Monday, January 30, 2017

Are We Destined to Repeat History?

"Why Moodle?" You Ask... 

moodle logo by ShawnKball, on Flickr
"moodle logo" (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
This week, one of our tasks was to explore a Learning Management System (LMS). Since I planned on using Moodle for my course it was a good opportunity to vet this platform... and then vent about it. However before I begin, I feel I must disclose why I am choosing Moodle. Rather than going into specifics (you can read about the specifics of my intentions in my previous post), allow me to reiterate the essentials:

1. Moodle is free  - and school divisions like free (especially now). But you get what you pay, or don't pay for.

2. In the Regina Catholic School Division, our Learning Online Program uses Moodle. It is easy to use (well... depends on who you talk to) and it's free.

3. I want to create a course that gives grade seven-eight students a taste of learning online and the opportunities that are offered with online courses. However in order to do this, students need to develop digital literacy and skills for learning online... so therefore I need to look at Moodle.

4. Like Sarah Wandy, I would like to offer a blended course that incorporates Moodle and face-to-face learning. This means incorporating the asynchronous space used for reflection and sharing; as well as the synchronous, which will happen offline and online depending on the topic.

5. Last year with a small team of amazing teachers, I co-developed the initial phase of a faith-based digital citizenship program within Moodle (with a lot of guidance from RCSD Learning Online). This year I want to complete the second phase of this 20 hour course that will integrate into Practical and Applied Arts, and be cross-curricular in nature. So there is no going back, I am already committed to using Moodle.

So there you have it. It's not that I'm not interested in the wonderful aspects of Schoology, Brightspace, Edmodo or Canvas, I just want to be consistent with what has been established in my school division (And no, I'm not just being status quo). Just as Rochelle Rogg mentions in her blog post that one of the factors for choosing Google Classrooms for her LMS, was because it was supported by the school division, and of course, it allows for independent and teacher led learning. Although I'm an advocate for taking risks and trying new ventures, there is something to be said for supporting school division platforms, particularly for a course that could be used by multiple classrooms.


Last year I had a some experience exploring Moodle or at least the old version that was utilized by our school division. Then this fall with an update, quite a few things changed, mostly for the better. However, one of the aspects that was not any more desirable than pre-update was the selection of activities. To be honest, I'm not a fan.
"moodle logo" (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by ShawnKball
remixed by J. Stewart-Mitchell via Bitmoji

When I was first introduced to Moodle, I was so overwhelmed by the navigation of the digital maze, that I didn't pay much attention to the general nature of the selected activities. This time, looking around Moodle with a more "experienced eye", I started to get annoyed by the number of digital activities that resembled "shut-up sheets" (sort of like what Don Wettrick describes in his "Sit Down, Shut Up and Memorize This" post).
New Blooms Pyramid by edtechworkshop, on Flickr
"New Blooms Pyramid" (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Basically, you know the kind... handouts that encourage kids to just be quiet and complete their "work package" and do not encourage any sort of thinking beyond the first level of Bloom's Taxonomy.

These digital worksheets included activities such as: Crosswords, Cryptex, Hangman, Hidden pictures, Snakes and Ladders, Sudoku...and so forth (Later I have learned from Kirsten Hansen, that these are part of a SCORM package) Huh??? Another thing to learn! Regardless of where they come from, they all just seemed like activities that encourage just technology as a substitution for something done with paper and pencil (think, SAMR)... and tasks that really just screamed  "digital busy work".  As Kirsten Hansen put it in our conversation from the EC&I 834 Google Plus Community, "Moodle is primarily a learning management system with emphasis on management." Indeed - I am starting to see this now. However, rather than just lamenting about the pitfalls of the platform and questioning my intentions, instead I will concentrate on the fact that the platform is what you make it. In addition to this, focus on the importance of the teacher's role in adapting effective pedagogy in any learning space - virtual or otherwise.

There Can Be Shortcomings with the LMS... Say What?!

Lens 1: Learner Centred by dkuropatwa, on Flickr
"Lens 1: Learner Centred" (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Regardless of the LMS or the digital tool, there will be shortcomings. Sometimes the shortcomings have as much to do with the user as they do the digital platform or tool. In her blog post, "Beyond the LMS", Audrey Watters says, "I think we like the idea that new technologies mean new practices, new affordances. But that’s not always or necessarily how technology works. The history of technology suggests otherwise. We often find ourselves adopting new tools that simply perform old tasks a wee bit better, a wee bit faster."
Web by SashaTikhonov, on Flickr
"Web" (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by SashaTikhonov

What Audrey refers to is the fact that new tools do not make us better teachers, but instead mask approaches that are not at all focused on the needs of the learner. By the looks of it, I'm not the only one to question the application of these tools to act as smoke and mirrors for ineffective pedagogy. Lindy Olafson, in her post, LMS That is the Question, Still No Answer Though, also challenges who digital tools benefit, students or adults.

Who Owns That Content Anyways?

One aspect of the LMS that I had not totally considered was the loss of the content after a course is completed. To share an aspect that has truly got me thinking is Watters' point regarding the evaporation of student conversations, "Anything they’d written in the forums, for example, any interactions they’d had through the messaging system: gone." Some would not consider this a big deal. After all, when we engage in a meaningful class discussion face-to-face, there is no one there recording it (unless it's a first class for EC&I 834). Yet online, there is a capacity to capture it, so it does seem sad to lose those insights unveiled through the discussions. Admittedly, I get what Watters is saying. I have several years of Kidblog accounts that I have hoarded because I loved what my students wrote. But the point regarding her content that was carefully managed and organized just disappearing when she left teaching, raises the question, where did it go? When you spend many nights burning the midnight oil perfecting a lesson (or completing assignments), it starts to mean a lot. It's your content, but in adding it to the LMS, who really owns it?

aDSC_0311 by tps58, on Flickr
by tps58
Although Watters makes another good point that a LMS is not really learning online as it does not represent the connectivity of the Internet. There are some benefits that people would like, depending on one's perspective. Perhaps an LMS is like a secluded all-inclusive resort of online learning where the guest is treated to the offerings of only the resort. You're comfortable, and once you are there for a little while, it's easy to find your way around. On the other hand, for the more adventurous visitor... you may wish to examine life that's off the resort, where the residents (wink, wink...see David White's video on Visitors and Residents) are willing to take you around so you truly start to understand the culture. The fenced resort may make seem safe, but there is little chance to learn other perspectives or learn about the world.

Initially I had wanted the tightly secure space offered by the wall of the LMS. Now I realize that although it might be easy for teachers using this course, it's important to encourage the visitors to mingle with the residents, thereby allowing for further opportunities to learn.... This all depends of course, on the age of those travelling with you. 

Video: "Visitors and Residents" via Youtube

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Time to Power up for this Project!

I am a Project-based Learner

One of the things I love about taking a Courosbrandt class is the opportunity to directly apply learning to a project. It is one of the things that makes learning for me all the more relevant and authentic. By being able to directly apply my learning to something that students other colleagues can benefit from makes everything feel all the more authentic ... Not that writing a paper isn't worthwhile, but projects are definitely, how can I put this, worthwhile. And when I think about it, perhaps this is one more reason to be an advocate of project-based learning. For the learner there has to be that authentic, real-life perspective.

Enough Stalling... What's the Plan?

My Goal: Create a grade 7/8 Digital Citizenship blended course via Moodle. I intend on using the same platform as the RCSD Learning Online department in order to provide middle years students an experience using the same digital platform that they may explore as they enter high school. I could choose to use another platform, but basically I see this as an opportunity to get students comfortable navigating and interacting on that platform. In choosing to use Moodle, there are some challenges that I may encounter, one being the rigid structure from which it is designed. And the second, having to train myself to use this system. Quite honestly, using Moodle will definitely stretch my skills. Ugh.

Course Details: The course will examine a faith-based perspective of Digital Citizenship for seventh and eighth grade students, and will take approximately 20 hours to complete, depending on the implementation preferences of the teacher. Meaning, teachers are encouraged to integrate this course cross-curricularly to allow for a more enriching experience from online to face-to-face discussion and artifact sharing. If you are wondering, why faith-based digital citizenship? Yes, I have wondered that many time myself...and been questioned on this perspective. So here is my rationale that I wrote for another project... Why Faith-Based Digital citizenship?

Although the course will focus on integrating Ribble's Nine Elements and the Saskatchewan Digital Citizenship Continuum, lessons will be cross-curricular in nature with a strong-focus on Religion, ELA, Health and Social Studies. However the course itself will be integrated into the Practical and Applied Arts curriculum and will be implemented during this time in the schedule. This is a good fit because PAA at the grade 7/8 level states, "Students entering grade seven will be required to take at least three Practical and Applied Arts (PAA) survey courses before completing grade nine." The PAA curriculum also states that, "Appropriate safety concepts should be integrated throughout survey courses." Digital Citizenship seems to be a good fit for a survey course, being that the focus of digital citizenship is to teach students how to become ethical and responsible citizens as they learn how interact online safely while nurturing a positive digital footprint. 

baseball diamond by dan_moves, on Flickr
"baseball diamond" (CC BY-NC 2.0) by dan_moves
moodle by o.tacke, on Flickr
"moodle" (CC BY 2.0) by o.tacke
Field of Dreams Goal: "If I Build It, Will They Come?" The intention is to create the course, then allow grade 7/8 teachers to enroll their students in the course, then assist them with navigating the Moodle platform via after-school PD.... or even through video modules (but that might be outside the scope of this project for this class).  In doing so, this will ensure digital citizenship is taught in schools, with the flexibility of modules which can be taught at different points in the year or all at once.

Audience/users: The course will be for teachers and grade 7/8 students within the Regina Catholic School Division (RCSD). 

For those of you wondering what about grade K-6? The Grade 1-6 students have a course which incorporates the integration of technology and faith in a digital citizenship project that was created last year by myself and a team of teachers titled, "Samaritans on the Digital Road".

Implementation Goals:
Teachers will be responsible for the majority of the assessments of students, with a combination of self and peer-assessment within the course, as well as quick formative assessments that are marked by the learning management system (LMS). Therefore teachers will also need training on how to nurture online interaction and discussions. Instructions in how to do so will be provided as part of the teacher documentation for the course.

Number of Modules:

12 modules-ish...

1. Introduction module - Introduce and explore essential question for students: "why a faith based approach to digital citizenship?" (If the teachers are wondering, so will the students...)

2. Modules 2-10 - Ribble's 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship. Incorporate essential question for the module, vocabulary, readings/videos from online sources, major activity allowing students to either blog and participate in a digital forum, create artifacts based on reflections of learning for that topic etc...
3. Module 11 will focus on a "Faith-based Digital Citizenship Service project for others". A great deal of brainstorming will occur face-to-face f2f, with opportunities for sharing and collaborating. Projects will not only be shared in school community but with the world - Think "pay it forward style". This will in turn help to spread the ideal, that we can help make the Internet a better place... and that to have a digital footprint is not just about calling attention to ourselves... It is about reaching out to the margins to those who are shunned, sharing positivity and social good, and preserving not only digital footprint but digital dignity.

4. Module 12 - Final summative Assessment, self and peer evaluation

Now you might be wondering... those are big plans Jenn, when do you intend on getting this all done? Next Christmas?? (Trust me I'm wondering this too). So here is the plan...

Group participants: Due to the very specific nature of this course and the Learning Management System LMS platform, I understand that I will be on my own as far as members from this class (unless anyone wants to join in of course). However, in order to get buy-in from teacher stake-holders, I plan on having a sub-committee of 2-3 teachers to share lesson ideas and engage in brainstorming. This committee will then also be part of my initial pilot of the course this spring. Due to the size of the course, and my learning of a new LMS platform with Moodle, I hope to also call upon a fellow coworker (Kyle Webb) to assist me with more of the technical aspects or help troubleshoot issues.

So that's it. Time to get started. I will be meeting with a couple teachers next week to get things rolling... and exploring Moodle. 

If you have any suggestions or comments, please feel free to share them. I appreciate any feedback!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What is Old is New Again

Teaching in a Digital Age 04.2015 @drton by planeta, on Flickr
by planeta

Musings on the Readings...

What does it mean to be Teaching in a Digital Age? Is it about the Open Education or Open Learning Movement, where learning is for anyone who has wifi connection, and even textbooks (from authors like Tony Bates), are made free?! Is it one where the teacher is obsolete and has been replaced by a screen and personalized learning software?  Or is it a place where there are no teachers, only experts that students Skype and learn from?

When we think digital age, these are sometimes some of the futuristic notions that may come up. Many notions of learning in the digital age all revolve around the technology - the devices, the apps or the software.  But instead it should focus on the pedagogy or the learning opportunities amplified or made possible because of the technology.

When I consider the impact of technology on my own learning, immediately I think of courses such as this one. Online and blended learning have definitely been a benefit in my life. Fortunately I live in Regina and even close to the university, but it is so much nicer to be able to learn while enjoying the comfort of my couch!

These are the benefits of blended learning in my life, but I am also a self-motivated, adult learner. Going through the readings, I wondered about how the approach in blended in online learning would be different for middle years students or even primary students. As I was perusing other blogs from our #ECI834, it became evident, that others have wondered the same thing.

Amy Singh in her post, "What's in a Learning Management System" had considered the same issue regarding online learning beyond adult learners, and states, "As an adult, the online format is easier for me to balance my life,  and it also works for me because I’m a motivated learner – does the same hold true for our ‘youngest’ learners?" She and Nicole Reeve (Blended Learning in a Primary Classroom: Is it Possible) intend on a blended learning project incorporating science for elementary students. I admire their initiative and courage to design this. And yes, I say courage, as I admire any teacher who is willing to take a risk to try something completely new - particularly a blended personalized course for primary students!

On Personalized and Personal Learning...

Although I have had some experience as a student of online learning, Stephen Downes' article on Personal and Personalized Learning got me thinking about approaches to learning in general, with or without technology.

Immediately when you learn about personal learning you start to think of Student Driven Inquiry (SDI) models such as Genius Hour. Over the last couple years, I have done a lot of research and exploration of student driven inquiry models. The benefits of this approach to learning are extremely important in helping students to become passionate and engaged life long-learners, who understand how they learn best, and have developed the critical thinking and problem solving skills. The basic constructivist philosophy behind SDI is in alignment with Downes' statement that the role of teachers should be to support learning not provide it... as learning is not something which can be poured into a student. SDI also is in agreement with Downes' issue that the learner needs to have control over "what to learn, how to learn, and where to learn".

education is something we create by shareski, on Flickr

However, what I struggle with is how do we take this concept beyond the Genius Hour model - where students drive their learning one hour per week? How do we bring forward the whole concept of personal learning to a school or a division, and go further with inquiry initiatives? And finally, how can we get whole schools or even divisions on board with this model?

Yes, technology can help with differentiating learning according to student needs and interest. But where to begin? The software and devices for differentiating learning are only one piece of the puzzle.  What about the training of the teachers in supporting every student's personalized program? What about curriculum? Outcomes??

What's All This About MOOCs? 

Have schools instead elected to explore and implement personalized learning because it's easier than a totally differentiated, personal approach? The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)  might be that next step towards personal models.

MOOCs -  a space where teachers can model and structure a framework for exploring content. But the learning happens, when the participants engage and connect with one another, then reflect on the experience.

Grumpy MOOC cat by ryan2point0, on Flickr
"Grumpy MOOC cat"(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Although I haven't made a huge effort to explore a lot of MOOC courses, I do like to check out what is available via Coursera. One thing I have noticed in my explorations, is the degree of variance in the approaches. The original intention of the MOOC was to provide opportunities for connection online, like a face-to-face course. But in a lot of cases, a person doesn't even have to really engage or learn from others. Students can just selfishly pop-in, grab the content,  take what they want and leave - not even interact. And worse yet, Not Even Finish! (gasp!)  Just as Bates questioned the lack of attention on the best approaches to online learning, I wondered, does interactivity among participants increase the rate of course completion? Is this why Couros and Hildebrandt encourage learners to connect and learn from one another????

Tony Bates questions,  are universities truly ready for blended learning? Are some online courses, such as in some MOOC courses, still trying to take a traditional approach learning and forcing it into an online course?

Remixed by Jennifer Stewart-Mitchell, 2017
Bates points out in Chapter 9  that distance education has existed for more than a century. In fact, the University of London offered the first distance education degree in 1858. This degree allowed for the education of the less affluent because of the opportunities for students to read the course readings and take the same exam as on-campus students. Did Charles Dickens provide inspiration for MOOCs when he coined the phrase the "People's University". Were Stephen Dowes and George Siemens inspired by the Dickens?

Hmmm... Lots of things to consider.  Perhaps this goes to show us that, everything that is old, is new again... even when we are talking about the digital age.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cleaning and Dusting the Digital Cobwebs off my Blog

Photo Credit: JMacPherson Flickr via Compfight cc
So this week I had to dust off my this blog and do a little cleaning. One thing I noticed that the 3rd party widget I was using for my Twitter feed was displaying ads... Grrr! the nerve of that company, trying to make a profit from my use of their free tool! So I had to find another source. Rather than fooling around trying to remember the best way to add a feed, I rather lazily decided to just Google top widgets for adding Twitter to one's blog.

Fortunately I found a post from The Learning Coach, who has some pretty good instructions, inspite of the rather grainy images. Not to fret however, he also included the instructions in text. So, if you are like me and you started with Blogger when you began the EdTech Learning Journey with Alec and Katia years ago, then hopefully these instructions will help you out! Twitter Feed on Blogger.  Perhaps my role in this class will be to help out fellow nostalgic Blogger bloggers, who continue to use this antiquated platform to make learning visible. Indeed it is not as updated as Wordpress, but there has got to be something said for continuing a chapter in one's learning journey in the same digital notebook.

Launching Another Course... Coming to the End of a Journey

Hello all! My name is Jenn Stewart-Mitchell and this is my 4th EdTech Class (3rd of the Courosbrandt variety) and my 9th class overall.
"Yusss" by Jenn Stewart-Mitchell (via Bitmoji)

Although it's exciting to be almost finished, I'm starting to wonder how I will fill my time when I'm done! Imagine all that time to... relax, watch Netflix, play with my kids, or even workout regularly... Whatever will I do with all that extra time? Run... maybe train for a marathon?? Start guitar or pottery classes? Grow a big vegetable garden? Okay, okay... I'm not finished yet, we're just starting this class, so I shouldn't get ahead of myself. Onward with sharing my reflections!

So who am I? Well to recap what was shared on the EC&I 834 Selfies Introduction Padlet, I am an EdTech Consultant with the Regina Catholic School Division and have been in this role for the last two years. Prior to that I was a Middle Years Teacher and Teacher Librarian with experience teaching grades five to ten over the past... *several* years.

"All About Me" by Jenn Stewart-Mitchell 
Working in Educational Technology has given me fantastic opportunities to work with many teachers and students from pre-kindergarten to grade twelve. Obviously I love integrating technology into learning, but my first passion actually isn't edtech, instead student driven inquiry and project based learning. Perhaps this is why I was drawn to work in this area, to find ways to help students and teachers learn how to co-pilot learning in our classrooms. In addition to this, another one of my passions is looking at how student voice can be shared in creative ways from blogging and vlogging to digital storytelling. Quite honestly, all the classes I have taken with Alec and Katia, have been quite integral to my growth and professional learning (Although this may sound like blatant flattery to Alec and Katia, I do mean that sincerely).

In this course I hope to:
First, explore the best practices for designing an online and  blended learning course, and to continue my work in developing resources for Digital Citizenship. One of my projects for the past year has been exploring Digital Citizenship from a faith-based perspective. The project is titled, Samaritans on the Digital Road and includes a series of lessons and interactive whiteboard Mimio lessons for grade one to six.

"Digital Samaritan" by Jenn Stewart-Mitchell
Second, I hope to continue my work for grade 7/8 and develop a blended learning digital citizenship course with a faith-based lens in mind.
Since my school division uses Moodle for our learning online programs at the high school level, my goal is to also highlight this as an option for middle years, particularly as a segue to promote online learning for students as they enter high school. Which leads to my third goal...

My final goal is to learn how to use Moodle more proficiently. In spite of working in Educational Technology, I actually have little experience in designing online learning in Moodle for students, as that instruction is part of the Learning Online department. So I am actually pretty excited to learn more about how to design effective online courses, as I think it will definitely assist me in my current position - and if I return to the classroom in the future.

Highway 6 by aultcom, on Flickr
"Highway 6" (CC BY-NC 2.0) by aultcom
That about sums up my goals and a little bit about me... Looking forward to the journey with all of you!