Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Power of Discussion Boards

Discussion Boards are a very powerful learning tool.  They allow students to show what they do and do not understand about the material being taught.  Are the students learning?  Which aspects of the content do they have questions and opinions about?  Which areas of the discussion are they strongest in, and therefore can assist their classmates? 

Discussion Boards allow students to support their assertions, read and respond to the assertions of others, and add to their original post, by providing support and evidence. The discussion board is an evolutionary process.  It should be messy, opinions should be challenged and questioned, appropriately, minds should change, and epiphanies should occur. 

One key rule with discussion boards is to avoid asking questions that have a correct answer.  If there is a correct answer, there is no discussion.  If there is a correct answer, the second, third, fourth, etc. students who respond to the board can simply copy the first person's entry.  It happens. To avoid this, ask questions that require the students to think critically, are open ended, require students to clarify and support their claims. Ask students questions in which the answers are unique to them, relate to their point of view/perspective, the way they view the world, and how it is relevant to the topic.
Discussion Boards are also excellent diagnostic tool.  Asking students to formulate questions about their reading that they want to know more about and then posting those questions and their rationale behind them allows me, as the instructor, to do two things:

1.  Interact with my students efficiently and collaboratively. 
2.  Determine what I need to teach in terms of how to formulate good questions.  Here, I can determine whether or not they need further guidance, and hopefully, here also, if a student does need more support or direction, they can receive it from each other as well as from the instructor. 

Discussion Boards can take place during a day, week, or several weeks of the course.  Students and instructors can return to them, edit them, and continue to learn from them after the assignment is complete.  This powerful tool also builds community, and allows the teacher to hear from the students who may not normally contribute in a traditional face to face discussion.

Diagramming and Brainstorming Tool

Check out as a diagramming tool. 
I used it to diagram how I establish and maintain my PLN and PLE. How might students use this in your classroom?

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Role of the Instructor in an Online Learning Environment

The role of the instructor in an online learning environment is that of a learning guide.  No longer is the teacher in the online class the sole keeper of knowledge, holder of answers, and provider of information.  The online classroom opens up opportunities for discoveries and learning that do not, and sometimes cannot, exist in a traditional face to face classroom.

The characteristics of this role as guide rather than manager are as follows:

1. Flexibility- online teachers, in order to be effective, must be flexible.  The learning is no longer black and white; there is room for change, evolution, and individualized instruction.  This means that many times the teacher cannot predict the direction that an assignment, discussion board, or project will take. 

2. Curiosity- online teachers must be curious.  Our students are curious, so if they are learning about new, innovative resources, ideas, and ways of looking at things, then the teacher, as guide, not manager, can learn from them as well.  In traditional face to face teaching, many times, the teacher provides the students with information.  In the online environment, the student oftentimes provides the teacher with information.

3. Initiative- online teachers must take the lead when it comes to modeling appropriate interactions online.  This includes modeling behavior with and for parents as well.  Take initiative when it comes to including the parents/guardians of your students in on the process.  Online learning can be family learning, rather than student only learning.   This can be accomplished through email, posts in discussion boards, tweets on Twitter, content on Blog posts, and comments on Facebook.  Online instructors must lead the way when it comes to supporting the learners in their course, and that oftentimes means supporting family members as well.  Inititative means letting go of fear, changing the way one has traditionally done things, and jumping rather than standing nervously at the top.

In a traditional face to face environment, teachers teach, students learn, and much of the interaction that exists between students is established by the instructor.  In an online learning environment, the roles shift, in many ways.  The teacher guides students through learning, allows for there to be freedom within the set curriculum, and allows for students to be accountable for the "what" part of learning, but take an active role in the "how." The goal of any online teacher should be to help students achieve academic goals, become digital citizens, and understand the power of creating an E-Legacy.  Teaching online does not mean doing what is traditionally done in the classroom using technology.  Instead, the use of technology should transform the way you teach and the way your students learn. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

3 Teachers Weigh in on How to Build Community with Online Students

Barriers you might experience when trying to build community with a group of online students in grades 6-12

1. The traditional view of education and learning.  Some are a bit stuck in the paradigm that sees their mind as an empty vessel that needs to be filled with facts from a textbook; they do not realize that most knowledge is a human construction.  That the highest levels of knowledge are not at the bottom of Bloom's taxonomy (memorize facts) but at the top of Bloom's taxonomy were students create knowledge through social interaction.  You know the saying, "Left to myself I am not very smart..."  Students need to discover that through discussion boards and other online assignments they are constructing their knowledge with each other.

2. The system itself.   Currently, this includes the banning of social media, you tube, cell phone use, and the overall opinion that the teacher has the answers and the students are supposed to learn from them alone.  The barriers come from those who still believe that the factory version of schooling is working, or should be enforced.  School is no longer about sitting at your desk and listening to the teacher lecture.  Once more people realize this, education will shift, and there will be new, different barriers to discuss and knock down. 

3. Getting the students comfortable enough to share.  One way to take away this barrier is to ensure that the class is a "safe" place for them to share.   Making sure the teacher has very clear expectations about how students respond to other students posts.  Almost like the old mantra "if you don't have something nice to say..." This is also a great time and place to teach students about constructive criticism.

Techniques used to overcome those barriers

1. Cognitive apprenticeship. This is the process of making my ways of thinking transparent, allowing students into my mental processes.  This can be done by explicitly explaining how a student change my way of knowing through the process of online dialogue.  Or by asking provocative questions that shed light  on their own thinking.

2. Working to have the bans removed, and to show, respectfully, that they are essential to the learning process for our 21st century, digital citizens.  This can be accomplished by continuing to explore the various technology tools that contribute to positive, effective community building experiences for our students, both locally and globally.

3. Creating opportunities to connect. When students feel like they belong or that their opinions matter they are going to be more comfortable with opening up and sharing.  This comes from peer relations, mostly.  In a brick and mortar environment, often our 6-12 grade students tend not to associate with their peers based on the clique they are in, how they look, who they hang out with, etc.  When these same students are taking an on-line course these stereotypes are taken away.  This is great for those whom often don't have a voice due to their peers deeming their opinions "are not important".  It also allows all students to look past their preconceived information about someone based on the outside and process information they are given based on what their classmates share.

Is a sense of community the greatest contributor to student success in learning online? Are there other factors that are more important?

1. It is a top contributor. Part of the being human is a desire to belong.  We need to be a member of a community to bring meaning to our lives.  This explains the many negative communities people will become part of, such as gangs.  When students feel validated and heard in an online environment they will be more successful and more willing to contribute to others success.

2. It is the greatest contributor to student success in learning.  Our students must feel connected, must see validity to our lessons and projects, and MUST know the answer to the question, "Why are we learning this?"  Building the community within the classroom, online, hybrid, or face to face must include other classrooms, the community, and the home.  We must teach our students how to work in groups for class, and for life.  Collaboration is a key factor in developing life skills, and meeting most school's ESLRS (Expected school wide learning results) that each student is supposed to be striving towards. 

3. It is one contributor to student success in an online learning environment.  There are many other factors such as technology savvy, home environment, prior subject knowledge, that contribute as well.

Thank you to Mr. David Dillon and Mrs. Kelly McAllister for contributing to this blog post, and for sharing your ideas.

Together, we can CHANGE education!

Learning to change, changing to learn

Changing Education Paradigms

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tools and Activities to Build your PLN

Tools and activities that I use to build my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and Personal Learning Environment (PLE) are Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, and collaboration. 

Twitter allows me to follow leaders in online learning, blended learning, education reform, teaching English Language Arts, top colleges and professors, innovative thinkers, and colleagues.  My Twitter account allows me instant access to people from all over the world interested in sharing ideas and collaborating about topics that interest me.  I have instant access to lessons, blogs, and articles.  My Twitter account is allowing me to establish a PLN.

Here is a great resource for building your #PLN using Twitter
Follow me @CourtneyHanes

Facebook allows me to follow colleges and universities, top online learning institutions, and other businesses moving education forward. Facebook allows me to share ideas, "liked" articles and businesses with friends, colleagues, family, students, former and current, and their families.  Facebook is a great way to share my love of learning, teaching, and innovative ways of looking at education.  One of my next areas to explore in regard to my PLN is Google+.  If anyone has information they find worthy about Google+ for PLN, I would love to hear about it. 

I started my blog this summer because I want my students to explore this avenue of communication and writing, and figured I better try it out first.  I am really enjoying sharing my ideas in this way, and have learned so much by reading the blog posts of others.  Blogs are an excellent way to expand your PLN because ideas shared this way are relevant, and easy to read, follow, and share.  I am always looking for ideas that inspire a blog post, and reading the blogs of others, and articles shared on both Twitter and Facebook are often an excellent resource.

In our ever changing, ever evolving world of technology and online communication, we must not forget the power of good ol' fashion face to face collaboration.  For me, discussing issues, topics, and projects with colleagues is imperative to developing and maintaining my PLN and PLE.  There are so many positive outcomes associated with meeting and sharing, discussing, and altering ideas and plans.  Part of being a strong educator is understanding the power in purposeful face to face and online collaboration, both locally and globally.