Synthesis

Flight Plan Précis

This was my very first MET course after spending ten years working in a k-12 setting. My flight plan had three main goals; get a solid theoretical base for educational technology, learn more HTML and use my time to effectively explore technologies that I had been postponing looking at. To get a solid theoretical base my plan was to use the readings from this course with others found at the Educause website. Second, to learn more about HTML, I was going to refresh my HTML basics with the self assessments provided and use the E-Learning toolkit to move beyond using Moodle as a document repository by using HTML to embed learning objects. Finally I was going to use the time in this course to explore technologies like social media, digital storytelling and computer assisted assessment that I had been neglecting.

Reflection on Flight Path

It took me a couple of weeks and some questions to John before I wrapped my head around this course. Initially my timing was off for reading, reflecting, posting and contributing to the discussion boards but I think by the end I was getting more effective. My Flight Path had reasonable goals. I do feel like I have a much better theoretical grounding in educational technology. For this course I bought myself a Kindle and have filled my course folders with other research that I want to read. I found the highlighting and annotating portion of the Kindle extremely helpful when I went to write my reflections and now I will have an annotated version of each reading to refer to. I know that I have a better theoretical grounding because I find myself reciting SECTIONS when a teacher asks me for suggestions on what to do in their classroom. Not only am I looking at the best fit for the learning outcomes, I want to make sure the technological fit is sound as well. I also find myself searching the Educause website first regarding technology, before I Google, and passing those articles along instead of examples of how to use the technology.

Learning and demonstrating learning are two different things. I learned a lot with regards to HTML authoring but you would not know it to look at my Moodle course. I spent large amounts of time working with Amaya, CSS and HTML code but saw little fruits of my labour. While I learned a lot and have moved myself significantly forward I had to revert to the Moodle HTML editor to get the assignment completed. Similarly my digital storytelling assignment using my handheld was a huge learning curve that I learned a lot about, but it did not count. However, my goal of time to explore technology means that learning, while it may not have counted, was definitely time well spent.

E-Learning Toolkit
Every institution or course should have their own E-Learning Toolkit with applicable resources that allow learners to move through at their own pace, use as reference and then reflect on. The E-Learning Toolkit was invaluable. It saved me hundreds of hours of searching for resources by quickly pointing me in the right direction for the tool I was trying to use. It also gave me the chance to explore technologies that I might have passed over before.

I spent a fair amount of time working through the multimedia authoring tools as this is where my skill set is the weakest. I had been trying to find a way for students to have real access, without having to pay a lot of money, to image tools. The tools that come with our basic installation, paint and Microsoft picture editor, did not have enough options. At the same time, only high schools could afford the Adobe suite. The eLearning Toolkit showed me Picasa and inadvertently Picnik These tools work extremely well for students, are easy to use, cost nothing, have the functionality that is required and fit into our organization as teachers can download them or students can use the online version. The E-Learning Toolkit video portion also forced me to expand how I am offer help documents. Traditionally I offer a one page how-to but now I am using Camtasia to supplement the printed how-to  and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I had forgotten that while I am a visual learner, not everyone is. Finally the audio portion of the multimedia section allowed me to revisit tools that had been sitting on the shelf.  Part of my Flight Plan was to have time to work through some ideas that had be shelved, this portion of the toolkit allowed me to explore, reflect and then share with my colleagues.

Blogging is something that I have been experimenting with for a couple of years. I started with a personal cooking blog, then a personal picture blog, then a professional blog and finally this one. This does not include the blogging I do with students. In all four blogs and three different platforms. I have not decided which one I like best, yet. What I did struggle with for this course was voice and audience. In my experience blogging is very personal and informal, so when we blogged here I struggled with how I should be writing. If we had be required to submit papers in the traditional sense I do not think I would have struggled, but because of the medium I was unsure of how or who to write to for.

Overall Course Experience
The reading, scenarios and discussion board were one of the most useful parts of this course. Being able to apply theory to practice and reflect and discuss has made the learning stick. My Flight Path goal was to have a better theoretical grounding in educational technology and the readings for this course were just enough to get you going and force you to research and dig a little deeper on items of interest. I appreciated the real world grounding that the scenarios provided, although it took me a week to realize they were real and I should be researching them as well. The discussion board was important for reflecting on what you thought you knew. There were quiet challenges thrown down and assumptions questioned which made you defend and explain your learning. It would have been nice to have the synopsis of the discussion, posted by John, done earlier so that a more thorough discussion might have been had around that. As the schedule dictated moving on was essential.

We had two instances of group work for this class; the rubric and wiki, and I found myself longing for more. While we met each other on the discussion boards weekly I found that I did not make any real connections until the last two weeks of the course when we were asking each other for help on the final project. I know that synchronous chats or group work are problematic but, personally, I would have liked a few more and this totally surprised me. I chose this masters program for a number of reasons but one was because I did not have to be in a cohort. I was looking to avoid relationships but this class forced me into them and made me crave them more. It makes me think that the instructional design of this course to encourage frequent student-student and student-faculty contact (Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996) works.

Assessment is something that I have spent a lot of time thinking about. Becoming a student again has reminded me how much more important formative assessment is than summative assessment to help a student improve and focus on learning rather than on marks. While creating our computer assisted assessments I was surprised at the number of feedback loops available but also dismayed at how easily they are overlooked. We know “..successful students use both marks and feedback to actively self assesses, both to learn and to direct their future studying” (Gibbs & Simpson, 2005). Maybe it is because I have not been a students for such a long time that I was continually surprised by the marks I received. I beat myself up over my lack, in quantity, of participation only to receive a very high mark. Learning is most important but you tend to forget about that when a number is attached. I will be making some changes to my classroom in terms of the timing and quality of the feedback my students receive.

The social media module is an area where I wished this course had dug a little deeper and with more recent social media technologies. The wiki assignment highlighted the power of a wiki but also the reason why I do not use them. I know that they can be used effectively, one example recently shared example was a grade 12 World Religion class which is using a wiki to author their own textbook. This is a great example of collaborative social work, if it works. However, in our class we reverted to email and a simple star system, not exactly using the tool or the most in-depth analysis of the material. A shared Google Doc with the chat open, I think, would have produced a better conversation and deeper thinking about the topic at hand. I was also a little disappointed that we did not examine social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. While these may be considered novel (Bates & Poole, 2003) they are an area of increased concern in education that I would have liked to have dug into them.

This course gave me a better understanding of why online courses are structured like they are. This course, in my opinion, took its plan straight out of Implementing the Seven Principals (Chickering &Ehrmann, 1996). The discussion board and WebCT email facilitated contact between students and faculty. Since the initial task was to design a rubric together we were immediately dropped into a situation where we had to cooperative with one another. The real life scenarios and e-portfolio tasks, like the digital storytelling and assessment, required us to be active learners. The structure of the modules gave us an approximation of time that was required and expectations were clear enough that you had to aim high. “Criteria need to be explicit and understood by student, and demonstrable used in forming grades” (Gibbs & Simpson, 2005). One item that would have put me more at ease was to either have the rubric, to know clearly what I was aiming for, or make the class pass/fail. The expectations were vague enough to keep you guessing and working, which is excellent, but also stressing if you were going to hit the target. Prompt feedback from classmates was facilitated by the discussion board, although this could lead you down the wrong path.

Writing has always been a struggle for me and the amount required for this course made my struggles epic. I have difficulty getting down what I mean and when I go to proof I add words that are not there. I know that writing is a process and that you get better by doing it, but I am out of practice. Luckily technology was not a struggle for this course, Moodle and many of the tools we were using I have used frequently, so I could spend the extra time on writing. I know I still have a long way to go.

Next Steps

My practice in educational technology is better informed than it was three months ago. I have some solid research to back up my instructional and technological decisions and I now know where to look for more advice. I am taking away from this course the power of blogging, digital storytelling and instructional design of courses. I have always been a proponent of blogging, however, this course solidified for me the real ability of a blog to demonstrate growth and share experiences. Second, this course forced me to take the time to explore digital storytelling. After experiencing the process myself and reading about my classmates experiences I think that this medium has the ability to touch on a number of literacy’s. Digital storytelling can be more about visual, oral, and written literacy than about digital literacy. I hope to covey this to the literacy teachers I am giving technology support to. Finally as I begin more work in the area of blended learning I see how the Seven Principals (Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996) and SECTIONS (Bates & Poole, 2003) will inform my future decisions.

After much debate I am going to take another course next semester. I love learning but struggle with balancing this formal learning with life. I do think that I have a strong personal learning network with my district colleagues, Alberta educators, twitter and blogging friends. This group is constantly challenging me to do more and better. Combine that with the formal education that UBC MET program, professors and colleagues I think I have an array of people to support me on this journey.

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. and Ehrmann, S.C. (1996). “Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever,” American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 49(2), p. 3-6.
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 17 October 2010 http://www.open.ac.uk/fast/pdfs/Gibbs%20and%20Simpson%202004-05.pdf

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