Response to Week 1 - TWTWTW

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Leslie Jacobs Cowley
19 January 2013

That Was The Week That Was

This has been one of the most inspiring, frustrating, confusing, exciting and stimulating weeks I have enjoyed for such a long time. It has taken me a while to get to grips with some of the technologies being used here - and I'm still finding difficulty at times, regardless of the fact that I consider myself reasonably well versed in using online resources and tools. I didn't really settle properly until I watched the Converge video stream. I had been approaching this MOOC from a traditional scheduled course perspective i.e. meet the daily challenges and keep up with the flow -a method that was an impossible task for me to accomplish - I simply do not have enough time to complete this MOOC following that format and at the same time gain the most from what is being presented to me here. I relaxed in my thinking, realising that this course is for ME to explore and not an exercise in satisfying some set criteria laid out by the lecturers. I am not "on schedule" because of laziness, lack of ability, lack of motivation or any of the other negative emotions that one can feel when faced with a mountainous challenge; rather I am behind schedule because I'm finding so much reading that is simply compelling and I would be doing it an injustice if I didn't take the time to actually read it. Also, I learn best by reflection and it takes time for me to "join the dots" and place what I've read into some semblance of order and I need enough time to conceptualise and compartmentalise my personal responses to what I've read - in other words place it within and around my own current context.

What have I learned?

The main learning outcome for me so far has been this;  most (if not all) of my attempts to create stimulating, structured, engaging  and visually rich online content have not succeeded. I see this as a positive outcome.  It is perhaps worth mentioning here, that I have not had the opportunity to teach any subject wholly online and my use of online resources has been within a classroom environment. Students all have access to these outwith college but I have little in the way of measuring how much some of them are used. One of the other outcomes in doing this course is that it has highlighted how out of practice I am at writing and getting my thoughts down quickly so, hopefully this will improve as the weeks go on.

I have already learned much about the new thinking and pedagogies required for online teaching - I was aware of some of this prior to starting but, in a little over a week, I have gained an enormous amount of knowledge on the theories and approaches. I was clear (I thought) on how NOT to use a VLE and have seen many examples of that - including an online course purporting to be about teaching online. However, I didn't have any real authoritative knowledge to convince others of the need for a new approach. This MOOC is filling that gap. I have shared with colleagues and anyone else I thought interested, my "discoveries" along my journey including the work of Michael Wesch and in particular his videos The Machine is Us and A Vision of Students Today (particularly relevant to Week 2's topic of Context). An examination of the dates of these videos will give an indication of how long ago my personal journey started. Inspirational (I thought) but, it seems not enough so to convince many of my immediate peers. Another shared "hero" is Sir Ken Robinson particularly Changing Education Paradigms again, it seemed, not quite enough to stimulate the need for change. Incidentally, I felt somewhat validated that my approach and thinking was relevant when some 2 years later this video was shown at a Scotland's Colleges staff development session. This is not to brag or boast but rather illustrate the (sometimes) uphill struggle to convince educationalists of the need for change.

Evaluation of previous attempts at creating online content; using tools and resources

Week One also prompted me to revisit my early attempts and approaches and examine their shortcomings in light of what I'd learned so far. I suppose it is inevitable that given my background in visual art, my initial approach was to try to present content in a visually rich manner. After much searching and trips down blind alleys, I found Compendium , an excellent and highly recommended OU tool. I used it to create a structured visual guide to the course content of a unit on Acoustics delivered to HE Sound Production students.  Each purple map expands to show detailed content in much the same format as the image of front page shown below; the asterisks show brief notes when mouse hovers over it. The chief benefit of using this tool (for me, in my context, yes there's that all important word again) is that it embeds into Blackboard VLE in the form of an exported zip file which expands to a fully active, linked site/document. I should also mention my gratitude to Rod Nave of Georgia State University for magnanimously allowing me to embed content from the excellent Hyperphysics site. I highly recommend it to anyone teaching science.  

Compendium image

The shortcomings of this approach?: it is a static representation of my guide to suitable online resources. How to improve on this? Enter CompendiumLD - my next learning curve. I hope to use CompendiumLD to build some scaffolding onto this. My Dream Project for this MOOC.

Flickr I have used this site when teaching Digital Photography and Digital Imaging in a variety of courses at levels from basic non-vocational evening classes, FE units and at HE (PDA in Digital Imaging). This has probably been the most successful tool I've used. However, there are some problems, especially with "mature" students getting started (creating the account, remembering their username, password etc., etc.) and I have found that they need careful and patient guidance in the early stages. I create separate groups for each student cohort, the students upload their images, then add them to the group after they have joined that group. I can then create Galleries of some of the "best" work. These entries in these galleries are sometimes created by me and I have sometimes asked students to vote on which photos should be selected. If I am creating the galleries, it gives me the opportunity to include images based on all sorts of criteria; image showing good improvement by an otherwise "poor" student - great encouragement for them; images showing use of editing software; simply stunning photos and so on - again it depends on the student context. The groups are by invite only, the photos are public but individual student-student and tutor-student comments are private, visible only to members of that group. That in itself is a shortcoming - I have yet to find a way of easily expanding this community to include all students, past and present and avoiding it becoming over complex, especially in the early stages. I may at some point create a "global group" and invite students to join that. I have also experimented with the use of "tags" on photos to feed aggregators such as Netvibes and to introduce HE students to the concept of using tags as a search refinement tool. Final verdict? - I will continue using this but seek to refine the ways it can be more useful to me/students e.g. exploring the sharing options to Facebook, Blogger etc.; experiment further in using Flickr's API

Diigo a Social Bookmarking site. Prior to using this I used Delicious but found the extra features in Diigo preferable. In Diigo I can do everything that I've seen possible with other social bookmarking sites (lists;tags;comments;community search) but in addition I have access to the Teacher Console - from memory I think I had to apply to Diigo for this added functionality. This enables me to create and administer student accounts, thereby avoiding some of the shortcomings mentioned about Flickr, and create groups in much the same way as Flickr. I've used this as a way of trying to encourage student collaboration in that, as members of the group they can post links to content they have found relevant/interesting and comment on what they have found. Diigo was initially blocked by our web filter on the college network and I had to ask for it to be allowed. This met with some initial resistance from our network security expert as it was listed as a "spoofing" risk. I got really excited when I discovered that Diigo allowed me to place "sticky notes" on sites, visible only to members of my group(s), providing a "breadcrumbs" trail so that I could direct them to a site ask them to read my note(s) which could be instructions/questions ..anything you'd want to say under classroom conditions. Diigo also allows you to create slideshows of websites you have collated in lists. However, there are problems in fully utilising this resource. For instance, not all sites allow the notes to be added; on some sites I have encountered "public" notes that were nothing short of offensive - there are ways round this but in my context i.e. teaching younger FE students, this is unacceptable. So, for the time being, I have abandoned even trying this approach and use it solely as a group collaboration tool. Also, to fully utilise the facilities in Diigo, the browser toolbar needs to be installed - not something the students are permitted to do on our network. So, final verdict? - useful but needs careful consideration before "jumping right in". Future development? - questionable.

Blogger this was my first attempt at using Blogger in a classroom setting to meet the criteria of an NC (FE) unit on Art & Design: Digital Media and it seemed to be a huge success. My bubble was soon burst when I tried the same thing with other student groups. Different contexts at work? Same unit, different students - why the resistance to using this? Tried it with FE music students - almost total resistance. I was forced to abandon this in subsequent attempts for lack of engagement with this medium. However, I haven't abandoned it completely because it is a wonderful way of collating student work by taking feeds from their individual blogs and embedding them into a single class blog allowing student to share their work and which also acts as a "light touch" guiding hand by the tutor. I also later tried using the blogging facility within Sharepoint, our college intranet, which lacks all of the panache of Blogger and has a very "corporate" look and feel. This was in response to feedback from industry saying that students lacked the ability to take notes in meetings using traditional means i.e. pen and paper. So I gave very short lectures using a whiteboard, in a very traditional, old school approach and asked the students to take notes. Since this was an FE group, I needed some way of a. improving their IT skills and b. checking the "quality" of their notes. So, I asked them to transfer their notes onto their blogs, again I took feeds from them all and aggregated them in a single class blog. In effect they were creating their own content. I think it worked. I haven't had a subsequent student cohort where I felt this approach was appropriate but will do so as soon as opportunity allows. Final verdict?: keep trying, try to find ways to "sell" the method.

Netvibes is an aggregator tool which I have found extremely useful. The link given here is my public experiment at using this to aggregate content from various areas of this MOOC in a way that is familiar to me. Netvibes allows the creation of Private pages as well as the public link given here. I used the private page as a one-stop method of having everything I am currently working on or need access to, including email, on one tabbed, configurable page. Shortcomings: college network does not (for as yet some unknown reason) load the pages properly. Works a treat at home though. Can find little or no ways to allow collaboration. Final verdict?: could be extremely useful in delivering wholly online extra-institution courses as a method of collating and evidencing research sources used by HE students.

Evaluation of new tools presented in this MOOC

Cloudworks - I can see potential in it. May need some form of introductory tutorial for students. Still experimenting with it. Need to find out more about the options when I add hyperlinks - Class? 

Google+, Google Groups, Circles, Communities, Hangouts  - all very new to me, apart from having a Google+ account I had never really used it. This has mileage without a doubt. Need to get more familiar before evaluating its usefulness in my context.

Bibsonomy - yet to really explore it but can see its usefulness for HE. 

So, all of this and more is rummaging around in my head while thinking about Learning Design. I'm just getting to the point where I feel I have fully completed week one. Phew!!





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Compendium Output

added by Leslie Jacobs Cowley


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