Saturday, May 2, 2015

Choosing a Platform for Your Online Course

There are things I love about both Edmodo and Google Classroom. I have used both platforms with students and for teacher professional development workshops. I have found both patforms annoying however, when I want to build a course ahead of time.  They don't allow you to reorder the posts and I would have to plan my courses backwards, entering the last assignment/activity first. I realized today that I was frustrated because I wasn't choosing the right tool for the job.

Edmodo and Google Classroom organize posts in real time with the most recent post on top. This is great for courses that operate in real time aka synchronous. Each day you can post a quiz, poll, reflection question, assignment as it relates to what is happening in the class at that moment in time. Learners for the most part are at the same point in the class as each other. Conversations can flow naturally and you don't have to dig down the list for what you need. The current stuff is at the top.

What I needed was a platform that works well for on-demand or asynchronous courses or workshops. This type of course is self-paced and learners can be at any point in the course independent from each other. For an asynchronous course I want to organize the content in a specific sequence so learners can come into it at anytime and independently follow a learning path.

To be honest, I felt a little stupid when this dawned on me. Why this epiphany hadn't happened before, I don't know.

For an asynchronous course, I think any of these website creation tools would be fine. They allow for embedding or attaching a variety content as well as discussions and blog posts. Unfortunately they don't have an integrated way to create assessments or to distribute and collect assignments like Google Classroom and Edmodo.

Google Sites       WordPress         Weebly         Wix

Of course there is iTunes U which I've never tried and for some reason feel a little intimidated by. From what I've read, there are limitations in terms of creating assessments, managing assignments and student progress in the course. They have added a discussions feature which is nice.

I found a solution to creating an asynchronous course that I think will work for me in terms of course organization, management, providing feedback and tracking progress – Haiku Learning.

Haiku Learning is free (although there is a paid, more robust version) and has an easy to use, drag and drop interface for building a course. It allows you to embed various interactive elements and videos, set up multiple pages, track student progress, collect assignments, and give feedback. You have the ability to enable or disable various features such as discussions, assessments, dropbox, calendar, comments and wikiprojects. There is a lot of flexibility in how you organize course content and although you can only have 5 active courses with a free account you can have other courses that are disabled so that you can activate courses at different times.

Course participants must have a copy of the book Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence.

I have created a course called Griffin, Sabine & Figure 19 if you would like to check out how I have used Haiku Learning to structure a summer, self-paced course for educators. Just send me an email and I'll send you and invitation code to the course.

If you create online courses, there are a variety of both free and paid resources out there. Some are very simple to set up and some are more complex. Before building your course, consider whether it will be synchronous or asynchronous, the age of your audience and what features you need. If you are just putting content out their and don't need to manage students, assignments or award credit, any website creation tool will probably work for you. If you need to create a more complex course structure try out Haiku Learning for an good asynchronous platform or Edmodo and Google Classroom for a synchronous course.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I was searching Google for education images the other day. It came to my attention that with a basic Google search, the images returned did not reflect my image of education today. I started thinking about why this is so and the only thing that made sense is that the perception of education for adults who are not in the education field is limited to their own experiences. The sources for these images are coming from adults educated in a pre-millennial system. Below are the 1st ten images that came up from various Google searches.

Keyword: Teacher  Type: Any

This seems to be the general consensus of what a teacher looks like. All 10 images show a teacher at the front of a classroom. I know that there are a few chalkboards out there but I have not been in a classroom with a chalkboard in at least 20 years.
Keyword: Teacher      Type: Clip Art

About 60% of these images again depict a teacher's place is at the head of the classroom.

Keyword: Classroom     Type: Any

This search yielded images that focus on the physical space. 80% of these could represent a classroom from my days as a K-12 student. If you ask most adults to picture a classroom, their mental image will probably be something like this.

Keyword: Classroom     Type: Clip Art

Although these classroom images contain people, the same space design prevails; rows, teacher at front, direct instruction. The only thing that puts these classrooms in a modern era are the 2 with computers (on the teacher's desk)

Searches with the keyword "students" were so generic they could be students of any time period so I didn't even bother including those. I decided to try to be more specific with my searches to get images that more accurately reflect what many educators visualize when thinking of teaching and learning.

Keyword: 21st Century Learning     Type: Any

Hmmm.... Does this mean collectively we don't know what learning in the 21st century should look like? The graphics are obviously supplied by people in the field but interestingly there are few actual images of what one might see in a modern classroom. Clip Art gave me the same types of images.
Keyword: 21st Century Learning     Type: Photo


...but this was encouraging!

Keyword: Innovative Education     Type: Really did not seem to matter :(

Great concept but are these the best visual examples you've got? At least we have kids flying through the air with laptops.

Finally, I searched "Collaborative Classrooms" and started to hit some images that at least reflected my conceptualization for modern classrooms. The images still lack activity but at least they depict spaces that facilitate collaboration, are tech enabled, uncluttered, offer choice and are flexible for a variety of instructional models. 

Check this out for yourself with a few searches and discourage the use of imagery that perpetuates the factory model of education of the 20th century. I'm not saying the images of engaging, collaborative workspaces and student centered learning aren't out there, I'm just saying that you have to explicitly search for them. I think society in general still has a vision of education rooted in an industrial era. Society needs to re-image education to reflect today's world.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Equipping Your Professional Development Toolbox

If you are an instructional coach, educational leader, curriculum specialist, or other educational professional who works with teachers, you need to be proficient in the use of digital tools. Embrace the ongoing learning of tools that present new solutions to new problems and keep a pulse on changing technologies. This can no longer be delegated to a few educators in the system designated as “Instructional Technology Specialists”

The purposeful use technology as a learning tool is a component of modern best practices. Skilled educators in todays world understand that digital tools, along with sound pedagogy and relevant content, are all important in order to prepare students for success in a modern society.

Why? Because digital tools are a fully integrated into every aspect of our daily lives. To not incorporate them in authentic and productive ways in education represents a disconnect with the real world.

In my opinion, to be a truly effective teacher today you must equip your toolbox with digital tools. 
"Technology will not replace teachers but teachers who do not use technology will be replaced by those who do." 
 — Ray Clifford
That brings me back to the educational leaders, coaches and specialists. These professionals should exemplify the top educators in the system, knowledgable in best practices for today’s learners. This includes the use of digital tools. (see TPACK)

The modeling of instructional best practices for teachers is just as important as modeling processes for students. When conducting professional development, faculty, team and committee meetings or leading PLC’s, educational leaders need to utilize and model digital tools that enhance collaboration, productivity, communication, problem solving, and creativity. Here are a few tools that can be used with any educator audience:

All things Google- Use Google apps such as Docs, Slides, Sheets and Draw as an alternative to paper/pencil collaborations and brainstorming. Unlike butcher paper, stickies and index cards,These can be easily saved, edited and referred to after meetings and professional development. Information can be collected via Google forms or used as exit tickets. Documents can be efficiently organized and shared via Google Drive., a Chrome plugin allows you to highlight and save web documents. Using, teachers can collaborate, discuss and process web text information.

Google Classroom or Edmodo- These tools are classified as Learning Management Systems. Discussion groups, professional development courses, multi-school learning networks are some of the ways these device agnostic applications can be used. Edmodo has loads of features including folders for sharing files, an integrated badging system and the ability to make subgroups, polls and quizzes. Although not as robust, Classroom integrates easily with the Google suite of apps and new features will continue to be added. Both platforms allow you to embed video, links, images and documents and engage in discussions.
 Copy any text and insert it into Prism. Define up to 3 criteria for highlighting the text. Multiple users highlight text from any device based on criteria. A presenter can then discuss the results with the group by using the font visualization tool. This enlarges the text that is highlighted the most (like a Wordle) to show how the group perceives the content. This is a great web-based tool for activities such as collaboration, brainstorming and  sorting. Functionally it's similar to using sticky notes or poster paper only better because it can be readily saved for reference or ongoing contributions. Insert a video from the web or created by you. Add stopping points with reflection questions, feedback or comments. Track user responses to the content. is a great resource for flipping meetings and professional development or sharing information where collaboration is not essential. Get the content out to the teachers prior to meeting so you can  keep teacher time together more meaningful by engaging in professional discussions. - This tool allows users to collaborate and have discussions around media asynchronously. It can be used for flipping meetings and professional development. It enables teachers to engage in meaningful conversations and share ideas without being in a designated time and place. Comments regarding a video, image or document can be collected via, voice, text, or video and images can be annotated.

We model for our students daily; As educational leaders we must model for our teachers. Currently this is a standard best practice using strategies such as those developed by Kagan and Marzano but much less so when it comes to modeling best practices that include the integration of digital tools (which, by the way can be layered with other strategies). In order to seamlessly integrate technology as an instructional tool, we need to stop treating it as if it is a separate subject. Our goal should be to move away from coaches, specialists and trainers specific to technology. We need all instructional leaders to model effective technology integration.

Modeling the use of digital tools when working with teachers will help you develop a culture that embraces innovative instruction, 21st century learning skills and risk-taking. Be sure to let teachers know that you are committed to building your proficiency with new tools and will be using them to increase collaboration, communication, productivity and problem solving. Not only will you build capacity in teachers, modeling and utilizing technology tools during training, meetings, and PLCs will efficiently use your teachers most precious commodity— time.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

TCEA 2015 Take Aways

Although TCEA 2015 is packed up, it will take awhile to process all of the information I  acquired this week. My PLN has certainly grown and I added some fantastic new educators to my Twitter feed. I saw some great new tools and ideas and a fair amount of stuff that has been around awhile but in the end, these are the things that made an impression.

ESL/ELL Academy
I do not have a certification to teach English Language Learners. I registered for this as an opportunity to learn how I can support the use of technology to meet the needs of our large ELL population. One of the main things I took away from this day is that many of the digital tools and learning strategies I use and promote as a digital learning coach also align with learning tools and strategies that are beneficial for ELLs. Some of these include:
  • Evernote for oral test administration- We were doing this about 4 years ago using ipod touches in the classroom. We recorded test questions in a note. Students using a printed test could click on the audio files to have the question read to them.
  • Annotation Apps for Pictoral Representations- Using Skitch, students can create their own picture library with annotations to learn new vocabulary. I was thinking that if students have their own devices, they could take pictures throughout the day that represented language concepts that they wanted to acquire. They could then work with teachers or English speaking students to record audio files and written text to go with their pictures.
  • was a completely new tool for me. It allows you to embed video and insert questions to check understanding of the content. I can see multiple contexts for this including professional development. EduCanon and TedEd will do this as well.
Professional Development
Since professional development planning and delivery is one of my primary roles, I wanted to hear about new trends and strategies in this area.
  • Northwest ISD's Rory Peacock @rorypeacock gave a great presentation on how they have moved from professional development focused on digital tools to a concept-based PD model. This is fantastic because we all know it's not about the tools, its about the learning. This is a much more authentic and effective model that will allow them to focus on the big picture of 21st century education.
  • iTechNation (@mtomaselli@jelmhorst54, @jpbigboy) from Aldine ISD and Round Rock ISDs Instructional Technology department are leveraging the power of webcasts to reach a broader audience in a more efficient manner. Learners can login to participate live or watch recorded sessions on demand. It's a great way to differentiate professional development and offer choice.
  • Schertz-Cibolo educators Linda Coolbaugh, Candee Mills and Lana Pratt engaged attendees in dialog around the challenges of creating and delivering effective PD.  Choice was a hot topic with most people agreeing that professionals need to have choice and voice concerning their own learning. We also discussed the importance of professional learning communities as well as the importance of reflection and follow ups to learning. I was able to make a connection to several people in the session who are interested in continuing the discussion specifically related to badging as a component of professional development.

  • Steven Anderson aka @web20classroom was a fantastic presenter who shared his ideas for flipping PD. The big idea- stop wasting teachers' time at meetings by disseminating information that can be shared more efficiently in other ways. The time teachers have together should be spent on meaningful dialog and work that impacts students. He advocates for keeping it simple (less content) and including time for reflection.

Choice- For Students and Teachers
Let's face it; today's society not only enjoys, but expects choices in everything we do. Access to a variety of content on a variety of devices at our convenience the norm. Why shouldn't we expect choices in our learning? The Innosight Institute projects that by 2019, 50% of high school courses will be delivered online giving students a choice of where they learn, how they learn and the pace of their learning. @mandyrbryan and @pwagnerlicd shared a fantastic presentation called Student Choice, Student Voice: Differentiate in which they shared ideas for creating and using menus and choice boards to target various learning styles, cognitive levels and personal interests of students. They shared  resources for choice boards and gave example of how they could be used.

In several sessions I went to, the concept of teacher choice was discussed. As professionals, we want to continue to improve our practice and we generally know the areas we need to develop. Having choices and autonomy in learning raises the level of professionalism for teachers, helps develop a growth mindset and improves moral.

George Couros @gcouros was a crowd pleaser as usual and I enjoyed his session on Leading Innovative Change.

I have spent the week glued to my twitter feed, organizing notes from sessions, investigating new tools and reading articles and blog posts. My brain has reached its carrying capacity and I need to process so I have space for more by SXSWedu next month!