I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

As I wrap up another term teaching at the University of Regina, I’m once again grateful for the way a host of people, (known to some as a PLN) are so willing to support my students and me in our learning.

Earlier this semester I sent out a call for teachers and as usual, they responding wonderfully. I had each of my students working with great teachers around the globe on various projects and instructional practices. From what I’ve seen thus far it’s been a wonderful learning experience.

One of my goals in this class was to help my students gain a deeper understanding of connections and get to know other educators on a personal level. I asked a few of them to allow themselves to be interviewed by my students.

Beth Still, Lee Kolbert, Carolyn Foote, Michelle Bourgeois, Chris Harbeck, Jan Smith, Alan Levine, Jeff Utecht, Maria Knee, Diana Laufenberg, Allanah King, Clarence Fisher, Lisa Parisi, Rodd Lucier, Scott S. Floyd, Kathy Cassidy, Meredith Stewart, Silvia Tolisano, Chris Betcher, Chris Craft, Vicki Davis, Julie Lindsay, Brian Crosby and Jerry Swiatek

These folks took valuable time out of their schedules to answer any and all questions my students fired at them.There is lots to learn from these people.

Inside our NING,  we’ve had some excellent discussions. Unfortunately, most of the came during the latter half of the term and in particular a really juicy one on “Detoxing Students from Grades“.  It was evident from this discussion that many of my students had had great success with the current grading system. After all, they are in education largely because of good grades, why change things? That said, most recognized the flaws in the current system but like any good discussion, offered some excellent counterpoints and were truly engaged in meaningful dialoge. I suddenly realized it might be wise to invite the author of the post, Joe Bower in to defend and agitate the conversation even more. One Direct Message in Twitter and the deal was done.

As has been the case in previous classes I bring in a variety of speakers to share their expertise. This class was largely asynchronous but I did offer some live sessions which we recorded. Karl Fisch, Jeff Utecht, Zoe Branigan-Pipe, Liz Kolb did fabulous jobs sharing the stuff they’re involved with.

Finally, many of you commented on their blogs, engaged with them in twitter and shared ideas with me that supported our learning.

How did anyone do this before the internet?

Have Students, Will Outsource

Amber and Dani

I'll be teaching a new session of advanced computers and technology with pre-service teachers at the University of Regina from January to April. In previous introductory courses I've had my students become mentors for classrooms around this world. The chance for my students to connect with great teachers and becoming involved in classrooms in a variety of ways is often the most powerful learning they experience.

For the upcoming term I'd like to offer my students a chance to take that experience a little bit deeper. Instead of randomly posting to blogs or occasionally Skyping into classrooms, I'd like teachers to suggest a project, or teaching opportunity for my students to explore. 

The project might be a chance to teach a short series of lessons, build some tutorials, create some podcasts or videos. These are some suggestions but generally the idea would be for a group of my students, either pairs or threes would create or make something for you and your students. I"m open to other ideas but want my students to be involved in creating something of value using technology and working with/for a real classroom teacher.  Even if you have a thread of an idea but aren't quite sure exactly how it might work, I'd still like to have you apply. I'll do my best to work with you to narrow down what might work.

I've been so blessed to have many great teachers who have participated with this over the years. If you're one of those, I'd love to have you join again. I'll likely take about 15 or so classrooms. 

I would ask my students to contact you by the end of January to establish the nitty gritty of the project and work with you over the next few weeks with projects completed by the end of March or first week in April. 

Interested? If so, fill out this form. If you have more questions, email me shareski at gmail.com. If you think others might be interested, forward this, tweet it or send them my way.


My ECMP 355 Comprehensive Assessment

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

Tech Tasks

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.

Final Projects

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.

Blogging Mentorship

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:

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.

Social Learning

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