A Journey to Online & Blended Learning

Several years ago I began this journey in online and blended learning.  What an experience it has been!  I (luckily) have had many opportunities to explore these types of learning settings both as an instructor and as a student.  How meaningful to be able to say to my students, “I have been in your shoes”.  Thinking back to my online graduate courses, I wanted each class to offer me something that I could (1) apply in my classroom, (2) experiences to build relationships with my classmates so I can learn and collaborate with them, and (3) to have a FUN learning experience.  When on the other side of the computer as an instructor, I keep these in mind so that I can offer my students those same experiences.  My goal is to demonstrate my passion and love for learning so in return my students can be prepared to successfully educate their own students.

At times, there is a stigma that online and blended learning lacks relationships and is more individualized.  How unfortunate, if that is the experience online students are receiving.  By offering a variety of interaction and relationship building opportunities, a supportive and encouraging environment, and providing assignments and feedback that promotes creativity and in-depth learning, I believe will help to effectively engage my future students.  A benefit to online and blended learning is that it can target so many learning styles.  Through the Instructor Training and the other trainings provided by PLS 3rd Learning, instructors are able to learn and put into practice the skills and tools that have been successful in their courses in reaching all types of learners.  These skills and tools will certainly help to engage our students in online learning, too.

The most challenging aspect of online learning for me, both as a student and as an instructor, has been technology issues.  Module 1 in this course said it best: “At some point, chances are you’ll have to deal with technology issues.”  Knowing that these dreaded technology issues will probably happen and to not panic is key.   Students and teachers have lots of sources for assistance.  Students have the instructor, the class discussion, Canvas Tutorials, and Tech Support.  The instructors have all of those resources, as well as, the Instructor Zone and mentor for assistance.  As an instructor, I try to be proactive and organized.  For example, going through a module to ensure that links are working properly and there are no errors prior to the students beginning it can help to eliminate any issues.

I am looking forward to this journey with PLS 3rd Learning and to providing a successful, meaningful, and fun learning experience for my students.

8-C-1: 2020 Vision

As new technology is evolved, then the world changes.  As the world changes, then education also changes.  Education encourages the development and use of new technologies and therefore the entire cycle starts again.  New technologies are being developed, different types of learning styles and methods are being created, and learning environments are offering new options.  While preparing students to become lifelong learners, the teachers need to be familiar and educate themselves with these educational changes.  We, as teachers, need to instill in our students how to learn about these changes after they leave our classrooms so they can continue to be well rounded and prepared for their future.  Since things are constantly shifting it is hard to prepare for the exact changes but we can all learn how to continue to grow with the adjustments of education and technologies. 

As referenced above, the change in education is not really a new concept.  It will continually change as it cycles and as new technologies are developed (and vice versa).  We have always had many options of education.  Today, private, public, charter, and online education are popular.  We live in an entire world of options. Just because you order the steak well done doesn’t mean that I want it cooked that way.  What is most important is that the students are getting the BEST education for that student. Just like you would order what is BEST for YOU to eat.  While distance education or online education has become today’s “newest” way of learning, it is also not a new concept.  Distance education has evolved since learning through mail years and years ago.  Today, distance education is just another option for education.  I think that these same ways of receiving education will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the world. 

For my classroom and for my students, I hope that the students will be able to develop lifelong learning skills to advance his or her education, everyday lives, and future careers.  To prepare students for the knowledge and skills needed for the future, I see the need for educators to make things more applicable and demonstrate how the content they are learning to other subjects and the students’ everyday lives.  2020 education should challenge students to develop essential skills such as communication, collaboration, and problem solving. I see educators creating several learning solutions to help meet these opportunities and challenges for students.  Students completing small group work, presentations, word problems, projects, community based services, interviews with adults about their lives, games, and both asynchronous and synchronous lessons are coming for all classrooms.  The skills and knowledge that students learn in my 2020 classroom will be applied to their future education, careers, and personal lives.  The students can use the same methods that are demonstrated in the class.  The opportunities that will be given to the students will relate to their futures (personal, school, and work force).  When students see similar events occur, they can relate to the skills and knowledge that they previously learned in class.  Noticing the connection, will help to eliminate challenges and complete the task at hand.

I see teaching today, headed in that 2020 vision that I described.  One of the major differences will be the abundance of connections that students and teachers can make through the use of technology.  Students will be more “owners” and “pioneers” in their education.  As an owner, the students will accept their knowledge and skills with a sense of pride and accomplishment.  As a pioneer, the students will go out and use their knowledge and skills to connect with others, better society, and enhance their career and personal life.  Today, some teachers feel that this shift in technology lacks the building of social skills.  I, too, believe that social skills are one of the most important skills for students to learn.  However, I think that students need to learn both appropriate verbal AND written social skills.  Technology has changed the way we socialize.  In previous education years, teachers have focused a lot on verbal social skills; however, with the recent shift towards technology in society, students must also learn the appropriate social skills to use through written communication.  Unlike verbal communication (which we are all very familiar with), we can’t hear the tone in our writing socialization.  An inappropriate or not well written blog post could cause much confusion or controversy if not written properly.  Fortunately, I see that there will be more and more opportunities to grow BOTH the verbal and written social skills within the classroom.  Another goal for my classroom now and in the future will be to provide opportunities to enhance social relationships and learning through the use of connections and technologies.

Technologies help promote motivation, engagement in the classroom, and a positive attitude in the learning process.  They also help to support students’ creativity, interests, and preparedness for their future.  Today’s technologies have become a vital tool in learning and teaching in the math classroom.  It has mostly been the responsibility of the teacher to use any technology available to prepare his or her students for the 21st century classroom.  There are endless possibilities that teachers use to enhance their lessons, motivate their students, and engage their students in the learning process and own creativity.  The teacher’s approaches in education help to give opportunities for connections with others while promoting learning.  Today’s technologies have become a way of life and a way of the classroom.  As the classroom continues to evolve with the use of technologically, I hope (and I already see this happening) that students will take responsibility for using technology to enhance his or her learning experiences, as resources, and in developing everyday skills.  Students of the 21st century have a plethora of technology available to them! 

I think and hope that in 2020, students will the ones that are shaping education and learning.  The role of the teachers will be to help support and advance this learning through the emerging technologies.  How powerful education will be!

8-A-1: Web Applications

My work days consist of teaching, tutoring, meetings, grading, answering emails and phone calls.  My days can fill up very quickly.  On any given school day, I have students contacting me to see when a good time would be to meet with them in the virtual classroom for tutoring.  While I typically have daily tutoring times available, students may not be able to attend those times due to a scheduling conflict.  By the time the student sends me an email and the chain continues to see when we both are available for tutoring, we have wasted a lot of precious time.  Emails can get lost in the mix, too!

One way to save time and help to meet my students’ needs is by using a Google Doc’s spreadsheet for student “contact” sign-ups.  As the teacher I can create a scheduling spreadsheet.  I can block off dates and times that I know I will be unable to help students.  Students can then view the document and add their name, what he or she needs help with, and contact preference.

A sample spreadsheet could look like this…

Monday, July 21, 2014
Tutoring or Teacher Contact Sign Ups

TIME AVAILABILITY Please help me with… Please contact me by…
8 AM – 8:30 AM      Bob Jones Solving Equations

Phone

8:30 AM – 9 AM      Anna Smith Exponents

Virtual Classroom

9 AM – 9:30 AM

 N/A

N/A

 N/A

The schedule can continue throughout the day and week.  The key would be for the teacher to continually monitor the spreadsheet.  To help keep track of changes, the teacher could have an email sent after any updates so the teacher can view cancelled or added appointments.

This app can also be used for students to sign up for peer tutoring or parent for a conference with the teacher.  The teacher can secure the app and prevent others outside the classroom for viewing and changing the document, too.  For peer tutoring, students could sign up to be a tutor during a certain day and time or to receive help similar to the manner used for tutoring with the teacher.  The teacher can also use the spreadsheet to keep track of who is helping others, those that need extra help, and when to open the virtual classroom for students to meet.  For parent-teacher conferences, the parents or guardians can also use this same set up to request a conference with the teacher.  This way efficiently helps to pick a date and time that both parties are available.

By using an app such as Google Doc’s spreadsheets, this will help the entire class run more efficiently and therefor promotes student learning and understanding.  In my experience, staying organized and up to date supports a successful classroom.

7-B-1: Paperless Spaces

I like the idea of having paperless classrooms, as an option.  First (and obviously), it helps the environment.  Second, technology is the way of the future.  A lot of colleges and careers are doing most of their work and communication online and by using technologies.  These skills can easily be strengthened in the classroom by going paperless themselves.

Currently, I already work in a paperless classroom.  It is all done online… assignments, notes, communication, etc.  All of our students have the option of printing though.  I have found that most of them do not print and prefer using the digital form of notes, assignments, and textbooks.  It is the student and parents’ preference.  I do encourage students that are struggling or students with IEP’s or 504 plans to print work. 

When comparing my current paperless classroom to that of which wasn’t, it really hasn’t changed much for me (except I spend a lot less time waiting in line at the copy machine).  Everything that I created before was digital and now; I don’t have to complete the next step of printing for students.  Because I teach fully online, all of our learning and measuring of learning is also done online.  In my experiences, it is more convenient and easier to create networks with a paperless space because it is easier to share and organize online.  We use a program called SharePoint which allows multiple teachers within our school and sister schools to share resources and documents in a secure network.  By doing it this way, more teachers are able to collaborate and share.

For my setting both as a student and as a teacher, paperless classrooms are the way to go.  The convenience, organization and ease are many benefits.  I think it is smart to always have the option for classrooms to have printouts for students that would benefit from that preference.  In my opinion, today’s education is one of options and a paperless classroom is one of many great ones.  The key is to use what works best for you and your students.

7-A-1: Big Shifts

Rewind several (several) years ago.  If your school was like the one that I attended, I had 5 teachers for the 5 content areas: math, reading, language arts, science, and social studies.  Daily we would attend our 45 minute class, be assigned homework, and at the end of the day have a 20 minute study hall to complete homework assignments or go to our 5 teachers and ask for help.  Once the bell rang at 3:15, everyone had to leave.  If we had questions after school ours, it was up to our parents or older sibling to help us.

Now fast forward to today.  If your school is like the one that I teach at, the students have more than just 1 teacher per subject area to ask for help.  I teach Algebra I, yet, my students have access to the other 9 Algebra I teachers during their tutoring hours and synchronous lessons.  In addition, students can attend peer tutoring from 4 PM – Midnight or After School Tutoring with content teachers 4 PM – 8 PM during the weekdays.  There are many more teachers to use for help and as a resource.  Students are no longer limited to the 8:00 –  3:00 time schedule for schooling.  Many schools offer tech support, too.  For example, our school has a tech department available 24/7 for students, parents, and teachers.  It is very convenient!  The use of learning management systems, messaging, and email has opened the doors to faster communication amongst teachers and the students or parents, too.

Likewise, students have many more educational options.  Students that are sick, training for a competitive sport, or auditioning can have a more flexible education.  Likewise, they are no longer limited to the walls of the classroom.  The technology available can take learning across the nation, the world, or beyond.  Need practice with your Spanish?  Use an online tutoring center to speak with someone from Spain!  It’s connecting even more students with others and broadening education.

Not only has this shift in education affected my teaching but it has also affected me as a graduate student.  With children and work schedules, I would not be able to complete my master’s degree if it wasn’t for the convenience of online learning.  The technology available and the many options for education have made it possible for me and therefor I am not limited in my own learning.  How awesome is that!

6-A-3 Responding to Connectivism

Look at the education in your life and compare the way your parents learned, to how you were taught, and to how you currently teach.  All very different methods and tools are being used to enhance learning.  For example, when my mom was in school, she was taught through strictly lecture and teacher centered classrooms.  When I was in school, we rarely used technology but our classroom student centered.  Today, students are using new technologies like graphing calculators, blended learning experiences, and opportunities to connect with others throughout the nation (and world).  My mom’s learning experience would not work for today’s student.  They would be bored and lacking the skills and experiences needed for college and career readiness.

Group A (supporters of connectivism) states that “In a connectivist classroom, teachers must recognize that teaching methods and tools are constantly changing and educators need to change with them.”  In my opinion, this is true for all types of classrooms.  The way students learn and the learning environment has certainly changed due to technology.  Since technology, teaching strategies, learning settings and resources are constantly changing, we need to be educating ourselves on these things in order to provide a high quality instruction.  Our job is to give the students the opportunities to learn and grow through the use of these new technologies.  As Bill Gates stated, “Technology is just a tool.  In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.”

 

Link to the wiki used.

6-C-2: Skype Ideas

As stated in the course, “One of the main ideas of connectivism is that we learn through our connections with others.”  Using Skype or other video conferencing is one way that does just that.  We are no longer limited to learning from those sitting within the same classroom.  Today, students and teachers can connect and build relationships with others from around the world.  The connections are limitless.  I can easily Skype with another Algebra I teacher that is working in a different state or even country.  We can share, compare and contrast teaching methods, resources, and techniques.  Same is true for my students.  How fun would it be to do a co-teaching lesson with another classroom in Spain!  For online schools, video conferencing helps to make the lessons more personalized by seeing and hearing one another.

In my classroom we do not use Skype but another video conferencing technology through our learning management system.  Essentially, they are very similar however only families enrolled in our school have access to use it and therefore making it safer for students.  One way I would like to use the video conferencing is by bringing guest speakers into the classroom to help connect and motivate students in math.  I also think that co-teaching with another classroom, bricks-and-mortars or online, would be very beneficial for the students, too.  The more connections that I provide to my students, the more I hope students will grow within content, technology, and necessary personal and educational skills.