Procrastination

I am currently working on my paper to go with my Master’s Project for my M.ED at VIU. I am interested in the topic. I am teaching the course that I am writing about (FNFS 103. Succeeding Online: Tools and Technology for Learning) in September. Thus my Masters will really prepare me for my students in September. The problem? The weather is beautiful, things need doing, the ocean is calling, Facebook is distracting…. In short everything and nothing.

Heck, right now I am updating my blog rather than working on my Masters…..

What are you procrastinating doing?

Digital Learning Conference

digital footprintI recently had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Digital Learning Conference ()put on by Randy LaBonte (@rlabonte).

Charlene Stewart (a colleague & OLTD cohort member) attended with me. We were also fortunate enough to see two other instructors Mary O’Neill (@maryjoneill) and Avi Luxenburg (@aluxenburg) and several other OLTD students. It was wonderful to meet so many people that I had only connected with online. It definitely felt like meeting with old friends.

The keynote speaker Dave Cormier (@davecormier) spoke to us of Rhizomatic learning. Learning like Rhizome plants, does not come from nothing but is rather part of a large, complex, underground root system that is the sum of our being. It is a new way to look at the idea that student are not empty vessels but have experience & knowledge and are linked to a wide community. Curriculum is not the content of the course but is other people and your connection to them. My favourite Quotes: Learning for uncertainty in the age of abundance & Divergent thinking is much more important than convergent thinking.

My theme for the conference was community building. So I attended a fabulous lecture by Avi and another by Avi and Mary on building community. For all the details, check out this site: https://sites.google.com/site/aluxenburg/. Some key thoughts (in images):

4D learning wordleJo Axe & Samantha Wood from Royal Roads presented all about tools for student engagement. They shared this wonderful resource with a list of terrific digital tools: http://set.royalroads.ca/technology-tools (really, check it out).

The presentation that Charlene and I did went fabulously well. I am very proud of us that we presented at a conference FOR THE FIRST TIME. Our topic was Mind Mapping – Harnessing the power of student collaboration (link below)

Other Links:

Principles of gaming

OLTD 508 examines mobile learning and gaming. One video that was recommended that we watch was Jim Gee‘s (2013) “Principles on Gaming”. In this video he states 13 learning principles that good games incorporate to ‘hook’ you in to learning the game (and any content it contains). A longer list of the principles, with a description of each, can be found in this article from Phi Kappa Phi Forum: GoodVideoGamesLearning. Three of the principles particularly resonated with me.

The first is ‘sandboxes’ or safe risk taking. I teach science. One challenge of science labs is students must perform experiments in a particular way, in a set amount of time. There is no ‘play’. Students cannot experiment with the chemicals and equipment in the lab as much as they or I would like as this can be potentially very dangerous. There is usually very strict time limits as lab space is in-demand. Labs are designed to be completed in a given time leaving no room for play. In a game, if students fail they can try again, as many times as are needed or desired. This permits experimentation and risk taking (such as putting sodium in water – something very carefully control in real life). Many games, like Minecraft, have a sandbox mode, a safe place to play. While a space may feel dangerous (zombie attack!) it is safe.

Another aspect of good game design, that education would do well to emulate, is the way information and words are used. In a game information tends to be given ‘just in time’ (when it is needed, it is given) or ‘on-demand’ (when it is asked for. In schools, information tends to be given in large chunks. I know that I am guilty of that. Too many words overwhelm and students tend to ignore most of them (which frustrates the educator as we are left saying ‘the information is on the page, have you read it yet?’).  Poor game design  tends to either not give enough information (SimCityEDU: pollution challenge is one), even on-demand, or can overwhelm with information. As an educator, I experienced the former this week in evaluating games, it helped me to appreciate how students must feel when it happens in class. I kept thinking the information MUST be somewhere, but I couldn’t find it – definitely left me feeling frustrated.

This leads me to another aspect of good game design which looks at complexity. In a game, there are usually levels. You are not expected to learn about everything all at once. Initially a game starts off quite simply. Complexity & difficulty is added as mastery and understanding is achieved. Problems and challenges must be well-ordered so gamers (or students) start off on the correct path. Earlier problem build to achieving success in more difficult problems. There are breadcrumbs through the maze.

X-roads

Virtual vs Physical Labs

One emerging or disruptive innovation in education right now is Virtual Labs. I just completed a seminar on Virtual Labs and wanted to capture my thoughts here.

Virtual labs create opportunity to:

  • Play – it is safe to mix, try, combine online in a way that it is not possible for students to do in real life (as explosions can be very bad). Curiosity can be satisfied safely virtually
  • Practice – students can review what they need to do in a lab through an online lab. This gives them confidence in their abilities. A procedure, especially those requiring expensive or rare chemicals, can be repeated many-time virtually so students feel prepared to do it in person.
  • Participate – not all students have access to a lab or lab materials. Virtual labs can allow these students to have a lab when previously they may not have. Also, in the case of very expensive lab equipment, students can book time in a physical lab for the experiment to be conducted. The experiment is performed and the results are reported back in real time.

Virtual Labs also have some challenges:

  • Replacement – some cash strapped schools may see virtual labs as a way to replace costly laboratories. Virtual labs serve a different purpose than physical labs. If possible, the experience of hands-on learning should be remain. Mixing two chemicals together and feeling an exothermic reaction is different than mixing two chemicals online and seeing a thermometer change temperatures.
  • Access – most virtual labs require reliable broadband. In many parts of the province this can be difficult. While virtual labs can permit many students to experiment and participate without requiring a physical lab, without reliable internet, participation is still difficult.

In my teaching practice I do have some virtual labs. The reason that my colleague, Charlene Stewart, and I started to have some virtual labs (about half) in our blended Biology is limited class time. As our lab only permits 12 students and our classes are double that, we would have to use two days a week for all our students to participate, severely limiting our face-to-face class time.

One challenge we had in implementing virtual labs was prep time. It takes quite a long time to fully prepare labs so they are suitable for the grade/students. There are a lot of great sites with prepared virtual labs (https://sites.google.com/site/virtuallabessential/) but they still need to found, tried & altered. Last semester when we were implementing the shift to half the labs being virtual, we were lucky if the labs were ready to go more than three days before the students attempted them. Having dedicated development time would really have removed much anxiety around implementation.

The results so far? There have been a few ‘hiccups’ but overall I am glad that we have changed from just physical labs to half & half. Students seem to learn from them, perhaps because they can take as long as they need to do them and can work when they feel like it, not when they are told to. Having only virtual labs would not permit the skills development that students need. By using both virtual and physical labs, students get the best of both worlds. They get the benefits of virtual labs while are still are in the physical lab enough that they can practice the lab skills that they need to continue on in Sciences.

Further Readings:

https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/L-and-D-Blog/2012/06/Are-Virtual-Labs-as-Good-as-Hands-On

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_innovation

Technology in the classroom

When I first started working at VIU, there were signs on the door of every classroom asking students to turn off their cell phone. People discussed ways to get students to keep the phones put away or turned off (on vibrate IF there was a pressing reason). I, following the culture, asked students to keep their phones and laptops out of the classroom. Only students with special permission were able to use their laptops. About a year or so later, I started to question this concept. I realized that I did not know everything about a topic and students can ask challenging questions that I may not know the answer to. I began to remove the ‘no cell phones’ signs from the doors. I began to ask students to find out and look up information that they did not know. I am only one source of information for students.

(Siemens& Tittenberger, 2009, pg. 10)
(Siemens, 2009, pg. 10)

They need to be able to make sense of a world where information can come to them from many different places. It is part of my job to help them to build their own personal learning network. By allowing technology in the class, I am helping them to “make sense of, and manage, the incessant waves generated by an increasing sea of information” (Siemens& Tittenberger, 2009, pg. 10).

When other instructors ask about cell phones and computers in the classroom I tell them that I am o.k.with it! Sure, I get Candy Crush sometimes, but in all fairness, those students would probably not be paying attention to me anyways. I need to help students learn how to focus “while undergoing a deluge of distractions” (Siemens & Tittenberger, 2009, pg. 28). If too many are distracted, I need to asses what I am doing, or perhaps call awareness to it. With technology students themselves can find out more details about the topic. Usually they share the information with the class, enriching the learning environment.

It has been a slow, silent, very personal initiative to encourage technology in our building. It is still a work in progress. The signs are almost entirely gone. I have shared my beliefs with many colleagues. While a number do not agree with me, it feels like I am gradually getting somewhere.
Siemens, G. & Tittenberger, P. (2009). Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning

Cloud Tool Analysis

Anytime you are interested in using an online tool with your students it is important to analyze it fully. I have created a simple word table to analyze cloud tools in an education setting.  This form is not designed to state whether or not a tool should be used as that depends on many factors such as:

  • The policies in your district or educational setting
  • The age of your student
  • The goal of the assignment
  • The logistics of the class

Thus this analysis form should help you to make a quick decision as to whether or not you wish to pursue using the cloud tool

Cloud Tool Analysis Form

cloud tool analysis chart(Here is a link to a word doc. of the form: Cloud Tool Analysis Form)

I have assessed 7 different cloud tools of a variety of types using this chart. Overall I found the table to work well, especially for the type of student that I teach. I teach in adult education so my typical student is between 20 and 60 with low computer skills. My on-line classes are run asynchronously with both collaborative and individual components. Here is the Cloud Tool Analysis – 7 tools.

While analyzing the tools, I identified my ‘top three’ tools for both students and instructors. I currently an only using one of these tools in my class (Coggle) and one tool personally (Symbaloo). I chose to analyze one of my personal and professional cloud tools in order to assess my cloud tool analysis form. I was quite pleased with what I discovered about Easel.ly which is why I choose to use it to create my ‘top three’ infographic. I am planning to use TEDEd next semester as I was extremely impressed by what I discovered. As I only try to use one new cloud tool at a time, Remind will be tried next year.

Toptoolsonlineclass

Cloud Tools in Online Courses

Right now I work at Vancouver Island University (VIU), teaching Math and Biology in adult education and love it. A few years ago, I decided to teach my Biology course in a blended format (part online and part face-to-face) as there was just so much content and so little time! VIU has a Learning Management System (LMS) that is recommended and supported, Desire2Learn (D2L). Most of my lessons and assignments have been in that framework. D2L is limited to what it can do so while I intend to continue using it as a framework, I have been expanding outward into cloud tools. Thus the question I must ask myself constantly is which cloud tools should I incorporate (what are their advantages and disadvantages) and how should they best be integrated in to the LMS that I currently use so that the online learning experience of my students is enhanced.

In Biology, on d2L, one typical lesson is students first watch a video or read notes, then they participate in a discussion, do something creative (a concept-map or a comic for example) outside of D2L and post it in a discussion, and then take a quiz. In D2L this can unwieldy as each one of these is a different entry in the same concept. It can be easy for students to get lost or miss something important. While checklists can overcome this a bit, it can still be confusing.

I had the opportunity to try a TED-Ed lesson. The structure is to watch a video (one of theirs or one from YouTube), take a quiz, look at other resources recommended, participate in a discussion and then read any final words of the instructor. Everything is in one place, neatly organized. While students do not have to flow through the lesson in this order, it suggests that they should. One advantage to having everything in one place is it makes it easy for students to see where they are in the lesson. It is also easy to move between components without losing your place or your work. I like the idea of putting the quiz right after the video. By putting it here, instructors can highlight the key points or ‘take-aways’ from the lesson.

One disadvantage I see is the lack of creativity. The lesson format is fairly standard, much like you would see in a classroom. However, I feel that this would work well for a flipped classroom (here is a good description of a flipped class: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7081.pdf) as a collaborative, creative activity would work well in person. If the lesson was to be solely online, having a creative learning opportunity at the end, after the TED-Ed component was completed would be an excellent summation of learning. I personally like to use concept maps (Bubbl.us, coggle, and mind42) and comic builders (comix) as a formative assessment piece.

By using TED-Ed, the lesson would be far more streamlined and organized for the student. In the D2L lesson there would only be or two places for the student to go, rather than many, while still allowing for discussion and both formative and summative assessment to occur. The creative aspect of the lesson, that I like to include, is now a summative of what they have learned, emphasizing its importance, rather than just being another thing in a long list of things to do. I am excited to try it out but may have to wait until next semester as final exams are very soon.