Constructing eLearning Environments

Note: This is a revised article...2nd edition I suppose (smile).

Constructing eLearning Environments

Creative Commons (ShareAlike-NonCommercial-Attribution) Copyright 2013 Miguel Guhlin

"A habitude," shares Angela Maiers in her new book, Classroom Habitudes (http://www.lulu.com/content/4903951), "is the combination of habits and attitudes." Angela makes the point that as teachers, we often work from checklists. Instead she challenges her readers by asking, "Is the checklist we operate from, our scope and sequence of traditional; skills and lessons, enough for our students to invent, create, collaborate, and solve their own problems?" The 6 habitudes, according to Angela, include imagination, curiousity, perseverance, self-awareness, courage, and adaptability. Online learning environments seem to bring out some of these habitudes.

In an Introduction to Online Learning course I  facilitated, here are 3 comments participants--some of whom had never participated in online learning--made and include the following:

  • "I realized that online learning gives those of us who work opportunities for continued education at our own time and pace."
  • "I know that I am an independent learner, but I also know that I am one to respond positively through active conversation with others. I felt that the only way to do that was in a traditional classroom; now I understand that I can have that active conversation through others' comments and postings."
  • "This introductory course has greatly influenced how I feel about online learning. Although I was very nervous at first it has clearly given me the self confindence to take on a course of this nature. In addition this course has given me the opportunity to reflect on my own experiences and evaluate those skills I already had. I encourage anyone who is skeptical about an online course to embrace it with open arms and reap the benefits it has to offer."

For each of these participants, there was a checklist about teaching and learning that they were working from. Such a checklist might be:
  • Traditional face to face workshops are the only way to learn.
  • I would not do well in an online learning environment because I am not that tech-savvy.
  • When you are online, you lose the affect of a conversation, you are distanced from other people.
Old habits have, perhaps, predisposed us to learning a certain way, or worse, limiting our understanding of what we believe we can do. This article seeks to share my perspective towards online learning environments in K-12 school districts. It is a practitioner's perspective and I suggest to you that learning online embodies the habitudes of lifelong learners.

QUESTIONS THIS ARTICLE ADDRESSES
As director of  technology, I have had the opportunity to set in place several Moodles, Edmodos, and wiki-based courses. Online learning is critical to our future, both for adults and children in K-12. I'd like to see a series of courses that go beyond how to design online learning--although that is certainly essential--to how to best manage resources to facilitate and enable online learning. As an administrator growing his own program, what planning do I need to put in place to ensure success for learners in K-12 environment?
MANAGING YOUR eLearning Environment

"What is your vision for professional learning in the District?" It is a question that I have constantly asked myself. Now that I know how to setup a learning management system that allows you to facilitate online courses for literate learners ofhttps://sites.google.com/site/elearningmaps/resources/constructing-online-learning-environments all ages--how can I combine what I know with what I want to do? I imagine online learning environments that scaffold both adult and K-12 learners as they learn 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. First, let's consider what research has to say about professional learning:

Research (http://www.srnleads.org/resources/publications/nsdc.html) shows that "professional learning can have a powerful effect on teacher skills and knowledge and on student learning." Unfortunately, most teachers who need 50+ hours of professional learning around relevant topics only get 16 hours of irrelevant professional learning. The report goes on to say that for professional learning to be effective, it must meet 3 criteria.

Professional learning must be 1) Sustained, 2) Focused on important content, and 3) embedded in the work of collaborative professional learning teams that support ongoing improvements in teachers’ practice and student achievement. How do you achieve this?

Modern LMSs (e.g. Moodle, Edmodo, Wiki+Discussion Board) allows one to create a virtual learning space, yet what happens in that space is even more critical than what happens in physical space. When I try to imagine what online professional learning looks like in K-12 schools for adult learners, I find myself staggering from vendor to vendor, seeking what might work. For example, in an urban school district I worked in, I found that PBS Capstone's program was too difficult for the majority of the teachers who began the program. 

Although a minority of teachers completed the year and half long program, the majority dropped out citing the intensity of the program. What good is rigor if you lose the class? It's a question every teacher struggles with. Instead, we realized we needed to scaffold our teachers' learning and growth online. It has been the right decision for us but it may not be for district staff more experienced with online learning.

Here is what our trial-n-error yielded as a possible approach:
  1. Get staff certified as Online Learning Facilitators - this enables staff to better understand what is involved in facilitating an online course and gives you a standard framework to work from when designing a course. This is an ongoing process and I would select online certification/learning courses that are specific to your State or culture.
  2. Construct an Introduction to Online Learning course--about a week long--that can be used as a pre-requisite for teachers who have never experienced online professional learning before. This enables everyone to start from a common perspective, building familiarity with learning management system (which becomes your district standard) and opening teachers' eyes to power of a collaborative professional learning. No incentive for completion of this course except 6 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) and/or gifted and talented (GT) credit hours. If a teacher does not pass the course, they can take it up to three more times. Pass rate for this course is about 98%.
  3. Implement a technology integration lead teacher program that grants incentives such as an iPad, a 10 week online LOTI Lead Teacher course (affordable courses!), and the opportunity to develop a Level 5 technology integrated lesson.
  4. Purchase online courses that are relevant to teachers' practice in ways that are relevant to the focus of your District. Since my focus is technology integration, I sought out courses that are relevant to achieving the Texas ePlan:
    1. PBS TeacherLine courses--available for a variety of areas, not just "technology"--for deployment in your district. These courses are 30 hours each, can be converted to Moodle format and deployed in your district. My district purchased 90 hours of content--3 courses--with unlimited rights and had them converted to Moodle format. Our goal is license the content for two years at minimum and offer the 30 hour courses in smaller bites. This is necessary because PBS TeacherLine courses, which run for 6 weeks each, are fairly intensive.
    2. LOTI Lead Teacher courses, which last 10-weeks, enable you to gradually ease teachers into the online learning environment. Frankly, teachers in my experience--myself included--have little stamina for length online courses. LOTI enables you to have conversations about learning and technology over an extended period of time without the rigor of a PBS TeacherLine course, which can be frightening for newbies. Furthermore, the LOTI (levels of teaching innovation) Lead Teacher course discusses how to "harness the power of your existing programs into one united effort to assess, plan, implement, and sustain a systems approach to improved student achievement using 21st Century teaching, learning and leadership." This can put online learning into perspective.
    3. Third party how-to online learning experiences are widely available. Whether you use InfoSource Learning's content, or Atomic Learning, the question to ask yourself is, "How easy is it to plug-n-play these technologies into my Moodle?" Will I be able to embed content from these tutorial web sites into my Moodle or will participants find themselves having to log-in to yet another system? It is this last question that encourages me to consider the next option.
  5. Create your own online courses. When I started creating courses, I found myself wondering, "Where are the templates for designing an online course? What are the standards?" Like any teacher developing a lesson, I wanted some framework, a checklist to follow. I recently had the opportunity to review an online course developed by another district on an important subject. I was disappointed at the design of the course. As a result, I spent some time working with two of my team who are actively developing their own courses for use in the District. We set out to developing and revising an Introduction to Online Learning course that truly reflected the values we had learned going through Online Facilitator Training. Our course design is modular (course content and activities like forums, assignments organized by topic), features a syllabus, assignment checklist, and is multi-modal (featuring videos, audio, and text). As we worked collaboratively to revise and design new courses together, it has been helpful to have a set of internal standards to adhere to.

When first launching a learning management system, I was tempted to have one-stop shopping for courses and content. There would be ONE place to find everything. This was as a result of my experience as an electronic bulletin board system assistant systems operator (SYSOP). I had noticed that dividing up your discussion area into too many ways diffused discussion. I have since realized that this approach of clumping things will not work well.

For example, we had professional learning for adults, support areas for groups in the District, and K-12 students. As a result, I sought to re-organize our approach to  into fundamental areas, expanding on the recommendations of my team:

  • Professional Learning Center (PLC) - This is where adult learners can participate in either instructor-led or self-paced, 100% online courses and earn Continuing Professional Education (CPE) and/or Gifted and Talented credit hours. The GT credit hours are done in collaboration with our district's Advanced Academic Services Office, and the partnership with them has been well worth the investment of getting their staff trained in online learning.
  • K-12 Open Campus - The Open Campus, the title the idea of Sue Harris, facilitates 26 teachers (and growing quickly) as well as impacts 1,000+ students who are participating in online literature circles, classroom specific courses being facilitated by teachers, and more.
  • iTech - This is the Technology Center, a place where support areas and online communities for technology department initiatives are facilitated.

Finally, it is critical to develop and codify a standard approach to course development. Failure to do so means that everyone will develop willy-nilly, ensuring that end-user experiences will not be as productive, as reflective as they could be. A clean window lets us see the light rather than obscures it. So should it be with online courses. Of course, this is my perspective.

One of the most important steps that needs to be taken in is building capacity among curriculum and instruction department staff. It is critical because professional development needs are rising quickly and two curriculum specialists can reach many more people over a sustained period of time--which is more effective for professional development than the drive-by face to face workshops that characterize K-12 professional development--via online learning.

To accomplish that, we need to develop our own district culture specific courses, including the following:
  • How to Facilitate Online Courses in Our District
  • How to Develop Online Courses in Our District
The purpose of these two courses is to build capacity in our district teacher specialists to facilitate professional learning opportunities, as well as learn how to develop online courses around content that is important to the District. 

CONCLUSION
Occasionally, one encounters complaints from teachers like this one:

Our tech director refuses to even consider #NameOfanLMS as a resource. He won't unblock it or let me use it with students. How would you respond to those concerns?

We need to embrace fresh habits and attitudes--or as Angela puts it, Habitudes--of imagination, courage, self-awareness, adaptability and perseverance. Implementing online learning environments in K-12 school districts requires cultivating "elearning habitudes" in ourselves and others. After all, online learning--whether hybrid, or 100% online--is a reality whose time has come.


About the Author

As director of technology for a school district in Texas, past president of the state-wide Technology Education Coordinators group in one of the largest U.S. technology educator organizations (TCEA), Miguel Guhlin continues to model the use of emerging technologies in schools. You can read his published writing or engage him in conversation via his blog at Around the Corner.


Check out Miguel's Workshop Materials online at http://mglearns.wikispaces.com


Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure



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