Thursday, 23 March 2017

Openness and Me

Ainsley Marylinn
First let me start off by apologizing and sharing my reason (OK it's an excuse for not having done my blog on time, but I think its a good one!). Last Tuesday we had our second little girl. We named her Ainsley Marilynn and I spent most of my week helping my wife and trying to keep everything running in our lives smoothly. With all that I ran out of time/energy to make sure this blog was done before then next class. Thank you all for the well wishes and congratulations.

When I think about my experiences with open online spaces in the realm of education I have to admit that the only times I have been involved in an open setting would be within the courses designed by Alec and Katia throughout my graduate degree program. I have been involved and I teach in a closed environment for the most part. Occasionally I have ventured out and used my twitter account to ask for advice, or participated in a group designed multi-school activity #eggdrop. But I really haven't ventured out of my safe (closed) settings of Google classroom or URCourses very often.

Through my limited experience of the Ed Tech classes I have found that there is a huge opportunity to learn through an open space. For my personal learning I feel that Working in Open Spaces has broadened my horizons and given me opportunities and connections I would never have had prior to these classes. I also feel that you get what you put in. I have not utilized twitter as much as I have in previous classes and I am noticing my depth of understanding of the concepts we are moving throughout this semester is lacking, I would say that this is because of my inability to spend the time in the open space and interact with my PLN through blogging and twitter that I have worked to set up. I believe that the authenticity of learning is upon the learner at all times, but it is more prevalent within an open course concept. I am a big believer in "you get what you put in" ideology. Within the open learning space, the learner is in control of what they take in, therefore to answer the question of "Is authenticity guaranteed if we open the conversation to the world?" My answer would be yes, depending on you ability to discern between appropriate and authentic information. What I mean by that is, if the information you are receiving from your PLN is substantiated and you trust the information to be true, then yes, your learning is authentic and meaningful.

Within my teaching I look at what is appropriate for students in the middle years (grades 7/8). This is an age where many of the students want to be treated like adults, but are still immature and need to be treated with caution. Currently, I have not opened my classroom up to an open space, yet. I would like to branch out and begin interacting online to help my students learn our science concepts at a deeper level, along with aiding in the extending of the learning for my high achieving students. My number one concern is the safety of my students. Not necessarily the physical safety, but more the mental and digital safety of my students. I feel that I will be able to begin diving into the open learning spaces with my students through the science curriculum because I feel that it will give us the opportunity to connect with experts in the field easily, but also safely. Science is a subject that is generally clear cut at the middle years level and the answers can be found with little opportunity for any prejudice, or negative interaction occurring. I would like to eventually feel confident enough in my ability as a leader in technology within my own classroom that we can begin to branch out and blog/tweet about more social justice issues and become more involved with the more sensitive topics.

Photo Credit: Open Learning
I am fortunate to work in a community where there is a high access to technology and the possibility for interaction within an open course environment is very much available in terms of the hardware/infrastructure side of things. My concerns will come from my administration and the parents of my students. From my administration, they will want to make sure I have thought about the safety of my students and I have thought of how to problem solve a variety of scenarios before I even begin so that when the conversation begins with the parents I am ready to explain the need, purpose and how I am going to ensure the safety of my students. I feel most of my parents will be supportive, but their number one concern will be the safety of their child, and their second concern will be, how I will monitor the online activity to ensure there is learning occurring and it is not a waste of time. There will also be some educating of the parents around why open education is important and will be beneficial for their child.

In terms of how I am going to ensure safety of my students I will teach about digital citizenship with a major focus on the negatives and the dangers around being online, and creating an online identity. Utilizing sources that share information around Teachers Guide to Keeping Students Safe Online with both the students and parents will be a crucial portion of the pre-learning.  I will most likely even host an evening around digital citizenship to share and teach the parents about monitoring their children's online activity and how to openly talk to them about what they are doing online.  

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Discussion Boards.... Useful or just another chat tool?

  • What forms of student/student-instructor interactions will you implement in your course prototype (e.g. LMS forums, chats rooms, Flipgrid, blog comments/pingbacks, hashtags, Google Plus, etc.)? What justification can you provide for choosing these forms of student interaction? What guidelines or assessment practices will you adopt to ensure that interactions are meaningful, supportive, and relevant?

Since I utilize GAFE consistently in my classroom, I feel like having student to student interactions should be happening. But when I think of a discussion board, or a mode of communication other than what I have been doing I become anxious about how this tool will be misused and possibly become another distraction.

From one of our article readings this week I found the "Benefits of Using Online Discussion Boards" to be very clear.
Using a discussion board, a chat room, or any option for the students to interact to help each other, ask questions to better their understanding is a good thing. When starting with GAFE I found that all the comments we linked to an email and my inbox was constantly exploding with comment notifications. Since I was new and did not know how to manage the notifications I put a blanket ban on using the comment box, which has turned into a systematic stoppage of communication between students online.

Photo Credit: Flickr dmeyer302
OOPS! After reading the articles this week I actually facepalmed myself. I found myself reflecting and realizing how I have culled the students learning opportunities by doing this.

When thinking about our course prototype, which we are working in Google Classroom for, I am trying to think of how we can use the "Comment" section of each Assignment/Announcement/Question box to develop a better understanding of the assignment. I am certainly going to have to do some teaching around this within my classroom and I will follow the guidelines set out in the article. As a group we have discussed how we are going to utilize a blogging component to our course to ensure their is continuity between assignments. I think that through both the commenting through the announcements and the blogging our course prototype will be very inclusive and develop a more meaningful understanding of the concepts the students are learning about as they dive into their own research around their chosen topics.

As a group we have also tabled a discussion for adding another layer of communication within our course. We may incorporate a twitter feed along with our Genius Hour Project. I can see the opportunities with this being endless. With the concept of Genius Hour being all about the students interests I wonder how many serendipitous moments can happen like that of Rochelle's love or reading and how it transpired into a lengthy discussion with the author of the books she shared with a class in her building. I can see this happening frequently enough that if you took our Genius Hour Prototype into a full on classroom program you may want to create its' own Twitter account.

Within Schwier's article on Shaping the Metaphor of Communityin Online Learning Environments he shared that
Learners have control over the quality of collaboration that happens online, and if they reject the invitation to elevate their engagement with each other, we will be left with something less—a cohort, not a community (Misanchuk, Anderson, Craner, Eddy and Smith, 2000).
 I think that through using effecting communication tools, such as a safe area within the closed network of Google Classroom, a more open one of a blogging site, such as Edublog, and then an open but controlled (by the teacher) tool such as Twitter the opportunities for learning and collaborating will not only be effective but engaging for the students.