Reflecting

Throughout this course I have reflected on my own philosophy of education and the theories of instructional design that influence my role as a technology educator. For more than eight years I have been designing courses, curriculum and lessons for 9-12 and K-5 technology students. Some of my instruction has been online, but the majority has been problem-based, typically with results that express my students’ individuality and interests.

I am not an objectivist. I do not place importance on learning facts or terms, or principles, because technology is constantly changing.  I am more focused on my individual students and their ability to use the tools available to them than I am on theories, terminology, or historical facts regarding technology. I don’t consider it my job to deliver content, but to present problems, and provide support in using digital tools to solve them.

My teaching approach is a cognitive process. It is my goal to help my students analyze and make connections to previously learned information in ways that allow them to solve problems and discover new skills using digital tools. I am also a constructivist, because I believe that each of my students processes and organizes information differently. I feel strongly that their personal experiences will allow them to make connections that are authentic. Their collaboration and discussion with one another will result in more effective learning experiences than any information I can deliver to them. In that way, my approach is one of constructivism. Learners in my course will be assembling their own knowledge regarding digital tools and processes that can be used in their classes.

My online course is designed to address the disabilities of my current school, rather than the K-5 learners within it (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014). Despite having more than adequate access to digital tools and online applications, educators are untrained in using technology as an educational tool. My course provides learners (teachers) with examples of blended learning, while creating an environment in which they will explore digital tools of their own and share their experiences with one another. The team-teaching element that is offered in the course provides additional social interaction, during which learning can take place through shared experiences.

My UbD Plan includes foundational instruction in the form of two short videos about blended learning strategies. Small group discussions will immediately follow these videos, and learners will share any blended learning experiences they’ve had, and brainstorm others that could be used in their classrooms. Applicative instruction includes their creation of collaborative documents using Office 365, a tool that was provided to them (without training) by the district two years ago. This will provide them with experience not only in using Office 365, but in online collaboration as a learning activity. Remaining instruction as planned in my UbD includes additional collaborative discussions, exploration of the iPad apps available on our campus, and evidence of learning in the form of artifacts, shared documents and online feedback (surveys) throughout the course.

Online learning allows me to address content while promoting the development of skills needed for future employability. These skills include communication, independent learning, ethics and responsibility, teamwork and flexibility, thinking, digital, and knowledge management (Conference Board of Canada, 2014). They cannot be learned by themselves and need to be applied to content areas and authentic learning situations in order for mastery to be achieved.

The fact that today’s students are natives to a digital age means that they expect to use technology for daily processes and entertainment. These students don’t think of technology as separate from their daily lives (Wicks, 2014).   To limit their learning environment to the traditional classroom is inconsistent with the world they live in, and can only complicate the learning process. Online learning makes it easier to integrate content with real-world applications. And while the audience for my online course is not considered digital natives, the need for them to recognize the significance of technology to the futures of their students is great. My online course is designed to become a “place” for teachers to learn from one another – a place that is shaped by the people within it (Morrison, 2015).

Additionally, online learning allows for instructors to reach larger groups of students and address the diversity of any group. No longer does class size need to be limited to the physical dimensions of a classroom, or the suggested ratio of students to teacher. In an online environment, students can learn from an instructor, independently, and/or from one another. A wider selection of resources can be made available to students.  Scheduling is also more flexible, allowing students to work independently as time allows, providing them with ample time for personal reflection and a deeper and more authentic learning experience.

The fact that students are not merely consumers of the learning experience, but contributors as well makes them active learners with an investment in the educational process. Their contributions to the online environment, in a variety of media, serve as a portfolio of sorts, providing evidence of learning and examples of growth for the group as a whole, or for individual students.

As I apply what I’ve learned to my own teaching, I understand the need for my students to be skilled in the use of technology as it applies to them as individuals. While my online course is designed for educators, I have recognized that their learning abilities and strengths differ, just as my K-5 students’ do. Activities are collaborative in nature, because I understand that social influence and shared learning experiences are primary sources of learning for teachers. The design of blended learning strategies will be very personal to each instructor, and based on the needs of his or her students. The fact that time is dedicated for PLC’s each week means that what is learned in the online course can be discussed face-to-face, and that teachers can work together beyond my online course to blend their curriculum with the digital tools available to them.

Evidence of learning will come in many forms, depending on the needs and experiences of the learner. Participation in collaborative discussions and contributions to the media library will be significant in determining the success of the experience. Additionally, student feedback and use of digital tools in their own classrooms will demonstrate their understanding of the benefits of blended learning.

 

Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., Gordon, D. (2014) Universal Design for Learning – Theory and Practice. Retrieved from http://udltheorypractice.cast.org/login

Morrison, D. (2015, October 16). How to Make Online Courses a ‘Place’ for Learning. Retrieved from https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2015/10/16/how-to-make-online-courses-a-place-for-learning/ 

The Conference Board of Canada (2014) Employability Skills 2000+ Ottawa ON: Conference Board of Canada

Wicks, M. (2010, October). A National Primer for Online Learning. Retried from http://www.inacol.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/iNCL_NationalPrimerv22010-web1.pdf 

Implementing My Online Course

I work in a K-5 school, where I teach technology. While my innovation plan and corresponding online course are geared toward professional learning with my colleagues, there are some ways in which online courses could benefit the learning of my students as well.

Because my district’s communication and collaboration platform is Office 365, it is the tool I would have to use for any student-centered online learning course in my building. Office 365 provides a safe environment for our young students to collaborate and discuss with other members of our district environment, and it is both approved and monitored by district administration. Keeping in mind that I am working with K-5 students, I would likely focus on 4th and 5th grades for any online course, since they would be most prepared to use the digital tools needed for doing so (keyboarding, terminology, login information and email addresses).

Each year, I spend a significant part of the first semester teaching students about digital responsibility and safety. I would use OneNote as my online learning environment for this “course” posting weekly assignments for students, and allowing them to submit responses (in the form of images, videos or text) within their shared notebooks. I would include instruction in crediting sources, and creating and responding to blog posts respectfully. I could choose whether to configure each assignment to be shared or to be saved privately in each student’s notebook. I would also be able to embed any required videos to student notebooks, where they could be viewed and discussed as assigned.

Another online course I could teach using O365 is in the area of creating presentations. Assignments would include the organization of student research in Word, the creation of outlines, and the ultimate development of a PowerPoint or Sway presentation.

In each of these scenarios, there would be no automatic grading, as students would each have their own independent ideas, contributions and creative works.

My Online Course

My online course is about blended learning, and it has been created for teachers in my building, so as I’ve designed it  I’ve considered  what I’ve learned in my research.  My research (and experience in speaking with my colleagues) shows that time constraints are the biggest obstacle to teachers’ use of technology in the classroom. Their workloads are more demanding now than ever, due to an increased population of high-need students, pressure to teach to assessments, and demands to learn new content and skills. For that reason, my course is meant to be used in conjunction with traditional learning in staff meetings. It cannot be used effectively by itself. Teachers aren’t comfortable enough using technology to learn about it on their own. They also don’t have time to put in to an online course, unless meeting time is dedicated for them to do so. My live instruction will accompany my course for a number of reasons. First, I want to model the blended learning techniques I’m trying to teach. Second, I want to provide support and guidance as I am offering professional learning. And third, I want to communicate that what we’re doing is important enough for administrators to dedicate time to learning more about it.

Learner participation is a key to the success of this course. While I will provide the guidance and design of the learning process, a majority of the activity will be conducted by the learners. They will participate in a number of activities during our meeting times, and throughout the weeks between scheduled meetings. Evidence of learning will come in the form of their in-class and online discussions, shared experiences, feedback, and PLC meeting minutes. Learning will be mostly experiential, including a number of cooperative, problem-based and inquiry-led activities.

I am making a real effort to make my online course an authentic one that I can use in the fall. While this means that I am not including tons of resources, what I am including is what I consider to be essential to the experience. The informal, one-on-one interaction that accompanies it (in the form of team-teaching experiences) will play a significant role as well.

Using Schoology

I have chosen Schoology as my online learning platform, and have found it to be quite user-friendly. I am most impressed with the wide selection of tools and formats with which I can present instruction, and the fact that I can include Google apps and videos seamlessly within the program.

One struggle I have been having is in regards to the use of Office 365 with Schoology. A part of my innovation plan includes teaching educators how to use shared documents and folders with their students. Since my district uses Office 365 as our primary communication and collaboration platform, I have been spending a portion of my time exploring ways to merge it with Schoology. While it complicates my process, I do enjoy the challenge it presents. My efforts to maintain an authentic learning plan are leading me toward new learning experiences and potentially some new tools that I can use in my own classroom.

Another more immediate struggle I encountered this week was in the addition of materials to my online course. One unit will be focusing on exploring the apps available on the iPads in our building. As I tried to log into Jamf (our online app management system) this weekend, I discovered that service was “temporarily unavailable” because the system was being updated.  As a result, I was unable to share images of my school’s apps catalog in Schoology. I plan to add these materials as soon as they are made available to me.