Digital Learning & Leading Journey Synthesis

It’s a little crazy to think about how much can change in just 18 months.  18 months ago, I was in my third year of teaching as an Early Childhood/Middle School photography teacher.  I was brand new and excited to be teaching.  While I was still somewhat new to the school and to teaching, I knew that I wanted to be more than a teacher.

I wanted to be a leader.

Now, 18 months later, I’m wrapping up the last course of my graduate studies through Lamar University and getting ready to walk across the stage at graduation!  In this short amount of time, I’ve made some great connections with other educators across the country and have learned so much about what it means to be a great educator, however, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now without the help and encouragement of my school administration.  It was through a discussion on personal and professional goals with my Headmaster and Head of EC/Lower School, that I mentioned that I was thinking about going back to school.  I received some great feedback and suggestions from both of them, and had they not pointed me in the right direction, I don’t think I would have gone to grad school as soon as I did, and I’m not entirely sure I would have discovered Lamar University and/or the DLL program.  It’s funny how life plays out.

Throughout the 18 month long journey of the Digital Learning and Leading program, I’ve had some pretty great learning experiences.  While the non traditional COVA approach to learning took a little bit of an adjustment for me, I realize that this is also what empowered me as a learner and educator.  Sure, in the beginning that was a little bit of frustration because I wanted my assignments to have yes or no answers.  Either I got it right or wrong, but there wasn’t any of that.  While teaching and learning based on the COVA model is hard, it’s really an adjustment that needs to be made.  I can see where many schools are not yet ready to embrace COVA- it’s too risky, giving up the control.

We just need to continue to find ways to be facilitators of learning and not dictators.

When I stop and think of the accomplishments I’ve made in the program, I realize that the results are too great.  What this program has done for me goes further than the accomplishments.  Aside from the amounts of work and late hours, I’ve gained even more confidence in myself as an educator and as a leader.  The assignments have definitely been worthwhile and have helped push me into more of a leadership role in my school.  My innovation plan, which has taken up most of my focus during this program hasn’t gone unnoticed by my administration- in fact, they want to see and hear more and have given me opportunities to show what I have learned and try it with my students.  That in itself is a big accomplishment for me.  I know that it’s not that easy for many in this country, and that for many teachers, their voices and proposals go unheard or are given very little thought.  For many in the public school system, there are countless hoops to go through to initiate change.  I realize how difficult it can be, and I’m grateful to be at a school that listens to it’s teachers and allows them to try new approaches and ideas.

Another “tangible” accomplishment that I am proud is this ePortfolio.  Looking back at a year and half’s worth of work all housed in my ePortfolio is pretty amazing to reflect back on.  I had fun giving my ePortfolio a little bit of personality and making it my own, and I also love being able to refer my site to colleagues and other administrators in my organization.  The work speaks for itself.

Take a moment and Sway with me.  Check out the visual presentation below to see what this experience has been like for me.  If you want to further your professional teaching career and are thinking about entering into an online Masters program, look into Lamar University.  This program has taken me to places that weren’t even on my radar 18 months ago.

All of these things helped package the innovation plan quite nicely as I presented it to my administration, and the response that I got from them was receptive as they gave me the go ahead to pilot ePortfolios in my fine art elective class for the 2016-2017 school year.

About six months ago, I revisited the original innovation plan and refined and tweaked some things.  As I was rereading the literature and making adjustments, I realized that this is something that is constantly evolving.  With the help of some of my classmates, we created an updated literature review supporting ePortfolios in the classroom.  As I look back at this timeline of important dates I created, I’m happy to say that we’ve stayed on track for the 2016-2017 school year.  This last year was a pilot year for me, as well as an educational year for my colleagues, as I had the opportunity to lead a year long in-house PLC group with a handful of my colleagues.  During our monthly meetings, we discussed student ePortfolios and the benefits of having them for our 6-8th grade students.  We created a group ePortfolio and had the opportunity to present our findings with the entire school faculty and administration during May inservice.  Below is the Timeline of Important Dates that was created in December 2016.  The text in read are my current reflections and comments of the progress made, what worked and what didn’t work, and what could have been done better.

Timeline of Important Dates

August 2016-May 2017

Begin implementation of the innovation plan in the 8th Grade Photography elective class. The pilot will last one full school year.  Distribute anonymous surveys to students at the conclusion of the photography elective each quarter.

This year has been an exciting year of experimentation and collaboration.  After much research on student ePortfolios, I decided I was going to pilot ePortfolios in my 8th grade digital photography class.  While the students were very excited to be able to create something that they could add a little personality to, we found that the challenging part was creating it in such a short amount of time.  I found that the students were not able to create and maintain an ePortfolio in only 1 Quarter, as this photography class is a rotating group, with new students each quarter.  Another challenge we ran into was that we were trying to split valuable class time in teaching how to create and maintain an ePortfolio, and actually photographing projects.  Designing and ePortfolio could be a class all on its own!  What I wanted students to get out of the ePortfolio, was to take advantage of the opportunity to reflect on the projects and photographs they created.  The process of self reflection is an important one, and I wanted them to actively reflect on what they were learning.  By piloting the ePortfolios in only photography class, some of them just look like photography websites, instead of an ePortfolio that houses all sorts of thoughts, projects and other artifacts.  If there were a way to begin the ePortfolio process in 6th grade, in a variety of subjects, I believe this could be something powerful that students could take with them and continue to use in high school and college.

January 3, 2017

PLC discoveries and surprises about assessments.  A halfway “checkpoint” in which each PLC group will present to all faculty and staff the findings and surprises they have come across up until this point. Begin collecting and analyzing data.

At this hallway point in the year, our PLC group made a brief presentation of the progress we have made for the first half of the year in our findings for using ePortfolios as an alternative form of assessment.  This was just a mid-year checkpoint as we were looking at the impact ePortfolios could have on our students and teachers.  We discussed how before implementing student ePortfolios, the teachers and educators first had to be familiar with what they were, and how to maintain an ePortfolio ourselves.  We cannot enforce ePortfolios on our learners without having learned how to use them ourselves.  We decided that we would spend the next 5 months making a group ePortfolio to present to the faculty in May.  

May 31, 2017

Collect and analyze the data that has been collected during this pilot year. Share and communicate the results with a group presentation to all faculty and staff during work week.

Once school let out, our PLC group had the opportunity to present our findings of the ePortfolio to the rest of the faculty and staff at our school.  We created https://pseportfolios.wordpress.com as a visual for the rest of the school to see our thoughts and findings of the ePortfolio.  What was challenging here was that we are all fine art teachers and librarians- not your typical core subject teachers in which we might have students post artifacts of their learning, however, we understood that we cannot initiate change without using and being familiar with the process first.  We created the website and divided it into the different subjects that we taught and we each reflected and posted how we (the educators) might use ePortfolios.  The idea was to create a visual for everyone else and to speak of the powerful benefits that this can give our students, especially because we are a PreK-8 school, and as mentioned in the proposal video, the private high school application process in Houston is just as grueling, if not more than college applications.   

May 2017- May 2018

Reflect on the pilot process with the Director of Fine Arts, Headmaster, Head of Middle School and middle school advisories and discuss whether the plan will be extended to other subjects and grade levels.

Extending the plan to all middle school students to have and maintain an ePortfolio will be something we gradually expand over a 2-3 year period.

** This is where were currently are in our student ePortfolio implementation.  I’ve had the opportunity to share my thoughts of the ePortfolio with the school and pilot them in my fine art class.  While there are still some kinks to work out (like moving from WordPress to other possible platforms), we have stayed on track for most of the year.  The next step is to sit and discuss if and when we can expand ePortfolio implementation to other grade levels and subjects.  We realize that this is something that will not happen all at once, which is why we’ve given a 2-3 year period for middle school expansion.  There needs to be additional teacher professional learning opportunities in the area of ePortfolios, and more meeting with Covenant, our school’s IT team.  I will be out of school until early- mid November on maternity leave, but plan to continue to check in and help when I can.  If there’s anything I have learned, it is that no change initiative can be effective without the proper support team in place.  I have said all along that I don’t want to inspire teachers and let them fail, I want to be there to help support them along the way, but I realize that I cannot do this on my own.  I need a team to help support middle teachers with trouble shooting and other roadblocks that might pop up along the way.  

 

 

Sway With Me!

I took the opportunity to play around with a new digital tool (for me at least!) for this digital resources reflection.  I hadn’t heard of Sway before this week, but thanks to a fellow classmate and teacher, I got to playing around with it and really loved it!

I used Sway to address crucial questions when reflecting on how digital technology has impacted my life both personally and professionally.  Additionally, I talk about ways in which educators can stay current on changes, updates and trends in education, and how we can continue to further our own learning opportunities.

Please take a moment and Sway with me!

A Personal Reflection & Analyzing Online Learning

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.

Storytelling
http://www.thescribo.com/storytelling/

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!

 

Converting Courses to an LMS Platform

I’ve worked endlessly the last 4 weeks on creating an online course for a fun collaboration project between my 8th Grade photography students and my Betas.  I’ve been SO pleased with the outcome, and I’m ecstatic that my idea for this has been accepted by my department heads.  I’ll be starting this course THIS week in my fine art elective class!

The process of creating this online course has gotten my wheels turning.  I’m beginning to see the potential and the convenience an online course can bring for our students and even teachers and faculty in my school.  I’ve mentioned before that this year, Presbyterian School is focusing on looking at our assessments.  Is the way we are currently assessing our students in the classroom effective?  Are there alternative forms of assessment we should be looking at?  Throughout this year, PLC groups have been meeting monthly to brainstorm, research and present different ways we can be assessing in the classroom.  There’s a mathematical mindset, EC assessment, creative writing and ePortfolio group, just to name a few.  At the end of the school year, once school has let out, there will be a large group, professional learning meeting in which each group will have the opportunity to present their findings to all of the faculty.  I’ve started to think- What if we somehow created an all online PL course in which each of these “assessment groups” have a designated unit in the course so that teachers and faculty can access and complete the course on their own time?  I obviously haven’t worked out all the details yet, but I think it would be great to enter in all of this great information into Schoology, or another LMS and have teachers join the course on their own time, instead of losing valuable time in the classroom.  I think it’s something worth looking into!

Another idea I’ve had recently is to create an online course for middle school students as they prepare to begin creating their own ePortfolios.  I’ve had the opportunity to pilot ePortfolios in my 8th grade fine art elective, however the goal is to have all middle school students in grades 6-8 to have an ePortfolio.  One that they can use to house important artifacts and projects for their school work.  In discussing this with my supervisors, we realize that we do not necessarily want them to use a school template, or to create the ePortfolio through their school email, because we want our students to continue to use the ePortfolios in high school and college.  Trying to teach students how to create and maintain an ePortfolio during normal class time is challenging, because there is so much information to relay, and while I want to cover that information, I cannot afford to loose too much of my class time for ePortfolios and not be able to cover the class information I need to be teaching.  I’ve already said, teaching students about ePortfolios and helping them in creating one is another class entirely, and well, why not create an online course on ePortfolios?  I can break down the course in different units, and post all materials and assignments in Schoology.  I think something like this would be so beneficial for our students, and will not take away valuable class time from teachers.

There are just a couple ideas I’ve had since starting the process of designing an online class.  The possibility are endless!

Designing an Online Course | A Progress Post

I’ve spent the last 3 weeks carefully designing an exciting 5 week online course for my 8th grade photography students.  Last week, I mentioned that I was in the process of carefully selecting which resources I wanted to add into the course for my middle schoolers.  Things like videos, article readings and case studies.  Since then, I’ve uploaded just about everything into Schoology, the LMS platform I decided to go with.  I have all resources, discussion topics and weekly assignments and activities already in the course.  What I’ve focused on this week, is creating a screencast video for my students that will help them login to Schoology, access the course, and maneuver that course.  Schoology is a system that our school has not worked with before, and so I felt the need to help guide my students with a video on how to login in and access all course information.

In addition to the screencast video, I’ve also completed a very detailed outline of what will be covered and what will be expected of students each week.  You may access the full outline here.

It’s been a great experience designing this course so far, and while nearly all of the content has been uploaded, I’m still making some tweaks and minor adjustments here and there.  I know this will such a great collaborative project, one that our school hasn’t quite done before, so I’m excited the see that work and relationships that come out of my students.

An Action Research Plan

In my most recent graduate course, I’ve been able to refine and tweak things in my innovation plan.  I’ve revisited the literature, and with the help of a few of my classmates, have worked on a collaborative literature review in which we take an in depth look at what a student ePortfolio is, how they can be of benefit to the student, and how maintaining an ePortfolio can boost student engagement in class.  This has been a year long project for me, and every time I think I am happy with it, I realize that this isn’t something that is every going to be complete.  My plan is constantly evolving, just as technology is constantly evolving around us.  

With help of my classmates, colleagues and professors, I’ve developed this Action Research Plan, in which I address my topic of research, the focus of the research (my research question), and my collaborative literature review, among other things.  This has been a long, but worthwhile journey. Thanks for joining me on this ride.

 

The topic of the action research

As is the norm in middle and high school elective courses, students may elect 2-3 courses offered that might be of interest to them. This doesn’t always mean that student schedules reflect what they picked. Often times, students are put into electives that are of no interest to them, which then presents its challenges in seeing meaningful, conceptual work from the student. How might the use of the student ePortfolios enhance student engagement?

The purpose of the study

If one were to think about what it means to enhance student engagement in an art course, what is really sought after is an increase in student ownership. The idea is to have students involved in the discussion of art and passionate about the art that they create, readily available to support their art in writings and discussion. For many students, there is a lack of generated interest in the electives they choose, which in turn affects the effort they put forth in creating art.

The fundamental research question

What impact will the regular posting of photographs, artifacts and student reflections through an ePortfolio have on student engagement in the 8th grade photography elective?

The research design and research methods

The mixed-method approach will be used to gather the necessary data in this action research study.

The type of data to be collected

The data collected from the mixed-method approach will provide a supportive balance between qualitative and quantitative data. While the voices and opinions of students recorded through interviews and reflections are of great value, so is the data collected from pre/post student surveys. Ongoing observations and documentation of student engagement and work ethic will also be taking place.

The measurement instruments that will be used

Data will be collected in a variety of ways.  I will continue to use my personal observations of my students throughout the elective course, along with individual interviews during and after the course has been completed.  Students will be able to compete surveys anonymously to protect their identities and keep their information private.

Literature review

The literature review provides an in depth at ICT in schools while also providing an understanding of what an ePortfolio is, how they can be beneficial for students, and challenges that might arise in implementation of ePortfolios in schools.

The literature review also focuses on the effects ePortfolios have on student engagement, specifically in fine art electives in the middle school level.

Timeline of Important Dates

August 2016-May 2017

Begin implementation of the innovation plan in the 8th Grade Photography elective class. The pilot will last one full school year.  Distribute anonymous surveys to students at the conclusion of the photography elective each quarter.

January 3, 2017

PLC discoveries and surprises about assessments.  A halfway “checkpoint” in which each PLC group will present to all faculty and staff the findings and surprises they have come across up until this point. Begin collecting and analyzing data.

May 31, 2017

Collect and analyze the data that has been collected during this pilot year. Share and communicate the results with a group presentation to all faculty and staff during work week.

May 2017- May 2018

Reflect on the pilot process with the Director of Fine Arts, Headmaster, Head of Middle School and middle school advisories and discuss whether the plan will be extended to other subjects and grade levels.

Extending the plan to all middle school students to have and maintain an ePortfolio will be something we gradually expand over a 2-3 year period