E-learning: Where do we start? Where is it going?

Is your district considering moving courses to an online format? If you are considering online or blended courses, I would like to offer some tips and suggestions for best practices for transitioning a face to face course to an online course.

A Clear Purpose

Be sure to carefully examine why classes are going to be offered in an online format and what LMS (Learning Management System) will be used for delivery. Is it for credit recovery? Is it for students that want to take a heavy course load in a content area only offered face to face such as music? It’s also important to take plenty of time to evaluate and test the various LMS tools that are available. Moodle, Blackboard, Edmodo, and Angel are some of the most popular used in K-12 education. They range in price from completely free to expensive so be sure to investigate them throughly by requesting webinars and demo environments to test out before making a choice.

What does teaching an online course look like? How do I make it engaging?

I’ll come right out and tell you now that the purpose of an online course is not to digitize worksheets. An online or blended course is not a storage place for all your worksheets and PowerPoint presentations. Teaching a course face to face vs. online is very different not just from the teacher perspective but for students as well. Think about it this way: Every concept that is taught face to face has to be converted to an online format that still adequately teaches the concept or skill. When we think about it that way it feels like quite a daunting task. From a student perspective an online course might initially sound like it would be taking the “easy road”. It’s quite the opposite. Online courses require a very strong work ethic and a lot of self-discipline. Some great resources for students to self assess before embarking into  online learning can be found here. This resource was put together by some of my colleagues when we were at the very beginning of online courses. We have found that not only do students find it beneficial, but counselors have used it as well when a student asks to be enrolled in an online course.

Developing an online course takes a considerable amount of time to organize and gather resources. My district has 3 fully online high school courses and an entire semester was spent to organize and develop the courses in an online format. Online courses need to be rich in multimedia and interactivity. This can happen by using the discussion board, journaling, having a virtual classroom session, video and audio resources, and interactive websites and simulations. There are also additional tools within an online course that lend themselves well to group projects and delivering assessments.

Since students in an online class aren’t seeing each other and speaking to each other face to face, proper discussion skills need to be covered. It’s one of the biggest complaints I hear from teachers that are teaching either an online or blended course. “I agree” is not an appropriate way to respond to one of your classmates in the discussion board.  No, texting slang in the discussion board or emails isn’t appropriate either.  Each student needs to know proper “netiquette” for an online class. This is an essential 21st century skill that must be address before coursework begins. Look at how many colleges offer online courses; even complete degree programs are now offered online. I believe that students should have these experiences during their K-12 education long before year one of college.

What is the future of e-learning?

Where is e-learning going? What’s going to be the next big thing? A fully online high school perhaps? Maybe at some point there will be the potential for a student to earn his/her high school diploma online. Is it really that far-fetched? There are already college degree programs that are 100% online. What would it be like to have classes with classmates you’ll never see in person? I see tools like Skype working more in conjunction with e-learning. There could be some classmates that live down the street, and others that live on a different continent. E-learning is even now starting to go mobile. Blackboard has apps for iPhone and Blackberry for students to keep track of course assignments and deadlines while on the go.

I think it’s exciting the way e-learning is taking off around the world. I am looking forward to seeing where it goes next. If I can be of any assistance to your district about moving courses into a blended or fully online format, please do not hesitate to contact me. As always I welcome your comments.

Where do you EdChat?

If you are in my PLN then you know what EdChat is all about. It happens at two different times every Tuesday. 12PM

EdChat column in TweetDeck for iPhone

EST for our PLN friends in Europe, Asia, and other points west. Then it happens again at 7pm EST for North and South American members of our PLN. No matter which time you participate (and if you aren’t why not?!?) it’s always a highly engaging, lively discussion about education. Don’t forget to follow @web20classroom (a.k.a. Steven Anderson) so you know to vote on the topic for the week between Sunday and Tuesday!

So, where do you EdChat at? What’s your device of choice to use while participating? I was fortunate enough to participate in both editions of EdChat yesterday and during the evening edition I really began to wonder, “Where does everyone like to participate from and what device/tool is your favorite?”  I am amazed in particular how mobile technology has allowed us to participate in a great discussion with hundreds of educators from all around the globe. Where some of you tweeting while holiday shopping? Where some of you tweeting during dinner? Your favorite armchair? Inquiring minds want to know! Maybe in an upcoming edition of EdChat we can have some of us upload to TwitPic in real-time to share with our PLN where we Tweet from and with what device?

Almost every Tuesday night when I participate it is using the TweetDeck app on my iPhone. As if I weren’t addicted to my iPhone enough already right? TweetDeck in general is my preferred Twitter tool of choice but the fact I can from my phone still amazes me. I had to laugh last night towards the end of EdChat when I tweeted, “Should multi-tasking be a skill required for 21st c. teachers? I just participated in edchat and gave two kids a bath! Ha!” Humor was the intent of that tweet but the more I thought about it the more cool I thought it was. I received a couple of jokingly replies wondering if my kids were being attended to I promise they were! Some of you were as equally worried about my iPhone as well to make sure it did not accidentally go for a swim in the bathtub!

Think about all the ways educators participate in EdChat every Tuesday. We have mobile phones, laptops, netbooks. etc. at our disposal to contribute the discussion. We are in our homes, schools, offices, airports,  and cars (hopefully not while in motion) while we’re communicating and collaborating with our peers. What would student engagement look like if more of these devices were in students’ hands during class? Before you comment to disagree with me let me just clarify that this post is not intended to be a debate as to whether or not cell phone should be allowed at school. The point I’m trying to make is look at how educators can become engaged in a lively, professional discuss using a wide variety of tools. Isn’t it important for students to get to experience the same type of growth and learning that we do?

If you are an avid observer of EdChat, I strongly encourage you to participate in the discussion. Vote for the topic, and jump in on Tuesday no matter your location or device. We’d love to see you there. Don’t sell yourself short, you have knowledge and expertise to share with all of us.

Tools To Be Thankful For

As we ponder what we’re thankful for while the official start to the holiday season draws near, I want to share some tools and resources that I’m thankful for. I believe these are tools that are great for teachers, students, and administrators to use to enhance instruction, increase productivity, and in general make our lives easier. Who doesn’t want that? During a time of budget constraints we should be thankful for the brilliant minds that create these tools, which usually offer a free option (who doesn’t love that?), or they’ve created an “EDU” section of their site and make premium services available free to teachers.

Some of these I’m sure you’ve heard of but it is my goal that you will hopefully learn of at least one new tool by reading this post. So let’s take a look at some of my favorite tools that I’m thankful for.

Dropbox – Do you tire of moving files via flash drive between laptop and desktop, between work and home computers? Dropbox fixes that! Sign up for a free 2GB Dropbox account (there are pay options for more storage), then install Dropbox onto as many computers as you’d like. Your Dropbox folder is then always in sync no matter how many computers you’ve installed it on. If you save a file in your Dropbox folder at work, it will also be in your Dropbox folder when you get to your home computers. You also will always have access to your files on the web via the Dropbox web site. Great app!

TodaysMeet – Making a presentation and want your audience to be able to ask questions in real-time? Do you want to be able to have a discussion during a conference call or webinar? TodaysMeet is a perfect tool for that. I am looking forward to using it at an upcoming presentation to best meet the needs of my audience. The comments must keep to 140 characters or less, give your room a custom name, and decide how long the link to your room is active. It’s a very handy internet app.

iSchoolBand – This site looks like it has awesome potential. Create a social environment and management platform for your band or orchestra group(s). I think of this like Blackboard, but specifically meeting the needs of band and orchestra directors, students, and parents. “It helps students communicate, directors coordinate, & parents participate.” Their current promotion (features listed here also) offers a free year if signed up before Christmas, then the service is $2.50 per student per year after that.

Glogster – I know Glogster has been around the web 2.0 world a while now, but I can really appreciate a service that caters to K-12 with a specific EDU section of their site. Having students create a “Glog” to demonstrate mastery of a concept promotes creativity and self-expression. I think of a glog as a digitized, interactive version, of the traditional poster board project that was often repeated when I was in school. Here is one example about the Black Footed Ferret and another about the Life Cycle of a Butterfly.

Whyzz – Have you ever known a child that asks a million and one “why?” questions? I know my kids do! Whyzz is a great kid friendly search engine that brings back results in “kid friendly” terms giving them the information they want to hear. Check out the results when you ask, “Why do dogs have wet noses?“.

Mrs. P Storytime – Are you looking for a highly interactive, kid friendly site that promotes a love of reading? Look no further than to the magical librarian Mrs. P! You can follow Mrs. P on Twitter here and you will always find me retweeting her posts. Mrs. P is portrayed by the very funny Kathy Kinney (Mimi from The Drew Carey Show). I think it’s great to see a celebrity doing something so positive for kids and she is reaching out to children and educators in a big way.

Ning – Create your own social network based on interests and your passions. Even if you don’t create your own there is an awesome one that I am a part of. It is called the Educator’s PLN. It’s a worldwide network of educators that collaborates and shares resources. It is an excellent way to extend the conversations that take place via the PLN on Twitter. I am also part of the Missouri Educators Ning site which is a great way to build connections and relationships with other educators in my state.

Here are just a few more resources that are worth of a quick mention as I wrap up:

Google Reader
Delicious
Google Wave (we’ll see how this newest tool from Google pans out but could be promising)
VoiceThread

I know that this post could go on infinitely. I also know that my knowledge of some of these resources would not be possible without my PLN!

These are some of the tools I’m thankful for. I know we all have tools, resources, and people who we are thankful for this holiday season.

Please feel free to leave a comment and share your favorite tool or resource. Thank you for reading.