Module 6: Where Do I Go From Here?

As this course has now come to a close I am thinking about where I want to go from here.  It is hard for me to believe that this semester is over.  It does not seem possible.  But what I am glad to take away from this semester is the change of thinking that I have watched myself go through.  I am going into my fourth year of graduate studies at UAlbany and have taken many courses here.  Yet, I feel as this is one of the first courses that will let me leave with having a profound change in thinking.  I was not a big fan of online education before this course and now I feel as though online education needs to be embraced for future learning.

Given these new thoughts on online education I have been thinking about where I want to go from here.  I think primarily I am going to begin conversations at my school about starting to teach at least a section of my course online to see how it goes.  At the current moment I feel as though French is losing out to Spanish as more people view Spanish as a necessary language or a more useful language.  I have a feeling that some people might be intrigued by French but unwilling to try it.  Perhaps having the chance to take an online French course might spur people on to trying something new!

Additionally, I want to stay connected to the online world.  I am glad I am connected to Alex’s Twitter as I can stay abreast through many of her tweats, but I will also try to pay more attention to the articles that I see concerning online education. I often have not paid attention to much in this field as I did not pay much attention to the field or give it much credit.  But, I truly believe two main things now.  Online education is the way of the future and more important, it needs to be done correctly.  I have a fear that many online sections of courses are being taught by people with little training.  In university settings it is often the case that we assume those with graduate degrees must know how to teach.  But as we know, teaching online is a whole new field with a variety of differences from f2f teaching.

So in my new “educated” role, I would like to try and be an advocate for online education.  I will try to discuss the field more often and when I hear someone mention online education I will ask them what they know about it and what they think about it.  Striking up conversations allow for the spread of ideas and maybe eventually online education will gain the same prominence that many f2f courses currently possess.

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Module 6: My Thoughts on Leaving

How did you feel? And, how do you feel now?

Coming into this course I figured we would read a few articles about online education and create a course shell for an online course.  Additionally, I came into this course assuming online education failed to meet the standards of f2f education.

Now, my thoughts are completely changed.  I really appreciated the activities in this course.  I have mentioned before that I have really learned immensely just from building a course in itself.  Building the course allowed me to put the course materials into practice as well as to agonize over decisions as I do in my f2f courses.  I feel really good leaving this course having had the opportunity to build a course that I could potentially teach in the coming semesters.

Additionally, I leave knowing that online education can be as effective as f2f learning.  Although some elements need to be different, I have learned that the design of an online course can allow that course to be even more effective than a f2f course.  For example, in my f2f course, students who miss class often have no way of hearing the pronunciation of items I teach in class.  But students in my online class can listen to an audioboo or voicethread of my pronunciation and practice for themselves.

The idea that students would be able to constantly practice with their vocabulary just by rewinding an audiorecording demonstrates how much more effective online education can be.  I wrote a blog post for module 5 where I discussed how my thinking had changed after reading an article in the New York Times about how online learning failed to match f2f courses.  Leaving this course I feel as though I could write an effective rebuttal of that argument and I believe that illustrates a great amount of growth for a person who entered this class questioning the merits of online education.

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Module 6: What Have I Learned: ETAP 640

What helped your learning?

Throughout this course I have noticed that three things really helped me learn: the presentations, the readings, and the work.

I really enjoyed the Breese presentations.  I know that I am an oral learner and I love listening to lectures.  For me things become so much clearer when I hear them described.  Additionally, hearing the teacher speak and lead me through an issue helps me feel connected to the course and the teacher.  Although I may be listening to the teacher at 2AM I feel as though I am involved in the course and what is expected of me.

I felt the readings were all well chosen.  I was struck in the first YouTube video we watched in module 6 when the students described all that they read in the world of academia and their private lives.  We really should be working hard to find readings that connect to students’ lives.  For me, as an educator, I wanted to read articles about online education and online learning.  And I felt as the articles were not cumbersome and actually related to what I was learning and my life outside of the classroom.

Finally, I loved working on my course!  I am currently writing a thesis for a MA in history and I feel like I have done more work on my course than I have on my thesis and I have put in a year on my thesis!  I truly struggled with this course and I walk away feeling fantastic about it.  Yes there are things I want to change and things I would change if I were teaching this course in September, but overall I am really happy with my course.  I took a course on online learning at UAlbany and we designed Moodle courses as well.  I hated the Moodle I created.  It felt rushed, thrown together and not at all effective.  Conversely, the course that I have developed feels more thought out and well developed.  I am assisting two teachers for the coming semesters with online courses and I feel like an “exporter” now after having completing my own course so course building definitely helped my learning!

What would have helped your learning more?

I am honestly not sure what would have helped my learning more.  I never felt as though I struggled with the material.  I only struggled with keeping deadlines.  But overall I felt as though everything was presented well and in an engaging manner.

What hindered your learning?

My immediate reaction to this question was to cite discussions.  I never felt very comfortable with discussions.  I think discussions are organized well and I really like the rating system of discussions.  But I never felt as though I was really bringing new or exciting information to the table.  But I realize as well that I did not give my best effort to discussions.  So discussions did not hinder my learning but I hindered myself from really engaging with discussions as much as I should have.

What got in the way of your learning?

Again, I would have to say nothing.  I felt as though all of the material was engaging, and appropriate in the amount of time needed.  It was no secret that this would be an intense course.  I took notes on what we learned and am taking quite a bit away with me from this course.  I feel confident in my ability to go teach online now and feel as though I learned a lot of material both in the sense of breadth and depth.

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Module 6: What Have I Learned?

Questions for consideration:

  • I’d like you to think about what you have learned in this course. Really think about what it means to have learned something.
  • What did you learn? How do you know you learned it?
  • Can you provide examples of things that you have learned? – be specific, give details.

I have been reflecting on all of the things that I have learned throughout the semester and I have condensed my learning into four major “wow” learning points.  These are the things that I know I have learned as they illustrate the change in my thinking from May to August.  I will summarize what I am taking away from each of these points below:

Technology isn’t student-centered

I am one of those people who often fell into the trap of thinking that technology made teaching more student-centered.  Since students are familiar with technology, PowerPoint will make them learn better.  Right?  Wrong! The videos we watched in the last module as well as information from the Breese presentations illuminated this fact for me.  Initially I felt as though my course learning activities seemed inadequate after watching the Breeze presentation on what works in online education.  Somehow worksheets just did not feel right.

So, with worksheets out, I decided that Skype conversations would be fantastic because it used Skype, and hey that’s technology!  But, I had no idea what I wanted from these Skype conversations.  What was I going to assess?  What did I want my students demonstrate?  I discovered that just inserting technology does not suddenly make things better.  My Skype idea, without any strong development proved to be just as lackluster as the worksheets I had originally considered using.  Thus, I take away from this course that technology is a tool, but it is not a problem-solver.  The use of technology requires the same, if not more amounts of work in preparing since the use of technology requires that the instructor know why they are using the technology and how the technology is to advance the lesson or the assessment of learning.

 Presence is more than just answering emails

I remember looking at the objectives of the module and reading the word presence.  At the time I remembered all of my online instructors who never answered discussion posts or emails and seemed disconnected from the course.  While they might not have earned tremendous points for quick response, their courses all had excellent designs and layouts.  I knew what I needed to do and when I needed to do it.  While they failed to offer feedback quickly, they had, in fact developed a presence in the classroom by creating continuity and clarity in defining assignments, objectives, due dates and many other elements of being present in the classroom.

I leave this course knowing that presence is more than just responding to students.  Being truly present requires that the students feel your presence as they are completing assignments and learning – knowing what is expected of them and what they expect of the instructor.

Community is more than just posting in discussion forums

In my other online courses class community has been developed by writing a post introducing myself to the class and responding to two of my classmates.  After that I was placed in groups and never spoke to one-third to two-thirds of the class.  Thus there were class communities, but no such thing as class community.

This course has illustrated to me the need to really build community in an online course and to do more than just expect students to talk with each other and enjoy each other’s presence in the digital realm.  Students need to feel connected to each other as well as to their class.  By engaging students and allowing students to grow there is a connection with the student and the course that allows the student to feel more open to a classroom community.  For example, if a student knows what to do and how to do it (presence) he/she might feel more comfortable branching out in discussions and discussing points with a majority of students instead of just discussing with the same people at the same time.  But community depends heavily on presence and the two really work in tandem.

 “Assume nothing”

Alex made this point in the Breese presentation in the second module and it changed a lot of my thinking both about online learning as well as f2f learning.  In my f2f teaching I often assume that my students will understand something or already will know how to do something.  And then something happens.  My students turn in poor work and I assume I just have low-quality students.  Yet, the blame lies solely with me for just assuming that my students know how to do something.

Students need to know how to do what they are being asked to complete, whether that be writing an essay, creating a course profile, or participating in discussion.  If one assumes that students can just do that, then the results will turn out poorly which wastes everyone’s time.  Instead, instructors, both f2f and online, need to assume that their students do not know how to do something.  Taking the time to explain something may seem tedious but it will provide for greater clarification, greater learning, and more meaningful assessments.  Taking the time to just let students know what to do and how to do it has the potential of increasing the enjoyment of learning for all involved!

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Module 5: Where Am I: Putting Theory into Practice

What thoughts do you have about moving from theory (social, teaching, and cognitive presence) to practice (building it all into your online course)?

Usually I tend to rely more on practical experience than theory. But I have found that the theory presented in this course allows itself for practical use as well.  I know that I have talked a lot about presence and community but it is these two theories that have really allowed me to be more accepting of moving into the online field.  My two issues with online education before the start of this class dealt with the actual education being offered as well as the connections being formed.

As a PhD student I find that much of my learning comes from the seminar setup of my courses in that I learn a lot from hearing other students discuss readings, lecture, etc.  While this type of learning is not solely based in PhD courses, I failed to see that such discussions and learning being present in online education.  But the theory in this course has allowed me to see that in practice, online education can allow for a sound education and a classroom community that can match that of most f2f classrooms.

Presence in online education allows for the teacher to be present in the class as if they were actually with the student.  Effective planning, as we have been doing throughout the summer, allows for the teacher to create a course with sound educational goals and objectives.  Thus when the theory of presence is present in an online course I feel as though the idea that online education is easier or not as rigorous as f2f classrooms loses credence.

Additionally, the idea that discussions cannot have the same effect in online courses may have once been valid but has been made less so by the theory of community in online education. Building community allows students to interact with each other and learn from each other in the same manner as they do from f2f discussions.  While the interactions are different, by having community, students can feel more connected to the class as if they were attending a regularly schedule f2f course.

Given these two theories, I feel as though theory and practice are very closely intertwined in online education and perhaps more than f2f learning.  Whereas theory and practice can be very closely linked in f2f courses, it might be more so for online learning.  Online learning allows an instructor the opportunity to put everything into place before the course starts so that students come in being able to see all that they need to be successful.  This may not always be the case with f2f courses.  Additionally, to make sure that such theories as presence and community are present in online courses online instructors often have to do more to ensure success in their classes.  For these reasons I am starting to believe that online education, when combined with effective theories can eventually surpass f2f learning.

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Module 5: Where Am I: The Surprises

What have you learned so far about yourself during this process?

This process has illuminated the fact that I am not decisive as I would like to be.  I would like to put together my course and feel comfortable with all of the activities that I have created.  But, at the moment, I feel as though my course is lacking enough learning activities for the students to demonstrate their learning.  Although I believe that all of my standards and objectives are tied to activities in my course, I wonder if I need more, if I should be asking the students to demonstrate more, or if I just continued to be too tied down to the f2f world.

I think my hang-up comes from the fact that I give a daily quiz in my course as well as assign homework for each class session.  While this seems punitive, the assignments act as formative assessments for me and allow me to see where my students are.  What I need to realize is that I will be able to ascertain formative information about my students from their discussions and their voicethread assignments that I will be grading.  Additionally, the students will have outlets to inform me if they have questions or do not understand a concept.  So I’ve learned about myself that 1. I need to feel confident about what I have assigned my students and 2. I need to work more on letting go and let the preparation for presence and community take over.

What has been the most surprising thing you have learned so far?

The amount of technology available for use in online education has really surprised me. I had become aware of some of the technology when I took a course in online education about three years ago, but I am most surprised at what has developed in the past three years!  Maybe thy were available before but vimeo.com and audioboo.com have been two tools that I have found very useful and want to use in my teaching even if I am still teaching my courses f2f. I am glad that I have reactivated my twitter account for this course as I feel as though I can tap into some twitter feeds that will keep me updated on new technologies and new ways to use them.

Additionally, what has surprised me the most at the moment is how my course came together.  Last year I took a course in teaching foreign languages online and even at the end of that course I did not feel as though a foreign language could effectively be taught online although it had been very well demonstrated in the course.  Yet, I feel now that I could approach the administration at the college and ask to begin teaching at least one section of my course online.  I believe that how I have set my course up would allow students to achieve the same results that students in my f2f would achieve.  While it probably should not be surprising that I feel prepared to teach online at the end of a course in online teaching, for me, I feel as though it is quite a surprising development and one I hope to pursue.

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Module 5: Almost There

Where are you in terms of completion of your online course?

I feel pretty confident about my course and what I have built.  I’m still working on tweaking the introductory documents as I have made a few changes through the modules that I will need to address in the introductory documents.

I have done the proofreading that was required from the checklist but I am having issues with fonts and text sizes.  It appears as though everything is uniform when I am editing, yet when I finish editing and return to the document it is as if I made no changes to the document at all.  Lisa made a few suggestions when I made this comment and I am hoping to try what she suggested.

I think the course flows nicely and will be easily accessible for the students.  Yet, I still would like to focus a little bit more on developing community and my own presence in the course.  While I feel as though the students will know my voice and my picture, I want to be sure that they know that I am present.  I assume an online instructor gains a better feeling of this when they are actually engaged with students and making comments on assignments, etc.

How are you doing?

Overall I think I am doing well.  As described above I want to work some tweaks out, but I think I am on much sturdier foundation than I was just a few weeks ago.  Seeing things laid out makes me feel a bit easier about what I am asking students to learn and to demonstrate.  As I noted in a post for module 4, I am making progress in “letting go” of having to be a constant present and in charge of everything.  But I am still at the point where I want to add everything everyone else is doing to my course, something that I need to work on.

What do you need to complete your online course?

I definitely want to create more community in my course and I am achieving that, I believe, by having students post their questions to the course’s voicethreads.  Maybe a student needs help with a pronunciation or does not quite understand a concept.  They can post their comment to the voicethread and perhaps a colleague can answer, but even more, it develops that sense of further explanation that often accompanies f2f courses.  So perhaps students might feel more comfortable asking questions.

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Module 5: Where Am I?

I know that the foucs of this module’s blog is on where we are in our blogs.  But I was intrigued by the question “where are you?”  I think a good indicator of where I am right now is in relation to an article that appeared in the New York Times recently.  The article  written by Mark Edmundson, a professor at UVA, questions the validity of online learning.  Before taking this course I had taken two other courses dealing with online education.  Even after taking those course I had questioned the validity of online education.  Yet, as I sat reading Edmundson’s article I could not help but think that he had it all wrong.  And that realization caused me to see that my own ideas concerning online education had changed.

Edmundson writes, “With every class we teach, we need to learn who the people in front of us are. We need to know where they are intellectually, who they are as people and what we can do to help them grow. Teaching, even when you have a group of a hundred students on hand, is a matter of dialogue.”  Yet, this course has taught me that this is possible.  Being engaged and having presence in a course allows a teacher to see just what everyone is doing.  While the teacher may not always see the student’s face there are cues that students give that allow an online instructor to have those aha moments that f2f experience when they see students’ faces

Additionally, Edmundson wrote, “A truly memorable college class, even a large one, is a collaboration between teacher and students. It’s a one-time-only event. Learning at its best is a collective enterprise, something we’ve known since Socrates. You can get knowledge from an Internet course if you’re highly motivated to learn. But in real courses the students and teachers come together and create an immediate and vital community of learning. A real course creates intellectual joy, at least in some. I don’t think an Internet course ever will.”

Reading those words a year ago, I would have probably have had no argument and agreed with the author.  But going through the process of designing online learning has opened my eyes to the realities of online education.  There are online courses, I’m sure that do not seek to build presence or community, and those courses have the potential of being sterile.  Yet, that’s painting with broad strokes.  Online learning is becoming more community based and purpose driven and cannot be characterized as sterile just as all f2f classrooms cannot be construed as being driven by professor-student dialogue.

While I will still question online education at for-profit institutions, not because of the education, but because of the business practices, I have discovered that my thoughts are completely different on online education as a result of this class.  While this is probably not a huge development it has been interesting to watch my opinions change so much.  So, for the moment that is where I am.

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Module 4: Difficulties: So Much to Choose From

 

What has challenged you the most in this course? What has been most difficult or uncomfortable and why? As you go through this process as a student in this course and as the developer of your own online course, what are you thinking about?
  • The most difficult part of this class for me continues to be deciding what to use for learning activities.  At the beginning I wanted to use the activities from my f2f class.  Every time Alex introduces a new technological tool I want to use that, when I look at examples from Rob’s French class, I want to use his textbook activities, audioboo files and other successful elements from his course.  When I view my colleagues’ courses I want to use the elements they have.  I find that there are so many great tools out there, that I want to use them all and know that I cannot.
  • So, I continue to struggle in making the decision as to what I want my students to complete.  How do I find the right balance between using technology as well as more traditional methods of learning to provide for a balanced course?  This idea currently dominates my thinking about my course.  As I laid out my modules and the learning activities I went through several drafts and am still tweaking my outline as I am constantly changing my mind.  I have a feeling that this happens frequently with those teachers in the midst of designing their first online course.  What helps is to hear Alex’s feedback about what works and does not.  Additionally, the tips offered in the manual about building and oragnizaing our courses have provided me with more ideas about when to use certain activities and when to save other activities.   Yet, I know I will always want to be tweaking my activities!  I know this is true after having examined the many resources avilable on Merlot.  I am anxious to dig deeper and to find many great resources for my students to use whether online or f2f.
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Module 4: Using Organization to Build Presence and Community

Who are you and why are you that way as an educator and a learner? What have you observed about yourself during this process? What have you observed about yourself during your own completion of the learning activities in this course? How can you use these insights in the design of your own course?

  • As noted in other posts, I am changing in that I see myself backing off more.  In the beginning of this course my intention was to translate my f2f assignments and activities to an online format.  This made me feel comfortable as I knew that these activities worked for me and for most of my students.  Yet, as I began to learn about presence and community it became apparent that these f2f activities did not embody presence or community building.  They represented ease for me, and that cannot be the focus in online learning.
  • While I doubt any teacher would state that he/she likes to focus on making things easy for themselves, online teaching teaches us that we need to put a majority of the focus on the students: we need to think of what the student will see, how the student will see it, when the student will see it, how the student will see it, etc.  These are decisions that cannot be made while contemplating the midterm examination or the assignment of an evaluation.  These decisions need to be made before the class even starts so that the course has a natural progression, but as well as allowing for students to progress through the course in a way that makes sense to them and allows for them to see the big picture of the class.
  • I am now in a place where I can fully see the difference between f2f and online teaching and WHY those differences exist.  Teaching presence and classroom community are important parts of any f2f classroom but they are absolutely essential in an online classroom and need to be planned out.  In my f2f teaching I often plan as I go based on formative assessments that I give.  But I am now in a place where I can see how in planning my online class, I need to have the structure in place and use teaching presence to ensure understanding.
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