I had the great privilege this winter to teach a group of pre-service teachers at the University of Regina an introductory technology course. I was also blessed with the flexibility to design much of the course. Having done it once before, I was able to tweak a few things and try some new stuff as well. With the university semester wrapping up I thought it best to take time and reflect on my class and my role in supporter my students.
We met 12 times, 8 online and 4 in person. You can see the course outline here if you login as guest you’ll have full access.
Students were evaluated in five areas:
- 25% on weekly Tech Tasks
- 25% on their blog
- 25% on a final project
- 10% on Blogging Mentorship
- 15% on Social Learning
These were simply assignments in using the various tools we explored in class. Podcasting, setting up various accounts, watching and responding to K12 online sessions and digital storytelling were a few of the task. There were 13 in total. We spent our synchronous time considering pedagogy and for many of them the struggle was in the technology. The challenge of distance learning means you have less control over things like what software students have and their ability to download plugins and troubleshoot. One student struggled for quite sometime until a friend of hers realized she didn’t have Service Pack 2 installed. Students were basically given 20/25 for completion of the tasks and the other marks were subjective to the quality of the work.
Many students commented on the challenge of this but it also provided something very specific for them to work on. The balance between desktop and online applications is important. I may change some of the tasks but the concept works well.
As many remarked during their self evaluations, this was a big stretch. Forced blogging is never the best way, however in a distance setting, this becomes my window into their learning. I encouraged them not only to reflect on class discussions but to chronicle their learning in other areas. It was powerful to watch the growth of my students in this. I realize most will drop their blogs the minute the course ends but others have said they’ll likely continue. Obviously a big hook for them was the comments for others within the class but in particular from those outside. The really saw the power of linking as they reviewed the k12 sessions and a number of the presenters were led to their reviews and left comments. I’m also coming to accept the fact that blogging isn’t for everyone but sharing is.
I’ll likely not change much in this area. Perhaps some more deliberate mentorships outside the class as well as focusing more deeply on exemplary blogs.
While most are still out there, the struggle here was the open-ended nature of the assignment. I strongly encouraged students to combine this with the work in another class. This seemed to make the most sense. About half the students have choose this route.
Grading will be tough as it’s difficult to rubricize the varying projects. Everything from live presentations, videos, wikis, podcasts is challenging to assess. I need to do a better job developing the assessment up front. Perhaps I’ll steal a page out of Chris Lehmann’s approach to projects.
I wanted my students to gain some experience inside a classroom in a virtual way. I invited these teachers to open up their classrooms to my students:
- Maria Knee (Kindergarten, NH)
- Lisa Parisi (Grade 5, NY)
- Kathy Cassidy (Grade 1, SK)
- Sandi Kerney (Grade 6/7, SK)
- Erin Remple (Calculus, MB)
- Clay Burell (English, South Korea)
These teachers graciously introduced themselves briefly to my students after Vicki Davis provided a context for what a globally connected classroom might look like. The success rate of this aspect of my course had the most variance. Partly due to the students efforts but more due to the set up. Many students were disappointed that these students never responded to them. My continual nattering about blogs as conversations, led them to believe everyone, including 6 year olds, think the same way. In fairness, both Kathy and Lisa have a large number of mentors and it becomes difficult for their students to respond. However, there were some outstanding successes. One of my students had a skype conference with Maria’s class. The impact for her, will be long lasting. I had two other students who stepped out of their comfort zone and had some very positive results. Although none of my students had any experience in calculus, one of my students emailed Erin and ventured into her class and provided some very insightful comments. Clay was very clear he was not interested in any type of forced mentorship. Because of the nature of his student’s work I had a difficult time helping my students understand his intentions. Yet one of my students did venture out and again, had a very powerful experience with one of his. I also know that Clay emailed her to encourage her. I want to thank all these great teachers for participating. Your willingness to share will have long term impact on these young people.
I have lots to think through on this assignment. Certainly the concept is good but the execution might require a bit more planning. I really didn’t line up these teachers until shortly before we began. I also wonder about the more focus on tutoring/mentoring one or two students rather than trying to spatter comments throughout the class.
If there was one area I emphasized throughout this course it was the importance of social learning. More so than any course they’d likely take, the expectation was they would learn together. Whether they were asking questions, answering them, commenting on each other’s blogs, texting each other or visiting each other in person, I asked them to document the way in which they contributed and received help from each other.
Other than the format and details of how they assessed this, this was truly a critical component of the class. Even their commenting progressed from “nice post” to challenging each other’s ideas. Certainly most classes don’t require much in this way. Perhaps the odd group work project but not as running thread.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy working with these young people. Most of them will make outstanding teachers because they already recognize they are learners first. My main themes continue to drive my class and I hope many of theirs as well.
- Learning is social and connected
- Learning is personal and self-directed
- Learning is shared and transparent
- Learning is rich in content and diversity