How to prevent the Cons PART II

Hey everyone, after reading through some of my work, I wanted to continue my reading. I decided to include a couple of extra links to some resources I read this week. This is a continuation of my blog post from yesterday. You’re more than welcome to check it out if you haven’t done so yet.

Pros And Cons Of Using Education Technology
This was a good read because it brought up some common pros and cons of bringing tech into the classroom. As I was addressing the cons of tech a few weeks ago, I found that this article mentioned a few things worth reiterating. For example, this blog talks about social disconnect:

With too much exposure to technology, the student’s ability to verbally communicate can be affected. If you give students assignments that use technological tools and online collaboration, their method in learning and interacting with others will become limited.

The article also touches base on one aspect I skimmed through a few ago relating to work preparation:

For some academic professionals, lesson planning can be overwhelming when adapting technology in education. It requires time to learn how to utilize the tools.

One of the biggest challenges I found about planning for blended learning IS the fact that preparing your lessons and laying down the ground work necessary for putting an online-heavy course together requires tons and tons of time. You need to also keep in mind that things don’t always run smoothly and you need to allow yourself enough time to factor in any trial and error that may occur. Some of my first experiences creating my own digital content, blogs and online courses were quite frustrating. I must have spent half my time trying to figure things out. Creating your videos for example can be really fun and rewarding, BUT it does require you to set aside enough time to get these things rolling. I remember having to convert video files for hours JUST to make them work in whatever program I was using to splice them all together.

There’s truly no easy answer to this solution other than you planning ahead and taking into consideration that you may end up spending a lot of time figuring things out. If you’re going to plan an entire course, perhaps the easiest and best time to do it is during the summer holidays. This is a dilemma in itself, because not all teachers are going to be willing to put the time and work during their personal holidays to put together a course or online unit. I think the easiest way to plan ahead is to always be one or two steps ahead of the game. Having at least one unit on the go, and one in development can help you manage your time. Realistically, once you’ve created a few courses, creating new ones should theoretically become a lot easier and less time-consuming since you already know your way around the platform and the tools you chose to work with.

Blended learning also doesn’t have to be super complex. Blended learning can actually eliminate a lot of the tedious tasks teachers often dread in class.

The second additional resource I read can be found here:
4 Ways That Cash-Strapped Schools Can Address the Homework Gap

This article addresses some of the availability questions I asked myself a few blogs ago. It discusses student equity and how we can level the playing field for everyone. These are definitely solutions and preventative measures that are worth knowing about, as they can definitely help address some of those issues.

“But when we dig in and ask more detailed questions, only 52 percent of our students say they have regular, stable internet access that’s uninterrupted and they can use for homework if needed every night,” explains CIO Sarah Trimble-Oliver.

The district has since provided 1,000 blended learning students with hotspots and laptops.

The article suggests surveying our students about what type of tools and internet availability they have at home. You can’t expect to implement blended learning into the classroom if students are unable to access or do their work outside of school. The article also gives suggestions on where to find access to the internet, which is definitely a useful tip:

Whether it’s a library that loans out hotspots or a local church that acts as a safe Wi-Fi hotspot, schools are finding ways to partner with community organizations and businesses to offer affordable, or even free, reliable high-speed internet access to students after school.

The article also addresses the question about funding and how teachers can seek out funds through third party organizations and grants:

After applying to the state to approve internet hotspots as a device the district can purchase with Title I funds, LCISD provided 200 high-school AP students with hotspots and laptops. Over the summer hotspots and laptops also help pre–K and kindergarten students prepare for the new school year.

As the next few weeks unfold, I’ll continue to revisit some of my previous posts in hopes to boost content and bulk up my research. I’m really looking forward to seeing what else I’ll stumble upon my quest. Thanks for reading everyone and have a great week!

Dre

How to prevent some of those dreaded Tech “Cons”

The focus for this week’s blog is to find/identity preventative measures, strategies, and/or professional tips that can help us deal with some of the difficulties of bringing technology into a classroom. We decided to focus on finding solutions for the cons we identified last week in our blogs.

Watch yourself
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I was actually just reading through some of my classmates’ blogs and stumbled upon Liz’s entry about how to address distractions in the classroom due to electronic devices and tech. I highly suggest reading her blog and checking out the following page she posted that presents some insightful tips on how to deal with these issues. Although I didn’t even touch on the whole “distraction” debate last week, I thought it would be worth mentioning now, considering how much of an obstacle it really is at school.

Distractions are everywhere I tell ya!
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Last week I spent a lot of time discussing issues relating to funding and technology availability. Whether that implies computer to student ratios, Wi-Fi and bandwidth availability, or having enough support and training available to teachers, these are issues that most teachers encounter on a day-to-day basis.

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Since I spent so much time talking about funding last week, how about I just go straight into it right off the bat? I never really put too much serious thought into this question, but I always forget about the option of applying for grants or other forms of educational sponsorships. Plenty of the resources I read (like this one and this one)
pointed me towards this option, and although it’s not a guaranteed way to gain those extra computers or IPads that you were hoping to get for your classroom, it’s definitely something to consider when your school administrators or community are unable to provide these things for your students.

This site for example lists off a few places where we can seek extra funding from outside sources and donors. It also talks about fundraising and other routes we can take. Although most of these resources and contacts are American, they are definitely available in Canada as well.

Money, Money, Monaaaaaay! Whooooo!
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Over the past couple of years, I’ve had several of my coworkers apply for numerous types of grants, including tech grants. One of my coworkers applied for an IPod Touch grant about 7 years ago and used the IPods with his grade 1 class a couple of times every day. His classroom was definitely a strong attempt at implementing blended learning into the classroom, and considering the fact that he was working with grade 1 French immersion students, I would definitely say he did a great job of getting all those kids comfortable with a device. Students used the IPads for all sorts of vocabulary building activities. They’d listen to ebooks, play educational math games, and even use their devices to look up words in the dictionary on a daily basis.

Kids say the darnest things
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As far as getting good use of the devices, I’d definitely say his classroom was a good example of blended learning in action; but as for attaining the grant, it wasn’t too easy. The process is definitely time-consuming, and it differs from organization to organization. It goes without saying that a lot of time and work must go into these types of processes, but if the teacher or school is willing to put in the work, the results can be extremely rewarding. Most of my coworkers that ended up getting their technology grants did it because they wanted to try new things out in their classrooms. Even the most privileged schools won’t always have 1:1 computer to student ratios, so sometimes applying for grants is your only shot at getting what you want.

I was hoping this would work…
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The following resource presents a few tips and solutions on how to improve the way we use tech in a language class with limited resources. I found this pretty useful because it gave useful suggestions on how to make bring blended learning elements to any classroom. As the blog suggests, sharing and allotting times and schedules for your classroom resources is a good way to take what you have available to you, and stretching it out as far as you can. We can’t always avoid availability issues, sometimes our best solutions are simply to get smarter on how we’re using and sharing them amongst everyone.

This article discusses how technology is absolutely necessary in the classroom if we want to address all students’ needs. I found it interesting that the author mentions how regardless of what we have available to us, it is our job as teachers, to find ways to make these tools easy and helpful to use. I also liked how she mentions that we must play advocators to technology. If we don’t sell it to the kids, then why are they going to want to use it? You must show students the value in using and having these tools available to them, otherwise, they become distractions and burdens in our classrooms.

This article actually conducts a survey to see whether or not students are using tech to their advantage:

While numerous surveys suggest that the pervasive use of tablets, smartphones, laptops and digital education content in the classroom is expanding and changing the role of teachers, the AdvancED study found little evidence of technology being used by students to strengthen learning in classrooms today.

I highly suggest reading the conclusive observations of this study, because they mention a lot of the factors that often plague tech use in the classroom. As mentioned earlier, sometimes the root of the issues comes down to the teachers:

We need to ensure that teachers are provided support and training so that they know how to integrate students’ use of technology into their classrooms and create a student-centric learning environment. Until teachers and administrators are convinced that technology can be a help not a hindrance to learning, the shift will not happen. The teacher is the key to students successfully using technology as a learning and problem-solving tool. Students thrive when the teacher requires students to use technology not only for researching and writing but also to solve problems, work collaboratively and develop creativity (Rasmussen 2015).

From the readings I did this week, I’ve realized that a lot of the preventative measures we should be taking to avoid issues of funding and availability often lay in the hands of the teachers or the schools. If a teacher is unable to persuade their administrators for additional tech in the class (or any type of support of this type), funding is often only available through grant applications. I also learned how to make the best use of what you do have already, as sometimes grants aren’t an option for all schools or communities.

Furthermore, teachers must be driven, well-trained and have a focus and plan of action ready to go before putting any of these things in place in their classrooms. We can have all the tools in the world, but if you’re unable to prove that these things are benefitting your students, then why bother bringing them in in the first place?

The cons of bringing tech into the classroom

Disclaimer: Most of the articles I will be linking to my blog today must be accessed through the Doctor John Archer U of R library database. You will need to sign-in to your account in order to access them.

time to dissect
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So for this week’s blog entry, we decided to focus on the CONS of our topic. That means I’ll be investigating and identifying some of the negative or difficult aspects of bringing technology into a language class. Since we’re dealing with a pretty wide scope, I realize that many of the issues I’ll be discussing today are shared in just about every or any topic relating to the integration of technology in a classroom setting. Whether it’s math, science or team teaching; there’s a lot of common ground when we’re talking about obstacles.

obstacles everywhere!
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For my blog this week, I decided to identify some questions and concerns that came to mind when reading some of the articles I picked out this week. Many of the articles I ended up finding spoke of the successes of bringing technology into the classroom. Of course, with every success, there must be at least a couple slip-ups and hiccups that we fail to mention. The following observations will serve as a “devil’s advocate” perspective. I truly believe wholeheartedly that tech is the way of the future, but without at least identifying some of it’s major flaws, we can’t be expected to bring technology into the classroom without any issues.

playing devil’s advocate
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The first article that I read, coming from the District Administration, focused on presenting some successful examples of blended learning integration in classrooms around the States.

The article itself was compelling and gave me hope for the future. Many of the examples focused on math and language/literacy classes (awesome for me!) and showed how well students are doing by bringing blended learning into the classroom.

hmm… not bad!
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But as we often have these conversations, the same type of questions come to mind. The first questions that came to my mind were those of technology availability and funding. One example in particular really brought things into perspective to me. It explained how most of the students in this particular school have access to computers at all times (all students from grade 4 to 12 have an assigned computer! That’s NUTS!). I can’t ignore this, especially when we’re talking about how successful this school is. As we all know, assigning all students a personal computer will never happen in Saskatchewan anytime soon (especially with the budget cuts. Oh, who am I kidding…regardless of budget cuts or not, this ain’t happening either way!), so the question of tech availability and funding NEEDS to be on the list of cons.

awe shucks…I guess I can’t pay the bill!
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A lot of examples presented in the article talk about implementing blended learning at a school-wide level. In just about all the examples, the schools are using the same resources, software and online platforms to conduct their business. In other words, everyone is working in unison, using the same tools and basically working TOGETHER to do to the same thing. It’s a matter of consistency, and in these cases, things were VERY consistent.

I like this. Actually, scratch that…I LOVE THIS. I mean, if you truly want to implement blended learning in the classroom effectively, it should definitely be at a “global” scale, not just in ONE classroom. There should definitely be some level of continuity, and if we want these things to truly work, we should be implementing these systems in ALL classrooms.

BUT, I am going to be realistic here… in order for this to happen, not only do you need an administration to push their school in this direction, the teachers would need to be on board with this move and have the skills to go along with it as well. Unless you’re starting from scratch and have nothing but “new” teachers working at your school, there’s no question that admin would run into some heavy resistance from teachers who either don’t feel comfortable teaching this way, or are not willing to change everything they know about their profession just to meet these modern-day demands.

ahhh, this seems fairly appropriate
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This then leads to the question of training and support…not only do you have to get everyone on the same page, everyone needs to be able to use this tech at a proficient level. Then we need resources (in this case, either purchasing access to online resources or paying subscription fees for specific online platforms and software) and digital tools that are readily-available to students at all (or most) times. Ultimately, it always becomes a question of money and funding, because unless we’re going to be depending on students bringing in their own devices, we can’t expect to have such easy access to devices.

Oh, by the way, if you are like me and are interested in the whole B.Y-O.D. argument, my classmate Kyle will be focusing his entire directed reading study on all issues concerning the topic.

Furthermore, the following article I read for my readings also discusses B.Y.O.D. in much greater detail.

Anyway, back to the article…

Although having an entire school adopt blended learning into its’ classrooms is incredibly ambitious, it also requires a great deal of planning and preparation (not only on the teachers part, but admin as well). Admin would have to have a vision and a plan set in place in order to make this happen. They would also have to “sell” this idea to their staff. Although this shouldn’t be something that stops anyone, it’s definitely something that any administrator would need to take into consideration.

Dude! You gotta sell it to them!
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As mentioned before, not only would you have to get everyone on the same page, you would also have to train them. Although this shouldn’t be so difficult, realistically, when and how would you do this? School boards only assign an “x” amount of PD time for teachers, and teachers are only given a small amount of prep time per day (if at all) to plan out their lessons. I’m just wondering how you would train an entire staff to bring these things into their classrooms when there’s literally no time to even do this. Are teachers coming in on their free time to train? Are administrators providing their staff with training sessions or are they expected to learn these things on their own? Are teachers only given a half-day tutorial on how to use these tools, or is there legitimate support being provided at all times within the school?

I really don’t know…
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I don’t know…unless the school is literally made up of newly-graduated millennials, I can’t see how an entire staff could learn how to use all of these resources through a quick tutorial. The only reason I’m “good” at tech is because I’ve spent my entire life fooling around on a computer. Unless you’ve had a similar upbringing, you won’t be able to just “pick these things up” and go. I guess my biggest thing here is…what about the “older” teachers who aren’t comfortable using tech?

I mean, sometimes you CAN teach an old dog some new tricks
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Also, just to be the devil’s advocate that I promised you I’d be…what about money? Who’s paying for this? How are we paying for all this training? Do we have funding for all the extra support we might need to put these things into place?

Another part of this article that set off some alarms was how one teacher mentions how they love how EVERYTHING is just online. No books, no paper…just online “everything”. Okay, so yes, that IS pretty incredible, but…. what if wifi is down? What if the bandwidth doesn’t allow for an entire class to log in? What if the online resources are temporarily unavailable or the website is down? I mean, these things happen constantly, and I couldn’t rely JUST on tech if I knew that it could blow up in my face. I guess what I’m trying to say is, there are already so many unexpected things that can happen in a classroom (which don’t even include tech issues), so why place all your bets on something that can so easily fail you at any moment?

I know I just said anything can go wrong, but I had no idea THIS could happen!
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Okay, so I realize I only focused on one article, but I’d end up writing a book if I keep going. I also didn’t intend to pick on one article, but to be honest, the article did a good job of bringing up many of the very same arguments I saw in the other articles I read. I think what we need to remember is that bringing technology into the classroom will no doubt benefit students, but it will undoubtedly bring a whole lot of other issues with it as well. Funding is ALWAYS an issue, we see it in articles such as this one where schools are so underfunded that the only way to gain any form of funding is by lucking out and winning it through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

I would have loved to have talked more about my other articles, but I honestly think I’m reaching critical mass on blog length here. If you are interested in reading some of my other resources however, please click on the following links:

Article 3: Exploring optimal pronunciation teaching: Integrating instructional software into intermediate-level EFL classes in China

Article 4: Reading Achievement and Reading Efficacy Changes for Middle School Students With Disabilities Through Blended Learning Instruction

Thanks for reading my blog this week, and if you have any questions or concerns, please hit me up on the comments section. Have a great week everyone!

Dre

Starting something new

Get it?
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Hello everyone and welcome to my blog!

As we begin our directed reading course this spring, our first task on our list of duties is to create an introductory blog that breaks down our topic of interest, and what we want to gain out of this experience.

I’ve never done a directed reading course before, so I’m definitely anticipating some sort of learning curb throughout this process. I’m quite excited to be working with some familiar faces however, which will most definitely make the experience a whole lot easier in many ways.

I’ve got no idea what I got myself into!
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I have the pleasure to be working alongside past EC&I 834 classmates Jen, Jaymee, Liz and Kyle. From past experiences, I have learned a great deal from these specific pupils, and I couldn’t be more excited to be working with them once again! Furthermore, Dr. Alec Couros will be joining the team by supervising and evaluating us throughout the next few weeks.

For my directed reading course, I chose to focus my attention and research on ways that we can integrate technology into a middle years ELA classroom setting.

I couldn’t find a cool ELA teacher doing “ELA” things, so I found a science teacher doing “Science” things instead…
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The reason why I chose this area was because last semester in my EC&I834 class, my classmates Jaymee (yes, the same one!), Roxanne and I created a course prototype for a blended learning ELA class (Click the link to check out a blog entry I wrote, breaking down all the specifics of our course prototype). This project got me thinking of how I could eventually integrate these very same blended learning elements into my own classroom the way we designed them in our prototype.

Although we put a lot of work into this project and made many portions of it fully functional and actually ready-to-use in a classroom, I still don’t feel quite ready to bring these things into my room for various reasons.

Yeah…I’m not ready for this just yet…
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For one, working in a school with limited computers, it’s very difficult to actualize these theoretical visions. Wifi isn’t always cooperative, and sometimes kids aren’t able to log onto their accounts for whatever reason. This is definitely a poor attempt to justify why someone should NOT try these things in their classroom, BUT they are nonetheless nuisances that are frustrating when you simply want to get work done with your class.

Ugh…SO annoying!
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Sure, these are typical issues we would typically face in a typical everyday scenario; but shouldn’t we have some answers to these “typical” issues?

As a goal for this course, I intend to find/put together strategies that can work around some of these kinks I often run into when trying to bring tech into the classroom.

I’m also going to be looking into some of the pros and cons of bringing technology into an ELA class (or any language class for that matter).

SOURCE: GIPHY

I see this course as an opportunity to further explore some of the questions I left unanswered last semester, with the hopes of learning plenty of new and insightful things along the way.

Having a little more freedom with the direction I take my research in this time, will allow me to answer specific questions I’ve had in relation to teaching with technology in my own language classes. Although I don’t teach ELA this year, I have taught it several times in the past. Furthermore, as a middle years French Immersion teacher, I’ve found that many of the issues, strategies, approaches and techniques used in any type of language class, are applicable and quite similar to those seen in a typical ELA class.

Throughout the semester, I hope to gain more knowledge on content creation and putting together my own materials and courses for my classroom. Seeing that I teach French, I’ve found that it’s next to impossible to find good, updated, and easy-to-understand content, appropriate for french immersion students. If I ever find anything, it’s the same stuff my teachers taught me with over 25 years ago. That’s kind of crazy if you think about it…

Furthermore, when it comes to French resources, they rarely ever cater to French immersion students. If I happen to stumble upon grade 6 level French resources, they’re often far too difficult or advanced for French immersion students, as these resources are often intended for native-french speaking students (not students who are learning French as a second language).

This is why I’ve often resorted to creating my own material for my classes.

Seeing that I’ve learned so many new things in relation to creating my own educational videos and digital resources through the EC&I830 and 834 (with Dr. Couros) classes I took over the past year, I’d like to further explore content creation in relation to language classes.

I’m looking forward to working with a much smaller team this time around as well. Not only will we have more opportunities to voice and share our ideas, we’ll also be able to get a deeper look at what our other classmates are learning about as well.

Wish me luck, and I hope you’ll be able to take away something new over the next few weeks from my blog. Take care everyone!

Dre

It’s the final countdown everyone! But let’s look back on my course prototype first…

Hello everyone!

Oh hey, what’s up?
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Good to see that everyone is alive and well after this crazy semester. I’m not going to lie, there were more times than not that I had to really push myself to get going on things, I think my brain knows the end is near.

Sometimes my brain’s got a mind of its own
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Anyway, today I’m here to talk to you about Jaymee, Roxanne and I’s course prototype!

We had a lot of fun creating this thing and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t learn a few new things during the whole process.

We were asked to include our course prototype, as well as our course profiles. I’ve included everything in the document links below, so please go check them out if you have a chance.

Course prototype login info:
course prototype login info

We were also asked to provide you all with an overview of the whole process that went behind creating our prototype. For a more detailed look at how we decided on an LMS platform and what sort of work went into this assignment, please go check out my previous posts:

Blog about our general idea and direction for the prototype
https://andresaranedablog.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/lets-get-this-started/

Blog about experimenting with Google Classroom
https://andresaranedablog.wordpress.com/2017/01/30/interview-with-the-google-classroom-guru/

Blog about creating your own artifacts and content
https://andresaranedablog.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/why-you-should-start-creating-your-own-curricular-and-pedagogical-content-for-your-class/

Blog entry describing course profile and details about the creation process
https://andresaranedablog.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/so-whats-going-on-with-my-prototype/

Blog entry revolving around my group putting the finishing touches on our prototype and my review of what I liked and didn’t like about Google Classroom
https://andresaranedablog.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/the-quirks-of-using-google-classroom-finishing-up-our-prototype/

Go easy on us will ya?
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As for the peer evaluations, I am really happy we got so much feedback from our classmates about our project. I was a little worried prior to handing in our prototype because I wasn’t too sure how it would measure up against other courses. I always experience a little self-doubt, but overall, I’m really happy with what we came up with.
The feedback we received was SO useful and it really made me think critically of the elements that we ended up forgetting to include, or omitted altogether.

One of the biggest take-aways from this assignment is whether or not I’ll ever use Google Classroom for myself. After reviewing my classmates’ projects, I got to take a closer look at Moodle, which I’ve only had a few chances to actually work with. Right off the bat, I’ll tell you right now, Moodle seems like a better choice if you are looking for more features, customization and an overall, more organized and polished-looking product. Obviously there are some drawbacks to this LMS, but from what I gathered, it appears that it has a lot more to offer in terms of aesthetics and organization (compared to Google Classroom).

So many choices!
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When we decided on our LMS platform, Google Classroom seemed like the most logical choice for us. Being that we all work for the same school division, and we all use Google EVERYTHING for the most part, we decided to go with the Google LMS platform. We didn’t shop around, we didn’t experiment with other platforms, and we didn’t really look into what sort of features other platforms had to offer. I don’t really regret or resent our choices, but I do wish we could have looked around first.

Needless to say, I have some beef with Google Classroom. The platform is lacking in some crazy departments I never thought it would be lacking in. For one, there is almost next to no way to customize the look, organization or feel of your course. You can’t add pictures wherever you want, you can’t change fonts or font sizes, or anything to that extent.

yeah, that’s right Google Classroom, I got BEEF with you!
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The inclusion of an “assignment feed” is great when you are working within the LMS in a live setting and a live classroom; but when you are working ahead, building your course from scratch and adding assignments, the feed jumbles everything and posts it as you add. The result: a giant, confusing and ridiculous mess. This would be less of a troubling factor if the feed didn’t take up the main portion of the entire site. As soon as you log into our course, the feed is the main focus point. The assignments are all posted in no logical order, which is definitely confusing. I had this issue and chose to ignore it (mostly because we had already put SO much work into the whole thing, and we didn’t want to restart and do everything in another LMS platform). The feed should be something I choose to enable, because quite honestly, I feel like it impacted the overall feel of our project in a negative way.

Google Classroom doesn’t allow you to move things around or actually manipulate elements so that they look the way YOU want them to look. Instead, it just posts everything and throws it into an unorganized, digital pile of assignments (so to speak). Not that great if you’re like me and you like things to look SLICK, ORGANIZED and EASY TO READ!

What’s that? Oh, you wanna change font size and color? Ha ha, too bad suckaaa
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I’ve taken all the feedback we received from our reviewers to heart, and appreciate all of the constructive criticism. For any further changes we’d make as a group to our prototype, please check out the attached file for a more detailed look at our plan:

Dre, Jaymee and Roxanne’s course prototype changes document
Changes to our prototype

Creating digital artifacts has become a thing I’m quite fond of now. Artifacts allow me to present information in much more entertaining, and (hopefully) much more engaging ways. If I don’t end up setting up a blended learning course in my class next year, I’ll at least be implementing the use of artifacts.

Indy knows all about artifacts
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I actually experimented with artifacts this year, and I even had students create their own artifacts for some of their projects. My students LOVED this, and are constantly asking me if we can do more of these type of assignments. This was one of the main reasons why I wanted to create a unit/course that taught students how to use all these tools to create their own artifacts. With a little direction and instruction, even students in grade 6 can pull off these types of assignments quite well. The key is to scaffold as much as possible and build up on what they already know.

This is actually why we also chose to include a summary of learning in our course prototype. At the end of the unit, students put everything they learned to use. Rather than doing a typical writing assignment, students can present their pieces in fun and dynamic ways.

Here is my artifact I created for my module of our course prototype:

This thing was so much fun to make. I got to joke around, draw and “act a fool” all while passing information down to my students. I could see this working out so well for math and any type of literacy class. Furthermore, as I continue making artifacts for my university classes, I am building my own library of resources and exemplars that can be used for any of my own classes when I’m teaching kids how to do these things themselves.

As we finish off the semester, I am quite happy with the things I learned in this class. As far as blended learning (or online classes) go, this class is a great example of what can be done with this type of setup. These classes have managed to create a really real and supportive online/digital community. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in, and see all of these things play out right in front of me. Although I wouldn’t be doing the exact same thing with my future classes, I’ll be sure to borrow many of the elements that made this class so much fun to be a part of.

I’m just gonna….borrow this….
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Thank you to everyone who has ever read, commented, or engaged with my blog, my tweets or my Google+ questions. Hopefully I was able to provide the same sort of help in return to some of you.
In closing, I’d like to share my summary of learning with you guys. Give it a spin and let me know what you guys think.

Good luck in the last little stretch and I hope you all enjoy your time off!
Sincerely,

Dre

The quirks of using Google Classroom: Finishing up our prototype

What’s up!
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Hello everyone and welcome back!

So this week we were asked to talk about our prototypes before we hand them in. Taking a step back from our project, I can safely say that we’re done. I’m happy with the content and I’m really excited about some of the ideas we brought into the project.

Soooo excited!
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Today, I will be focusing on the LMS we chose to work with: Google Classroom. I’ll be filling you in on some of my thoughts and criticisms about this platform; hopefully giving you some insight on whether or not you should use it in your own classroom or not.

After reading a couple of my classmates’ posts this week, I found it really interesting to see what types of obstacles they went through during their own process. Bill for example talks a lot about the trial and error process that goes into figuring out what types of tools he wanted to use and implement for his prototype. I think it’s a great idea to look over your options and figure out exactly what you want to gain out of your experience working with these types of tools; after all, once you start, there’s not much room to go back and restart.

Why you should always try it before you buy it
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Jaymee, Roxanne and I all settled with Google Classroom without actually shopping around for another type of LMS platform. Our reasoning behind this decision was that we already use a wide range of Google apps, tools and products; using Classroom was sort of a natural and logical choice for us.

Would I use Google Classroom again in the future? Maybe… but I guess this is where Bill’s experience got me thinking about shopping around FIRST and getting to know how other platforms work BEFORE settling on a final choice.

Is that your final answer?
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In reality however, this is easier said than done. Reading a few past blog posts, I noticed that Katherine has been using several different LMS’s in her actual classes. In a matter of fact, for her ELA and Psychology classes, she’s been using MOODLE and GOOGLE CLASSROOM. That’s extremely impressive, and she had a few reasons for these choices:

However, I had to think of how to set up information in an organized and fluid way, since students need to retain a lot of information. Moodle offers an online ‘binder’, where I can organize content, embed YouTube videos, and provide a place to ask questions. I also wanted an easy way to collect and give immediate feedback on assignments, so I decided to create a Google Classroom and students hand in assignments on that platform rather than Moodle.

Just from reading Kathrine’s blog post, I gained a lot of important knowledge on the pros and cons for Moodle and Classroom. If you’re wondering about these things yourself, I highly suggest reading her post, because not only is it just AWESOME, it gave me some ideas on when to use certain LMS’s.

So many ideas!
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Although I am happy with our prototype, I would have liked a more visually and aesthetically pleasing LMS. I found that Google Classroom was a little boring in the way it presents information and modules. There’s little room for customization and it doesn’t really allow you to get “Wild” with anything. I feel like you should be able to just drag things around and place them wherever you want…Google Classroom definitely doesn’t allow for any of that type of maneuverability, which in my opinion is a major flaw.

Why can’t I customize!?
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I’d like to attest the customizability of other LMS’s, but I simply don’t have the knowledge to back up my claims.

At one point, I must have spent about an hour copying, pasting and formatting text in my course profile to make it look as organized as possible. I aligned everything, added bold text wherever it was needed, and organized everything so that it would be easy to read and navigate through. When I hit “save” in the editing box, everything went back to this awful messy clump of text. What a waste of time.

Everything’s falling apart!!!
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I found that Google Classroom did a lot of this. After a little trial and (a lot of) error, I came to the conclusion that you CANNOT edit or format your text at all in this LMS. This is a HUGE bummer to me. I’m a visual guy. I like things to look GREAT. If you aren’t allowing me to format and edit things the way I want them to look, then you’re definitely going to lose me.

Bye Bye
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I know I’m focusing a lot of attention on this one factor, but as far as aesthetics go, this project could have looked WAY cooler than it does if we were to have used a different LMS. It’s a small mistake that I’m not going to focus more attention on, but it’s definitely something I would CHANGE for next time. So yeah…my verdict: If you don’t mind not having much control over how things look and you just want to get the job done, GOOGLE CLASSROOM is for you baby! But if you’re looking to get fancy (which is what I like to do), then go somewhere else.

I’m out!
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The lack of any sort of settings menus really bothered me too. I like to change things around, and this LMS simply does not offer any of this. It’s straight forward…which is obviously a pro, but also a con, depending on who you are I guess.

As for everything else, like I said, Classroom was an easy to use, user-friendly LMS that got the job done.

The biggest thing I took out of this process WAS IN FACT to SHOP AROUND. I’m happy with the content we created, but perhaps a different LMS could have really made things shine a little brighter.

Who doesn’t like shopping?
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Overall, I learned that creating modules can be tedious and time consuming work. I applaud anyone who is legitimately implementing blended learning in their classroom. I mean, to create all your units from scratch would simply be insane…you would HAVE to find already made material that you eventually replace with your own over time.

I think if that were to be my sole responsibility in my job (to plan units), I WOULD ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT. But, as we all know, adding teaching to the mix takes away a lot of your time and energy to properly execute these things.

Creating content is quickly becoming something I’m enjoying more and more, and would love to continue doing so as much as possible. I had a blast making my artifact, and am looking forward to completing my summary of learning as well.

Before leaving you all today, here is my artifact for my module that I made for our prototype. I love doing this sort of stuff and am looking forward to doing a lot more of it in my own classroom from now on.

Thanks for reading my post this week and I hope you all have a great weekend!

Dre

How my experiences in punk music forums shaped my ideas about online communities

For my blog entry this week, I thought I’d start with a story. My story will hopefully paint a better picture of some of the things that can go on in an open online message board/forum.

So I realize that not everyone knows first-hand about what it’s like to participate in an online community typically found in a forum or message board; so I figured I’d give you a glimpse of what that world is like from some of my own experiences.

For years, I was an active member of Regina’s local hardcore and punk music message boards. The boards underwent numerous moderators and name changes throughout the years, but the general idea always stayed the same. Whether it was “Punk for the People”, “Queen City Punk”, “Queen City Hardcore”, or whatever else it was called; it all served the same purpose: staying in the loop about what’s going on with our favorite music genres!

What were these boards used for?

– First and foremost, the board was meant for fun entertainment and community building. It wasn’t THAT serious.

– See what bands were coming through town

– Find out local and surrounding area shows

– Find out about all the hottest and most underground bands (the more obscure, the better)

– Get in touch with out of town venues and promoters

– Booking shows in town

– Sell your merch or music

– Learn about the community and exchange ideas.

The message board was always interesting to me because it always felt like a “digital extension” (so to speak) of the actual Regina music scene. The people posting on the message board weren’t face-less, anonymous pranksters; they were my friends, they were my bandmates, they were everyone that you would typically see at a local event.

I got to know so many new people, learned a lot about Saskatchewan’s interesting live music past (have you read anything about how crazy Regina’s music scene was back in the 80’s?), and most importantly, I got to talk about music (and everything that goes along with it). In a matter of fact, my band Failed States, which were going on to our tenth year as a band, STARTED on Queen City Punk. I remember one night someone starting a new discussion thread titled “Who wants to start a hardcore band?”. I immediately replied and next thing I knew, I was in a basement with four other dudes about to start a band that we’re still in today. This was a huge shifting moment in my life. These people I didn’t even know eventually went on to become some of my best friends. We’ve played almost 100 shows in the past ten years all throughout western Canada. I even ended up starting two bands after that! And all this… from a silly message board? Wow. I mean…it that’s not community building, I don’t know what is.

The main purpose of the board was a place for all of us to talk. With the political and social nature of this type of music, conversations often dipped into social justice discussions and political critiques and debates. As much as people liked to joke around on the message board, conversations were often fruitful and interesting to follow (and obviously participate in).

I found that being part of this type of online community did require some effort to maintain a functioning structure. For one, you need people moderating the board. Moderators keep order, they enforce rules, and they oversee everything that’s going on (at least that’s what they should be doing). So who are these moderators? Well…Moderators can be literally anyone, just as long as they are willing to take on the huge list of tasks they must do to keep things working smoothly.

In my time on QCP (Queen City Punk), I unfortunately did see a lot of harassment and bullying go down. Since the board is basically open for anyone to use, anyone is technically able to join. That means “anything” can happen. This can obviously be a good thing, but it’s more often than not, a more negative thing to worry about. Many times, people would come in and “troll” other posters or sabotage a discussion thread. I want you all to keep this in mind as we move onto this week’s prompt.

Alec and Katia asked us to talk a little about how authenticity is affected by the degree of openness in a forum? They also asked if it’s possible to support “authentic” learning in a closed forum or discussion space and if authenticity is guaranteed if we open the conversations to the online world?

Now, I want to use my story to tie some of these ideas into these questions.

In relation to “authenticity” and the degree of “openness” in discussions that take place in a forum, I’d like to use my experiences to draw some sort of parallels. I know that my experiences are going to be super different from what I would do in a classroom, but I think my experiences taught me to be vigilant and aware of certain things.

First of all, I think there is a lot to learn from an opening up a private group to the public (or allowing outsiders to come in). I certainly believe there can be authentic learning experiences and discussions in open forums (because I see them all the time), partly because we’re allowing outside input from individuals who may bring unbiased or different ideas or opinions to the table. For instance, if we were to be using a private message board in a classroom, and open it up to allow the outside world to contribute to the community, it could allow students to explore a topic in greater detail. Inviting guest “speakers”, in a sort of “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) type of format usually seen on Reddit, students would have the opportunity to interact with an expert in their field. Having that level of intimate interaction with potential learning material is amazing and completely game-changing. That’s why I like AMA’s, I mean, you can literally ask the person ANYTHING.

Okay, so yes, you may run into some big problems. Learning experiences won’t always be authentic either, as we don’t always know what is coming into the discussion when we’re opening the discussion to the world. I’m assuming if you are inviting someone to come speak to your class in your message board, you must know this person, you can probably vouch for their legitimacy; but if that connection is missing, we definitely run the risk of potential fraudulence.

When I think of “openness” however, I immediately think of all the things that can go wrong. When you’re part of an online community, I feel like the whole “Anything goes” mantra can work, but when we’re talking about a classroom environment, this sort of scares me. We don’t know what people are going to say. We have no real way of knowing if people are “legit” or not. I mean, we don’t even know if this type of exchange would even bring forth any authentic learning experiences to the students. Is it possible? YES… but absolutely NOT GUARANTEED, which is something important to consider.

To me, there’s too many “What ifs” to fully commit to this type of learning environment. I say this because I’ve seen how message boards work, regardless if there’s a moderator controlling everything that is going on. Furthermore, if you were to do this for your own class, you would most definitely have to take on the moderator role, which is something I think lots of people don’t know what exactly it entails.

The potential for community building is something I definitely can’t ignore however. Given the right instruction, guidance, moderation and interest, a forum can develop an incredible online community. Of course, this goes back to the work we put into making it something your students will want to use and engage in. I don’t know how well it would work under the context of educational content, but when people participate in online communities that relate to their personal interests, the community is going to grow regardless. I mean, people are engaged, they WANT to participate. But can the same be said if we were to do this in a classroom? Depending on the topics, perhaps… but you would definitely have to push and encourage things to get going. I find that as long as there’s legitimate interest, engagement and commitment to the topic, learning becomes authentic.

Before I start writing more than what I should, I just want to end this by saying that moderators are the key to making these online communities stay on track. Without any rules or protocol, your community won’t sustain and it will inevitably fall apart. This will lead to poor engagement and definitely no true form of authentic learning. If you want it to be as real as possible, you need to make it that way, and make sure to do everything that’s necessary to assure that all interactions are purposeful and authentic.

Please ask me questions in the comments, I feel like I left a lot of open ends in my thoughts and I welcome any form of discussion on what I wrote.

Thanks for reading my ramblings, I look forward to hearing from all of you!

Dre