This semester with EC&I 834 has been a great one and the focus of designing for online and blended learning really felt like the perfect way to wrap up my degree. I talk about this stuff all the time since I’m an instructional designer who works primarily on online courses but usually I have to let someone else make final decisions. This time it was all on me. I also usually have additional members to my team but this time it was just me (and Steve, my co-developer, but that was mostly for idea bouncing and some edits).
So it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. I had a decent idea of what things were going to look like and I pretty quickly had decided I wanted to do some hand-drawn animations. I am not a fan of Windows Movie Maker. I agree with everyone who commented along the way that it isn’t as easy as iMovie and there have been a few of us commiserating in Google+ about it. It’s not particularly easy or intuitive. It’s the knockoff of iMovie that can do some of the things but makes it far more difficult to do those things. That being said, it worked okay. It did what I needed to do. I didn’t have to try to do my voice recordings in a Mac lab (considering how many repeat takes I did, that does not happen in public). I didn’t have to struggle with iMovie on my iPad. It worked and I got a product I can share. It’s something I could bring up to instructors if there is some reason that screencasting wouldn’t work (and if it’s PowerPoint, that’s still WAY easier).
It helps that, like I said, I do a lot of this daily. I’m used to working with Moodle, even if I don’t love it. I’m used to designing courses in a particular way and the options I have for features I can use and how they might work. That part was the easy part.
The content, that was a bit more of a challenge to me. To think through what needed to be said, what would need some illustration, and how to mix multimedia and text effectively. Also, the order in which students should do some things. Some of it feels obvious to me but not everything, so I did a little back and forth about video or readings being listed first.
In the end, it was good. It reminded me how much time the conceptualization phase of developing a course really takes, at least for me. I’m a thinker. I want to mull things over for a long time before I’m ready to dig in and get it done. In some circles this is called procrastination but honestly, a lot of stuff is going on in my head! And there have been a whole lot of conversations about the development, how things can or should go, with my colleague. I am lucky to have people to bounce ideas off. I don’t think I would want to be doing online development solo. There are so many aspects that other people have specialized in that I really do feel lucky to work with people who can do parts of this better or quicker than I can, at least normally.
But the real test will be in the feedback. I’ve had constraints to deal with but I am hoping that within those constraints, what I have done makes sense and gives the right flexibility. I am designing for adults, so it’s a bit different than what I would do for children or teens. I tried to strike the right balance between flexibility and structure so we shall see.
As a note, for anyone taking the EADM 820 course this summer, it’s still going to change visually between now and then. Aside from the rest of the content that isn’t filled in yet (it’s all in progress or mostly complete, but Steve and I decided to leave it out for the purposes of the peer – and instructor – review), there’s going to be some use of the graphics and multimedia people in my unit so don’t be surprised if you look now and then again in July and it doesn’t look the same.
“Open” is something that has had a big impact on me over the past five years. A little longer probably. I started to be introduced to the concept in small ways, without really thinking about it, through working on a graduate student journal that was talking about using Open Journal Systems (OJS), then working on a website, a conference that used Open Conference Systems (OCS), working with one of the people who was involved in developing the software, helping out slightly with another journal that was using OJS. But once I came to the University of Regina as a staff member, I really started to get it. I started to blog, be more active professionally on social media, and started to discover Open Access. I found out that I really strongly believe that sharing the work I do with others is meaningful. I started my MEd and got even more exposure through Alec, including having to make at least some of my learning open.
That does not, however, mean that I necessarily think all learning should be open. I have talked a bit with Katia in the past about open vs closed learning and we do, at some point, come in on different sides. I have actually done work on this before. With the shifting of “privacy” to something you have to actively seek rather than the assumed default, I think there is value in being open, in sharing what we do. But I think there is also value in knowing when to be open and when to be private.
For my own learning, in general, I love being open. I am usually pretty happy to share what I know or think or wonder. There are, however, limitations. One limitation is that I am a staff member of the University of Regina. For the most part, I am not covered under Academic Freedom (unless I am teaching as a sessional). That means I may have to be careful about what I write or say in a public way about the institution I work for and even my field. For the most part, I have chosen to still be fairly public but I think about what I post. I have happily blogged in the courses I have taken that require blogging and have, at various times, used blogs to think through issues in my field. I publish a lot of my coursework under Creative Commons licenses on my website because I have created it for others to use at will.
There are, however, conversations I can only have in private. Conversations that I might have differently in a classroom than I would in a recorded digital space, let alone on a public blog. Some things could put my job at risk, and I work in a good and supportive environment. That isn’t the case for everyone.
When it comes to students, I do agree with things Katia has said about the importance of students learning how to disagree with policies, procedures, political climates, and find ways to voice important things. I truly do think that is important. I also, however, think that sometimes the ways to do that might be quieter, and might come after finding a job, might come through seeing how that happens in a particular place. Not everyone can be a vocal activist for change on a wide scale. And I don’t think we should force that on anyone because that doesn’t always fit. I don’t mean that people should accept injustice or let it be. But some find quieter ways to work for change, when it is possible. Sometimes silence is worthwhile.
I think there needs to be space to figure things out. Sometimes students are busy negotiating their place in a field, between theories and methodologies, practices and politics. Sometimes they express something poorly or don’t make the right choice. Or sometimes they are exploring the options of change in a field that is not ready to accept that change. Or are dealing with a delicate topic. Some students might have a very hard time discussing sexual abuse, for example, especially if they have experienced it. Do I think they should have to talk about it publicly if they are not ready? Nope. I don’t. I think maybe they might want to process it but may need a safer space.
Because the reality is that the internet is not yet a safe space (and I’m not sure it ever will be, and I know our classrooms are not actually safe either). And yes, it is useful for students to have lessons in how to deal with it productively. Does that mean they should have to deal with personal attacks, however? No. I do not think it is. I think they need to know the risks, know the dangers, and instructors and teachers need to be fully aware of those risks and dangers too. especially when pushing for students to be open.
The dangers include threats of personal harm, being sent graphic or disturbing contact (text, pictures, etc), doxxing, swatting, trolling (and if you identify as a woman, assume it is likely to happen). For some, it can include putting employment at risk. For some, the dangers are worse. Minorities can be at greater risk because oppression is live and well on the internet. International students may need to be more careful, especially as the political situation in the United States changes. Actually, anyone using social media might want to consider things carefully if they intend to travel to the US.
One term that is often associated with open learning is that of authentic learning. I strongly feel that while open learning is more likely to feel authentic simply because anyone could engage with the content, there is no guarantee of authentic learning just because an assignment is open. Authentic learning has meaning:
Authentic learning is real life learning. It is a style of learning that encourages students to create a tangible, useful product to be shared with their world
Note “tangible” and “useful.” Shared is not the only quality. So writing a paper, pretending I am an expert, and handing it in to my instructor who is significantly more expert than I am is in no way authentic. I am writing for an audience I assume to be more knowledgeable than I am. So why am I bothering? How is that useful, other than providing something to asses?
For learning to be authentic, you need a real audience to target. It also has to actually be relevant. So that question of “when am I ever going to need to know…?” raises its head. Why bother? Why do this work? What meaning does it have?
Well, sometimes it’s hard to have it actually have meaning. Or the meaning could be about proving knowledge, because educators are often under certain restrictions. Or maybe the authenticity is less about the actual task or actual content.
And maybe, the audience is and should be solely the peers. Sometimes, when we are dealing with difficult topics, the authentic learning is exchanging knowledge with or peers. I think of the Zoom sessions in EC&I 834. Our breakout room discussions or sharing with others in the class are authentic because we are discussing things that are relevant and are sharing them with the right audience. Let’s be honest, most of the internet doesn’t care that I am posting about open learning and authentic audience. It’s likely that the only people who will read this are other students in the class I am taking. Would it be any less meaningful to me at this moment if it were available solely to those involved? Not really, not in terms of the practicality. There is assumed meaning in it being open, the idea that it is part of professional growth, it is public to be part of a wider conversation that exists. Kara shared some of the impact this can have when there is interaction with the wider community. But the reality is that my targeted blog post written for my class is really only relevant and meaningful to others in the course. An authentic learning project needs to have an authentic audience. Sending it off into silence is only slightly better than something written solely for the instructor.
Ashley shared a story privately about having students tweet with an author. That is an amazing experience! And the potential for such encounters is part of what keeps many of us engaging openly. But when nothing happens, it can feel defeating to have exposed oneself without any benefit. That doesn’t necessarily make it authentic if the purpose was to engage with people who have the same experience as you. Maybe a classroom exchange is a better idea. Maybe sharing something with parents. Maybe a specific community is the right audience. The point is to be authentic in the assignment which means having an actual audience in mind. It means creating something that students may want to share later as part of their learning. Even better is giving them a way to take it with them (making it tangible). But it doesn’t have to be open for any of that to occur.
Well, I was apparently psychically linked with Alec last week because I did a bit of background on the type of student/student, student/instructor interactions that will be part of my course – discussion forums. During the weekly class of EC&I 834 there was a lot of criticism of discussion forums. I get it. I’ve seen them go poorly many times. I know many students dislike them. Let’s be honest, a lot of students dislike forced questioning or discussions in the classroom too. It is obvious when an instructor is asking questions just to ask rather than inviting an actual discussion. Nobody enjoys those times particularly so why should an online forum be any different?
So for the course I’m developing, Steve Wihak and I will be using discussion forums in Moodle. There are a few reasons for this.
This course is part of the EADM graduate degree and, as such, we want to keep some similarities to the other online courses in the program and this expectation also comes from the administration of the program as well
The course is a three-week intensive which means there is very little time for learning new technology. Students will have to get right into course work so we don’t have much time for them to get set up in an unfamiliar technology or deal with technical glitches. The forums in Moodle might be fairly boring but they are reliable and fairly straightforward to use.
Because of the condensed time frame, we still want to offer a little flexibility. We did discuss giving students the option of joining synchronous discussion groups (and we are still toying with it) but I also want there to be full course discussions in some way. At least with a discussion forum, students have some choice about when in the day they do their class work (as will I).
This doesn’t preclude us from using Google Docs occasionally or offering times we will be available to chat for students who are also available to join zoom and who want to do so.
I think I have a different relationship to forums than a lot of people in our class. I was pretty socially active on the internet since the late 90s. I participated in chat rooms that scrolled by so fast you could barely read them when it was busy but I also spent a lot of time in forums of various types, mostly online role playing forums that were all about writing stories as a character, interacting with other “characters.” I had a lot of fun doing that and spent hours refreshing and scrolling and typing. Text has been my most common mode of communication at various points in my life. I’ve seen all sorts of very active forums on the internet and there is a place for asynchronous communication. There is still a place for it. The archive of responses but also the potential to join in, to participate, to connect. For those who think connection requires visuals and audio, I give you Facebook. I am part of one community with over 4,000 members, a huge proportion of whom are active. And it is amazing. Regularly, someone posts saying that they feel like it’s full of friends. I recognize people by avatar if not by name. There have been singing challenges, people reading pages of Harry Potter, a whole separate emotional support group spawned… And it came from being commentors on and fans of a particular blog. Text has power. Yes, it has limitations, but it has a lot of power too. Anyone else have that sort of experience? Just me?
And technology is letting us bring more and more things together. It’s just nice to have things all in the same place. So students can share images or videos to a forum and not have to go 6 different places for different types of interaction. As much as I love social media and love interactions of various forms, I have times of being overwhelmed by the number of places and things I need to check on and participate in sometimes for this course. Anyone else feeling that way? This is the only real benefit I see to the LMS. At least there is a central point to the class. (Okay, the assignment submission is nice to keep that grouped too, but still.) And that is possible using WordPress but last time I was involved in BuddyPress and bbpress they were still having some major growing pains and required a developer on staff to help fix things and adjust code. I know people were using those plugins to build their own course hubs but you had to be tech savvy and code savvy to do it well. CUNY put out Commons in a Box, built on BuddyPress and bbpress but geared to higher education, and there were daydreams of getting it at U of R but needless to say, that hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons.
So the main interactions in the course are going to be forums. They allow asynchronous communication, they allow editing of responses and avoid the fast scrolling which can happen in active chat rooms. When used in more informal ways they can encourage community. We were asked to read Mastering Online Discussion Board Facilitation but I am really feeling like it is somewhat outdated. It presents very structured options, which are good, but leaves very little space for actual community which is made of all sorts of levels of communication. Schwier makes a good point, that communities aren’t created, especially in virtual learning environments, nor are they a given. (I disagree that “community” is a metaphor, necessarily, but I guess it is a metaphor until it becomes a reality. I think many learning spaces do become communities but this is an older paper of Schwier’s and I bet he would write it differently today.) The invitation is sent out in some way to the learners.
So yes, some depends on the invitation. We all know that. If we are hosting a party and send a last minute, crappy invitation that isn’t clear about the intent or the details, few people will come. If we send an invitation that is appealing, that connects with the desires of the invitees, that works for them, then they are much more likely to come. The invitation in this metaphor is both the format provided (forum, Zoom, collaborative software, etc) AND the actual prompt (question, purpose, instructions). If the format doesn’t work but the prompt is appealing, some learners will struggle through because they really want to communicate. If the format works but the prompt is unappealing, the interactions can easily form a community but without the desired intent. Schwier references elements, emphases, and catalysts. The role of the instructor, in this case is this:
What we are attempting to do as educators is promote the development of
virtual learning communities by nurturing the conditions under which they can arise.
There are no guarantees with any type of potential community. The instructor can only control the conditions. Am I doomed for choosing forums?
And the invitees make the party. I think we’ve all been to a party that didn’t work well because of the guests. And to others where the guests made something that we expected to be awkward turn out to be awesome. Different groups have different outcomes. The students decide how much of the invitation to take up. They determine the interactions that will take place. And some groups of students will form instant communities, others won’t. Some will be involved, others won’t. I’ve been in a course where the forums got 170+ posts and replies in two weeks which had previously not been the case. I have seen others with the bare minimum. Even with other forms of community building, like EC&I 834’s blog hub, Twitter hashtag, and Google+ community, each course I’ve taken has been different in the type and size of the community. Logan offered some great thoughts on how he can prepare for this but, in the end, preparation only gets you so far.
So in my case, there will be a grade for participating in the activities. It won’t be about checking off boxes and commenting X number of times, although we do have some minimums since we want to stress that it is important to consider the questions and engage in the activities. (For any teacher who has ever called on particular students or used the Wheel of Terror, you do this in face to face, so it is important to recognize your practices for what they are.) We want to emphasize that quality matters as well. So meeting the minimums with high quality participation is worth as much as more frequent posting with perhaps less substance. Does that seem reasonable?
The prompts are also being carefully planned. The intent is for the prompts to be activities that bring engagement with the material but also leave room for creativity and discussion. There will be no right or wrong questions, and if facts are required, they will be applied. The intent, however, is not to have super formal writing. We want discussion, not exam answers. So our prompts will be a little less formal, as will our posts. And we will have a space for group chatter, questions, randomness.
I’m hoping like Sarah W. that I’m being thorough in prepping for success in community building!
All we can do is test it out. We are going to put our theory to the test, after years of encouraging instructors to build in interaction. Can we get the forums to work with graduate students (I’ve seen it, so I know it’s possible)? We know there will be adjustments for the next offering, and we hope we can make adjustments as we go, but it will depend in great part on our students.
Although my current online class, EC&I 834, uses synchronous sessions in Zoom and student blogs rather than discussion forums, the format of a discussion board has been a staple of digital interaction for most of the life of the public internet. Message boards were the early form, dialing up to that address and posting your message, checking back later to see if anyone has replied. Email listservs also can have a similar function (or rather, variety of functions). When you get right down to it, a discussion forum is a way to have an asynchronous interaction around a topic. (Although you can schedule something synchronously, there are better mediums in most cases.) This means that students and instructor(s) can have flexible schedules and check in when it is convenient for them. It also means that anyone posting has a chance to read what they are posting, everyone gets a chance to speak, you can go back to something someone said earlier if you want to reply to it (these are often bonuses for introverts).
Since the online class I am working on will require some definite forum interactions, I really wanted to think this through and make sure I had a good grasp of the options to help keep the forums as an integral and useful part of the course.
So in my experience with instructors as well as my research, I’ve found there are some big issues that need to be highlighted when discussion forums come up:
This might seem obvious but honestly, it isn’t always as clear as instructors think. It is always assumed that the purpose is discussion. So it is a replacement for face-to-face in-class discussion. Right? Well, that depends. The purpose needs to be clear before a question or prompt is formulated. Here are some of the purposes I see:
Check student comprehension. The questions are usually fact-based and require reading the content but often don’t require a significant amount of thought or additional work. The exact same question could be handed into the instructor privately and have the same learning outcomes. The only outcome is to confirm that students have read/watched/heard/seen specific content. E.g., “What are four uses of discussion forums? Choose your favourite and explain why.” As a student, I don’t get much benefit from reading the responses of others. This is not going to encourage much discussion (and no one would expect it to in a classroom).
Debate a topic. Although this requires careful preparation including appropriate behaviour (or netiquette), it can be a good chance to have students come in on various sides of a controversial topic. This is going to get participation from students who have strong feelings. This is precisely the sort of thing that happens in classrooms and can easily eat up much more class time than expected when it goes well. E.g., “Are discussion forums the best format for discussion in online learning and why?” Someone will, invariably, disagree with my answer or I will disagree with someone else because there is not a single right answer.
Resource sharing. This can be an easy way for everyone to post articles they find, images, websites, etc. It isn’t as searchable as other tools, and you can’t reuse it in a later semester, but it is a great option for quick posting. E.g., “Post any news articles you come across that relate to cats.” This can work well if you are getting students to share resources for research projects or if you are covering a topic that will be in the news often. Discussions can easily spring up around certain shared items and it keeps that all in a single place. It even works well for sharing experiences or anything like that in a less formal way (it needs to be less formal if you are sharing something like that to have students get invested).
Groupwork. I am not a fan of forums for this as I tend to prefer other forms of communication, but it can facilitate groups discussing projects. Just be prepared for some groups to ask to use other resources unless you mandate using the forum, which could aggravate students.
Ask a question. Forums are perfect for having students ask public questions that other students may also have. It can also result in students helping students. It provides the sort of “ask your neighbour” opportunity that classrooms and hallways facilitate. It also means that a single answer can reach most students without clogging up the email of students who are not interested.
Interactive creation. This one might not jump out, but it can work to have students write something asynchronously, as a group. It requires some prepping to ensure that multiple students don’t post at the same time and all reply to the same thing, taking the project in multiple directions, unless that is intended. Preparation also can prevent long pauses in which no one is sure who should post or long waits for someone to start the idea. E.g., “The zombie apocalypse has begun. What is Amy going to do?” It could be a story but it could also become a case study response. The instructor could interject at various points with more information, or to answer questions, or to keep things moving along.
Getting creative can have some interesting impacts on forums and tend to make them much more interesting.
This isn’t easy and I will say right now it can depend a lot on the group of students you have. Sometimes the students need little prompting and will be vocal by nature, online or face-to-face. Other times they are much more reluctant, or there are a number of silent wallflowers (or “lurkers” as they are called online). Instructors need to decide if that is acceptable or not ahead of time and structure that into how forums are discussed and/or graded. But here are some basic tips I would recommend:
Model what you want. Be more engaged in the first and even second forum to show students what you are looking for, to prove to them that you are reading what they write, and to keep things going.
Do not pose a question and never respond to responses that involve questions. If you want to poke at a discussion, make sure you check back in as students will respond directly to you.
Make sure you continue to engage. It could be posting after a few days and some posts to encourage or fill in some more ideas. It could be sharing an interesting and relevant article. It could be redirecting the discussion. Students need proof that you have not checked out and in many cases they assume you have something to contribute. You shouldn’t respond to everyone every forum but you should be seen. Since they can’t rely on your body language, they need you to post.
Avoid “posting from on high.” Unless there is an inappropriate post or comment that needs to be stopped immediately, remember that you are there to facilitate discussion, not provide the be all and end all. If you do that, students will either not have anything more to add or will be reluctant to engage for fear of being called out on being wrong.
Be less formal. This can be a tricky one for a lot of people. It is easy to get into the habit of typing more formally and less conversationally but if you type like you are writing an academic paper, so will your students, and that can really limit conversation. The forums can be part of building a community but to do that, you have to be part of that. Open up a little, relax, and let students relax. That means not writing in a style that sounds like an exam question (unless you really want that type of response).
Consider the time commitment. In a face-to-face discussion, the timing is fairly limited. Students say what they have to say and you may cut them off if they talk too long. Online, they can think about things more and may end up taking far longer to write their post than you anticipated, especially if you assigned additional work to do the forum. So if you want more time for discussion, ensure that you aren’t loading them up with a bunch of prep work BEFORE they can post (e.g. reading multiple articles or difficult articles, watching a long video, doing research, or formulating the perfect response for an exam). The more time they put in before they post, the less time they will have for discussion.
Give some marks. Although face-to-face you may not need to give marks for participation, online you may. They don’t have you staring at them or calling on them to ensure they say something. You may have to show that you value the time and effort the discussion requires by assigning it marks. If you prefer unmarked, you need to make it engaging and something students would want to do and can do easily. For example, sharing something they already know o do or think like introducing themselves or sharing a cultural quirk can get participation easily. If you want more work, however, you need to demonstrate that it matters. You also need to ensure they learn from it. So asking students to regurgitate information is not going to garner much participation.
Forums should really be about the students (unless the point is just to push information out, which can be done but isn’t too exciting). If you want them engaged, they need to have a reason. Discussions that get students invested face-to-face are exactly the kinds of things that get students engaged online too. They even have more time to do it, theoretically. But you have to plan it. You need to think about the time investment required and be thoughtful. Also, remember this is happening over a wider period of time usually. So some students will work more on class things on the weekend. Some will try to power through and have everything done right away. Some want to read what others are up to first. If any of those are an issue, you need to structure your assignments and instructions accordingly. But most of all, give them sometime they will care about and have something to say about. Regurgitating the textbook is boring. It’s boring for you to read it from every student. It’s boring for them to write it, let alone read it from someone else. If that is the purpose of the forum, be prepared for minimal discussion (I personally think that kind of assignment is not helpful unless it serves another purpose, like having them write or practice citation, etc, but at the very least, just make them hand it in to you and not pretend they want to respond). If you want conversation, have them talk about something meaningful. Make it relatable to their life, to the real world. Give it a purpose.
It is worth noting that not everyone wants to be the centre of attention. Some students will be leery of posting their thoughts publicly. Moreover, some topics are way more sensitive. Some topics require eye contact. Heard of trolls? It is so, so much easier to be a jerk on the internet because you don’t have to look most people in the eye. So be aware that a) you need to prepare for that potential and be preventative and b) you need to be thoughtful about what you ask. Come up with agreed rules for behaviour. If the students help with that, it is easier to get buy-in and they better understand why it matters. But be prepared for what you will do if something does happen. For example, if a student posts an inappropriate response, know how to delete or hide it, consider whether you might use that as a learning opportunity or deal with it privately, know how to document issues in case that is needed. Do not ask students to out themselves about sensitive issues, or at least don’t require it. or example, if you are talking about mental illness, don’t ask students to share mental illnesses they experience. Some may want to share but some may not. Do not treat students as representative of particular identities. For example, if you have one student from a particular region of the world, don’t use that student as the example of that or as your token student. Prepare students for difficult discussions. For example, if you will be talking about a sensitive subject, let them know ahead of time. Give them a chance to talk to you if there is a concern about public participation.
And, in all honesty, you might have to offer marks. The learning should be the focus, I agree, but right now we are stuck in a system that demonstrates value through grades. So show that you value their work. If the forums are worth 1 point per post, skipping a point isn’t a big deal and students will figure that out. Marks are a way to get them to come to the forums but good questions and discussion make them want to stay.
Tony Bates discusses forums although his coverage is just brushing the surface as it fits into his focus on collaborative learning (there are numerous other forms of collaborative learning like Google Docs, wikis, blogs, Prezi, online chats, etc that have nothing to do with discussion forums despite his narrow discussion). I wanted to highlight something that he briefly touches on that is very important:
Thus teachers need to be aware that there are likely to be students in any class who may be struggling with language, cultural or epistemological issues, but in online classes, where students can come from anywhere, this is a particularly important issue.
If your class is going to have cultural variation, be prepared. Be clear about your expectations but also decide how you want to deal with students who do not feel comfortable or who have different expectations. This is something I definitely want to consider, so I don’t plan to grade on grammar or anything like that. I also think that students should have the option to be silent or quieter. I find forums comfortable so I can be guilty of talking too much but others should have the right to not post as much if they can demonstrate learning in what they do post. But that expectation has to be laid out. What will I do if someone DOESN’T post? I have seen “choose 4 of 8 forums” go very poorly and that requires a fair bit of double checking on my end. But I also want to allow students to participate at a level that works for them. To a point.
Obviously I’m still thinking that part through.
So if you’ve participated in forums, what advice would you give me? I give advice to instructors all the time but I could always use more from students. I’m the type who talks a lot in text so I’m not always a good example to use.
This week in EC&I 834 our directive was to discuss our relationships with media as part of how we learn digitally. As you’ll notice, I’m a word person. I honestly am very word-oriented. Maybe it’s because I’m the daughter of a librarian and have been absorbed in text for pretty much my entire life. Some of it is probably just part of how I am wired, that words make sense and I have a vivid imagination that can translate words to reality easily. Add in that I am not a fan of being recorded (thanks, Dad, for making that clear with the obsessive use of that camcorder as I was growing up!). I’m also an introvert (no, really, I am, just not super far into the introvert side of the spectrum) which means I like to think through what I want to say before I say it. So I appreciate well-crafted thoughts. I like to mull over ideas and go back to them. These are all things that Bates would identify as strong points for text.
This came up during class and I automatically said that I wanted the text (and Katia is apparently with me on that). In watching Amy’s vlog, I chuckled to myself because I’m the opposite of her relationship with video and learning. I have used the internet to teach me new recipes and to learn to knit and crochet, to learn different things with making cards, and all sorts of things. Basically, I’m usually connected and I am frequently asking Google how to do something for my personal enjoyment or for work. I want the text. I want to be able to scan through quickly, find my answer, and move on. Videos can take FOREVER! I hate looking for one simple thing and having to wade through 2 minutes of introduction, 4 minutes of other content, then finally find what I was looking for, only to discover that it isn’t what I wanted anyway, then see it again in slow motion.
I often need a quick answer, “just in time” learning. I only want the one answer I need, immediately. Videos are frustrating for recipes because I want to keep looking at the ingredient list but it’s not like I can bookmark that and go back and forth to that (I’ll come back to this in a second). The internet is so packed with information that I know I might have to try a couple times to find my answer so the quicker I can evaluate a source, the better.
But as I was typing this, I realized that I do really enjoy some videos for learning. Craftsy, I’m looking at you. If I could get my hands on their learning platform and use it at work, I would be thrilled. The videos are all chunked and come with a table of contents that allows you to quickly go to specific points in a longer video and you can view that breakdown before you load the video so you get the right one (there are usually multiple videos in any course). You can bookmark and make notes on the video! You can post questions and comments to others in the class on specific points of the video. You can download them or watch them online. This is the kind of video I like.
That reminded me that I needed to go read Sarah’s post where she references social media (Ms. Social Butterfly) as part of learning. Yup, I’m on board with that one too. I have been sewing a lot more recently and I’ve discovered some great communities where I can ask specific questions and get good answers, often fairly quickly. I might start with an internet search if I need an immediate answer or the question is more general (because text!) but if the question is specific to a pattern or fabric, I might be better off to get a personal response.
Bates also discusses audio. Sorry, audio, I’m not as much of a fan. I think part of that is a learned skill to tune out audio distractions that was a side effect of my K-12 education. If I wanted to concentrate, I had to learn to ignore audio stumuli. Lucky me, I was able to filter it out for the most part. I still have to do this at work when I want to be available (aka partially open door, no headphones) but there is noise going on like the pre-school down the hall, a colleague doing some video editing, another colleague on the phone, people talking in the hall. Audio is the first thing I tune out so I have a harder time paying attention. I listen to podcasts and audio books while I work out but I remember far less of them than something I read and I usually want to have my hands and body busy if I have to just listen. I am too visually distracted. But that usually means I am not focusing solely on the audio. Music is slightly different, but I often end up singing along, or creating images in my head. I am still interacting with the audio.
Bates left out the visual aspect though. Not video. He has something specific in mind there and it’s much more about the blend of audio and visual together. But what about purely visual presentations? Sometimes they could be videos, if there’s no voice, no music. Or maybe it’s a comic, an infographic, or a flow chart. Below is a comic by Robot Hugs about how a brain can work when a person is living with depression and/or obsessive mental illness. Sure, there are a few words, but the visuals are what drive it home.
I think sometimes text works for me because I get a visual diagram. I love diagrams (except the ones with IKEA furniture). I love the many ways data can be represented visually. So why did Bates leave that aspect out? He has images in his text. He mentions the use of PowerPoint. So… why did visuals get left behind? I guess they are viewed to be less advanced than video. Why have a still image when you can have a video? (A gif is animated but it isn’t a video. And people have entire conversation with gifs now on the internet. It’s accepted shorthand.)
Sure, I’m not really learning from this gif, but something like this can reinforce a point better than text. And better than a full video clip because I don’t need the audio. I don’t need the full clip.
So I’m a mix. I like my media to be in the right proportions. And my proportions might not be yours. I like thought to go into why something is in a particular medium. Why do a video if a still image will do? But what about if an animation would clarify? Do I need audio? Is this clear with text? When you get down to it, the reality is that if you’re building a course, you can’t provide all information in every format. So you have to make choices. And students also have to be flexible. Students need to be taught ways to make different media work for them. Because we might not always get the perfect cup of tea but we can try to find a workable blend.
Our assignment this week for EC&I 834 is to test out a tool for content creation/sharing, especially of media. Since this is my last course, I decided it was time to tackle iMovie. It helped that Alec shared a post from John Spencer on doing sketchnote style animation. Admittedly, my little video isn’t quite sketchnotes but it’s a step in that direction. I actually started out in visual arts many, many years ago and my husband is an artist so I tend to pull out a pencil or a pen every so often to sketch something so it seemed like a good fit to do some cute little drawings and turn it into something.
I really appreciated how Graham did his breakdown this week so I’m going to try to do a bit of plus/minus sharing my experience.
Plus: I don’t have to have a Mac computer to use iMovie! It is available on both my iPhone and my iPad. I used my iPad so I could have a bigger screen to manipulate things.
Minus: While I’m working, all the files need to be on the device I’m using if I want to add photos and videos. So I had to do all my photo editing and saving on my computer first, then get them onto my iPad. I just saved them to Dropbox and then saved them to my phone from there. But it would be nice to work in the cloud. Maybe this is an option for newer features. Definitely not collaborative in the app though.
Plus: It was easy to import into the app from my device. Once I got everything into the app, I was ready to get creating.
Minus (minor): I should have reread the tutorial to check his file naming. If I had named all my files with the same beginning and just changed the numbering, they would have imported in the right order. Alphabetical order is the default sort for imported images.
Minus: There is no labelling of any of the icons or features so if it isn’t a familiar word or icon, I had to look it up. This included not being sure how to drag around the order of my images.
Plus: The help files were very helpful! The answer was easy to find and it was super easy to do (hold down my finger on the picture until it “pops out of the timeline” and then drag. Somewhat similar to reordering apps on my screens so yay for Apple with the keeping actions standard and straightforward.)
Minus: I created my images in the wrong aspect ratio so they were taller than wide and it meant I couldn’t actually resize them to fit in the screen. A bit of researching first would have helped but in the app your screen size assumes a landscape orientation and your pictures will be cropped based on that (again, it could be in the settings to adjust this or to give a background if I want smaller pictures, but I was doing the quick and dirty creation).
Minus: The “Ken Burns effect” is applied by default. If you don’t want your images sliding around your screen, you probably want to disable that, but it’s done picture by picture if you have them all imported already. So that took a little longer than I feel like it should. Not a fan of that as a default.
Plus: It was easy to readjust my audio after I accidentally started the recording partway into my first image. Again, hold down and drag. That felt more intuitive once I got that figured out for the images.
Plus: Deleting my first try of the audio and recording a second was easy.
Plus: Readjusting the timing of each image is very, VERY easy.
Minus: It is not quite as easy to listen to the audio and time the images because I have to listen, pause, then readjust. And if I move the first image, any adjustment I did at the end is changed too. I couldn’t see how to easily pin one image to a particular time. So definitely start doing your timing editing at the beginning of your movie, not the end. Oops. I did both.
Plus: Easy integration with YouTube and Vimeo as well as some other storage options online. I posted my video to YouTube really quickly.
Minus: It posted my video as private, which I didn’t see, so I had to log into YouTube to change that. Yes, it’s minor, but irritating when I sent it to a coworker and it wasn’t visible to him.
In the end, I am glad I listened to Angus last semester when he said how easy it was to use. Jennifer agreed clearly from her review! I was in a stable wifi zone so I didn’t think much about that issue but it would be an issue when getting the movie OFF the device, for sure.
I also really enjoy this style. I would definitely want to ink my images before scanning though. Pencil didn’t quite cut it. Then again, I am used to doing realistic drawing so my lines weren’t always as dark and clear as they should have been. The drawings and editing of those definitely took the longest. I am used to photo manipulation so I had some interesting images pre-edit.
I edited the cat’s pupils in one shot, and I drew the paw up AND down on the original image. And on the computer image, I drew the hand over the mouse and just erased different parts for different stages.
This is definitely pretty doable for an instructor or students, if they have the incination. BUT it takes time. And it takes a learning curve. Mostly, it takes planning. You need to know what images you want to use. For me, I did it backwards from the tutorial. I drew my images before I had a script, and then adjusted my script to the images. But that really wouldn’t be the best way to do a longer one. You need to know what you want to say and what is needed to illustrate it. So it’s a good longer-term project but it isn’t something to have finished in an hour. My 54 second video still took me 45 mins or more to draw the images, edit them, get all the versions saved that I needed, then an hour or so playing around to get it all set. I could get a bit quicker at it but to do 5 minutes will be a time investment for sure. An instructor would have to really want to do this for it to be worthwhile as opposed to a screencast or using a pre-done whiteboard style like Videoscribe (which you have to pay for) or Powtoon (which does have a free option although the themes are more limited and I didn’t see a ton that looked right).
And my usual thing, it is only once the file is done that it can be accessed and edited out of the Apple software. And it does require the Apple software which is not free. It’s $6.99 US (I believe) to buy the app if you don’t have it.
But without further ado, here is my little test video!
This week’s blogging assignment for EC&I 834 was to test out a learning management system and discuss our thoughts and experiences. Since Alec and Katia had us look at Canvas anyway, I decided that would be the best choice for me. I had looked at it shortly after it first came out and thought it would be good to see what has happened since. Originally Canvas was created to be student-centric as much as possible. This was the push, a way to be an LMS but be different because it would be made for students. I agree with Audrey Watters’ assertion that reinventing the same thing, especially an LMS, is not necessarily an improvement. It still takes the same premise and I wanted to see whether Canvas had done much to live up to their original intent.
Upon logging in under a teacher account, I am taken to my Dashboard area.
For students, this is pretty much the same. You see an icon menu on the left, the center is the courses represented as coloured blocks, and the right has items you need to look after as your “to do” list. The colours of the blocks can be changed, including by students, to personalize it. Yup, this is definitely personalization. I like the “to do” list being there although I dislike the organization of it. If I’m a student, I want to have it much clearer which tasks are for which course, not just which are due first. Same thing as an instructor. If I get the option to colour code things, that should carry over into things like that.
Let’s talk about the colour coding. I’m not sure how I feel about it. If it really only applies in very limited ways, I’m not sure how much it adds to my experience as a student or teacher. Also, a colour block is the lowest level of visual identification. Those are big blocks. Why couldn’t they be images WITH colour coding? That would be far more visually appealing for me. What do you think? Is being able to change the colour of the block associated with a course particularly helpful?
For comparison, in UR Courses right now the colour themes for courses are set based on faculty. It’s a branding thing. So at a glance a student will see different colours that they cannot change, depending on what faculty their courses are from (or federated college). So if a student is only taking education courses, they would only see courses with that colour. I can see the improvement for students there. It would drive me crazy as an instructional designer, but I am not really who an LMS should be designed for. I might have 10-130 courses in my list at any given time so I use the current colour coding to help me scan. I would be setting the custom colours FOREVER if I were doing that myself. So this comes out a bit more student-centric. Students can choose a colour.
They can also set a nickname for a course. So if you don’t remember the number or the name of the course, you can retitle it. Okay, again, that’s personalization. It has no real impact on your learning but you can call a course “Math Sucks” if it makes you feel better.
The little icons at the bottom of each course block let you go directly to aspects of the course. That’s handy for students as it can reduce the number of clicks, assuming that each time they log in they have to go back to the dashboard. It does not alert you to items you should check, though, like highlighting new discussion posts, announcements, files, etc.
The “Courses” tab just pops out a list of courses so if you’re on the Dashboard page, it’s pretty useless. You can customize the list. Again, not too useful for students but it gives the illusion of control. This is more useful for instructors and administrators who may have a need to rearrange the list. It could be useful for students if they retain access to courses after the end of the semester, so they could put older courses at the end of the list, etc.
The Account area is pretty clean. Much more texty than the Dashboard but it is relatively easy to navigate and it allows the creation of an ePortfolio. I didn’t test this out as a student so I’m not sure how easily I can take that with me, which is something Stephanie really highlighted as a concern.
So really, my conclusion of Canvas is that it can be a great LMS if used properly. If used poorly, it can become clunky, difficult to follow, and overwhelming. But really, isn’t this the case with most LMS?
To be fair, like Liz, I’m used to a different LMS. I’ve been working in Moodle heavily for almost 4 years. I am not particularly a fan but I can still find most of the things I need (most, because sometimes it is horrible). So going into Canvas, I opened an assignment that needed grading. I had no idea how to get OUT of the assignment I was grading. I couldn’t see an X, or a “Back to course” link or anything. I did eventually figure out that I can click on the assignment name to go back to that assignment but that takes me to editing the assignment.
Overall it looks relatively straightforward and it’s fairly attractive. It is not, however, particularly student-centric. As the instructor, I still have all the control. Students are granted very limited controls of things that don’t particularly matter. It is not geared towards student ownership of work or even student creation. It is precisely what Watters is talking about:
Despite all the bells and whistles that have been added since … the learning management system remains a way to offload the administrative needs of the student information system — roster, grades, attendance for each individual class — to an interface, accessible through the web, that students and faculty can use.
Canvas is still an LMS. It is still a walled garden. Sure, some of the interface makes it look like the courses aren’t hermetically sealed (I can see a “to do” list for all my courses, I can see a calendar showing dates for all courses) but they are. They are separate. I can’t build a community of students outside those enrolled in the course, I can’t interact with the wider web aside from linking out or importing content. It isn’t about building a student-owned data area.
So in the end, Canvas is still an LMS. A prettier LMS than Moodle and less complex (it hasn’t had nearly the number of coders sticking their fingers in it to create 5 ways to do the same thing and getting rid of the easy way to do something else), and it is a little more focused on the student experience. BUT. It is still designed on the same principles. It is still about managing the students, managing the learning. I can’t open up parts of it to make them public while other parts are private. I don’t see “export content” anywhere (if it’s there, I’d love to hear it).
As another note, I mentioned in our Google+ community that I got called within 48 hours of signing up. I found it invasive and irritating on top of the email I received about 12 hours prior to that, which I hadn’t had a chance to open. I also hate salespeople hovering in stores, though. But not everyone felt that way:
A day after signing up for @CanvasLMS I get a phone call from a CSR checking in to see if I have any questions so far. Great service!
Canvas is marketing and selling their product. They want to have good “customer service.” But who do they consider customers? I said I was trying it out as a grad student (I was also busy at the time so wasn’t too responsive or chatty) and was let off the phone pretty quickly. I’m cynical. I presume this is because they want me to push my university to buy in (I used my U of R email and signed up for a trial with the teacher option so I’m an obvious target). They want my business so they want to make sure I have a good experience. Do students get called? What support exists for students? Is that left to the school to support? (Turnitin, I’m looking at you. I have seen your student support and I know it isn’t about the students as much as you are trying to slowly become an LMS).
In fact, Ashley gave a really positive review of Canvas. I can see from the perspective she takes that Canvas does have a lot to offer. A checklist to help instructors new to setting up courses with what they should include is probably really nice (I am used to being the checklist when I work with instructors but that might be a useful thing for my coworkers to look at). But that’s still very much about how it is to use as a teacher.
This experience unfortunately just reinforced how I feel about the LMS as a type of edtech and I stand by my original picture above. I want other ways to do this, even though for my project I’ll be using an LMS and I work with one ever day. I still want to do this differently so I can give students control of their data, make it easy to have students create and share and take control. I love students being central and not programmed.
This course couldn’t have come at a better time as I am currently co-developing an online course, as one of the subject matter experts/teachers, with my colleague Steve Wihak. The course is EADM 820: Leadership & Administration of Instructional Technology. This is a switch for me as I’m usually working with developers to support them.
Visibility – students may get caught up in text and forget the teacher is a presence in the digital classroom. Be sure to maintain visibility.
Organization and Analysis – plan out course well in advance of offering it, provide timely feedback and be open to constructive criticism of your course.
Compassionate – understanding the requirements of a teacher may actual be more personal than in a traditional classroom because some voiceless students may now have one.
Leader-by-example – model proper behaviour and foster connections with students.
Those are things I very much want to keep in mind when working on my course!
Since this is an actual class that I will be co-teaching this summer, I am starting from a slightly different position than some of my classmates. My key student demographics are pretty set for me: Key student demographics:
adult learners who are most likely 25 years old or older
primarily employed full time
educators, many of whom want to be involved in administration of K-12 education
many will have families
relatively even split of genders
primarily from Southern Saskatchewan
likely high proportion of English-speakers
In short, our learners will be a lot like many of you in EC&I 834 (although I know not all of you are interested in education administration necessarily). My degree in EC&I has been a great learning experience to get more exposure to issues and people so I’m hoping to put some of that into practical application because I know something about the students. Also, my co-developer was a principal for quite a few years so he has some insights of his own. It helps to have some field experience of BEING the student!
The course will be a three week intensive which has really impacted things like making it personal. There are only so many hours in a day and I don’t expect the students to spend EVERY hour working on their course. So we can’t leave as much open. We wanted to have choice of modules, have students gathering and sharing materials. But there will not be enough time for nearly as much as we were hoping to do if in this three week span students must read all the material, grapple with it, respond to it, produce work, get evaluated. We are hoping to leave the assessment and activities more open and give some room to be personal. For example, we are building a bit of a survey/quiz to get everyone thinking about their personal approach to technology and their school’s approach to technology, then finding a way to represent how they fit into various labels/profiles. We want students thinking about how they feel about technology, how their school as a whole reacts to it, and to also consider the personalities they are going to be dealing with as a leader. Plus a bit of room for creativity is always fun because there are tons of ways to represent things:
I am completely okay with the use of crayons for this quick project. Also, my co-developer and I are often very opposite in our approaches and we want to demonstrate that you can take on a leadership role with technology without having to be the tech cheerleader, and even if you are the tech cheerleader, you can also have other facets that balance that.
Because this is an existing course in a particular program (and thus has to fit with other courses in that program), we will be using UR Courses. I can grant access to everyone in this course, however, so that won’t be an issue. It doesn’t fit with my personal preference, and I’ll probably see how much of the material I can share more openly, but at least some of our activities will be built using that platform. When building within a program, especially for a 3 week intensive course, there just isn’t time to orient students to a totally different way of learning. I’m betting some of you can attest to the learning curve for a course like this one! Also, we want to give some protected space for saying things that might not be popular, thinking things through, without having to be as careful to match up with the opinions of a school board, a division, a ministry, etc.
So our mode is basically chosen for us. It will be online. With the condensed time, we also don’t want to get into synchronous activities because as much as we value synchronous encounters, this course is going to take a lot of time and different people work at different rates, have different commitments. If someone wants to work until 3am or work at 5am, we want to give them that freedom.
The plan is to do some scaffolding with the assessment. Still sorting out the particulars but, again, we want there to be relevancy to the students so there will be a lot of attention paid to the situations they are in. We do, however, want to push them to think differently, so for each of the “levels” we have chosen a different metaphor to help them think about it in a different way. We will also be using case studies of actual things that have happened or things that have been discussed to help root this in the world.
To help with that, our basic unit layout will be as follows:
Leadership Theory Review – We assume the students have encountered leadership theory but we want to review it in this context. (my co-developer loves this stuff so this is his piece)
Critical Theory – This is very much the position we will be taking and we want students to take so we are doing an introduction. (my co-developer also loves this stuff and has particular points he wants to make, so we have worked on this jointly)
School Level – On to the practical! Time to look at leadership and tech within a very local setting by applying the metaphor of a play. Cast, scenes, conflicts. This is probably going to be the unit I use as my example for this course, although I’m hoping to have two.
Division Level – Time to think about an ecosystem. Co-developer is a former science teacher so he’s going to start this one and then we’ll build up the readings and things together.
Provincial Level – Metaphor of a sports team. Yeah, I don’t play sports so again, my co-developer is starting this one and then we’ll build together.
World Level – I’m going on a trip and I’m going to take…? A trip seemed like the right metaphor when we will be looking at things that are happening in the wider world, both positive and negative.
The plan is for each unit to have forum activities that get students thinking, sharing, and interacting, and then use the 4 “level” units to build up to the major assignment. We have talked about all sorts of options but until we get more of the content nailed down, we are holding off. Both of us are the types who like to mull things in the back of our mind, then work when inspiration strikes. We’ve had some great moments of that so far. It helps that our offices are not much more than a meter apart and we often have our doors open.
As for having presence, we plan to mix in some videos, text, and images to help illustrate things so our faces and our voices will definitely be present.
At the core, we want to talk about who is advantaged, who is disadvantaged. We want to train our students to consider what oppressions might be happening when it comes to technology and how they could work to mitigate that, or at least prepare. It is no longer enough to just jump on the latest bandwagon or, conversely, hide and hope you won’t have to deal with it.
It’s that time of the semester again, although for the last time (for now). I am taking EC&I 834: Designing for Blended and Online Learning with Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt and it is the final course in my MEd (and finishing that is one of my goals!).
Anyway, back to the task at hand. I am an instructional designer at the University of Regina, working primarily with online courses. Since “instructional designer” doesn’t immediately conjure up much for most people, let me explain that a bit. I am assigned to work with instructors who are developing a new online (or blended) course or revising an existing course to support them in positive learning and teaching experiences. This can include providing information about best practices when teaching online (because no, it isn’t always the same as face-to-face and no, it isn’t always good approach to copy and paste your lecture notes into the online space and call it done), content delivery recommendations (video, text, audio, links), feedback on workload, graphic or multimedia design options (we have people for producing those potentially), layout and functionality questions, technical assistance, and a bunch of question answering that just needs to be done. I am very much in a support role most of the time, with some instructors happy to work with me and others having very little comfort or willingness with adjusting their thinking around teaching.
To change things up, I’m currently working with a colleague to develop an online course which we will be teaching this summer. So my second goal is to use this course to get a couple modules developed, get some feedback, and get ideas for how we could do things in interesting and innovative ways that work with our constraints. This will be my second time teaching a university class, first time team teaching, and first time teaching online. It will be a really good experience for me and this class comes at the perfect time!
My third goal is to talk a bit more about designing for blended. I’ve been waiting for blended to really take off at U of R since I started here back in 2011 and it hasn’t really gone very far. That could be partially because defining blended has been hard.
And I have a fourth goal: Talk with more people about designing for online and blended learning. Because the people I work with every day are focused on that, we do a lot of talking about it but sometimes we end up creating our own little filter bubble. We each have thoughts on various things but we can occasionally lack exposure to other ways of thinking and doing. So I’m always happy to get myself out of that and talk with others to see what their experience is, what thoughts they have, what ways they would do things.
So I’m looking forward to this semester. It’s great to see some people I’ve been in a number of other courses with, some I’ve met once or twice, and a bunch of new faces!
Holy cow, I can’t believe the semester is over already! I’ve seen so many people say that so I’m glad I’m not the only one. Although I admit it’s been a busy semester for me so I’m ready to relax for a bit and just process everything.
Here’s my summary of learning. I decided to try out ThingLink and overall I’m pretty impressed although with a few caveats: the text editor is pretty touchy and if you position your mouse just a little bit off, it will deselect or do the wrong thing or not give you the text cursor; I had to purchase a license to use fullscreen mode and to do any formatting of the text; and there is no way to keep the popups open (which is only an issue when you’re speaking and invariably move your mouse… wait, is that just me?).