Trial and Error

What helped your learning? What would have helped your learning more? What hindered your learning? What got in the way of your learning? How did you feel? And, how do you feel now?

I found this course to be the most learning I’ve done in quite a long time.  What I found most valuable during the course was the opportunity for trial and error.  Really, working on my course and receiving feedback both from Alex and from my peers was the most helpful part of my course development.  An awesome article I read on Behaviourist Theory showed the value of trial and error as represented by research from E.L Thorndike, an American psychologist from the early 20th century.  The idea is that with drive and a goal, a person can successfully work through trial and error to find a solution that works.  I felt the same way, relative to both content and structure of my course.  Through my own self-evaluations using the rubrics we were provided, and from the feedback of my peers and Alex, I was able to find ways to best model my course.  And I have to say, I’m proud of the way it turned out.

Really, what hindered me the most was my over-commitment during the time frame of this course.  I took on far too much this summer, and should have paced myself better.  I think that I was able to recover well considering I was really bombing during the first few weeks of the course,  but if I would have had more forethought and not tried to accomplish everything this summer, I might have had an easier time of it all.  A study by Brown University on Stress gave the advice to its students, “Know and accept your limits. Don’t over-commit – learn to say no.”  I truly need to follow this more in my own life, because on top of all of the coursework, I continued to accept more responsibilities at work.  This is a personal development, but really, it will help me in the long run.  In the advice we gave to students for next year, I made sure to warn them of the time commitment this course requires.  On its own, this course would have been hard work, but manageable – on top of other commitments, it was absolutely stressful.

As I finish this last required blog post, I am feeling an immense sense of relief and pride in the work I’ve done.  I have really grown a lot as both an educator and a student this semester, so right now, I’m feeling grateful.  Throughout the semester, I often felt stressed, overwhelmed, and panicked.  But now that it is over, I am definitely enforcing strategies and never letting myself get into such a deep hole of procrastination again!

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What ETAP640 has taught me

I’d like you to think about what you have learned in this course. Really think about what it means to have learned something. What did you learn? How do you know you learned it? Can you provide examples of things that you have learned? – be specific, give details.

It’s a really interesting thing to try to convey a sense of learning in words.  I feel that I have learned countless things in this course, about myself as an educator and a student.

In the most literal sense, I have learned a great deal of organizational technique for developing a course.  At the beginning of this course, I never would have felt comfortable with my technological skills to put a course together.  The rubrics were a great way for me to monitor my progress and really gave such clear expectations and ideas for a successful course.  This, in turn, has really encouraged me to use checklists more in my course and future courses.  Education Week writes that checklists are a great way to keep the class on track because “It’s about transparency, and the more information you grant to students, the better.”  If students have a clearer understanding of what they need to do and how they need to do it, it definitely reduces the stress of the assignment.

As an educator, I learned the most from the discussions I had with my peers.  It helped to affirm my belief in a student-centered classroom, which I had always believed in, but now had more and more evidence to support.  The videos in the last module, A Vision of Students Today and The Machine is Changing Us, were particularly enlightening and provided evidence of why it is so critical to give students a voice.  It is crucial that students have an impact on what is taught in my class, because I’ve been in courses where the professor doesn’t appear to care about their students, where they don’t know your name and don’t care to help if you have a question.  I refuse to be this kind of teacher, and it’s great to see so many of us in this course discussion coming up with strategies and plans to include the student voice in our course design.

As a student, I have learned a lot about how to motivate myself, manage my time, and keep myself accountable for my learning.  I think all of this is incredibly helpful when taking the perspective of my students especially in an online learning situation.  I have learned how to overcome struggles with time management and procrastination, and how to be intrinsically motivated knowing that there isn’t the peer pressure to succeed in a moderately anonymous medium.

I have learned to use new programs like jing, diigo, and Breeze presentation – which I will absolutely use in the future.  I have learned to become a better learner and student.  And I have learned, most importantly, that nothing worth doing is truly easy.  I am proud of all the hard work I put into this course, even if it took all of my energy to get there.  This is something I hope to instill in my students in my future classroom.

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Course Development is Hard!

What has been the most surprising thing you have learned so far? What thoughts do you have about moving from theory (social, teaching, and cognitive presence) to practice (building it all into your online course)?

I think the most surprising thing I’ve learned thus far is how hard it is to develop a successful online course.  The courses I’ve taken before this were absolutely no where near as much work, and also not as enlightening.  Each module had the exact same format – read the articles, write a response for the articles, and reply to other people’s responses.  It was very basic, and did not challenge in the least.  Through the building portion of this course, I’ve learned that it takes far more time and energy to build a course than I ever thought.  I’ve spent countless hours, probably over 100 hours, building my course, and I would not feel comfortable with it being taken as it stands today.  I’m hoping that by the end of the course, I’ll feel differently, but I suspect I would feel similarly if I were teaching a face to face course too.  Nothing is ever perfect the first time around, so I know that there would be a lot I would change or adapt as I taught it for the first time.

I really think I’ve learned the most from transitioning from theory to practice is how much theory impacts practice.  It’s amazing how discussions about theory and hearing people’s opinions about practice can influence the way I built my course.  I took a lot about structure from observing the courses, specifically Bill Pelz’s Developmental Psychology course.  I really liked how he took the time to provide detailed instructions for repeated course activities, and how he organized his course so that it could be easily navigated.  By labeling activities into folders, it made it much easier to navigate.  While we aren’t using the same system in our courses, I definitely took the ideas he embodied to use in my own course.

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My Course Review Checklist

After conducting your own course review of your own online course, where are you in terms of completion of your online course? How are you doing? What do you need to complete your online course? What have you learned so far about yourself during this process?

Having the course review checklists was immensely beneficial.  At this point, it was really nice to have a checklist to monitor my progress.  In term of completion, I am almost done.  I think there are some minor tweaks I can continue to do, but the general content is all correctly uploaded and organized.  I do want to spend some time adapting my directions to add more clarity and examples.  I think this will help students preemptively avoid questions, and will give them clear expectations of what they need to do to successfully complete activities.

I think the most valuable part of the checklists was that it showed me not only what I should be working on and ways I could improve what I’d already done, but helped me feel like I was making progress.  By being able to check off what I’d already done, it really boosted my confidence.  This is something valuable to consider while having self-assessments and even just creating clear guidelines in my future classroom.  There is a lot of evidence that checklists can be used to scaffold student learning, and this can definitely be utilized more in the classroom.  I hope that my “To Do” lists in each module are effectively providing checklists for my students in my online course.

What I’ve learned most about this process is that I feel that I am confident with many of the new platforms that I have been introduced to during this course.  I am very excited to use some of these new technologies in my face to face classroom.  It has also shown me so valuable activities I can use that would supplement classroom learning perfectly – such as online journals, blog posts, and other reflective activities.  If these are being done by hand in a journal or response paper, they can just as easily be done online while also teaching lessons about technology, netiquette, and discussing the material.

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Why an Instructor’s Knowledge Base is Imperitive for Student Learning

What did you observe about yourself during your own completion of these learning activities?

What I learned most during the building of my course this module is that you need to really know the platform inside out in order to be best capable of running the class.  I had such a hard time navigating the moodle system at first and developing the first steps of my course; and I think that it’s exactly why Alex is having us build this class so slowly – so we can explore the system and make sure we can successfully understand the basics before attempting anything too complicated.  Even with her tutorial videos, it was hard to follow when I was using a different browser.  Everything in the video looked different than it did on my screen because I don’t have a mac.

What this really taught me is the value of having an avenue for communication in case the students have questions and the importance of spending time becoming an expert in the platform.  It would be near impossible for me to answer the questions of my students if I did not take a few hours to play around with the formatting, uploading material, and even basic html.  Without being able to successfully navigate my own class, how could I expect my students to do it?

In the case of my classroom, I can apply what I’ve learned her to say that I should be well-versed, more than any of the students, in any activity or platform I expect my students to use in my class.  In an editorial by Edutopia, James Paul Gee, a literacy professor at Arizona State said “How are we really going to reform schools when the people going into teaching are not really digitally savvy — even when they’re young — not as savvy as the kids? The first thing the teacher needs to do is to understand what kids do and the range of it.”  This is an excellent point.  As teachers, we need to be willing to devote the time to keep up with the changing landscape of technology and social media.  And I think this means taking a few hours here and there to play around with new platforms, develop our skills through practice, and ask for advice from experts so that we, in turn, can become experts.

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The Art of Questioning

What have you learned that you did not know before? How will you apply what you have learned to your own course?

Something from Module 3 that really struck me was the quote provided as a prompt in our discussion post: “What if it is true that “Thinking is not driven by answers, but by questions”?”  At the time, when the discussion was live, I wasn’t really able to verbalize why I found this to be so poignant.  But, now that I’ve been developing my course, I’ve realized how crucial it is to have accurate and effective questioning in an online environment.  In any environment, it is impossible to get the correct answers if you do not ask a well-developed question.  But teacher development books have always focused so much on creating active learning objectives that access higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy,

An interesting article I came across called “6 Alternatives To Bloom’s Taxonomy For Teachers” shows a few really excellent charts for teachers to look at higher levels of learning in different ways.  I am particularly fond of the first example, which has concepts divided by context, and then by taxonomic level.  It very clearly lays out ways to get students to think about the concept in micro- and macro-detail, as how it relates to the self and the larger group, and how it is practically applied as well as theoretically.  It is an excellent way we could retarget our assignments, our questions, and our discussion prompts so that students can view topics from different angles as well as reach different levels of understanding.

If we want students to fully grasp concepts, we need to adjust the way we prompt them to interact.  Especially in an online context, questioning becomes so important because it is the doorway to facilitating discussion.  When the medium does not allow for the natural development of discussion, which f2f classrooms have because of the simple truth that proximity prompts discussion, good questioning is really the only way for students to advance beyond simple fact regurgitation.  Even more importantly, the continued asking of questions, either by the instructor or by peers, is so important to making sure we make the best of our time.  In the classroom, it is easy to be time-efficient by knowing exactly when to step in to keep the conversation flowing – when there is silence or unproductive talk, the teacher can jump in and rescue the conversation.  Online, this is much trickier, because student conversation does not happen in rapid-fire.  It is often sporadic over a very spread out span of time, which means it becomes even more important to use questioning to propel the discussion.

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Interacting Using Current Data

How do you interact in this course? What is working for you? What would you change/suggest to make it better for you?

With the way this course is structured, I feel that there is an immense amount of student contribution and interaction.  The discussion prompts lead us to both come up with independent thoughts and build off the thoughts of others.  By requiring us to use evidence from the weekly readings as well as external sources, it is a good way for the instructor to monitor that we are reading our materials and are able to interpret and relate the material to the topic at hand.

There are a few things about the discussion threads that I find challenging.  The physical layout of the discussion threads tends to get very confusing after so many people have posted and becomes overwhelming because there are so many different threads happening at the same time.  I don’t believe anything can be changed with this because it’s a restriction made by the system.  In this class I haven’t really had this problem, but I have in other classes:  Where we have to post comments on people’s assignments during the week, but everyone waits until the last moment to post.  This is a serious problem I’ve seen in other classes, but staggered due dates could solve this problem quickly.  Really, what taking online classes has done is help me realize that you need to really take the limitations of the programs you use into account, and also try to provide successful structure so that students are not restricted by either the platform or each other.

The one thing I wonder if could be explored more would be offering prompts that require us to explore current events.  Some research is dated, like the “Did you know” video from Module 2, and I think we could all benefit from having to research current issues popping up more in the diigio.  This article on “Ten Best Practices in Teaching Online” lists in their eight item, “Students enjoy seeing how what they are learning links to current news events. Thus, building into a course discussions and links to current events is often motivating to learners.”  I know that I am always more invested in an article or video if it has been written within the past two or three years.  Then I know that the facts I am learning, and referencing in my posts, are current and accurate.  By asking us to do it ourselves, or even just putting a date restriction on outside resources, we know that we are getting the most up-to-date information on the topics and know that our studies have not lost relevance.  Especially in a class like this, that focuses so much on technological strategies and platforms, being current is especially important.  Any article that mentions MySpace?  We really shouldn’t be using those anymore.

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Teenagers as “Content Creators”

What are your thoughts about the videos viewed?

The first piece of the video “Did you know 4” was incredibly interesting to me.  To learn that 57% of teenage internet users have contributed content material to the internet, whether they built blogs or posted a comment on a website, seemed to align with my expectations.  But, then I began to think about Facebook and Twitter, and how many social media platforms have risen in popularity lately, which made me question the legitimacy of these findings.  After pulling the video up in YouTube, I was able to see that it was published in 2008 (6 years ago!) and so much about social media has changed within those years.

My next step was to find current research and I found one study on Pew Research that showed that 74% of all internet users are on social media, while 89% of internet users between ages 18-29 are on social media.  The research then proceeds to break down groups by income level, gender, and age for different social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.  In their 2012 study, Pew Research also assessed what percentage of cell phone users access a social media site from their phone and found that 40% of cell phone owners use social media from their phone.  This even seemed low to me, so I decided to do more research.  According to another Pew Research article (this may be my new favorite site!), that focused on mobile technology use, 90% of Americans own a cell phone.  This study indicates that, as of 2014, 58% of Americans own a Smartphone, and within the ages of 18-29, that percentage rises to 83%.  Another 2013 Pew Research study on Teens and Technology showed that 47% of teens ages 12-17 own a Smartphone.  Even in my own life, I can only think of two or three friends around my age who do not have a Smartphone.

With all of these new technological advances in the past few years, it is becoming more and more important to understand the demographics we are dealing with in our student population.  As new technology is introduced and becomes more commonplace (did you know that Verizon only has 6 options for “basic phones compared to the 34 options they have for smartphones?), we need to know how to speak to these students in language they understand and most importantly, use this knowledge to help them invest in their learning and add depth to their learning.

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ETAP Challenges

What has challenged you the most in this course? What has been most difficult or uncomfortable and why? As you go through this process as a student in this course and as the developer of your own online course, what are you thinking about?

This is my third online course, and is by far the most demanding and time-consuming of them all.  As I’ve been going through this course, I think I’ve struggled most with two pieces of the course.

The first is the fact that I came into this class never intending to teach a fully online course.  I am very strongly interested in middle school education, and came into this class looking for strategies to integrate technology into my classroom to supplement the in-class material.  The biggest transition I’ve had to make is to being open to teaching a fully online class – both taking the material of this course and the skills and strategies I’ve learned in course development at face value as being immensely useful for an online course; and then learning to convert them to be applicable to a face-to-face classroom with technology integration.  One of the things I’ve found most valuable for both f2f and online course instruction is the Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education found in the “A Follow-up Investigation of “Teaching Presence” in the SUNY Learning Network” article.  These seven points break down the successful learning environment, essentially giving us a solid checklist as a starting point for creating a healthy and safe classroom climate for our students – in any environment.  As I’ve progressed through this course, I’ve begun to realize the similarities between the online platform and the classroom, and how the skills teachers cultivate can be applied to both scenarios.  It’s a matter of being open-minded and willing to adapt strategies and continue to stay current on new technologies and innovations.  Now that I can see this, I am far more likely to teach an online class in the future.

The second challenge I’ve faced is with time management and balancing my life with my course responsibilities.  As a potential online instructor, I think it is very valuable for me to have struggled with this.  This gives me a good understanding of where many online students may be coming from.  It is hard to balance a full-time job, family commitments, and academics – it really is!  But having gone through it myself, I think that I have come up with some strategies that could help people like me.  Having scattered due dates would help me because, as a frequent procrastinator, I tend to focus on the work around me that has the soonest due date and put off the ones that are due in two weeks.  By altering this to have scattered due dates, maybe students with lots of different commitments would make sure to get things done by spacing them throughout the module, and not just leaving them until the last day.

I am excited to keep learning more about myself as we develop the rest of our courses online.  In addition to developing our skills and techniques, a course like this serves naturally to help us develop our opinions on teaching and on the strategies we are using.

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Who am I? More importantly, this is who I am growing to be.

Who are you and why are you that way as an educator and a learner? What have you observed about yourself during this process? What have you observed about yourself during your own completion of the learning activities in this course? How can you use these insights in the design of your own course?

As a moderately recent college graduate, I’ve hardly gotten the chance to dip my toes into being an educator.  Despite this, I’ve always been a teacher.  It must be hereditary – both my parents are teachers, so I suppose it’s all I’ve ever known.  I grew up doing “summer homework” and not knowing that this wasn’t a normal thing to have to do algebra problems in July.  I visited civil war museums on spring break and got leftover Scholastic book fair books for Christmas.  My parents taught me to love learning, to thirst for it, and not take schooling for granted.  As I progressed through my teacher education, I was finally able to put names to activities and theories I had been watching my entire life.  I was proud sitting in my class knowing that so much of what I was being told seemed like commonsense.  I discovered how much I value authentic learning and student choice above all else – except maybe humor – as a means to help students relate to the subject matter.  I came to respect the constructivist theories of Vygotsky and Piaget, and always try to base my teaching styles around meaningful context, real-world learning, and active participation from all learners.

As someone who enjoyed learning all throughout my school years, I often found it hard to understand how students could be so disinterested – until I started tutoring.  To date, I consider my tutoring experiences to be the most valuable teaching experiences I’ve ever had.  Working one on one with a student to discover how to best represent the knowledge, to instill confidence in them, to show them that they can do it – that showed me how crucial it is to know your students as individuals and how valuable one-on-one instruction can be.

I am looking forward to building off what I’ve always intrinsically known.  My parents helped me grow a love of learning; the educational experiences I’ve had have helped me develop the core of who I am as an educator; the CDIT master’s program will teach me skills and organizational techniques; and my future teaching positions will grant me the opportunity to fuse all that I’ve learned and put it all into practice.  And I can’t be more excited for that to begin.

Throughout Module 4 of ETAP640, I spent a gigantic portion of time re-evaluating my learning activities, re-conceptualizing some strategies, and physically developing my course on moodle.  During this process, I was a little worn out and overwhelmed, but I did it – and man, does that feel good!  Having a skeleton for the class built has been the most satisfying piece of the course thus far.  But, during this module, the most remarkable thing that has happened to me is that, for the first time, I felt passionate and justified in my own opinions about course structure, learning activities, and class community.  Until now, I felt that I was not well-equipped to give too many opinions about online learning – or any learning really, given that I’ve never held a full-time teaching position.  By developing my own course, and carefully considering the logistics of each activity, I finally felt that my comments  held weight.  I wasn’t just using the articles to answer the discussion topic – I was proudly expressing my opinion with support from the proven experts in the articles.  Even though I have not executed the course, I have faith in my ability to direct an online curriculum.

I’ve found the most valuable topic of discussion to be the question asked during this past module: “How do you do it f2f?”  By having a space to make the connection between face to face instruction and online instruction, it helped me discover ways to adapt in-person strategies to work online.  Reading the posts by my peers has shown me that there are a lot of similarities between the mediums.  The best way I can explain what I’ve learned here is that online instructional development is like learning a different language.  We have the same goals, to educate and convey knowledge, but you need to go about it a different way, take a different path to get there.

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