Online Learning Reflections

I have been teaching for nine years, seven of which have been online. It’s amazing to me that my career has brought me into the world of online instruction. As an undergraduate, I did not have any online learning experiences, and although I knew online learning existed, I never imagined my professional path would lead me to virtual instruction. That said, I am grateful for my experiences and believe now, more than ever, that online learning is an extraordinary learning opportunity for today’s student.

As I think about my own online learning and teaching experience, I have gained much needed perspective about the needs of my future students. With both my traditional and online teaching experience, I believe that my future online students could benefit from more face-to-face teacher and peer time, even if it only occurs a few times a year. This may mean that more performance based assessments be included in courses as well as implementing more collaborative opportunities for students to connect. Additionally, students should be required to check-in with their instructor once per-marking period, preferably through a web-based conferencing tool like Adobe or Blackboard. I also think my students would benefit from more small, instructional videos to not only engage them in their learning content but also encourage independent thinking and problem-solving skills. All of these opportunities would engage students in the learning, making the online experience more effective.

The challenge in implementing face-to-face and collaborative experiences with my future online learners is class size, district needs, and varying schedules. Currently, my students come from districts across southeastern Pennsylvania. Our program works with over forty school districts, and as our program continues to grow, I anticipate more district partners. This means my class load, which at its largest has been over 200, will only get bigger. Requiring all of my students to participate in face-to-face or collaborative experiences will be challenging. Also, some of my students work within their district during the day and in their online courses at night, while others work exclusively online. The best solution I see for meeting this challenge is to collaborate with districts to determine their needs. Smaller districts are more likely to benefit from these learning opportunities because class sizes would be smaller and more manageable. Larger districts may be able to work with our program in encouraging students to use our Virtual Office for collaborative opportunities throughout the year. This may mean districts could provide lab space for their online students to use for activities throughout the year.

Online learning is here to stay, but the needs of students will continue to vary. Hopefully, we will be able to provide different learning opportunities in order to maximize student success in the online environment.

8-C-1: 2020 Vision

The World in 2020…

This may seem far away, but in four years, 2020 will be a reality. In four years, we will see continued growth in technology, which will no doubt impact education as well as the teachers and students who live in this world. In 2016, we are seeing a surge in online education, new web-applications to support teaching and learning, and video-based programing that allows teachers and students to connect and learn from the comfort of their own home. Teachers lead students to discovery, but with the Internet, students are more likely to develop their own path as they use the Web to learn. By 2020, the amount of information available to students will be even larger than it is now, which will be a challenge as teachers start to guide students through the web. Technology will be used to facilitate this learning, even more so than used now. The future of education is already here, and the year 2020 will likely include more online learning, changing the roles of both students and teachers.

Teachers who are currently instructing in a traditional environment will likely find themselves in a more blended teaching environment. Textbooks, learning materials, instructional resources are mostly online because students need flexibility with when and where they can access their learning materials. Learning units will likely be more performance based and include the use of technology. If teachers are not instructing online, they will, at the very least, have an online teaching page that includes classroom resources as well as a teacher blogs recounting instruction for the day. This, again, will be necessary, as students may not be conforming to a traditional school schedule. In a true blended environment, teachers would be teaching face-to-face part of the week and using online instructional when not teaching face-to-face. The time that teachers and students have together will likely be to prepare students for assessments and facilitate group projects.

In a blended/hybrid environment, teachers facilitate learning while students create a more individualized learning path. While state standards will continue to be implemented and used to assess student learning, it is likely that curriculum will be designed in such a fashion to support student learning and creation of their own academic path. Both students and teachers will use blogging to sharing information, creating a more global learning environment. Digital footprints for both students and teachers will increase as they use WikiSpaces to collaborate, blogging to sharing learning, RSS feeds to bookmarks newsfeeds for learning purposes, and use various web-applications to design engaging presentations to demonstrate their teaching and learning. Students will spend less time in class and more time online learning about a topic and, ideally, heading out into the world to see their learning in action.

Traditional school, however, is not going anywhere. In fact, the information presented above is likely to be seen in private schools and programs, as they will have the money necessary to fund this change. What traditional schools will likely see is implementation of their own cyber programs, separate from traditional classroom learning. This means that students will have the option, or be required, to take courses either face-to-face and/ or online. The online component will not be supplemental but canned curriculum purchased by the school. Online learning will be offered to students for a variety of reasons, one being health issues keeping them from coming to school but still wanting a rich, academic experience. Classroom teachers may be paid extra to supervise these online courses, as well. This could potentially reduce class sizes and create more in-class opportunities for collaborative learning experiences.

For schools who cannot afford or do not have the desire to start their own cyber program, district or county cyber programs may be in high demand. For example, the online program for which I work in run by the Chester County Intermediate Unit but serves districts across South Eastern Pennsylvania. We also serve urban districts like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. An online learning model like ours is attractive because districts can offer their students online courses within their home district. They can choose to be online full or part-time but still receive a diploma from their home school. These online programs use certified teachers who hold office hours, live lessons, and attend live events to meet students in person and create rapport.

As far as technology is concerned, there will be an increase in devices within classrooms. More so than today, students will be using Ipads, Iphones, and tablets to guide their learning. Students will likely have experience with these devices as early as primary school, so their use in middle to secondary school use will be second-hand. This is positive because less time will be needed to train students on devices leaving more time for learning. Teachers will also need to be skilled in using these devices to instruct and support student learning. Web-conferencing tools like Skype and Google Hangouts will be used by both teachers and students to connect outside of the traditional class schedule. This is because students may require more meeting time as they develop their own learning path and collaborate with classmates. Teachers will need to be flexible in order to connect with students and support their learning.

On a more personal level, I see teachers, like myself, who have been teaching online for many years, becoming leaders in the online world. I imagine my job will eventually include both instruction and training, possibly outside of my program as schools and districts look to train their teachers in virtual instruction. I also see those with online experience building our own content, moving away from the canned curriculum we feel so restricted by in our current classroom. Our experiences learning about different learning management platforms will prepare us for the day when we build our own curriculum to meet the varying needs of our online learners.

The world of education is changing, and there is no doubt that technology is playing a role in that change. Our job is learning as much as we can to be best prepared for this not-so-distant future and support our students. The advantage of this change is that teachers and students will need to work together in order to support each other and keep up with the changing times. The better we prepare our students for change and the more equipped they are with the technology, the better professionals they will be in a world that will be even more reliant on technology, a world past 2020 and much more into the future.

8-1-A: Web Applications

As an online teacher currently working with canned curriculum, I am constantly telling my students to “read and take notes.” It is probably just as frustrating for students to hear as it is for me to repeat; however, as I started meeting many of my students, specifically those who worked from multiple locations every week with different devices, I began to realize how challenging this may be for some of them. Ideally, they would be use a notebook and pen to take notes, but many needed another method as they did not have the means to purchase those resources. These students needed another resource to help them not only take notes but share resources when collaborating with other classmates, and they needed it ASAP. Because all of our students have student emails accounts through Google, Google Docs seemed to be a great application to share with students for note-taking and collaboration.

Google Docs is a free web application that allows students to take notes, wherever they may be, by simply logging into their Google account. Additionally, Google Docs can be shared with other users so other students can update or add information. Multiple users can add to this document, and the application color codes each user, identifying each poster. The teacher can request all students give the teacher access to the Google Docs, and the teacher can monitor group progress and participation. This is an excellent source and feature for collaborative purposes. Students can also share this document with their teacher, and both the student and teacher can workshop writing activities.

While I would recommend this web application to all of my students, I would highly recommend it to students who work from multiple locations and on different work stations. This application would also be helpful for students using a school laptop but still moving from location to location. For example, some of our students work from their home district and their family home, while other students are in an out of hospitals or rehabilitation centers but still engaged in their work. For all of these students, Google Docs allows them to log and keep tack of notes for all of their courses. Additionally, they can collaborate on projects using this application and share their notes with their teacher, who can also monitor their progress. In one of my courses, students are required to work with a partner at the beginning, middle, and end of the course for projects. I would offer this application as the “preferred tool of choice” for taking notes, sharing information, and demonstrating their progress and learning throughout the project.

 

7-B-1: Paperless Classes

I have been teaching online for seven years, which makes my teaching environment mostly paperless. What this means is that my students do not receive textbooks or study guides. All of this is provided in the courseware. Students do receive hard copies of novels and plays; however, the courseware also provides digital copies of these readings. As a high school teacher, working in a paperless environment has not drastically changed my teaching, although I value textbooks and novels as I believe too much “screen time” is detrimental to students. It’s great that my courseware has most of the reading materials, but I encourage my students to read the novel “off” the screen and print learning materials, when possible.

Paperless learning environments may have a bigger impact on primary school teachers as part of their instructional time is showing students “around” the parts of a book (cover, title page, table of contents, etc. However, this can be done digitally, showing students the parts of a book using screen shots and screen recordings. It’s possible this would also be a challenge for science and history teachers, as part of their teaching is showing students how to navigate informational texts for information. This would be most challenging to early-childhood programs, as feeling letters, numbers, and books is crucial to their early literacy development.

My current “paperless” environment has not changed my role as a teacher as I continue to provide direct instruction, create supplemental resources, hold office hours, and group workshop time for students. The only difference is the form in which they are receiving these services. I measure learning through online quizzes, tests, live lessons, and virtual office “check-in.” Check-in times, or discussion based assessments, are designated assignments in the courseware where students have to check in with their teacher prior to moving forward with their assignments. The check in times are assessment based. This is mostly similar to what I would use to assess students in a live or paper-based classroom.

Paperless learning spaces make it harder to build social or collaborative learning communities; however, students who choose this environment typically do so because they have a schedule that is not conducive to traditional learning. Overall, I have seen paperless environments foster academic success and achievement. In an ideal environment, students would have the option to use paper-based resources or paperless resources as it is in their best interest to have both available to them.

 

7-A-1: Big Shifts

Of the “Big Shifts” Will Richardson discusses, social and collaborative construction of knowledge has most affected my teaching practice. As an online teacher, many of my students work independently from their own home; however, collaboration continues to be a key component of learning, not only as outlined in the curriculum but also mandated by state standards. The power of online learning is the ability to work independently towards a collaborative product. Students can distribute project work, maintain contact throughout the project, and post their findings throughout the duration of the project. These opportunities vary course by course, as well as by grade level; however, as students get older and further along in their academics, these opportunities are crucial to their development.

As online learning continues to grow and the technology needed to support this learning more accessible, collaboration will be a vital component of the student learning experience. Therefore, I predict more performance assessments, both self and group guided, where the teacher becomes the facilitator of the learning experience. I support this shift because the working world is not an isolated experience. Rather, people work together towards a common goal, relying on each others’ strengths to drive the project. New jobs and professional opportunities tend to be project-driven so giving students more opportunities to practice these collaborative skills is important.

The technology needed to support social and online collaboration is already available in a variety of platforms, some of which are free. Video conferencing tools like Adobe Connect and Blackboard learning are available for professional organizations, but free tools like Skype also available for online collaboration. Text-based collaboration is possible through a variety of forms including social media and blogging. As the 21st century classroom continues to evolve, it will be even more important to create engaging and academically rich online experiences for our students.

6-A-3: Responding to Connectivism

My group was responsible for  creating an argument against Connectivism; however, Group A’s argument in support of Connectivism is valid as highlight by several key points. First, Connectivism does not require teachers to be masters in one specific area as the job is on the students to explore and report out specific topics and interests. Teachers should supply reliable resources as they guide students in their discovery, but it the responsibility of the student to actively engage themselves during that journey. Secondly, Connectivism encourage students to collaborate in their new learning, becoming the teacher of their topic. They can create their own learning journey, one that best demonstrates their understanding. This promotes higher level thinking as well as healthy social learning skills. These are not only important academic skills but valuable real-world skills, which all students will need in the future in order to be successful. Overall, Connectivism encourages students to be independent and motivated thinkers, challenging themselves to tackle a problem and learn something new. The world of our students is one is which these skills are imperative to their success, and implementing connective strategies in our classrooms sooner rather is important to the development of our children.

6-C-2: Skype Ideas

Skype is an web conferencing tool that allows people to connect “virtually” face-to-face. I have used Skype in professional development opportunities to connect with colleagues and collaborate on projects. Overall, these were positive experiences. These sessions took place during work-from-home days and typically focused on department goals and projects. They rarely turned negative but were focused on using the time we had together to move forward with our discussions about curriculum and content design. The ease with which we all used this tool was due to our experience with Skype and general online-communication etiquette as we were all online teachers. Had we not been familiar, I am confident we would have used the tool well as it is user friendly. I have yet to use Skype in my graduate program but look forward to doing so in the future. As of now, I do not have a need for Skype as my current program because we use Blackboard Collaborate to conference with both students and colleagues. Personally, I have access to Skype; however, my program does not (to my knowledge). Because we use another web tool to video chat, I do not see our program investing time and training in another tool; however, it is certainly an option to explore as it is easily accessibly and user friendly. Technology is not always reliable, so familiarizing students or colleagues with another web-conferencing tool may be useful.

 

5-B-3: Podcast in the Classroom

Lucas Livingston’s Ancient Art Podcast is a series I have followed for several years. In the past, I used this as a supplement to my Greek and Roman Mythology course. I designed and implemented my own content at my last school, and this podcast was an additional resource for students to listen to on their own. Currently, I used canned curriculum and do not teach a mythology elective; however, we are looking at providing this elective next school year. If this happens, I plan to incorporate this series on my course landing page. I will also use at least one of his podcasts in a custom lesson (one I design) and ask students to listen for main ideas–a key skill in any content but most especially a skill that promotes literacy. The podcast that I would use in a custom assignment would be Medusa, Mythic Monster.  I would use this because it gives an overview of a popular mythical creature, one that student’s are both familiar with and fascinated by. This podcast is short (at only 10 minutes), a sufficient amount of time for students to listen to, take notes, review, and summarize its main points. Then, I would have students read both the Greek and Roman version of Medusa’s story. Students would discuss similarities and differences between the two tales and possibly create a visual story board for the myth. Another assignment may involve students creating their own podcast where they discuss their favorite myths. They would submit this podcast to the course landing page for extra credit.

5-A-1: Flickr

Flickr is an online photo-sharing resource that I use to visually enhance my instruction. At my last school, I created my own content. Here, I used Flickr to help design content. I focused on pictures that supported the main idea of my lesson and enhanced moments in a story or play. I also used pictures to spark conversations about theme and conflict. At my current school, I do not design my own content; however, I do hold routine live lessons and use Flickr in my presentations. We are very “copyright” focused at my school, so Flikr is an excellent resource for us to use while creating live instruction and supplemental resources.

Below is a picture I found on Flickr that I may use to discuss theme. For example, young adult literature often explores the road-less-traveled or the uncertainty of the road ahead. This pictures is not only beautiful but would hopefully engages students and excite them about the instruction:

 

Road 2

JK. (2011, October 24). Silk Road. GS.’s Photostream. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathankosread/6256892056/in/photolist-awUd2f-AFVkmu-dLhJyU-s2h4Ho-nMtCr6-dTnRix-gPiNaf-bkqoTY-rqWznW-9jQbmx-zM8HFC-jSPq6c-eFAGbg-ax8H1h-o7p6oZ-ahkW71-owLHoG-bqCh5w-zYLqzg-aNduB8-qMQWRj-h69RNX-dMNYpi-dQDWnB-kyFGsB-cuwqhj-5nrCsC-qj7RrS-pBSE9T-oYsX4z-fij94R-8cyztt-fxm8Hj-wq7JAX-9kUsd4-dndrF9-iX8En-bn8n9Y-cP5iXJ-jrbL4F-dS8PYU-9BrWEH-6xQphL-mMY6QE-8ELkBm-fAJ5z1-w19kaA-pAEWdU-81Q6kM-jpycW2

 

4-D-1: Wikis in the Classroom

I really enjoyed this unit. It gave me the opportunity to learn more about web-tools and how to use them in my classroom. Specifically, wikis are a great way to collaborate with colleagues. This week, two classmates and myself took time to develop a resource about Wikipedia. I appreciate this as our group topic because I am teaching my research paper and creating instructional resources for searching for sources. Students have access to so much information, but they do not have experience differentiating between what is and what is not reliable. This project, and working with my classmates, gave me time to think about how I want to share this information with my students. During my research, I came across the wiki “Technology Integration for Teachers.” The information was great, but I mostly appreciated the format and organization and kept this in mind as I was adding to our group page. As I reflect on this week’s wiki-group experience, the most challenging part of group work was scheduling. I think our group did a good job collaborating, but it was challenging being online at different times; however, we made up for that by dividing the work and adding to what was started.