Category: eLearning

The Online PD Experiment

This morning, I was updating some district professional development data, including assessing online coursework and giving teachers the credits they had earned. I started offering a few online technology courses to our teachers in November of 2013. To this point, we have offered courses in Google Apps for Education, iMovie, digital storytelling, and flipped classrooms. Our teachers are required to complete at least 6 hours of instructional technology focused PD yearly. We offer a variety of forms, including traditional, in-person sessions after school and during the summer, a summer technology conference, etc. Since the beginning, I have been admittedly skeptical about online professional development, at least in the voluntary context present here. I am all too familiar with studies of online learning and low completion rates, and I know from my own online studies how busy we can get, and how deadlines simply pass by our good intentions. I want our teachers to have opportunities to learn in ways that meet their needs, however, so I created the courses using Moodle, recruited instructors, and put them into the district PD catalog. I decided to make the typical course last roughly 6 weeks, although a few have been shorter due to school scheduling constraints.  After a little more than a year, I did a little data gathering, and I was actually pleasantly surprised at the results.

  • online completionNumber of courses created: 4

  • Total course sessions: 13

  • Total teacher participants: 215

  • Number of participants completing courses: 98

  • Percent completion: 45.6%

 

Now, there is a sneaky little trend that can’t be ignored buried in those figures. January completion rates are, well, a wee bit higher:

online course januaryI am sure, of course, that is simply due to the fact that the winter break has teachers energized and ready to learn, and it has nothing to do with the fact that teachers who have completed their training receive a February comp day. After all, the experts say the best motivation is purely intrinsic, right? 🙂

There is a plethora of studies of completion rates of online courses, and they are pretty pretty dismal as a rule. However, I’m coming around on this type of PD, and I will be putting together more courses. Here are some observations that I think will help us be successful in our online PD program moving forward:

  • Do what it takes to get participants participating in the first week. Set a “post or be dropped” deadline and enforce it. Most folks who don’t get involved right away never do at all.

  • Expect regular (at least weekly) communication on the part of the instructor. This can be as simple as a group email or post to the course forum. Just a word of encouragement or a helpful tip reminds folks to get going. I’m not completely sold on purchasing subscriptions to online PD, by the way, because I haven’t seen the level of instructor participation I think is critical.

  • Respond to participants’ posts and submissions. I freely admit that I am not as good about this as I should be, but I know from my own experiences how reassuring it is to read something from my instructor about my own posts.

  • Encourage participants to interact. I say encourage instead of require, because I think it is even more powerful when we get a comment or question from someone who is not being coerced into doing so.

A Day With Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Spent the day today at Richland High School listening to Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs. It was a very exciting opportunity and a fantastic chance for many of our district’s teachers and administrators to hear something that needs to be heard: we MUST refocus our curriculum and practices to meet the needs of students is a world that is nothing like that in which the teachers were raised. The live blog is below, but I’ll likely be following up with greater analysis.

Reflections on Emerging Technologies Course

I am wrapping up a doctoral course on emerging technologies this week. I have to admit, this has been the most enjoyable course I’ve taken to date. The subject matter was right down my alley, and there was much more interaction in this course than in previous classes (I’m working on an online degree.). I wanted to take the time to share a few things that were particularly significant to me as I plan for next year.

Games in education

While I have read many wonderful pieces on the blogs of such educators as David Warlick on the subject, gaming is not something I have devoted much thought or energy to. The research makes it clear that games are an effective and engaging way to promote higher level cognitive skills, such as problem solving, collaboration, and creativity. They also reinforce many academic skills, and they do so in a setting which kids actually enjoy. I will be looking for ways to bring games and simulations more attention in our district next year.

Moodle

Learning content management systems, like Moodle, are the present and immediate future of our profession. They make learning objects easily accessible by teachers and students, they facilitate collaboration and communication, they integrate Web 2.0 tools wonderfully, and they draw upon the collective knowledge and experiences of educators. The limited exploration I have done with Moodle this quarter has convinced me that it is well within the capabilities of our teachers and the time is now to get the implementation rolling in BISD.

Synchronous collaboration tools

This includes such presentation resources as Elluminate, WebEx, and Dimdim, but it also includes simpler tools, such as Skype and chat rooms. I received very positive feedback from participants in my first Dimdim professional development session, and I will be offering many more next year, perhaps even outside of the district. The convenience and extensive feature set simply make these tools essential for professional learning, and they go far beyond some of the existing online tools used in our district, which are asynchronous in nature. They also have many classroom applications. Elluminate will be available next year, and it will be exciting to see how we utilize the tool, particularly if we can find effective ways to incorporate it into our expanding number of online courses. It just might be an effective method of decreasing attrition and creating a greater sense of community among our online students.

Cell phones/personal electronic devices

Our district’s cell phone policy is now much more open, meaning it will be essential to explore and articulate best practices for utilizing the ever-increasing capabilities of the devices in the coming year. There will be an adjustment period for teachers, without a doubt. However, I truly foresee the wireless Internet capabilities, text messaging, and video/photographic capabilities being put to some creative and powerful applications.

Too Much to Moodle to Ignore?

As an advocate of free, online Web 2.0 tools, I have spent a great deal of time and effort in reading and Moodleresearching, trying to keep up with the latest, greatest sites for my teachers or presentation attendees to use to transform their curriculums into the 21st century. I must admit that I’ve been neglectful of some other areas of technology, not so much because I failed to see their importance, but rather that the read/write Web has simply captured my imagination. One particular tool that I wish to gain a greater familiarity with is Moodle. Moodle is a learning management system (LMS), defined by Leonard Greenberg as “a high-level, strategic solution for planning, delivering and managing all learning events within an organization.” (2002) Among other things, Moodle is a powerful tool for creating online content and e-learning opportunities.  It has become an amazing force in the education world. It is a free, open-source tool that is putting a serious dent in the sales of for-profit tools in the field, especially in the current economic climate.

Miguel Guhlin is one of the foremost advocates of Moodle in education in the state of Texas today. In his blog and numerous trade publications, Miguel offers insights into implentation of Moodle, its applications, and justifications for its use. In an article written for the magazine On Cue and cross-posted in his blog this week, Miguel gives a good, general overview of the tool and some suggestions for its implementation. One thing that caught my eye was that  “Moodle comes replete with blogs, forums, RSS feeds, wikis and more that enable it to be seen as an “absolute good” that opens the door, that enables powerful ideas to slay the fears our IMHO – slay the fears that leaders hold.” I’ve been told many, many times that schools cannot utilize the tools I’ve shared because of restrictive filtering policies, so if Moodle is a step to overcoming this, I’m definitely listening.

Moodle Tools

Miguel does a great job going into more detail on some of the applications of Moodle in education, but I’ll summarize briefly what he describes.

  • Online learning environments. Users can create and utilize online groups, such as literature circles, create online quizzes and other instructional resources, build wikis for group collaboration, display student work, keep writing journals, develop online lessons, and more.
  • District/campus communications. Leaders can create book studies, disseminate news, engage staff in discussions using online forums, etc. All of this can be created in a private setting, accessible only to invited members.
  • Supporting district initiatives. Moodle’s discussion forums, questionnaires, and synchronous tools (Such as a Dimdim module!) help schools and districts implement initiatives in a manner that is on-going and as needed, rather than the typical isolated and infrequent way that it too often is presented.
  • Professional development. Moodle has the ability to make professional learning opportunities an anytime, anywhere affair. Teachers can login, take a course, complete a questionnaire, share a lesson plan, and earn needed professional development credits, such as ESL or G/T hours. All of this accomplished in a format that is both cost-effective (no transportation expenses) and fits into already busy schedules.

Breaking Down Barriers

Miguel also offers some helpful tips for overcoming administrative hesitation in implementing Moodle (and Web 2.0 tools) in schools:

  • Take the time to list the reasons you need the tools.
  • Share the reasons with administrators.
  • Create a petition and enlist the support of like-minded educators.
  • Explain the need for a person to be the administrator of the computers on which the tools will be used and volunteer to be that person.
  • Cultivate a relationship with the people in “power” over technology and access to resources.

I would add to this list:

  • Do your research. Administrators generally love data. Be able to support your ideas with evidence.
  • Educate the leaders at the top of the hierarchy. Show what other schools are doing. Teach them the tools and encourage them to try them out. I know from experience how powerful this can be.
  • Emphasize the cost-effectiveness of your ideas. The tools are free, but will require some costs in terms of servers, support, etc. Regardless, they are certainly more efficient than many pay-for-use tools.
  • If those in charge are reluctant, emphasize the ability to create resources whose use and access is totally controlled by the school/district.

Want More Information?

I plan to be experimenting with the tool in the coming months, and I will be sharing my thoughts and experiences here. In the meantime, if anyone is curious enough, you can learn a great deal through Miguel’s writings on his blog and elsewhere. I’ve also found him to be very willing to offer insights and answer questions through Twitter (http://twitter.com/mguhlin). Additionally, Moodle has a very active community of users, and you can tap into this community through the Moodle forums at http://moodle.org/login/index.php.

Preparing Students for Online Learning: Steps for the Classroom

Today’s education environment is evolving more rapidly than at any other time in history. Technology is playing a critical role in this metamorphosis. As schools race to keep pace with the growth of new technologies and the resultant changing expectations of stakeholders, one of the most rapidly growing applications is in the area on online courses, or e-learning. According to a survey of 1,600 post-secondary schools conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics, about 2/3 of the schools now offer dimdimcourses that are either completely or partially web-based and over 11,000 programs that entirely used distance learning (Parsad, 2008). Schools that participated in the study cited reasons for offering such courses as offering students greater flexibility in course scheduling, providing access to students who would otherwise not be able to attend the schools, increasing the number/types of courses available, and increasing overall enrollment.

Karl Kapp cites some interesting economic figures regarding e-learning in his blog. According to one study he shared, e-learning was a $20 billion global industry in 2008, and it is projected to be at over $52 billion by next year. “Online tutoring” is a $4 billion industry, with expected growth rates of 10-15% per year.

So, what are some implications for k-12 schools? This increase in participation in online learning has had a great impact on the k-12 landscape. Students are enrolling in growing numbers in an ever-increasing variety of online courses and for a variety of reasons, including convenience, availability of subjects, need to balance work/family/school schedules, suitability to their learning styles, etc.

The question that we should ask is whether or not we are doing enough in our traditional classrooms to prepare students for success in a learning environment that is becoming such a significant part of the post-secondary and business environments. Despite the growing popularity of such offerings, there have been several studies that have revealed that many students struggle with or drop out of online courses. Studies claim attrition rates ranging from 20-80% in online courses (Tyler-Smith, 2006). It seems likely that many students enter the online classroom ill-prepared for success.

The inclusion of relevant technologies does not need to be a full-immersion experience. A 7th grade math teacher would likely find little success if she suddenly decided to take her course curriculum completely online. The skills students will need to master to better ensure success in online learning include familiarity with technology tools, practice with communicating and collaborating with a diverse audience, metacognition and self-motivation, writing skills, and organization skills. While it is obvious that many of these skills are key components of everyday instruction (writing, organization, metacognition), others would be less likely to be addressed in a traditional curriculum. The skills that students need can begin to be addressed and developed by some simple classroom applications that utilize relevant, abundant, and free technologies.

The 2009 Horizon Report describes several technologies that can be classified as either synchronous (real-time interaction) or asynchronous learning tools. When used in a traditional classroom, these tools have a great deal of potential for developing the skills students will need for success in the eLearning environment. Tools include:

I would add to the list student email, as email is a vital communication tool not only in the business and home environment, but in the online learning environment, as well.

The classroom teacher can integrate many of these tools seamlessly into the existing curriculum. The key is to offer a wide range of opportunities for students to use the technologies. Students should be allowed to participate in collaboration opportunities with students from other classes or other locations, to engage in real-time discussions of subject matter, to share ideas and resources, to put forth questions for further class consideration, to reflect on learning, and to assist in the planning of such opportunities. The goal is for the learning curve associated with the types of technology and interaction in an online environment to be reduced or eliminated, so that students can instead focus on course content.

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References:

Parsad, B. & Lewis, L. (2008). Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions:  2006–07. Retrieved April 17, 2009, from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009044.pdf.

Tyler-Smith, K. (2006). Early attrition among first time eLearners: A review of factors that contribute to drop-out, withdrawal, and non-completion rates of adult learners undertaking eLearning programmes. Retrieved April 16, 2009, from http://jolt.merlot.org/Vol2_No2_TylerSmith.htm.

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