Wide Open Spaces….or should they closed?

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Photo Credit: HendersonStateU Flickr via Compfight cc

This past week has been HECTIC! I cannot wait for course registration and course registration parent meetings are done with for the 2017-2018 school year so I can move on and stop tabulating and checking that students are registering for the appropriate/correct number of classes, not to mention trying to convince Grade 11s that if they don’t register for courses next year, they are not going to graduate….oh the joys of being Career Counsellor!!

This week we were asked to blog about how creating an open space might change the way in which we set up our online/blended learning courses and activities that we complete in our classes. In reading the various posts from our EC&I834 classmates, I was reminded of an experience that I had as a teacher several years back (although I have no idea how I forgot it!).

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Jewish cemetery at Theresienstadt via Photo Credit: Tine van Voorst Flickr via Compfight cc

I was travelling with another teacher and students to Europe on an EF tour and we were to be visiting several different concentration camps from World War II. As “homework” for the students who were travelling with us, we had our students read two books written by a Holocaust survivor who lived in Toronto, Vera Schiff. These two books, Theresienstadt and Hitler’s Inferno told about life in the Holocaust and Theresienstadt told Vera’s story of her time in the camp. The students read the books and were engrossed in Vera’s experiences and the horrors she experienced. Then, we had the opportunity to Skype with Vera. Students came up with questions and we were able to ask her about her experiences “first hand”. To top it all off, by chance she came to the University of Regina for a speaking engagement and we were able to take some of the students travelling to meet her and have coffee with her. Less than a month later, we were walking through the remains of Theresienstadt, nothing could have been more authentic than the experience that these students (and I) had, being able to meet someone who lived through the horrors and then visiting the place where this had happened.

I think that it is fair to say that those students will forever have a deeper understanding and respect for the Holocaust than many their age because of the opportunity that they had to meet Vera and talk to her face to face. This is not always the case but I believe that creating forums or blogs that are open for our students to interact with those that are experts in their field is an amazing way to encourage our students to create a positive digital footprint and learn how to interact with others online, following the proper netiquette. Just as Danielle has been able to interact with the author of her textbook, how amazing would it be if our students could interact with the author of their favourite book or someone who is a primary source for a specific topic, someone who was there and can explain things first hand.

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via GIFY

Megan hit on an important point in introducing an open platform for our students to interact with the outside world, we need to scaffold them to being able to do this. Our students, although completely submerged in our current digital age, need help to understand that once you put something on the internet, it cannot be taken back. Nicole, Chalyn, and Aimee discussed this in their posts as well and this can be a difficult thing to understand, that what we post to the internet will be there forever and will reflect on the student….forever.

We also cannot be introducing technologies into our classrooms for the sake of introducing technology. As Graham stated, technology does not equal better learning, it is only a tool that, when used properly, has the ability to create better learning. We need to start with who our students are and, based on their personalities and comfort levels in posting online, integrate technologies as we see fits our students. These technologies will change with the subject of the course (Math will be different than English), the age of the student (more versus less open depending on age) and the comfort level of the those that will be doing the posting (will we share with the world or be intimidated by this process) as well as of our administration and the parents involved in the process. There are so many factors that educators must consider, there is no “one case fits all” for the level of openness your classroom may have.

Ideally, and based on my personal experiences, I would love to have a completely open, online course where outsiders can help contribute to my students learning through blog comments or forum posts. I have seen how being able to talk to or meet someone who witnessed history has changed a students’ perception of the importance of the history and would love to see this insight in more students across multiple subjects but I understand that my students, my administration, and the parents of my students probably have a little ways to go in their comfort levels of this. For now, I have my prototype as a closed course, where my students would be able to interact with each other where they feel safe and not intimidated by the whole of the internet reading their thoughts, questions, and ideas. In the future….wide open (learning) spaces!

I think I might be addicted to change….

At the beginning of this week, I was working on one blended learning course, Calculus 30, that would be used as my prototype for #ECI834. Then Wednesday hit….and I decided why not jump right in and start a flipped classroom with my Foundations and Precalculus 10 students, I could use a little change! (And increased prep work I suppose!)

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Jumping into the abyss! via GIPHY

This is not the first time I have pitched a flipped classroom to my students to see if they would like to try it out with me (I have tried several times with Precalculus 30, a HUGE course content-wise, but never received any interest) and I expected the same response: “Ummmm………no.” So what’s different this time? Almost half of my students are in band which is a “pull-out” program in our school meaning that they miss my math class once in every six-day cycle to go to band class. This same group of students missed Friday and will be away on Monday as they are in Banff for a band trip. A good chunk of these students are going to be missing for four days in April as they are going to Europe on an EF Tour to attend the 100th celebration of the Battle at Vimy Ridge. These students miss a lot of instructional time and view the flipped classroom as a way to minimize what they miss and provide them with an efficient way to catch up.

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Screenshot of my Google Form

So, Wednesday night, I was creating and videoing lessons, referencing those that already use a flipped classroom such as Ashley, coming up with formative assessments, and deciding how this was going to look (check out the blog site I created here). Thursday, we watched the lesson as a group and filled out the skeleton notes I had provided them. I felt it was important to model what they should be doing at home and answer any questions about the process, I do not want them to be disengaged because they are having difficulties with the process, as mentioned by Seethamraju in this week’s reading. This process was slower than it would probably be for most students watching the videos at home, but, I feel (hope) that it was valuable to them to go over it together. We then went over the formative assessment I created on Google Forms where I have asked them to answer 3 questions so I can see if they “get it” or not. I am hoping to use this to help decide if I need to address certain students individually on their understandings or if I need to reteach something as a large group. The big test of the process will be how many students have prepared and watched the lesson in advance of Monday’s lesson…….

This flipped classroom does not have a lot of online interaction outside of grabbing the appropriate links and going (much like Nicole mentions about her Weebly page), but I get to see these students every day and I set it up from scratch in one night. If we (the students and I) agree that this is effective, I will continue the flipped classroom beyond this unit and hopefully grow it into a more interactive community.

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Photo via @WeAreTeachers Twitter account

My Calculus 30 prototype does have these interactive aspects. Melinda mentions that she had not given much thought to interactions between students and with the instructor prior to the blog prompt and I find that I was the opposite. This is, in part, to the fact that I am already teaching this as a distance-ish course and have regularly received emails in the past of a picture of a question asking how to complete it. I am a big believer in encouraging collaboration within my classroom and will often direct students to each other to help them understand. One of my professors in my undergrad described that teaching demonstrates the deepest understanding and that has stuck with me and I have found that it usually is true. The image above is somewhat similar to what was shared with me so long ago.

My prototype is on Canvas and Google+ (at the moment, I’m thinking of changing that up a little) with the Google+ community where I see online collaboration occurring. I would encourage students to post questions they don’t understand or ask questions of each other and myself and come up with solutions and understandings together, instead of from the teacher who stands at the front of the room.

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Photo Credit: Debbieallendale Flickr via Compfight cc

I have thought about using the discussion board feature within Canvas but my own experiences with discussion boards have been poor. I have experienced the feeling of frustration when others dominate the discussion and post so often I feel that there is nothing left for me to add that will be valuable and unique. This is a concern that arises often and needs to be addressed according the edutopia handbook, Mastering Online Discussion Board Facilitation and this is deterring me from wanting to use them. I like the more informal version of discussion we have in our Google+ Community as I feel it better encourages the development of relationships. I fear, like Logan, this is not as cut and dry as it is in the classroom, it needs more work in an online platform. Benita mentions the “5 R’s” from Schwier’s Shaping the Metaphor of Community in Online Learning Environments: “rules, roles, rounds, rituals, and ringers”. This gives a great place to start thinking about the tasks that you could assign in the discussion board of your LMS and has caused me to sit back a bit and think of if/how this changes my personal feelings about discussion boards. I’m not done this thinking process and am still grappling with how I would use it.

A common theme from this week’s posts (Melinda, Adam, and Kelsie to name a few who talked about it) has been the use of Flipgrid and, as I haven’t checked it out yet, I decided that maybe now it was time. After playing with it a little, I think this is more in line with what I would like for a discussion board, something that is more interactive and personal. So maybe my thinking is changing….but I think I need more time.

What have your discussion board experiences been like? Do you prefer the traditional typed version of a discussion board or the interactive one of tools such as Flipgrid?