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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Google classroom screenshot

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!



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…


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?

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.