Some Final Thoughts

Well, I think it is finally about time to start wrapping things up.  I wanted to use this last blog to discuss some of the suggestions that my reviewers and Alex had about my online course.

Suggestion 1 – Add a discussion about “Netiquette” – totally agree, especially given that my students will be essentially adolescents, a few ground rules for discussion is probably worthwhile.  I’ve since added it and I think it makes sense.

Suggestion 2 – Try to look at the course from the point of view of the student.  I completely agree with this but have to confess that I have done very little of it.  I think largely because I was so focused on structuring the course properly, I lost sight of some of the little things that make a course feel “friendly”.  For example, fun names for activities or appropriate jokes add a great deal to my regular course, so I can imagine they would also help my online course.  Having said that – I haven’t done much about it yet.  Frankly, I’m tired and I don’t think I have that left in me at this point.  But at some point when this course eventually does go live, I hope to remember this advice and just make it a little more approachable.

Suggestion 3 – Don’t have documents pop-up in separate windows.  I have to admit, I don’t really agree with this one.  I think there are certain documents where it makes sense to have them pop-up in different windows.  For example, your “What’s Due When” documents should pop up so that it is easy to toggle back and forth between assignment areas and what is effectively the syllabus.  The part I do agree with in great to pop-up or not to pop-up debate is that regardless of which you choose, you should try and remain consistent.

Suggestion 4: Make activity labels on your home page more descriptive.  I also tend to agree though some times I think keeping things as simple as possible on the homepage, and adding more content once the person clicks on a specific file makes sense.  But the point is well taken.

As I noted earlier, it would be disingenuous for me to suggest that I’ll be implementing all of these changes immediately.  There is a great deal of work to be done still.  But it is my hope that a year or two down the road, we’ll be able to offer our very first online course and Spring Valley High School, and it will be AP Macroeconomics with Mr. Hooper.  That would not be possible without the knowledge I’ve gained from this course.  Thanks for a great semester.

What I’ve Learned

This course has taught me a great deal about myself and about online teaching.  The first thing I’ve learned is that I need structure, deadlines, and clear expectations.  Alex had provided those and for the most part, it’s been helpful.  I am taking another online course in which the expectations are far more nebulous and deadlines are extremely broad.  I have not been successful because I’ve allowed far too much to wait until the last minute.  That’s certainly a commentary on myself as much as anything else, but I plan on providing structure to my students because I see how much it’s helped me.

Technically, I’ve also learned a number of new skills.  For example, I had no idea how to use Voicethread or Jing prior to this course.  The fact that I was able to successfully implement them in my course development is a testament to how well I was trained.   I also learned so much about best practices – particularly in online teaching but even in f2f teaching.  For example, the structure of an online course, the fact that so much needs to be prepared ahead of time, the fact that different techniques for assessment and instruction have to be implemented was quite foreign to me before this course.  Understanding the flow of online course, how it is designed and implemented, and even what tools are available has shed light on a realm of education that I had previously been in the dark about.

One of things that came out of online teaching is the need for rubrics and crystal clear expectations.  Though I’ve always used rubrics, the level of detail required for an online course where the instructor isn’t in your face everyday is far greater.  I came to realize that rubrics in my f2f class should be far more extensive and detailed.  I’ve already begun working on one to access in-class discussion and class participation.

Finally, I think if I was to say that anything hindered my learning it would be that there were far too many different activities happening at one time.  I’ve voiced this concern before but in the design of my course I eliminated things like Diigo, blogs, and limited the number of required responses to a discussion.  In an absolutely perfect world, I’m not sure that was the best thing to do.  Nevertheless, I believe ability of a typical high school student to focus requires that less things happen all at once.  There were many times that I was frustrated and remember thinking I had just done a ton of work (like tonight) for the course and then realized I had one more things to do – like this damn blog!!!

At any rate, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had my moment of frustration with this course, but what I will take away from it is so much more than any all-nighter I might have put in.  I now feel confident to teach my own online courses and hope to begin implementing a hybrid online program in the 2010-2011 school year.   This class has given me that kind of confidence and I’m all the better for it. (3)

Where I am – Part II

Well, it is just a few days after the bulk of our online course work was due and I for one am exhausted.  I can say that with the possible exception of writing my master’s thesis, I have never worked so hard in my entire life.  Sleepless nights, lost weekends, and seemingly endless hours of work were not helped by my procrastination but seem to be endemic to course development.  I learned that it takes a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears to make a course work.

I am still not entirely sold on the need to have the entire course completed ahead of time – though who am I to argue with the experts?  I do know that having it done (mostly) gives me a sense of control and feeling that if and when I need to change and update things, I have an established framework that makes sense.  In other words, modifications can be done in a controlled setting.  As Alex once told me (I’m paraphrasing here)  you need to plan for spontaneity.  I wasn’t quite sure what she meant at the time but I’m beginning to get it. 

The other thing I’ve learned, both from the assigned article, and from experience is the critical importance of instruction design.  I literally went through about 10 drafts of the outlining, structure, even visual design of my course.  Each time, I tried to eliminate things that would be potentially confusing or unclear.  In fact, Shea et al. note that, “students that reported high levels of instructional design and organization also tended to report high levels of satisfaction and learning.”  Intuitively, as I placed each component of the course, I felt the constant need to go back and think about structure and design.   This is clearly where planning the entire course ahead of time does help.

In terms of my course, there are a few things I’d like to spruce up.  I want to improve the flow of navigation.  There are a number of instances where I want to add links to things like rubrics or course guides for my students’ reference.  In other words, the rubrics exist, there is just too much moving about to get to them.  I still hope to improve on that.  I also continue to find typos, strange formatting quirks, and even the occasional broken link that I want to get fixed.  As of right now, I would say that I am about 85% happy with my work.  But as my old baseball coach used to say – even gems need polish. (4)

Where I am.

After completing my course review I am, perhaps more than ever, aware of just how much work still needs to be put into this course.  I really never conceived until I started laying out all the parts what it was going to mean to put everything together.  I must admit that at one point this week, I was pretty frustrated.  As I was plodding along, working on my course, I realized that I wasn’t getting very far, very fast and that the amount of work required seemed ridiculous.  My emotions ran the spectrum from a little bit of anger at being asked to complete a task that I didn’t entirely think was realistic, to disappointment in myself that, even though I thought I had caught up, I obviously was still just treading water.  I’ve settled somewhere in the middle but regardless I decided to just put and shut up and make my way through the remainder of the course development process.

In terms of what I need to complete my online course, I need a few things – the largest of which is more time.  I am simply running out of hours in the day to do things (by the way, in case anyone remembers from the beginning of the semester, we are still trying to buy a house… the most frustrating process ever).  I also need Moodle to cooperate.  It is doing things that are unexpected and it can be very frustrating.  But I believe I have all the basic tools, ideas, documents, and outlines I need – it just has to come all together.

As far as what I’ve learned about myself – I’ve learned that I need to stop biting off more than I can chew and try and focus my efforts and one or two tasks and do them really well.  This summer has been a testament to how not to pace one’s self.  Surprisingly, I’ve learned that I actually like online teaching and really think it may have a place in the high school curriculum someday.  I can absolutely say that I would not have thought that 10 weeks ago.

Finally, I’ve decided that theory is easy and practical application is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.  Teaching presence, in particular is critical at the early stages of course development because it is your thoughts, ideas, notions, and movements that will either make or sink your students course.  I’ve constantly considered and reconsidered the importance of my role as the teacher as I’ve laid out Module after Module.  And as can often happen, I’ve realized that theory isn’t always easily (or even possibly) applied to the real world.

Three more weeks to go – I think I’m going to make it. (3)

Who I am.

I am a person that needs to have control.  It has always been true.  I like to be in charge, I like to have all of my ducks in a row.  I even wanted to be a football referee growing up.  That’s right, not a football star, a referee.  I was drawn to the order, authority, and structure the referee provide for the chaos happening on the field.  I am certain that my teaching style reflects that.  My point system for grading students is elaborate.  My course organization is detailed down to the day in most cases.  As Alex points out, even when I am spontaneous, I feel the need to do it in a structured way.  And because I put so much effort into creating structure, I get very frustrated when I have to change it.  That’s part of what has made this course so difficult for me.  I’m just not good at change and, as I’ve noted before, online teaching requires me to do something I hate – completely rethink my approach.  This course has brought that fact to the forefront of my mind and really caused me to examine why structure is so important to me.  I suppose there is some deep psychological answer -maybe Jim could help me with that question.  Nevertheless, I am what I am and I’m really trying to work within myself to achieve success in this course.

So, in designing my course, I continue to emphasize structure.  Even things like the consistency and clarity of document formatting is important.  Unfortunately, one of my struggles is that amount of time this course is taking.  Because these details are so important to me, I want everythng to be perfect and I’m not sure creating an entire course “perfectly” given the time I’m able to spend on the course is possible.  I haven’t entirely solved this problem yet and so I continue to put off an awful lot of other things in my life to try and get my course where I want it to be.

I’ve also learned that when I loose control of the structure I have a tendency to procrastinate and put things off.  You’ve probably noticed that many of my posts come in the latter half of the module.  I know this to be true and it is something I’d like to change but doubt that I ever will.  So the answer is quite obviously that I need to maintain organization and structure from the beginning.  As I’ve mentioned before, it seems this courses bounces around so much that I’ve never quite been able to focus my efforts.  It didn’t help initially that this was my first online course and I wasn’t too sure what I was getting into.  Now I at least know what to expect – something that is very important to people who need control.

By the way, I hope all of this doesn’t make me sound like a complete control freak or crazy person.  I’m really not but I’m being as honest as I can.  Lastly, Alex asked us to discuss how we want to communicate with our students and how we want to present ourselves.  First, I want to be seen as organized, consistent, and clear.  I’m certain that every student feels more comfortable when expectations and the pathways to success are clear.  What I’ve also learned in this course is the instructor needs to be a voice of support and I hope to do that for my students.  At various points I’ve just about lost my mind and felt the need to share that with Alex.  She’s always talked me down of the metaphorical ledge and assured me that I would make it.  I have seen plenty of students who didn’t feel like they could approach their teacher either have a minor meltdown or just quit on the class.  Obviously neither is good so being seen as a friendly (though still firm) person is important.

Okay, I think I’ve beared enough of my sole for one night. (4)

Resisting change and learning about myself

Holy Smokes!!! I am beat!  I’m sitting here at the end of a very long day in front of the computer and I’m not sure which way is up.  Nevertheless, I plod on.  Interestingly, this Module’s blog is all about look back at what I suppose is about the halfway point of the course and discussing what I’ve gotten out of it.  First, I had no concept of just how hard it is to plan on online course.  It took hours just for me to figure out how I was going to break the course into “chunks”  Then I had to pace out the timing of each module, construct the outline of what I wanted to teach and how I wanted to teach it, and then put flesh on the bones.  In short, I’ve learned something that I suspect Alex is not going to be happy with… I don’t think it is realistic to do your entire course ahead of time.  Absolutely, I agree a general and in fact pretty specific plan must be in place.  But to design each and every activity ahead of time doesn’t seem realistic.  Obviously some folks are able to do it.  I’m not sure I fit in that category.  In F2F teaching, I’ve found general wisdom to be that it takes 3 runs of a course before you really have it where you want it.  I suspect that is largely going to be true in online teaching also.

As far as my own courses goes, I’ve decided that structure and consistency are the most important thing I can do to help my students since every one of them will be first time learners.  I already recognize that this will require me to sacrifice spontaneity and creativity at times but I think on balance it is the right way to go.  I also find that I’m still being pulled back toward my old methods and am having a hard time reinventing my approach for the online format.  When I completed my course outline, I felt like it really resembled my traditional style course more than perhaps it should.  One of my goal is to improve on that as the course development process continues.

Finally, at the halfway point I can definitely reach a few conclusions about the course.  First – don’t ever, ever get behind.  Catching up is a nightmare.  Two, I would suggest less disparate activities.  I continue to feel like we bounce all over the place from blogs, to discussions, to written activities, to building activates, to diigo, to twitter and back.  I do feel like a few of these mediums could be condensed and streamlined.  It might feel a bit less fracture.  That’s what isn’t working for me.  What is working ultimately is that I’m learning a great deal about myself and online teaching.  The course is really living up to its name.  This has been a terrific introduction on online education.

Posting from our first blog assignment

I’m embarrassed to say that this post is related to our initial blogging assignment.  In my original haste to get caught up after starting late, I missed this assignment all together – just never saw it.  Alex suggested that I post any way so here goes.  For those who can think back what seems like a million years ago (our first module) the question was after completing the tasks and assignments and in considering the demographics trends of our students, we were to reflect on our thoughts of the course up to that point.  Oddly enough, even though it was weeks ago, I can clearly remember what i was thinking.

First, after viewing the “Did you Know” video, reviewing the Suny Online Networks statistics, and completing the self-assessment activity, I quickly realized that it certainly seems that both our students and our teachers (or at least myself), have the technical skills to approach a future of online teaching.  I was actually quite surprised at how little you really needed to know about computers to become an effective online teacher.  I also was reminded that in many cases, our students technical skills often far surpass our own and that our course development and approach to online teaching should be informed by that fact. 

My other overriding feeling at the time (which I’m pleased to say has been lifted to some extent) is a sense of being on a roller coaster.  Terms which are a bit more familiar to me now like blogging, diigo, forums, posts, and tags made my head spin and I often didn’t know whether I was coming or going.  Having said that, I’ve finally gotten caught up and look forward to the second half of the course being a bit more paced and less frenetic for me.(3)

Learning more, but still skepticle about online education.

We’ll I think I’ve finally gotten to the point that I am able to back up a little and appreciate where exactly I am headed with this course.  For the first time, I feel like I may be at the point where I am able to take a breath and begin reflecting on where I should be, what I need to do, and where on earth I am going.

This week has been really interesting and I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.  First, Alexandra noted in her article that it was important to be flexible with dates and allow latitude for the student.  I’m not sure how that is working out for me.  I’m finding that since the modules are about 2 weeks long, I’m putting things off and realizing too late in the week that there are so many activities to accomplish.  I just feel like my brain is being pulled in seven different directions at once.  In truth, I’m sitting here only an hour before this week’s module is to end and completing this entry because with all the other things: discussion boards, practicums, readings, responses to others – I forgot about my blog.  I’m just having a hard time keep track of it and I’m feeling like firmer due dates might have helped me.  But as I noted earlier in one of our discussions, I’m sure not everyone would agree.

I think my greatest philosophical struggle right now is the issue of building relationships online.  A number people in the class – especially Jane – have been trying to convince me that meaningful relationships are very possible in an online course.  I guess I’m just not seeing it and even after reading Scorza’s article I don’t feel like I’ve jumped over that hurdle.  This isn’t to say that I’m discouraged about online teaching – I’m not sure where I stand.

I did learn a number of things from Alexandra’s article as well as the exemplar lessons which I am trying to build into my course design.  Particularly, I liked how virtually all of the exemplar courses had a newsflash area, broke their content down by topic instead of a weekly format, and all stressed the importance of being “present” in the course.  I also liked that each had a course information section separate from their modules.  I think that would greatly assist a new online learner.

I also like some of the research that Alex presented, particularly the point that the number of modules matters to student success and perceived learning.  My original design for my course had almost twenty, short modules.  Based on her suggestions, I’ve reconfigured my course and have the entire thing down to 10 modules.  I would not have known that intuitively.

In general, I’m not completely sold on online teaching but, I am learning a great many tools in this course should I feel the urge to teach an online course in the future.  I’m sure there is a great deal more to come and now that I don’t feel like I’m drowning, I think I’ll make it.  Oh, one more thing – I’m curious if anyone else out there is finding Moodle to be sort of cumbersome to work with.  It structure doesn’t seem intuitive to me and I feel like I would like a little more flexibility.(4)

Having Trouble Keeping Up

(3) Well, I have officially taken on too much.  My original plan for this summer was to take 3 online courses through SUNY Albany.  Unfortunately, as previously noted, I started off behind everyone else.  I also did not factor in that though three courses will be no trouble once school lets out, I did not factor in the first three weeks of June.  Final exams, putting in place final preparations for a summer job, dealing with the all the year-end administrative tasks, and going to graduation, retirement, and confirmation celebrations has just about done me in.  Now throw in the three graduate classes that I started late on top and I’m about ready to pull my hair out.  Now that I’ve become familiar with the feel of an online course (and now that school is finally ending) I really hope to get back on track.  I just wanted to make a post so that those of you who have been kind enough to repond to my blog know that I’m still alive and well.  Thanks everyone and I hope to post over the weekend with a bit more academic material and a little less whining.

My very first blog.

This has been an incredible week for me.  I joined the class a bit late and the catch up process has been a little overwhelming.  In fact, it looks like folks who started the class on time are also overwhelmed so you can imagine where I’m at.  Nevertheless, I am committed to charging through and getting myself back on par with everyone else.

I have already learned about some really interesting techniques and can immediately see how the technology utilized in this course would be an asset in teaching my own course.  I am currently fascinated with Voicethread and all its possibilities for teaching Global History.  I’m sure once I get caught up I’ll be able to enjoy learning about all these technologies even more!