03. April 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Blog · Tags: , ,
Immigrant: an organism found in a new habitat
I am a digital immigrant.  I thought I was fairly up to speed with technology, proud of the fact that I participated in the pilot Desire2Learn (D2L) project at Vancouver Island University (VIU).  What I’ve learned during the past 5 weeks is that I have barely scratched the surface of available teaching and learning tools.  Even though I know D2L quite well, I still see tools hiding in there that I don’t know how to use!  Prensky (2001) makes a distinction between a digital immigrant and a digital native, especially in how they approach learning.  I chuckled when he described how you may identify a digital immigrant; for example, one who needs to print a document out to edit it rather than edit on screen – that’s me!  But like all immigrants, I have a choice to either immerse myself in this new world (language, culture) or stay firmly in the past.  I feel this tug-of-war inside me on an almost daily basis.
stressed cartoon
What keeps pushing me to learn the new language?  I think it is a combination of my beliefs around teaching and learning, and the support and enthusiasm of my cohort and instructors in the OLTD program.  How can you resist learning a new tool when your peers are so excited about sharing it with you!  I can’t simply refuse to incorporate Web 2.0 tools into my classroom because they make me uncomfortable.  This is hypocritical, since I often ask my students to complete tasks that push them outside their comfort zone.My classes are a mix of digital immigrants and natives.  How do I approach learning so that everyone can be successful?  I think I would use a LMS (D2L) as my ‘home-base’ since it is the standard for VIU and most students will have experience in this platform.  For my digital immigrant students, this may act like a ‘welcome centre’ where they can get a sense of the culture and go from there.  But, as Sclater (2008) points out, a “learning management system suggests disempowerment – an attempt to manage and control the activities of the student by the university” (p. 2).  Adults, according to Malcolm Knowles, prefer to be responsible for decisions related to their education.  Constraining an adult within a LMS removes choice.How can I add non-LMS resources to address this?  Using D2L as a starting point, I can gradually add Web 2.0 tools that put more responsibility on the student for learning rather than learning directed by the instructor.  For example, students could use Google sites to create a collaborative wiki on a course topic.   Asking students to use web and library searches to research a course topic before discussing it in class encourages inquiry.  I can also give them many options for assessment tasks, where they can choose which topic interests them and which tool to use for presentation (e.g. Prezi, SlideShare, PowerPoint, etc.).Adult students also learn best when they can draw on their personal experiences and see the relevance in the content.  Discussion forums are a great way to encourage community and allow students to make connections to their own reality.  However, simply asking a question and having students respond to me would not encourage connection.  Instead, I can ask my learners to choose one of several concepts in a unit and discuss how it connects to their own experiences.  Moving the discussion outside of D2L, where students cannot access it beyond the dates of the course, would enable students to continue their discussions and remain part of their learning community if they wish.  Google Plus seems like a great way to do this!Adults are problem-centred rather than content-centred learners.  To date, much of my teaching is content-centred.  I try to add interactive activities in the classroom, such as case studies in biology, or comparison shopping in math.  But I would like to explore non-LMS tools such as 3D Gamelab or Minecraft as options for creating problem based scenarios for students to apply their learning.  Yes, you read correctly – I’m considering GAMES!So where does this leave me?   I am and always will be a digital immigrant.  But when things get hard, and I’m feeling like I just can’t learn the language, I can always turn to my peers and my personal learning community for support.  Despite the challenges of moving from face-to-face to blended teaching, I know deep down that what I’m doing is for the benefit of my students.  And that is what is most important to me.

Sclater, N.  (2008).  Web 2.0, Personal Learning Environments, and the Future of Learning Management Systems (Research Bulletin 2008(13).  Retrieved from Educause Center for Applied Research website https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERB0813.pdf

Prensky, M.  (2001).  Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.  On The Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.  Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf


There are many components necessary for a complete Learning Management System.  Commercial LMSs come pre-packaged with a specific set of tools, although all may not be useful to the student or instructor.  Choosing not to use a LMS requires careful research and thought regarding which non-LMS tools will meet both instructor and student needs.I approached my non-LMS build by considering which web tools would meet my needs in three categories.

  • How will I provide content, interactivity with content and organization?
  • How will I build community and inspire discourse?
  • How will I assess as, for and of learning?

The following describes the tools I felt met my teaching and learning needs.  Some of the tools meet my needs in several categories and are repeated, with specific reference to how they address the category they are in.

Part  1.  Getting organized
I have found it very challenging to keep all my websites organized as I move through OLTD.  SymbalooEdu allows me to visually organize all my links as tiles, and create my own personal webmix.  I could create a course webmix that contained tools and resources that I think my students might need or want to use for the course and share it with my them as a jumping off platform for the course.  I like that the webmix is available from any computer with an internet connection.  So even if you have quicklinks to special sites on your home computer, you can still quickly access them via SymbalooEdu, without having to remember the URL.
Part 2.  Content, interactivity and organization
Google sites would be my choice for housing content, lessons and course calendar.  Content can easily be uploaded as a file, or typed directly into a page in the course template.  Other media, such as videos or photos, can also be uploaded easily.What I don’t like about Google sites is that the templates have limited visual appeal, and you are very restricted in what you can change.  You have to be very careful to start with the template that you want.  I am also concerned about security and privacy, since Google owns the site, and information is stored on US servers.
Google Drive (specifically Google docs) is a great way for students to share files with each other for peer review or collaborative writing (building community).  It is also a good way for teachers to share material with students and provide feedback.  The drawbacks are the same as for Google sites.
Part 3.  Building community and inspiring discourse
For face-to-face discussion, I would use Blackboard Collaborate.  Collaborate meetings combine text, audio and visual media, allowing real-time conversations and help to build community by encouraging interaction among course participants.  Smaller groups of students can meet in breakout rooms to discuss topics.  The whiteboard feature allows collaborative writing, and slides can be saved to be reviewed later.  Students can become moderators and have the opportunity to teach their classmates.  Instructors can also use a Collaborate room to meet with a student one-on-one for tutorial help or feedback on course work.  Challenges to working in Collaborate mainly involve problems with technology (for example, not enough bandwidth or malfunctioning microphone).  In addition, students will need to own a set of headphones with a microphone and perhaps a webcam.  This may be a concern for students with low income.
For ongoing group discussions, I would use Google Plus.  Even though I was a reluctant user of this tool, I have grown to appreciate the power it has as a platform for generating thoughtful discussion.   This tool can be used for developing a learning network, discussion, and peer mentoring or helping.  I like that Google Plus is easy to categorize; you can create different circles for each class, or even create circles within your class for project discussions.  It is easy to access from anywhere you have internet access and is easy to post and upload links, photos or text.  My concerns with Google Plus are similar to Google sites.  The information resides in the “cloud” and is under the purview of Google, and any information stored on a server is stored on US soil.  It is also easy to get overwhelmed, as all new posts appear at the top of the list and older posts can be buried quite quickly if students are prolific “posters”.
Using Google sites to create wikis is a great way for students to collaborate on course topics.  I like that the wiki can be kept for future students to learn from or add to.  Wikis created using Google sites are fairly easy to use.  I do find formatting to be a challenge, however, when wanting to go outside the standard text in paragraph form.
Part 4.  Assessment
For reflection and journaling, I would again turn to Google, this time using Google Blogger.  Blogger is easy and intuitive, and posting content is simple.  Some drawbacks of using Blogger are that Google owns your blog site so the site could be deleted without notice as well as a limited selection of templates and designs.  If students are simply using this tool for reflection, design should not be a of concern.
To keep track of student marks, I would use Engrade.  This tool includes features such as attendance tracking, gradebook, and calendars.  There is an option for communication between instructors, students and parents.  Another benefit of Engrade is the ability to create assessments within the tool.  You can create a variety of different question types for student assessment.  I do have concerns about the location of student information; as best as I could tell data is stored on US soil.  There is also a cost for the upgraded version of Engrade.
For quizzing, in addition to Google forms (see below), I would use Examview.  I have used this tool in the past, and really like how easy it is to include graphics with questions.  This software works with a wide variety of publishers test banks, so if you are using a textbook you should have access to its test bank.  Creating your own test bank and generating quizzes is easy.  A drawback to Examview is that students must be registered to take tests online, and this information is stored in servers on US soil.
SymbalooEdu can be used as an e-portfolio, where students can gather and organize digital examples of their work, evidence of online collaboration or projects.  I like that this tool is available to students after the course is completed, and allows for continual addition of evidence of life-long learning.  As a teacher, perhaps the main drawback of SymbalooEdu is that you do not have control over what students link to in their webmixes.  This may be a consideration for younger students.
I would use Google forms as an assessment tool, particularly for self-evaluation and peer-evaluation.  Google forms can also be used to generate basic quizzes.   Another use for Google forms is as a “dropbox” for student assignments.  Students can complete a form with a link to their Google doc or assignment URL.  Feedback can be given directly on a Google doc, but other methods are required for projects made using other online tools.  I have only scratched the surface of uses for Google forms, and look forward to experimenting further!

ice cream coneI have been suffering all week from writer’s block.  What do I talk about?  Yikes, have I run out of things to say already?  It’s going to be a long 2 years…

I decided to revisit the suggested readings for this week.  I became inspired by Van Weigel’s article “From Course Management to Curricular Capabilities”.  In it, he presents an alternative approach to online learning; one where the LMS “facilitates the development of learner capabilities in critical thinking, self-confidence, peer learning and knowledge management” rather than controls the design and ultimately the “pedagogical effectiveness” of the course.

These learner capabilities fit with my online teaching philosophy and I need to be asking myself how my LMS/non-LMS online course addresses each of these areas.  For example, in the area of self-confidence, Weigel posed the question “how do you provide meaningful and reflective environment for failure that also does not discourage learners?”  Currently, any online work I have created involves students reading content, watching videos and then completing an online quiz for marks.  Not very inspiring.  And not a meaningful way to learn from any mistakes or misunderstandings they may have on the material.  Resources from textbook suppliers now come with tools that are meant to “learn” with the student, by analyzing what questions they got wrong and then steering them towards more practice on that particular concept.  Again, while giving the student extra practice, it doesn’t necessarily translate into meaningful analysis of why they made the mistake in the first place.

I am quite happy with D2L as my main hub, a place for students to begin their learning journey.  One feature I really like in D2L, but haven’t spent much time getting to know, is the e-Portfolio.  This feature supports my desire to encourage life-long learning, as students can continue to add to the e-Portfolio from any course, and it can be taken with them when they leave the VIU.

However, after exploring new (to me) Web 2.0 tools over the past week, I can see that there are some viable alternatives or additions to the tools within D2L that may help me move towards my teaching goals.  For example, D2L does have a discussions feature, but it is often challenging to follow a thread, and can be very overwhelming when you get behind on the readings and see you have 149 unread messages!  It is also very text-oriented, although you can include links to videos and photos through the “insert stuff” button.  Using non-LMS tools such as Padlet, Google docs or Twiddla, students can collaborate in real time, incorporating audio and visual in addition to text.  These tools can be used to support peer learning, such as study groups or brainstorming sessions.

To the best of my knowledge, D2L does not provide any means of synchronous sessions.  Each of our OLTD courses thus far has relied on tools like Collaborate to conduct our face-to-face meetings.  My courses will continue to include classroom time for the foreseeable future, but it is something I will definitely have to consider if I go 100% online.  Meeting as a group provides opportunities for peer teaching (as with our experience in OLTD 503) and interactive activities such as jigsaws and group discussions.

As I move through OLTD 504, I’m beginning to see how a blend of both LMS and non-LMS services can be beneficial for both teachers and students.  Just like a blend of my favourite ice cream flavours!

I hdiscussion imageave an addiction.  I can’t help it.  I sneak a little bit at breaks, lunch time, and several times each evening.  It didn’t start out this way.  When I was first introduced to it, I didn’t want it.  In fact, I dug in my heels and said I wasn’t going to use it.  January came along, and I found myself sneaking quick fixes, just a little here and there.  Then I needed more.  I can’t stop myself…I can’t get enough of Google Plus.

What is it I like so much about G+?  I think it’s the discussion.  I enjoy reading people’s comments; it’s a way of “seeing” into their minds.  It’s interesting to see what others think.  But my addiction has also led to disappointment.

As part of OLTD 504, we are participating in a “500” activity, where different tasks are assigned points.  I have earned most of my points via G+ posts and comments.  I eagerly log into G+ hoping to find that someone has replied to one of my posts (not including my blog post) only to find that my posts are now buried in the avalanche of new offerings.  I have to admit that at the beginning of 504, I posted whatever I thought was possibly connected to our topic simply in order to earn points.  I am not motivated by badges or points, but new posts to G+ earned me a whopping 25 points, and I was in a panic about reaching my 500 before the end of the course.  My disappointment is in the limited number of comments or replies to students posts compared to the number of posts in G+.  G+ has (to me) taken on the appearance of Pinterest or at least a very one-sided conversation.  I understand that not everything is comment worthy, and I perhaps need to work harder to write posts that encourage replies.  William Chamberlain wrote an interesting blog about student comments (Student Commenting: A Letter to Students), where he says:


“Comments are hard won…They should be coveted like a really soft blanket or a dog that is potty trained.  When a person cares enough to write a good comment, you have received a very special gift.”


If I were to use an activity like the “500”, I need to carefully consider my outcomes.  Is the avalanche of new and exciting information my target, or is it meaningful discourse among my students?  I value both, but in my courses I focus greatly on helping students learn to communicate with each other, sharing ideas, forming study groups and supporting each other.  Commenting on each others posts online would certainly fit with this philosophy.  To achieve that goal, I would place a higher point value on the commenting as opposed to the original post.  I know for me that it takes me far longer to craft a well thought out comment that tries to encourage continued discourse, than to quickly post a link to an article.

Perhaps I am missing the point of Google Plus.  I am very new to the tool, and may not completely grasp its intended purpose.   As I consider how I would use LMS and non-LMS tools in my course delivery, I am particularly interested in how to encourage my students to participate in meaningful discourse.  Maybe G+ is not the right tool.  I look forward to exploring other non-LMS tools over the next few weeks to see if there is a better option.

angry at computerThis week our cohort was divided into groups to learn about different Learning Management Systems (LMS).  I happily found myself in the Desire2Learn group – happy because I have been using this LMS for the past 2 years at VIU.  Our collaborative learning began via email, which quickly became a long list of “reply all” style emails.  I easily get lost when this happens, and found that I was not responding to others as often as I should have.  One of our team members did create a group in the Canvas course website, but it was not well used.  I think I avoided using this group site as I had never used Canvas before and was wary of learning yet another tool.  In the end, we all agreed to wait until our second synchronous session on March 8 to make our plans.

During the breakout session (March 8), our group divided up the tasks.  Sign up was done using a google doc, which made it easy to see who was working on what.  Those group members who had a little more experience with the LMS teamed up with the new learners as co-instructors or advisors.  We then set off to learn about our chosen piece of the LMS and to prepare for the “show and tell” portion of the jigsaw activity.

Sounds idyllic, right?  Everything working out, team members are supporting each other, jobs are getting done.  And then technology rears its ugly head…

I tried to meet with a member of our team in a Collaborate room to practice our presentations and give each other feedback.  This happened to coincide with a Collaborate system outage with no estimated time of repair.  Initially, I thought the problem was my computer so I did what any sane person would do – yelled at it and hoped that would fix it. I decided to reboot, and sent a panic email to my team mate that something was wrong and I would be late for our session.  Rebooting didn’t help, but by then my team mate had replied letting me know the problem was actually Collaborate.  During this back and forth, it became apparent that email was a terribly inefficient tool for quick communication.  We switched to Skype and managed to have a somewhat real time conversation to plan a new meeting.  I’m happy to say that the following evening we had a wonderfully successful Collaborate session.

This experience reinforced how frustrating online learning can be.  I feel that I have an average level of technological understanding, yet I was becoming panicked during this experience.  I wasn’t exactly sure what was causing the access problem, and if it had been a serious computer issue on my end, I would have been in trouble.  In the end, a breakdown in technology prevented me from completing my planned learning activity.

For many of my students, such an experience would have simply resulted in giving up.  Often, students in ABE do not have a basic level of computer literacy, access to a home computer, or the money to pay for internet connections.  In “Weaknesses of Online Learning“, the Illinois Online Network organizes potential weaknesses of online learning into six categories.  Among them is technology, which must be accessible, friendly and reliable.  It is essential that the medium I choose for student learning is accessible to all my students, regardless of economics or geography. As I learn more about LMS and non-LMS systems, I need to keep the educational needs of my students first and foremost in my mind.

02. March 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Blog · Tags: ,

head with brain mappedMy journey into e-learning began with moving my digital notes (PowerPoint, Word) from my own personal computer to an LMS, in this case Desire2Learn.  I thought I was on the cusp of something big, and my students would be amazed at the accessibility and amount of material at their fingertips.  However, I quickly realized that all I had accomplished was to create a digital version of a filing cabinet, and that I really wasn’t “creating a spark” in my students in any way.

Stephen Downes, in his article “E-learning 2.0” states that e-learning today is mainly in the form of online courses that use LMS’s to organize and deliver content.  This is not much different from the days of my first correspondence course where content was sent to me in paper format and I submitted my assignments by walking to the post office.  If e-learning is simply providing a digital form of the same content, how is this any better than what we already have?

I recently listened to a textbook distributor sing the praises of a new program that can learn with the students, guiding them towards areas they need to focus on, and providing all the bells and whistles students seem to require to be engaged in learning.  You can learn a topic through reading text, watching animations, videos and taking interactive quizzes.  I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling so uncomfortable through the entire presentation.  After some thought, I realized that my philosophy of learning includes constructing knowledge, not simply receiving knowledge.  I wish my students to critically think about what they are learning and to learn together, not in isolation as they complete yet another module of an online course.

Many teens are already actively participating in the creation and sharing of content, or a “participatory culture” (Jenkins, Purushotma, Welgel, Clinton and Robison, 2009).  How can I encourage and support this culture in an online environment?  How can I change the way I approach my online teaching, and create a safe space for students to create the content rather than provide “canned” content for them?  How can an LMS be used effectively to achieve this goal, rather than acting as my glorified filing cabinet?

Downes, S.  (2005, October).  E-learning 2.0.  eLearn Magazine: Education and Technology in Perspective.  Retrieved from http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=1104968

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Welgel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A.J.  (2009).  Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.  Retrieved from http://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/titles/free_download/9780262513623_Confronting_the_Challenges.pdf