Friday, March 15, 2013

Final Reflection on Collaborative Communites

On my landing page for my portfolio for Collaborative Communities in E-Learning I noted that the class is aptly named.  Like the other classes in the UW-Stout E-Learning program I have found that this class practiced what it preached by creating a collaborative community.  I enjoyed working with my classmates and found that they pushed my to clarify my ideas, in addition to exposing me to new ideas and tools.

The class was a good mix of the practical and the theoretical.  I appreciated how we practiced specific language to use in setting expectations for students and responding to situations in a course.  I was able to immediately apply some of this information and am glad to have thought through others before they happen.  I am also glad that these conversations were grounded in more theoretical discussions of critical thinking and constructivism. 

As a I develop online resources for my face to face history classes and, hopefully, design an online World History class I want to keep these big ideas front and center.  On Monday I will be starting a new term at school with four new US History classes.  US History is the course in which I have incorporated the fewest online activities, so my next step will be to add some e-learning to this course.  This Spring I will also be on the curriculum writing committee for World History in my district, and I will do this with one eye on how the course can dive deeper into the content online.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Week Seven: Thinking Critically

The most challenging aspect of Module 7 for me was deepening student critical thinking using extension and redirection in forum discussions.  I was surprised by how long it took me to compose the nine questions for our discussion of using prompts to develop critical thinking.  In twenty plus years of teaching I have asked a lot of kids a lot questions, and I am usually very conscious about deepening the level of questioning. 

But, creating online prompts is not identical to asking questions aloud. The feedback from students is much less immediate online, and I found myself carefully crafting the language that would extend or redirect students.  In class I can quickly see the puzzled looks when a prompt that I toss out is too abstract or opaque.  Julie K's suggestion to provide the students with some of the specific areas of analysis in the follow up prompts was useful.  For instance when redirecting students to focus on the role of the cold war in Latin America I could briefly describe a cold war dynamic such as ideological polarization, in the prompt.  Online discussions have the potential create discussions rich in critical thinking, but creating these discussions requires careful planning.

The other activities in Module 7 were especially collaborative this week, particularly the synchronous chat.  In giving and getting feedback on this experience I think that we are still having a little difficulty being critical with each other.  I'm not thinking of anything in particular, and I do think that the chat was productive.  But, there is a lot of "good job" type of commenting that is not useful.  The difficulty is how to provide constructive criticism when people are meeting the standard of the task.  Put another way how do I give feedback that helps participants move from proficient to excellent?  This is a question that I will keep asking myself.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Week 6 in Collaborative Communities

I appreciated the Time Management Tips for Online Teaching from the UW Stout program.  Reading and ruminating on this list was another instance of Collaborative Communities in E-Learning is prodding me to think ahead to my next online class.  Two tips from the list caught my eye:

  • Don't answer email while grading. Handle email at specific times each day and don't be tempted to check it at other times. Whatever it is, it can wait, and it is just a distraction from other 'less interesting' tasks.
  • Discussions – make note of important contributions while reading discussion postings. Keep a gradesheet hard copy handy or have a spreadsheet open to make notes while reading. 
If I ever make online teaching a significant part of my work, I will need to become more efficient while on line.   Part of this will mean flitting between tasks less, avoiding checking e mail and discussions as directions from completing tasks.  More efficient work days will require me to concentrate on tasks, and then take breaks.

I also am interested in using spreadsheets to keep track of student contributions to discussions.  Grading forum discussions for me as usually meant using Moodle to count student posts or provide the sum of their post ratings.  I combine this data with a subjective judgement of the quality of comments.   I would like to add specific examples to my feedback to students, and the idea of keeping a file for each student in which to record these examples is attractive.  I know that feedback is only meaningful if it is timely and specific.  Using a document to record quality comments as I read them would be a vehicle for meeting both of these criteria, and thus make my assessments more useful for students.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Week 5 Reflection: The Importance of a Good Start

This week in Collaborative Communities the focus was on the days before and the days immediately after the beginning of an online class.  This time is a window of opportunity that is so critical that Lehmann and Chamberlin recommend that instructors devote 70% of their energy to this crucial time (155).  Discussions and working surrounding this window of time have led me to reflect on the beginning of my online Politics and Law class last fall, my first and only online class.

A couple of factors complicated the beginning of this class, and as I look back on it, I think these complications contributed to some difficulty in the class.  This was not only the first time that I had taught the class, it was also the first time the class had ever been taught.  I spent much of my summer designing the course and had not completed it when school started, although I did have the first few modules completed.  As a result I was still devoting a fair bit of time to instructional design.  The students and I were also spending time and energy figuring out how to operate the Cisco TelePresence rooms that we used twice a week.  I blogged about using the room here.  The f2f communication made possible by these rooms was eventually very helpful in answering student questions and demonstrating tech tools, but its use distracted us at the outset of the course.  We quickly settled, but by then we were past the window.
This image shows a six seat TelePresence room. I was working in an eighteen seater with a bank of twelve seats behind the front room.  There were also two additional screens showing my computer's screen to the class.  Image courtesy of Cisco, all rights reserved.
Forum participation was one area where I devoted more energy than I anticipated to getting students to participate.  As I look back I think that my prompt in the introductory forum was too straightforward--basically, "introduce yourself"--and included too many posting tips.  My work in Collaborative Communities this week and my experiences the first time around will definitely serve me well in my next online teaching experience.  I am glad to have had the opportunity to draft a new and improved prompt for an introductory forum, and I am looking forward to feedback to facilitate further improvements.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Week 4 in Collaborative Communities: Tools

Another week of productive collaboration in Collaborative Communities class.  We spent a lot of time discussing different collaborative tools.  This discussion allowed me to refine my thinking on some of the tools that I currently use, and exposed me to tools that I would like to explore.  I organized my currently used tools into a community matrix in my E-Portfolio.

An example of new uses for a current tool: I've used Diigo for a couple of years to collaborate with other teachers and to keep track of my own resources.   If students were to bookmark items in Diigo, their annotations would be artifacts that could demonstrate critical use of information.  Additionally, they could use the social networking functions of Diigo to collaborate on research.

I've also found myself appreciating how easy it is for my students to use the Google suite of collaborative products. All students in my district have a Google account that they can access from the Moodle server.  In my f2f classes and my online class, I have students create Google presentations and docs; and, in the online class students used Forms and Blogger.  All of these products promote collaboration and limit the number of external applications students need to learn.

I added Dropbox to my tool kit this week.  Like Diigo, I think that I will begin by using it for myself by making files available at home and at school.  From there I hope to use it to collaborate with others and then to facilitate learner-learner collaboration.  Many of these collaborative functions, however, may duplicate capabilities of Google Drive.  I am looking forward to finding out, though.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Week 3 Collaborative Communities

This was a very useful week in Collaborative Communities.  The class was discussing facilitating forum discussion and I was actually facilitating one for my AP European History class.  The class meets everyday f2f, but we do occasional forum discussion in order to get the benefits of that format and to give students the opportunity to sharpen online discussion skills.   The students will probably be discussing content online in college, even if they do not take an online class.

I directly applied elements of this week's forum discussions to an online forum discussion of excerpts from two readings by Sigmund Freud.  I used a response of main to craft a list of value added techniques in the assignment prompt.  As a result most students have been changing the subject line to reflect their ideas.  Here are the guidelines that I created.  Value added heading highlighted reflects discussion from Collaborative Communities:
I also submitted the prompt that I was using to the Blue Group and received helpful feedback that I will use to restructure the prompt for next time.  Lenore and Barb pointed out that the ideas in the prompt ran together.  I was attempting to provide multiple ways of accessing the readings, but they pointed out how this made the prompt potentially overwhelming for students.  I was able to clarify this in class with students, but this was a good lesson for me to learn because if I am teaching a fully online class I won't have this opportunity.

Finally I encountered similar scenarios to those discussed in the whole class discussion.  Despite the students all being native English speakers in an Advanced Placement 11th grade class, I did send a couple of reminder messages about spell checking and proofreading.  I used language similar to that suggested in the forum: be direct, specific, and positive.  Inspired by these reminders I am sending messages with feedback to as many students as I can.  The results so far are richer and deeper discussions.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Week 2: Collaborative Communities

I had two big areas of learning this week in Collaborative Communities in E-Learning, one technical and one pedagogical.  Technically, today was the first time that I have used a Blackboard product. My partner and I began planning our Checklist Project in a Blackboard discussion.  It was a good reminder of how unfamiliar such spaces can be to newbies.  It took Lenore and I quite a while to figure out how to talk to and see each other, but once we got going we were able to talk and to share screens.  We will be creating a checklist for facilitating student blogging.

Pedagogically, my small group had a rich forum conversation on factors to consider in grouping students.  The "aha" moment for me was considering the power of using a single question to do rough grouping at the beginning of a course.  Classmates brought some very interesting, complex inventories to the discussion, but ultimately these may take too much time and provide too much information.  Less clear to me is which question to use, although of course that depends on the purpose of the grouping.  In general, our instructor's strategy in this course of initially grouping type A students with other type As and type Bs with each other seems sound.  Removing possible frustrations seems especially important in E-Learning where the technology side can always provide obstacles.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

First Post for Collaborative Communities in E-Learning

I have enjoyed the start of Collaborative Communities. This week has mainly been about reflecting on my hybrid Politics and Law class in the fall and recalling how to operate in D2L.  A lively and thoughtful group of classmates filled the discussion boards, an especially good sign in a class on collaboration.  Unlike the coming weeks, this week was more about sharpening existing skills then developing new ones.

I'm looking forward to participating more through the coming weeks.  This week was rushed form me with P/T conferences, a daughter's 2nd birthday, and family from out of town.  Even so, I have already picked a few useful tips and links from people.  My greatest point of frustration in teaching online in the fall was getting students to complete tasks.  Classmate Monica's suggestion that I create more screen cast videos orienting students to the Moodle site and its functions seems appropriate.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Final Reflection for Assessment in E-Learning

I just finished UW Stout's survey for Assessment in E-Learning with the comment that the course "exceeded my expectations."  The course not only deepened my understanding of e-learning it also stimulated my reflection on assessment in my f2f history classes.  Additionally, I began to develop proficiencies with additional e-learning tools.

Although my AP Euro students were not enthusiastic about their first wiki essays, I think this collaborative format has promise.  I have also enjoyed blogging here and plan to incorporate blogs into any online or blended class that I teach. I found creating an intro survey easy and intuitive and also plan to incorporate it into e-teaching.  Finally, I am intrigued by the possibilities of eyejot, WebEx, and Adobe Presenter, and would look into them more if I were teaching fully online.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Final Project

I happy with how my final project came out.  I'm fortunate that I have been able to combine work for this course with both my f2f Global Studies class, where I tested the first three activities, and with a professional development work group that I am leading on uncovering history.  This group just started, but inspired by my e-learning course work I have incorporated a blog

This has all provided another opportunity to reflect on how e-learning's potential for constructivist learning makes it natural for authentic history instruction.  Students learning history online can do the work of historians by constructing their own knowledge from primary sources.  This is equally possible f2f, but the change in formats seems to make it seem more possible online.