Monday, November 22, 2010

Moodle Monday: Learning-Object Repositories

In most face-to-face classes, digital resources have been underutilized.  That happens for many reasons: lack of teacher planning time to implement new content, no access for students to reach the digital resources, not wanting to veer away from approved curriculum or a textbook... you name it.  And while this weakens the richness of a face-to-face class, it still is able to function, as students plod through the textbook like they have done for years.

In an online course, however, weaving digital resources into a curriculum is an absolute necessity.  While there has been progress in digital textbooks, they still are not prevalent.  Access also isn't an issue, since if students have access to the course in general, they will have access to the resources within it.  And given that the entire instruction takes place through a digital medium, a teacher's personality or classroom management cannot make up for dull materials lacking interaction.

But as most instructors will avow, it is the time factor that matters.  While looking to weave in a webquest or a digital lesson into your face-to-face course could take up quite a bit of your planning in a face-to-face class, it will actually save you time in your digital classroom, since you would be building that lesson or resource from scratch yourself.

There are a slew of resources out there, ranging from full lessons to video tutorials to simulations, and much more.  The term for all of these is learning objects.  Well-made learning objects are easy to implement in the digital class (whether directly linked, embedded, or imported into your Moodle class).  They provide clear outcomes and instructions that are intuitive.  They also make it easy for the teacher to find what she's looking for, with a searchable database and drill-down options.  Here is a quick glance at some excellent learning-object repositories out there.

Merlot - MERLOT (Multi-media Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) is a database of online resources. MERLOT offers descriptions and links to web-based resources, simulations, learning objects, lessons, and more in virtually every subject area. In addition, MERLOT offers user ratings and comments of the items.

While MERLOT is designed for higher education, the resources they link to are often very applicable for K-12 education. In addition, MERLOT offers an online content builder for teachers to create their own learning objects, as well as many resources for online teaching.

Curriki - Curriki is a repository of all types of resources for K-12 online education, ranging from individual rubrics, resources, activities, or lessons, all the way to full courses. Like Merlot, it features a community of educators who contribute lessons and rate/evaluate others, to give you a peer review process for determining quality.

One bonus feature for Curriki is the extensive amount of resources for K-8 in addition to 9-12. It will allow you to search the site by those grade levels as well.

OER Commons - Just like Merlot, the Open Educational Resources (OER) Commons has a database of learning objects available on the web.  However, this is geared about equally to K-12 as it is post-secondary.

Connexions - Connexions, like Merlot or Curriki, is a learning object repository with an online community that ranks and rates objects in addition to submitting them. Connexions has a great range in the grade level of intended objects. While mostly designed for higher education, there are resources available all the way down into elementary grades.

NROC/Hippocampus - Hippocampus offers interactive courses and units that are free for individual educators to use with their course (there is a cost for institutional use). These courses are in high school subjects such as Government, Algebra, Geometry, Biology, Religion, Physics, Statistics, and US History.

The materials are aligned with both free digital textbooks as well as published textbooks (which many schools might already own).

Wisconsin-Online - Wisconsin-Online has an extensive learning object repository, featuring quite a few interactive simulations. It features an expanded range of learning objects in many specific vocational areas (even cosmetology, hydraulics, criminal justice, and dental hygiene, among others). It also offers quite a few ELL materials.

Udemy - Udemy offers recordings of seminar lectures and other materials brought together around a specific course topic. The materials are all modular, and can be used separately.

In addition to these, don't forget the "learning object repositories" of DE Streaming, Atomic Learning, YouTube, and Teachertube, all of which offer great amounts of multimedia content for your classroom.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Establishing Online Community and Virtual Office Hours: A Case Study

I had the opportunity to sit in on Brad Niebling's Virtual Office Hours this morning.  Brad is the alignment consultant at Heartland AEA and has been chairing the Iowa Department of Education's work on the Iowa Core with alignment.

Brad has a unique challenge in front of him.  He is by all accounts the expert in this area in the state (at least at the K-12 level).  And, unfortunately, alignment is not a topic that many are voluntarily flocking to in the state.  Brad wants to build awareness, understanding, and interest in alignment across the state, where individuals can learn and discuss with each other.  And therefore needs to overcome limits in time and geography.

In essence, Brad wants to create an online community.

He's taking a new spin on professional development which could have a big impact on future professional development in the state, especially as we begin to see fewer and fewer consultants being asked to serve more educators.  He can best bring about this awareness, understanding and interest, not in some isolated presentations and courses, but by connecting things together, and allowing the internet to serve as a great on-ramp for getting people up to speed.  Here's what he is doing.

Brad is not a programmer and mentioned he has limited webpage design skills.  So instead, he has used Google's easy, intuitive interface to make a site for all things alignment.  This site not only has documentation he has created, but is eschewing an info-dump in favor of a learning experience.  When visitors attend, they are part of a conversation.

How so?  Take a peek.  He is using interactive surveys for participant feedback.  He has gathered testimonial stories from curriculum directors in the state, sharing their experiences with others.  He is utilizing screen-cast tutorials to help participants navigate the ICAT alignment tool.  He has a FAQ.  Brad's site is a model of how to make interactive websites for educators, without any knowledge of flash, javascript, or other programming languages.

Brad (@bniebling) has a good emerging presence on Twitter.  The social media serves him in many ways here.  First, he can use it as a method to give quick feedback to questions, sharing those questions with all his followers at once.  Twitter's constant conversation makes it a more ongoing learning experience than his Google Site.  Simply put, an educator might not check into the Google Site to catch the latest update, but those will come across the Twitterfeed.

Twitter enables Brad to leverage national expertise in alignment as well.  I'll be honest... I know little about alignment and even less of where to go to get current research in the area.  That's okay, though.  Brad tells me where it is, through his retweets.

And of course, Twitter serves as a promotional piece of communication, as people through connections will eventually get connected to Brad even if they weren't to ever stumble on the Google Site.  Which helps Brad promote...

  As I mentioned, his latest effort is to create a virtual session (using Adobe Connect Pro) where he answers questions or conducts conversation about alignment with whomever stops in.  When I peeked into his virtual office this morning, he was in conversation with a local curriculum director about some recent developments with the Iowa Core.

Brad has structured the room so that he can show his desktop for step-by-step demonstrations, field questions from an ongoing chat stream, point participants to various resources and links, all while talking via his computer speakers with passers-by.  Brad's next virtual office hours, by the way, will be on Nov. 23 from 2:00-3:00.

I believe this to be the future of consultation and leadership in the state.  An online community of educators, interacting through synchronous tools, social media, and online resources, makes for a much more flexible system to join and a more constant conversation.  Think about an AEAs team of literacy consultants, for example, having a weekly webinar to field questions from teachers or demonstrate some latest techniques or resources in quality literacy instruction.  And then, coupling that with an ongoing dialogue in a social media format, be it Twitter or a social network.

There is a similar model being employed by the University of Georgia, whose Bridges program has been connecting teachers for almost a decade now.  When I visited with Julie Moore, an assistant professor who has coordinated the system, she mentioned the research they have conducted points overwhelmingly to the facilitator of the community as the linchpin to the community's success.  Good facilitators had thriving communities, and not-so-thriving communities lacked that good facilitator. 

Moore identified 3 key factors to that lead to a good facilitator:

1. Enthusiasm and vigilance towards the importance of the community's focus
2. The ability to connect with people and make them feel involved
3. The willingness to devote the time necessary

Note, there wasn't anything about being an expert in certain technologies, or even an expert in the subject area.  Instead, it was more about the creativity of getting people connected, and doing so because of a passion for the subject.

So, while Brad continues his work in these areas, it isn't as simple for other consultants to go create a Google Site, Twitter account, and Virtual Office Hours.  They have to start with the essential ingredients above.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

At what point do we have too many rights?

Even though election day brought little in terms of surprises (the Republican wave was prognosticated over a year ago), it certainly is the fruition to a shift in public privilege (entitlement is probably too strong a word here).  Everybody wants their rights back.  I'm not sure anyone knows how they'd like to exercise those rights, but they sure don't want even the thought of someone taking them away.

Public education was not on the radar at all this past election cycle (this is not a surprise, as it seems to be the only area that Republicans are willing to praise Obama).  So, what is the natural extension of this "I have my rights" mentality in the public school debate?

Probably something like this.  The editorial makes the case for the public's right to know the quality of teachers they support with their taxpayer money.  This means the public release of teacher evaluations, including the "value-added" scores which measures how a student compares to their predicted success score.

This brings many questions to my mind:
  1. Have we developed the value-added formula to measure the band teacher's performance, yet?
  2. Can we do the same for police officers?  Because I'd really like to know which ones are pulling over the most people.
  3. Would the general public understand the dataset?  Would they care to?
  4. Once the public has the data, what will the actually do?  Are they enabled now?
  5. If I'm an administrator, how likely am I to add constructive criticism into a teacher evaluation, knowing I could have any citizen with a grudge looking at it?

Where do I begin?  Measuring students on student achievement data alone is already a problem, as it is to measure teachers on it alone.  This action would only reinforce the idea that this is what makes kids successful.  Even if it was a valuable measure, collecting a dataset which will demonstrate the value of a teacher in student achievement is an impossible task.  The data will be tainted with a myriad of other variables.

But what strikes me most is that the thought of communities being "enabled" to act on this information is utopian.  What are they going to do?  Spend a lot of time and money to try to force them out of work?  That principled dedication is reserved only for action on our state supreme court justices.  When it comes down to it, the community passion for a wave of change in schools isn't there.

The end result is instead that teachers feel ostracized and unfairly judged more than ever.  Simply put, it uses "accountability" as a cover word for implementing "motivation by fear".

Yes, schools need changing.  But this change requires cooperation between educators and the community, not distrust.  Community need more rights, more data?  Open the doors.  Invite them into the school to observe what's going on in the classroom.  Find ways for them to take part, to offer their reflections on what they see.  This offers accountability in a constructive manner, with all parties on the same side. 

Kids cannot be a political football.