving. Here, we built our community of learning (Anderson, 2008). I will not be surprised when my colleagues comment that the level of discussion was very high, filled with tremendous knowledge acquired by our varied experiences.  It is not that we are more learned or wiser than other students.  I don’t even think it is the mix of students that has created this dynamic.  I think it was created by the design of the course.  As Chickering (1987) commented in his Implementing the Seven Principles article: “Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one’s ideas and responding to others’ improves thinking and deepens understanding.”

Going forward

Whether or not the course designers had foreseen such success is a mystery to me.  However, I will reflect on this environment, why it worked so well and how I might recreate it in other courses I take, design and teach.  I will be watchful for this dynamic to appear again, so that I might capture the formula, just as I tried to sort out the perfect answer to the selective release problem.

Additional connections – WordPress and the SECTIONS Model

Let me preface by stating that I love working with WordPress!  My first experience with blogging was in Etec 540, when I created a blog to learn and experiment with the genre. I enjoyed blogging so much, I used it as a journal, planner and photo album for my wedding preparations.  It seems I am a bit of a self-publication junkie.  I keep finding uses for blogs and created a blogging activity for one of my classes – linking theory to practice.

Here are some additional comments in this context:

Students: At a grade 12 level, students are quite technologically literate.  Using tools they use daily helps to engage them and gives them a sense they have more control over their learning path.

Ease of use: WordPress is simple to use and quick to learn.  A short demonstration was all it took to get the students working on their blogs.  Very few problems came up during the project, all of which the students resolved themselves.

Costs: WordPress is free and can be accessed simply by creating an account.  All support is free as well.

Teaching and Learning: Students need to be assessed regularly and receive feedback in a timely manner.  Using tests only engages their knowledge and understanding skills.  Using a blog to create an assigned task engages their many literacies (visual and traditional), verifies their ability to research and communicate their findings, and allows them to create links using authentic sources (webpages, blogs, wikis).  Although blogs are not traditionally meant for collaborative work, they can certainly be adapted.  As a teacher, I became the facilitator, guiding students to further inquiry and learning.  They no longer have to rely on my teachings, but rather on their (and their peers’) findings.

Interactivity: Blogs allow students to research other web-based content, direct the own learning path and pace, comment on the peers’ work and build knowledge based on the cumulative findings.  They also allow the insertion of multimedia elements to further engage or demonstrate their findings.  Most importantly, students are able to shape the outcome of their learning.  This is the true advantage of interactivity.

Organizational issues: In terms of planning, the activity needs to be thought out so that it is not simply a digital version of a pen and paper assignment. Privacy is always a consideration for school aged children.  I made sure students were aware of these privacy concerns so that no unexpected outcomes would occur. Proper sourcing was another consideration that was addressed as part of their ongoing learning.

Novelty: Although blogging has been around for several years in the private and business sectors, we are just beginning to scratch the surface in secondary school.  Students may have been reading and creating personal blogs but this is an opportunity for them to experience self-publication as a learning tool.

Speed: Adapting an existing assignment was a matter of less than an hour, with most of the adaptation being made in the rubric.  Demonstration lasted less than 15 minutes, most of which was used to demonstrate different genres of blogs (educational, entertaining, etc.).  The speed at which they learned the application was comparable to them learning to use a new cellphone.


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

Bates, A.W. & Poole, G. (2003). Chapter 4: a Framework for Selecting and Using Technology. In Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education: Foundations for Success. (pp. 77-105). San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers.

Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 39 (7), 3-7. Accessed online 11 Mar 2009  http://www.aahea.org/bulletins/articles/sevenprinciples1987.htm

Chickering, A.W. & Ehrmann, S.C. (1996). Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 49(2), 3-6. Accessed online 11 Mar 2009  http://www.aahea.org/bulletins/articles/sevenprinciples.htm

Gibbs, G. and Simpson, C. (2005).  “Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning.” Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Accessed online 11 March 2009  http://www.open.ac.uk/fast/pdfs/Gibbs%20and%20Simpson%202004-05.pdf

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