Evidence: Online lesson hosted in VIULearn designed for Adult Fundamental Math (introduction to graphs) (Dec 8, 2014)

OLTD 507 Learning Outcome addressed: Develop an online unit or lesson using cloud tools effectively


Reflection to Support Evidence:

For the final assignment in OLTD 507, I created an introductory graphing lesson aimed towards adult literacy math learners. This lesson was housed in VIULearn, and includes content as html pages in the website as well as activities designed around various cloud tools. Since VIULearn is password protected, I created a screen capture highlighting some of the activities within my lesson.

Prior to creating a lesson, we were introduced to 3 different course design styles; Project based learning, Flipped classroom, and the traditional delivery model. My teaching style and the course I chose to create a lesson for worked best with the traditional delivery model. This model provides a hook, instruction on the concept and then time for the students to demonstrate their learning. The lesson needed to include evidence of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, and use a minimum of two different cloud tools, discussion, and an assignment with a rubric or assessment criteria. When creating the lesson, I revisited the idea of Backward Design, and determined what it was I wanted my students to be able to understand by the end of the lesson and how they would demonstrate this learning. This helped guide my choices of learning activities and cloud tools for my lesson. While I have been working towards a blended learning environment for my students, after completing this lesson build I realize that I need to re-evaluate some of my lessons to ensure they are easy to follow, support many different learning styles and meet universal accessibility guidelines.

While some content may come prepackaged, many online educators create their own lessons or customize existing ones to suit their own teaching style. Being able to create online units or lessons that include effective use of cloud tools is an important skill for educators. It is always important to create clear, easy to follow lessons but if you are operating in an online environment (without the advantage of face-to-face) it is even more critical. A well-crafted online lesson starts by having a clear idea of what you want your students to know and how they will show you. Knowing this can help guide your choice of cloud tools that will meet your objectives.


Evidence link:

Video tour of introduction to graphing unit (adult literacy math) (housed in VIUTube)


Evidence: Tool evaluation form and evaluation of seven cloud tools (Dec 2014)

OLTD 507 Learning Outcome addressed: Identify appropriate use of cloud tools in an online course


Reflection to Support Evidence:

The first major assignment for OLTD 507 was to create a tool to analyze cloud tools in an educational setting. I chose to create my tool using Microsoft Excel, and tried to make it interactive rather than simply a document to read. I then created a walk-through video of my evaluation form using ActivePresenter (a free screen capture cloud tool).

In order to create the evaluation tool, I had to be clear what my criteria would be regarding tool usefulness. After reviewing various tools and participating in discussions with my cohort, I settled on accessibility, usability and privacy as my top three categories. Within each of these categories, I determined what characteristics would make a tool accessible and useful. I found it challenging to narrow down the list to a manageable number. In terms of accessibility and usability, I went back and reviewed Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and based many of my criteria on those principles. I also included a separate section on features of the tool. This section encourages evaluators to consider what type of learning activity the tool may be best suited for. Is it suitable for group learning or better as an individual tool? Can it provide a variety of ways to show what they know? To establish this list of criteria, I considered different ways of learning and how this learning might be reflected through use of a specific tool.

Being able to choose which tool best fits your learning objectives as well as meets your accessibility, usability and privacy criteria is important as an online educator. With the abundance of cloud tools available, it is easy to be distracted by a tool that looks good but doesn’t actually help meet your objectives. Having an evaluation tool can help educators compare tools based on equal criteria and to carefully consider if the tool meets the needs of both the students and the teacher. In my own practice, I would like to use the form I created to evaluate new tools I may wish to use, as well as share the tool and/or the evaluations with my colleagues as they move into teaching blended courses.

Link to blog post with tool and video

So many choices! How does one decide? You just get used to one tool and then a new, shiny tool flits into view. You begin to chase it down and soon you are mesmerized by all the bells and whistles it has to offer. The next thing you know you have spent hours figuring out how it works. But is the tool even useful? Will it help you meet your learning objectives? What should you know about a tool before you make that commitment?

As part of the first major assignment in OLTD 507, I spent some time figuring out what criteria might be important in helping decide the applicability of a cloud tool. I found it challenging to put into words what I felt I intuitively knew, and struggled with making a list of questions that would produce the final summary I was looking for. The following screencast introduces you to my tool (created using Microsoft Excel) and walks you through one example to see how it works. The screencast was created using ActivePresenter, one of my Top 3 Tools for Teachers!

Excel spreadsheet (template and seven tool evaluations): Tool Evaluation Form seven tools

Screencast: OLTD 507 Cloud Tool Assessment Form


Top 3 Cloud Tools for Teachers and Students

Many cloud tools are great for both teachers and students. Even though I have yet to incorporate TEDEd into my courses, I can see that it is a useful instructional tool, and students would benefit from the variety of ways they can interact with the content. I look forward to exploring this tool further. I have used Quizlet with my students; they really enjoyed having an online study tool, especially for challenging biology vocabulary. Students can also share their flashcard stacks. As an instructor, I like that you can create word lists or math questions that students can practice in preparation for a quiz or test.

Mindmaps are a powerful and somewhat underutilized tool. If I had to choose one mindmapping tool for students, I would lean towards Bubbl.us. In addition to a variety of color choices and an intuitive interface, Bubbl.us puts the text in boxes (or other shapes) which I find helpful if you want to create an empty mind map skeleton. As a blended learning instructor, creating screencasts is becoming a larger part of my class prep. ActivePresenter is my favourite screen capture tool. It has many features similar to software such as Camtasia but it is free!

The infographic below summarizes my Top Choices. It was created using Piktochart. I know that as I continue to explore new cloud tools, this list will keep changing, but my goal is to keep my learning objectives in mind. (OK, so maybe some tools are just for fun!)

Piktochart of top cloud tools for students and teachers




With such a wide variety of cloud tools available, it is possible to find a tool to fit just about every teaching and learning situation. To instruct, engage and inspire my students I lean heavily on YouTube for videos. For example, for Biology I can find videos that are serious (e.g., Neutrophil Phagocytosis) or entertaining (e.g. Amoeba Sisters: Mitosis).

One of my favourite online tools for collaboration is Google docs. Students can access their document from anywhere and sharing files with students (or between students) is simple. Digital mindmap tools such as Coggle and bubbl.us are also great collaborative tools, allowing students to visualize connections using images and colours rather than simply text. Creation of a mindmap could be assigned to a class in preparation of a unit (show what you already know) or as a summary of what they have learned.

Symbaloo  is a wonderful organizational tool for students working in an online environment. It can be challenging to keep track of the various websites used for different courses, and symbaloo provides a visual way of organizing weblinks. Teachers can create a symbaloo (webmix) that includes classroom links tailored for a specific lesson or course that they can then share with their students. This tool is also a great way for students to curate their work, creating an e-portfolio.

Assessment of student progress can take many forms. One way for students to show what they have learned is through the creation of a website or blog. I have used Weebly and found it easy to use. Through Weebly, students can reflect on their learning and post artifacts that illustrate their understanding of a topic. If students need to hand in an assignment, and posting it on a Weebly site is not appropriate, Dropbox is an option. However, a disadvantage with Dropbox is that you cannot send feedback to the student through this same dropbox; another method of communicating needs to be used (e.g. email). Students can self-assess with Quizlet, an easy to use flashcard interactive website. Instructors can create flashcards for the students to use, but I have found it effective to have the students create a set of flashcards as an assignment to share with their classmates.

For inquiry based learning, I would like to further explore TedEd. I am intrigued by the multimedia approach provided with this cloud tool. ‘Dig Deeper’ questions encourage students to seek out additional information to supplement the main lesson. Students can also self-assess with the quiz feature and participate in discussions with their classmates. Discussion questions can be designed to further encourage higher-level thinking. These mini-lessons can be built by a teacher to match specific course curricula and could be used as an introduction to a topic, as the main lesson on a topic or as a review.

One drawback to consider when using cloud tools is the digital divide. Not all students have access to the same technology or services and will not necessarily be able to fully participate in all online activities when not at school. Some tools may require high-speed internet connection or use large files that take a long time to download. This can make it challenging for students that live in areas of poor connectivity, are unable to afford a high speed connection, or are using older hardware that is not capable of working with larger files. Choosing tools that allow the user to work offline would help alleviate this problem. As the level of technological skills in a class is varied, an instructor may consider using tools that are simple in design and intuitive in their use. Tools should not be used simply for the sake of using the ‘newest, shiny toy’. It is important to carefully consider how the tool will help the student meet the learning objectives. It may also be necessary to limit the number of tools introduced to a class; too many may be overwhelming to students.

Despite these drawbacks, cloud tools can be used to improve or enhance the online learning experience for students. By incorporating a variety of media, different learning styles can be addressed and a topic can be approached from many angles. Students also have access to a range of ways to show what they know, and can choose a tool that best supports them in illustrating their learning. Cloud tools may also increase student engagement and interest in a topic or course by encouraging interactivity and collaboration. By becoming part of a learning community, students may be more likely to engage in active learning.