Monday, December 1, 2014

POTCert Week 13: Personal Learning Networks

Helen Crump on Learning and Networking
Dean Shareski, Sharin: The Moral Imperative 2012
Alec Couros, Teaching and Learning In A Networked World 2010
Gardner Campbell, A Personal Cyberstructure 2009

Ko & Rossen, Chapter 14: Taking Advantage of New Opportunities
Martin Weller on The Virtues of Blogging as a Scholarly Activity 2012

I've always thought of myself as a connected person long before I even discovered the internet. Like many, I've enjoyed meeting new people, keeping in touch with them and organizing or joining interesting activities with them. However to me keeping each group of friends (whether casual or close) separate was unnatural. I've always created opportunities to introduce everybody to everybody else, family members, work colleagues, school mates, childhood friends, friends I made while attending courses etc. :) Have I been creating a network of some sort? May be, but more than anything it was a mixture of an act of sharing and not wanting to miss on being with any of them.

The concepts of a PLN and Web Residency have been around for a while. I'd read about them but never really thought about them beyond my initial reaction. Of course I have a PLN and I am a Web resident, I thought.  However during these past two weeks for several reasons including this week's material, I started thinking about them more deliberately.

My Personal Learning Network
I started questioning what I meant when I talked about my PLN and I started thinking about how I am building it. Watching Helen Crump's video and later reading Kristi's post with a list of some of her PLN components, I started realizing that while people who appear on my different online contact lists form one of the most important parts of my PLN, they are actually not the only component. I think that every space that I belong to, have or visit regularly for learning is part of my PLN. Also, every tool that I use to communicate with people, find, curate and share ideas and content is part of my PLN. I know now that I need to organize or document my PLN perhaps in a mindmap format or something. I think that would help me explore what it means and how it fits in with the Cyberinfrastructure ( a concept that I still need o examine) but most importantly how to make it as useful as possible for me and everybody else who's part of it.

As for how I am building my PLN, I think it's a combination of intentional search, staying open and curious and willing to share not only expertise but also doubts and concerns among other things mixed with serendipitous opportunities. As an example, I am not a fan of Facebook, but when I was dragged into it by friends and family, I decided to find something that suited me in it. At the time I was interested in e-learning so I looked for groups that were focused on the subject. One group post lead me to a blog that listed 100+  free tools for online learning. Two of the tools were Secondlife and Twitter. In Secondlife I repeated the same intentional search and found several educational groups and connected with several people who became part of my PLN. Those in turn lead me to Virtaul Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference, to MOOCs, then to POTCert and many other groups and spaces to learn from and hopefully contribute to.

Becoming a Resident

Am I really a resident of the Web as I originally thought. I honestly am not sure. I feel like a resident but I don't have enough to show for it. I've had several places that I've used extensively and regularly like diigo but I also have had several blogs where I'd almost never wrote anything except for very few bits for a course I did online and then now for POTCert. Perhaps I feel at home on the web but I haven't created a real home of my own where others can find me. A place where I share my thoughts, my experiences and my learning. I am very glad that I am finally writing although I know that I still have a long way to go. One of the concerns that I share with others is the time that creating and maintaining my web home and identity requires as well as how much I have to share of myself with the world. I strongly believe that it's better to start slow than to wait for too long. I don't intend to overwhelm myself by trying to get everything done in a short time but I mean to start working gradually on building some small contributions like short videos or audios and continue blogging just enough to build the habit of writing. I know I should be ready to be visible and accessible to my trainees/students online the way I am in f2f , and like on the ground the image I present and how visible and accessible I am to the world are things that I decide and design based on my style as a professional trainer but also as a human being.

As for my final presentation,  I am working on a short reflective presentation about what Open Education means to me.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

POTCert Week 12: Open Education



In 2009, searching for new tools and ideas for training and learning online, I came across a blog that listed 100 free tools. Three of the tools I discovered then that are particularly relevant to my thoughts about this week's topics are Khan Academy, Twitter and Secondlife.

Flipped Classroom
Discovering the Khan Academy and looking for information about what it was, how it started and why teachers thought it was great introduced me, for the first time, to the "Flipped Classroom" expression. It seemed like educators around the world were in general excited about it, but with some raising concerns on blogs and twitter about how this may overload students with extra work. Whichever side they were on, I was and still am surprised that they thought it was something totally new. Some of my best teachers throughout my school years, even as early as in 6th grade, used that technique of asking us to read through material in preparation for a class, then in class we had two-way Q and A sessions as well as discussions and exercises that allowed us to test and consolidate our understanding. I used similar technique in training whenever I thought it useful. But then I noticed that those who usually talk about a flipped classroom do so when the technique involved using video lectures. I had several questions that this week's material allowed me to revisit.

  1. Is the Flipped Class a new idea? I honestly don't think so. I believe that it is a technique that many teachers have been using all along (much older than even this Wikipedia about Flipped Classroom page seem to indicate) that just got enhanced and made very visible and attractive by the possibilities that the Web tools bring.
  2. Is the class Flipped based on the material the students use to prepare for the lesson or more specifically on them using Video Lectures? I think not. To me, a Flipped Classroom is about where and the learning starts. The students don't wait until they go to class for the learning process to start, instead they start at home. What kind of activity or content is used at home is a question that, as I thought about the validity of my own answer, generated a completely new question. So, the answer that I kept thinking about is that there are many options of material to be used at home for a flipped classroom and not only videos. And the new question that is also in a way part of the answer is. Video about what a Flipped Classroom is.
  3. What type of pedagogy does a Flipped Classroom applies? The more I think about it the more I am convinced that a Flipped Classroom can apply any of the Education Theories. Well at least I can think of examples of how behaviorism (Text books, Video Lectures) and constructivism/constructionism (research, experiment, find answers to, make/create) are applied in a Flipped Classroom, but can connectivism be applied?  I need to think this a bit more. 
 In my opinion, like any other type of activity used in education, the usefulness of the Flipped Classroom depends on how it's designed to enhance the learning based on the learning objectives and the pedagogical purpose. I know that in my courses there are sessions that would've been completely ruined by the Flipped Classroom style :) .

Open Education
It's interesting to explore what the word Open means not only to the educators who offer open courses but also to the learners who enroll into them. Open content, Open Teaching, Open for any one to enroll and participate and more. One of the aspects of open that I consider to be very important is the ability to enroll any time from any place which allows for an always learning opportunities. 

Secondlife was one of my first experiences of an environment where teaching and learning are open and always on. In Secondlife I found courses that ranged from Programming to Cooking offered mostly free of charge by residents of the Virtual World who came from all over the world, which meant that whatever the time zone, there was something available. The teachers were not necessarily professional teachers in real life but residents of the Virtual World who taught others what they had expertise in.

Alec Couros in the video that Cris Crissman shared talks about what open means to him as making the learning visible. I think in some cases that is true same as in a f2f classroom but from experience the learning in MOOCs is not always visible. As the article quoted one of the participants, I personally lurked a lot, participated only when I felt I comfortable and I learned.

What I really appreciated about George Siemens's post about the differences and similarities between the original MOOCs and the ones offered by major universities like Stanford, MIT and Harvard through Coursera and Edx, is, contrary to that fans of the original MOOCs, he sees the value of both and he recognizes that both types are still evolving. In fact, I had the chance, this year, to experience the difference that has already taken place since he wrote that post in 2012. I enrolled in one of the Stanford courses offered through Coursera and 2 MIT courses offered through Edx. The coursera ones were clearly very traditional Beahviorist while the MIT ones were very Constructivist/Constructionist style and used the connectivist. I found the way the MIT courses interesting and encouraging however, unfortunately, so far I have been able to only sample those courses instead of participating fully, something that I intend to do as soon as I get another opportunity.

One of the most important benefits of MOOCs is the opportunity they present the learners and educators to create and expand their learning networks. Here's a video interview with George Siemens explaining the original MOOCs and what he thinks are the main benefits. It was through Secondlife that I discovered and participated in several learning events including MOOC and other courses. It was through a MOOC that I found POTCert. Within the open courses and learning networks one of the most important tools that allows for the creation and development of  as well as maintaining the connection with the learning network is Twitter. Honestly without a tool such as Twitter I am not sure how the connectivist style open courses would work.

End of Course Presentation
Writing this post helped me to finally find a topic that I would like to create a presentation about. I decided to choose between Flipped Classroom and Open Education.

Monday, November 17, 2014

POTCert Week 11: Introduction to Online Education Theory

Larry Sanger, Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age (2010)
Jaron Lanier, Does the Digital Classroom Enfeeble the Mind (2010)
George Siemens, Networks, Ecologies, and Curatorial Teaching (2007)

For years I've watched the corporate world jump on the latest idea, whether it's related to management, leadership, customer service, marketing, employee development or whatever else, based on the phenomenal success of one company or the other or on the latest best seller written about one of those subjects. I watched as one group of managers campaigned for adopting the new idea making it sound like the cure all solution, trying to replicate or implement it, in many cases without enough thought to why was it successful in the first place, how it was implemented, what were the kind of adjustments that had to be made for it to succeed, how long did it take, what corporate culture allowed it to be successful, what are the possible risks, cost, unwanted consequences etc., while on the other side another group demonized it without a second look at what we could learn from it, twisting every part of it and every word to prove why it wouldn't work, or just simply pulled rank to stop it.

 I enjoy change and I get very excited about new ideas and possibilities, but an unjustified "either or " or "all or nothing" attitudes towards different options frustrates me.

I think something similar seems to, sometimes, happen in education when a new tool, space or theory is proposed. One of my experiences of that was after I joined my first MOOC (massive Open Online Course) sometime in 2011. I lurked a lot, participated little, but I learned and I expanded my learning network, in fact that's how I got to know about POTCert. There were those who wrote about it as the best thing that ever happened and the solution to all the problems in education and on the other side there were those who openly labeled it a useless idea. As a learner I liked some things and was frustrated by other aspects of the MOOC and I am still working on figuring it out.

As I mentioned in previous posts, while my preference is experiential learning style (which is more constructivist), I've used several pedagogical styles in the same course and I believe that this should and can be applied to online learning. As for the connectivist style, I have to say I am still learning about it. I need to have enough experience in it as a learner to make educated decisions when I am thinking about using it as a trainer.

I love the possibilities that the internet brings but I am not blind to how it can be misused, or to that there are some unwanted side effects already visible and that there may be more to be discovered.

Lanier says that we don't know about the working of the brain, and I can agree that for a long time we didn't and that we may still not know enough, but luckily neuroscience is finally taking a closer look at how we learn and how this knowledge impacts education. Here are some examples:

In any case, we have several well established learning theories that inform instructional designers and educators as they create courses with observable results and they can still inform them as they use computers and the internet tools to enhance the learning opportunities and experiences. What I agree with Lanier on is that computers and the internet in education need to be used more effectively and creatively to enhance and deepen the learning and not only because it's the latest fad someone is promoting.  I agree with him that we need more spaceships.

These are a couple of examples of how computers and the internet allowed for a learning experience that would not have been possible without them:

Larry Sanger's article in my opinion is another all or nothing view, predicting the end of everything "good" in education. I have so many examples to respond to each point but this will make the post too long. However I will just say something brief about the first point.

As a learner I was never good at or enjoyed memorizing facts especially when I couldn't see the benefit. I recognize that there are subjects where memorizing facts is important and unfortunately in the education system in Egypt there's no distinction. In the Public Schools it's all about cramming huge amounts of content only to dump it in a test and mostly forget it right after. The example that Sanger took of historical dates is exactly why I hated history as a student (sorry Lisa). The funny thing is that many years later I went and studied the full Egyptian history with the related archaeology to obtain a license as a tourist guide, and I enjoyed it tremendously. Did I change? No. The main difference was the way it was introduced and it was relevant. I still don't like nor understand the purpose behind making children memorize dates. I would love my niece who's 11 to be curious about the history, the sequence of events and what lead to them, the consequences. I would love her to be able to draw comparisons between historical events and what happens now and learn from it all and none of this requires her to memorize the dates.

A comment titled Learning Has Not Changed... much posted in response to the article by Susan Fowler under her user name referencegirl says more of what I wanted to say. Thank you Susan. :)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

POTCert Week 10: Classroom Management and Facilitation

Discussion topics: class facilitation and how a CMS/LMS may impact pedagogy, class design, and class management

  1. Lisa M Lane, Insidious Pedagogy (2009)  
  2. Terry Anderson and Jon Dron's  Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogy (2011)
  3. Ko & Rossen, Teaching Online: A Practical guide, Chapter 11: Classroom Management and Facilitation

I remember the first course that I've ever run in 1992. All the educational technology I had at my disposal at the time was a white board with colored dry-wipe markers, paper and pens. My responsibility was to train high school graduates who'd been recruited to work in a bank so that they were ready to start working at the different branches. I thought no amount of lecturing, writing on the board or even discussions alone was going to help them become anything close to ready. So, I created sample forms, paper money, some customer profiles and customer scenarios and we played Bank. They learned and enjoyed it. What led me to create that simulation was the learning objectives and the activities I knew were necessary to achieve them.

While this example was not online, it shows clearly that while knowing what tools and options are available in a classroom or a LMS is important and will have an impact on my decisions I cannot allow it to dictate a style of training less than useful for achieving the objectives . What I usually do in f2f courses (also applicable to online courses) is, as I am deciding on the activities based on learning objectives and the pedagogical style that I think is most effective, I look at the course venue or classroom and survey the resources. If I find that the resources for any of the activities are not available I do two things:

1- think of alternative activities or ways that would work with the existing resources without compromising the learning.
2- look into the possibility of obtaining the resources that I originally needed.

New online teachers must not only learn how to use the new tools that fit with their style and objectives but also regularly look at what else is there and how it is used by other teachers. While new technology and tools do not make a good course if the pedagogy is not sound, it is important to keep an eye on what can enrich or enhance the activities and the learning.

But, is it better to use and LMS or use the tools available on the open Web? I lost my fascination with LMSs many years ago, once I discovered how dry, limited, closed and sometimes expensive they were compared to all the open tools on the web such as wikis, voice threads, video conferencing, video blogs, twitter etc. However, I've changed my mind again. I found that newer versions of the big LMSs nowadays have most of the great tools integrated in them. Still, I noticed that many educators speak negatively about using an LMS and call it a Walled Garden, a place that keeps teachers and students from interacting with and learning from the outside world. Personally, I think it's may be an advantage to have a home in the LMS and go out to explore and learn on the open Web. I wonder if the LMS can be designed to have a home with windows and doors that can be opened and closed whenever it's appropriate and a garden that's open to the Web.

Whether we use tools on a LMS, on the open Web or both, the important thing is how we use them to create an effective course utilizing appropriate pedagogical styles.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

POTCert Week 9: Our Students Online

This week I went through all four assigned readings and I found the ideas, results and recommendations interesting and thought provoking but I disagreed with several points not only because of my own experience as a citizen of the web and an online learner but also because of what I've heard from learners and teachers from countries in the Middle East, China, Japan and Korea.

The research and thought behind it is a good start but far from enough to inform the design and delivery of effective online and blended courses. To me they've raised more questions than provided answers as they focused on behaviors and tendencies without looking into the reasons behind them.

Reflecting on the readings, the main thoughts that stay with me are:
  • I must not assume anything when it comes to how different learners may react to, prefer or need in an online course, and definitely not in regards to the reasons behind different levels of performance.
  • As always the best way is to communicate and get to know students and their needs and continuously seek feedback from them on what they find helpful or challenging and why.
  • I must endeavor to provide learners with choices and find ways to provide scaffolding informed by observation, performance reviews and feedback.
  • I am interested in educating learners on how the use of technology may be affecting their learning abilities and habits and I would like to include some tools and activities to teach them skills such as mindfulness, that can counteract the negative effects of distracting technology. 
My wish list 
  • Educational and research institutes conduct more extensive and in depth studies not only of what happens and what are the tendencies and preferences but most importantly of why?
  • Researchers in the educational field should benefit from the latest neuroscience discoveries and perhaps initiate some collaboration to better understand the effects of the patterns of using the technology and how to create learning environments that are brain friendly.

FQA and Online Learning Readiness Survey
Thanks to all my co-learners who posted their FQA and Surveys I realized how different the focus of those two tools can be from course to another.

Looking at the online learning readiness as a learner and also as a trainer inspired me to explore other examples from different educational institutions.

Here's an Online Readiness survey that I started on Google Forms. The questions and type of answers are just examples that I used to try out the different options but also different ideas of core or generic questions that can apply to any type of online course.

This is the start of a FAQ for a blended Train the Trainer course

Edited 3rd Nov 2014 after reading Brian's post I was inspired to try embedding the survey here. It worked but doesn't look right as I had created it as a stand alone. To embed it I will have to make it a simple form without any theme. I am glad I learned this here thanks to Brian Whitbread and other co-learners who tried things I learned from.

Yay found a way using html to make it look better.

Friday, October 24, 2014

POTCert Week 8: Creating Class Elements

I was very happy to start this week because exploring and learning new tools on the internet and their potential for teaching, learning, self expression etc is actually a hobby of mine. However, I immediately started feeling the tension between my tendency to keep looking and experimenting and the need to focus on the purpose of this week's exploration.

Both the reading and the videos for this week got me exploring the suggested tools, alternatives to the dead tools and also different ways those tools can be useful in the learning process. These are some thoughts:

Instructors/teachers and Learners benefit: 
One of the most important features of web 2.0 tools for me is that they provide variety and choice. They allow teachers to demonstrate, explain and assess in different ways suitable for different styles of learning, and also they provide learners with not only different ways of getting the information but perhaps more importantly more choices to express themselves, participate, contribute and demonstrate their learning.

I don't usually need to do summative assessments of my trainees' learning but I think using quizzes and polls is one way to encourage self assessment and reflection, gather information that allow learners to help each other and for the teachers/trainers to discover where they need to make changes or add support for the current and future groups.

How much is enough

  • Pedagogy first, and in my opinion this includes building a learning community, triggering curiosity and a sense of adventure, inspiring creativity, providing different means of expressions and allowing for different progression speeds, and good and creative use of the tools can be very helpful for those purposes.
  • Many tools require a certain level of hardware and network speed to run well, which means that accessibility by the specific group of learners need to be established and there should be lower tech alternatives and/or workarounds available.
Natural vs Scripted
When creating video and audio presentations, natural can be fun, authentic, personal and encouraging for learners when it's their turn to express themselves. On the other hand scripted is usually more efficient and sounds more professional. I think there is a place for both types depending on the purpose and situation. Also I think in an on the ground class what helps me is not script (I cannot script a full day and wouldn't want to any way), what helps is having a clear outline, using prompts and rehearsing.

Ever Changing Web
Especially when using the free web tools, it's best to have a Go with the Flow attitude as it's the nature of the web, as a read/write world, to be in a continuous state of change, but it's also important to be ready.Tools disappear and new ones become available and it's important to
  • Have a backup
  • Stay in the loop in regards to the health of the tools I'm using, which means visiting their sites and stay updated on what is new, both good and not so good.
  • Continue exploring new options and alternatives. Students can even help with that as well as the community of educators.
Learn how to be on the web
In our lives we learn and then teach about useful behaviors that help us interact with others in the world around us in ways that fulfill our needs keeping in mind others' needs and rights. We also learn how to stay safe. I believe that most of those behaviors are transferable to the web, but need to be supplemented with some additional habits considering factors that are particular to the environment such as anonymity, exposure and permanency.  It's very important to teach kids and students how to be good citizens of the web, as it is becoming more and more an integral part of our lives, the same way that we teach them how to be good citizens of the material world.

My Makes for this week
I really enjoy discovering, learning, experimenting and playing with new tools, and I've always thought that it was an advantage. The challenge is, searching for and learning new tools can be time consuming, and what I am learning to do is make decisions to what I can easily use right away while I continue my exploration.

Finally here are two of the tools that I played with for this week.

I don't like it yet but I decided to try it and then later work on learning how to get the results that I want.

embed plus 
I looked at tubechop but wanted an alternative that I can use online without having to download anything. I found embed and tried it on a funny video from WoW .  embed allows me to select and embed part of a youtube video and add captions to it. So here's the part that I selected with captions on it. I call it Panda Talk :) .

Monday, October 13, 2014

POTCert Week 6: Student activities

Lonely with hundreds of learners
Around 2000 I enthusiastically jumped into an online course that was offered by a university known for being a pioneer in online learning. Up until then, I'd been enjoying the connectedness with people, ideas, information and technology since I had logged into the internet for the first time in 1997.  As I joined the course, I was very motivated and expected to have a memorable learning experience with an international cohort and it came as an absolute shock to me when my motivation started to disappear and I realized how lonely it could feel learning online, no matter how interesting the subject matter is, how many people I was supposed to be learning with or how interesting and new the tools were.

Community and Pedagogy
I believe that while designing activities and selecting tools I must be guided not only by the Learning Objectives but it is absolutely necessary that I am also guided by the objective of Creating a Community conducive to learning.

Flexible tools
On thinking about the different activities that I can use to serve both the learning objectives and the building of the community and the tools that I can use for those activities, I realized that most of the online tools that I know were not originally created with education in mind, but many of them were adopted by educators and learners looking for new ways of connecting and creating meaning. Also, most of the tools can be used in so many ways and for so many purposes, for example a video can be created by the teacher or the learner to explain content, for self introduction, to reflect etc., therefore I plan to not only consider different tools for different activities but also think of how to use the available tools in different ways.

The following are few ideas that I'd like to try out and focus on to lay the foundation for a supportive learning community.

1- Getting to know each other (introductions) & learning the Tools
I would like to start this activity 2 weeks to a month before the actual course starting date.

  • Ask the learners to create a self introduction piece using, text, video, audio, cartoon etc. This can be according to set parameters or free. Examples of parameters could be maximum 35 words, 30 seconds, or set of information like how you'd like to be called, your favorite pass-time, your favorite pet, choose an animal to represent you and explain why, favorite site etc.
  • Send learners a list of some online tools that they can use in creating the introductions such as Wordle Quozio Zeega Gyazo Voicecloud Vocaroo etc. and encourage them use any other that they know and can share later.
  •  I would like to provide simple guidelines to help students protect their privacy and their image such as reminding them that what they create online will most probably be there for a long time if not forever, that it is very easy for anyone to Google them or by sheer chance find the information, to have fun and be creative but be respectful and not offensive.
  • Provide a space where the trainees can share their creations and comment or ask question on others' at the beginning of the course.

I think starting this before the course allows the students to have enough time to get familiar with some of the online tools, start thinking of their identity online whether within the LMS or outside it, and be creative and have enough time to interact and have fun conversations about those creations once they've shared them as well as help each other.

2- Ice Breakers/energizers
while I am using activity no.1 (introductions) as an ice breaker, I would like to use short, fun activities that can serve as energizers several times during a course to create opportunities for more relaxed, friendly interactions between the students and provide quieter, more shy students to participate. Examples if one of the topics is Leadership: Create a short satyric representation of the different types of leadership, organize a Tweetchat  where students can share quotes related to leadership

3- Building Shared Purpose
I can facilitate the creation of shared purpose though team assignments, projects short or long and also by agreeing the learning objectives.
While I already have the course objectives I would like to make it more relevant to the trainees, so instead of asking them to just read them, I am thinking of two other activities:
 - Ask the trainees to individually think of 3 different things that they would like to learn during the course then share them in a Forum, Google Doc or titanpad perhaps with a smaller group. These can be revisited during the course.
 - Ask the trainees to select one or two learning objectives and share how they think they can be useful to them in their lives now or in the future.

4- Blogging
I believe that blogging is one of the best tools for reflection, discussions, getting feedback, building a portfolio and evidence of learning an online learning situation, but I also know how difficult it can be to put thought in writing. In order to facilitate the process of blogging I would like to :

  • Create a space Forum perhaps or a space of aggregated blogs
  • Encourage learners to make very short posts/comments reflecting on individual ideas, pieces of content (e.g a video or and article) as they go through the material. Those posts are not required and not assessed but they can receive feedback or they can be discussion points.
  • May also create some open ended questions about different parts of the material in a way that help learners focus their their thoughts without limiting their reflection process.
  • Culminate in a final assessed post.

As I write those ideas I realize that they are still raw and need tweaking but they are ideas that I would like to pursue and develop.

General thoughts

There's so much more to think about in selecting the right activities and tools for a supportive community to develop and the learning to happen and these are some of the main ideas that stand out for me:
  • Allow individual learners time to think and prepare on their own but encourage and facilitate collaboration. In real life this is what happens, they talk together, ask questions, share ideas and support so why not online.
  • For group work, create ways to vary the team member selection method (self serve vs assigned). Also roles can be assigned and learners should be encouraged to also participate in deciding the roles.
  • Discussion forums need some agreed rules otherwise they can turn into a chaotic confusing space difficult to navigate.
  • Learners can be encouraged to volunteer to moderate or lead different activities.
I think a supportive community in an online course is created when learners first start to see each other as people, co learners who have interests, backgrounds, challenges etc. like them and not just names listed online and when those learners feel acknowledged, accepted and valued. Those learners then start to form connections with those who share and value their interests, offer them help or ask for their help. There are so many informal but strong and successful communities online that as an educator I can learn from.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

POTCert Week 5 : The Online Classroom

I tend to go through the material several times allowing myself some reflecting time in between. This helps me connect different ideas as well as examine and clarify the reasons behind my initial reaction.

The following are the main thoughts.

1- Ko and Rossen, Chapter 6: Building an Online Classroom
The chapter starts with the following statement "Now that you've done the necessary design, planning, and development work on your course and fleshed out your syllabus, it’s time to actually build your course."

If this means that teachers should literally complete the syllabus and then start searching for what is available to them, then I disagree. Starting to think about what is available within the LMS or the WWW at this stage in my opinion is too late. Especially for a teacher who has no experience with online learning tools, how would she/he possibly design or plan a voice assignment or a collaborative writing activity, for example, if they didn't know if there were tools for them? Analyzing the offerings of the online environment and the availability of different resources is an important part of the planning process, and essential for the design of the course and the activities. The authors did point out that teachers may need to go back and change the syllabus based on their findings, however in my opinion several of the recommendations they made would be more effective if started during the planning stage and not to be left until the implementation stage.

2- A Manifesto for Teaching Online
I enjoyed watching the video and agreed with most of the presented statements/ideas, but I was puzzled by the one that said "Online teaching should not be downgraded into facilitation". In the training field, trainers strive to become effective facilitators able to facilitate the learning without having to be the sage on the stage. To me a facilitator is a teacher using more a constructivist approach. I would like to know what it means to teachers.

The statement regarding Best Practice (@ 1:24)  made me think ( I have to confess I used the term before but never in a rigid sense) and I think it's a good reminder to be flexible, creative, and use practices that help my trainees learn. Best practice for one group may not be good for another group and I would want to know why and how a practice was deemed best.

3- 7 things I'd want to know as a new online teacher
point #1 is when I felt the telepathy :). I'd been looking at all my favorite online tools and to my horror, well, it was scary to discover that many of them vanished or got bought by bigger players or just became premium, while I was away from the online scene. I started thinking about material that I am creating on blogs or Google drive. It's scary to think that I may loose it all if anything happens to those companies, and I decided that I needed to make a backup of everything. I am trying not to be paranoid but what happens if my computer crashed? :) I guess backing up my own computer is a good practice any way.

point #4 When I first read it a couple of question marks popped up in my head, but reading the conversation between Lisa and Suzanne Aurilio below the post cleared them. It is still an interesting point to discuss and reflect on further.

4- The 2 videos also provided very useful tips and I particularly intend to
- manage expectations by being realistic and clear on time and frequency of being available to answer questions and discuss issues.
- creating chunks of material that can be repeated. Soft Skills trainers tend to do that and find it very useful as much of the material can fit within different courses.
- creating spaces and activities for and encouraging some informal communication between students and students and teacher. There used to be a very interesting video thread that allowed for posting, almost like a video twitter. Unfortunately I cannot remember what it was called and I think it disappeared any way as the search didn't produce anything similar. :(
- I am glad I discovered that Pilar used for her video. I can use it in an activity where trainees use it to present.


  • Familiarizing ourselves with what tools are available to us is very important and it must start  as part of the planning before creating the syllabus not after. I am repeating myself but I feel very strongly about this point.
  • I am starting to be convinced that things have changed so that now having a good LMS has become an advantage, as most of them are integrating many useful tools and the teacher still has the option to include activities that take the students to the richness of the www.
  • I wish those who are working on and interested in OER (Open Education Resources) work on creating and making available free and open source tools for learning that won't disappear for commercial reasons.

Friday, September 26, 2014

POTCert Week 4: The Online Syllabus

This week's material was a great reminder of why I chose the name of my blog. We learn not only from what is new but from revisiting what we think we already know, from what we don't like or don't agree with sometimes even more than from what we like and agree with, we learn observing others, how and why they react to different things and how they learn.

Following are some of the main points that I liked and some that I would change

From Ko and Rossen, chapter 5:

I found it difficult to read this chapter, but revisiting parts of it separately during the last few days helped, and I am not sure if the ebook reader is to blame for how this chapter looks like.
I expected a template that shows the outline of the syllabus highlighting the main sections, each followed by a list of possible components, may be, tagged "must have", "recommended", "nice to have" and "additional". After all the book is meant for teachers new to online teaching, and in any case templates are useful whatever the level of experience. Here's an analogy: if I'm planning a big family dinner and I want to make healthy decisions, I may consult Five Good Groups or Food Groups, but what dishes I decide and how they're presented will depend on many things, but mainly my style, my guests and what I know about them, such as preferences and health, the weather, the availability of ingredients etc. How about we create one together by the end of the course?

I liked the metaphor of Contract, Map, Schedule and I think combined with the subsequent checklist they can be used to start a template.

The two syllabus examples: I would have liked to see the main differences highlighted. Also as a learner I would find it very difficult to locate the information I am looking for in the syllabus the way it is presented in the book (still blaming the ebook reader). I tried here to make the information a bit more visible.

From Rachelle and Pilar's videos:

  • Visuals and graphs to make information easier to find and to create interest
  • Adding useful information within each week that saves students extra clicks to find it outside.
  • Adding hyperlinks
  • On Pilar's course page I notice "Meet Pilar". I like the friendly tone it sets, instead of "meet your instructor"
  • Rachelle's student schedule was sectioned with a colored border that made it easy to see the different weeks.
  • I don't like to scroll up and down trying to find the information I need, instead I prefer to have an index or "content list" hyperlinked to the different sections of the document.
  • When it comes to organizing a week's activities with due dates and points, I prefer a table format as it makes it easier to see information.
Due Dates

HTML : I've learned html at least a couple of times before, but like any language, it needs practice. I am enjoying relearning it and finding immediate use for it (see the video).

Twitter: I've been using twitter on and off for a few years. It can be a great learning tool, connecting with people, ideas, events, it can be used as a discussion tool, in education even in a f2f class and a lot more. But, it can be overwhelming to try and follow everything happening there. There are several desktop and online programs that help with filtering the stream, allowing me to see only what I want to see. So far I've been using tweetDeck as I like the type of control it gives me.

My first Video
I would love to learn more about this Bandicam software so that I can improve the quality of my video and also learn about editing.

I think the best thing about the material this week is that it got me to start experimenting, and in the process I reached a point where I have a clearer idea of where to start.

Monday, September 22, 2014

POTCert Week 3 : Pedagogy and Course Design

Panic is what I felt followed by some "ah that's a good idea" but let me explain.

In spite of being an avid user of the internet and having been experimenting with tools and learning different related skills since 1997, I have never had the chance to design and create an online course. For my f2f courses I always design for maximum trainee involvement, so that the learning objectives are reached through activities such as role plays, games, simulations, individual as well as group projects, case studies and suitably designed discussions and feedback to unpack the learning from all that towards achieving the course objectives. So why panic?

As I went through the readings and videos in a very non linear way I started developing some concerns:

1- Some topics and activities are easier to translate to online than others. E.G. a Business Finance course vs a Train the Trainer course where the trainees are going to be f2f trainers, and must experiment and try different activities in a classroom and get feedback from their colleagues and from me.

2- Blended vs Fully online. Is one better than the other for some subjects or in some circumstances? Is going for blended a cop-out?

3- LMS vs tools from the WWW : Apart from POTCERT itself, all the examples that I've looked at have been created within an LMS, something that I cannot use, at least not yet. How will that impact the design, especially from the point of view of the availability of the tools I need for different activities, to the time that I will need to invest. Is the WWW more limiting, compared to something like Blackboard or just requires thinking outside all the boxes? :)

Describing all the "ah that's a good idea" moments will make this post too long, so I will just briefly mention parts that resonated with or inspired me.

From Chickering and Ehrmann
3. Good Practice Uses Active Learning Techniques
7. Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

From Chapter 3
- the power of delivering a blended course. what was needed was a true redesign of her course to effectively blend and integrate face-to-face and online elements.
- course as a constantly evolving project
- Like the art of translation, course conversion should not merely strive for a word-for-word equivalency, but should allow the new language of communication to be fully exploited. Just as there are some things one can say only in Chinese or Spanish, there are new and different forms of expression.

From Videos
- Different ways of sequencing
- adding a video message to welcome and orient
- Ask the teacher button
- being creative and creating a sense of adventure, curiosity and community

A couple of useful tools that I found
1- Vocaroo
2- Gyazo

Friday, September 19, 2014

Testing post

A Post to test publishing with different elements on the page whenever needed

I was looking for a tool that allows me to post only voice without video when I found Vocaroo. Here I am testing the service by embeding the voice file I created. Here goes.

Audio and voice recording >>

This a test to upload an audacity file converted to MP3

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

POTCert Week 2: Teaching and Learning Online

Going through the material for this week I had the chance to reflect not only on what I usually do in my training and teaching but also why I do it. Two main thoughts persisted.

1- While whatever I do is always guided by Learning Objectives agreed with internal or external clients, I always have one more underlying goal, almost always unwritten, and sometimes never even explicitly agreed, that is for the learners to develop an interest in, and hopefully a passion for continuing to learn beyond any course and have a glimpse of how that can extend to all aspects of their lives.

2-  consequently, when I am choosing learning activities I think effective and relevant, but I also think experiential, lively, fun, thought provoking, connected  among other things. I include a variety that depends on many different factors, I usually end up mixing and matching and combining different types of activities.

Ok so now I think 

when it comes to tools in a f2f (face to face) situation, I have a personal preference for using games and videos (especially humorous training videos) followed by discussions and or reflection. However I know from experience that what I think is the most fun can be the most confusing, frustrating and even boring to some of my trainees. So I learned to be flexible and unattached to the plan, if it's not working at all, I change it to something that can lead to better results (even objectives can be reworked). I realized that the more tools that I know how to use the more flexible I can be. I discovered that being playful and willing to experiment with the tools provides me with many more options and therefore yet more flexibility. 

Yesterday, I watched a plumber working on a pipe in my building. He brought a colleague to help him and both of them initially took out a couple of tools to use. I watched them as they discovered that those tools not only were not working for them in this particular situation but could even have been dangerous. They talked about it and reached out for a different tool then they improvised and used something from the environment around them. I watched them as they changed their mind about what really needed to be done and re-agreeing the goal from simply"fixing that part of the pipe" to adding "maintain the integrity of the rest of the links and not to cause damage to any parts in the process".

Most of my courses are a work in progress. I am always getting feedback from trainees, and colleagues not only about whether results were achieved or not but about the journey there. I am always learning from what seems to work as well as the parts that don't work as expected with a particular group or prove to be annoying to them or to me

Going Online
In front of a walk through tutorial inside a 3D virtual world
It's an environment that I've enjoyed and found exciting since I logged in for the first time in 1997, but that still feels alien and even scary to many. Full of new, expanding, fast changing tools and resources that offer new opportunities and possibilities to do things not possible without the internet, and with them come the need to learn how to use them well and sometimes the frustration of discovering that they too have their limitations. 

A Classroom space near the sea inside a 3D virtual world
A simple example in a language session I can show a short video to a group of people from around the world and literally sit with them in a virtual world to discuss it. One simple limitation is that there is no way to start or stop the video at the exact same time for all of them as they have to do the starting and stopping of their copy of the video that they see. Another example, if we are practicing a language using songs, each participant could record themselves, upload the recording and we play it back or they can sing live but it's almost impossible to have the whole group sing as a chorus due to the delay caused by different internet speeds and I guess the distance. Like in the physical face to face environment, I will have to research the available tools, try them and check the features they offer, learn how to use them and be comfortable with them, mix and match them with other tools to create an effective and fun learning experience. I am still at the beginning and learning.

A friend of mine,  who's one of the best corporate trainers that I've ever watched in action and had the pleasure of working with, once told me that he liked his trainees to like him. I was very surprised and thought it was brave of him to make such a confession. I'd never thought about it that way. I usually feel nervous at the beginning of the course until I feel the trainees starting to relax. Later when I thought about it I realized that apart from the natural human need to feel accepted, I know that if they're comfortable with me and with their colleagues, they'll more readily participate and engage in the learning process. It's definitely easier face to face and online in a synchronous interaction with a small group, but I know it's possible with a big number even asynchronously, it's enough to consider many of the popular self published bloggers and YouTubers who have huge following. They usually create material that is interesting and useful and they they interact with their audience with, what I think is, a genuine friendly manner and interest in helping.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

POTCert week 1: Introduction > Hi from Cairo Egypt

Hello! I am Maha, connecting to the course from Cairo, Egypt. While I am Egyptian by birth, I lived most of my childhood in Kuwait and as an adult I spent around 22 years working, first in The Sultanate of Oman then in The United Arab Emirates until I recently relocated back to Egypt.

 I am a self employed Learning & development Consultant. In my case this mainly means that I am a trainer, life and executive coach and an instructional designer. I've been so lucky as my job has given me the opportunity to work with people from over 30 different nationalities and travel to some  10 different countries in the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe. I love learning languages and enjoy teaching them and that's why I teach Arabic and English both f2f and online.

This blog is still a Work in Progress and may continue to be for a long time, so

Welcome to my Sandbox.  I am looking forward to experimenting and learning with you. :)