Tag Archives: online learning

My Live Online Lesson: Lessons Learned

In my position as a technology specialist, I often participate in online meetings and webinars. However, I do not often lead online meetings, so this week’s live online lesson was still a bit of a new experience to me. I was very grateful for the opportunity to present to two trusted colleagues, rather than a live audience of strangers, because I still have much to learn before I consider myself an online teaching expert.

First, I found that my attention was often distracted with the unfamiliar controls of the online meeting app that I was using. I use a different online meeting app every week; in just the past month, for example, I have participated in a Google Hangout, an Adobe Connect meeting, a GoToMeeting, and a YouTube Live discussion. Each of these platforms has similar functionality, but the buttons and controls are all slightly different, and located in different places. The important lesson here is that an effective online teacher should select one platform for online trainings, stick with it, and use it often enough that students also become comfortable using it. In my district, we are currently shopping for a paid service to help us manage a series of webinar training programs we will be creating next year. Everyone recognizes the importance of selecting one common training platform; people are busy and do not want to spend a half hour learning a new platform every time they have to attend an online meeting.

Second, I should have taken the advice of Greene (2014), who admonished online instructors to speak more slowly than in everyday conversation. I tend to talk quickly, which is quite normal in the fast-paced administrative world, but when teaching students, time must be given for students to internalize what they are hearing, and connect it to whatever concepts are in their working memory. My colleagues were very polite, but I think I may have spoken a little too quickly and tried to squeeze too many concepts into a 10-minute presentation. If I were to ramble on like this for a full hour, many of my students might lose interest and start browsing other web sites on hidden tabs.

Finally, I noticed that my two students responded very positively to the live online quiz game at the end of my lesson. I selected Quizizz as the platform for this assessment because it is commonly used by K-12 teachers in my District, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be used effectively for adult learners. Everyone likes to have a little entertainment with their assessment, after all; the soft music, colorful interface, and humorous feedback memes helped break the ice. Learning is difficult work, and teachers shouldn’t be afraid to take the occasional opportunity to have a little fun, as long as the focus on learning is not lost. In the case of my Quizizz game, my students completed a four-question quick check in about two minutes, which gave me a rapid insight into which concepts were well understood, and which one was still confusing to my class. This type of formative assessment is crucial  in the online learning environment, of course, because students are not physically present, so it can be difficult to read their facial expressions and other nonverbal cues.

Reference

Greene, K. (2014, March 19). Wk4_BigMarker_Online_Lesson [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/_lF3-ox8AhA

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The Importance of Feedback: Both Fast and Slow

Feedback is one of the most important parts of a teacher’s job. Even if they don’t always act like it, students tend to be very interested in teachers’ reactions to their work. The emotional course of a young person’s entire day can be strongly affected by the sort of feedback–both positive and negative–that a teacher may provide. The power of effective feedback, of course, doesn’t only impact a student’s affective domain; cognitive development also depends on frequent and specific feedback from teachers. As Wiggins (2012) pointed out, feedback based on formative assessment is one of the most powerful factors affecting student learning.

For adult learners, of course, feedback is no less important, but it needs to be structured a little differently. Adults, especially professional educators, often have a well-earned sense of their own expertise, which they may have developed over the course of many years or even decades of classroom experience with young people. Even the most personable and trustworthy administrator, instructional coach, or trainer might offer a well-stated and specific suggestion to a teacher, only to be rebuffed as a non-expert who doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. In short, providing critical feedback to adults is complicated.

Mochari (2014) described how Abraham Lincoln was masterful at providing feedback to his generals during the Civil War. After Lincoln’s death, unsent letters were discovered in Lincoln’s desk that he had wisely decided not to send. Writing these letters must have helped Lincoln clarify his thinking, and perhaps even vent some of his frustrations and anxieties about trying to keep the young nation together in spite of a brutal war. Among Mochari’s takeaways was the importance of putting yourself into someone else’s shoes before criticizing him or her (Mochari, para. 11). I once worked for a superintendent who developed a well-deserved reputation for fits of rage, during which he would yell at employees so loudly that others could hear his every word through the wall. Hearing my colleagues, some of whom had been educators for decades, being cursed at and belittled didn’t just affect their morale and self-esteem; it had negative effects on everyone within earshot. While this is a rather extreme example, the fact remains that supervisors must tread lightly when providing feedback.

Of course, treading lightly isn’t always possible. Swartz (n.d.) outlined a system of writing feedback she used with her online language arts students. Among her insights was a commitment to provide feedback via electronic comments within 24 hours of a student writing submission. Prompt feedback is key to learning because the learner needs to hear both positive reassurances and suggestions for improvement while their work is still fresh in their minds. Most people have had the dubious experience of receiving feedback so long after finishing a job that many of the decisions and actions associated with the work have been forgotten.

As I consider the feedback mechanisms in my Demo Unit for this course, I believe there are several good ways that the instructor can provide prompt and specific feedback to learners. Wiki posts and threaded online discussions, for example, give instructors an opportunity to participate in a discussion in real-time, certainly within the 24-hour constraint that Swartz developed. Virtual online meetings and video conferences allow for feedback that is even quicker, in that they approximate the face-to-face conversations that occur constantly in a classroom environment.

Although feedback is most effective when it is prompt, it is sometimes important for teachers to take at least a little more time to carefully reflect on which suggestion(s) will have the most impact on learning. Several of my Demo Unit assignments have rubric-based feedback, associated with formal grading tasks, which are somewhat slower than online meetings and simultaneous discussions. The advantage to slower feedback is that great, breakthrough ideas often require more time and reflection before they can be formulated. If there is one lesson that we can learn from Abraham Lincoln, it is that the slower, more deliberate approach may not always be the most popular choice, but it is sometimes the most effective.

References

Mochari, I. (2014, February 11). Abraham Lincoln’s brilliant method for handling setbacks. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/ilan-mochari/lincoln-lesson-setbacks.html

Swartz, J. (n.d.). Strategies for providing substantive feedback in language arts in the online environment. Retrieved from http://itlab2.coe.wayne.edu/it6230/casestudies/english/english.html

Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 10-16. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx

Academic Integrity & Online Assessment

One of my favorite ways to support academic integrity is to ask students questions that don’t have a simple, single answer. Palloff and Pratt (2009) suggested that plagiarism is more difficult when students must solve real-life problems because they might not be able to find resources that fit the unique local context of such an assignment (p. 46). This week’s Midterm assignment that I have just submitted was a good example of this strategy, because we were asked to design a presentation that we might use with our real-life colleagues. On this assignment, it would have been difficult for me to copy someone else’s answers, because my local school district and community are different from those of my classmates. My presentation, therefore, is designed with a unique audience in mind, so it’s unlikely that another student’s responses would be fully applicable to my local context, and an observant professor might note inconsistencies if a student tried to cheat in this way. Even if I were the sort of student who cheated (and I am not!), the assignment’s creative possibilities and clear relevance might persuade me to work honestly.

In the specific case of our Midterm this week, the fusion of two different media sources (YouTube and Prezi) helps guard against plagiarism because the time stamps and account information of both sources can be compared. It might be possible for a crafty plagiarist to falsify such information on either a Prezi or a YouTube video, but creating matching false details for both platforms would be more difficult.

I think dishonesty could be further prevented by adding a web cam requirement to the screencast videos. I elected to add a webcam to my assignment anyway, mainly because I wanted to gain some practice with this software feature (Wise, 2017). By showing my face and recording my own voice, my professor has an opportunity to compare my appearance, voice, and (perhaps most importantly) nonverbal cues and facial expressions compared to my appearances in other videos and webinars. Many online assessment services now incorporate photographing and/or capturing video of the student during testing; the same advantages of preventing impersonation apply here (Pearson Education, 2017). Also, if my video narrative doesn’t match the detail, tone, or syntax of my report, then that might be a red flag that at least some portions of my project might have been plagiarized.

The integrity of this assignment could be bolstered even further by requiring students to present their Prezis at a synchronous online webinar like Adobe Connect. The professor might lead a structured impromptu discussion before, during, or after the presentation. It would be difficult for a plagiarist to effectively answer detailed questions in real time.

If the authentic context is a priority, perhaps a student could be required to show his or her Prezi to one or more real-life colleagues, who would then have to submit a separate evaluation directly to the professor. Last year, for example, I had to submit a portfolio and video clip as part of my Google Certified Trainer application (Google for Education, 2017). In addition, I had to provide Google with the names and contact information for three people whom I had trained within the past year. These three people had to submit separate evaluations of my work directly to Google via their work Google accounts. It would have been very difficult for me to cheat on this portion of my application because I would have had to hack into the preexisting Google emails of 3 separate people with whom I work. To be honest, planning and executing a successful training session would be less labor-intensive than cheating on such an assessment!

References

Google for Education. (2017). Google for education: Certified trainer program. Retrieved from https://edutrainingcenter.withgoogle.com/certification_trainer 

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2009). Assessing the online learner: Resources and strategies for faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pearson Education. (2017). Deliver your own exam: Testing outside a test center. Retrieved from https://home.pearsonvue.com/Test-Owner/Deliver-your-exam/Testing-outside-a-test-center.aspx#OP   

Wise, B. (2017). Khan Academy: A rationale for blended learning at the high school level [Prezi file]. Retrieved from http://prezi.com/soll5du3vxny/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy