Realization: This course will never be finished!

The process of reviewing my classmates courses and using their reviews to then go back and reflect on my own course has led to me a realization–the course I’ve created will never (and should never) be finished!  It makes sense.  I never teach the same lesson twice in exactly the same way, so it should go without saying that every time I look at this course and eventually start using it, I will continue to add, remove, and change what’s there.

With that realization has come a sort of laziness.  Knowing that every time I lay eyes on the course I’m likely to make changes, I am feeling less and less motivated to make those changes now!  I’m drained.  This summer was the first in 14 years that I have actually taken a summer vacation from teaching or working at all; yet, I have hardly had two consecutive days of relaxation.  While I am happy with my experiences in this course, I am ready for a short break before beginning a new school year and two new online courses.

I feel like I learned a great deal that will serve me well as I continue in the CDIT program.

Something about a light and a tunnel?

 

lightIn thinking about what I’ve learned in this course, I literally drew a blank at first!  I laughed, thinking about when my kids were in school and I’d ask them, “What did you learn today?”  They would shrug their shoulders and say, “Nothing!”  I knew that couldn’t be true, and I knew that I did in fact learn a great deal in this course.  So why couldn’t I think of a whole slew of things off the top of my head?

To help me answer the question I started by looking back at my posts in the discussion forums.  I was overwhelmed!  I liken my learning in this course to my Saturday mornings at the Public Market.  I stroll through the vendors picking up a little of this and a little of that.  By the time I leave, my bag is so full I can barely carry it and when I get home my fiancée says, “What’d ya get?”  I say, “I have no idea!”  So we proceed to empty the bag and look at the counter to see cloves of garlic, heads of broccoli, potatoes and onions rolling all over, peppers of nearly every color, and the list goes on.  I quickly realize I have a wealth of goodies that will become something new—pots of soup, bases for stir fry, fixins’ for salad—and it’s the same with this course.  When I look at everything laid out in front of me it’s amazing at how much I’ve been able to fit in my “bag.”  All of it connects and will eventually become part of something else.

Others’ discussion posts have provided inspiration for me to delve deeper into several topics such as transformative learning, virtual field trips, andragogy, democratization, modes of interaction, and how to adapt an online course for special needs students.  In a course titled Introduction to Online Teaching, I never would have imagined such a wide variety of topics could be covered!  Not only have I learned what it takes to effectively develop an online course, I have also learned about modern theories in education that have helped evolve the way I view my face-to-face interactions with students.

I’d say the only thing that has gotten in the way of my learning has been, well, me!  So often I have felt overwhelmed by the workload in this course and my defeatist attitude has gotten the best of me more than once.  Especially now, with the demands of these last two weeks combined with my professional obligations related to the new school year, I’m again overwhelmed.  When I reach the end of a journey, I have a tendency to just want to be done with it, and I don’t think I work as hard as I could.  This is true in June when summer vacation is on the horizon and it’s true at the end of a semester.  This is probably true for more people than I realize, so one thing I can learn from it is to tailor my own students’ workload so that the end of a semester isn’t as demanding as the beginning and middle of the course.  Not that I don’t think they should have the endurance to keep up a rigorous pace, but I want to acknowledge the human aspect of learning and apply empathy to the way my students will most likely feel.

I can’t hide it…I’m happy that my summer courses are coming to an end.  But, I’m also very happy with all of the knowledge and insight I’m taking away.

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The end is in sight

finish lineI can finally see the finish line.  It’s hard to believe how much has changed since the beginning of this course.  At first, I was intrigued by the idea of designing my own online course.  When I read that the course we’d be designing was one we’d ideally be able to “take with us” and teach eventually, I couldn’t fathom how that would happen.  After all, the only access students in our district have to online education is for credit recovery.  Thankfully, I work with a principal who wildly supportive of new ideas (especially when they promote college readiness).  When I proposed the idea of enrolling our advanced sophomores in an online course, she didn’t hesitate for one second before giving her approval.  Now that we are on the cusp of a new school year, I’m more excited than I’ve been in years to get started.  Even though the course won’t start until January, I know it’ll be here before I know it.

I feel lucky knowing that most online instructors don’t have the opportunity to know who their students are before the class begins. According to Simonson et al., (2012), “In an online setting, it is even more challenging to get to know the students” (p. 219). In my situation, I will have taught these students for three semesters, so I have been able to carefully consider their strengths and weaknesses throughout the design process.

Using the checklists to evaluate my course was a valuable experience.  Even more helpful was the feedback provided by Alex.  There were several things she pointed out that I had overlooked.  For example, removing all underlines because they imply a link was something I hadn’t considered.   She also recommended linking to certain documents, such as rubrics, when referring to them in the directions for discussion forums.  I think the most helpful suggestion was changing the way students turn in their assignments.  I had it set up so that students would simply upload a file; however, she recommended using the Q and A forum so that students could see and comment on each other’s work.  Simonson et al. (2012) state that “it might be of benefit to scaffold the collaborative learning experiences…starting with less involved collaborative interactions before forging into full-blown group projects” (p. 224).  By having students post to a Q and A forum, it’s a great way to have them share their work and learn from one another without orchestrating elaborate group activities.  As we learned from Anneke’s story about her group assignment for another class, these can often go awry.  For younger students, this seems like a happy medium.

I still have a pretty lengthy to-do list to complete the course, but I am looking forward to getting to the finish line.  Two months ago it was nowhere in sight.  The closer I get to reaching the end point, the more my adrenaline rushes.  It’s nice to see that others in the course are also feeling this sense of excitement.  We have all learned so much, and creating our courses has allowed us to demonstrate that knowledge.

Albright, M., Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2011). Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education. Boston: Pearson.

 

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The domino effect

 

I’ve been putting a LOT of hours into my course, and while I still feel like I have a long to-do list, I finally feel as if I have it under control! Each module is organized and laid out exactly how I want it, and the first module is complete!  It took a lot of doing because I created screencasts and a PowerPoint under the “How-To” section. The “How-To” section for the first module is dense because there are many things students will need to know in order to navigate the course with greater ease.  Learning to use Jing and creating the Voki avatar weren’t difficult, but getting the recordings right took a while.  I’m extremely happy with how the first module turned out.  The remaining modules are all set up; all I have left to do is complete the How-To documents and finalize assignments (HA! “All I have left…?”)

I’m extremely pleased with the course visually.  I think the layout makes it easy to follow, the modules flow nicely, and everything is consistent in terms of fonts, colors, terminology, etc. It’s going to take a while to finish, but I’m really enjoying the process…and that IS the key word:  process.  When I decide on a change or addition to a module, I consider it very carefully because I know that when I change something in one area, a discussion forum for example, I have to change it in ALL of the modules! It’s the domino effect…once it’s put into motion, there’s no stopping it. Sometimes it’s tough keeping it all straight; I have pages and pages of notes and reminders, but the feeling of crossing things off the list is amazing!  As I progress through the final stages of completing the course, I look forward to having one or two of my colleagues look it over for clarity.  Sometimes, I’m so sure of what I mean I don’t communicate it clearly (does that make sense?!?), so I think having someone who knows my students will be a great resource in checking to be sure everything is as clear as possible.  As it states in Part 5 of the manual, it’s a good idea to have someone view the course with a fresh perspective.

I’m really pleased that this course is part of my initial experience in the CDIT program.  Having the opportunity to design my own course has confirmed that curriculum development is what I’m most passionate about.  Familiarity with new technology is a weakness for me, which is another reason I chose this program.  This course has essentially forced me to jump into new technology and because of that, I’m no longer hesitant to step out of my comfort zone to try something new (like Jing, for example!)  I remember reading posts from others early in the course and feeling amazed at how much they seemed to know (or be willing to learn) about new technology.  It’s taken me a little while, but I feel I’ve also reached that point.  I’m actually quite surprised at how comfortable I suddenly am with technology.  I’m past fearing that if I try something, I’m likely to break it!

I’m looking forward to seeing my final product.  As I work, I’ll continue to take inspiration from my classmates and build presence on a social, teaching, and cognitive level.  As I go back through my notes from readings this semester, I see so many snippets of things I’ve learned along the way embedded in my course.  I can hardly wait until January to start teaching it!

 

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Whatever it takes–lessons from the dogs

As I prepare to teach my fidogsrst online course in January, I am forced to think about how my role will change. I have to wonder what my students will expect from me, what they’ll need from me in order to succeed. Over the last couple of years, I have worked very hard at changing the way I teach and creating a much more learner-centered classroom in which students are expected to traverse the course to arrive at knowledge and construct their own meanings through inquiry. It can be frustrating at times watching them struggle. It’s often tempting to help them find an answer rather than guide them towards finding it on their own. I don’t know yet what realistic expectations are for an instructor in an online course. It’s like when I adopted my dogs from a local shelter—one of the questions on the application was How much are you prepared to spend on the annual care of your pet in terms of food, vet care, etc.? My answer was simple and much appreciated by the adoption counselors. I said, Whatever it takes. I feel the same way about teaching. Using Sorenson and Baylen’s (2004 as cited in Simonson et al.) principles of instructional practices that guide students through quality learning experiences, “whatever it takes” will include communicating with students, facilitating collaboration, creating active learning experiences, providing prompt feedback, having high expectations, and respecting their diversity (p. 198). I don’t know what’s realistic in terms of time commitment, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes to give students a positive experience in which they will be satisfied with the course and have a sense of accomplishment.

Working on my course this past week has been very rewarding.  I love the “art” of instructional design.  While I feel as if the overall blueprint is set, I have a lot of work to do in terms of fine tuning the learning activities.  I’m looking forward to working on those in the remaining weeks.  One thing I’ve learned has prompted me to think about how I might design future courses.  In studying four models of instructional design (linear, branching, hyper-content, and learner-directed), I’ve realized that the linear course I’m currently designing is representative of how I’ve envisioned instruction for the past 14 years because it’s comfortable; however, looking forward, I am very interested in the hyper-content design. I like the idea that with this model, students determine the order of their own learning activities. In this model, there may be a few things that could be tricky; for example, setting up group activities might be left to the students to manage since they wouldn’t all be completing the same activities at the same time. Also, where scaffolding may be necessary, this approach may leave students confused. On the other hand, though, students could utilize a discussion forum that could allow them to serve as resources for one another, thereby increasing the level of social, cognitive, and teaching presence as they tap into their personal strengths. I think this model speaks to something Susan Oaks says in the video Award-Winning Tools, Tips and Techniques for Online Instruction: “[Space] is both personal and communal at the same time.” A course designed using the hyper-content model would allow students to move at their own pace, making the learning personal, and would allow them to instruct each other and collaborate to a variety of degrees, giving the learning environment a communal feel.  Not that this doesn’t happen in a linear model, it’s just that in a course where students determine the order of the content they’ll study, I see more opportunity for them to tap into each other’s strengths as they explore the content.

One element of my F2F course that I think could carry over to my linear online course but add a hyper-content flair is my collection of grammatical mini-lessons.  I provide a “self-service” area for each skill they should have by the time they graduate; this keeps students from being constricted by grade level.  The general idea is that they start at the beginning.  If they determine they already know the content, they can “test out” by getting a 90 or higher on the quiz.  Once they’ve passed the quiz, they can move on to the next set of mini-lessons, practice activities, and review materials before testing out of the next skill.

I’m looking forward to the next few weeks to see how each person’s course develops in this class.  I’m hoping that everyone will have the opportunity to use what they’ve learned and try their hand at teaching an online course.  From what I’ve seen, the courses being developed are diverse and represent a wide variety of expertise from the members of this class.

 

 

 

Albright, M., Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2011). Teaching and Learning at a

     Distance: Foundations of Distance Education. Boston: Pearson.

 

Hartman, Henry (Producer). Award-Winning Tools, Tips and Techniques for Online Instruction

[Video]. Available from http://video.dcccd.edu/Starlink/ONLINE_TEACH_TIPS.wmv.

 

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From coffee spoons to the big picture

Coffee SpoonsWhat do you know now that you did not know before?

In terms of content, one thing I know now, which I perhaps should have known before, is what it really means to have “teaching presence.”  The term has been part of previous readings and discussions, and I thought I understood; however, this past week’s discussions and readings have helped me to really understand.  The fact that the Breeze presentation, Chapter 4 from the course manual, and the article for this module overlapped frustrated me at first.  I felt like I was reading the same information over and over and over again.  Yet, as I continued reading I realized that my grasp of the content was continuing to evolve.  I feel that I have a deeper awareness of what teaching presence looks like, not only in an online course but also in a traditional classroom, as well.

 How are you applying what you have learned so far to your own course?

Although I haven’t gotten very far in working on my course so far this week, I have been thinking about it a great deal.  In the next day or so, as I sit down to rethink the learning activities, set up, etc., I will be looking through the lens of an ever-present instructor, being sure to incorporate the seven principles of good practice and considering how my own interaction and design will contribute to the cognitive, social and teaching presence in the course.

Working at a school in which our students are enrolled in 20 or more college credits before graduation, and at which we focus on ensuring the students are truly college ready, I believe that by incorporating the principles at the K-12 level, students will be more college ready before or upon graduation from high school.

 

What decisions have you made about how you present yourself, your content, and how you will engage and interact with your students and assess them in your own online course?

This question continues to be tricky for me because I already know the students I will be teaching.  I taught them last year and I will have them for another semester before beginning the online course.  Since the students already know me, the major focus will be in presenting the content.  Students who loop with their teachers become very comfortable in  the methods used, and even though my students will have had me as a teacher for 3 semesters prior to taking the online course, I think it will be necessary to balance the routine of what they know and of what works with introducing some new ways to present content.  For example, every day when the students come into the classroom, a “Do Now” is posted on the Smartboard.  It’s part of their routine, so when they come in, students check the board to see what they need to do before the class begins.  Part 4 of the course manual reiterates the importance of navigational documents and instructions to tell students what to do and where to go.  I see the “Do Now” as an adaptable element I can use in my online course to help them determine what to do and how to do it. It will be important for them to experience some variety in getting to know me in a different role as an online educator.  I will have to work hard at truly giving them some distance from me, even though we will be housed in the same building, so that they can experience the independence that is so important in the online (and on-campus) college environment.

 

Who are you and why are you that way as an educator and a learner?  What have you observed about yourself during this process?

Who I am as an educator has much to do with those instructors I would call “bad.”  I remember sitting in a literature class as a junior in college, contributing to a discussion on my favorite poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and having the instructor literally put his hand up as if to “shush” me and proceed to tell me why I was “wrong” and how I “should” view the poem.  Had I been younger and more impressionable, this may have had a detrimental effect.  But, I was a little older than most of my classmates and much more confident than he led me to believe I should be.  When I left class that night, I wrote a paper defending my interpretations of the poem, turned it in later that week, and reflected on the fact that I could salvage something from this course, and that would be what NEVER to do once I was teaching my own students.

In some ways, that same anecdote applies to who I am as a learner.  I’m somewhat stubborn!  When I believe something, I tend to stick with it until I can find out for myself why I should believe differently.  Case in point:  I was convinced that I could recycle my F2F materials for the online course.  Despite the warnings and readings, I refused to believe that the online environment would be all that different.  Now halfway through the course, after working extensively on my own materials, reading, research, discussing, etc., I believe differently.  Someone telling me wasn’t going to get me there.  I had to experience it for myself.  I try to remember that my students will also have to experience things in order to learn; simply telling them is not teaching them.

*Incidentally, I never came to the conclusion that I was “wrong” about my interpretation of Prufrock.  I did, despite an internal desire to tell that man off and damn him for ruining my experience with a beloved piece of writing, take his ideas into consideration.  That, to me, is what education is about—the consideration of multiple perspectives in the shaping of our own.

 

What has challenged you the most in this course? What has been most difficult or uncomfortable and why?

Honestly, time management.  Considering my own struggles with this, I decided to give due dates for the discussion posts in my own course.  Alex warned against this, suggesting that it was too much to manage and took away some of the students’ ownership.  I agree to some extent; if I’m struggling to manage time, I predict my students will, too.  I think a happy medium will be to change the wording so that the proposed dates are “suggested” but not required.

Like Prufrock, I often measure out my life in coffee spoons.  I try to plan every day so that I can achieve what I need to.  As I’ve said in previous blogs, I’m a list-maker, so it’s not unlike me to leave a list on the kitchen counter that includes everything from walking the dogs to doing a load of laundry to finishing a discussion post, reading articles, going to the market, etc. When it comes to assignments, I feel a sense of accomplishment when I complete a task. When I do something, I put a great deal of work into it.  Because of that, when I “finish” it, I like to think of it as just that…”finished.”  The realistic side of me knows this is usually not the case, yet I continue to get frustrated when I have to make changes.  It’s not that I’m resistant to change, it’s just that I’m craving free time and every revision cuts into that.  I beat myself up, saying if I had done a more thorough job the first time through I wouldn’t have to revise.  But the practical side of me knows I’m not lazy and I don’t purposely leave room for improvement.  It’s part of the learning process to revise.  Usually after just a little kicking and screaming, I settle into my work mode and proceed to take a second (and third and fourth) look at my work, compare it to the work others are doing, and ensue the process of (trying to) perfect my craft.  Perhaps it’s time I move from measuring in coffee spoons to taking in the big picture.

 

UAlbany. (2008, May). Online Course Design Manual for Beginners. Albany, NY, US.

 

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Wimbledon as a perfect metaphor for a week chock full of victory and defeat

Note:  After spending an hour on this post, I hit “Publish” only to find half of my post showed up and no way to retrieve what was lost.  Therefore:

 

Pulling Hair

But, I’ll try again…

Rafael Nadal

It seems appropriate that this week I have hung my head in sadness after watching  my idol, Rafael Nadal, ousted from the tournament and jumped for joy as my “other” idol, Serena Williams, pulled off a victory.  As I try to balance the plethora of assignments with my personal life, I feel as if I am like that little green tennis ball being whacked around in every direction.  Like my favorite tennis stars, I have had moments of defeat and moments of victory.

First, I can add the loss of my initial Blog post for this week as a moment of defeat.  I’m so incredibly disappointed right now, and so incredibly bogged down with a to-do list a mile long, that I nearly considered tossing this one and saying to hell with it.  But my pragmatic side took over, so here I am trying to re-create what I would call a very salient post.  I don’t think it’s going to happen…

Before today, I had a few moments in the past week that left me feeling slightly defeated, but in a different way.  I have a major lit review (draft) due for ETAP 529 in two days and I have yet to type the first word of it.  I’d like to argue that I am not procrastinating.  I’m simply prolonging my planning.  As I think about why I keep putting it off, I’m reminded of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs.  In this case, it’s like my lit review is at the top of the pyramid and I can’t get there until I address the lower needs.  These include things like discussion posts, blogs, the learning activity and module drafts, etc.  I feel that I can’t focus on the “big” assignment until I take care of these “lesser” ones.  Not lesser in terms of importance, but lesser in terms of time it will take to accomplish.  I’m the same way at work.  When I look on my desk and see a stack of 50 papers to read and evaluate, I can’t start until I’ve sat down to answer e-mails, finalized lesson plans for the next day, run my copies, etc.  So, although I’m still getting things accomplished, I feel somewhat defeated by the fact that I have only two more days to finish the draft of my lit review.

I have had some victorious  moments, however. For one, I submitted the draft of my learning activities way ahead of schedule.  I knew that when I “finished” the assignment there were some gaps.  Of course, those gaps were quickly addressed in Alex’s feedback, and while I wasn’t surprised, I can justify them.  The gaps included missing topics for the students’ discussion posts and specific reading assignments (articles, chapters, etc.)  The reason I left placeholders for these parts but didn’t address them in-depth is because I was waiting on final approval for materials.  Because ours is a grow-out school, this is the first year we will have students taking English IV, so we haven’t ordered materials/texts for them  as of yet.  I couldn’t be 100% sure when I was working on my learning activities that I would get the OK to order the texts I wanted for the Native American History aspect of the course.  It was possible (though unlikely) that I’d have to rely on materials more readily available and change the content to something like the Holocaust.  After meeting with my principal, though, everything is a “GO” and I have carte blanch to order whatever I need.  I figured this would be the case, but it would have been awful to have determined discussion topics for literature I couldn’t use.

Another victory I had this past week was in terms of interaction.  Catherine and I are both taking ETAP 529, and this past week we paired up to form a Peer Review group for our lit reviews.  We had to develop the rubric we’d use to assess each other’s interaction with the peer review process, so we had to e-mail one another quite a bit.  In doing so, we had many opportunities to chat about the challenges we face in keeping up in both classes while trying to maintain a social life.  Having the opportunity to interact with Catherine on a much more informal level really helped me in connecting to someone specific who was feeling the same way I was.

On a similar note, Catherine’s blog from last week struck a real chord with me.  In my own post, I was unable to come up with a suggestion or recommendation for change, but she did and it was brilliant.  She wrote, “Having to cite, quote,[and] bring in outside resources to support my reflections feels counterintuitive. It makes reflecting feel like more of another discussion post.”  I couldn’t agree more!  I’ve always enjoyed the ability to reflect on how and what I learn; having to bring in outside research to support that not only feels counterintuitive, but also forced and somewhat redundant.  Considering that the reflections are based off of what we’re learning, and that includes a huge amount of research, it just seems like “one more thing” to have to support how we learned through research with more research.

However, that’s what is expected, so this seems like a good time to bring some to the conversation.  My lit review for 529 is dealing with how online education can help bridge achievement gaps for at-risk K-12 students.  One thing I’ve learned is that there is very limited research—especially quantitative research—that speaks to the outcomes experienced by K-12 populations in general.  There is, however, a great deal of information on how to design and implement online programs for this population, and much of what I read gave me a great deal to think about as I design my own course.  Although the students in my course (at least for this first year) aren’t considered at-risk, many of the design elements and instructional strategies are effective for all students.  One thing that really struck a chord with me was the idea of mastery learning, “which focuses on learning rather than performance…[and] students are provided with the opportunity to revise their work based on specific feedback until they meet the targeted outcomes” (Archambault, et al., 2010). While this method isn’t exactly news to me, one thing I liked is the example given from one institution that only assigns grades of A, B, or C, providing students with a successful eperience with ongoing feedback from instructors. While I like the idea, I may adapt it to include an “IN-PROGRESS” as an additional option for grading an assignment that has not yet demonstrated mastery. The language is still positve and implies that the student is still working toward mastery without having “failed” at an attempt.

In my district, the only form of online edcuation currently available to students is credit recovery, so getting the opportunity to teach English IV as an online course is extremely exciting. Considering that between 2002 and 2007 there was a 60% increase in the number of students enrolled in distance education courses, and that the number of virtual schools nearly doubled from 15 in 2004 to 27 in 2009 (Muller, 2010), it may be the right time to help RCSD move into this realm. My intent is to “try it out” on our Honors students, collect data, and use that data along with my lit review to propose the inclusion of more online courses throughout our district. Who knows, maybe one day I can “create” my own position as the online education coordinator 🙂

Archambault, L., Diamond, D., Coffey, M., Foures-Aalbu, D., Richardson, J., Zygouris-Coe, V., . . . Cavanaugh, C. (2010, April). An Exploration of At-Risk Learners and Online Education. Vienna, Virgina, US: International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Muller, E. (2010, July). Virtual K-12 Public School Programs and Students with Disabilities: Issues and Recommendations. US: Project Forum.

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Crossing bridges as I come to them

 

Why do you do things the way that you do?

 In considering this question, I had to think about what it is I do?  In considering that, I realized I do a LOT! So, what should I be thinking about in terms of this question?  I started to focus on survival and how I am surviving in this course.  Everything has boiled down to establishing rituals and routines.  By establishing these, I’ve developed habits.  At the start of each module I make a pen and paper list of everything I need to do in the order I need to do them—readings, videos, discussion posts, blog posts, written assignments—everything!  I assign myself due dates within the module and I stick to them.  As I complete each activity, I highlight them in my notebook.  I love the visual effect of watching the blue or pink marks adding up as the weeks go on.  I feel a sense of accomplishment and can feel secure that I’ve done everything I need to do.  Writing my list helps me remember it and keeps me from having to go back to the “What’s due” section to see if I’ve missed anything.  All in all, it saves time and motivates me to reach my goals.  It also helps me manage my time by spreading activities throughout the modules.  When I have a day that I know will be busy, I can avoid “scheduling” anything for myself on that day.  I also build in “days off” so I can work through the pain (ha) and know that reprieve is coming!

 

What have you learned that you didn’t know before?

 One thing I’ve learned is how much time really goes into designing an online course.  This really speaks to my stubbornness, I think, because we’ve been told from the beginning that we should expect to spend at least 100-120 hours on the task, yet, I’ve refused to believe it would actually take that long.  Now that we’re starting to get to the meat of the course by drafting our documents, I get it!  On a positive note, this course, which is scheduled to be taught in January, will be created…I’ll be able to focus on keeping up with the discussions, student needs, and grading as opposed to writing lesson plans.  I typically plan ahead one unit at a time so that while we’re working on one unit I’m planning the next one PLUS grading, meeting with students after school, etc.  So I think the work I’m doing now will really pay off for me this school year.

 I’ve also had the opportunity to consider the importance of questions. I really enjoyed the article on The Role of Questions in Teaching, Thinking, and Learning.  My principal always compliments my integration of higher level questions on a daily basis; however the article gave me a new word bank to use with students in terms of categorizing the types of questions we use and the purpose of those questions.  One problem students often face is responding to a question that’s been asked and then generating new questions as a result.  Often times I find myself telling them that they’ve answered a question that has not been asked, so we ask a new question that is fueled by what they have answered and then revisit the original question.  By using the language provided to determine the function of a question, students may be better equipped to consider that question and then generate new inquiry.

 

How will you apply what you’ve learned to your own course? 

 I enjoyed reading Diane’s post about icebreakers and delved deeper into the implications for using icebreakers more effectively.  One thing I hadn’t considered before is the depth and breadth to which icebreakers can be used.  I always considered them to be dreadful and irrelevant to the purpose of the class or professional development.  However, “ice breakers can also be helpful in assessing prior knowledge, fostering group unity, introducing new topics within the course, and introducing tools within the online learning environment” (Magna Publications, Inc., 2004).  In thinking about additional ways to use icebreakers, I’d now like to sprinkle them throughout my course as a way for the students to share what they know about a new topic being introduced and to tap into prior knowledge while also allowing them to contribute to the online community by sharing knowledge in a more informal way.

 

What decisions have you made so far about your online course?

 One of the biggest decisions has been how to organize my modules.  With that complete, I can really “see” the course.  I’ve also made some decisions about technology.  I want students to use tools that are external to the CMS (such as blogs) and to use the internet to take some virtual field trips, but I want to keep things relatively simple in terms of the technology.  One thing being reiterated again and again in my ETAP 529 course is the idea that media may deliver instruction but it does not influence student achievement.  According to Clark (as cited in Simonson, et al., 2011), “the best current evidence is that media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in nutrition…only the content of the vehicle can influence achievement” (Albright, Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2011).

 

How do you interact in this course?

 In this course I interact with the students and instructor via the discussion forum; however, I also interact with the content.  By reading the posts and finding something I can sink my teeth into, I can go back to the readings and look over my notes or investigate a given topic more in-depth to share what I think or what I have learned.  In some ways I feel like a silent observer because there are so many posts to read but time allows response to a select few.  As I read each post I make note of those I wish to get back to.  I also find myself stopping in the middle of dinner, phone calls, or walks with my dogs to jot down thoughts, questions, or ideas I have for a post.  In this regard I feel like I’m always thinking about the course, which really is a double-edge sword.  While I’m thoroughly engaged, I often feel overwhelmed even though things have really settled down since establishing some  habits as mentioned earlier.

 

What has been difficult?

 So far the most difficult thing for me has been working while on the road.  This past week I was in New York City for the Asia Society/ISSN yearly conference and I found it extremely difficult to meet my professional obligations while completing course work and trying to enjoy some down time while in the City.  Being away from home disrupts those established habits, but I was able to do some multi-tasking and balance work and fun.

  

What’s working in this course?

 One thing that’s really working is transferring information the two courses I’m taking.  By finding commonalities between the theory being studied for ETAP 529 and the application in this course, I can often use what I’m learning in discussions for both.  It’s also useful that there are others in this course who are taking 529, so we can interact in two different online communities.

 

Albright, M., Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2011). Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education. Boston: Pearson.

Magna Publications, Inc. (2004, November). Using Multimedia to Trigger Threaded Discussions.

 

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Hitting my stride

“A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” In the past week, I’d say I’ve really settled into patterns and habits of surviving in this course.  I keep a list of things to do and highlight each assignment as I complete it.  With all the revisions to my course profile, I was feeling frustrated, as if I wasn’t doing it “right.”  It’s ironic that during the same time I was emphasizing the need for my students to revise their writing for final projects in my English classes.  I referred them to a quote by French poet Paul Valery: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”  We discussed this in terms of all writing, and really with anything requiring a process.  When I sat down to do the third revision of my course profile, I chuckled a bit thinking that I should take my own advice.  In the end, I am very happy with the latest revision, though I’m quite sure that when I go back to that document, I’ll make additional changes regardless of the fact that I finally got those 40 points!

I’ve begun working on my course documents for the online class, and I can actually say that I was giddy with excitement!  This just confirms the fact that I LOVE working on curriculum, and I’m not finding the online environment all that different from my traditional class preparation.  I know all of the documents we’ve read stress that online course preparation is NOT the same; however, I think it is.  In fact, in readingA Series of Unfortunate Events and How to Avoid Them, I strongly disagreed with a couple of points.  Actually, there were three points I highlighted:

1. One of the “attrocious assumptions” to be avoided is that you can re-create what you do in the F2F classroom online (Pickett, 2008).  I’m a novice when it comes to teaching and learning online, but I just can’t believe that the entire wheel has to be reinvented when adapting a traditional course for online use.  The objectives are the same, the learning activities are the same, the assessments are the same…the delivery is certainly different, but I can’t wrap my head around the idea that it’s a completely different monster.  Traditional courses include readings, discussion, analysis, interaction, learning activities, reflection, assessment, and so-on.  These same elements are present in the online courses.  So far (and I realize this may change in the next few weeks) as I’m working on course documents, I’m finding that I am creating the same types of documents I would for my traditional classes.  We’ll see…

2.  In relation to point #1, under the sub-heading How to Avoid This (The Bad Beginning), it states “planning that all out and following through is a lot of work and something not typically done for the conventional classroom.”  I’m giving consideration to the word “typically” here, but I’m still advocating for the fact that just as much planning goes into course design in a F2F environment as an online class.  I can’t speak for how all teachers prepare, but as for me and my colleagues, it’s commonplace, even required, that units (usually lasting 2-6 weeks) are mapped out with objectives, learning activities, assessments, rubrics…the works.  Most of us create course documents before we teach the course.  As with any teaching and learning experience, there will be adjustments along the way, but the planning is vital!

3.  “If you try something and it doesn’t work (or it breaks something)…Don’t do that again” (Pickett, 2008). This is actually contrary to what I believe.  I think that if I try something that is justified and well-thought-out and it doesn’t work, I need to reflect on why it didn’t work, make adjustments, and get back on the horse.  Sometimes things I try don’t work, and after several attempts I may set it aside or abandon it altogether, but most of the time I feel obligated to stick with it for a while.  In a high school setting, students will often need time to adjust to something new, so when it doesn’t work, sometimes it’s just a matter of time or practice to get it right.

Despite these points, I am enjoying the readings and learning a great deal about how to approach the design of an online course.  With so much to consider, I feel at ease after reading Catherine’s blog.  She wrote about making her course challenging in its content but not in its process.  This was a real “a-ha” moment for me.  I think this is the perfect way to approach my course.  In working with high school students, they thrive on rituals and routines.  Keeping things simple in terms of how to navigate and keeping language consistent will go a long way in how my students perceive the course and their experience overall.

In addition to overall course design, I’ve also had a chance to think about how my students will interact.  While I want the majority of their interaction to be academic-based and “formal” I also feel that their age warrants a place for informal gathering and discussing.  In reading the article Questioning the Necessity of Nonacademic Social Discussion Forums within Online Courses, I was surprised to find that students want social presence, not necessarily socialization and that by participating in academic social forums, the need for the non-academic social discussions is all but eliminated (Pate, Smaldino, Mayall, and Luethekans, 2009).  I don’t think this will deter me from including an area for this, but I won’t be surprised if students use it less as the course goes on.

 

Pate, A., Smaldino, S., Mayall, H. J., & Luetkenans, L. (2009). Questioning the Necessity of Nonacademic    Social Discussion Forums within Online Courses. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 1-8.

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The evolution of understanding

 

As the days go on, I realize that my understanding of what it takes to be a successful online learner and teacher is changing.  Before enrolling in the CDIT program, I spoke to some friends and colleagues who had taken online classes to try and figure out just what I was getting into.  Everyone I spoke with told me how much they loved the flexibility; they spoke about elaborate conversations with classmates via discussion boards; they said, “You can do this…no problem!”  So I enrolled with the belief that I would primarily working and learning in relative isolation and sharing my thoughts occasionally with other folks also learning in relative isolation.  BOY, WAS I WRONG!

What have you learned that you did not know before?

To this point, or at least in the past week, I’d say the one thing that stands out the most in terms of what I now know that I most definitely didn’t know before was about the importance of interaction in the online environment.  Actually, as a teacher, I’m somewhat ashamed that I didn’t expect interaction and collaboration to be more significant to this experience.

In viewing the What Works? LD Basics for the Online Classroom, I heard the point that  factors that determine success include interaction with the instructor and interaction with each other.  At first I thought, okay, well that makes sense, but I didn’t give it much thought.  However, in doing some reading for another course, this idea came up again and I began to really absorb the idea.  In Teaching and Learning at a Distance:  Foundations of Distance Education, the authors assert (as cited by Garrison 1990), “There is an increasing realization in the educational community that simply accessing information is not sufficient.  In an educational experience information must be shared, critically analyzed, and applied in order to become knowledge” (Albright, Simonson, Smaldino, and Zvacek, 2011).  My shock at the level of expectation for discussion in this course was almost immediately reduced to acceptance as I constructed my own understanding about why we’re putting so much work into the discussion posts.  It is vital to our learning that interaction is not limited to that which occurs between two or more people, but includes interaction between the student and the content (Anderson, 2003).  As we continue to interact with content and then share that learning with each other, we construct our own meanings and apply what we’re learning in a variety of contexts.

 

How will you apply what you’ve learned to your own course?

I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about the course I’m developing.  One thing I will keep in mind is that my students will not only need to interact with the content I provide, but they will also need to investigate content on their own and share their knowledge with one another.  It is very likely that I will use a model similar to what we’re doing here in terms of expectations for discussion posts.  I don’t want students to use the forum as a place to “vent” about all the work being assigned or to make plans for the weekend.  I want their posts to be relative, reflective, analytical, and to promote inquiry for their peers.

In addition, I am learning that researchers find it detrimental to simply make comparisons between Distance Education and Classroom Instruction.  Therefore, I think it is imperative that I stop thinking about how to transform my F2F materials to suit the online environment.  Rather, it will be important to explore what works in terms of online education and focus on the best practices as discussed in Part 2 of the course manual.

What decisions have you made about your own online course?

I’ve made a couple of decisions regarding the course:

  • Employ the “less is more” philosophy.  Keeping in mind, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” as stated in the What Works video, I think it’s important for me to remember that this course is being designed for students who have rarely , if ever, been involved in online learning.  While they have accessed learning resources, aids, and supplements for most of their classes, taking a mostly online course with limited F2F interaction will be a challenge in and of itself; therefore, it is my intention to keep the course as mainstreamed as possible in its design.
  • Incorporate some “fun” elements to “disguise” some of the rigor.  Whenever I’m working with student teachers, I always tell them two things–know your content, and become an actor.  Students thrive off of enthusiasm, regardless of the task they’re asked to take on.  One idea is to call the discussion board portion of the course (for informal conversation) the Coffee Shop (or some other, more creative name!).  Students like to be sociable…I want this to be a place where they can discuss aspects of their learning in an informal manner without worrying about being graded on what they write.  I imagine students passing in the halls and saying, “Meet me at the coffee shop later!”  I think there will be some guidelines in place for how to use this area, but overall, it will be their own space.
  • Limiting enrollment in this course to our Honors students.  These students are not only highly motivated, but typically they are savvy with technology.  Using them to pilot this course at my school will give me an opportunity to work out kinks that could potentially derail a student with special needs
  • Consulting with my inclusion teacher.  If this course is in fact offered to our whole school population, I would like to consult with my inclusion teacher to develop the supporting materials for our students with special needs.  Not only will the collaboration benefit the students, but it will also decrease the preparation on my part and keep her in the loop of how this course is being designed–this way she will be better able to assist students as needed in our limited F2F interactions

What did you observe about yourself during your completion of these learning activities?

Most importantly, I observed that I am getting comfortable in my “student hat” once again.  I finished my first Masters in 2005, so I’ve been away from the classroom (in a student role) for a while.  Finding my scholarly voice didn’t take long; I find that I am quickly falling back into old (and excellent) habits of being a student.  While it’s overwhelming, I do love it.  I’ve also observed that since the last time I was a student, much has changed.  Yes, in terms of technology and pedagogy, but I’m referring to me personally.  I’m a little older, a little wiser, much more settled in terms of my personal life and career, and overall just a much happier person than I was 7 years ago.  I think this is the right time for me to get back into that “student hat.”

How do you interact in this course?

Hmmm….very carefully!  In terms that I read and re-read directions (and still make mistakes), I find myself trying to be very, very careful as I approach each task.  Gone are the days of skimming and here are the days of close reading!  In terms of interacting with my peers, I read every post and although I’d love to respond to them all, that’s just not realistic.  I try to choose topics that I either have some knowledge about, interest in learning more about, or can relate to another course I’m taking.

What’s working?

Two words:  LIST-MAKING!

What would you change/suggest to make this course better for you?

The one thing I would suggest has already happened…the adjustment in discussion posts.  I find that to be very helpful in managing the workload, and more importantly, in allowing for quality.

 

Albright, M., Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2011). Teaching and Learning at a Distance:  Foundations of Distance Education.    Boston: Pearson.

Anderson, T. (2003). Getting the Mix Right Again: An updated and theoretical rationale for interaction. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 1-14.

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