I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as part of this class and I feel I am walking away from it with a much higher level of confidence surrounding the broad wide world of Web 2.0. I feel I have a greater understanding of the potentialities of Web 2.0 to enhance learning and instruction and I’m excited to have learned how to utilize a number of tools that I’m already incorporating into my teaching and learning. A synopsis of the best tools I’ve found and used this semester can be found here at this blog post I wrote earlier in the semester.

I am also really glad to be taking this course on the heels of the EC&I 831 course I took the previous semester with Alec Couros. In that class I was introduced to Web 2.0 and a variety of open education and social learning models but it was in this course that I was able to expand upon these initial forays and to really “dig my hands (and tools) into the sand.”

I’ve learned that online instruction can be a totally immersive way to learn, that learner to learner interactions can be terrifically beneficial to the process and that a great deal of depth can be experienced by learners and instructors alike. I’ve always been more of a loner type, honestly, even though I appear to most to be outgoing. Inside me is a more quiet and sometimes shy person that most people wouldn’t guess to live beneath the surface. I’ve come out of that shell to a large degree during these online classes and I’ve learned so very much from sharing with my peers and reading about their experiences, successes and challenges alike.

I will most definitely be keeping this blog going (though I won’t set “deadlines” for myself honestly… I want to enjoy this process and not have it be mandatory participation or anything) and I will visit other’s blogs too in order to keep the ties I’ve made flourishing. I’m playing around with ideas of how to incorporate more learner-learner interactions in the online courses I’m developing and delivering for my college. It’s a challenge though because the course delivery method doesn’t lend itself naturally to these sorts of interactions. The courses I teach are 100% asynchronously delivered and there is a continuous intake, so assigning students to groups won’t work. I’ve started with the inclusion of some Forum discussions in each course and requiring students to post their thoughts, opinions, etc. to them and then comment on 2 other points of view, regardless of whether or not that student is still registered in the class or not. Then I work as a moderator to try to keep the conversations flowing. It’s early yet to know if this is beneficial for students or not, but I’ll persist in it!

There are lots of other changes I’ve made to my course delivery this semester as well. For example, the inclusion of the orientation Moodle module will ease things quite a bit (see the blog post explaining this project here). Already I’ve had a number of students opt out of a personalized session and they’ve given me some positive comments about the orientation process. They like the fact that it’s available 24/7 if they have any questions and the inclusion of the Jing screen captures is handy as well.

I’m also excited because I’ve gained knowledge on how to pursue PD online as a result of this course. I don’t need to travel in order to learn new things or to network with other professionals in the field. This is a tremendous comfort to me, especially since I could be making an overseas change of address in the next couple of years. I love the just-in-time availability of professional development opportunities. With a simple search or a well-placed Twitter, I can have a host of PD opportunities pop up on my screen. I totally love that flexibility.

In short… I’ve learned so much and even now, after completing 5 years of course work toward my Master’s degree, I still feel as though I’m a newcomer into the sandbox in a lot of ways. I really love that there is so much to learn about all of the time. I am really grateful to have been given the opportunity to practice some online networking skills that will see me through all of the challenges and exciting possibilities that still lie ahead of me. Thank you, one and all for all of your support and know that you have mine in return šŸ™‚

Talk to you all soon in the days, weeks, and (hopefully) years to come!

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In my EC&I 832 class, I’ve been asked to reflect on the ways in which ” …schools could implement computer-supported learning in ways thatĀ authentically transform teaching and learning.” So I did a little bit of general searching around the internet to see what other folks might have had to say about what they believed to be “authentically transforming practices.”

I found a really interesting website really that has some neat things to say on the subject, and sparked some ideas of my own as I was reading through the information there. Click here to access the webpage I found.

I really like the schematic diagrams they have throughout the site. Everything is interconnected, from learner needs to purposes, policies and practices. The role of the school administration is to support the learner’s needs and facilitate the interaction of the various elements. A critical thing to remember is that Instructors ARE learners just as much as the students are. Whatever the supports the school would be willing and able to provide to the student body should also be available to support their instructors, in my opinion. I strongly believe in the power and possibilities of mentoring, particularly when it comes to technological integration practices. Group learning is ideal for technological enhancement of instructional practices. Schools could support the professional development of their teachers by allowing for TIME and to facilitate the interaction of teachers with one another.

I know for myself, I learn better when I’m able to bounce ideas off of other professionals, if I’m able to compare practices with someone else, to brainstorm ideas and so on. It’s infinitely harder to think of the things one could or should do on one’s own.

What I also really love about this website I’ve found is that the principles of constructivism are prevalent throughout the school’s stated policies on learning, teaching and technological instruction. That aligns well with my own beliefs about learning too. I believe we do construct meaning and that this construction is a socially mediated event, that it builds upon prior learning and only continues when we are pushed to the outer limits of our comfort zones and knowledge.

Reflection is another key element to authentic transformation of practices. If we don’t take the time to think about what we are doing and the reasons for it, then we risk losing sight of our purpose and we risk losing future opportunities for growth. Everything we ask our students to do, to absorb, take in, reflect and iterate what is important about what they are learning, are all things we as professionals need to do ourselves with regard to our teaching. Schools can assist their professionals by paying for professional development opportunities, by giving teachers leave time to experiment with and reflect upon the various educational technologies they are implementing or trying to implement in their classrooms. Instructors should have a chance to showcase what they are learning and experimenting with to others too. There are many things schools can do that will support the learning and instructional practices of the instructors.

So during this class I’ve had an opportunity to explore and play with a variety of Web 2.0 tools and I’ve been impressed with the quality and the potentialities of all of them! Well.. at least all of the ones that appear here in this post anyway. I still can’t really get into Twitter, no matter how I try to think about it. I know it’s useful, I know I can get some really great resources from it and if I were to ever Tweet a question, I’d likely get some really great responses. But I still can’t get into it despite being able to see the potential of its usefulness for me and my PLN. However, I still do have an account and I’ll keep it in case I do have a burning question I need to Tweet one day.

#1. Skype: This is hands-down the BEST Web 2.0 tool ever created! I really love it, not only for the purposes of talking with my classmates and my students, but personally as well. My boyfriend lives halfway around the world from me (in France) and Skype saves us hundreds and thousands of dollars in long-distance charges. I love to use Skype at work too with my students. I teach online courses and chatting on Skype with the students frees my hands to be able to use my computer to help walk them through different things. I learned about Skype several years ago and I didn’t use it for years. I don’t know why not, except that I felt shy (and still do to some extent) about talking over the computer. I don’t even use a webcam even though my computers come equipped with it! I’m just too self-conscious I think. I love it now though and I can’t imagine living without it. Maybe one day I’ll feel the same about Twitter as I do about Skype!

#2. Blogs: I really like the blog tools available. There are several and this WordPress one is my first foray into blogging anywhere on the Internet. I love that there is a whole community of teaching professionals with blogs and that help for practically anything I can think of is just a search away. I love that I’m able to contribute little tidbits here and there too, even though I don’t think I have anything particularly profound to share with anyone. I feel as though I’m just puttering along at my own pace, doing my own thing and while I find what I do to be important and worthwhile, I’m not sure others would perceive it the same way šŸ™‚ I still appreciate the chance and opportunity to share what I’m doing, to reflect on it in a meaningful way, even if the meaning is limited to myself.

#3. Google Docs: I have started to use Google Docs at work to keep track of online student enrollments as well as other sorts of Ā information (such as exam specifics and MarkBook reports). There are currently 167 online students registered from all over the province with us (and some are out of province too actually. There is one student who is living and working as a nanny in France and she is taking a couple of online courses with us at the same time. There is another student in the Yukon also working and taking classes part time too. It’s really quite amazing!!) and they are taking a variety of courses. We have 10 different courses we are running concurrently and some of them have departmental exam sittings, some don’t; some require the shipping of textbooks to students while others don’t; there are three online instructors, aĀ counselorĀ and several other support staff involved with delivering the program; and we also have a mix of adult basic education students as well as 58 high school students from around the province. The tracking of information becomes critical for our success as an online education provider and Google Docs plays a critical role in that. Everyone involved has access and editing rights to the documents we use to keep track of the students. It’s really wonderful that there exists such a comprehensive collaboration tool. I have no idea how we’d manage to do what we do without this particular Web 2.0 tool.

#4. Animoto: I loved PowerPoint when it first came out by Microsoft and indeed, in my Information Processing class, I still have a unit that I use with the students that utilizes that program. After being introduced to Animoto, however, I’m thinking I may be making some fundamental changes to the Information Processing class I provide online to my students. I love Animoto. It is a truly wonderfully easy program to use and I can see the applications of it for my practice as an instructor as well as seeing the possibilities of the program for my own personal use. I’ve created a couple of Animoto shows using images I captured from my Second Life experiences and these shows can be viewed in a previous post I made on this blog site. The only thing I’d like to see changed about the Animoto application is the length of text allowed on a slide. I find it to be too short for somethings I’d like to use. I realize that a highly visual medium like this is meant to show images first and text only as a distant second, but for teaching purposes, it’s nice to be able to have the ability to explain things in more detail once in awhile. I also would like to be able to increase the length of my movie if I wanted to.. and not have it limited to the length of the soundtrack I used. It’d be GREAT to be able to link together a couple of sound tracks actually.. to have the music change with the mood, etc. Oh well! It’s still a great little tool to use and it’s especially wonderful that educators can get an account for free, not only Ā for their use, but for their class as well.

#5. Jing: I’m just starting with this little gem really. I’m going to be using Jing to capture my Second Life educational video tour clips for my final project in one of my classes. I have to do some more playing with the program but so far I’m SO impressed with it! It’s really quite simple to use and they have made some very helpful video tutorials that I’m able to watch time and again. I also really appreciate the idea suggestions and success stories that can be found on the website. Often it’s not a case of not being able to use a tool, but not being able to see the use of a tool. I will most definitely be using Jing frequently in my work and personal life, there is no doubt! I will likely end up buying the Pro version, just so I can link the videos I create to YouTube as well. YouTube is a tool I didn’t mention!! I LOVE YOUTUBE! If there are school administrators out there who are considering banning YouTube from your school, please, please, please!! I implore you!! Don’t do it!! There is a wealth of resources there and sooo many opportunities for students to create digital projects and demonstrate their learning in a vast array of modalities. I could not do half so good a job as an instructor without being able to have access to YouTube videos.

Well.. I seem to have snuck in an extra tool here and there are SO many other really wonderful Web 2.0 tools out there. These are the ones that are shaping and changing my practice as an instructor and these are the ones that I value the most. There are many others out there that I find useful too, such as wikis, Wordles, Prezi, Smilebox, Voicethread, and the list just goes on and on. One piece of advice my instructor Marnie gave me on another post in a comment she wrote was to use a filter of some kind when searching for Web 2.0 tools .. something that had recommendations for various sites. There are an immense array of tools out there and some will inevitably be more useful than others. I think the key thing to keep remembering with any of these tools is that they should be serving an identifiable purpose. They need to enhance the learning or the professional or personal goals one might have. It’s notĀ advisableĀ to add a technological component just for the sake of adding technology. I know for me, when I consider the different tools out there, I’m always weighing and judging the value added to the costs of learning how to use the technology. Not only for myself, but for my students as well, if it’s a tool that I expect them to use to showcase or deepen their learning. Some things just aren’t worth the investment of time, frankly. Fortunately all of the tools listed here are worth the investment, however, and I know there are many others out there just waiting for me to discover them!

Edit: Ā I just found this really neat blog about different Web 2.0 tools that has a slideshow that showcases a number of different applications. I’m quite gratified to see the tools I recommended and several others that I use (but forgot to mention here) also made her list!

I’m following Karl Fisch as my edublogger of choice and he posted a really interesting critique and critical reflection regarding the usefulness of Google Apps for students. He raises some really thought provoking questions in his blog. The comments at the end of the blog are also very worthwhile reading. One thing that astounded me with regard to this person’s blog is the massive following of people he must have. He wrote his blog yesterday and already it has generated 44 comments.

http://thefischbowl.blogspot.com/2010/02/google-apps-for-education-is-it-right.html

In reflecting these past weeks on what I believe as an instructor and educator, I’ve come to the conclusion that IĀ pickĀ my educational theories and philosophies the same way I pick my music preferences and I’m quite eclectic in my approach when it comes to both! Ā I enjoy a range of music from classical all the way to some heavy metal bands and Top 40 hip hop, and I’ve found that as I’ve been introduced to more educational theories and practices (mostly through the master’s degree program) the more I can see the value in various bits and pieces of different theories.

For example.. in my field of work as an adult educator, I strongly believe in adult educationĀ principles, ones based on the work done by Malcolm Knowles and his theory of Andragogy. I believe that adults come into a classroom with a wealth of knowledge and previous experiences and that those experiences are extremely important to acknowledge and to envelop into the teachings of the classroom. Adult learners are self-directed (or have the potential to be anyway.. sometimes it takes a little bit of prodding and practice to get them there šŸ˜€ ) and they need what they are learning to be relevant to their daily lives.

I also believe that people learn best when they can make connections themselves, when they engage with material to find out their own answers to questions they form themselves. This is a central tenet of constructivism too, where the instructor plays the role of a facilitator, rather than a know-all font of knowledge.

I further believe that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs plays a fundamental role in the education of adults and that if a lower level need on the pyramid is in jeopardy, then anything that is occurring in the classroom getsĀ ignoredĀ until that lower level need is satisfied. I see this repeatedly in adult education classes. If there are financial or security issues or even an unmet nutritional need that isn’t being met, then any higher order thinking skills get shelved until that situation is addressed.

There are other learning theories I see at work everyday in educational contexts. I see still the prevalence of behaviourist principles strongly at work in the way schools are organized and run. Student effort and behaviour is judged quantitatively through the use of grades and the tracking of attendance numbers and students are either rewarded for their efforts or punished for their failures. I don’t necessarily agree that this is the BEST way to do things, but it’s the system that I’m consigned to work in and at the end of the day, there needs to be accountability for everyone. The world at some level operates on behaviouristic pathways too. If I don’t get up out of bed in the morning and do my best at work each day, then I could have the aversive consequence of being jobless and thus unable to provide myself or my family with the necessities we need. I love my job a LOT and I get a lot of intrinsic satisfaction in doing the work I do, but I might be tempted to sleep in a heck of a lot more than I do if I didn’t have that threat of punishment looming over me.

As far as how I see learning theories at work in educational technology, I see particular value in constructivism and social learning theories.Ā Learners learn best when they construct their own connections between what they already know and new information they are learning. I also believe that people are inherently social creatures and we need to connect.. to find one another and learn from one another. I see rants all the time about how technology isĀ erodingĀ the connections that people make with one another, that humanity is at risk for losing the “authentic” connections between people because of the proliferation of technologies. I disagree 100% with this belief. I think technology can expand our borders, provoke and stimulate our modes thinking and increase our understanding of others and thus, ourselves.

Technology aids collaboration. Technology aids in forging connections with others. There is NO DOUBT about that at all. As an example of what I mean, for us at the college I work for,Ā Google Docs have made organizing a complex network of online students at the college far simpler than it ever would have been without that collaborative tool. There are 13 of us who have access and editing rights to the enrollment forms for the online students. Just imagine trying to keep track of 140+ online students across 5 different campuses and figure out who is to do what with the enrollments through an email system or without some sort of electronic collaboration aid! I have no idea how we did this in the past, to be totally honest with you. This is the first year we have utilized Google Docs this way and I simply cannot fathom trying to do without this tool now.

Hmm… this is a long post and I’ve addressed a lot of issues in it. I perhaps should have parceled this out into smaller chunks, I’m not sure. I hope it was coherent to the rest of you as you read it. I found my thoughts rambling a bit with this one.. bouncing from topic to topic, seeing and sensing connections within my own thoughts. I just hope I was able to articulate these in a (somewhat) intelligible manner for others to read!

Web Connections - image by Fir2002 found at Wikimedia Commons