What a journey the past 13 months have been. I’ve spent a great amount of time in the last year focusing on the implementation of my innovation plan in our middle school grade levels, however, for the last 5 weeks, I’ve been able to focus some of that attention into creating a blended, online learning course called, “A Collaborative Digital Storytelling Project”, for my 8th grade photography students.
In the process of designing any online course, I’ve come to the conclusion that the constructivist learning theory is one that allows the learner to gain knowledge and form opinions through the engagement between peers, rather than the traditional learning method of memorization. I’ve given very careful thought to the materials that I have chosen to include in my course, and with the addition of the weekly discussion boards within the course, learners are able to gain knowledge and meaning through personal reflection and the exchange of dialogue between each other.
Fink’s 3 column table method allowed me to essentially plan this course using an backward design approach. Rather than create this course from beginning to end, using my 3 column table allowed me begin with the end in mind. In other words, learning goals were established long before the actual course was designed, and in turn, this gave me the opportunity to come up with various learning activities in which the learners could meet those learning goals.
I also found that the Schoology LMS was a great platform for creating this online course. I love the way I was able to break down my course any way I chose while still keeping the interface fairly simple for my middle school students to use. One thing that I’ve realized is that, while many learners are more receptive to learning through the use of technology, it is important not to come to the conclusion that students know everything about technology just because we live in a time where it surrounds us in everything we do. It is still important to guide them, especially when using a system that they are not familiar with. For this reason, I decided to create a screen cast video for my students to walk them through the basics of logging into Schoology, joining the online course and maneuvering the website/course. I thought this would be a fairly short 3 minute video or so, however, by the time I hit finish, my video was 11 minutes long! I contemplated whether it was too long for my students, but after watching it a few times, I think everything that I covered were things they need to know.. and things they might question as they go along. I figured it was better for me to cover all bases than potentially loose valuable class time over tech issues. I decided to insert this video in the homepage of my online course. That way the students can’t miss it, and can go back to it anytime during the course, if they feel the need to.
While I don’t think online learning is replacing face to face instruction in our Pre K-8 school anytime soon, I do realize the importance of giving our students the online learning experience. We want our students to go on to high school and college, and ultimately into the workforce, feeling confident and experienced with using technology. By providing our students with these types of experiences, we are giving them valuable life lessons, as well as enhancing the learning experience for them. I’ve said many times that the inclusion of technology in our teachings must be meaningful, purposeful and must enhance the learning experience for our students. We simply cannot switch to digital “just because we can”.
While chatting with some of my peers, I’ve also come to know of various different online offerings that are available for both students and educators. Some of the ones that I’ve been looking at include some FREE online courses through iTunes U. I’ve actually known of iTunes U, Apple’s learning and education “university”, for quite some time, but admit that I haven’t been on and searched it for quite some time. I was reminded of the incredible amount of free resources that are on there. I’ve also looked at Canvas, an LMS that I wasn’t aware of at all. Canvas is another learning management system, similar to Schoology. I haven’t created an course on Canvas, but am glad to know of other LMS platforms. Blackboard is another LMS, that I have come to know very well, as this is the LMS that Lamar University uses for all of it’s online courses. Udemy, Edx and Moodle are other resources I’ve come to know through the discussion with peers.
The main thing that I have taken from this course is that we, the teachers and course developers, are never finished. As I mentioned to some of my graduate peers this week, one thing that’s been replaying in my mind is that funny, but crazy annoying song we all know from when we were kids, “This is the song that doesn’t end… Yes it goes on and on, my friend..” This process never ends for us. There is constant feedback being received and tweaking and enhancements we continue to make for the sake of our students. Creating an online course is something I have never done prior to this course, and now, I see the potential it has for our school and students. I’m now thinking of different lessons and professional learning opportunities it has for even our staff! This graduate course came along at the perfect time, and I’m both excited and thankful for it allowing me to open my eyes to another realm of possibilities!