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.