Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My presentation for K12 Online 2012 Conference

Doing this convinced me that learning by doing is absolutely the best way to go - I learned SO much about using Camtasia in the 9 - 10 days it took me to make this. That's right, to make a 20-minute video....I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, October 29, 2012

I teach online. And by "online" I mean.......

I was fortunate to attend the 2012 Virtual School Symposium last week, which took place in New Orleans, Louisiana. Thank you iNACOL for this amazing conference!  And, okay, blowing my own horn here, I was there because I and my colleague, Peggy Drolet, were presented with the "iNACOL Innovative Online Learning Practice 2012" award.  I have to say, I love this picture. Not only because of what's happening in it, and who I'm standing next to, and where we were, but gosh I love my dress and shoes....focus, Audrey.

Back to business: The symposium was organized by iNACOL, which stands for International Association for K12 Online Learning. Of all the things I feel compelled to write about and reflect upon after this conference, (stay tuned, it was awesome, gbl, pbl, mobile learning, Bourbon Street, links to flipped class....later), the most burning one is that word "online."

I already knew there were many different meanings to that word, but since VSS 2012, oh boy, I had no idea how many permutations and combinations there were. There's online, asynchronous, synchronous, blended, office hours, virtual, brick and mortar.....and now I see, kind of, sort of where I fit in. If anyone wishes to add, or make corrections, please feel free to comment below, I'm just trying to sort it all out in my head. Constructing my own learning, if you will:

The basics, about which there is little debate:

  • asynchronous = not live, not bound by time, whatever happens doesn't require that everyone be in the same place at the same time, for example, a recorded lesson can be listened to anytime, an assessment can be done by a student at any time, or a blog post can be written at any time.
  • synchronous = live, bound by time, whatever happens does require that everyone be in the same place at the same time, for example, a live lecture, a or a class collaborating to create a review outline, or students all writing as assessment at the same time
  • learning management system (LMS) = a tool that the teacher uses to deliver content, assessments, and to track what, when, and how students have fulfilled the requirements, for example, moodle
  • brick and mortar = the ultimate synchronous experience, anything that happens in an actual building, everyone is there at the same time AND physical place. Also called face-to-face, or f2f.
Now for "online", about which there is infinite debate:
  • online, to anyone not involved in education = anything that happens over the internet, learning or not, ie reading a blog, playing a game, using an online tool, social in, I'm chatting online
  • online, to anyone involved in education = teaching/learning that happens on the internet, and can mean any combination of asynchronous and synchronous, anywhere on this continuum:
    • At the left extreme, all asynchronous delivery of course content, with no synchronous component, ie students listen to lessons, do assessments, and don't meet with the teacher or other students. Teachers keep track of students' progress via the LMS. These classes tend to have huge numbers of students in them, sometimes over a thousand.
    • At the right, it's all live classes, 100% synchronous delivery of course content, ie everyone meets in a virtual classroom, such as Elluminate, Zenlive, or Adobe Connect. The course content is delivered to everyone during that time. Students may interact with the teacher and each other. Teachers don't need an LMS in this scenario, but the live lessons are often recorded and made available to students afterward. These classes tend to have small numbers of students, perhaps 15 - 25 kids.
    • In between these extremes seems to be where most people/organizations are, in any of the many combos. For example, many virtual schools use asynchronous delivery of course content and assessments via an LMS, with some synchronous component, ie students meet with the teacher individually or in groups during the teacher's office hours. The teachers make extensive use of the info in the LMS to tailor the meeting according to the individual needs of the students The meeting between the teacher and the student takes place in a virtual classroom environment, such as Elluminate, Zenlive, or Adobe Connect, where the teacher is often having private conversations with as many as 20 students at a time. The enrollment in these classes tends to be somewhere in the hundreds.
**(We heard some astonishingly honest, moving, and enthusiastic testimony from a panel of students about how they feel about their online classes, and teachers, more about that later.)**

Blended learning:
  • can mean online learning anywhere between the two extremes on the above continuum
  • can mean a combination of online and brick and mortar, or f2f  learning. Oh boy, how do I work that into the continuum? I won't.
Where do I fit in?

Definitely somewhere in between the two ends, but I think closer to the synchronous end. When I started teaching for LearnQuebec, I was all synchronous. I was doing pretty much what I had been doing for the 20 years prior to that in the brick and mortar classroom. I taught, kids took notes, I gave them homework, they came back the next day with questions etc, pretty standard stuff.

Then I started getting the kids to blog, which moved me away from 100% synchronous, because that took place outside of class. We talked about their blogging and commenting in class, so there was some real blending.

Then I started flipping my classroom, which moved me a bit further to the left. Things have evolved since then, so here's the breakdown:

Asynchronous components: Anytime outside of class, students:
  • watch lessons on voicethread
  • comment, ask, or answer questions on voicethread
  • blog and reflect on content
  • use gizmos on
  • do assessments on
  • do assignments to be handed in
Synchronous components: During class time, which we all have everyday by the way, students:
  • explore the content before the voicethread (often using geogebra, sometimes introductory problem)
  • reinforce the content after the voicethread (practice on eboard, discuss voicethread questions, make and present summaries) 
  • apply the content after several voicethreads (often using geogebra, solving situational problems, collaborate to make chapter summary)
  • get individual help/intervention from me
  • etc it's all still evolving....if you're flipping, you know how it is, it's pure magic and it's never done
Now that I've gotten that burning post out of my head, time to get to the wonderful ideas I heard about. I will next be posting about two fantastic sessions that I attended, one on game-based learning by Andrew Miller (@betamiller), and one on pbl as related to competencies, also by Andrew, co-presenter Rose Colby (@rose_rosecolby).

In the meantime, stay safe during this "frankenstorm"!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

When Your Audience is Loaded for Bear

Last Friday, I and my colleague Peggy Drolet (@PeggyONeillDr) , did a presentation on the Flipped Class for the CQSB's "This is I.T." ped day in Quebec City. It was almost the exact same presentation we did in June, at a conference called STEM Quebec, and we were blown away by the differences in audience reaction.

Rewind to last June: The group in June was a large one, over 40 participants, all math or science teachers. We had tried to flip it by emailing a short video to our participants ahead of time, providing hands-on things to do during the session, and giving individual help. At the time, it seemed to go well, we had most saying that they would try flipping, good reviews, but now I realize that the enthusiasm was nowhere near what we had Friday.

Friday's group was very small, only about a dozen people, from all subject areas and all levels. We hadn't had their emails ahead of time, so we weren't able to send anything in advance. Friday morning, as we rehearsed and got ready, we realized that we really didn't have any idea of who our audience really would be. So Peggy had this idea: We asked them to do something as they sat waiting for the session to begin.We left post-it notes on the desks, and had a single slide displayed on the smartboard as people walked in:

While you're waiting, please complete this sentence on the post-it:

"My one burning question about the flipped class is......" 

As we went around saying hi, we asked them to post their questions on the sideboard. Just before beginning our presentation, we had a quick look at the post-its. Only one question was "What is flipping the class?" The rest were very specific, like:
  • What do you do if a student hasn't watched the video?
  • What happens during class?
  • How do you find the time?
  • Is it applicable in grade 1?
This was our first clue that these people were loaded for bear. (More about what we did with those post-its later.)

Next hint came about 10 minutes later, when we started the first hands-on activity, which was to get them to try out voicethread. We wanted them to get the hang of the tool, not to spend time creating a lesson and slides. To facilitate that, before the session, we had created some really short and simple slides on various subjects, like history:



and art:

We had uploaded the slides to voicethread, but we didn't put any comments, voice or otherwise, into them. That was the part we wanted them to do - to change it into a lesson! We used this website to deliver the links so they could quickly select a topic and start turning it into a lesson by adding their voice, drawing, or whatever they wanted.

Rewind to June: This was exactly what we had done in June, except that then, it was only math topics. At that time, there were issues with connectivity, and we may not have been very clear about what we wanted people to do, because I remember we were pretty busy going around and helping individual people. I do remember questions like how do you get this or that effect in powerpoint, or where did you get that virtual TI calculator, how much time do you have to spend prepping when you flip. Good questions, but now that I look back I realize they didn't contain a lot of "Wow I really want to try this out" subtext.

But on Friday, within minutes, there were people asking if they could upload their own powerpoints and make their own actual lessons, not pretend lessons just for today, real ones! Peggy did an impromptu demo of uploading to voicethread, something we hadn't anticipated people asking about! And people were asking questions like:

  • Do the students have to get a voicethread account too?
  • Are teacher accounts included when you get the whole school account?
  • Can you make it so that only you see their comments?
  • Can you upload other types of files besides powerpoint?
Now THESE had subtext - unmistakable subtext - you only ask these when you've already started flipping in your mind.

In fact, the questions just kept coming as we continued our presentation, which covered, among other things, using googledocs for collaborative activities, class management strategies, and student feedback. We had anticipated most of the questions and concerns in our presentation, which was a great validation for us. One thing we noticed was how quickly and frequently that golden question came up:

"What happens during class?"

My answer? Magic! Well, I said more than just that.

And about those little post-its:

One of the last things we did was to go through the post-its, and sort out the questions we had already answered from those we hadn't. Happily, there were more in the former pile than the latter. We then went through the as-yet-unanswered ones and addressed them. I LOVED this strategy! Peggy, you are a genius!

Final thoughts:

Reasons for the differences? 
  • Well in June, I suspect most teachers are fried. It's enough to get people to show up at a conference then, never mind getting them to do homework before a session. There was enthusiasm, but it was isolated.
  • We had a much bigger group in June, which automatically makes things more formal, which makes it harder to connect. I'm not saying we didn't connect, just that it was harder to happen and to detect.
  • We didn't use that post-it thingy in June, so we didn't know our audience very well. Mind you, it might have been a bit tough to manage with that many people, but we would have benefited from something like it.
  • We definitely weren't clear enough, either time, about the whole voicethread activity, got to fix that next time.
  • Our room was like a crucible for flippers on Friday. There were many sessions going on at the same time, and we had some fierce competition. There was one on Digital Storytelling (by my incredibly inspirational and insightful colleague Susan Van Gelder), one on Twitter for teachers, two on gizmos, one on vodcasting, and lots more. So the people who came to us were really there to hear about flipping.
For next time:
  • Ixnay on the googledocs activity, I think it applies more to our online situation than to the brick and mortar one.
  • LOTS more about class activities, suggestions:
    • ask participants what have you always wanted to do in class but never had time to?
    • groups making summaries of lesson, comparing/presenting
    • working on research projects
    • partner quizzes (will be trying that soon myself - tks @daliazygas for the idea)
    • activities to introduce topic before watching video
    • activities to deepen understanding
  • demo more ways to make lessons, eg recording with the smartboard while you're just doing your regular teaching this year, in order to be ready to flip next year
  • don't have a raging cold on the day of the presentation
One more thing, thanks to Evernote once again, all the ideas that keep popping into my head are so easily retained now that I can just say them into my phone, and they get filed where I can find them later, like, for example, when I'm writing a blog post. I love my phone. I love my job. I love my colleagues. Bet you didn't know there would be so much corn in October did you?