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.