Going Live!

I’m simultaneously excited and overwhelmed by the possibility of publishing my Music 9 module on Canvas. Mostly, I think my excitement about the possibility of moving all of my classes to a blended mode is making me overwhelmed.

I’m excited because:
  • I see how a blended classroom could completely transform the way that we offer music programming at Balfour.
  • It looks pretty great and all of the links work.
  • I’ve used new tools like Screencastify, Sampulator, and Google Forms which I will be able to use again in my teaching. Trying them for the first time takes away the scariness of using them in the future!
  • I’m happy with the quality of the videos that I made.
  • I am looking forward to feedback on what I’ve done so far.
  • I’m proud of taking on this challenge. I never thought I would be able to do something like this.
  • Once the work is done in developing the course the first time, it is easy to revise before using a second time. With each revision, the course will become better and better in a way that it might not without such an LMS.
I’m overwhelmed because:
  • I want to do this for ALL of my classes.
  • I know that it would take WAY too much time to do it well in all of them if I were to start immediately.
  • I know I will quit if I take on too much to start, and I don’t want that to happen.
  • Canvas will inevitably become obsolete and irrelevant, and then I will have to start over.

//giphy.com/embed/3oriOaivTEk4PotVEQ

via GIPHY

I know. That’s a bit of a Debbie Downer.

In this last week, I’ve polished the appearance of the module, revised instructions, made sure that links are working, shared with friends for feedback, and QUESTIONED ALL OF MY DECISIONS. As I said earlier, I’m happy with what I’ve done, but I’ve gained new skills and am more optimistic about my abilities to use technology, so I will do things differently in lessons moving forward. Like Adam, I am really pleased to have learned about screencasts.

I shared my course to Canvas’s Commons in the interest of open education. It made me nervous at first, but then I considered how much I appreciate it when I find that teachers have shared quality resources. (In fact, the image that I’ve included below was shared with no attribution required!) For some reason though, the course isn’t showing up in the commons, which is really disappointing! I’m still trying to figure this out.

I’ve used many online resources, and I think it’s time that I contribute!

Logistically, I’m really happy that my module is ready to go a week ahead of time. When I was going through the process of uploading videos and making sure that links worked, I experienced some hiccups (mostly to do with poor WiFi connections), and I’m glad that I’m not trying to sort this out moments before it is due. Elizabeth and Angela also noted that it is difficult to put all of the pieces together. This is worth considering when thinking ahead to using an LMS as a norm. I would always need to be working a few days ahead of the kids, and I’d need to have a back-up plan if students experience their own hiccups.

And I will keep moving forward. With one class to start. And then another. I need to keep taking baby steps before I’ll be off and running. I need to be patient with myself. It’s ok if I learn and develop slowly, as long as I continue to grow. I remember when planning a single lesson took hours, and now it’s a sinch! Eventually, I’ll be using technology as second nature.

Until then, like Nicole Marie suggests, I can reflect on this process and use that to become stronger moving forward.

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In the Spotlight: Open Education

What happens before you have to stand on stage with a blinding spotlight trained on you, following your every move? A crowded audience lies before you, the heat of their eyes piercing your skin.

Photo by marfis75 via flickr

You practice. A lot.

This is the effect of asking students to do work in open online spaces like forums, blogs, or Twitter. When I am asked to post a blog it means that I spend extra time trying to perfect syntax to convey appropriate tone; I double-check and cite sources; I try to inform or persuade in a somewhat entertaining way. I also want to write things that are enjoyable, unlike in traditional closed classes where I care about enjoyability less because only the teacher reads what I write. Then, I don’t care quite as much. (But really, I am a bit of an over-achiever regardless.) The process is also more fun for me because I love getting comments on my blog and responding.

But does this really make the process of learning more authentic? How much of what is being said is being said just to get a mark and how much is driven by authentic engagement? Would I be writing this blog post right now if I wasn’t taking this class. Honestly. Or as the kids would say, TBH. No. I wouldn’t. However, it is definitely more authentic than writing just for one teacher.

Blogging also makes me more accountable because I want what I post to the whole world to reflect what I really think and who I am. This is not to say that sometimes I exaggerate just how excited I am about a new app or tech tool in the moment I’m writing the post. I might discover a tool, and think it’s pretty cool after trying it out and will probably use it at some point in my classroom. But I’m not going to write exactly that. Instead I might say, “I just found the most AMAZING tool! It’s free, it’s fun, it’s relevant, it’s intuitive. YOU SHOULD USE IT!”

So, when would I ask students to blog? What would be worthwhile for them to discuss in open spaces? I think that in music, I would still advocate for posting videos of progress on blogs or forums and having students comment on each others’ playing. It takes the pressure off of performing live, and kids have fun sharing and  listening to each other. I did this in EC&I 831, and appreciated the encouragement and feedback from my classmates.

Students could practice using music terms and develop literacy because they would have time to provide feedback in a forum. I think that this would be authentic to an extent. Again, as I mentioned last week, some participation would need to be mandatory, but that also protects people who want to share from being labeled overachievers or nerds, stifling key contributors. And we all know that we music types have enough of a stereotype to overcome already. I know what you’re thinking. I’ve never seen this movie, and I still know this…

I think that we could generate a culture where students would be excited to check in on students’ videos of their bands, ensembles, duets and solos. It would be a great way to generate excitement leading up to live performances.

Once again, as I said last week, we would need to practice skills of posting and commenting and set expectations as a class for the types, length and frequency of comments.

With this buy in from students and moderation of appropriateness by a teacher, I don’t think that my grade 9-12 students’ parents would have any concerns about them participating in an open online environment. They already are exposed to or participating more potentially unsafe spaces.

SO LET’S TRY IT, PEOPLE!

Creating Community

What communities do you feel connected to? Why? Why do we need community? Benita and Melinda asked the same question this week. And I hope that I’ll leave you with one of many possible answers by the end of this post.

Whether fostering a community online or face-to-face, the instructor and students must establish expectations, participate in interactions, and develop communication skills. Like Schwier says, an environment doesn’t inherently develop into a community in which participants feel safe, belonging, committed and engaged. So, how do I plan to foster interactions using Canvas in my Music 9 prototype course?

Step #1 – Establish boundaries and participation rubric with students

Via edutech4teachers
                                     Via edutech4teachers
  • What rules are we going to follow in these spaces?
  • How often do you think you would need to participate for others to benefit from your contributions? Can you make this commitment?
  • What type of language are we going to use?
  • Learn about “Netiquette” and digital citizenship
  • Remember, chat comments cannot be deleted once they’ve been posted. You must be responsible.

Step #2 – Practice using the tools, explain their unique purposes/potentials

I plan to use the interactive and connective tools that are built into Canvas as the primary methods of communication: discussion, chat, conversations and conferences. We would practice using all of these tools and outline the expectations associated with each, before setting students “loose” to use them all.

The discussions section in Canvas allows responses to be organized by the question asked. Furthermore, students can add discussion questions if the instructor adjusts the settings to allow this. I would make sure that students would have access to this feature to increase the number of what Bryce-Davis calls “ringers,” which are new or unusual activities that “disrupt the established patterns and expectations just enough to renew interest” in the conversations. These discussions can be threaded, which allows members to focus in on particular comments of interest and follow that train of thought, rather than a stream of feed is more conducive to general comments. The threaded conversations help to ensure that discussion is organized and therefore potentially more meaningful and authentic. Small group options are available as well. Students can join particular focus groups based on interests or projects. Edutopia provides many suggestions in their Mastering Online Discussion Board Education Resource Guide. One idea is

“Instructional Discussion Boards should be used to meet specific course objectives and should be aligned with course content.”

For this reason, I would set the expectation for the discussion forum to be mostly related to the content of the course.

The chat section is a great option for students to socialize and build relationships. This area could be designed as a place for informal exchanges and for straight-forward student questions like, “When is this due?” or “What time are we meeting?”  It is important to note that comments in the chat cannot be deleted and are organized on a separate page from the discussion questions. Students would need to be aware of this ahead of time and know consequences for posting inappropriate comments.

Canvas also offers what they call Conversations, which is really just an email service. It’s a great option for one-on-one student-teacher interaction.

Finally, Canvas offers Conferences through a partnership with BigBlueButton, which is a web conferencing tool for synchronous online meetings, much like what we do with Zoom in EC&I 834. This option is ideal for group instruction or a more face-to-face feeling.

The combination of these tools is important. In his blog post this week, Adam said, “When looking for engagement amongst the class, it is vital to incorporate a number of different interaction opportunities.” The fact that Canvas has all of these tools within the same LMS means that students won’t need to check multiple providers to stay connected with their peers. When the log in to Canvas they will automatically be surrounded by opportunities to connect with each other in a variety of ways depending on the purpose of interaction.

Step #3 – Make the interactions meaningful, supportive and relevant

As I said before, setting expectations for each of the formats for interaction at the beginning of a course is crucial. The various forms of communication available, with students able to guide discussions, will make the interactions more meaningful than a strictly teacher-driven approach. Schwier says, “For a community to emerge, a learning environment must allow learners to engage each other intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge. It isn’t enough that material is presented to people and they interact with the instruction. It isn’t enough that the learners interact with instructors to refine their understanding of material.”

Students also need to be taught the skill of asking critical or higher level questions for discussions to go beyond surface-level ideas and observations. Edutopia suggests teaching Bloom’s Taxonomy to ensure that students ask high-quality, purposeful questions.

Students need skills in research and citation as well, so that they find and support answers to their own and others’ questions.

However, my presence as the instructor in each of these areas will model meaningful and supportive interaction.

Schwier, 2001
                                Schwier, 2001

I think that required participation is also necessary, especially initially, to help students develop the habit of being a part of and contributing to the community. Icebreakers and introductions are important to developing historicity, which is an essential element of community.

 

 

I would also use rubrics for participation, as well as teacher, self, and peer evaluation to give students clear expectations and opportunities for feedback and self-reflection.

Step #4 – Troubleshooting

Edutopia helpfully outlines some Common Pitfalls so that educators embarking on this journey can avoid them. I think that I have planned for each of the concerns in my plan above. But the one that I feel I have the least control over is “Students may react in an inappropriate way by flaming other students or making disinterested or disrespectful comments to their peers or in response to assignments.” If this were to happen in a chat, there is one guide that says that the comment cannot be deleted. This is very concerning to me. If one student chooses to make a bad decision, it wouldn’t go away. I’ve emailed Canvas to ask why they’ve chosen this.

Step #5 – Learn!

By Frankieleon via Flickr
                                                                                By Frankieleon via Flickr

The primary benefit of creating a blended learning environment where students can connect online is that it improves the likelihood that they will learn more. Amy noted this in her blog post this week as well.  George Siemens’ Theory of Connectivity highlights the importance of networks in learning. I know this has certainly been true of my experience in EC&I 834.