Oct 16 2010

Vygotsky’s theory and the webquest

Published by under Etec 512

The webquest is too text intensive. It would require that the teacher read much of it to the student. Does this bring the student closer to Vygotsky’s ZPD? It would depend on what the teacher is trying to teach with this activity. It doesn’t seem to be reading. The focus of the webquest activities, according to the teacher page, seems to be more about categorizing information. The method of finding the information is mostly printing and copying data. How does that get the student closer to the ZPD? If it doesn’t, then wouldn’t this part of the webquest just be busy work?

The categorizing and sorting activities take place once the product of the quest has been completed. Would the students be as engaged in the sorting had they not printed and coloured the dinosaurs themselves? Would the colouring be sufficient for them to be engaged and for real learning to take place? I think it might. What I am suggesting is that the recopying exercise by removed in favour of time spent researching and discussing the findings amongst themselves.

I think the activity might have been structured differently so that the student would research the dinosaurs facts from a small database (provided by the teacher) – more like a match up activity than a recopying activity. This could be done in teams and discussion could take place among the team members – learning in a peer mentoring situation (Vygotsky’s social partners). The rest of the webquest activities seem relevant, however the teacher might replace the copying exercise with a dinosaur word search or some other activity that provides practice for writing. Perhaps each student could write a short fictitious story about their dinosaur once the presentations have been made to consolidate learning. This would be assessed as part of the rubric.

The rubric is not very well designed, but it is only an outline of what might be assessed. Again, I think the teacher needs to really think about what the students need to learn with this webquest so that learning can be assessed, not just the final product.

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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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Apr 11 2010

Reflecting on multimedia

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The most useful reflection I can have on multimedia is to look back at some of the courses I designed in the early years of online learning and imagine how multimedia might have improved their effectiveness.

In the late 1990s, multimedia meant adding images, sounds and possibly animation to our resources and allowing students to create work using some of the same components.  As a matter of fact, much of the course content involved teaching students how to use and insert multimedia into their assignments.

Today, I use multimedia elements, including video streaming, in my lessons and exemplars.  Typically, I create an activity, demonstrate the outcome including the media elements I want the students to experiment with, and then expect them to work adding whatever new element they think appropriate.  You would think that students would find this approach to assessment preferable to pen and paper or oral presentations or slide shows, but they don’t, so far.

I surveyed my students today about the use of a blog to research and present a topic.  They responded that they enjoyed the research and the medium, but did not like having to read each other’s work.  They would rather sit passively and listen to a presentation than take responsibility for active learning (those are my words, not theirs).  Unfortunately, I think my newest experiments with blogs and wikis are the way of the future, putting the emphasis on thinking and inquiry, rather than knowledge and understanding.  I also think the current senior high school students are stuck in an in-between zone.  They may be digital natives, but they are not ready to leave their traditional views on literacy and learning.  In my classes, I feel it is important to work on all forms of literacy and most specifically, visual literacy.  Multimedia is the best tool I can use to accomplish this.

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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 http://www.glos.ac.uk/shareddata/dms/2B72C8E5BCD42A03907A9E170D68CE25.pdf.

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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 http://moodle.met.ubc.ca/course/view.php?id=118.


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 28 2010

Moving to online content

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I went to a workshop today at school.  The Business teachers in our board gathered to present best practices.  One presented her course as uploaded to Blackboard, another showed how he used google sites and I demonstrated the use of a wiki for similar purposes.  It was an interesting comparison of different tools for the same purpose.

My wikis are the least structured in the sense that they are collaborative spaces, whereas the other two examples were strictly administered by the teachers who authored them.  The Blackboard course was designed by an Accounting teacher.  She liked the way she could create assessments that were self-correcting.  She worried that her students could pass computerized assignments to each other, thus allowing plagiarism.  Her idea was to block all email transmission and shut off the shared drive to the students.  That seems to me a little like locking the door to keep the residents inside, rather than the crooks out.

The google sites example was used more as a repository for resources attached to a calendar.  It provided no interactivity yet, but that was to be included later.  No assessment was present, nor any discussion area.

My wiki provides a space for students to contribute their work and research and to discuss.  The other teachers complained that it did not have a provision for assessment and it opened too many doors to nonsense content being uploaded, not to mention cyber-bullying.

Agreed, and this is what has got me thinking.  I know from my brief experience with wikis that using collaborative spaces is new to students and that a period of adjustment is required.  Yes, students will post stupid things but eventually they learn that they are accountable for all content and start to improve the quality of their work.  Of course, there will always be students who are not serious and need a lot of feedback from the teacher (read disciplining).

I’ve only just started reading the Anderson article and it brings to light the fact that we do indeed need to look at the theory of education, and online education in particular, as we start to move our content online.  And more importantly, we need to recognize that there is a difference between uploading content and creating an online course.  Clearly, the Blackboard example today was not meant for fully online learning but rather for blended delivery.  The author of the course did not consider the needs of the learner (Anderson, p.50) but rather saw this as a step towards using technology in the classroom and compiling a great number of resources in a permanent medium.  The impression I got from the assessment in the course was more a case of “this is what I need to teach you”, rather than “this is what you need to learn”.  There is a difference there. Granted, when dealing with high school students, they don’t always know what they need to learn.  It’s a very different situation from teaching adult, who bring prior learning into the equation (Anderson, p.47).

Anderson makes a strong point when he states that “the challenge of online learning is to provide very high quantity and quality of assessment, while maintaining student interest and commitment”.  This has been my biggest challenge as I’ve moved to online course development.  My early experiments with Blackboard for quizzes was disastrous as the answers had to be case sensitive or the computers would freeze up and a timed assessment was locked much to the dismay of the learner.  I gave up on using Blackboard for that purpose years ago.  And judging from today’s comments, I think some of those frustrations are still present, hence the need for teacher intervention during timed quizzes.

Anderson, T. (2008). Towards a Theory of Online Learning.  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/02_Anderson_2008_Anderson-Online_Learning.pdf

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Jan 09 2010

Self-Assessment with regards to NETS standards

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The NETS standards read much like my school board’s professional development policies, combined with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s graduate expectations.  I feel somehow familiar with the text as if I have measured myself against these standards recently, both while applying to the MET program and more recently when applying for a teaching job in a NATO school.  It’s difficult to sell yourself for a job unless you are very familiar with your strengths and have a good idea of what direction to take to fill in the blanks in your resume.

Professional Development has been a priority of mine since I started teaching in the 1990s.  I was constantly told that I had an affinity for technology so I seemed to naturally position myself in that field.  At the time, the field was wide open, with very little curriculum being available.  The career path was simple enough – do what few others can and do it well.  And so, through mostly intuition, I started accumulating as many skills and experiences as I could to achieve my career goals.

Many years later, I can now articulate, with the use of educational terminology, the strengths and weaknesses I can identify in my education and experience.

I am very comfortable with the flow of technology.  That is to say, I welcome innovation and don’t feel intimidated when my students know more than me.  It’s more a case of wondering how I can use new tools and knowledge in my classroom to keep students engaged.  Student success is a very big motivator for me.

Since I am asked to state what I hope to improve upon or accomplish in this course, I’ve made the following list:

1. I’d like to increase my knowledge of web 2.0 applications so as to synchronize my resources with my students’ ever evolving learning needs and styles.

2.  I’d like to increase my repertoire of assessment tools to align them better with today’s reality.  I often feel that students have so much to contribute, that they are more than willing to explore their creativity but the assessments don’t reflect their talent or don’t properly test their learning.  In particular, I’d like to find assessments that work with blogs and wikis.

3.  I’d like to pursue my interest in Global Citizenship through the development of a certificate program for my students.  This would include their inquiry into the cultural differences they will encounter when travelling and working abroad, their exploration of ethical issues such as environmental sustainability and hopefully will result in an increased tolerance of cultural differences both in their own community and abroad.  The use of inquiry tools, discussion boards and any other multi-media platform that allows them to articulate their findings would be promoted.  For this purpose, I need to find out as much as I can about the latest tools available to us.

4. I want to continue to position myself as a leader in educational technology within my school board and be a valuable contributor to the learning communities I have joined.  Our board has created a Ning where some of our brightest tech savvy teachers contribute.  Not only do I have to keep up, I want to continue the leadership role I have already established.

5.  Last goal, and certainly not the least, I want to participate in this process because it is so intellectually stimulating.  And if I am happy, then it is reflected in my professional activities as well. The joy of teaching is enhanced by the joy of learning!

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