the official end is near, but….

I have nearly completed my internship experience here at SLN – the official experience anyway.  I am hopeful that I can continue to serve in some capacity – perhaps ongoing interning.  I have enjoyed the content and the colleagues.  In the last two weeks, I’ve been able to attend meetings and a face-to-face training.  I’ve nearly completed my preview of the two BB training courses and have learned alot about online instruction and the resources that come into play in the background – i.e., the part the students never see – the instructor side of the LMS of course, but also the campus wide and SUNY wide back end of it.  There is a great deal that goes into making the virtual classroom possible.  I have only scratched the surface so far, but I hope to delve deeper over time.  Perhaps this internship is officially at its end, but I don’t think my relationship with online learning is at an end, nor do I feel that my relationship with the good people at SLN is at an end.  I believe some of those relationships will remain active.  It will be interesting to see what the next destination on this journey will be.

end of semester report on SLN internship experience…

 

At the start of this internship experience, I was asked to craft a set of desired learning outcomes for this experience.  As the semester comes to a close, I revisit those goals to reflect upon my growth and provide a brief statement about my learning to date through the many experiences I have had in this internship.

To increase knowledge and understanding of instructional design principles and best practices.

I came into this internship with quite a bit of understanding of instructional design principles and best practices from having taken courses in Instructional Development in my first masters (years ago) and from taking courses in Instructional Design  and Media Literacy in recent years, including one taught by a member of SLN that mirrors many of the principles and best practices advocated and utilized by the Education Services department at SLN.  However, seeing the principles being employed in real world situations and observing the discussions/questions of course participants and clients, I have come to better understand how these ideas look in practice.  I have also come to wonder about and ask myself questions about these principles and practices in an attempt to develop deeper understanding and more nuanced appreciation for their strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to student participation and learning.  Earlier blogs go into those ponderings in more depth.

To increase proficiency in varied technologies related to online teaching and learning (such as, proficiency in LMS platforms and troubleshooting, use of webinar platforms, creating/updating websites, and development of learning objects/instructional media).

As part of this internship, I have been given access to several courses for faculty and Instructional designers as well as to the two new Blackboard training courses for the upcoming migrations.  I have also participated in meetings and webinars via Elluminate.  I have been exploring the resources associated with the courses in order to learn more about ANGEL and Blackboard – even toyed a little with a practice course space in each system.  I have learned quite a bit about these platforms and have increased my comfort with technology, LMSs, and the webinar software Ellimunate.  However, it won’t be until I spend significant time creating within these systems that I truly become knowledgeable and skilled.  It is my hope to move forward into creating course components in the near future and becoming more fluent in the systems as I internalize the procedures needed to use them effectively.

To gain insight into the practical reality of online teaching and learning and to learn about innovative solutions to practical issues encountered.

I think I learned the most about this through the ID2 discussion forum analyses and the migration meetings.  In the analyses, I looked at how participants interacted, how they responded to the initial prompts, and topics/themes that came up within the conversations.  Part of that was to notice the practical realities and concerns within the field, including such topics as university policies and practices that conflict with faculty instructional preferences (i.e., required portals and platforms), copyright limitations (i.e., providing video resources in online environments), accessibility needs of students, faculty resistance to change, managing the information overload associated with curating resources for content, finding time to train busy faculty in recommended technologies and keeping up with changing technologies, ensuring adequate support  for troubleshooting matters with outside technologies, compatibility across platforms and with student hardware, dealing with the ever-changing and temporary nature of technological apps and tools , and transferability of skills needed for one tool to use of other tools.  In the migration meetings, I learned about the complexity of moving campuses from one LMS to another, the amount of planning that goes into it, the support materials needed, and the amount of time necessary to pilot and deploy the migration process for each campus.

To develop a flexible, collaborative approach to working with designers and instructors that supports their efforts, generates comfort, and promotes a safe community for exploration and co-construction of effective approaches for meeting online teaching goals.

The climate at SLN is definitely collaborative and welcoming.  Whether in the office, on an Elluminate facilitated meeting, or on a conference call, the strong sense of respect and valuation of one another’s ideas and areas of expertise comes through.  There is a strong horizontal relationship between colleagues and between the support providers and clients.  The expertise of those in the field is highly regarded and people really listen.  Effective lines of communication exist for keeping everyone up to date on open projects and regular meetings for various purposes take place to keep abreast of client needs and progress toward goals.  Even when instances arise where differences of opinions or problems to solve come to the surface, they are openly and respectfully addressed with a focus on hearing each other’s perspective and aiming to come up with mutually acceptable solutions.  I find this refreshing and inviting.  I believe this is an ethos that meets my core values, one that can help to bring out a better me.  As a result, I feel inspired to strive toward fearlessness about failure and being mistaken, fearlessness about technology, openness to new technologies and new ideas, immersion in genuine teamwork, and celebration of the value each of brings.  I believe my colleagues at SLN have taught me much by their example and I intend to continue learning from them.

To contribute to, and support the efforts of, SLN through completion of work on target projects related to the Education Services provided by SLN
a.      Research the discussions archive of 201/ID Cert programs to create a system for examining, organizing, and accessing the data for maximal utility to participants.

I was able to complete analysis of three of the discussion forums within the second ID certification course.  This work included creating a nugget of categorized resources for Instructional Designers submitted by instructional designers.  It also included careful examination of the content of the discussions.  I learned about the ways in which participants were interacting within their conversations; I learned what burning questions these Designers face in their work; I learned what they wonder about and what to understand better.  The most potent theme for me was that of the practical dilemmas and realities faced by the designers on campuses across the state.  Based on what I could learn from the contributions of these individuals to this collective environment, I was able to generate a set of potential projects to addressed client needs and concerns.

b.      Assist in moderating the 201/ID Cert programs to facilitate participant learning of technological and pedagogical aspects of online teaching and learning.

I provided some grading assistance within the third ID certification course and learned how the instructor utilizes the grade center in ANGEL.  We discussed the value of per post grading and examined it against facilitative prompting.  I had the opportunity to interact a little with participants and to read through many of the discussions.  I’m not so sure I was as helpful as I could have been as I was still trying to figure out my role within the internship and within the course, but I do believe I was able to contribute as a grader.  I do believe I could be quite useful in the role of TA to interact with participants, facilitate the discussions, and grade conversations within a course like this one, or to perhaps instruct a course like this one in the future.  I’ve learned that monitoring and grading the discussions in an on-line course is a monumental undertaking and good balance between promoting participation through grading and promoting deeper thinking through prompting is essential.  Perhaps this is an area I can contribute to, and further learn from, over time if I am blessed with the opportunity to continue serving SLN into the Spring.

c.       Assist in training and webinar sessions aimed at supporting online designers and/or instructors.

Between illness and a natural disaster, I have been limited in my ability to participate in the face-to-face trainings to date; however, I am scheduled for my next opportunity later this week.  I enjoy presenting and facilitating learning in face-to-face environments and I enjoy attending such events.  I expect that I will also learn more about ANGEL and perhaps be able to work with attendees to figure things out and try ANGEL features.  It will be a great opportunity to engage in that horizontal, collaborative ethos I mentioned earlier.  Fortunately, I was able to attend the first two webinar versions of the trainings and plan to view recordings of the second two so I will be up to date on the content missed due to illness and natural disaster.

d.      Develop an SLN Fellows program to highlight and share effective practices throughout the network.

This project ended up being one of the goals of the other intern, so I have not participated on this project.  Instead, I have been working to preview two stand alone Blackboard training courses created by a colleague for the upcoming and on-going migration efforts.  I have provided formative feedback and suggestions for enhancing the work already completed.  It appears that I will be moving forward to product development on both, or either, of two ideas – a pre-training course to new instructors as an online learning experience from the student perspective and/or additions for the stand alone courses I have been previewing.  My colleague has graciously invited me to attend two migration meetings so far to learn more about the big picture of migrating.  I believe it has helped me in my efforts to offer him suggestions that he seems interested in exploring.

Whew!  In writing this “brief” summary report on my goals for the internship, I have become aware of just how much has occurred in a very short time.  Many experiences, much content, and significant learning – for this I am extremely grateful.

Blackboard, both the old and the new….

Blackboard…. hmmm…. do you remember the real blackboard, the individual black slate used in the one-room school houses?  I have a few here at home.  Then the large black or green chalk boards on the walls in most schools a few decades ago (and still visible in some classrooms today).  Then the white boards with dry erase markers, and now the SMART boards and associated technological applications.  Coming full circle to the virtual classroom “blackboard” known as the LMS – in this case, it’s called Blackboard.

Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend a webinar by a colleague on the BB grade center.  I had just read quite a bit about the grade recently as part of my work previewing the same colleague’s new BB training courses, so I had a little familiarity with the topic, but learned so much more by being able to watch him navigate the screens.  I don’t recall at the moment where I read it or in what context, but I recall reading about the benefits of different kinds of instruction for learning, memory and retention.  I recall the best results were from actual hands-on experiences, but that virtual experiences and simulations had quite good results as well. I found the webinar demo to be more effective at teaching me about the grade center than the tutorials I had read and viewed (which I had also learned alot from).  I wondered about that.  The tutorials had screen snips embedded to show the reader the interface, and the videos demonstrated how to navigate much as my colleague did in the webinar.  I think the difference came in that there was an audience of interested and motivated attendees with a real world need for the information asking real world questions, and there was also the presence of my colleague as a guide to answer and address their specific questions on the spot.  The relevance and interaction offered by the webinar made it a superior experience for me.

I am wondering now how to embed those features within a self-paced stand alone training course.  Would that be possible?  My colleague has done a nice job of integrating static tutorial resources with exercises within a practice course space that he has designed to give users the opportunity to interact with the interface and try to make things happen that they will likely need to do as they prepare their courses in BB.  I think it’s a good start on making a space for users to begin to internalize the procedures needed to build their courses within BB. Yet, I wonder how it can be improved to bring in that personal relevance and interaction people will need as well.  I wonder if detailed screencasts or recorded webinar presentations would help.  Hmmm…..  I wonder if access to a facilitator or guided tour would be useful at specific points along the way.  Perhaps a step-by-step guide to designing a course with built in tours and resources delineating the options at each step would add value – “just right” information at the “just right” moment.  Hmmm…..  Lots to think about.

Clearly, self-paced stand alone courses are a challenge of a different sort from class based interactive courses AND courses that try to develop a wide range of procedural skills bring challenges in terms of providing enough hands-on time engaging in the processes being learned.  How to provide enough guidance and feedback?  How to ensure internalization or embodiment of skills?  Hmmm…. As I shared with my colleague, I think it would be useful to find a way to connect the learning about BB to the actual development of  real world courses.  Perhaps something along the lines of SLN 201, but again, that is a social learning environment, not an individually engaged self-paced course.

Funny though how the more education changes the more it stays the same.  The classroom blackboard for sharing content and demonstrating understanding  – the virtual blackboard for presenting content and demonstrating understanding.  Much has changed with the technology available today.  Remixes, mash-ups, and open resources provide a wider pool of content resources than teachers had only a few decades ago.  Yet, many of the same principles still govern the process, plan attainable objectives and ensure cohesive assessment of those objectives (alignment), then plan learning activities, guidance, and feedback designed to develop the understanding and skill needed to meet the objectives – perhaps these were hands-on manipulations and face-to-face conversations in the cinder-block classroom while now they may be virtual experiences and asynchronous written posts, but both rely on the Blackboard.  😉

gaining confidence…

This week I have been previewing/reviewing the first of the two Blackboard courses developed for the migration.  I am really enjoying becoming familiar with another LMS from the instructor side.  The best thing about it for me is that I feel my comfort level and confidence with the technology growing.  I’m not feeling nearly as nervous about doing something that really messes things up.  As I suspected, the more systems you explore, the more comfortable you become overall and the more optimistic you are about adjusting to new ones.  I have provided some feedback on the course as I complete each module.  I am accomplishing two things with this work – the first, familiarizing myself with the LMS so that I may be able to use it to create an introductory course for SLN to acclimate new faculty to the online experience; and the second, providing formative comments as quality control before the release of the stand alone courses.  I am hopeful that my feedback is helpful to Dan as he works diligently to prepare for the needs of faculty and instructional designers as they enter the migration to Blackboard.  I am thrilled to be part of this, and hope to be able to move at a timely enough  pace within the limitations of the internship to review both courses, learn what I need to know, and help to create an introductory course and other support materials for BB.  This post is short and sweet, but also a revelation of sorts.

the future is now…

Today I attended a BUG meeting with several colleagues from SLN.  BUG stands for Blackboard Users Group.  The meeting included presentations on Blackboard Learn, Blackboard Central, technical aspects and service packs, social learning in the cloud, self/peer assessments, and creative but practical uses of Collaborate. Blackboard Learn is the Learning Management System and Blackboard Central is a branding/marketing app that allows users to explore the university’s total climate (campus tours that link to campus bus routes for example).  Lots of really cool features including the potential of taking a photo of a building and having the app identify it and show you where you are on a map, utilizing GPS to “see”  where the buses are, and so on.  It’s really way more than you hope for, but it is here today!   The social learning component is much like Facebook, but limited to the community of the university.  Interesting idea… I wonder how many students will really utilize it or if they’d prefer to do the same thing via FB.  It does offer easier access to finding people within the same course, program or other local interest relative the college experience.  The self/peer assessment feature is pretty cool and can save the instructor time as well as promote deeper learning by increasing the level of active engagement with course content.  Students not only have to engage the content and create their assignment, but also engage the content again as they review several of their peers assignments and consider their thinking as expressed in their submissions.  I found the Collaborate ideas to be intriguing – especially the telepractice ones.  I think it would be interesting to see how that works out.   I’m not sure it would really do the job in all disciplines, but I bet it would open up opportunities (even if not the most ideal).  As the presented suggested, it allows children in remote areas to access quality care that would not be available otherwise.  Several attendees noted that the mobile apps related to BB Learn would be very useful for addressing the needs of many community college students  and lower income students who seem to rely more heavily on mobile devices.  Smart phones and apps may serve a social justice purpose equalizing or at least bridging some of the gaps in access.  Very interesting prospects indeed….

Each of my recent internship experiences has opened my eyes to new pieces of the puzzle that is online education, its implications, and the complicated “back” end of things.

moving forward….

Today, I spent the day at SLN, attended meetings and discussions with colleagues, wrote up my third and likely final analysis of discussions from a closed course for Instructional Designers.  I am hopeful that my efforts have provided the organization with information it can use.  I certainly learned a great deal from the conversations I analyzed.  I learned about the topics that interest campus level instructional designers and the practical realities they face.  I was introduced to scores of online resources.  I came to wonder and think deeply about several things – each of which could be investigated further in a more formal way to learn more about online teaching and learning.  The world of online instruction is multifaceted and complex.  I was able to generate several suggestions that may serve the organization and its mission to support the instructional designers and faculty it serves.  At least, I hope something in there will be of use and implementable.

Through the various ID meetings I have viewed and/or attended, I have learned about the bigger picture of online instruction across the system.  There is currently a migration to a new LMS underway and the impact is huge.  Consider a system of dozens of universities and community colleges, each with scores of instructors, each with potentially several courses to migrate.  It quickly becomes apparent how large the scope of the project is.  Add to that the varied levels of “buy-in” for the migration, the variety of LMS platforms being switched from, the diversity of personalities, the wide-range of content areas and desired applications to consider, and so on – not to mention the practical reality of working with different versions of rapidly changing technologies throughout.

Today, I learned that I will be get to play a role in this endeavor by helping to ensure quality in the stand alone training programs being created, create support documents on the LMS and its functionality, and design a mini-course for new faculty as a preparation for the main workshops.  I am very excited about being able to contribute to SLN in this very practical way.  It will be a good opportunity for me to learn about  Blackboard in a very hands-on manner while also adding value to the efforts of SLN.  Had a great day with good people in a genuinely supportive and collaborative environment – very satisfying.

envisioning a better educational system…

Today, I am in a hotel attending a conference on the Common Core and literacy instruction.  The Common Core is associated with educational reforms recently implemented including Race to the Top as a funding source. Part of the total picture is a move to standardized standards and testing regimes, toward teacher accountability based on to some degree on testing results, and so forth.  In many ways, it seems that we are stepping back toward one education for all rather than education that meets your needs.  Recently, Alex provided the link for Future of Learning, Networked Society – Ericsson and I just had the opportunity to view it.  Interesting….

It’s main premise seems to be that education and learning are two very different dynamic constructs.  Education producing standardized people with a focus on being right, accurate, certain.  Learning producing flexible problem-solvers who can learn for themselves and handle the surprises that come along on a daily basis, who appreciate the opportunity that failure provides for deeper learning (if you persevere).  The video promotes a revolution in which the first step is to force a change in the thinking about education by providing access to education for all through free courses from universities.  These free online courses enroll 10,000 – 100,000 students each!  On the one hand it is an amazing thing.  Yet, the video also indicates that the real development of independent thinkers comes from skillful facilitation by a teacher in a face-to-face environment.  Seems like a contradiction.  There is no way that such development can occur in massive online free course environments of thousands of students.  It is however a great opportunity for those who would not otherwise be able to afford an education.  The video does acknowledge that the quality cannot be as good as face-to-face.  The video does mention an online resource, Knewton, which purportedly can provide truly individualized education through analysis of the individual learner’s processes and performances – sort of a data mining application perhaps mixed with instructional goals to find a unique match.  Sounds very interesting indeed….

There are a few good quotes in the video – paraphrased here: “destroy the perfect to make the impossible” and “make students restless for information, make them want it”.  This seems to be the point of the huge, free, open courses – to destroy the old paradigm – then and only then can the face-to-face teaching take on the role it is meant to have – skillful facilitation and coaching of students as they wrestle with ideas, figure things out, fail, persevere, and succeed in learning from a self-motivated stance.  I think this answers some of my wonderings about the role of the instructor in online learning and the balance between promoting discussion interaction through per post grading and the true nudging and shaping of thinking of skilled prompting and probing.  I highly value the interaction of skilled professionals who can instigate deeper thinking and instill a value for the intrinsic motivators of unique individuals and to leave that out of the equation is unacceptable to me.  Even in strong communities of learners, there is a need for such prompting  between members of the community.  I think that mutual wrestling with ideas is where the learning occurs.

wondering about LMS migration and constructivism now…

Today, I finished laying out  my preliminary thoughts on the second discussion analysis.  I was also able to attend the first half of the ID meeting via Elluminate; I will have to watch the remainder of the meeting when the archive becomes available.  I found both of these activities to be quite interesting and I now have two wonderings in mind.

The first wondering has to do with LMS migration – the shift from one LMS for online classes to another.  If you think about it as an individual instructor of a course, it means converting, moving, and/or re-building your course in the new LMS.  You will need to know how the LMS works.  That probably means training in the new LMS to get up to speed on its functionality.  If you teacher two or three different courses, your work almost doubles or triples.  But, think about it at the campus level, and it become a bit more intense.  It can be anywhere from a few dozen instructors with a few dozen courses to literally hundreds of faculty needing to convert even more courses.  How do you make the transition go smoothly?  SLN is planning for such a migration and is currently building two stand alone, self-paced training courses to aide in that process for their clients.  SLN is also creating reference resources faculty can access to answer specific questions they may have.  I wonder though how campuses will manage the training load, then the subsequent troubleshooting and support on site as faculty engage in the process of converting their courses.  I imagine many creative approaches will emerge.  It will be interesting to see what they are and how it goes.  I wonder what impact there will be for faculty who have been leary of technology already or those who have just recently adopted online instructional practices.  Will it be discouraging to have to go through the migration process, or will it actually serve to generate more confidence and enthusiasm as individuals become adept in the new LMS and see themselves as proficient?  Will they grow their flexibility with technology? Hmmm….

My second wondering on this day involves the learning process and the theoretical, pedagogical stance of constructivism.  As students work together to share what they know about technology tools and resources, are they engaging in constructivism?  When many work together to create a compilation of resources for example, what is the knowledge that is created, and what is the knowledge creation process?  Is it simply everyone putting in their piece of a puzzle and then the puzzle is created for all to enjoy?  Is the expectation that along the way people will become aware of what’s out there or is it expected that they will grow substantially in their understanding of the puzzle pieces?  When I’ve thought about constructivism before, I thought about it as a process of sharing and exploring information that challenges thinking, notices discrepancies, explores confusions, and builds on the contributions of others.  People begin to better understand the language and concepts involved and come away with an understanding that is more nuanced and accurate that what they would have on their own.  It truly is greater than the sum of its parts.  So, I am wondering about how the knowledge is built and the process by which it happens.  I think it relates to my recent wonderings about discussion forums, instructor facilitation, and grading.  At some point, I will need to sit down with all of these wonderings and puzzle over them and locate related research and resources to help me tease it out.  Right now though, I want to gain hands-on experience, learn about the practical realities of online teaching, and keep track of my wonderings about it all.   Simply experience it all, learn from those with experience in the field, come to realizations about online teaching (and the bigger picture of it a “living” system), and grow my storehouse of raw information to wrestle with later when I can sit with it.

making thinking visible and vulnerability….

I’m noticing today (as I think I may have mentioned earlier in this blog while taking Alex’s course) that making my thinking visible makes me feel vulnerable.  There is one side of me that wants to appear confident and competent because for the most part I am.  I can be extremely productive with tremendous attention to detail.  I can be very helpful to others, making learning meaningful, relevant, and engaging.  The other side of me deeply wonders and examines things – nearly everything!  I pull things apart and think about how they could be problematic, where improvement can be made, and then I admire the strengths and benefits that emerge.  When I make that side visible in a public way, it makes feel vulnerable.  I guess I worry that it’s messy and  presents an opportunity for misunderstanding, miscommunication, and misrepresentation of my thoughts, preferences, and beliefs about online teaching and learning.  It’s really more about looking at things from different perspectives to gain a better understanding of its nuances.

I hope it is understood as such because I really enjoy what I am doing in this internship and I really enjoy the people and work atmosphere they foster.  It’s an adjustment for me, but I think its a good one.  One of the things I really find unique is the way the entire community of SLN comes together to share what it’s doing, how each informs the others, and how groups of people gather in a moment’s notice to help someone puzzle through a thought and brainstorm ideas.  There is a genuine collaborative spirit that is rare, or at least I think it is rare.  It is a gift.  I hope to make the most of this gift while I am fortunate enough to be immersed within it.  Perhaps I will take away some life-long practices that will transform my journey, who I become, and how I impact my piece of the world.

so many ideas…

Today, I spent the day reading through another discussion forum in the closed ID certification course I have been analyzing.  This discussion was focused on examining online tools and apps that could be useful for instructional design.  Some of the big concerns seem to be finding technology that is easy to use and accessible to all students, tools that will persist, tools that can be adequately supported for trouble shooting purposes, and selecting key tools to avoid overload.  Other big areas of interest seem to be time saving, time/task management for student success, ways to support collaboration, ways to provide creative and engaging content, ways to grab student attention to highlight key instructions, improving retention, ways to incorporate oral interaction and/or social presence, ways to share resources from anywhere, and a few other such topics.  A few “mega-resources” were mentioned in the posts – resources that compile and link to other resources  – categorized, annotated, and hyperlinked.  One interesting resource I checked out was created through Livebinders.com and can be found at http://www.livebinders.com/play/play_or_edit?id=365641 ; it is a mega resource entitled “Web Tools for Teacher” and it’s worth a look!

As I go through this discussion, I am noting that some parts of the discussion are not as interactive as the last discussion I read.  But there are also some sections that take on a genuine conversational quality of give-and-take, examining the pros and cons of resources, comparing the distinctive aspects of two similar resources, and sharing ideas for use and problems to watch for.  I find myself wondering what makes for the different nature of the conversations within the forum or across forums.  I think the prompt and how it is worded matters.  I also think the conversations deepen when they hit on an area of shared frustration – a common problem to discuss and try to resolve.  Is it better to let the less interactive postings run their natural course or would it be better to step in with a facilitative model or prompt?   By noting the nature of the posts, I have compiled a list of the types of action the posts achieve.  This list can be utilized to promote deeper thinking and more interaction within the discussion forum and may be useful to instructors for either the initial discussion prompts themselves or for facilitative prompts injected throughout the discussion conversations.  Lots to think about….  I also started to wonder about nudging students outside of the comfort zone to taking on some of the problems they bring to the table head on, using those problems as the basis for inquiry projects within the course.  Hmmmm….  I think I like that alot.  I think setting groups about the task of researching the problem and formulating as much of a solution or plan of action as possible would be  engaging and meaningful for students and would lead to more depth in their learning and better retention overall – perhaps even transforming their daily practices.  How cool is that!