Saturday, February 25, 2017

Building Relationships Through Online Connections

Created by J. Stewart-Mitchell 
via AdobeSpark and GIFCreator
Theodore Roosevelt once said, "No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care". Even though Roosevelt wasn't a teacher, his sentiments certainly epitomize exactly what it means to be an effective educator. 

One of the key tenets of teaching is the ability to connect with students. It's not what you know, or what you teach - it's how much our students feel you care about them. (Well then again, what you know and teach might be a bit important - not to negate everything I just said...)

I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately, so this week my blog post focus is about finding answers to these questions:
  • How do we show students that we care about them in an online learning environment?; 
  • How can we cultivate these connections so that our students in turn are more committed to the learning community, and the learning of others?; and finally,
  • How do I create a blended learning course, that other teachers can use in manner that encourages meaningful and authentic learning for students?

Exploring How to Connect with Students Online

Apparently building a connected, community of learners is something that is often considered by online educators. In a guest post on the BlackBoard Blog, "3 Tips to Connect with Your Online Students" by Josh Murdock, he states, "One of the hardest adjustments for students transitioning from a traditional classroom to an online environment is feeling connected to their teacher."  In the post, Murdock shares his tips for connecting and developing a relationship with students in online learning. This is something that I have been considering quite a bit lately as I develop my own course. 

Murdock states that, "Many times in online courses students are a username while instructors become virtual computers responding back to questions and grading projects." Keep in mind, this is probably just a stereotype of online teachers. Most of the Learning Online educators that I know, would not succumb to becoming insensitive virtual robots. In any case, to avoid becoming a cyborg instructor, we need to consider the following:

Tip #1: Create a community from the start. Murdock says this means developing a sense of connection between yourself and the students early on in the course through an introduction discussion. He also says that it's important to ensure that our own comments to students are personalized and not "cookie cutter" responses. 

Now I can relate to this. For many years I have been a huge advocate
of blogging for learning. Blogging about books, blogging for Learning Portfolios, blogging with other classrooms, blogging with experts... You name it, I want to blog about it with students. One thing I have learned, is the importance of modelling how to respond. If I make the effort to engage in meaningful dialogue or commenting beyond, "Great post... Keep up the excellent work!", then my students put in the effort too. Which of course makes sense, as this is what effective feedback is all about. Through experience, it became evident that the best way to encourage effective online conversations was to use this framework: Compliment, Comment, Connect and Question - which was eventually shortened to 3C's & Q.  Now any classroom I work with follows this commenting framework, and honestly, it works! 

If you are interested in exploring the 3C's & Q model, below is a video I am currently using with classrooms right now.  

Murdock's Tip #2: Assign an “All About Me” project. 

Hmmm, that makes sense. Pretty much at the beginning of any year or course, teachers have students share something about themselves in some kind of artifact. These projects may range from the simple, ie: The Hashtag "Who Am I" selfie photo, from the beginning of this course, to giant posters or in-depth digital stories. The key is that it's about sharing who we are and establishing commonalities. However I wonder, would most online instructors see this as important? Or is there this perpetual rush to move into the content

The third tip is very interesting, 

Tip #3: Increase student engagement with video announcements. Immediately, you wonder, why would this make a difference? Why would a video be more beneficial then well written instructions that are scaffolded to meet different learning styles? Murdock would say that this has been the most appreciated aspect of his course, because students say they feel more connected, understand expectations better, and get a better sense of the assignments each week. His recommendations for the video format are as follows:

  • Discuss the previous week with any type of encouragement or reminders needed. 
  • Discuss upcoming week assignments with particular details on assignments, best practices, and questions you typically get from students on the various assignments. 
  • Highlight something new and refer students to the Tips and Tricks section for a weekly extra on a tool or information.

Created by J. Stewart-Mitchell 
via AdobeSpark and GIFCreator
What I love about these tips is the fact that they are basically effective teaching practices that one would use in F2F pedagogy, but applied in the online world. It all makes sense, good teaching is good teaching... doesn't matter if the classroom is traditional or virtual. Even though video announcements would have evident benefits in online-learning, there could be a place for them in Blended as well. Students with learning or language needs would benefit from additional clarification, those who are absent (or were even present but not listening) would also find gains.

Although Murdock's tips seem like a good starting point, they are most beneficial for the instructor who will be creating and delivering their course. This might be a bit of a challenge for my design. I hope to create a blended learning course that other teachers will be able to use within the context of their classrooms. My hope is that through the framework and lessons that I create, other teachers will be able to not only personalize it to the needs of their students, but also to their own level of comfort with integrating technology. Indeed, there are a lot of factors to consider... 

Blended Learning and Personalized Learning Models

Created by J. Stewart-Mitchell 
via AdobeSpark and GIFCreator
In a post by Natalie, "Blended Learning so Many Questions", she raises many concerns regarding creating a blended course that meets the needs of her students. What I truly appreciated about her reflection, was the fact that she acknowledges that the needs of her students must drive the prototype design. However, this is my greatest challenge, designing a course for multiple student needs with the hope that the teacher who uses it, will make the effort to adapt it to their classroom context. How can I scaffold the content to a degree that it would constitute as personalized? My greatest fear for the course is that teachers will opt to only have students engage online, and skip the face to face component. Balancing face to face and online is important in ensuring that needs of the student are met.  However, what role does online personalized learning have in encouraging independence and autonomy over learning? Could a blended model help if a student needs that added personal touch, that personalized learning may not offer?

Sarah in her blog, "Blended Music LMS = Significant Difference", brings up this point. Based on her findings from Freebern Music, she noted that one of the most important aspects of blended learning is not only nurturing within students a desire for autonomy over one's learning, but also involving them in the process... This is the framework that will lead to lifelong learning. But how do we get there? One path to student driven lifelong learning is paved by the digital road, but where's the driver's manual? Who creates it? Perhaps it's a collaborative effort of the learning community.

At this point, I don't know if I actually answered any of my initial questions. Quite honestly, the more I read, the more questions I have. I'm starting to blame this ECI 834 community... You are making me think too much. When I started this course, I had a plan. I thought I knew exactly how I was going to implement my Faith-based Digital Citizenship project. Now I seem to have just lots of questions, and they are starting to pile up. Ugh... I don't like reflecting and blogging anymore.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Is the Medium as Important as the Message?

The Pedagogical Differences of Media

Before we can consider the pedagogical differences of media, we need to reflect on the blog prompt on our own learning preferences when it comes to digital resources. Rather than sharing my thoughts in text form, instead I composed a digital reflection via Adobe Spark. Using Adobe Spark demonstrates the different opportunities for sharing content and learning today.
[Side note... Although creating a digital narrative for my reflection might have been a "creative way" of sharing, it definitely took a great deal longer than if I had just written a paragraph. Not to mention the fact that recording one's voice can make a person a little 'tongue-tied'!]

Key Take Away from Bates that Connects to My Experiences

Since this chapter was about the different modes for student learning, I thought it would be be appropriate if I shared my key take aways from Bates in a series of digital posters via Adobe Spark... because once again, they offer another mode of sharing content. 

In Chapter 7, Bates examines the wide range of media platforms available for teaching and learning, and considerations that teachers need to keep in mind about the needs of the learner and content taught. Reading this chapter also encouraged me to look at my own project (which is probably what Alec and Katia had intended) and how I will meet the needs of the learner in keeping them engaged. A key idea to consider for our projects is that online courses must not only encourage critical thinking about information, but also provide opportunities for students to connect, collaborate and create. If the course doesn't offer this, then it will not meet the needs of the students. Andres in his post, "Bates and Blogs", says that "Having a good understanding of when, why and how we should be using certain forms of media is not only important for us as teachers, but it’s critical in making our lessons as effective and engaging as possible for our students." I fully agree with Andres' comment as he reinforces the point Bates makes that we need to choose digital mediums for learning based on the needs of the learner, not just because they exist. The importance of making lessons engaging is all the more important when we look to online learning, because if the student is not engaged, it's not like the teacher will be necessarily physically present to notice. So that leaves me wondering, what is the best way to effectively engage the learner in the online or blended world? And what challenges do we face in introducing new ways of learning in an environment that often gets driven by text-media? 

For many of us, information was shared predominantly through text form in our own education experience. Even today with all the platforms available, text still is the dominant mode. But in a world of memes, Tweets, Youtube videos and Snapchats, is text engaging enough? Most would state that text will not go away, because it is fundamentally the key to effective communication. However, is it possible that the way we interact with it will change? According to Bates, the printed paper form of the text will probably dwindle away, since the "digital publication allows for many more features to be added, reduces environmental footprint, and makes text much more portable and transferable" (2015, 7.2). Even though this makes sense, I do wonder if the book will completely disappear in learning or even from our lives. Yes, even though books lack hyperlinks, video or scrolling features... there are certain benefits which include: 
  • they do not need charging,
  • they do not require wifi,
  • they do not need a username or password to get into them,
  • one can easily share it or lend a book,
  • And my favorite, if you drop it in water... no big deal.
[Side Note: For all you familiar with Lane Smith's book, It's a Book, these arguments will seem familiar.]

So in spite of the fact that print will eventually morph into digital, the truth is, a big part of the way we take in information is through text. Bates states that, "one of the limitations of text is that it requires a high level of prior literacy skills for it to be used effectively for teaching and learning, and indeed much of teaching and learning is focused on the development of skills that enable rigorous analysis of textual materials. We should be giving as much attention to developing multimedia literacy skills though in a digital age" (Bates, 2015, 7.2) Really?! Although digital literacy is important, and Bates makes a good case, it should be noted that the priority for learning in early years is for development of literacy and numeracy. And this means literacy in the traditional sense (and sorry Mr. Bates) and does NOT include digital literacy. After reading other blogs, it was interesting to see that fellow members of our class felt the same way, Aimee, in her blog, "Thinking About Text, Video and MSN Messenger", said that she also struggled with the same notion.

Although a big part of my job right now is to assist teachers with incorporating digital technology in classrooms, I believe digital integration must support nurturing literacy and numeracy. Indeed, technology should be integrated into learning, provided it supports student achievement of curricular outcomes. Therefore, digital literacy is best taught in conjunction with curricular outcomes.

Pedagogy Always Comes First...

In Chapter 7, Bates stated that his goal was not to focus on the affordances or unique pedagogical characteristics of each medium as teachers will come to their own conclusions based on teaching assignment. Instead Bates says the "important point is for teachers and instructors to think about what each medium could contribute educationally within their subject area, and that requires a strong understanding of both the needs of their students and the nature of their subject area, as well as the pedagogical features of each medium" (2015, 7.1.4). I like this statement, because when you think about it, this is the heart of teaching. It doesn't matter what tools are afforded to us, it's about how these platforms or technologies can support learning.

In a post a couple weeks ago, "Questions about Pedagogy", Graham wondered, "Is technology changing pedagogy, or simply changing the tools?". Good question Graham - you definitely made me think! This is what Bates was getting at in this chapter. Teaching is about understanding the needs of the student, the challenges of the content area in sharing information and skills, and the digital technologies available in the school or classroom environment. Effective teaching and pedagogy is still the same, it's just the tools that have changed. However that being said, there are perhaps just more ways to be effective.

Actually a lot of what Bates said in this chapter, reminded me of the central tenets of the TPACK framework. Which is, "the complex interplay of three primary forms of knowledge: Content (CK), Pedagogy
TPACK model by GeoBlogs, on Flickr
"TPACK model" (CC BY-NC 2.0)
(PK), and Technology (TK)" The heart of the TPACK framework states that, "Effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject matter requires developing sensitivity to the dynamic, transactional relationship between these components of knowledge situated in unique contexts."  When we consider effective tech integration, these are elements that need to be reflected upon: what is taught, needs of the learner, technological knowledge of learner and teacher (and what's available). Sound familiar? I think Mr. Bates in Chapter 7 was reinforcing TPACK, but perhaps in a more palpable manner.

Final Thoughts...

In closing, one of the things I really appreciated about the reading, were the five critical questions for selecting media or technology in education. These questions can not only help educators make a informed decision about the forms of technology to be used, but also the role of the teacher and learner.

Monday, February 6, 2017

You Can't Just Wing a Screencast! And Other Tools for Learning

Over the past couple years I have made many videos for different projects, but only one screen-cast. Usually whenever teachers I work with ask about screen casting for blended or flipped learning, I usually direct them to Mimio Record. Mimio Record is a pretty fantastic tool that is available as part of the software package in our school division. It's quite easy to use and allows for pausing in videos and does not have a recording time limit. Overall, it's a great, but only available to teachers who have the Mimio Teachbar. If you are teacher with Regina Catholic, you have access to this software, if not, fortunately there are many screencasting tools that were shared in our last EC&I class.

Aside from using Mimio Record, in the past I have also used Screencast-o-matic (free version) which allows the user to have up to 15 minutes of free recording time. Great if you intend on very short videos or wish to create multiple accounts with all of your email accounts. To upgrade to the "pro" version, it is $15/yr USD, which seems quite worth it, as it allows the creator to be able to annotate their screen with arrows and titles, and additional editing features. I have had limited experience using the free version of this tool, as I was able to access an upgraded account last year.

However as part of this assignment, I decided that it would be beneficial to try something new, so I went with Screencastify. After adding the Chrome plugin, I was able to quickly get started.

Highlights of Screencastify 
"Screencastify" by J.Stewart-Mitchell, 2017

  • The "lite" (free version) only allows videos of 10 minutes in total. Which may be a good thing, as a person may wish to only have short videos. This means lessons have to be "chunked" or scaffolded, which is possibly better for learning. But, and this is big... you are only allowed 10 recordings/month!
  • Lite version has a watermark, which can be problematic if it interferes with what is being recorded on the screen.
  • Does not allow for any editing, video trimming or annotating with text or graphics like arrorws. Basically record, restart and get over any "polish" that may not be present (ie: mumbling or stuttering). 
  • You can share on Google Drive, Youtube, get a link or use the HTML embed code in other platforms (like blogs). For an online or blended course, this is all "doable", but may mean routing the student to another platform. 

Screencastify - An Experience in being Succinct 

ssssssh by betsyweber, on Flickr
"ssssssh" (CC BY 2.0) by betsyweber
Here is my video about Adobe Spark that got cut off at 10 minutes... Grrr... Apparantly other students in our course, like Andres, also seemed disappointed by this feature, evident in his post, "Screencastin' Ain't That Easy" was also annoyed by this feature, and the fact that you can't pause the video once you begin (which of course adds a little more pressure when screencasting, as you feel you must "get it right").

This is my first attempt with Screencastify, I kind of bumbled through things a bit...  How to use Adobe Spark with Students . I chose to do a screencast for using Adobe Spark with students for projects, as this is a platform I intend on also using for my EC&I 834 Project. 

Unleash Student Creativity with Adobe Spark! No Seriously... Do it!

Adobe Spark (2) by elliemom, on Flickr
"Adobe Spark (2)" (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
If anyone is wondering, I do not own shares in Adobe Spark. I just really love the opportunities it offers as a free tool for learning (and apparantly they intend on keeping it free for Education forever, and will not pull the rug in 2 or 3 years and start charging for it). So when Stephanie in her post, "Adobe Spark Worked for Me" and Rochelle, shared, "Will Adobe 'Spark' Something New for Me", I was curious to see what their first impressions were. Apparently the tool, sparked some concerns... These concerns seemed to be spread out between the 3 elements that are offered in Spark with the options to create a Post, Page or Video.

Adobe Spark Benefits and Drawbacks

First off, I would like to point out, when using Adobe Spark, if you are using with students under 13 years, where they will be creating user accounts, they will have to have parent permission. From my understanding of Adobe Spark's Terms of Use, this has to be specific to using Spark and would not fall under any general Internet usage consent form. This is what I have been recommending to teachers anyways. If you would like a copy of a letter that can be tailored to a project, feel free to use the one I made... if you have any comments or feedback, I really would love to hear them. For lesson plans or ideas for integrating Spark into the classroom, check out their guides and resources at Spark in the Classroom. Finally, there are also great resources in using Spark for Digital Storytelling, be sure to check out the resources.

Now for Steph and Rochelle's concerns.... I'm going to highlight a few that I think I can address....

  1. Is this beneficial for younger students?  Possibilities: Although there are app versions for post, page and video, they still might be hard for younger users to use. I would suggest having younger users work with big buddies (on the older student's account), or teachers capturing student voice in a collaborative project (with the video option).  
  2. What is the point of the Adobe Spark Post, other than it's a digital poster? Possibilities: Teachers can create posts that can be printed or embedded digitally into blogs or webpages. ie: Classroom Expectations, Classroom Mantras or slogans, or big questions to launch a unit. Students can create memes to sum up key thinking for characters in a book or story (obviously older students), key quotes or key questions they have about a novel or unit of study.
  3. Why use the Page feature? Good question! For older students, I would use it for a quick portfolio of learning, embed the post images that students create (students will have to download their post, then upload the image to the page if they want the image embedded or just link the post (with the sharable URL link) directly to the page. Students could even use the page function for a summative learning project or for events such as Heritage Fair (create a QR code linking to the Spark page via and add to the Heritage Fair project). 
  4. Voice Capture is only 10 seconds per slide in Adobe Spark Video... This is intentional as the videos are meant to move quickly, like in Digital Storytelling. The only answer would be to have shorter clips. Not so great for large amounts of content that need to be examined. I would recommend tools such as a combination of screencasting tool and a slide presentation or using Office Mix (which is a Powerpoint plugin). 
That's it for now. My highlights of two tools that are definitely worth checking out.