The end.

It seems strange that this course was so overwhelmingly busy at the beginning, and almost anticlimactic at the end.  I stayed on top of the schedule, and finished things with thoughts of ‘what’s next?’ but we’re done.  However, what I’ve learned and experienced in this course will stay with me long after we finish our discussions and zip our final products.

Working with Moodle has been a valuable experience. I had previously only worked in Blackboard, and Moodle is quite different. It’s good to experience another LMS, and to try new ways of working with content. I was glad to have the opportunity to both experience and use some of the Web 2.0 tools in this course and in my course, since I have been unable to in the courses I teach.  I know the courses I teach could be so much richer in terms of technology and interaction, and I hope someday to be able to use what I feel is appropriate in my course, not what the curriculum team deems appropriate for us.

This brings me back to our discussions this module – what does it mean to be student-centered?  We spent a lot of time in this course worrying about what we need to do – our assignments, or deadlines, our grades.  It’s nice to see in our discussions that everything we do really boils down to one concept – what is best for the students.  How can we serve our students?  Are we doing the best we can to teach them? Are we teaching appropriate and relevant courses? Are we being interactive, engaging, are we even able to keep up with our students technology-wise?  Do we adapt and change our methods to keep up with their demands, or try to force our students to adapt to our methods?  So many questions, but the consensus seems to be – let’s do all we can to benefit our students.  Let’s prepare them for their futures, teach them HOW to learn, how to be flexible, how to find and use information, and how to use technology responsibly.  As Luke said, “The more things change, the more we should change too.” Like I said in a discussion post, I have noticed two distinct camps of teachers – those who refuse to change and those who embrace it, recognizing the importance of adapting to our students’ needs.  I am proud to say that this course is full of educators in the latter group.

Thank you for a great course – everyone – and best of luck to your in all your future endeavors!  😀

The end is near!

And just like that, we’re almost done.  What have I learned?  Wow, where to start….

I have learned a lot about the process of creating an online course.  No, creating an effective and engaging online course. One with solid objectives, varied assessments that tie back to the objectives, activities with a purpose, visual appeal, consistency in naming conventions, Web 2.0 tools that enhance instruction, SS and ST interaction, well written discussion prompts, and proper organization.  It is possible!

How are we doing this?  Creating a course.  Evaluating and analyzing exemplar courses, and each others’.  Applying what we’ve learned as we go.  How do I know I have learned?  Because I have created something, and it is awesome.  I understand how and why I did it, and I could do it again.  This isn’t one of those ‘forget the info as soon as the class is over’ deals.  This is something that relates to what I do for a living, and want to continue to do.  I need this information, and will continue to use it.

One cool thing about this course is the ‘meta’ quality.  We’re learning quality design of an online course in a course with quality design.  It of course makes sense for the course about design to be a good example of design.  As I’m discussing with Dan in the module discussion, we seem to agree that we often end up with materials and readings in courses that are of no use to us.  This has not been the case here.  I won’t pretend I found them all equally interesting, but they were relevant, sparked conversations, and helped us go out and find further sources for discussion, sharing them with each other as we go.  Shouldn’t this be the norm in every course? (4)

Module 5 – Whew!

I finally have my course to a point where I need more feedback to go further.  Until I finally got to this point, I felt much like Hedy stated: “So close, yet so far.” This process is a lot like working on artwork – I have to step back often and look at it again with fresh eyes, to try to catch things that need fixed or that I might have missed.  This means the work has to be spread out evenly, I can’t cram it into short periods of time.  I look forward to the course reviews to get a chance to really look in-depth at other courses, and to hear fresh perspectives on mine.  I’m certain that, as we all come from different backgrounds, we see different things more readily in our reviews.  As a former graphic designer, I’ll admit the visual aspect and text formatting stands out to me.

I’m not sure if I started the Padlet craze, but I’m using it a few times in my course and I see several other students using it now too.  I found the link when I signed out of Diigo, on the Hot Bookmarks page.  It’s always exciting to find a fun new bit of technology to use, but I have to remind myself to use things like this where they add to the course, not just for the sake of using it.

I have noticed several of us, including Anne, Hedy and myself, had feedback that included a need to rewrite and/or strengthen our discussion questions.  I realize now I have been responding to discussions in all my courses here, but really never studied the construction of the questions.  Like everything else, the way it is worded is purposeful in what is included, what is left out, how and why it is asked, to try to elicit certain types of responses.  It isn’t easy to write a good discussion question, but it is essential for a productive discussion. I tried to include several elements in mine – open ended questions, outside research, creativity, and relevance to the student’s life. (4)

Module 5 – Getting closer!

So much accomplished in the last few weeks!  This week’s checklist assignment has been an eye opener, showing me exactly how I work, and what I tend to focus on (and leave out) as I go.

Building a course requires thinking from many different angles.  The technicalities of constructing curriculum, aligning content to objectives, creating assessments, putting things in a logical order, linking everything together.  The teaching presence and interaction angle – connecting with students, sharing a bit of ourselves, creating a welcoming environment, making space for students to interact successfully. The visual angle – organizing a course and making it visually appealing, and easily navigated.  Looking at the course as a teacher, making sure everything is there for the student.  Looking at it again from the student perspective, making sure everything is in place, easily found, links are working, directions are clear.

I realized, while working on my checklists, my weak points were the visuals, and the assessments/grading.  As far as I can see, my reasoning is as follows.  I worked on getting all the information in place first, being more concerned with what it was than how it looked.  Content, then clean it up.  As far as the assessments, I changed plans while putting together my modules, and later realized how many other things had to be changed because of this.  I included 5 point assignments for the textbook exercises, then had to adjust my grading percentages, add rubrics, make sure the evaluation page was clear, and revisit the percentages of all my other assignments to make sure it was balanced and added up correctly.  This part would have been easier if I went in with a more solid plan.  Something to keep in mind for next time, I think.  The pre-planning stages will save time in the long run.

In the video, George Siemens mentions how easy it could be to get overwhelmed by the huge array of tools available for creating online courses. I was thinking about it this week.  I was excited to find and share the Padlet app, which is a visual collaboration tool, very easy to use.  I think several of us are using it now.  I started to wonder, how many tools like this are out there, that we don’t know about?  I can’t even imagine.  I try to keep in mind though, the point is not to use technology for technology’s sake; rather, we should use technology if it fits into what we need and enhances the educational experience. As Siemens states, “the breadth of tools are available to help to increase the quality of student interaction.”

JJ Johnson reminds us to have students involved in active learning, while we are the ‘guide on the side’ instead of the ‘sage on the stage.’  He also notes, the activities need to be ones that students can “absorb, do, and connect.”  This reminds me of how you mentioned, many times, that we should have the students doing most of the work in the course, and anything that we ask students to do should have a weight or value.  I think I am on the right track, and I am excited to finish working out the kinks and finalize this course.  (4)

Module 4 – Who am I and why am I doing this?

To be completely honest, this was a very difficult module for me.  It involved a lot of work, which was expected, but I *didn’t* expect to be spending almost an entire week in the hospital during the module.  Once I convinced someone to bring my laptop to me, I think I kept up pretty well. 🙂

What do I know now that I did not know before? I really understand and recognize the importance now of each activity having a purpose, every activity having a weight or value.  This made me rethink what I was doing in my course, and subsequently made it much stronger.  If I ask students to do something, they have to show me they’re doing it.  It makes sense.

What has challenged me most in this course?  Like I said in one of my discussion board posts to Diana, I find it challenging to look at the design of a course from so many different angles at once.  The organization, content, interaction, teaching presence… there are so many components to add in correct proportions, much like a recipe.  Actually though, we were given the recipe to follow – the online course development manual.  This has truly made the process doable, breaking it into smaller chunks in a logical chronological format.

What am I thinking about as I go through this process of developing the course? The other challenging aspect has been rethinking a course I already teach.  I think it would have been easier to try something from scratch, rather than revisiting all the problems and mistakes within a course I developed (with no prior experience, mind you!) 5 years ago.  I think about and realize how much I have learned since then about the importance of teaching presence, interaction, feedback, evaluation, engagement, technology….

And speaking of technology, Diana brought up a good question about whether an icebreaker needs to be technologically enhanced.  I’m not certain what the answer is to that, but I’m leaning toward ‘no.’  The actual purpose of an icebreaker, regardless of medium, is to build community, foster collaboration and reduce transactional distance from the onset of the course, according to Dixon, Crooks & Henry (2006).  I have chosen to use the Moodle discussion board to acclimate students to the discussion format before having them participate in the subsequent module discussions.  I could just as easily use Voicethread or another web 2.0 tool, but I feel it would be using it ‘for technology’s sake.’ (4)

Module 4 – Decisions, decisions!

Writing the learning activities and organizing them within the course has really drawn my attention to the incredible number of decisions that must be made while writing an online course.  Unlike a f2f course with a lesson plan and room to improvise, an online course must be carefully thought out and constructed from the very beginning.  Every small part has to be considered, connected, put in some sort of order, chunked, linked, etc.  The order in which we’re doing this, with the modules, drafts, and all, have definitely made it more manageable and help the process make sense.  I actually feel prepared for each subsequent piece of the puzzle.

So, who am I as an educator?  As I draft the course and discuss best practices, this question is in the forefront of my mind.  When student teaching, I had a bit of a paradigm shift when trying to write high school art lessons.  I realized I was caught up in the intricacy and details and pedagogy and terminology, trying to apply what I was learning in the education classes.  It all seemed overwhelming.  Then one day it hit me – instead of worrying what *I* needed to do, I needed to think about what the *students* needed from me.  This perspective makes so much more sense to me.

How does that relate to what we’re discussing?  Teaching presence is aimed at making the course better for students.  Anderson, Rourke, Garrison & Archer (2001) define it as “the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes.” What is the point of this design, facilitation, and direction?  Bottom line – to help the students learn.  We design the course initially to make it easy for students to find the information. We facilitate discourse to promote questioning and higher thinking.  We direct students to the information they need.  We push them further, out of the comfort zone, into new experiences and guide them along the way.  As noted in the Teaching Presence and Class Community video, both the teacher and student are responsible for teaching presence, although the path is paved by the instructor, through guidance, instruction and modeling.

Part of what motivates me as a teacher is a drive to look ahead and push forward.  This is what especially draws me to online teaching and learning.  Online teaching and learning is ever evolving, with new technologies available at every turn.  One quote from the Shift Happens video stands strong in my mind, ever since our CEO showed the video to our company at a big meeting several years ago:

“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . . Using technologies that haven’t been invented . . . In order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

What does this mean?  We have to teach students HOW to think and learn, not just what they need to know. (4)



Module 3: Why do we do it this way?

This week we have set up our modules and written our learning activities.  First we needed to put our modules in some sort of logical order.  How would it make sense for students to proceed through them?  How should the information be chunked?  In my Latin course, the modules follow the book structure, and must be completed in order since the concepts and vocabulary are introduced gradually as the chapters proceed.  Each chapter builds upon concepts from the previous one.  As noted in Gagne’s Principles of Instructional Design, “curriculum sequencing helps the student find an ‘optimal path’ through the learning material.” We have to set up the course in a way that makes sense to us, and will make sense to the student navigating through the course.

My favorite quote from this module’s discussion is from Luke:
“I think that we take for granted the huge amount of information that we pass on to our students in a F2F classroom just by our presence and interaction with them (bathroom passes, appropriate conduct with each other, respect for the work and management of time) the aspects of education that never finds its way into our lesson plans. In many ways in learning to teach online we are having to learn how to teach again, to focus on the minutiae that is generally accepted we do, to take nothing for granted, assume nothing and to take the entire content of our and every moment of that course (every moment of 8+ weeks) and place it in text form in a virtual environment.”

This is incredibly true, and part of what makes the process so daunting.  We have to figure out every detail we want to communicate to the students and organize it in a way that they can easily find and understand it.  Not an easy task!  Thinking about it as one whole undertaking seems impossible, but when it is broken down into steps like we are doing, it’s actually feasible.

On top of the concerns of organizing the information, we then have considerations of creating a learner centered environment, and one that is appropriate for our target grade levels.  Collins & Berge (1996) outline a change of instructor and student roles, where the instructor turns into facilitator, and the student takes a more active role in their learning.  The instructor contributes knowledge and insight, models appropriate behavior, and creates a welcome environment.  The student changes from passively receiving knowledge to actively constructing knowledge.  Pelz (2004) notes that instructors are initially skeptical of relinquishing control, but students quickly learn to facilitate discussions and ask thought-provoking questions.  Shifting control of learning from teacher to student might be the best thing we can do for them.

Module 3: Can we do this?

We’re off to a good start, with two modules successfully behind us and a better handle on what’s ahead.  The discussion, about changing the way we teach, has sparked some interesting conversations in several different directions. There is a lot of talk about switching from a teacher-centered to learner-centered environment.  The Keys for Success presentation tells us that a learner centered environment will benefit students by providing opportunities for discussion.  I’m looking forward to incorporating discussions into my course, because I think I will learn a lot about the students’ thought processes and understand which concepts they are grasping (or not).

Pelz (2004) emphasizes that we should let students do most of the work in the course.  The role of teacher shifts from ‘sage on  the stage’ to facilitator.  Pelz (2004) also tells us to further discourse in our courses by asking open ended, thought provoking questions.  Low level, dead end questions lead to dead end discussions.  Using all declarative sentences, giving statements without including questions, will generally end discussions.  Imagine carrying on a discussion with someone where you both continue to make statements and nobody asks questions.  The presence of questions also means a lack of understanding.  After reading more about questioning, I have realized that, in my current Latin courses, the students who really *get* the material are the ones who usually send me lengthy, detailed questions about the concepts, then follow up with further clarification questions if needed.

Of course, asking *only* questions isn’t the best idea either….

What I wonder now – as we make the distinctions and shift from f2f teaching to online teaching, we’re prepared to become more student-centered, encourage more questions and discussion, and have students do most of the work in the course.  Why are we not shifting f2f learning toward these changes as well?  (4)

Module 2 – what have I learned?

  1. Moodle is much different than Blackboard.  I’m not sure yet whether it’s good, bad, or just different.  The only real issue I’m encountering so far is a font size issue, and I haven’t found any solutions for this in online searches.  If I attempt to change the font size on text with numbered or bulleted lists, it won’t change.  It seems the text must be put in the target font size first, then the bullets/numbers added second.
  2. Don’t assume.  This is a carryover from the previous module, but I think this concept will be relevant throughout the rest of the course.  As ‘A series of unfortunate online events’ warns, there are many ‘atrocious assumptions’ such as assuming the student will read every section of the course, or that the student will know how to access the course and material from the first day.  How to combat these?  For the first, clarity with a bit of redundancy.  Clearly labeled documents so students can find information when needed, plus referring back to these documents when needed.  For the second, an icebreaker module.  The icebreaker can help students become comfortable with using the course, while giving them time to actually get into the course within the first module.
  3. Course development takes a lot of time.  Well, I kind of knew that, although my first courses I developed were very rushed.  It’s important to note, though, this time is COMPLETELY worth it. Putting the time in at the beginning of the course, to develop everything clearly and thoroughly, can help to avoid problems and confusion later. Also – it’s a process.  The Course Information section I have put together – I will be editing and refining it, not because I did a poor job in the first place, but because as I complete and refine the rest of the course, I feel they might need adjusted too.  The French 1 course has been a great exemplar to review, the organization, detail, and conciseness are terrific.
  4. Interaction!  Interaction is an important component of our courses.  “Do Online Students Dream of Electric Teachers?” reminds us that students are looking for interaction, and connection to a real human teacher.  Scorza (2005) tells us to adopt a conversational tone, and even use humor when possible and appropriate, to make our courses more inviting.  I noticed there were several posts this module relating to this concept – Diana asked whether students missed seeing their teachers f2f, and Kelly posed questions about the differences between online and f2f teaching. We need to remember that this *will* be different from a f2f classroom, but there are still things we can do to support interaction. Effective, meaningful interaction includes sharing ideas, being exposed to different perspectives, and having opportunities for reflection (Woo & Reeves, 2008).  One of the most commonly cited interaction methods in asynchronous DE is the discussion board. Woo & Reeves (2008) also identify several advantages of interacting though asynchronous learning environments, including developing a more complete understanding through comparing various points of view, as well as providing opportunities for deeper reflection and exploring subjects more thoroughly through online resources. I will be using discussion boards in my course, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to use this feature, which I cannot use effectively in my current courses. (4)

Reconceptualizing Latin 1.

The difficult thing about building this course is reconceptualizing one I have already built.  When I rewrote the Latin courses 5 years ago, I was completely inexperienced at course writing but had very strict guidelines to follow from the curriculum department.  They use a ‘one size fits all’ approach where every course has the same number of lessons and same number of available points, which makes sense from the aspect of students knowing what to expect in each course, but it’s very difficult to cram the information into that specific mold.  Breaking the information up into 80 unnaturally equally divided chunks was difficult, to say the least.  The freedom to chunk information as needed, and to use other technologies, is quite liberating and exciting.

What am I doing to reconceptualize?  How does this deviate from my current courses?

First, as I mentioned, being able to divide the modules in a way that makes sense.  This will help me convey the information more effectively, and will make more sense to the students.

Second, I plan to foster more ST (student-teacher) and SS (student-student) interaction in the course by using the discussion boards for assigned discussions.  My current course has discussion boards, but we don’t include any discussions for grades in our courses, so they go largely unused.  One of the most commonly cited interaction methods in asynchronous online courses is the discussion board. Qiyun & Huay (2007) note that online discussions allow students to focus more on the topics, as well as cite more literature rather than rely mainly on their own experiences. Students, both introverted and extroverted, are on more equal footing, having an equal voice within discussions.  They have more time to reflect on what is said, and more time to formulate their responses.

A third major change – the assessments.  The assessments in my current courses rely on computer graded assessment for roughly 70% of the course, and teacher graded for the other 30%.  This means 70% of the grade comes from multiple choice, true/false, and fill in the blank questions.  This makes it very difficult to see what a student understands and where they need more help.  As Fellenz (2004) notes, many multiple choice questions assess lower level learning, and it can be difficult to create one that test higher cognitive levels. I want the students to have more opportunities to explain what they have learned, put it in their own words, relate it to other situations, and adjust their learning based on the feedback.

In general, I want the students to feel more connected with their instructor, the content, and each other.  Now the challenge is – can I create this environment in my course? (4)