The moove to Moodle (Guest Post)

This post is written by my husband, Joshua Coleman, who is a 7-12 science teacher at a charter school in the suburbs of Minneapolis.

I have been teaching secondary science in a traditional setting since I was licensed in 2007. Three years ago I was exposed to Moodle for the first time, but used it minimally as I wasn’t really trained in it’s use. I would basically post a brief outline of my daily lesson plan, post the learning objectives, and describe the assignments with due dates.  As Hanna was teaching in an online setting, I was able to see her more extensive use of Moodle for coursework and assignments and was intrigued. This summer, I have undertaken the task of transitioning much of my physics course onto Moodle, and more robustly use its additional features to better meet the needs of my students.  The following will briefly describe the processes I have used and learned along the way

Previously, all of my courses were outlined by our technology staff, and we were required to input the information. They chose to use the calendar mode and lessons were put on for each day of the week. The frustration with this format was each year then required the movement of content to match up with the correct days of the week. It was for this reason I chose to use topic mode rather than calendar mode. I add the assignments that will be completed during each week, but not the days in which they will be completed. Hypothetically, this will prevent me from having to move too much content from year to year, and thus prevent  a lot of extra work.

One tool I have found very useful is the combination of Google Drive and Moodle.  I have been typing out daily assignments in Google Drive and embedding them into Moodle assignments. The beauty of it is as I update the Drive assignment it will automatically update the Moodle assignment.  I have also linked Google Drive folders at the end of each week for “resources.” In these folders I put lecture notes, worksheets, lab assignments, and videos used in class. This is very useful, because if I find a new worksheet I can easily add it to the Drive folder and it is automatically added to the Moodle page as well.

The final tool that I have used extensively is the HotPotatoes program. This program allows me to easily create different types of quizzes and drop them into Moodle. In the past I have used the Moodle quiz maker and have been extremely frustrated. It is time consuming to use and not very intuitive. The HotPotatoes program creates quizzes quickly and in a format that works very well with Moodle.  When adding a resource to your Moodle page it comes up as one of the options, and allows you to choose how you want it graded. The students can quickly and easily take the quiz, and it is automatically graded. This will be a huge time saver, and also allow me to do more short quizzes to quickly check the understanding of my students.

I am sure as I work more and more with Moodle there will be many tricks that will be helpful, but as of right now these have been the most helpful. It is exciting to learn new ways of using technology to more efficiently and effectively do my job of educating students.

 

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Commentary: Can you describe a “traditional” student?

If someone were to ask you to describe a “traditional” student in a K-12 or college setting in the Western culture, what would you say? What characteristics define the students of this generation?

I recently read a blog post by Tracy Lorenz on The Huffington Post titled, Rethinking What a ‘Traditional’ College Education Entails: Five Misconceptions About the Online Learning Experience. Lorenz describes some of the changes occurring in the traditional description of college students, including age, part-time vs full-time, and four common needs. In addition, she outlines five misconceptions of online learning.

I find many of her key points to be present in the K-12 online setting, as well. The four common needs discussed, accessible, flexible, innovative, and job-focused, are part of the mission at the online school that I taught at. I think the first two needs are unique to an online setting, while the last two could be found in a variety of settings. From my experience, online learning in grades 9-12 is attracting students who require the flexibility. The student may be working full or part time, may have an unpredictable health or home situation, may be an athlete, or may be a young parent. I had very few students who transferred to the online setting because they were seeking more job-focused or innovative opportunities. The school desires to draw in those students, but there is still misconceptions present, many of which Lorenz discusses.  I see a disconnect between what learners identify as needs and what learners are actually pursuing.

Over the past four years, I have heard the five misconceptions from the post on a regular basis in response to online classes and learning. While I can relate to these and believe that they do not provide an accurate description, I still think that in some cases they are actually true which makes it difficult to paint a clear picture of the online environment. For example, the first misconception is something that we have struggled with in the past four years, as some of our students were not accepted into the military field due to the online diploma. The fourth misconception has been a challenge, too. We can provide opportunities for interaction, but many students choose not to utilize or are not comfortable in doing so.

In conclusion, I agree with Lorenz when she states, “online learning models are here to stay and the quality debate between online and campus learning will continue to fade.” It seems that the online learning models in higher ed are moving towards this equality with campus learning and away from the misconceptions faster than online learning models in the K-12 setting. This leads me to ask the following questions and reflect on future learning environments. What misconceptions are you struggling with in your K-12 online setting? How can we break down the misconceptions in the K-12 online setting? Should the online model be an option for students or should it become the “traditional” model for this and future generations? What should the balance be of campus and online learning? At this point, I am certain that online learning will continue to grow and develop, but am uncertain if it is meant to become the “traditional” setting for all learners.

 

 

 

Is Blended Learning Better?

I was recently asked the question as a teacher with experience in both a traditional and 100% online setting, “Which do you like better?

I struggled with my response, as I can identify strengths and weaknesses in each. This question led me to share a bit about blended learning and how this might be the best solution. Blended learning is a combination of both online and face-to-face learning. I investigated blended learning more in depth after this conversation and found an interesting article, Blended Learning: The Convergence of Online and Face-to-Face Education, written by John Watson for the North American Council of Online Learning (NACOL).

Watson (2008) identifies blended learning as a system that has been slow to implement, but holds great promise. Watson (2008) states: “It is likely to emerge as the predominant model of the future – and to become far more common than either one alone” (pg. 3).

Several models are described in the paper, with varying amounts of online and face-to-face combinations. These models include:

  • A traditional setting where students access all curriculum online with teachers present, 5 days a week
  • Required on-campus setting with individual mentoring, 1 day a week
  • Optional drop-in location
  • Small and large group face-to-face requirements, 50% of the instruction

Watson (2008) also outlines important lessons learned from these models:

  • Blended learning encompasses a wide variety of models
  • Instruction, curriculum, and professional development are different from an exclusively traditional and online setting
  • Teachers must utilize interactive online tools and methods for instruction
  • The organization of the learning management system must include both the online and face-to-face components

After reflecting on this article and others that present a strong case for blended learning, I have the following questions:

  • What are your perceptions of blended learning? How do you see it impacting our educational system?
  • If blended learning is truly the “best” model, then why does it seem so slow to emerge? What do you think might be some of the specific reasons for this?
  • Do you have any experience with a blended model? If yes, what were the strengths and weaknesses? If no, what pitfalls do you see in a blended model that may be overlooked in research?
  • What professional skills do you think teachers in a blended environment will need in comparison to a traditional or online environment?
  • What do you think would be the ideal blended learning environment and expectations for students?
  • Any other thoughts or reflections after reviewing this article?

Source:

Watson, J. (2008). Blended learning: The convergence of online and face-to-face learning. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED509636.pdf

 

 

 

 

10 Things I Have Learned About 9-12 Online Teaching

I have been an online teacher in a small, 9-12 online charter school for the past four years. I have grown immensely as a professional and learned new strategies and techniques throughout my transition to fully online. This list compiles the top 10 things that I have learned thus far as an online teacher that have resulted in successful terms.

1. Building intentional relationships with your students from the beginning is essential. 

Online students need to feel a connection to their teacher and peers in order to be successful. When building a relationship online, your approach will be different as you do not see your students in front of you in a classroom. Share a photo of yourself or a video to help establish your presence as their teacher. Give some background about your hobbies and interests. Encourage your students to also share and introduce themselves early in the term to each other.

2. Students need a thorough orientation to the class, structure, and expectations. 

An online course is very different from a traditional course. To help prepare students to be successful, they will need an orientation that includes how to navigate the learning management system, how to communicate with the teacher and peers, how to determine daily work load and expectations, and how to use any online tools needed.

3. Just because a student was born in a digital culture, does not mean they have the problem solving skills to adapt and learn new technologies on their own. 

Students need scaffolding in learning how to use various technologies and online tools. Prepare training and lessons that have step by step directions for use early on in the term.

4. Be prepared to update your curriculum on a regular basis. 

Links break, websites change, resources become outdated, and programs crash throughout the term. It is important to be flexible and aware that you will have to update these areas continually. In addition, you may find new tools or resources that would better cover your content.

5. Involve the parents of your students as much as possible. 

In a K-12 online school, a partnership with parents, students, and teachers is key. Parents need to be present in the home where the student is completing the majority of their work. Parents need to help the student stay on task and monitor weekly submissions. Help cultivate this relationship from the beginning and show parents how their involvement will make a difference.

6. Provide your students with timelines or checklists. 

It is easy to fall behind in an online class or to procrastinate. Timelines, deadlines, and checklists are an early intervention that can help prevent this. Give weekly checklists and deadlines, along with tips for organizing a day as an online student.

7. Give clear and specific feedback in a timely manner. 

Feedback is your mode for encouraging and teaching a student one-on-one. Feedback should be specific and provide areas of strength, as well as, areas for improvement.

8. Incorporate digital citizenship lessons through out the year. 

Spread digital citizenship and netiquette lessons throughout your curriculum. Do not limit it to one unit or one time. Students need regular guidance and reminding, as it is easy to make mistakes online that can’t be reversed.

9. Be open to texting.

When communicating with students, be open to sharing a texting number with your students and contacting them via text. I recommend using Google Voice, as this can be designated primarily for work related calls and texts. Students are more likely to reply to a text than a voice call.

10. Be prepared for communication on any day of the week, at any time of the week. 

Online students do not necessarily understand boundaries, and may contact you during weekends or in the middle of the night. Establish boundaries right away and provide students with best contact numbers and emails, along with times of the day to be reached. Even with these boundaries, be prepared for the late night call or an assignment “emergency” on the weekend.

Links: Resources for Online Course Creation in K-12

When you are beginning to develop an online course, you need to consider a variety of pieces. These links provide information for online course creation in the areas of: (1) Specific Content Resources and (2) Course Design.

1. Discovery Education 

I love how interactive these resources and lesson plans are. A wide variety of subject areas are available.

2. cK-12

Provides free resources for teachers, primarily in STEM content areas. They also include standard alignment.

3. Curriki – Free Learning Resources for the World

These resources are all contributed by teachers. Thousands of lessons and resources to sift through.

4. Teacher Development: Starter Kit for Teaching Online

This article provides tips for getting started as an online teacher. Planning ahead and preparing for a shift in teaching style is important!

5. How Not to Develop an Online Course

Key considerations for transitioning a face-to-face course to online.

6. Educational Technology Guide

Ideas for using Educational Technology in a K-12 classroom. These can be adapted for fully online learners. Each tool has a variety of resources provided.

7. Brown University Creates Online Course for High School Students

More of an interesting read than a resource, but provides some helpful insights in making curriculum engaging when online.

8. Best Practices in Teaching K-12 Online

This is a journal article; however, Table 1 provides a great overview of the findings which can be helpful in design.

Always in our hands

My 11 month old daughter is crawling all over our home and playing with her toys and remote controls. I am keeping an eye on her, and we are pushing a tupperware around the floor. My phone buzzes, and I pick it up to check out the alert. My daughter drops the tupperware and crawls quickly over to pull at my phone. This happens on a regular basis – – the Ipad, computer, and phone all draw my daughter’s attention. What is it about these items that are so attractive to an 11 month old? All she really wants to do is hold it and put it in her mouth. She could care less about Twitter or Instagram. My husband’s theory is that she sees how we always want to hold them and have them in our hands and knows that they must be important. Regardless of why she has a desire for these items, the reality is that our daughter will grow up surrounded by technology that can connect her to the world in both positive and negative ways. She will be a product of the “Digital Age”. It is my responsibility as a parent to foster positive technology use by my daughter. Likewise, it is my responsibility to foster positive technology use by my students.

I recently read an article, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” by Marc Prensky. Prensky takes a strong stance in describing how learners of this generation are changed and different due to growing up in a digital culture, and teachers must change their methodology in order to educate them. He portrays “Digital Natives” in a positive light, and “Digital Immigrants” in a negative light. Although I find Prensky’s view to be extreme, there are a few statements that I believe do have validity and implications for our educational system.

For example, Prensky states, “Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.” I completed my undergrad in 9-12 education from 2003-2007. The basic layout and instructional designs that I was taught hold true to today; however, the abundance of resources, the power of interactives, the use of multimedia, and the strategies for encouraging complex thinking have dramatically changed. Some teachers have the time and motivation to adapt to these changes and alter their instruction, but many teachers do not have the time, are not provided the resources, or do not have the motivation. This results in disparity among the classrooms in our educational system.

Another statement by Prensky that has implications for what should be taught is:

“Future content is to a large extent, not surprisingly, digital and technological. But while it includes software, hardware, robotics, nanotechnology, genomics, etc. it also includes the ethics, politics, sociology, languages and other things that go with them. This ‘Future’ content is extremely interesting to today’s students.”

I can see these topics as being very interesting to students, as I am highly interested in them as well. Technology has changed various career fields and will change the future career settings of our students. We need to help prepare our students for this change and strengthen their skills in these areas, and Prensky points out some of the areas that will be important for our students to be successful in. I think this has implications in broadening the options that students can explore in K-12 and the topics that are covered in the core classes.

Whether or not you were born in the “Digital” culture, we all have a responsibility to respond to these advances and determine how to best incorporate them into our educational system and our everyday lives.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6). Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diving In

This is a new blog that I have created for a current graduate course at Boise State University, EDTECH 537 Blogging in the Classroom. I chose the title She Clicks “Enter” because I was reflecting on how I engage in learning and exploring online. It all starts with entering a web address or topic in a search bar and clicking “Enter”. This simple act opens the door to new opportunity, skills, and knowledge. I am excited to further strengthen my skills in blogging and in collaborative learning through this course.

I have a few previous experiences with blogging. My husband and I created and updated a blog regularly when we were in living in Beijing, China. This blog provided a way for us to share our experiences with family and friends. I enjoy looking back at our entries and find it to be a treasured home of many memories. I have also tried creating a food and recipe blog in the past; however, I found that I did not have enough time to invest in it. Finally, I have been adding content and updates to a learning log blog, specifically for completed graduate work.

One of my passions in education is curriculum development. This summer, I will be developing an 8th grade online science class, as our school is expanding grade levels in the fall. The process of designing a semester’s worth of content can be grueling and overwhelming. As a result, I envision this blog to be place of support and discussion for other teachers developing online curriculum. I hope to provide insight and thoughts on designing online courses, including best practices and personal experiences.

I am ready to dive into this course and begin a journey of educational blogging!