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The Final Frontier

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My husband would be appalled at my title for this blog post as I know nothing about science fiction or this film. As such I am probably doing some injustice to the movie; nonetheless, I feel as though I am in the final frontier with regard to our course prototype. Please feel free to comment below if I have offended you (I did link the title to the film.  Does that count for anything?!?) …

 

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Lindy and I spent a good deal of time putting together the final pieces of our prototype today.  We spent time last week on our course profile and outline assuming that it wouldn’t take a lot of time to put the finishing touches on our unit.  We needed to make a few changes, put together a couple rubrics and then upload everything to google classroom.  Well – wonder of wonders, we experienced some technological glitches.  When Lindy tried to upload her mysimpleshow, it changed the name of her video to something entirely different. What?!?  When we tried to import her PowerPoint, it didn’t transfer sound.  What?!? When we tried to join google classroom as a student, it wouldn’t let us join.  What?!? There wasn’t an option to “make a copy for each student” on the google doc. What?!? Needless to say, the final frontier had a few more pitstops and hair-pulling incidents than anticipated.  I think we’ve ironed out most of the kinks (not the google docs – insert eye roll), but it’s a good reminder not to do things at the last minute with technology.

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As far as our platform, google classroom has mostly worked well to meet the needs of our students.  I still appreciate its accessibility for both teachers and students as far as viewing, submitting and collaborating on assignments.  However, as I’ve mentioned previously I find the scrolling/stream option a bit limiting – meaning that the last thing you add is published at the top of the screen.  We had to populate our unit in reverse order in order to make it appear in the correct viewing order.  I feel as though google classroom is a bit limited in its organization in this regard.

Overall, I am very pleased to have put so much effort into something that is valuable to me in the classroom.  Having to utilize new tools (explain everything, iMovie, edPuzzle in this module) certainly increases my knowledge as well as my use of different forms of technology in the classroom.  While I’m not sure I would create my own content in the same way (SO MUCH TIME), I do think my interaction with these tools increases the likelihood that I will use them again for myself and my students.  In addition, meeting and working with someone new (Lindy!) is always a great way to learn, build collaboration and create new relationships.

I look forward to viewing and hearing about what my other classmates have put together for their prototypes!

 

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Audience is key to authenticity

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My experiences as a learner utilizing an open online space are limited to EC&I 833 and 834. Within these classes, I have the opportunity to share my thinking and my insights for an audience beyond my instructors.  Blogging, commenting and creating/receiving pingbacks create a community and a purpose for my writing.  In addition, twitter (this little friend who is growing on me) allows me to connect and share ideas.

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Now when I think about who my audience is for this blogging and tweeting, I would state – the members of the EC&I 834 class; however just recently, I have had several people (outside of this class) randomly come up to me and tell me they are enjoying the tweets that I share or some of the writing in my blogs.  My immediate reaction: Wait!? What?!  Oh yes.  That’s right.  I am sharing this information on this little dealio called the world wide web.  My audience extends beyond a mere “classroom”.  How does this change my perception/intention?  Well… this audience creates a deeper sense of thought, more intentional writing and a different “voice” in my writing and communication.  Ultimately, it creates more authenticity for my work.

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Nicole mentioned the importance of audience related to authenticity.   I know this to be true for me and I can see this with my students as well.  When they know their work will be seen beyond the walls of our classroom, they are more invested and care more about what they say and produce.  I’ve always told my students that knowing their audience is a key to good writing.  But what if their peers and I are the only audience?  If I know quality and depth increase if an audience is proposed, why have I not provided more opportunity for this open online learning/communication in my classroom?

In the past, I used Kidblog within my middle years classroom, specifically related to Genius Hour.  Within this setting, similar to what Nicole described, students read and commented on each other’s blogs and parents had opportunity to read (but rarely to never did). Students weren’t invested.  Not to mention, I moderated all their writing/comments and it took forever.  Does it matter if they have spelling mistakes?  Should  I be working with them to edit everything?  Megan and Benita talked about the importance of scaffolding the process of open online communication – I don’t think I did this well despite the fact that I know the importance of modelling.  The audience I provided extended beyond me, but it wasn’t authentic.  If I could create a larger community and teach my students how to work together to edit and publish, then I believe they would be more invested and engaged as they saw their audience increase.

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I teach a tricky age as my students are grades 7 and 8 and range from ages 12-14 throughout the year.  Many popular social media tools (with the exception of twitter – which my students dislike) require a minimum age of 13.  I know that students would be even more invested and engaged if they could use a tool that was familiar to them (and let’s be honest, they are already using them despite age regulations).  While I do think you could do some great open communication with these tools, they are less easily monitored and could turn into a whole other can of worms for a classroom environment.  So until someone lets me in on the magical secret to using Snapchat in my classroom, I will stick with something more structured.

I think I would like to reintroduce blogging in my classroom.  However, for middle years, I think they need a more open forum and variety in what they are writing about – how to do this is the tricky part.  They also need a wider audience.  A wider audience allows for more accountability and greater preparation/investment (for most – let’s be realistic). I think it will also provide a platform to discuss digital presence and their digital footprint. I know I see a shift in engagement and investment when an audience is introduced because I believe the task becomes more authentic.

Wouldn’t you prepare and invest differently for an ever evolving audience of 100 versus a repetitive audience of 1?  Let me know your thoughts…

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Learners determine community?

“For a community to emerge, a learning environment must allow learners to engage each other intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge. It isn’t enough that material is presented to people and they interact with the instruction. It isn’t enough that the learners interact with instructors to refine their understanding of material.” ~ Schwier

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The reason I truly love my job is the relationships I build with my students.  If I took that away, I’m not sure I would teach.  So I would suggest that community isn’t important, it is everything.  I would be bold enough to state that I know how to forge relationships and community within my face to face classroom, but I’ve never been forced to think about fostering an online community.   How does this translate online?  I agree with Schwier’s quote stated above and I think online learning requires even more intentionality to create community than f2f environments.

When thinking about creating community, the following quote stopped me in my tracks:

… ultimately it is the learners who will determine whether a virtual learning community emerges. Learners have control over the quality of collaboration that happens online, and if they reject the invitation to elevate their engagement with each other, we will be left with something less—a cohort, not a community ~ Schwier

Whew!  This is a bit daunting when you think of facilitating community, but it does make sense.  Alec alluded to teaching two different sections of the same class with the same content and having very different communities emerge.  So while he maintained the same expectations, the only difference was the students.  From experience in this class (and ECI833), as Andrew and Elizabeth also alluded to, Alec and Katia do a great job of establishing community.  But from this quote, I guess as students, we (ECI 834) are also invested in the collaboration offered to us.  So knowing this reality, how do I encourage authentic engagement and quality collaboration to create community amongst my students in an online environment?

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I’m not sure there are hard and fast rules to achieve community as each community is so unique. My course will be a blended course so many relationships will be established due to the reality that we also exist in f2f land.  So the actual question I need to address in establishing community is how do I establish engagement and collaboration so that my students are learning from each other and their engagement is authentic?

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Photo Credit: austinhumphreys Flickr via Compfight cc

As Lindy alluded to in her blog, our prototype is for middle years and this age group has many idiosyncrasies.  So we will keep their strengths and weaknesses in mind as we design interactivity.  (Strengths and weaknesses are terrible terms, but I couldn’t think of any other??)

  1. Strengths  – love to visit, love to be engaged online, like change, need variety, generally want to do well, seek relationship, like choice
  2. Weaknesses – like to complete tasks quickly, feel vulnerable, not always sure what to do, easily off task, want to look cool and not stupid

Here is what we propose to allow students to be engaged and build community/collaboration:

  1. Blogs – We will use individual student blogs throughout.  These blogs won’t be exclusive to the prototype but used generally in the classroom as well.  Within the blog, students will be required to post, comment, and create pingbacks to facilitate interactivity and connections.  Elizabeth did a great job in her blog of laying out how students need to be taught how to do each of these components.  In order to experience success, students will need models, guidelines, expectations, and encouragement to understand how to effectively use their blogs and create quality interaction instead of just completing an assignment.  I think they will love to insert videos, links and photos to further represent their ideas.  I believe the use of blogs allows students to truly learn from each other and see that they have original ideas apart from the teacher.  The teacher can take a step back as students encourage and learn from each other.  Teachers will also take on a role of commenting on their blogs at times.
  2. Collaborative projects – Throughout the course, students will be working in groups on a common ecosystem that they’ve chosen.  When each concept is taught/presented, students will refer to their specific ecosystem to pursue the concept.  In the end, groups will work together on a project related to their ecosystem.  Lindy discussed that we may use Explain Everything as an app for their project creation – though I believe we will still provide choice.  Collaborative projects allow students to make their own choices and develop their own ideas while working alongside peers.  Students are able to focus on their strengths, discuss options and create their own learning and understanding which I hope allows more investment and engagement.
  3. Other interactions – We are using google classroom which allows students to comment on specific assignments to ask questions or make comments within the modules.  In addition, within our individual modules, we may use other interactive options such as flipgrid (although I’ve just recently introduced this and my students are hesitant – there’s that hidden”I feel vulnerable and don’t want to look stupid thing” – we’ll see how it goes) or google docs to allow for collaboration as most middle years students like to work together and want to see what their peers are doing.  It also allows for change and variety.
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Ultimately, I think community begins with me – my ideas, my guidelines, my planning and my excitement and energy.  However, the extent and depth of that community is determined by my students as they determine their level of investment.   Hopefully I am setting up an environment where community can thrive.  Do you have any other ideas or suggestions? Any ways to engage and encourage collaboration within this ecosystem prototype?  I’d love to hear them.

 

 

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Blended Learning- So.Many.Questions.

So I love the idea of blended learning.  I love that students have the ability to navigate their own learning but still have access to a teacher and opportunity to collaborate with their peers.   In EC&I 834, we’ve talked a lot about the fact that blended learning has multiple facets and models.  A few of these models are discussed the following video:

 

Because blended learning is so vast, I know that I fall somewhere within the spectrum of blended learning as I utilize technology within my teaching for the purpose of enhancing the learning of my students.  However, like Amy discusses in her blog this week, I’m not really sure what blended learning should look like as a specifically designed course in my middle years classroom.  Beyond utilizing technology, I find it difficult to know how to create a fluid pathway of blended learning.  How do I move between face to face and an online portion beyond what I’m already doing?  How do I create a program that allows for individuality as well as collaboration?  Is this all specified within the LMS I’m using?  Lots. Of. Questions.

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While I researched blended learning this week, I found that as with all things, there are companies who are invested in promoting and providing resources for blended learning.  One company that specializes in math discusses how they assess students, build an individual, personalized program for the day, provide a daily list of what teachers and students need to do for the day, pump out the necessary lesson plans and online resources and then reassess and build a program for the next day.  Parts of this sound ideal and parts sound robotic, but either way… think of all that work for one subject and it’s done by a computer!! How can I, as a lone human, create a blended system that works, think about that many elements, and not die in the process?

Thankfully, I came across an article by Fischer that stated:

Like the light bulb, building a successful blended-learning environment for students is a process of innovation, not an event.

To create and do something well, it will never begin perfectly, but begin it must.  So based upon my professional judgment, knowledge and needs of my students, knowledge of the curriculum and understanding of my access and limitations with technology, I just need to make the best decisions at this point regarding blended learning and then change and innovate as I go … just like I always do.   This is how I always teach – implementation, analysis and then reflection and change for improvement.

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I came across a site that laid out a framework with different steps and considerations for designing and implementing blended learning. The colour palette graphic is clickable within the site and gives different questions/thoughts to consider for each step when designing a blended learning environment.  In addition, there is a video and worksheet to give further guidance for educators for each step of the design process.  I found elements of this process helpful as I think about how to navigate my own course prototype.

Ultimately, the needs of my students must drive my prototype design.  I still have questions about how to merge face to face and the online component, but I know at some point I just have to make some decisions, jump in and try it and then make the necessary changes to make it better.  This course prototype is not just an assignment or an event.  It is real life learning.  It is a process of innovation.  It is not finished once it is implemented.  It is just beginning – awaiting refinement.  With this perspective, I feel a little more free to design my blended learning prototype.

How about you?  How are you feeling about blended learning or your prototype?

 

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Oh, Mr. Bates…

Oddly enough, I’ve never really considered my own learning preferences related to digital resources.  I’ve often considered my choice of digital resources when it comes to teaching, but not necessarily when it comes to my own learning.  So when I sat back to think about it, I realized that my choice of digital resource both for my learning preference and my teaching preference usually comes down to the same thing …. purpose.  What am I trying to learn?  Why am I trying to learn that?  What am I teaching?  How might students learn that best?

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Initially, like Ashley and Kelsie, I would’ve indicated that my preference for learning was text. I visualize in text.  Sometimes, I actually visualize words and punctuation when people are talking – weird, I know.  In addition, memorizing has always been fairly easy for me as I can see the original text on a page so I’ve always assumed that I have an affinity for text.  However after some careful consideration and the following quote from Bates, my thinking has evolved. (An aside … I am one of the few who is just now watching Downton Abbey and every time I write the name Bates, I think of the valet for Lord Grantham, for whom I have a soft spot. Anyone else?!?  Downton is also the reason my blog is posted today and not yesterday, but I digress.)

 

Media differ in their ability to handle concrete or abstract knowledge. Abstract knowledge is handled primarily through language. While all media can handle language, either in written or spoken form, media vary in their ability to represent concrete knowledge.

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If I am learning something particularly philosophical or academic, I prefer text.  I like to be able to read and reread and go back to reference particular sections.  I would find it endlessly frustrating to have to rewind video or audio to locate a particular idea.  As well, I can interact with and annotate text more easily.  So to process something, I need text to develop my ideas, even if that means that I am responding in written text to different media (such as this blog).  I process abstract concepts better with text.

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However, if I am going to teach a new Phys. Ed. skill, I find text is often convoluted and wordy. Video is often much better as I can see progressions and what needs to happen in order to teach the skill. Rewatching/rewinding isn’t difficult as I’m looking for a visual, concrete image instead of a particular phrase or concept.  In this regard, my preference would be video.  So, I suppose I agree with Bates (the author, not the valet) that media differ in their ability to handle concrete or abstract knowledge.  The choice of media I prefer depends on what I want to learn.  That being said, I rarely choose audio to learn (okay, never) – unless I am watching someone speak.  I just start daydreaming.  I must have a need to “see” something which is implied by a preference for video and text or an actual speaker.

After analyzing my own learning, I considered what digital media I use most frequently in my classroom.  Of course, I use text in almost all subject areas at some point or other. However, I use a lot of videos to teach both abstract and concrete ideas as I believe students prefer it.  I think video allows a different type of interaction as there is audio and visual (and often music) which engages people in different ways.  In addition, I have a variety of reading levels in my classroom so video levels the playing field as far as taking in information.  Also, the ease of access to video is another draw for using it in the classroom.

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I wonder if my assumption that video is the popular choice for my students is actually true. Is it actually what they would pick if given the option?  I guess I should consult them.

Ultimately, I choose media for my classroom depending on purpose.  Am I teaching the students a skill (audio/video)?  Do they need to see it (visual)?  Should they create their own visualizations (text/audio)?  Do they need to interact and develop their own ideas (text/audio/video)?  Andrew wrote a great blog this week about the value of different types of media for different purposes.  He often has students utilizing multiple media at the same time based upon their preferences.  This is something I aim to try despite the limitations of access to tech.  How can I allow/teach my students to access media in a way that best meets their learning needs/preferences?  How do I facilitate that type of environment with middle years students and still achieve my purpose?

Well-designed media can help learners move from the concrete to the abstract and back again, once more leading to deeper understanding.  – Tony Bates (still the author)

Quality media leads to quality learning Andrew Foreman

So, choosing purposefully and choosing quality media leads to richer, deeper learning. How do you choose media for your students?  Do you use multiple modes at one time?

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Oh my overwhelmed brain … TouchCast review

This week I had a hard time deciding what which resources to view and reuse.  Last semester, in EC&I 833 I learned how to use Screencast-o-matic, Powtoon and Audacity during the course of the class. I really enjoyed learning and using all of them and realize that there must be purpose and intentionality in media that I choose as outlined in the reading by Bates.  In discussing which tools we may review this week, Lindy let me know about Edpuzzle, which Carla “wrote” about in her vlog this week.  It seems very cool and user friendly and Carla reviewed it well.  You should read/watch it!

Ultimately, I want to find something to assist with my module on ecosystems and am leaning towards some type of video creation at this point.  So, I decided to look at TouchCast as it was listed as an app that could create news-like video.  However, when I looked into it, it is so much more than that.  TouchCast is a video creation app that markets itself as a TV studio in your hands.

TouchCast is a smart video creation app that is fully browsable and responsive.  You can insert webpages, images, and video Apps (vApps) that can be tapped for a two-way video experience.

Features:

  • interactive; students can watch, read or view other elements and never leave the TouchCast
  • wide range of vApps right in TouchCast to insert in the video (maps, polls, twitter feeds, articles, videos)
  • inserted elements can be updated in real time (twitter, polls, etc)
  • green screen feature so that you can alter your surroundings within the video
  • teleprompter feature so that your script can be scrolling for only you to see as you create
  • can annotate within the video (on photos, maps, images, etc.)
  • can use screen as a whiteboard
  • can live stream with up to 12 team members (Can’t even fathom this as my brain is starting to disengage here …); can be in real time or recorded
  • fully shareable

The website has a few solid tutorials that would help beginners (ME!!) out.  Even the tutorials use TouchCast interactivity to teach you – very teachery indeed.  There is an educator’s guide cleverly named Engaging with the YouTube Generation that can be downloaded as a PDF.  It has background info about engaging 21st century learners and how TouchCast does that.  In addition, if you scroll down the PDF, there are TouchCasts made by teachers in different subject areas (although a couple broken links).  If you’re interested in using this tool, I would recommend taking a look at the various teacher created TouchCasts for an idea of how this tool can be used.

Drawbacks:

  • my withering brain??
  • if you’re not super techy, it may take a lot longer to realize the potential of this tool or may be intimidating to try

Here’s a clip related to a TouchCast in the classroom.  If you watch it, you will know she may be a little out of touch.  What sick teacher would video themselves and wait for an email during the day?? Okay, I will let the sarcasm rest.

 

Its name – TouchCast  – implies an interactive newscast (or a newscast on drugs which is screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-8-50-16-pmhow I would describe it!).  I think if you start small (for those like me), this could be a very rewarding tool.  Have you tried it?  Will you give it a try?

 

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LMNOP ??? Coulda fooled me …

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Flickr via Compfight cc

When I wanted to feel really smart this week, I would tell people I had to decide which LMS I was going to use for my blended/online course prototype.  When they said, “Wow!  I don’t even know what language you’re speaking. That’s way over my head,” I nodded my head in acknowledgement of how smart I was indeed. Moments later, when they asked,  “What exactly does that mean?”, my head hung in shame as the words to describe LMSs or even course prototypes evaded me.

Okay – so in reality this conversation only happened with my husband and I did feel smart for a moment, but he is clever enough to know: 1) I didn’t really know what I was talking about and 2) panic ensues within me when I am trying to learn something new and do a good job of it (so he made no comment).

This whole blended/online course creation dealio is very new to me.  To be honest, the LMS portion of this assignment seems to be the biggest hurdle for me as I’m not sure what everything should look like or what I would like to do.

When I read Sarah’s blog this week, not only has she decided upon using Canvas as her platform, but she has her entire outline basically planned (insert inner panic here)!!  For a moment, I felt very overwhelmed, but then I realized how helpful it was to see someone else’s thoughts flushed out on paper.  As someone who appreciates visual examples, it was very helpful to me. You should check it out!

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Logan mentioned in his blog that the LMS is the wrapping, not the present.  So clever, Logan!  It is not the be all and end all.  It’s merely a tool, so perhaps I’m overthinking it. Katherine, Logan, and Sarah all chose platforms or LMSs that intermingle with their beliefs about teaching and needs as a teacher, which shifted my thinking.  I need to think about my own philosophies of teaching and how I believe kids learn and factor that in to the “wrapping paper” that I choose to use for this course.

Audrey Waters discusses how some LMSs simply replicate the old school traditional classroom and states that

each course is a separate entity — one instructor and a roster — hermetically sealed in a walled off online space, much like a walled off classroom                  

This is the opposite construction of what I value as I teacher.  I believe learning is richer when learners interact, share ideas and create together.  It strikes me as odd when a more advanced system (technology) can enter the world and perpetuate old school realities. That seems like an oxymoron to me.

So, here is what I’m looking for in a platform:

  • allows collaboration and interaction; can be student driven
  • allows accountability
  • is organized and has a layout that makes sense
  • easy to use for both teacher/student
  • allows various forms of content (videos, google docs if possible, apps)

The platforms my partner, Lindy, and I are looking at are Canvas and Google Classroom.

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-8-09-55-pmI just started using Google Classroom in the fall and I really love it.  I am still new to the whole idea, but I love so many things about it.  In fact, Jayme Lee showed a poll indicating that Google Classroom was by far the favourite LMS out of those presented.

In Google Classroom, I like that:

  • I can share documents for students to view, edit or make their own
  • I can embed google forms or any of the GAFE to use
  • students can collaborate in real time on documents
  • students can hand in completed work to the classroom
  • grading can be done and reported back to the student online
  • I can look at a student’s progress whether or not it has been turned in (allows me to collaborate with them or look at where they are at in the process – or even mark what has been completed)
  • I can share videos
  • students can ask questions of me or each other
  • I’m already using it so it’s familiar

What I’m not sure about:

  • I don’t love the layout in that I can’t click on a module and go to a separate page.  It’s a scrolling screen (unless I don’t know everything – entirely possible).  I’m not sure I love this aspect.  Can I create a layout that is easy to navigate for different modules?
  • can I integrate various formative assessment apps?

Lindy’s school division does not use GAFE so we weren’t really considering using Google Classroom until accounts were set up for us by the lovely Alec and Katia.  At this point, we are still considering using this.

The other platform we are considering is Canvas.

When we experimented with Canvas in class, I liked:

  • the layout – it seems to be able to set up separate modules easily and seemed easy to navigate for the teacher.  It separates the course into different sections and you navigate from a home page.
  • can be used by multiple users
  • allows google docs to be uploaded
  • able to use multiple apps with it
  • Logan discusses some of the advantages of Canvas in an in depth way in his blog so you can read further here about that here

Possible disadvantages:

  • doesn’t seem as user friendly for students as google classroom
  • can’t see what students are doing as easily; less accountability
  • Lindy mentioned she got a ton of email from them upon signing up.
  • It is new to me and I would have to learn a new program

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Lindy and I will meet to discuss which one of these platforms best suits our needs and the needs of the students for whom this course will be designed.  Prior to that, if any of you have any suggestions one way or the other, please let me know!  Perhaps I’ve misjudged one of the platforms.  I welcome your thoughts and input.