How I learned in this course

The way I learned in this course, is similar to the way I want my students to learn when I teach them Spanish: by making errors. When I teach classes, I get happy that students get answers wrong because the wrong answers serve as an indication where my students still need reinforcement. The wrong answers serve as comprehension check, and allow for a teaching moment from my end. This whole process is similar to how I ended up learning in this course. At times I did not push myself hard enough to produce the outcome the professor was looking for. This usually led to me having to write my thoughts, cite, and then question myself as to why I wrote what I wrote. This writing process usually led to longer post and more posts that clearly state my thinking process. Aside this, it also made me take in the content of the readings a lot better. Other times, my errors came in misinterpreting the instructions, which is something that tends to occur frequently in my language courses since using the target language tends to make it difficult for students to comprehend. As for me, in the other hand, If I encountered moments of unclearness, I proceeded with my best judgment and hoped for the best.

Of course, not all learning took place in this course though errors, but also by other peers, and the professor modeling. I am the usual type of student that doesn’t feel too confident of being a leader. Simply for the fact of leading wrong, or being wrong. This showed when it would come time to submit our written assignments on the Discussions. I always preferred to wait until a few of my peers submitted their own discussions to kind of give me an idea if I was heading the right way. Again, as an instructor I have learned techniques and theories that serves as the best practices for teaching, and I usually use those on myself when I have to take the student role. For example, when my students do activities, I always provide a model to show what is expected from them. This is what professor Pickett would also do for us. Modeling sets a standard, and serves as a guide for students to aim at.

An interesting aspect that I didn’t expect to do in this course, is apply what we learned by creating our own course on Moodle. This, by far has to be the best experience. So many times students are exposed to information, just to be tested on the facts of that knowledge. Hardly are students ever placed in a situation to apply their knowledge.

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I get to walk away from this course with a lot!

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What helped me learn throughout this course was the amount of feedback that I attained from the professor.  The amount of feedback was consistent and came in abundance.  It was delivered quick too, but it wasn’t the quantity of feedback that made me learn, but rather the quality. The professor would spent a lot of minutes in videos, orally giving us individualized feedback. This showed to me that she really cares and wants her students to do good. The feedback was always given for us to push harder, provide more, and as she famously says: “Dig deeper”. All the feedback she provided was very useful, but at the same time tricky to live up to. She does require a lot from the student, and when I get to reflect in this entire semester, it’s worth it. I feel good quality works has come out of this by the professor pushing me.

The articles we had to read were also extremely helpful in my learning. I got to read the latest research articles, and see real evidence. Some of this evidence, is what actually convinced me that online courses do work just as well as Face to Face (F2). This “cured” my misconception, as this course marked my first course ever taking an online course. Actually, part of the reason why I had avoided so much online courses was due to the fact of what my friends had said, making online courses sound as lower quality. In fact, by becoming a student, I got to realize that is definitely not true.

When it comes to the question, of what could have the professor have done for me to have learned more, I cannot come up with anything, but I have always thought of an interesting idea. I would have liked to have a mandatory chit-chat through Skype the first week of class, so I could have had that human connection. I also would have liked a list of things for each assignment of thins NOT TO DO. Sometimes I just found myself working ahead in my Moodle course shell, more that I was supposed  to. I think this happened to some of my classmates too.

Ironically enough, I feel that these blogs in here might have hindered my learning. I feel that the posts on our Discussions on Moodle would have been enough. As a result, I had to put less effort on the Moodle Discussions post, so I would have enough time (and energy) to write up my journals on here.

Throughout the course, I find it how drastically slacking for 1 or 2 days could put me behind! After I would come back online to work, I would regret so much taking a couple of days off for “rest”.  Overall, now I feel amazing that I am able to walk out of this course with my course shell completed and ready to execute when I come to the opportunity to teach online.

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Great Information Comes from Experienced People

One of the “rock stars” of online learning that I got a chance to view is George Siemens.  I found it interesting that he states feeling overwhelmed by the technological tools available is a normal thing that happens with faculty that are new to online learning. It did put me at ease though hearing him say that the best thing to do is just dive into it and work a little bit at a time. According to him, a big mistake that instructors do is spend time trying to figure out what the best resources are online, when in reality there is no such thing. For example, for the simple task of uploading a video there are dozens of websites to do such a thing, when in reality they all do the same thing. It seems his overall message to becoming good with an Online tool is trial and error. The main purpose of these tools according to Siemens is to engage the learners, increase the quality of interaction, as the report he mentions of the students using Second Life. Another “rock star”, Michelle (video 10/14), discusses how she uses blogs to engage learning. She uses these 500 word posts to engage critical thinking and provides awards to motivate students. During the writing of the posts, Michelle expects them to be creative. She does this by making students do role-play in which the students have to upload pictures of dead people, and have to pretend they are the ones who commissioned the photo. The students then create a story for the person and who they were. The last “rock star”, JenM (video 11/14) suggests that instructors have to engage learners the same way instructors do in Face to Face (F2F), meaning the material has to be hands-on, and apply it. Using real examples, that are applicable to the real world, is also important.

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Building an Online course is like Driver’s Ed

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Right at this moment I find myself adding the final touches to my online course shell. The whole process of creating an online course turned out to be more difficult than previously expected. The best way I can explain the process is using Driver’s Ed as an example. Back when I was in high school, I took Driver’s Ed which lasted a whole semester. The class consisted of not only rules of the road, how to read signs, theory of how fast or slow a person should be driving under certain weather conditions, but the course also consisted of actually applying what we learned in the class out in the streets in the real world. Before students even got a chance to apply what they learned inside the class, out into the streets, students did simulations which meant sitting in a chair with all the typical controls found in a car, in front of a big screen of real recorded video. The whole experience was repeated once a month and it was meant to simulate the real roads. Students got graded based on the driving, such as avoiding obstacles and following proper speeds.

Well, regardless how much the students learned inside the classroom, nothing compared to the first few times that I actually got to have my hands sweating behind the steering wheel, driving at 40 MPH in a busy street.  Unexpected things happen in the real road, such as other drivers tail gating, or pulling out parking lots too fast without looking both ways. These things are experienced by only practicing the actual driving. Same as riding a bicycle. I can give all the instructions how to ride a bicycle to someone who has never ridden a bicycle, but they will never know how to ride it until they just sit on the bicycle and practice. This, has been my experience on creating my online course.

The amount of time I have had to dedicate in preparing everything; uploading documents, and figuring out how to work the Moodle system has seems to be a crash-course all in itself. There must have been a total of 3 times where I was writing or uploading something, and when I would submit it, it would all get lost. I soon found out that Moodle automatically logs the user off after about 20 or 30 minutes of “inactivity”.   Beyond the technical aspects, as a teacher, making sure to add enough material for the learner to acquire the material was difficult to decide. In some modules I had just the perfect amount of material, while in others I was digging for stuff to include. Thinking outside the box, as in creating a different types of oral exams for students than what they would normally do in a Face to Face (F2F) environment, proved to be difficult. I had to do oral exams I had never done before. For example, I initially had an amazing idea in pairing students for their 3rd oral exam, in which they would be paired-up through Google Hangouts. Once I started creating the activity, I realized that pairing them would require them to be online at the same time as me, which in return defeats the purpose of the asynchronous environment. I had to scratch off this idea, and instead chose for the students to create a Podcast. In here, students would be able to also speak in Spanish, and make the language use personal and meaningful.

All in all, I have gotten to know the true definition of online learning. I have been locked inside my bedroom all day, and I am starting to miss leaving my house to go to class. That always gave me an excuse to get ready for the day and go driving. Along my way to school, I would make a few stops, and after class go grab a bite to eat with a few classmates.

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I am…experiencing what online learning really is

As this course is trailing along, I am glad to say I am becoming more self-disciplined. I never knew the amount of concentration and focus it would take to complete an online course. Having to remember dates, what’s due, and what I have turned in already has challenged my multitasking skills. The homework assignments have not been “blow off” assignments, as students have to do the readings well in advance to be able to write posts in the Discussion section of the course. Initially, before I enrolled in this course which also marks my very first online course ever in my life, I thought that the assignments would all be multiple choice, and the students would have an unlimited amount of tries to achieve 100%. Boy, was I wrong! I guess this preconceived notion of an online course being easy comes from the little exposure I had at one of my previous job of working for at a bank over in Chicago, Illinois where I am from. In there, every year all the employees had to complete a list of courses which were about 15 courses in total. These courses were mandatory or else the employee would suffer serious consequences. The way those courses were managed in my department was very poorly. Even though everyone had a year to complete them, the majority (including myself) would wait until the last two weeks before the year ended, after receiving emails from the Human Resources department would keep reminding its employees to complete them. Ideally, they were initially meant to complete at home, at a leisure time, and of course to be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, the reality was that one only person would complete all the courses at work, and copy down the answers. Since workers had unlimited tries to get the answer right, it was easy to get a perfect score and paying attention to the “lesson”  was not even necessary. Everybody would press, “Skip, Skip, Skip” until they got to the questions. Once they got to the questions, coworkers and including the supervisor and manager would encourage everyone to use the answers already written down on a sheet of paper by someone else. The reason my supervisor and manger would tell us to cheat, was because if the employees did not complete the courses, it would look bad on my managers. Regardless, these small experience gave me a false reality of what online courses would be. Not only did the bank do this, but I also remember being trained at new jobs. They would place you to watch videos, and answer questions on a computer. Still, the same format applied: unlimited amount of tries to get the answers right since they were all multiple choice!

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Not All Teachers Are Created Equal

Not so easy

During the creation of my posts, modules in the Moodle course shell, and even in my blogs on here, I am starting to realize being an online instructor is not as easy as I thought it would be. In fact, I was actually having a conversation yesterday with a close friend of mine, who is also taking his first online class ever with a different professor this summer. We were sharing the similar experiences we had, such as: how work is divided into modules, and how we show that we did the readings be referring to them in our posts and comments to our peers.

But the differences soon emerged! In his online class, the students are taking the course from the student perspective. Meaning, they have assigned homework assignments and such, just like we do in this course for professor Pickett. My friend went on and that is when he said an interesting comment, “Being an online student  sucks a*s, but being an online professor is probably the easiest thing in the world. I mean, you don’t even have to get out of bed to do be an online professor“. That comment that he made sparked my interested because I knew all too well that he had never been in the other end as an online instructor. I knew he never had the responsibility of having to build his own course shell, like we are in this course for professor Pickett.

In fact, I went ahead and told him everything we had to do for OUR online course in every module, not only as a student which is 1) Complete the readings, 2) Write 6 high quality posts, and  3) Write 2 blogs, but also as an instructor. These duties include: 1) Build, create, fix, re-do, and add on our own course shell’s on Moodle. I told him that, yes, students do get to become students to know what it feels like to take an online course, but we also go a step further than in his class because we also play the instructor’s role to have a chance and create a course we envision ourselves teaching online

My friend was completely surprised at everything we had to do for my course with professor Pickeet, but better yet, I was trying to indirectly prove him wrong at the comment he had previously made, “…being an online professor is probably the easiest thing in the world.” I finished by telling him that my professor for this course constantly offers feedback and is actively involved in everything we do and write. She is always making us push ourselves a little more to “dig deeper”. I was hoping that by explaining to him everything that my professor does for this course, on top of what I have to do for our own course shell, he would realize that being an online teacher is not an easy job.

Regardless of his thoughts, I do not blame him. He said that his online course the professor is actually the opposite of mine. She does not provide feedback, is never involved in the conversations, and hardly ever provides any type of grade. In fact, he said she is currently in vacation visiting a foreign country… that made me realize how sad it must be to have a professor that doesn’t show the same compassion and carefulness as professor Pickett .   It is those type of teachers, like the one that my friend currently has, that provide a distorted illusion to her students of what it means to be a REAL online professor, who also happen to be soon-to-be professors themselves.  🙁

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My post requesting to lower posts

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In the course that I have created on Moodle,  First Semester of Beginning Spanish, the biggest worry that I have is how my students will interact in the course. What I definitely do know is that there will be a Discussion bulletin board, similar to what I have been doing for professor Pickett’s course. So, the problem is not “What” will they discuss, such as content material, but rather “How”. To answer my own question, let me walk you through a possible solution: From the very first time I was introduced to Voice Threads in this course, I fell in love with them and knew that was going to be my possible solution! The reason I worry about “How” my students interact in this course is, because I want the interaction to be oral. I want my students to speak Spanish from day one, even its a simple, “Hola, Soy Rachel”. Just a simple sentence, I feel, will make them realize that they can be immersed into the language even when learning online! Besides the fact that it probably makes me more exited than the students themselves. So, as of now, I am thinking that students will have to write 4 posts, or Voice Threads, per module keeping in mind each module will last about 2 weeks. This is aside from them having to respond to anyone that posts in response to their Voice Threads.

So far, in me creating this course, the most difficult aspect has been following the professor’s instructions in what we are supposed to do for our courses on Moodle. Sometimes I felt the instructions were a little unclear, so I would look into my classmates own courses to see the pace in which we were suppose to be working at, and would just end up seeing a diverse agenda of things. I would naturally follow my instincts and go ahead and try to keep up to where my classmates were, thinking to myself, “Maybe I missed something, so I better do what they did!”.

Something that is not related to my course shell on Moodle, but important to this course I am taking with professor Pickett, is what I find myself feeling resistance towards, and that is the 6 posts per module! I have struggled each module to keep up to the minimum requirement for the simple fact of how difficult it is to create an excellent post in order to get  “4”  out of “4”. That is also on top of having to write 2 blog posts on here. It’s not so much that I find resistance to writing them, but rather its difficult to write them and I constantly need to keep reminding myself and pushing myself to write them.  Nonetheless, what is working well for me in this course is the online course its self. I love the fact that I can come into the course at whatever time and day I feel is necessary. There is not set time in which I have to be present for class. Since I am a “night owl”, I usually find myself logging on into the course at 1 in the morning! Again, this is my first online course ever in my life, so this might not be a big deal to many, but for me it is! Ironically, I am slowly finding out that online courses are just as challenging and difficult than as if they were face to face courses.

To finish my blog, the only thing  that I would suggest  to make this course better is to lower the requirement of posts per module from 6 to 4 🙂

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You Learn Something New Everyday, or Module in this Case!

The big and important question for this module has been, “Are You Ready to Change the Way You Teach?”. My immediate response to this has been, and will continue to be a loud “Heck Yes!”. While I am open for change, I know some of my colleagues might not be on be on the “same boat” as me, and I understand their reasons for wanting to stay within their comfort zone. So, before anyone starts making assumptions as to why I am open to change, I believe it is important for me to state my reasons.

To begin, I have currently been teaching for four consecutively years and love it! I mean, I could not see myself doing anything else. At one point, I was a dishwasher (2 years), cook, (3 years) an operations operator for a bank (4 years), tutor (2 years), and a cashier & warehouse employee (a couple of months). Those jobs were just considered jobs to get me through school, as I called them. I did not get my first-hand experience at teaching until I started started my Master’s degree at Illinois State University, in which I got hired as a teaching assistant. Prior to this, I had NEVER taken any education courses, had never stepped foot into a classroom as an authority figure, or had even thought anyone with a lesson plan. I mean, I honestly did not even know what a lesson plan was! So, you can basically imagine me in my first semester of teaching as a guy from “fat camp” being thrown into a war zone with no training in weapons; I would learn how to use those weapons as the fighting would occur right in front of me. I am actually never going to forget the words of encouragement my supervisor would tell me, “You just have to survive you’re first semester”. I did. Not only did I get so overwhelmed with balancing my teaching priorities and graduate studies, but also got very fascinated by the way teaching worked. I got so emotionally involved in teaching, and became so hooked that I decided to make Pedagogy my second concentration at the Master’s level. Teaching has followed me all through my graduate studies, that even now at the Ph.D. level my second concentration is Second Language Acquisition (SLA).

All in all, ever since I started teaching in 2010, I feel that I am always changing the way I teach and always have an open mind to trying new ideas. I do this, because I am always looking out for the best way to teach something. Throughout the process I  have learned that repetition is the fastest way to staying behind the best pedagogical practices. For example, every month or so, there are always new research articles coming out in top tier scholarly journals about new studies and their findings that provide suggestions that can be implemented into teaching. I feel that as a teacher, it is mandatory for me to stay on top of the latest teaching craze. If anything, I do not want to be one of those professors we have all seen (or had at one point) that is printing out copies from books that are 30 years old, or teachers that base their knowledge in research, around the time their were in graduate school themselves, that is not relevant anymore.

As far as answering the questions that we have to reflect on, there is much to write about too! To begin, the reason I do what I do, either in class as an instructor, or as a student taking a course, usually boils down to three reasons. One, I do what I do because it works. It completes the objective for the day without any hassle. Two, I am afraid to leave my comfort zone and are not too sure how going about it a different would work out. I know first-hand, trying something new takes preparation. Lastly, I simply do what I do, because I do not know any better and wait for someone to tell me otherwise. That is, if I get caught doing it “wrong”.

The next question, is about what I have learned that I did not know before. I have learned a lot, not just through the readings, but also just being placed as a student on this course. For example, I did not know that such a high level of interaction could be kept up through student-teacher interaction in an online course. Even though the interaction is mostly feedback, the teacher makes me feel that she cares about the students, expects the best from her students, and makes me feel like a human being on this end of the computer screen, not just a number on the roster. Another thing that I have learned, is how to use Diigo, which basically works as a digital highlighter on your computer screen, where you can highlight or add sticky notes for other group members, or yourself, to see. I also learned that modules work great in online education due to its chunking, or division, of the material for the course. After observing the online courses in Module 3, I have learned that “Ice Breakers” serve as a great common way for the learners to get acquainted with one another. I have learned that an online course actually needs the same amount of hours devoted to it as a face to face course (f2f), if not more due to trying to understand how to work the technology (modules, programs, posts, and etc.).  I have learned that each module should have a “Help” section that students can access at anytime to ask questions that colleagues or the instructor could answer; similar to raising a hand to ask a question in class. In addition, I have been learning that each course should have a “Coffee Break” of some sort, where students can go and discuss anything related, or possibly not related, to the course. I have learned that activities need to be engaging and interactive in such a way, that they can also be assessed. Becoming students in this course has served me well. It allows me to see first-hand what it feels like to take a course online, before I go on designing one. Therefore, everything I have learned I will definitely keep in mind when designing my course shell.

For my online course, I definitely want the Discussions to be oral and in the target language,something similar to Voice Threads.  I also plan to upload files with my voice in which I read vocabulary from each chapter  in the textbook. Students would then have to repeat and record their own pronunciation, uploading the recordings as a file at the end of each module.

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Knowledge is Power

I have learned a lot of valuable information these past two weeks that I can apply towards my own Moodle course shell. One of the most influential references for this module has to be professor Rob Piorkowski´s online course for Elementary French 1. Going in, to observe Piorkowski´s course, I knew that hiss course would be a good model to mimic since he teaches a romance language; my interest is Spanish. I went ahead and listened to the audio documentary, and one of the most surprising facts was how many hours have to be put into  developing a new online course, which is between 100 and 200 hours!  Very surprising indeed, knowing that professor Piorkowski has had 5 years of curriculum development, and 10 years of previously teaching French in high school, and it takes him that long too, to develop his course. Since he enjoys working on these  online courses, he typically spends about an hour or an hour and a half a day. Regardless, I learned that everything in his course wasn’t placed accidentally, but actually had a pedagogical strategy behind it. For example, “Meet the classmates”, has the purpose of students meeting each other. “Bulletin Board” is an area where students can talk about anything that is not related to anything in the course. “Your evaluation” is a section where students can go to, to see how they are doing in the course. These three specific examples are sections that I can see myself including in my own course, in the future. Right now I just feel extremely overwhelmed with the mandatory features, so I’ll just worry about the extras later.

I have been making many conscious decisions about my course, except I really haven’t placed into action any yet. The reason for that is, because at first I did not want to overwhelm the students with too much, but the more I keep reading, observing, posting, and reflecting, it seems that “overwhelming” is meant to happen, and students will survive. It seems that students need to push (or “shove” for lack of better words) into immersing into the digital era.  Once the students have been integrated into the course, the professor can do their share of the work to make the student feel “part of the course”. Alexandra M. Pickett, in her presentation “What Works?”, she states that after studying tens of thousands students, it all comes down to the quantity and quality of interaction between the professor and the student, followed by interaction of the student and the rest of the class.

Going back now to my own creation of activities, I found myself having to write down information that I thought for me was obvious, but reflecting back on that, I need to remember that my student’s will not be able to read my mind. What I think is general information that should be known, for others it might be news to them. Furthermore, in my own course my students will be interacting orally through Voice Threads, posting voice notes, similar to written posts. This will get the students to start practicing their oral skills from day one.

What definitely is working for me is the Moodle course shell. I love that thing, and could sit around all day and mess with the features. This actually marks me as a first time Moodle user. Have only used BlackBoard before. What I would suggest to make it better is to allow more time setting up our course on Moodle, and less time on writting posts. There are just too many posts.

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References

Pickett, Alexandra M. What Works? http://ualbany.mrooms.net/mod/resource/view.php?id=14998.

Piorkowski, Rob. Elementary French 1. Audio Commentary. http://ualbany.mrooms.net/mod/page/view.php?id=15004.

 

Who gets the letter of recommendation?

Two students, one letter of recommendation. These two students take the same class with the same professor. The only difference is one of them took the class face to face while the other student took it online. So, who gets the letter of recommendation?

                                             question

This topic got brought up while I was speaking to my friend who is currently taking an online class, and said to me: “My professor has a really outgoing personality”. I was simply surprised, I mean, how could she even know what type of personality her professor has if she has never even seen him in person? Well, it turns out that one of her friends took the same class with the same professor, but took it face to face, or in other words, inside a classroom.

My friend and I started to give our opinions to each other about online courses, and we started thinking in how could professors write a good letter of recommendation, if the “essence” of the student can never be felt through a computer? I mean, in the classroom showing up on time and having perfect attendance counts, something that in online courses can’t be measured.In class, staying after to ask questions and further ideas discussed in class allows the teacher to know if the student is on the right track. Even acknowledging that the student in class is thinking for himself and paying attention is taken into consideration by the teacher. In the classroom, discussion leaders can be acknowledge by the rest of the peers and possibly offer suggestions for them on how to stand firm in opinions and facts. These are essentials missing from online courses that can not be seen.

To try and find an answer to my questions, I started researching scholarly articles, but this time from the learner’s perspectives.

According to Stodel, Thompson, and MacDonalds (2006), in his study participants were asked, through an interview, what they thought online courses, at the time, were missing in order to improve them. The findings were the following, “Five themes regarding what learners perceived was missing from their online learning experience emerged: robustness of online dialogue, spontaneity and improvisation, perceiving and being perceived by the other, getting to know others, and learning to be an online learner” (Stodel et al., 2006). Furthermore, students felt upset because they felt like they were reporting rather than discussing on posts. On top of that, going to the spontaneity and improvisation, how can professors do that type of quick thinking on students through online courses? Have them prove that they are quick on their feet.

Regardless, has anyone ever heard of a professor writing a letter of recommendation to a student who they had through an online course? My friend and I couldn’t find an answer ourselves and just left it unanswered. I would be interested to hear any of my colleagues experiences!

References

Stodel, E. J., Thompson, T. L., & MacDonald, C. J. (2006). Learners’
              perspectives on what is missing from online learning:
              Interpretations through the community of inquiry framework. The 
              International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning,
              7(3).
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