Creating & Sharing What I’ve Learned

March 10, 2008

As I started to create the final project for my inquiry, I began to re-think my audience.  Of course, my instructor and classmates will view my final project, but one of the potential outcomes of an inquiry is that it may lead to action.  Who, then, might this inquiry motivate into action?  Well, for one, it will hopefully motivate me as I re-evaluate the delivery of the curriculum.  As well, though, I’m hoping to reach a wider audience: my administrator and my colleagues. 

Although I see and collaborate with my DL Administrator and colleagues regularly, I hope that this product of inquiry might be something concrete from which we can spring into action.  I chose this topic of inquiry because it’s an area I am genuinely concerned about.  If I can see room for improvement, it’s hard to ignore.  And, as a growing DL school, I think the issue raised in my inquiry, the need to provide our students with opportunities to interact with their peers, is a valid concern. 

With them in mind, my inquiry has become more meaningful.  At the very least, I hope my inquiry gets us thinking about and acting collaboratively on the best learning environment for our DL students.  

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Processing It All!

March 7, 2008

When I first started my research, I wasn’t sure I was going to find what I was looking for.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, when I started to find articles that were relevant to my inquiry.  However, my inquiry is almost too specific, perhaps too unique.  I haven’t found EXACTLY what I’m looking for, but I’ve found enough to validate what I was feeling before I started this inquiry, and enough to get me started in the right direction with my online students.

As I’ve been reading up on my topic, I’ve been thinking about my inquiry from two perspectives: as an online learner myself and as an online teacher.  I hope this gives me a better insight into my topic, and a better understanding of how to best serve my students.

Right now, I’m looking forward to putting all of this research into an accessible format that will, hopefully, not only inform me, but help inform others interested in online teaching and learning.

Retrieving more than I expected!

March 1, 2008

Yesterday, I had another interesting meeting.  This time, I met with Mark Hawkes who is the DL Unit Representative for the Ministry of Education in B.C.  He wanted to know what I thought quality instruction looked like via DL.  As part of my response, I stressed the importance of interaction between students and instructor and between students and their classmates.  Unfortunately, although I feel this is really important, I don’t think there is enough interaction between myself and my students and there is virtually no interaction between my students and their peers.

Ironically, before starting my position as a DL instructor, I was using online discussion boards and blogs in my “bricks and mortar” classroom to facilitate more interaction between all said parties.  As a DL instructor, however, I have not found the same use for these web 2.0 technologies.  Sure, each student could maintain a blog, but who is going to read it?  Of couse, I would, but is that a big enough audience?

Because Mark has been traveling around, visiting other DL centres, he had a great suggestion for me.  He recently met with another DL English teacher.  He suggested that we get together to collaborate and share students.  That way, I might be able to widen the audience for my current students.  Not only would we be able to broaden our horizons, we could also get together to collaborate on the delivery of instruction, as this was another concern of mine regarding quality instruction.

Although high school English courses are being offered online, the content of the courses is still very much traditional in that students are often asked to read and answer questions.  I would like to structure the curriculum so that it incorporates more of a constructivist approach to learning. 

Again, Mark had some fascinating suggestions, and I thought I would share them because they are too good to keep to myself!  First, he suggested that I look at www.machinima.com.  This site offers people the opportunity to explore and make movies in virtual worlds.  He recommended “Second Life.” This is one of the many virtual worlds already created.  Although this is an adult version, there’s a teen version as well.  Students could get together to create 3-dimensional movies.   Although this would certainly transform the traditional approach to learning the curriculum, it still doesn’t solve my dilemma of having students working at different paces throughout the course.

The last morsel of enlightment he offered was to check out www.activeworlds.com. Active Worlds lets users visit and/or create 3D worlds.  Users can visit these worlds and chat with other users visiting.  Again, the creation of a 3D world would lend itself nicely to group collaboration.  I can just see the assignment now: create a day in the life of Shakespeare…

My time with Mark was short, but I think it will have a big impact on the way I think about DL instruction.  I was happy to hear that Mark will be presenting a workshop on virtual worlds at the BC Education Online Conference on April 22nd.  I can’t wait to go!        

Retrieving Information for My Inquiry

February 29, 2008

As a good teacher-librarian in training, I have been using the database, Proquest, to find articles relevant to my unique inquiry.  To date, I haven’t had a lot of success finding articles that specifically refer to my particular question: how do I effectively engage and support my distance learning students with inquiry-based learning projects without the support and interaction of their peers?  And, although I haven’t found the answer to my question, I did have a very interesting conversation today that might lead me in the right direction.

W– W–, an active DL administrator, visited our school today and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to “pick his brain” for about an hour.  What a luxury!  During that conversation, we discussed ways in which I might be able to make inquiry-based learning part of my online curriculum and support the process in an effective and meaningful way. 

In an earlier post, I may have mentioned that students work through courses at their own pace.  For students, this is one of the perks of taking an online course; however, it is not condusive to forming “cohorts.”  Therefore, students rarely get the opportunity to interact with other students.  After expressing my concerns to  W–W–, he suggested that I try creating a curriculum that lends itself nicely to at least one topic and/or theme.  For example, “ambition” may be a recurrent topic/theme in the stort stories, the novel study, and the Shakespearen play chosen for a particular course.  If the content of the course is linked by a common topic/theme, then the inquiry-based unit could also be based on this same topic/theme.  That way, it wouldn’t matter when students started their research projects, other students could still be a part of the process because of the familiarity of the topic.

It’s not that I’ve found the “answer” to my question, but I’ve found some direction.  I’m very eager to explore this possibility further.  

I’m really glad that I found someone with whom to collaborate.  He was able to address my specific needs, unlike the articles that I’m reading!

Planning my Inquiry-Based Learning Project

February 24, 2008

In the very near future, I would like to create a unit of inquiry-based learning for my online, English 8 – 12, students.

Before I can begin to design this unit of inquiry, however, I need to answer a fundamental question: “How can I effectively support my online students with inquiry-based learning without the support of other classmates?”  After reading through “Focus on Inquiry: a teacher’s guide to implementing inquiry-based learning,” (Alberta Learning 2004), I realized that many of the phases of inquiry involve or would be enhanced by peer interaction and support.  In my current online teaching position, however, students do not work through the courses with any type of cohort.  They work independently at their own pace.  Without the support of other classmates, can a student experience an authentic inquiry-based learning experience that is just as effective?  How so?  These are the questions I am going to attempt to answer throughout my own inquiry-based learning experience.

As I work through the planning phase of my inquiry, I feel focused, but uncertain as to whether or not I will find the answers to my questions.  I’m really hoping, though, that I will be able to find suitable alternatives for my online students.

Blogs vs Websites

December 3, 2007

For the past few months, I have been exploring web 2.0 technologies.  In particular, I have been learning about blogs, wikis, and podcasts and how one might use these technologies as a teacher-librarian or as a classroom teacher.  I have also had the challenge of not only exploring but of becoming somewhat of an “expert” (and I use that term loosely) so that I may prove to be a valuable resource to others.  Although I have read many articles and explored many examples, I still would not consider myself an expert.  However, I have been enlightened. 

One of the things that I’ve learned recently is that creating and maintaing a blog is much more fulfilling, in comparison to creating and maintaining a web site.  Websites are great for the person who is good at presenting information in a clear and concise manner.  All throughout university, my professors have consistently praised me for being “clear and concise.”  So, you might think that creating and a maintaining a website would be a pefect fit.  However, since discovering the art of blogging, I can honestly say that I find blogging more fulfilling.  When I blog, it’s like an orgainzed stream of consciousness.  When, I update a website, I am really stripping all of the topics to the bare bones.  To me, this is the way a website works best.  People want to be able to navigate quickly through one’s website to get to whatever it is that they need.  They don’t want to read lots of text.

So, in conclusion, if you are contemplating the options of creating a blog vs a website, I highly recommend that you take a moment to ask yourself what it is that you want to get out of it.  Do you want to lead discussions or do you want to simply point others in the “right” direction?

Blogging mileage

November 19, 2007

I’ve read quite a few “how to” articles and articles related to “best practices” when blogging.  One of the advantages to blogs versus webites is that blog are typically “current.”  This characteristic isn’t necessarily true for websites.  My big question and, to be honest, concern was how much time do I have to devote to a blog in order to stay current?  Is this a daily commitment?  To my relief, I came across Abram’s (2007) article, “Sharing and Taking Care of Themselves.”  In his article, he recommends spending 15 minutes a week to blog about something you’ve learned or did that week or to comment on another idea you’ve found elsewhere.

Can you spare 15 minutes a week to share your expertise?

Teacher-Librarians: A Podcast on Image

November 19, 2007

Now that I’m starting to get the hang of blogging, I’m trying to figure out how to podcast.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading several good articles related to podcasting.  However, tonight was my first attempt at recording and publishing a podcast.  The subject?  Lately, I’ve been thinking about the stereotypical image of a teacher-librarian, as I’m working towards an M.Ed. in teacher-librarianship.  An image that comes to my mind is one of an elderly lady with glasses, who’s not really “hip.”  She’s rather strict and is always telling others to be quiet.  This is really NOT how I see myself, thus the dilemma.  I’m pretty sure this is not how other teacher-librarians see themselves either.  However, as I listen to the language others use to refer to librarians, I can see that this image is still very much alive in the minds of others.  Listen to my podcast to hear a few examples.  You may have to wait for a few days until I publish my website.

If you’re interested in creating your own podcast, here are the steps I took:

1. Download this FREE software, Audacity, at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

2. Acquire a microphone or use the built in microphone available on your computer.

3. Record your response.

4. Export your response (save it) as an MP3 file.  You may need to download “LAME MP3 Encorder” in order to do this.  It’s also free.  You can visit http://audacity.sourcforge.net/help/faq?s=install&item=lame-mp3 for instructions. 

Blogroll

November 13, 2007

Terminology!  There’s so much to master!  For example, what is a blogroll?  I’ve just realized that a blogroll is a handy little category on the side of your own blog where you can post and display all of your other favourite blogs!  That way, no one, including you, has to sift through all of your postings to find the best!

 I love getting organized!

Blogging participation

November 11, 2007

How much should I participate in my students’ blogs? 

Now that I’ve gotten my students set up with their own blogs, I’m not sure what my role is.  Do I let them use it as a personal journal?  Do I create topics for them?  Can it be a little of both?  When I asked my students how they would like to use their blogs, they said that it would be good to have both. 

Why did I ask them to create blogs?  First, I thought this would be a great way to help improve their fluency, as this is a class of English language learners.  Second, I thought a blog would be more engaging than a piece of paper.  I thought that if their English skills weren’t good, at least they could take pride in their professional-looking blogs.  Lastly, I thought blogging would be more interactive.  They can respond to each other’s blogs.

So, although I still think blogging is going to be beneficial to them, I’m not sure how much I should be involved.  Should I also post comments?  Or, should I simply observe?

 These are the questions I’m still left with…for now.