Tag Archives: edu

we… i… still need a better online classroom

CC-licensed photo by walker cleavelands.

Last summer, i wrote what might be my most well-read blog post about my dissatisfaction with online education… both the class I was taking at the time and the class I just finished teaching came to mind. there was, as i saw it, a lot to improve on, but i didn’t think that the mechanics of the class I taught were anywhere near as bad as the one that I was taking.

Yesterday’s New York Times had an article about Idaho teachers resisting technology. My favorite paragraph from the article is:

She said she was mystified by the requirement that students take online courses. She is taking some classes online as she works toward her master’s degree, and said they left her uninspired and less informed than in-person classes. Ms. Rosenbaum said she could not fathom how students would have the discipline to sit in front of their computers and follow along when she had to work each minute to keep them engaged in person.

Published just as I finished a semester taking two online classes and still teaching one of my own, I think the online classroom is a topic worth visiting again.

In the first online class (Class A) I took this semester, things were very structured — something that, as the class started, I was very happy with. The course met synchronously every week, and there were no other class discussions or sessions outside of the weekly meetings. The course was front-loaded with LOADS of reading and every assignment except one was group work due on very specific dates — even the final paper was a group project, difficult when everybody in the group lives in a different place, most in different timezones, and some in different countries. The course built towards two collaborative classes with students in Japan and seemed to lose focus after that, and the wheels all but came off the bus when the professor took time during the last class to explain why the course was laid out as it was and what her goals for the class were — we were getting this at the very end of an instructional design course. Group papers.. and the endless Adobe Connect meetings to facilitate them… were just a terrible exercise in frustration. I got no feedback during the trimester on how I was doing, no grade on any assignments, and I’m still waiting for a final semester grade.

The second class I just finished (Class B) up had me worried from the very beginning. Recalling the class I took last summer, there were no meeting times, just a lot of discussion on the class Blackboard space. Everyone was required to contribute on Blackboard every week, and there was an optional synchonrous meeting every week on Adobe Connect. To be honest, I went to the optional sessions — even though it was clear that they would have no bearing on class performance — to make up for my infrequent and last-minute weekly comments. The professor gave regular feedback via direct email, discussion feedback, and during the webinars. Both papers due for the class had suggested due dates, and I did much worse meeting that deadline with the final paper. I ended up really happy with how the course went, not only because the grade I got ended up being pretty good, and not only becuase I rather enjoyed the subject matter, but mostly because I felt like I was an active part of the class for the entire semester. Not only that, but I felt like I had a voice throughout, and a professor who was about as responsive as I could have hoped he was. (Several of us in the class are even going to do an online book club with the professor in the coming weeks, reading both The Shallows and Constitution 3.0 and discussing them online.)

“The role of the teacher definitely does change in the 21st century. There’s no doubt,” Mr. Luna said. “The teacher does become the guide and the coach and the educator in the room helping students to move at their own pace.”

That’s from that Times article, and it makes such a great point.. except I don’t get why it seems to be missing an unwritten “… and there’s nothing we can do about that.”

I’ve conducted my own class this year very much like I did last year, though we went straight to world-watching at the start of the course with the #Occupy movement. Now, with half a year left, we’re going to get in and produce our own media and see what the social aspect does to it. We’ve accelerated the order of things from last year, but the class is still split between a weekly synchronous meeting (this year we’re using Adobe Connect instead of Elluminate) and an online space for discussions and handing in assignments (this year we’re using Schoology instead of Moodle). While I like how it’s going — the classes have great discussions, and it’s very interesting to me that two different sections have entirely different discussions on the same topics. I’ve also had the great luxury of tying into a US history course that was talking about the American Revolution as we were recapping the Arab Spring and #Occupy protests.

I like how my own class has gone, but I’m conflicted. I liked the freedom that that Class B afforded me as a student, and because I got regular feedback, I didn’t mind the lack of a mandatory synchronous meeting. But I’m also about to jump into ds106, which should really shake up my ideas of what can be done in an online class and absolutely destroy my conceptions of what an online classroom should look like. I’m very interested in how the whole MOOC thing might translate to K-12 education, and the whole thing makes me wonder if a synchronous component to an online course is just trying to fit the standard definition of what school is into a new construct, one that’s more participatory than prescribed, more choose-your-own-adventure than textbook.

I don’t think that I’ve seen an online class that has clicked on every level yet, but I have to believe that it’s possible. There’s obviously another chapter to this story coming (and that’s ok, since no modern story is ever finished)…

alternative education? no, that’s called good education.

The principles of alternative education that Sir Ken Robinson mentions are really at the heart of all good education. When people argue about systemic change to education, I wonder if we shouldn’t start smaller and look to change every classroom to be more in line with these very simple-sounding but difficult-to-realize principles.

[For those that work with me, these principles should sound very familiar — and this is incredibly heartening and inspiring heading into the new year. The challenge is in living it on top of saying it.]

I’ve skipped straight to the last three minutes, but Robinson’s whole talk, the outro to TEDxLondon, is definitely worth watching (as are the rest of the TEDxLondon talks). 

right where i left off – learning with online ads


i spent some time looking at laptop bags ad boots recently and I’ve noticed that as i browse around to different websites, the flash ads that i’ve gotten so used to avoiding are a lot smarter that i’ve given them credit for. as i was reading the local sports pages, i saw that one ad was showing me a list of the most recent boots i checked out on one site and a list of laptop bags i looked at on another. pretty cool, even if we’re talking about website advertising.

there are some pretty serious privacy implications here, and i’m not sure this would always be a useful thing; i just happened to see two ads that had immediate relevancy to me. but i’m stuck wondering about how can this be translated this to teaching and learning online? what if you could login to your course management system of choice (moodle, blackboard, sakai, edmodo, schoology, etc.) and see a listing of recently viewed course material? or what if you went to a class blog and was able to see all the articles that you read recently — not just the standard display of recent posts or comments? or, and maybe this is where privacy concerns really need to be noted, but what if you could see an automatically-updating list of what other students in your class were reading, somehow restricted only to that subject matter.

earlier this year, I purposely didn’t direct students to an article on a local new york city website that was a hop, skip, and a jump to some inappropriate material; rather than link directly to the article, i put up a pdf of the single-page print version of the article. but everything (and everyone) is so hyper-connected that it could be useful to see where someone ended up after an assigned reading. did they immediately go off-track or did they follow links to related articles? if the latter, it would be useful to somehow catalog those related articles for the benefit of an entire class. 

i haven’t given this enough thought — ten minutes ago i was reading about the superbowl and got distracted by an ad. but i think there’s potentially some good stuff here, though i haven’t given enough thought to all the hows and what-ifs.

this reminds me… i hope those boots come before the next big storm.

a tale of two solar system #ipad apps

so yesterday, i bought two solar system ipad apps — solar system for ipad (from the makers of the elements, an amazing periodic table app for the ipad) and solar walk (from the makers of the excellent star walk). the elements and star walk are both excellent applications, so i had high hopes for both. being about ten bucks cheaper, i was hoping that solar walk would be the better app.

my champagne tastes won out over my beer budget*, because i really like solar system. and maybe this is really picky, but my inital reaction when testing out solar walk was, “wait a minute. this thing has pluto as a planet. maybe this is an old app.” but pluto hasn’t been a planet for a long while, and there is no room for this kind of inaccuracy. 

solar walk is nice. i think most astronomy is beautiful and this is no exception — well, except for jupiter, which scares the pants off of me. always has. the models of the planets are great, the as is the way that they cast realistic shadows based on their location relative to the sun, and also the way you can travel by “rocketship” from planet to planet. it shows a good amount of info per planet and in general is a very good app.

except that solar system absolutely blows it away. the initial layout is similar to how the periodic table is laid out in the elements, very clean and easy to find everything, and then you’re put in a linear layout that goes into way more detail per planet than solar walk gives you. and THEN you can jump into a solar system view that gives you everything that solar walk does but a little more nicely.

interestingly, the elements and solar system are both classified as books instead of apps in the ipad app listings. they’re both a little on the pricy side, but both totally worth it. if THAT’s the model for interactive books on the ipad, then ipad publishing is going to work out just fine. solar walk is a good application, too, but given the choice, i’d pick solar system every time. they’re almost exactly the same, but there’s a clear winner.

and the winner correctly shows pluto as a member of the solar system but not a planet. 

*that’s not really true. i’d really take beer over champagne any day. just not this time.