Friday, September 13, 2013

The nine steps to quality online learning...

This week in the course "How to Teach Online," the focus was on the fundamentals of online teaching, and how one would employ those fundamentals in their own teaching practice. In particular, the materials presented focused on concepts that revolve around Tony Bates' "Nine Steps to Quality Online Teaching." For reference, click on the links below.

The Nine Steps of Quality Online Teaching
  1. Decide how you want to teach online.
  2. Decide what kind of online course you and your students need.
  3. Work in a team. 
  4. Build on existing resources.
  5. Master the technology.
  6. Set appropriate learning goals for online learning.
  7. Design course structure and learning activities
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate
  9. Evaluate and innovate
My first impression with the list, after having read through each of the steps, was that while everything I read was sensible, based on my own experience, something seemed out of place. Let's examine the first step - "Decide how you want to teach online." 

While I agree with Bates that this is probably the most important step of the nine, I don't believe it should be the first step at all. That is, unless you are a master online educator with the skills and confidence gained by knowledge and experience. For the average educator, with limited or minimal experience and skills, you might as well be jumping into the middle of the ocean with no idea where to go. What are the options? How does it all work? What are the tools and technologies available? Are there policy implications? What technical or other issues will we have to face? To paraphrase a certain unpopular former politician - we don't know what we don't know.

The majority of educators I know will look at an XBox 360, or a Playstation 3, or a Wii, and to them it is all the same. To them, those disparate game systems are all "Nintendos." All three may be vastly different, supported by different technological ecosystems, targeted at different audiences, but to a majority of educators that I know, it is a distinction without a difference. They are game machines, kids play video games on them, hence they are all "Nintendos."

I constantly encounter the same attitude and outlook amongst colleagues when it comes to online teaching and online resources. Get into a group discussion about the issue, and you'll hear phrases like "We could use Google," or "why not use SkyDrive?" To the layman, those ideas probably sound just fine. To the more practiced ear, the phrase "please specify" pops into mind. How, exactly, would we use Google or Skydrive? What services? To what purpose? Do we need an LMS? or a CMS? Or both? What about the stakeholders? What sort of infrastructure do we have to contend with? Is this for a class? A subject? A grade? A school? A school system? And that's not all. I could list dozens more questions off the top of my head.

But that's the thing. It's not my first rodeo. I've immersed myself in e-learning for quite some time, and I have had time to come to know what I did not know. I have also come to expect the existence of a broad swath of more things I do not know, but knowledge of which will be of importance sometime later down the road. And as valuable as that is, that knowledge is of little or no use to those around me until they have had a chance to stumble over some of the same bumps in the road. 

This is why, the way I see it, the first step should really be "work in a team." In any group, a very few will be experts, some will be conversant, and the rest will be minimally able, but relatively willing. Once you gather your team, start out with a collaborative task that involves at least some of the tools and technologies you think might be employed. An online unit, for example, including the lesson plans, materials, and assessments. This is where you "design course structure and activities." As this occurs, the team will start to "master the technology" through the process of the collaborative tasks, as they construct materials collaboratively, reflect, edit, ask for help, offer assistance, etc. But that's it. That's where I end the list, at least for round one.

Rome wasn't built in a day. It may be cliche, but it's apt. Your team of educators will spend time struggling through the many issues that will inevitably crop up, as they implement this new thing. Technical issues, complaints, disagreements, worries, ridiculous objections raised by the technical illiterate. As irritating and annoying as these things are, they are a necessary part of the process. And unless and until you confront them, there is little point in engaging the rest of the nine steps.

In the end, I'd say that Tony has it about right, except that I would probably shuffle the deck. My nine steps to quality online teaching would look something like this:

The Nine Steps to Quality Online Teaching (Revised)

Round One

1) Work in a team
2) Design course structure and materials
3) Master the technology

Round Two

4) Evaluate and innovate
5) Build on existing resources
6) Decide what kind of online course you and your students need
7) Set appropriate learning goals for online learning
8) Decide how you want to teach online
9) Communicate, communicate, communicate


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Get Lucky - Mario Paint Composer - Daft Punk

Like most teenaged boys in North America, in the 90s it was all about the SNES, and the Genesis.

I wish video music had been this awesome back then.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

iCloud iWork Beta Open for All

Now, I'm a Mac fan. 100%. I use a Lenovo ThinkPad at work, but it's more of a grudging acceptance of the tool I'm given than anything approaching enthusiasm. When it comes to my creative work, be it video editing, presentation development, audio editing and production, even writing, I feel more comfortable using a Mac. In my old job, I had a MacBook Pro that I carried with me everywhere I went, moreso even than my second daughter and her ubiquitous blanket. Luckily, when I had to hand that MacBook in after changing my job, I still had my trusty iMac at home. Still, not having access to Keynote or iMovie at work can be a massive pain. (At least until I can afford to spring for a new MBP...)

Well, this is where Apple's iCloud iWork Beta steps in. Up until now, Apple has had amazing software, and unbeatable hardware, but their online services were beyond awful. Atrocious is a more apt description. Even Microsoft's SkyDrive was leaps beyond what Apple had put out, even including the stunted and awkward Word and Excel Web Apps. No, when it came to online tools, I really found only Google had the a full suite of apps I could reliably use.

Sure, I had to contend with some shortcomings. I love Google Docs Presentations, but boy it takes work to make a Google Docs Presentation look smooth or stylish. I love the collaborative and security features of Google Docs Spreadsheets, but I sure wish Google Docs Spreadsheets made it easier to add hyperlinks in a cell. Or even more than one hyperlink per cell. Google Documents is a dandy word processor, but man I wish Google Documents could handle tables less like a fingerless man playing the piano. Still, as a whole, Google Docs/Drive can be a powerful tool. But what about this new iWork thing?

At first glance, it's pretty good. The Keynote app is slick and smooth. It functions more like the iOS version of Keynote than the OSX version. The interface is fast and intuitive - Drag and drop image placement, easy to use masks, quick and simple slide transition options, and the presentation plays smooth as silk. The same slickness and simplicity is evident in the Numbers and Pages apps. The real drawback for all three, however, is in the collaboration and sharing options. Thus far there appears to be no collaboration options at all. As for sharing? After you set up a mandatory iCloud Mail account (, you then have the option of sending your document in the iWork format, a PDF, or the equivalent MS Office format. Not share, as in send a link, but share as in send an email with the file as an attachment. (Hey Apple, the 90's called...) Unfortunately, this is a bit of a deal-breaker for me.

With Google Docs Spreadsheets, for example, as long as I own, or have permissions for a sheet, I can use the "ImportRange" function to pull the data from multiple sheets into a central data collection tool. Currently I use this for mark aggregation, as I have my teachers enter marks into individual markbooks made from a Google Docs Spreadsheets, and that data flows into a master sheet that I use to keep an eye on student performance. In addition, when it comes time for unit planning, I set up a Google Docs Spreadsheet with multiple tabs, and use the permissions functions to assign people to specific tabs for lesson and resource development. During this process, dozens of educators work simultaneously on the same document, creating content, adding comments, or using the chat function. It's an incredibly powerful tool in this manner. Also, for Google Docs Presentations, I set up resources that I then publish online, giving me an embed code I can use to embed the presentation on any of the various blogs I have set up as learning resource management tools. Because of these powerful sharing, collaboration, and data linking options, even though Google Docs/Drive is the square kid at the dance, it is the square kid with a mickey in his pocket, and the keys to a sweet ride.

Overall, I could use the Keynote App to develop a presentation, then upload that to Google Docs, as a clumsy workaround for sharing and embedding. But after what I have seen with the newly released Bunkr,  a fully HTML5 presentation app that has blown my socks off recently. Still, if you just want to make a stylish presentation, a magazine quality document, or a basic spreadsheet, then iWork Beta is a great (free!) option.

How to Teach Online

I am enrolling in another MOOC. I tried a few Coursera courses a while back, and did not successfully complete a single one of them. They were great while I was in them, but I just did not have the time to really engage them. Mind you, I was concurrently enrolled in two MFA courses and a Masters thesis... so in retrospect the lack of time was something I should have figured in advanced. They say the eyes are bigger than the stomach, and likewise the intention is often greater than the allotted free time.

In any event, being on the last legs of my thesis, and working in an an environment that is rapidly integrating e-learning into the curriculum, I figure that the "How to Teach Online" MOOC offered by the University of Hawaii might be something I can devote the proper amount of time and attention to.

The course is asking students to post about  their progress, and about class assignments on personal blogs, the feeds of which will be aggregated by the course. So if you see the label "tomooc" on a post, it's just me submitting an assignment.

I'm hoping this will be informative.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Grinning Streak

I run through a lot of personal musical fads. Lately I've been listening to Capital Cities "Safe and Sound" as my daily let's-feel-good-the-workday-is-done-time-to-go-home song. Prior to that it was non-stop "Of Monsters and Men". But everyone has a band, at least one band or group whose music and ethos became indelibly embedded in their soul, whose every new album or release brings out a sense of anticipation and excitement. It's why some people feel shattered and betrayed when a band like this breaks up, because the emotional connection is so intimate and real. The band that is like that for me, my band, is the Barenaked Ladies.

Now, I won't say I love every song they have ever made, nor would I say that the songs of theirs that I love the best should be at the peak of every critic's top-ten list. Indeed, there are a number of songs of theirs that I will skip past wihtout a thought. However there are other songs, songs where with just the first chords, I feel, invoked within me, a sort of reverie, emotionally transporting me in place and time, a la Anton Ego upon his first taste of Remy's ratatouille.

BNL's latest album, entitled Grinning Streak, is now available on You Tube. The entire album is free to stream, and while I have had only a single listen through, my snap judgement is that this is one of the best albums byt BNL in a long time. Some albums I have had to have multiple listen throughs before I started connecting to them and appreciating them, some I have had an almost instant connection to. Grinning Streak falls into the latter group.

I'm looking forward to the next few days. My playlist is set.