Sunday, August 3, 2014

Blended and Online Learning Class Reflection on Motivation

This week we finished our studies by listening to Dan Pink discuss his findings on motivation.  In his July 2009 Oxford, England TedTalk, Pink rebuts the idea that if...then... motivational strategies work best.  Citing research like the Candle Problem, Pink shows that if...then... motivational strategies in which workers are rewarded by getting more pay, or other incentives, while effective in repetitive tasks do not work for the complex tasks of the 21st century.  With this in mind we, were asked to reflect on how we might incorporate autonomy, mastery, and purpose into our professional situation.

Last year, I attempted to use some rewards to try and get students to class on time.  When students had an excessive amount of tardies (over 12 in a 12 week period) they were assigned a week of lunch detention.  After seeing this not be a deterrent for a majority of our students who were habitually late, John Fishback (one of our guidance counselors) suggested that we try something beyond punishment as a motivator.  With that in mind, I began offering students in this situation, and for tardies beyond 12, the following incentive.  For everyday that you are on time for all of your classes, the next day's lunch detention will be removed.  For many students this worked, they stopped being tardy, for a week, to avoid the lunch detentions, but then they would be back in for getting to 15 tardies.  At 15 tardies, they received a week of lunch detentions, plus two 1 hour after school detentions.  Again they could remove the lunch detentions for being on time daily, and for every 2 consecutive days without tardies the after school detentions would also be removed.  Again for a majority of the students this worked, for a week, but there were still some students who got to 18 tardies, which lead to 1 week of lunch detention, 2 after school detentions, and 1 2 hour after school detention to be served on a Wednesday, between the after school detentions on Tuesday and Thursdays.

The incentives at this level were the same, but in order to remove the 2 hour detention, students needed to be on time for every class for 5 consecutive days.  Again, this worked for the majority of students, but there were still 2-3 who progressed to ever longer periods of lunch detention, after school detentions, and 2 hour detentions.  This example shows that for a routine problem, getting to school on time, the carrot and stick approach would work.

Much like Pink shows though, for tougher motivational problems, like improving grades, students need more than a carrot and stick approach.  For these kinds of problems students need more than just being paid, although Steven Levitt in this blog post shows that when faced with the potential loss of money students will do better on tests, they need something that will engage them in what is to be learned.  This is a much harder system to design, on the surface, than simply paying learners to do well on a test.  But, it is not as hard as it seems to be.

The keys to getting students, and workers, motivated for these higher end tasks according to Pink are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  With these tools, students become engaged in what they are doing. To get our students to do more, we simply need to find ways to give them autonomy and purpose in what they are doing.  When I taught at Bremen, this occurred in 1 trimester when I taught US History B by theme as opposed to by chronology.  The students looked at American history for the 20th century and created decided on the themes we would study.  A majority of what we studied within each of these themes was presented by students in a manner that they chose.  The students were motivated, grades improved, and the presentations were incredible.  I could not wait to for that class to arrive each day, and I think the feeling was mutual based on conversations we had.

At the E3 Technology Conference this past week at Warsaw High School, Angela Maiers termed this Unleashing Genius, while Kevin Honeycutt would regularly go to students he was teaching with a unique problem or software he wanted the class to use.  He would ask them to do him a favor and learn the software, then present it to the students.  The student would learn the software, present it to the class, and in an added bonus have an opportunity to shine in front of their peers.

It works for adults to, Kevin got me to spend 2.5 hours creating the Youtube Video below, after a 30 second conversation about a method I use to monitor my daughters' social media posting.  The conversation, after a session on parenting and social media, went something like this:

Me:  Kevin, have you heard of If This Then That.
Kevin:  No.
Me:  You can use it to set up recipes to email you when your children post pictures to Instagram
Kevin:  That sounds great, I had heard a little about it but don't know much.  Can you do me a favor, can you make a video on that and send it to me via twitter.
Conference ends, I go home, have dinner with my family, spend 2.5 hours producing this over too many takes.

This year, I am focusing on how I can unleash the genius of my students and peers.  I am asking at least 3 students each day, and 1 staff member, what their genius is.  I am then asking them how they are sharing that genius with the world.  All it is really going to take, is to find ways for them to utilize that genius within their classwork.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Liberating Genius: A Day with Angela Maiers

I spent yesterday at the e3Tech Conference at Warsaw High School.  In reality, due to the keynote and sessions that I chose to attend, I got to spend my day with Angela Maiers.  It was a great way to re-invigorate myself and get fired up for the coming school year, which I was really needing.  In a weird twist, after having a great year last year and being excited about our senior mentor program, freshman homeroom program, and STAT revisions that we have been working on this summer, I was very down about my job.

When I took the job at PHS the greatest disappointment was that they changed my title from Assistant Principal to Dean of Students.  It may not feel like a major change, but mentally this made me feel pigeon holed into being merely the discipline guy.  I believe that I did this job well, but I longed for more outside of the area of discipline and attendance.  This year, with the creation of our freshman homeroom program, senior mentor programs, and re-calibration of our STAT program, but in many ways I still feel that restriction as being "the discipline guy".  In fact, when most people hear what my job is they instantly say, "oh so your the guy that deals with all the bad kids", or something to that extent.  In my mind, I think they are picturing this guy:

Mrs. Maiers opened the day by asking me what my genius was as I was standing in the hallway waiting for her to get done talking to a friend of mine.  In my typical, "I suck" manner I told her that I really had none, for which I was gently scolded by her.  Great start to the day...

During her keynote presentation she asked everyone in the audience to be courageous and take a selfie, then tweet it out by stating what our genius was.  Being the lemming that I am at heart, I turned, and snapped a selfie:

As the day went on and into the night when I was at home, I though of more to add.  Thus, this is my genius (for the moment):

  • Sharing my passion for learning
  • Thinking creatively
  • Connecting with at risk students
  • Caring for others
  • Using technology

Hopefully this list will as I continue to grow as an educator.  Ideally, at the end of this year it will include an entry that says "Helping others to Liberate their Own Genius" so that I can do for the students I interact with what Angela Maiers did to me; make me see and believe that I am more than just the Dean of Students, help them to see that they too are geniuses and that they need to share their genius with the world.

Please comment below, so I can learn what your genius may be.

Reflections on a Growth Mindset Part III-The Music of Growth

This summer I attempted to go back to running.  I set a goal of running at least 1 mile per day from the day after graduation until school resumed in August.  I made it 32 days in a row, but have not run now in nearly 3 weeks.  The idea that we form habits by doing something for at least 28 days is true, and my running had become a habit, but the habit of not doing something is also very powerful and often hard to overcome because it is soooo much easier than doing something.  For example, last night I had intended to start running again, get a new streak going, but it was too cold to run.  Yep, it was 70 degrees in Indiana in July and I was too cold to run, I wonder what will happen when it is -10 in February and I have to get into my street parked car to drive to work?  I am not sure if this inertia is the result of a fixed or growth mindset, but what I do know is that this inertia keeps me from experiencing my daily dose of growth mindset via Miley Cyrus, Eminem, Kristin Chenoweth, and Idina Menzel.

As I ran more, I started creating playlists of music, searching for songs to keep me going.  The three best songs in those runs became The Climb by Miley Cyrus, Lose Yourself by Eminem, and Defying Gravity sung by Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel in Wicked.

I tried to time the songs to my runs, so they would come out at the times when I most needed to be inspired to dig deep and keep going.  Inevitably they always would, because each song speaks to that biological desire we all have to learn, grow, and become better versions of ourselves.

Ultimately this matters because the more we can expose our students to a growth mindset, in ways that they can connect to and internalize, the sooner they will begin to embed that mindset into their own lives.  And that is when we will be able to see their growth begin to take off.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Blended and Online Learning Class-Module 3 Reflection

This week's reflection is centered around the Florida Center for Instructional Technology's Technology Integration Matrix and I focused my study of the available resources on my former area of teaching, Social Studies.

The matrix is a very valuable took, in that it allows teachers to explore lessons that integrate technology at a variety of levels.  These levels are:  Entry-the teacher begins to use technology tools to deliver curriculum to students, Adoption-the teacher directs students in the conventional and procedural use of technology tools, Adaptation-the teacher facilitates students in exploring and independently using technology tools, Infusion-the teacher provides the learning context and the students choose the technology tools to achieve the outcome, Transformation-the teacher encourages the innovative use of technology tools, technology tools are used to facilitate higher order learning activities that may have not been possible without the use of technology.

In addition to describing levels of technology integration, the matrix is also segmented on the vertical access by different types of learning environments.  The environments are:  Active, Collaborative, Constructive, Authentic, and Goal Directed.  This segmentation furthers the usefulness of the tool so that teachers can tailor the ideas from the tool to the learning environment that the students will be working in.

Based on my teaching practice from when I was in the classroom I believe that I would be at the collaborative adaptation or collaborative infusion level depending on the lesson.  I was a fairly early adopter of technology in my school district and worked hard to integrate it into the classroom in unique ways, but I do not believe I ever reached the transformative stage where students were driving the use of technology, except for maybe in the creation of a class blog and podcasts maintained by the students, which never really worked the way I envisioned.

If I were still in the classroom, I believe that I could get to the transformative level by the end of the 1st grading period this coming year, however, I would  want my learning environment to change from being a collaborative one to being an collaborative/authentic one as I would want to implement PBL within my classroom the majority of the time.

In order to make that growth happen I would need to restructure my lessons so that they are PBL based, provide learner development in the PBL process for students early on, and utilize BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to create a 1:1 technology environment in the classroom so that students can easily and fully integrate tech into the daily flow of class.  Along with this, my class would go 100% digital through the use of the Canvas learning management system..  Additionally, as tools are rolled out with projects via Canvas I would need to provide learner development lessons in the use of that technology.  For these I would want to create student lead lessons given by students who had already mastered that technology and allow for students to suggest tools to use for each upcoming project.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Reflections on a Growth Mindset, Part II-Growth is Hard Work

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”-Thomas A. Edison

As always, I am a little behind in setting my thoughts to computer screen, and thus what should have been my culminating post for the week becomes the second of what will now be a four part reflection on a growth mindset and grit.  The first piece in the series focused on Pursuing a Growth Mindset, and was more a response to an article by Alfie Kohn from the New York Times on May 24, 2014 entitled Do Our Kids Get Off Too Easily.  This time I am reflecting on David Brooks New York Times piece from June 16, 2014 entitled Learning Is No Easy Task and is based on a blog post by Scott H Young in a on growth.

In his article, Brooks describes a series of growth paradigms.  He begins by noting that growth is not linear, as we often think it is, but rather comes in a variety of forms that rately proceed from point A to B in a structured consistent manner.  One of the challenges in education, for eternity, has been balancing this non-linear growth with the linear outline of courses...Today we are going to study the Civil War, next week will be Westward Expansion, and in two weeks we will be looking at the Second Industrial Period in US History...even if Johnny and Suzie are still stuck with why the North couldn't just let the South leave and avoid all the blood shed after the unit ends.  Our linear path, does not often leave us with a model that embraces the different structures that Brooks describes in his article.

The first structure that Brooks describes is that of logarithmic learning, and this is the type that I want to focus on the most.  This is the learning that takes place when we take up a new sport or activity, like running.  Brooks, citing Young, notes that in the initial stages you make a lot of progress quickly, but then as you grow in the activity, your growth slows down and the breakthroughs become fewer and further between each other.  Those initial runs, while hard, lead very quickly to improvements in endurance and technique and to large drops in time when you race.

This spring when I began running again, my first 5K I was only able to run 2 miles of it, and that by running the first mile, walking the second mile, and then running to the finish where there were spectators again (yes vanity is a motivating factor), and it took over 45 minutes.  My next run, less than a month later and after I had only been running for 10 days and had yet to go over 1.5 miles at a time, I was able to run 2.5 miles of the race by running the first 1.5 miles, then walking .5, and running the final mile again.  My time also dropped to just below 40 minutes.  That is very strong growth in a short period of time.  As I progress, and keep adding distance each week, I feel myself getting stronger, but my ability to drop time is likely to be a lot less pronounced and eventually I will plateau somewhere around a 27-30 minute 5K.  Still, great growth from where I started, but in order to drop further below, I will need to change my training more, vary my run distances and focus on technique much more than I do now, and then to only get small amounts of growth.

Much like when I coached swimming and our new swimmers would drop time nearly every meet, and drop a lot of it, while our experienced swimmers would need to focus for weeks on end on very tiny adjustments to drop a few tenths of a second, the discipline to keep at it when the task becomes harder requires a different mind set from those first weeks when results come easier.

Brooks then goes on to describe exponential growth, where you need to put in Malcoom Gladwell's 10,000 hours before you can truly master the skill.  Learning paths that resemble a staircase where you grow a little and then have a period of stagnation followed by another period of growth.  Learning that acts like waves lapping at the beach, they come in and leave a little residue of knowledge, then recede, then return, to leave more and solidify what came before.  Finally, he describes the valley shaped learning curve, where you have to go down before you can rise up.  He likens this to the immigrant experience in America, but for many of our students, immigrant or not, this is the path that they often take when coming to school, and it is in the depths of those valleys, when support is not offered that we often lose them for good.

Brooks concludes by noting that "Thinking about growth structures reminds you that really successful people often have the ability to completely flip their mental dispositions" and that "the crucial thing is not what traits you intrinsically possess.  The crucial questions are: What is the structure of your domain?  Where are you now on the progress curve?  How are you interacting with the structures of the field?"

In describing these differing growth structures and asking these final questions, Brooks speaks of the nature of having a growth mindset, of being able to recognize that in our students growth occurs in different ways, at different times, and along different paths.  As educators, we need to not only recognize that this occurs in our learners not merely from the start of their school lives, but within each year and within each course.  We also need to plan for the varying types of growth and shape the path of learning to best support our learners where ever they may be on that path.  For logarithmic growth we need to make sure that they have the discipline to continue to work hard in those initial euphoric stages when the learning comes easy, and then the growth mindset to continue to persevere when the learning becomes slower as the skills needed to improve become harder to master.  In many ways, it is through this shaping of the path that we might best help our students.  By giving them confidence in their ability to learn early in the process we will be able to give them encouragement to continue on.  By creating a growth mindset in them, and supporting their efforts, when the tasks become daunting we can supply them with the fortitude to master deeper levels of learning and make those minor adjustments in their learning process to find significant breakthroughs.  The ability of us as educators to cultivate in our students the type of grit and mindset that allows for not 10,000 failures, but rather 10,000 insights into what might work, may be the most important innovation we can make as a profession.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Pursuing a Growth Mindset

In the past few weeks I have been reading a lot about Grit and having an Growth Mindset.  In my online class on Blended and Online Learning last week was devoted to thinking about having a growth mindset, I am currently reading Mindsets in the Classroom by Mary Cay Ricci, and in the last two weeks I have read thought provoking pieces in the New York Times by David Brooks and Alfie Kohn on the topic.  

In addition to doing this reading I have gone back to running this summer with the goal of running at least 1 mile per day until school starts again on August 13.  So far I have made it 23 days straight, and have had a lot of time to ponder my views on this topic.  Over the the coming week I am hoping to explore these thoughts more deeply on this page.  The first topic of my post will be a response to Mr. Kohn's article, which began this cycle of thought for me nearly two weeks ago.

In the May 3rd edition of the New York Times, Mr. Kohn wrote an article entitled Do Our Kids Get Off Too Easy? In this article, Mr. Kohn attacks the culture of Grit that he has seen developing within both conservative and liberal groups in America.  Early in the piece, Kohn states:

But seriously, has any child who received a trinket after losing a contest walked away believing that he (or his team) won — or that achievement doesn’t matter? Giving trophies to all the kids is a well-meaning and mostly innocuous attempt to appreciate everyone’s effort.
Even so, I’m not really making a case for doing so, since it distracts us from rethinking competition itself and the belief that people can succeed only if others fail. 
Rather, my intent is to probe the underlying cluster of mostly undefended beliefs about what life is like (awful), what teaches resilience (experiences with failure), what motivates people to excel (rewards) and what produces excellence (competition).   

Mr. Kohn then backs up his belief that creating competitive environments does not help improve outcomes for students by stating that, 
In any case, no one ever explains the mechanism by which the silence of a long drive home without a trophy is supposed to teach resilience. Nor are we told whether there’s any support for this theory of inoculation by immersion. Have social scientists shown that those who are spared, say, the rigors of dodge ball (which turns children into human targets) or class rank (which pits students against one another) will wind up unprepared for adulthood?
Not that I can find. In fact, studies of those who attended the sort of nontraditional schools that afford an unusual amount of autonomy and nurturing suggest that the great majority seemed capable of navigating the transition to traditional colleges and workplaces.
He then makes a compelling case that what we should seek for our students and children is what he refers to as "unconditionality", or the idea that children know that they are loved not because of what they achieve, but rather for who they are.  It is here that I have become confused about Mr. Kohn's views on this topic.  It appears that he is embracing the idea of building within students a growth mindset, but without the student having to put forth any effort in attempting to achieve their goals.

I believe part of this view comes from Mr. Kohn's interpretation of the intentions of those advocating for students to develop Grit.  Mr. Kohn, as outlined in his article, believes that those advocating for students to develop Grit have a very Hobbesian view of the world.  He states:
Rather, my intent is to probe the underlying cluster of mostly undefended beliefs about what life is like (awful), what teaches resilience (experiences with failure), what motivates people to excel (rewards) and what produces excellence (competition).Most of all, it’s assumed that the best way to get children ready for the miserable “real world” that awaits them is to make sure they have plenty of miserable experiences while they’re young. Conversely, if they’re spared any unhappiness, they’ll be ill-prepared.
 I do not believe that those who advocate for the development of Grit believe that the world is a very dark place, but I do believe that they realize that students need to experience work hard to develop their skills and improve.  This hard work, often comes with struggle and failure, and how we respond to these setbacks ultimately determine if we succeed or not.  I can have an immeasurable amount of self confidence born from knowing that my parents love and support me, that I have the skills to succeed, but what happens the first time that I face hardship, or fall short.  Without having a strong belief in my abilities, born from succeeding when the milestone was not easy, will I be able to push through the self doubt that comes with failure, or will I crumble and fail to meet that challenge before me.

Much like Michael Jordan, I do not believe that we are born with natural abilities that will carry us to our goals because we have them, but rather we need to refine these abilities through hard work and perseverance.  

While I struggle with participation trophies, and realize that even though the players got an award they still know they lost (much like when we have young athletes play the game but do not keep score so that the idea of competition is eliminated), I also understand Mr. Kohn's desire to lessen the influence of competition within our schools.  When we pick winners and losers by having students compete within the classroom we move into the realm of a fixed rather than growth mindset.  This does not mean that students should not face struggle and have to work hard to achieve the learning put before them.

When I am in the midst of my goal of running at least 1 mile daily, and it is late at night and I don't want to run because it has been a long day, will my confidence in my ability to run a mile get me off the couch and out into the heat and the darkness of a nighttime run?  Or will the Grit that I have developed that makes me want to succeed push me out the door, into the heat and darkness, not only to get in the minimum mile, but to go further than I thought I could when I started the run?  If we eliminate anything, it should not be the struggle, but rather that we evaluate each student based not on an arbitrary set of outcomes set for all, but rather by looking at where they began their studies, and where they finish.  Much like I runners who run in old age not against the pack, but against their own times and for their own goals.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Blended and Online Learning Class Reflection Week 2

This week's readings and videos all centered around the theme of Mindset and were very engaging to read and watch.  The materials started with  videos by Will Richardson and Ken Robinson speaking about the education system, and then had articles around adopting technology,  homework policies, giving students zeros, and how to start and online class.  The reflection for our blog post this week was to answer the following question:  How could you adapt or change one of your current courses/course policies to reflect a moving mindset?  Is this a change you are willing to make?  Why or why not?

As a high school administrator I thought that I would focus on a policy that I would change for it to reflect a moving mindset. One of the changes that I hope to make next year is to incorporate the VIA Survey of Character Strengths as part of our school discipline program.  The program already is centered around conversation with students who violate school rules in which we discuss what happened, and then have the student reflect on what occurred and what they can do differently in the future.  The foundation of our discipline program is based on a growth mindset, that being to not merely discipline the student, but rather to help the student to grow and make better choices in the future.

It is my hope to have students who have been assigned a suspension of any length to complete the survey as part of their discipline assignment.  They would then submit their top 5 strengths via a Google form, so that we can have a record of each student's strengths for when we meet in the future.  After submitting their strengths they would meet with an administrator who would then discuss what occurred for reflection, but this time through the lens of how they can utilize their strengths to avoid this situation in the future.  In addition to discussing how they might utilize their strengths differently in the future, if needed the idea of how sometimes strengths (like humor) can be used as a shadow strength that is in reality utilizing that strength in a way that is negative or harmful.  Finally, I would want them to reflect on the idea of self regulation, as exemplified by Dr. John Yeager (who co-authored the book Smart Strengths upon which this approach is based) in this article on self regulation.

With this change in approach, to helping students realize what their strengths are and how to better utilize them, but also to begin to move from autonomous responses within their environment, to those that are more reflective, as Dr. Yeager points out when discussing how being in a bakery can assault our virtue.

This is a change that I am more than willing to make as I believe that one of the primary functions of being an educator is to instill in our students the habit of life long learning, and a growth mindset is at the foundation of this belief.  Without the belief that we all can grow and develop new skills and habits of mind, then their is little point in continuing to work with students.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Blended and Online Learning Class-Reflection on my Responses

This summer I am taking an online course from Five-Star Academy on Blended and Online Learning, in addition to continuing my course work via EdX this time on Sabermetrics and Coding.  From time to time I will be posting reflections based on my learning through Five Star, this being the first.

For this week's introductory course we were introduced to the course software, learned about the expectations for our coursework and when assignments are due, and learned about the projects we will be doing.  I really liked the format for this introduction, particularly the use of rubrics to set the expectations for posts, as well as did some reading on the different standards for online educators from the State of Indiana, iNACOL, and ISTE.

I found this article about Online Discussion Response Techinques as that is something that I always struggle with when taking online courses.  Which leads me to today's assignment, an evaluation of how I did responding this week to the writing prompts and the writing of my classmates.  The three questions for this prompt were based on the rubric below:

  1. Where do you fall on the rubric?
  2. What qualities of your entries effective or exceptional?
  3. What qualities of your entries were emerging or evolving?
In reading over my response to the question:  Which set of digital standards would you be most likely to use as a point of reference in your professional situation? What characteristics of those standards make them the best choice?   I believe that I fall predominantly in the Effective area.  I did a good job of understanding the readings that we were asked to write about and incorporate professional experiences in to both my response to the question and my response to my classmate's posts.  I also felt that I could be considered exceptional in the area of the presentation of my ideas.  That being said, I believe that my response to a classmate's post was a little too shallow to be considered effective, and thus I believe it is emerging.  While I did reference other posts that I had read, and also expanded on the topic by bringing in my beliefs about the standards as they related to our adoption of MacBooks in a 1:1 environment 3 years ago, I felt that my post was too much on the agreeable side of the scale.  

Another drawback to my post, is that I always find it hard to evaluate myself.  I tend to fall on the "too hard on myself" side of the scale, but when it comes to my writing, I think I grade myself too easily, plus it is always nice to get another perspective, so I have copied both my post and response to a classmate below. What do you think?

My Post:
As we are embarking on expanding our online offerings from 2 courses (Economics and English Composition) that were taught in a blended environment to a more comprehensive offering of core courses (we are adding Government and English 12) I believe that the Indiana Standards for Online Educators would be a great starting point. They are concise (11 pages long), easy to understand, and provide details as to what is to be expected when establishing yourself as an online educator. I believe that the interactions between the instructor and students is in many ways more important than the content that is being developed for these courses. Without great communication skills, the ability to connect with your learners, and the ability to engage them in the content, even the best lessons will fall flat. Thus I believe that these standards which give a nice overview of the process are a great place to start. 

I would back these up by using the other pieces as supplemental readings and discussions using the save the last word for me protocol established by NSRF ( or a similar text exploration protocol as part of a summer boot camp for online instructors as they offer more meet to grow from.

 Response to a Classmate:

Amy, I like your take on the ISTE standards being very well aligned to the goals your corporation has established for the coming year. I think that they can serve as a great guide for students to see what direct their digital learning can take them. I, agree with Kelly's earlier post regarding wanting to blend these documents into one final document that takes the best from all. I think incorporating the Indiana Online Educator standards does this in many ways, as she pointed out in her post, that it blends items from INaCol and ISTE to try and create a foundations document for teachers. I believe that having teachers understand the unique environment that blended/online learning is will be vital in making any technology change go beyond advanced power point and word processing. It is one of my biggest regrets from our transition to 1:1 that we did not access similar standards and discuss them as part of our teacher PD.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What I Learned from my MOOC Experience

As I wrote in my last post, I recently completed a MOOC class for the first time.  In my previous post, I wrote about what I had learned about taking online classes from this experience in learning about Alexander the Great.  The focus of this post will be what I learned about facilitating learning in an online environment by taking this course.

The first thing that I learned is to make assignments not merely relevant but transparent.  Each week in my course our professor, Guy Maclean Rogers, started the week with an overview of the topic we would be covering.  This included links to any readings that we would be doing as well as essential questions to think about as we did our work.  There were no surprises as to what was expected.  This no surprises policy even went to the courseware. At the top of each lesson was a menu bar that showed all of the elements that you would be completing during the unit, with symbols for different types of activities.

The second lesson I learned was to keep lectures short, and if using video have it transcribed so students can choose to read the lecture instead of watch it.  This was one of the best features of the class.  Each video lecture was broken into shorter segments of 3-5 minutes around a common theme, with a transcribed version next to it so you could read instead of watching if you wished.  After each video, students were asked to answer a reflective question regarding the video, often either analyzing what occurred or giving an opinion on what happened.  They were then asked to comment on the posts of others, but not required to do so.

The third lesson was to give weekly updates and pep talks.  All of the feedback that I received on the course came from auto graded multiple choice quizzes and the end of each unit or from peers commenting on my posts.  The first type of feedback was immediate and helped me to see what I was retaining, but was not very intellectually meaty-the quizzes were like fast food in that they filled you up, but were not always a sustaining meal.  The second feedback, from classmates, was infrequent as the number of posts to read from others were overwhelming and comments were infrequent at best.  The class lacked a sense of community.  All of this being said, the weekly email I received from our instructor was gold.  He commented on posts that he was reading and discussions that were taking place among the students.  He encouraged us to stick with it, while giving updates on assignments and telling us what the next topic would be in a preview.  In short he gave us weekly pep talks to keep us going.

The final lesson learned was to truly have a successful course, you need to create community among the learners.  This was hard to find in my course, and in some ways I found the class less fulfilling than live classes because of it.  In the course that I am currently taking on Online and Blended Learning we have to comment on the posts of classmates, and their is a rubric for those posts so we can make sure we are giving substantial feedback to them.  Additionally, the class is small, so you don't feel overwhelmed looking through the posts of your classmates to comment.  Thus, if I were to teach a MOOC style course, I would break the large class into smaller groups so they can foster a community of learners.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Getting Back to My Blog-An Update of the Past 3 Months as an Online Learner at EdX

With the end of the year in sight (4 More Days!!), I found my self with some time while at my daughter's gymnastics practice to catch up on my blog.  My last post had been about my starting a MOOC course on Alexander the Great through EdX, and I had every intention to update the blog with progress and insights.  That was on February 7, the best laid plans....

The course is over, and here is what I learned, beyond a great deal about Alexander, about online learning while taking the course:

  1. Dedicate a Time to Learn.  The approach of "I'll do it when I have time" simply doesn't work.  This is the surest way to fall behind and have to scramble to catch up.
  2. Avoid Playing Catch Up. When you stay on top of your lessons you have more time to fully engage with the material, and thus deepen your learning experience.
  3. Online Learning Must be Active Learning.  While on your own, this can not be sit and get learning.  You need to engage with the material, and reflect on your learning.  Whether this be through taking notes on lecture videos or readings, actively participating in class chats/discussion boards, or through journaling about you lessons you need to do more than simply watch videos or read the material.  The first few weeks of the course I did this, and found as I took the tests that I really was not internalizing what I was learning.  When I created an Evernote Notebook for the class, my learning deepened, my retention improved and I had a much richer experience.  When I fell behind, and got into catch up mode the last week of the course, my learning dropped and I felt that while I was doing well on the quizzes, I was not learning as much.
  4. Engage with Other Learners.  This was my most difficult struggle throughout the course.  I am not a great discussion board conversationalist and I found engaging with others to be very difficult.  There were a couple of reasons for this, beyond my own dislike of text based discussions.  The first being the sheer number of posts, most of them very well done.  With several thousand people taking the course it was impossible to read all the posts and comment on them.  The second reason was I did not budget enough time to engage with my fellow learners.  I while I enjoyed writing my posts, I often did not have enough time each week to read the work of others, let alone craft a meaningful response. 
  5. Don't Worry about your Grade, but Worry about your Grade.  While I was not overly concerned about my grade, this was learning for learning's sake, it was definitely motivating to try and not only complete the course, but do so in a manner that would allow me to earn a certificate.  I am proud to be one of 1039 who successfully completed the course for a certificate, I am also proud that I am listed on the course honor roll.  Finally, I believe that caring about earning the certificate, and the percentage at which I passed each assessment, helped to deeper my learning.

Tomorrow, I'll take a look at what I learned about teaching an online course by taking this course.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Moving into a MOOC

I started my third MOOC course today, this one from Wellesley College via EdX, on the Greatness of Alexander.  As always my goal is to find the time to finish the course and expand my learning, while thinking about how these types of courses can fit into our school and help students pursue their educational passions.

The first observation that I want to make as I jump into this course is one that astounded me when my professor-Guy MacLean Rogers-mentioned it in his introduction to the course.
You come from more than 100 countries, including all the lands through which Alexander campaigned in the Middle East, the Near East, and Asia.
You range in ages from your early teens to your late 80s.
Some of you are still in middle school.
Others are senior professors or even emeriti of very distinguished
Many of you have studied some aspect of classics or ancient history, though
the vast majority of you have never taken a course before on ancient history or Alexander the Great.
  The possibilities to learn from, and hopefully view pictures taken by students from these areas just amazes me.  As does the diversity of the learning environment that has been created and knowledge base we can all draw from.  Now I just need to learn how to better foster relationships via discussion board.