Developing an Online Course Is Like A Box of Chocolates

Chocolates would be good right about now. Every time I sit down to work on the next piece of one of my online courses, I start searching for the one with the gooey caramel center. I mean, that’s what it’s like. I look for the nuggets of wisdom. The centers of rich and creamy perfection that I can share with my online students.

box of chocolates

Gee! Now I’m hungry – again!

Teaching online is a bit different than just taking your seated course and moving it to the cloud. Some universities and professors find that an acceptable way to educate adults online. Frankly, I haven’t seen it work yet. You have to find the richness that is found in your topic and make it relevant to the classroom.

The online platform requires a different set of skills for the learner. If I don’t find out what kind of learner they are, I can’t assist them in any way. Asynchronous courses – those that can be accessed and worked on at any time by teacher or student – are tough for those that aren’t used to self-directed learning and being in the proverbial closet when doing their work.

While I’ve tried to set up synchronous meetings in past online classes, the availability of busy teachers (including me) just hasn’t been helpful. My summer courses seem to have a bit more flexibility, but even then my students are often working other jobs to make ends meet.

So back to the development of these courses…

My courses are project based. They have to be. Writing papers for an online technology course is like asking a cat if he wants a bath. It just isn’t pretty. Besides, it doesn’t show me what my students know and are able to do.

I create tutorial videos and screencasts which help a lot. But, if my content changes every 10 weeks or so, it’s hard to keep up that recording schedule. My dog isn’t much help. He barks every time I need a quiet moment. Or the 3D printers start printing a remote job. Or someone comes to the door. Or, well, I could think of a million excuses.


Who did we ask before Google

The fact remains, that I keep searching. Searching for just the right chocolate. Searching for just the right center. And then Google changes the way they do something. Or links go stale. Or the LMS (Learning Management System) gets changed. Or I’m just not satisfied that I did my best work. Or I’m in a hurry because I also work a full-time job and have a family.

Do I love it? Yes! Do I need to keep reinventing my courses? Yes! Maybe you are a teacher reading this and you think you might like to learn more about learning online. Or you need CEUs and want to learn more. Come shake up one of my classes. Come try out your Growth Mindset because you just don’t have it all done YET. Oh, and bring chocolate. Because everything is better with chocolate!

Barbara Vinal is a full-time Instructional Technology Facilitator and Magnet School Coordinator. She teaches online for the New England Institute for Teacher Education. She also teaches piano and plays keyboard/sings in a contemporary Christian music band.

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‘Twas the Night Before Conference…

It never fails. No matter how much I prepare for presenting at a conference, I’m still putting final touches on my final product fairly late the night before. It’s not that I’m not prepared. More like I’m not satisfied with the work I’ve done. Not. Ever.

Google Classroom for Littles 101 NCTIES18Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a perfectionist. Not by a long shot. But, the images aren’t just right. The text doesn’t look right. The content is just not as complete as I want. Oh, wait! I’ve only got 45 minutes! Cut out a few slides or just plan to skip them if it seems necessary. Improvisation is the name of this game.

I’ve been presenting at conferences and workshops for over 20 years. I’m not a professional by any means and it’s certainly not my regular job. I just love to share knowledge – almost as much as I like to learn something new. My students teach me something new every day. They are amazing at finding some tip or trick that I didn’t know. They constantly make me re-think my methods and my motives. Sometimes they make me laugh and sometimes they make me want to go back to school and start again.

As I develop my session, I use authentic student work. Some work from my adult students and some work from my second graders. This cross section is amazingly similar. They are very diverse in ages but very similar in learning styles. So when I bring forth examples, I hope to guide other educators down the path that has kept me teaching for all these years: constant amazement at what learning does for the human soul.

So, I’ll go back and add another image. Or take one away. Or I’ll move the text over and change the background. Or I’ll delete another slide and add fewer graphics. Maybe I’ll even finish before 4:15 tomorrow when that first slide pops up and it’s showtime. Come to my session and see if I’m done! Google Classroom for Littles 101 in Room 302B at the Raleigh Convention Center at NCTIES 2018. See you there! #ncties18 #Google4Littles

 

Beyond the Edge

I admit it. I feel as if I am struggling to keep up. After 4 weeks of the start of the school year, I am only now beginning to feel as if I can surface for air. My desk is still a mess, there are laptops that need to be assigned, iPads that need formatting and lots of emails and phone calls to return.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling. Every teacher in a traditional model school feels like this as the new year starts. There are new names of staff and students. There are new challenges with curriculum changes, policy changes, room changes. What worked last year either doesn’t work with this year’s group of students or staff, or it just needs to be freshened up to engage the learner.

So, why is it like this every year? Why does it seem particularly more difficult THIS year?

Age is one reason. The older I get, the less energy I feel I have for change. Demands of those above me affect it too. The new software, new hardware, new curriculum, new initiatives, new email, new… just fill in the blank. Change gets harder every year. So why do I feel the need to change what I’m doing or how I’m doing it? Because I am beginning to realize that no matter how much I do, there will always be more to do.

There. I said it. I’m not keeping up. I have been on the cutting edge of things for the last few years. But now I believe I may have gone beyond the edge. Past that point of wanting to know the latest and greatest. Mostly because the technology changes so fast. Probably because I’m realizing that I want to enjoy things outside of work.

So what do I do?

I reinvent myself again. We all need to do that. We need to realize that what might have been important last year is not quite as important this year. Or that what was important then, but was not addressed, has become most important now. Heavy stuff.

I am not going to do less at my job. I’m just not going to take it home quite so much. I’m going to find those things that I used to do that brought me joy while still doing my job well. I’m going to try to multitask less and focus on what matters more. Simple to say, but not so easy to do.

If you’re struggling as I am, take heart that you’re not alone. There is no one final solution for anyone. We are ever evolving and ever reinventing ourselves. Thankfully.

Let me know how you plan to reinvent yourself this year. And most certainly let me know if you have ideas for how I can reinvent myself to be more productive and stay on the right side of the edge!

Professional Development on Steroids

Spending a day with like-minded, creative people is amazing! The collective wisdom of the Instructional Technology Facilitators (ITFs) in my district rivals any R&D group. 

What makes this group of people so inspiring, is that they treat every meeting like it was their first     visit to a natural wonder. They are excited, love to share what they’re doing and make everyone around them energized to be part of the group. 

Now, I know for a fact that they are deep down, bond weary tired from interacting with teachers, students, administrators and email but they still seem to have amazing things to share. 

Makerspaces, coding, robotics, Breakout EDU (look this up – it’s a challenging set of puzzles), Coaching, teaching, inventory, scheduling… And the list goes on. And so, seemingly, does their energy. 

As a half time ITF with multiple responsibilities, I work to be time efficient. But I could never do what I do without these incredible people. Every gathering with them – even in social situations – is like professional development on steroids. 

Want to have that kind of meeting? Tired of someone talking at you? Then be the change. Ask your colleagues what they want to learn/share. Do break out sessions by interest. Led those leaders lead. Encourage the quiet ones to feel the energy and run with it. 

I couldn’t ask for a better place to work or better people to work with.  Can’t wait to jump in again tomorrow with all my new tools. I hope they feel the same way. 

Marlo Gaddis of Wake County School System
Marlo Gaddis of Wake County School System

Using Google Classroom Starting in 2nd Grade?

I’ve been using Google Classroom with 2nd graders since last year. The difference it has made in my technology instruction is amazing! Each student can focus on doing creative work either alone or in collaboration with others no matter where they are.

google_classroom_logoFrom the instructor side, Classroom gives me the ability to control what my students see, where they go, and the images that they use. I can check up on their work throughout the week, even though I only see them once each week. Their homeroom teacher can assign things that are shared between us, so I can truly integrate with what is happening in the classroom.

My second graders can access the Code.org accounts through the Classroom as well. I keep links to Code.org and links to a TIP chart (Term, Information, Picture) in digital form in the ABOUT section of the Classroom for easy access.

My students can navigate through Google Docs, Google Slides, and Google Forms easily. They still struggle with spelling, reading a lot of words and following some of the directions, but the grasp the importance of adult communication. They are so excited when they get to collaborate on a document and when I comment on their work.

Google Classroom is a great platform for young and old alike. Professional development works very well in Classroom. Staff development and online courses flow nicely through this simple Suite. Just add Google Groups to the mix and you have a discussion board that is rich with conversation.

Virtual Classrooms are amazing!

The Power of Personal Online Professional Development

It has always been a challenge for me to find enough time to really communicate and train my staff the way I think I should. It’s not due to lack of motivation on my part. It’s not due to lack of need on my learner’s part. The biggest stumbling block becomes time. There is never enough time – at least not enough during the school day, a workday or well, any other day!

The move to online professional development that is self-directed has made all the difference. While I’d prefer that best practices teaching be standardized in some way, the personal aspect of being able to provide content that “speaks” to my learners in my own voice is crucial. Each trainer or coach needs to provide that personal touch that pulls in their audience.

It has a lot to do with surrounding oneself with greatness. Take, for example, that vibrant person that you learn something from every single time you are around them. They seem to just ooze the best tips, tricks, and ways to do things. They are dynamic, even if they are quiet. One is drawn to what they have to share and may be found following them on Twitter and even to lunch. But, they are willing to share. They are quick to offer a solution. These are the people I like to surround myself with.

I can send people to YouTube where they can search for their topic. But they want to hear it from me. They want to hear about my personal connection with this tool or method. Making it personal makes it real. It’s no longer just the learner and the computer. It becomes the learner, the computer and the coach who is on demand 24/7.

So, I will continue to surround myself with great people. I will continue to learn about my profession, as it changes daily. I will continue to provide the best professional development that I can so that my learners will grow and become leaders themselves. What a great year it’s going to be!

 

Technology Can Bring Even A Seasoned Veteran to Their Knees

It never fails. Intelligent teachers, attempting to learn more about current technology, feel lost and confused when presented with something new. How is it that these well educated, competent adults find themselves feeling like the first day of Kindergarten?

The simple answer is, that educated adults feel we should already KNOW how to do things. “I’m smart. I have a Master’s degree. Why can’t I understand Twitter?” The answer, really, is because you ARE smart. Children learn things quickly and adapt as the technology changes mostly because they don’t know anything else. Those of us that have been around several decades – or more – aren’t as quick to accept the steep learning curve or the new vocabulary.

One friend of mine commented, “I don’t have to learn about the Internet. It will be a passing fad and won’t be around more than about a year.” Oops. Prediction slightly incorrect.

Just when we get comfortable with how something works in the Cloud environment, it has a new update. Things get moved. It’s made “better” or at least different. As a teacher in an online environment with adult learners, this makes it constantly changing. Not such a bad thing, mind you, but I can’t just create my assignments and rest on my laurels. Matter of fact, I can’t do that with my face-to-face elementary students, either.

Even though our knees need a few moments of bending and resting, falling is a bit tough for those of us that have a few decades behind us. The easiest cure for this issue is keeping up with the right blogs and feeds. My favorite, Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, has captured my heart and brought me to my knees – a lot. They never fail to provide me with a new tip, a cool update or an awesome infographic.

Don’t be afraid of the new stuff. Dig in. You won’t break it. Really. Your professional team will suddenly expand if you join a Twitter Chat or follow some folks that are like minded. Technology changes every day, every hour it seems. Grab hold and let’s go for a grand ride!