Another cross-post – ensuring all my readers (haha) are getting the information. If you haven’t already started reading EduGeek, I’d highly suggest it (plus it would make my life easier).
In continuing the discussion of online learning in 27J, I should probably talk about what we hope to gain by building capacity within our teachers to learn and teach in a web-enhanced environment. First of all, as a district on the “up-and-up” (a term I use for improved performance, focused on growth and innovation, and undergoing systemic changes), we must ensure that we are using “21st Century” systems to improve our performance, stay relevant and keep 27J students and teachers 27J students and teachers. In a world where educational systems are changing, this is definitely a priority – keeping the best teachers and students in the world of public education. In order to do so, we must compete. In order to compete, we must innovate. In order to innovate, we must invest and accept the fact that, with change, we will inevitably change the way we work and learn. To make change, a need must first be established (done) and capacity built within the organization.
Enter online learning . . .
While online learning will not solve all of our problems in 27J, there are some areas that I believe will be greatly affected. I believe that through an online learning program for our students, we will be able to provide them options for managing, extending, and monitoring their own learning, as well as providing a platform for remediating as needed. I also believe that more and more our stakeholders expect 24/7 service and access to the tools and information that they need to perform. Online programs are available anytime, from anywhere. The newest geeky trend is to create mobile device compatible sites so that students, staff and parents can “learn on the go,” or a the very least, access the resources for learning without sacrificing a usable interface.
Student and staff technology and information literacy are two of my main areas of concern. In an online environment, technology skills are embedded in content, collaboration and communication within the context of a course. So, I believe online learning will help increase our students’ technological awareness and ability in the context of their learning. I also believe that online learning will help our students to increase their communication skills, especially with their writing; since most online courses include some type of threaded discussion. I also believe that students learning online have an increased flexibility to self-select the tools that they use to create products of their learning, rather than being tied to the resources provided at the school or classroom level. Another added bonus to an online learning program is a significant reduction in copying expenses, as class resources and activities would be posted using a web interface, leaving the end-user to answer the “to print or not to print” question. While there are other benefits to an online learning program, my focus is really on how we intend to do this.
Like I stated in my previous post and Isobel suggested in her blog, we will start with professional development. We will include an online component to every professional development offering that comes out of the Student Achievement department. Where will this all take place?
Enter Edu 2.0 (cheesy name, but the application is great) . . .
Edu 2.0 is a learning management system (LMS) that is offered free of charge by a guy named Graham Glass. Basically, Glass is a successful entrepreneur who has worked in both the domains of education and the computer science. Over the years, Glass started and sold a few businesses, made a lot of money and decided to give back to education – in an attempt to assist in reforming it. He’s got a few videos on YouTube you can check out (out of district, sorry). Hopefully, he’ll get them up on TeacherTube or SchoolTube for the districts who block YouTube (if he does, I’ll re-link to make things easier):
We learned about Edu 2.0 (I call it E-D-U) over the summer when Kevin Marlatt (a TOSA in Staff Development) headed up the summer school program and used EDU with those students. It turned out to be a success and we started to investigate the possibilities even further. Kevin began working with a teacher at Vikan Middle School (Jim Silva), who has been using the program this year and the principal, Ana Mendoza, has expanded use to the Vikan staff. When I was approached about researching and designing and online learning program for the district, my initial thoughts were naturally Moodle and Blackboard. After some playing with a Moodle site that I had created, I decided that, while it is free, highly customizable and powerful, it is clunky and requires significant development knowledge for an average teacher (and time for tech support and development on the back end). One thing I know about teachers and change is that, if it’s hard to use, the relative advantage for using it is greatly diminished; therefore, my search continued. While I like what Blackboard offers (power, consistency, support, continued development and every thing else that comes with being the leader of online learning management systems), I did not like the price – highly risky for a district when tight budget doesn’t even begin to describe the situation. While we want to develop the systems, structures and culture for online learning, I don’t think that we are ready for the significant financial risk that signing on with Blackboard presented, nor do I believe I could have justified the funding while in a capacity-building phase of the overall project.
After weighing all of the options, we came back to EDU, evaluated it and decided that:
- It’s really easy to use.
- The courses all look consistent.
- The tools and options are powerful.
- The developers are remarkably accessible (Kevin and I have asked for improvements and have received them in days!). We correspond with Graham Glass regularly. The guy has the whole accessibility/transparency thing going for him.
- The price is right.
- It will serve the purpose of developing an online program in 27J.
So far I have created spaces for each middle and high school, a space for Student Achievement to house virtual group meetings, and a space for Student Achievement courses to be housed. Feel free to visit.
The biggest issue that I’m having (and I’m communicating this to Graham) is that, as we roll this out as a district and are trying to limit the number of usernames and passwords we use, each site will require our users to create and maintain about 3 usernames/passwords – one for their school, one to meet with virtual groups and one for professional development. I’m sure we’ll figure something out.
My next post will discuss joining, entering and using the site as both a teacher and learner. I’m busy creating some course content for my readers to demonstrate the capabilities.
Posted on my EduGeek site (January 26, 2010):
Isobel blogged this post and I figure it’s a good time to start explaining a little about where we’re headed, what we’re using (next post) and how this will all transpire (hopefully).
For the past few months, at the request of several folks, I have been researching how we might roll out an online learning program in this district – the overall goal being to someday have the capacity to offer studens an online solution that will fill several gaps (e.g. credit recovery, scheduling flexibility, school capacity, etc.). The first question that popped into my mind is, “How do we get there?” The best way I know to answer questions like this is to take a look around at the path that others have chosen.
From information that I have read, questions I have asked and advice I’ve been given, I realize that, in order to move forward, we must immerse ourselves in online learning before we can expect our teachers and students to participate. That way, we enhance the skills of our teachers and staff developers by providing them online experiences and tools for their own learning. To me, this is a very constructivist appoach – immerse folks in a learning environment, have them interact with the tools and experiences in the context of their own jobs and establish a secondary target of them learning how to create similar (or better) environments for their own students.
I felt like, in order to get started, classifying the term “online learning” might help those who are charged with the design and development to wrap their heads around the target:
From the presentation, you can see that we’re not going to just jump into online learning without first sticking in our toes through the use of both hybrid and web-enhanced professional development. I believe that if we begin, at the very least, to “enhance” our professional development with online components (e.g. document sharing, forums, etc.), web-enhancement wouldn’t be the only outcome – we’d also be affecting sustainability. For example, I take a face-to-face course that I really find useful; but when I get back to my classroom, I place the handouts in the trusty “stack of great things” pile (go ahead, admit it, you have one too) and go about my regular course of action in my classroom. Before I know it, all those wonderful people that I shared so honestly with during the training days have gone about their business and I’m left wondering if they still remember me (or vice-versa). So, at the end of the year (the part of the year where used to purge as much as possible), I look through the “stack of great things” and realize that I have never implemented the strategies as I had hoped. You can only imagine where the “stack of
Enter the web-enhanced professional development course . . .
Before I enter the workshop I am provided a link, username and password and a short pre-reading assignment. I am also provided all of the handouts, e-books and presentations from the course and can choose whether to download and print the handouts or just leave them (with the comfort of knowing they’re there. I walk into the class with nothing but my pen, notebook and an open mind. No paper is provided to me (unless I chose to print it, of course) and the instructor immediately engages us in an activity that calls upon some level of understanding of the pre-reading materials. The seminar continues as any other, although any printed readings are returned to the instructor for a future section – saving paper and printing costs. We are told that we can access all materials through the online component. After the class has ended, the instructor continues to sustain the learning by posing questions, suggesting strategies and posting articles in an online discussion forum, soliciting feedback and participation each time, frequently encouraging us to continue implementation and suggesting other seminars, courses or activities that sustain or extend the learning. These “after-class” activities encourage me, increase my skills and give me the confidence to immerse myself even more – maybe next time with a hybrid professional devlopment opportunity.
Take it up a notch . . .
A hybrid course is almost exactly the same as a web-enhanced one, except that participants typically meet according to a specific schedule; but most of their interaction and collaboration occurs in an online environment. Learners use digital tools to communicate, collaborate, design, develop and build products of their learning that they either display face-to-face or online (using a digital gallery or portfolio). An example of this type of learning would be with our EETT project, “Classroom Formative Assessment for the 21st Century Classroom.” Although we haven’t begun to implement, we are currently designing a hybrid experience for these participants (about 40). Through this experience, they will have the opportunity to view/discuss the “Mock Classroom” (suped up) in a live setting, but between the face-to-face sessions, they will have discussions, readings and activities in which to participate in an online setting. The goal is that they will come back together as a group with a shared understanding and experience to discuss, without the learning lag that comes from not meeting for a month or so. Fully online learning takes it a step further – no face-to-face meetings (although an end-of-class meeting would be fun), all work is done online – oddly enough, the community-building that transpires is impressive.
So, here we are, innovating in the face of adversity – and we’re doing it for very little investment (none, other than time, so far). Someone shared a blog post with me yesterday that confirmed that we are on the right track with this – innovation as part of the solution.
The next post will explain how we’re doing it (the tool) and discuss more about the target.
Posted on my EduGeek blog (January 25):
Just a heads-up for those of you who are local (comes from The Daily Post – the Banner):
Anythinklibraries.org, accessible from anywhere 24/7, offers a mobile Web site edition for easy browsing, searching, and checkout from a Smartphone, Blackberry®, or other Web-enabled device. Audiobooks, music and video also can be downloaded to any Windows Mobile (5 or newer) device using OverDrive® Media Console for Windows Mobile. At anythinklibraries.org under “ebooks/audiobooks” and “catalog,” you can check out and download books to use on your computer, iPod®, or MP3 player, and some audio titles can be burned to CD. To download ebooks and audiobooks, you only need an Internet connection and your library card. Visit www.anythinklibraries.org to try.
Just my way of wishing all of the 27J and EduGeek community Happy Holidays:
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!
A Cross-Post from my other blog (if you’re reading this, add this URL to your reader instead).
As schools are out in our district and I am in my office organizing my projects, setting goals, and planning for next year, I am also afforded a little time to take a critical look at my Professional/Personal Learning Network (PLN) and do some housekeeping. As I go through my RSS reader (I use Netvibes – it’s just pretty), I’m moving the feeds I read most to a prominent spot as thy have served me well this year. Then, I’m weeding out blogs where I haven’t even read a post – sorry folks! Sometimes, as I’m out and about on the Web, in meetings, on other blogs, etc., I’ll stumble on a feed that interests me; so I add it. If it doesn’t strike my fancy by this time each year, it must be ditched. As you can see below, I have several tabs and countless feeds on each tab; so information overload is definitely a problem. Note that I do not regularly read all of the information that crosses my reader (although there was a time when this was the case – it was a challenge to myself; now I realize that this is ridiculous as there is just too much information). For me, the true test of whether a blog will stay in my PLN is how much gray is in the widget (meaning that I have read the posts). See below:
Finally, I’m adding some new feeds. The Edublogs 2009 Awards have been posted; so it’s a great opportunity for me to go through a categorized list of blogs that could add value to my PLN. For me, its a no-brainer – these blogs have been read by someone, somewhere and have some value in the educational blogging community. Now it is a question of the value they add to my professional life. That, for me, is enough to warrant a look (meaning that I’ll add it to my reader and see how things go). Adding new feeds to my PLN (especially in such a large list) is an exciting event. Granted, I definitely don’t add all of the feeds – I do a quick preview, add the feed and see where the relationship leads. Usually, after a few weeks I do a shift – moving the ones I’m reading up in the reader and the others down the list – possibly a holding space for their inevitable demise (although some have been pardoned this year).
And so in the spirit of giving, I gladly share with you some of my 2009 PLN with a shared view of my favorite blogs using Netvibes “public page” feature. What I’m able to do is “share” some of my favorite and frequently-read feeds. It’s kind of like an expanded Blogroll or suggestions list at the video store (“If you like this, then you’ll love . . . “) for those of you who regularly read my blog. My thought is that, if you’re reading my blog, you probably want to know what influences me. Some of these may surprise you as I regularly read some conflicting blogs. One criticism of getting information through RSS (my own personal newspaper) has been that the information can be slanted exactly the way I want it. The conflicts I create within my own PLN keep me fresh and aware of perspectives that are very different from my own, challenging me to think and rethink what it is that I believe. Forcing myself to read articles by authors who vehemently disagree with my beliefs helps me to understand diverse educational perspectives – hopefully the writers of those blogs are doing the same . . .
And so, here are some highlights of my 2009 PLN:
- Karl Fisch The Fischbowl – I can’t say enough about this guy (a school-based Tech Director from Littleton, Colorado) – he just seems to be a cool guy with a lot of insight, integrity and appeal for anyone in education, especially for those of us who see change as exciting, appropriate and necessary. He writes about his experiences with using technology from such an edu-centric perspective that you can’t help but wonder where the technology went. His influence has help me to prioritize the value of seamlessness in technology integration.
- David Warlick’s 2 cents Worth – I’ve been following Warlick’s work since I was in the classroom several years ago. He’s probably one of the first ed tech thinkers that I’ve encountered. I’ve enjoyed his writing, although lately some of his musings have been a little technical for my tastes.
- Will Richardson’s Web-logged – Richardson is one of those guys you just love to read because he is so insightful and opinionated. I also really value the fact that he is so personal in his posts – he consistently refers to his own experience with the education system (he has school-age children). This, to me, provides the unique perspective of parent (one of our most important customers, other than their children). Being a public education outsider, he constantly asks the question, “Why?”
- Andrew Churches Educational Origami – Churches’ Blooms Digital Taxonomy led me to his blog which, over the past year or so, has provided some interesting insight on a number of topics, including the fact that the call for 21st Century Skills and technology integration is a global conversation (he’s from New Zealand).
- Dr. Justin Bathon The Edjurist – an interesting blog with a legal spin on the education world – keeps me relevant and mindful when it comes to the law of technology and education.
- CommonCore – Here is one of those conflicting blogs. Calling for a strong focus on core content knowledge, these folks vehemently oppose the skill-based nature of the 21st Century Skills movement and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The perspectives in this blog help me to find balance in my thinking and better understand those who disagree with me.
- EdWeek’s Bridging Differences – Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier co-author this blog in which they debate (argue) various issues in education policy and educational trends.
- Isobel Stevenson’s Student Achievement – Okay, so this is my boss; but seriously, no brown-nosing intended, if anyone wants to know the focus of our department in 27J, this is the place to go. Over the year, her well-constructed metaphors and musings on classroom formative assessment have truly been a talking point in many of my conversations. I know she gets a lot of feedback face-to-face and via email; I just wish more people were willing to comment on the site – I’d love to expand the conversation.
If you’ve followed my blog this year, you’ve probably either read a reference, followed a link or subscribed to one of the above. That’s the beauty of PLN’s – we read, we write, we read, we share, we read, we learn, we read – a beautiful cycle. Hopefully, some of the new stuff I read this year will find its way to the list next year. For now, check out My Public Netvibes Page (http://www.netvibes.com/ijones#Blogs) and see if there is anything that interests you. Sign up for Netvibes if you haven’t tried it – a great RSS reader on which to build your own PLN.
If you have some suggestions for my PLN, please drop me a comment! Feedback only facilitates improvement.
So, get out there and expand your learning network in 2010!