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!

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.