I learned…

…how to participate appropriately in an online discussion forum. Before this course, I could easily get away with “2” point posts in all my other online classes and pass without a problem. Professor Pickett made this very clear that it would not be that easy. I learned to dig past my initial understanding of a topic and get to the real “nitty gritty” to teach myself and my classmates something new.

…how to organize my workload. The amount of work in this class was astronomical from the beginning (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) but I learned how to organize myself so I would not be overwhelmed. I created weekly checklists for myself and prioritized my work appropriately.

…how to create an online course. Asynchronous instruction is not just putting links on a page and telling students to answer a few questions. It is about engaging the learner with content, fellow classmates, and the instructor. It is about making a student-centered environment where the individual takes control of their own education.

…what instructional design is. According to Merrill et. al. (1996), instructional design is the practice of creating “instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.” It is about creating a learning experience that is efficient and effective as well as engaging to the learner.

…why self-reflection is so important. Often I would assume my work was complete until I took a good look at it and realized it wasn’t. By self-assessing most of my written work, I was able to be critical of myself and push my learnings to the limit.

…the differences and similarities between online instructors and face-to-face instructors. Although the medium is different, the basis of instruction is the same. Teachers today are meant to be the facilitator of instruction, not the keeper of it.

…to learn from my classmates. We all come from different places and experiences and we should learn from each other as we continue on a path towards a mutual goal. I may know things that others do not and vice versa. I learned to take advantage of that.

Out of all these things I think most importantly…I learned.


T-minus 5 days…

I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to write this blog. What have I learned? The question is…what HAVEN’T I learned??

I have said it before—this is the most difficult course I have taken in my graduate career. Expectations were set out for us from the get-go and we were expected to not only meet them, but to exceed them.

I think the area of this course that I learned the most in was from the discussions. Unfortunately, I only learned from my own research and postings and had little opportunity to learn from my classmates (the whole point of discussion). The bar was set high and I wanted to do well—I hope I demonstrated enough of my thinking to pass that section of the class.

Further, I want to point out how my learning has improved throughout the course by linking to a few of my discussion postings:

In module 2, I started this thread on what makes for an effective online teacher. Little did I know at the time that my opinions would change drastically! A lot of what I was saying had to do with the instructor facilitating instruction rather than purely teaching it…something very common in our discussions. By the end of this course, I learned that along with being a facilitator, the instructor must be a supporter and help the online learner throughout their successes and struggles—something that I often do not experience in asynchronous learning.

What a difference from module 2 to module 6! In this module’s discussion forum, I started a conversation about the millennial generation and their education. This is a personal thing for me as I am discussing myself and my peers. My discussion postings have gone from “skimming” the top of empirical research to truly digging into the topic and making my learning visible for my professor and my classmates. I learned how to research topics properly and write my findings in a clear, conversational way.

I wish I had learned from the beginning that these discussion postings were meant to be more like a short research paper rather than a discussion. From the very beginning of the course, I have not had the opportunity to truly view all of my classmates’ postings—this is due to the stress of ensuring my postings were good enough to pass this section of the course (something I am still not too sure will happen). I hope I have demonstrated enough my learning and showed how drastically I believe I improved so I can walk away from this class with a feeling of satisfaction, rather than resentment.

In other news…

I want to make sure I show what I learned in this module, specifically the readings. I have mentioned before that assessment seems to be my weakness when it comes to instructional design (and apparently my own learning experiences). I was pleased to read about assessment in an online environment in the Australian Flexible Learning Quick Guide Series. One thing in particular that stood out to me was how online assessment “should be sufficiently flexible and diverse to account for differing needs and circumstances of students undertaking online study” (p.4). This made sense to me as the reason why I started in a fully online program was due to the flexibility is afforded me. I chose this program because I needed a graduate degree and I was not sure where my life was necessarily going at the time—I still don’t! Therefore, why shouldn’t the assessment of online courses be the same? There have been times (many times) in this course that I believed the evaluation was unfair and even biased…nothing personal, Alex. I simply believed that I, as an individual in an asynchronous environment, should have the flexibility of grading procedures if absolutely necessary. As stated in the reading on assessment, part of the flexibility in online teaching involves “negotiating assessment tasks to account for student’s circumstances and needs” (p.5). This is something I definitely was not afforded in this course.

This reminds me of Luke’s post in response to my original on “Millennials and Modern Education”. Luke (4) mentioned that “the student is responsible for their grades and their education and has to know that the information you are gathering and what they are being assessed on has relevance to them, to their development and their continued learning”. To be honest, I don’t believe I even had the chance to develop and continue my learning because I was so obsessed about my grade and improving for the next time (something that I still have not seen…even at the end of the course). This could also be due to my “millennial” nature and my “self-absorbedness” when it comes to my grades—something that Luke (4) also mentioned.

Moving on…

I’m so happy this course is over in exactly 5 days. I have learned a lot and I hope I have demonstrated it without being too much of a pain in the “you-know-what”. I am continuing refining my course and would have loved to receive feedback on the final draft rather than the skeleton it was in the screencast provided to me. Nevertheless, I plan to review my peer’s assessment of my course and hopefully complete it to the high standards this course is asking of me.

I hope this blog was reflective yet informative and does not affect my grade in the same way Module 5’s did. Oh well…I will follow up with an overall learning experience in my next blog on Sunday.


“Progression requires direction”

Throughout this course, we have reviewed tons of empirical research that aim to determine what makes for a successful online learning environment. Among our findings, facilitation on the instructor’s part seems to be of upmost importance. But what does this mean? This is the question, we as students in this field, need to address in order to ensure meaningful learning experiences for our future students.

In this module’s reading by Randy Garrison, this idea of defining facilitation took hold. Specifically, Garrison states that “it is very important to facilitate and yet not dominate the discourse and, at the same time, be prepared to provide crucial input to ensure that the community moves to resolution” (p. 66). This is something we have experienced throughout the entire summer—Professor Pickett has done her best to facilitate instruction without dominating the discourse (specifically in our discussions). This is important to creating a student-centered learning environment while still taking on the role of an academic instructor.

Further, this topic relates to what we have been doing while building our own courses. I have to say, I have been very uneasy about my progress in this course (Professor Pickett knows this). As much as I have been trying my best to produce work that lives up to the expectations of the course, I find that I am still struggling to get by. This is very odd for me…I usually ace all my classes!

That being said, I appreciate that throughout the course we have been given the opportunity to work on our individual online courses little by little. I wrote in a previous blog about a saying my mother used to tell me: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! By facilitating the process in which we created our courses, Professor Pickett allowed us to determine our own way (little by little) towards a common goal while also helping us along the journey. This is valuable for both the instructor and student in an online environment.

Speaking of my online course…

I had a little bit of a freak out moment yesterday (Sunday the 4th). It was a busy week for me: it was my birthday, I had family in town, and I got in a car accident…I’m okay, but my car isn’t L

Because of all this, I was away from my course for a few days and came back thinking the course had to be complete by yesterday. So I spent the whole afternoon doing what I can to get it all done. To my dismay, I realized it is all due today, the 5th. WHEW! Good thing I got most of it done yesterday though—now I just have to do some touch ups and wait for feedback so I can get it finalized in the next module.

I’m pretty impressed with my work on my course. It is simple, consistent, and engaging. It puts the student in the center of the learning environment and I hope in the future it is not overwhelming. I know I will most likely need to make adjustments in the future due to technological advances and changing “mindsets” of students. This is okay, though…that’s what being an effective instructor is all about!

Again, I look forward to completing my course (finally) and gaining feedback from Professor Pickett so I can improve it in the next module. I also am excited to see how everyone else’s courses came out—we got through it together!


It’s getting there…

It’s so close yet so far…till the end of this course!

This summer course has certainly been a challenge for me. In the beginning, my discussion posts were not up to par but I believe I have improved tremendously over the past couple months. I am extremely disappointed in my overall grade in that section of the course, however. I have been under the impression that as long as you post the minimum required (3 posts) you should be fine. Well, I have been posting AT LEAST 4 per module, all of which received 3 or 4 point ratings. So my question is, then, how am I still failing this part of the course?! Nevertheless, there is not much I can do about it other than try to improve my scores in the next module. Let’s see how that goes…

In other news…

I was very happy with this week’s assignment being the “checklist” for our own courses. This task has certainly been an overwhelming one but week by week we were building these courses and not even realizing it. From completing the checklist and reflecting upon my findings, I realized I have LOTS more to do on this course. Mainly, I need to make sure the course is navigable for my students and easily understood.

While going through the checklists, I placed a “check mark” by the items I believe I have completed and an “X” next to the ones I still need to work on. As I was doing this, I started to create my own separate “to-do” list (I love checking things off!) for the things I need to continue working on over the next week. Most of these items are presentation-based; i.e. fonts, sizes, colors, etc. However, I still need to create a few documents necessary for my future students.

Also, I realized I do not have clear enough instructions throughout the modules for students to follow along with. After I finish adding some of the missing items, I will be able to go through each page and add any instructions that I may have missed. I believe this should be fairly simple.

I’m a little concerned if I will have a finished product that I will be proud of by August 5th. This weekend is going to be a little busy for me (it’s my birthday!) and my good friend is in the hospital L I will just need to make sure I am working on it as much as I can, whenever I can to get it done.

Once, it’s over, I’ll DEFINITELY be relieved.


How do you eat an elephant?

As Module 4 comes to a close, I am noticing how much I have improved from just a few weeks ago. In my online student experiences, I have never had a course that challenged me as much as this one has. It has certainly been a struggle, but I know I will be better for it at the end.

I have learned to space out my schoolwork in a way that suits my lifestyle. Takings two online graduate courses at once can certainly be overwhelming. I am happy that pressured feeling I had in the beginning of the summer semester has finally subsided.

In this module, the biggest challenge has been the “Build It” assignment where we were asked to build our learning activities in our courses. I thought it would be fairly simple—I quickly realized it was going to take much longer than I thought…

Between being unfamiliar with the course management system, Moodle, and still trying to gather resources to use within the class, I was about ready to give up. Then I remembered something my mother always told me: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

See, when you are given a large task that seems to be impossible to complete, you just need to start small and try to push yourself through it. When I took on this attitude towards the assignment, I just started with building the “sections” or “chunks” of the course without any text or resources—something that seemed simple and mindless. Then, I began using the information I created in Module 3 (drafting learning activities) and copy and pasted the text into Moodle. Before I knew it, I was almost half way done.

I thought that was a good place to stop and re-group before adding all the web resources and content used to teach each module. So, I wrote this blog! I think my next steps will be to gather all readings and videos used in each module and make them accessible within the course. From there, at least the course will contain all necessary information, it will simply be my job to make it a smooth navigational experience for future students. This includes linking to web pages, and formulating “homes” for all essential course material.

Once this assignment is completed, I’ll be ready to start module 5. I hope from there, I will have the opportunity to make my online course “pretty” rather than the mixed type font it is currently! Professor Pickett has mentioned on multiple occasions, however, that this is how you develop an online course. Get the information out first, then make it pretty!

So in conclusion, next time I am feeling overwhelmed by an assignment, I will just remember how I was told to “eat and elephant” as a kid: Just take it one bite at a time!


More than half-way through…

Ever get that feeling that you are so close, but yet so far? Yupp…that’s how I’m feeling.

For some reason, I think Module 4 is a slightly less workload, for which I am very thankful. I have learned how to stay on top of my assignments and schedule out my week so I do not become overwhelmed with the workload. Even though we just started the second week of the module, I have already completed all assigned readings and 3 different discussion postings.

Speaking of the discussions…

I am somewhat enjoying Module 4’s discussion on social/teaching presence. I think myself, as well as my classmates, are really getting into the “nitty gritty” of empirical research and controversy. One topic that really has stood out to me so far is the difference between teacher-presence and teaching-presence. In an online asynchronous environment, the presence of a teacher is often not “seen”. Instead, the instructor must make his/her presence known through a variety of mediums like emails and discussion forums. What I thought was very interesting is how Professor Pickett and my fellow classmates have now determined that teaching-presence does not just involve the instructor—it involves EVERYONE in the learning community.

By this, I mean that I am learning just as much, if not more, from my classmates than my instructor. For example, Cristin (4) and I started discussing what effective teaching presence means amongst different scholarly authors. Although we have different information, we have come to the same conclusions regarding the topic.

I believe I have improved significantly with my discussion postings. In the beginning of the course, I was used to participating in discussions like all of my other online classes – more of an informal discussion of the topic at hand. This class, however, involves discussions that are heavy in research and almost “formal-paper-like”. This helps me look into empirical research more effectively and cite my sources for my classmates to read. It also has made me a better learner/student as I have used these methods in the other online class I am taking this semester – it truly has made me a better online student.

This does not mean I, from an educator’s perspective, believe this is the best way to approach discussions in an online course. Because I spend so much time looking for empirical research and ensuring I have a 4-point post, I am unable to read ALL my classmates posts on the topic. I don’t believe this is effective because I am unable to learn from what everyone is saying, only from my initial post and those that I respond to. There must be a better way…


Keep on Learning…

During this module, I learned a lot about the different theories of teaching learning — specifically, pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy. Before this course, I wasn’t even aware the latter two!

In short, pedagogy is the teaching of children while andragogy is the teaching of adults. Heutagogy, is the theory of self-directed teaching and learning. Throughout the discussions, I realized that most of what makes up online and distance learning is the theory of heutagogy.

Further, I learned a new term that I (hope) introduced my classmates to: technoheutagogy. This “gogie” is that of using technology to enhance and direct learning in a self-motivated learning environment. I found this term while browsing through research, specifically that of Bill Pelz (one of the exemplary professors we were told to observe). YouTube has a great video that explains this theory of teaching and learning in more detail. I have a feeling this term will come up quite often in future research on the best practices for online instruction.

I have mentioned before that I am a very visual learner. Because of this, I often try to create my own graphs and diagrams to demonstrate topics and concepts for my own studying purposes. Throughout our module readings however, I came across a visual that definitely enhanced my learning experience within this course. In Shea et. al. , the authors diagram for “high quality, higher education, online learning environments” really put the overall “gist” of distance learning into perspective for me. See below:


By viewing this diagram, I really got the idea of creating a meaningful learning environment by combining the empirical research into a clear and precise diagram; I now better understand how social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence are all intertwined to create good practices in online instruction.

One more thing I want to touch upon in this blog is how I organized my learning activities for my course. Just like creating a simple lesson plan for a traditional classroom, I found myself second-guessing and re-directing myself as I was designing the activities. For example, I started off with the course with having students send me a final project proposal to begin their work on the “artifact portfolio”. As I kept bouncing around between modules, I realized this would not be effective because I am having the students follow each module’s topic with the kind of artifact I want them to find. I am realizing that it is important for instructors to really “sift” through their preliminary plans and to write it all down to make sure the flow is correct.

I am still trying to grasp how to change my “teacher-centeredness”. I never thought that was my weakness but from the feedback I have received, I am realizing that I really need to be careful in my instructional design techniques to make sure I am purely facilitating the knowledge, not giving it. I look forward to continue working on my course and to figure out how to make sure my course comes from a heutagogical perspective rather than a pedagogical.


Similarities across courses and content…

It has been a busy week and it seems like it will only get busier.

I started another online class for the summer semester and to be honest, I am worried about being able to juggle both courses effectively. Fortunately, ETAP640 and ETAP655H cover a lot of similar themes and I am finding it useful to share resources and documents between the two. Both classes are designed differently so it will interesting to get first-hand experience about what I am learning and apply it to my learning activities in both classes.

I want to start off by discussing the Bill Pelz article on effective online pedagogy. I was intrigued to begin reading this article begin I really appreciated and learned a lot from observing his Developmental Psychology course in Module 2. In the article, Pelz (2004) discusses his personal experiences being an online instructor and shares successful strategies for creating a meaningful learning experience in an online asynchronous environment. A lot of the techniques he used are very similar to what I have experienced as a distance learner.

For example, the majority of online courses I have participated in involve the professor providing a list of readings and encouraging students to actively engage in group discussions. By incorporating this into the design of an online course, students spend “quality” time with the content and gain a more meaningful learning experience. As stated by Pelz (2004), “the more ‘quality’ time students spend engaged in content, the more of that content they learn” (p.33).

Another theme Pelz talks about is the importance of the instructor understanding their role as an online teacher. This is something we have come across often in ETAP640 and will continue to reflect and gain conclusions on. In essence, Pelz suggests limiting the professor to “providing the necessary structure and directions, supportive and corrective feedback, and evaluation of final product” (p.37). This forces the instructor to take a step back and understand his/her role as a facilitator rather than a keeper of knowledge.

I am finding through the learning activities thus far in this course that I am struggling with taking a step back from my traditional face-to-face pedagogy and becoming a more “student-centered” instructor. It is interesting, I always thought I focused my teaching methods of the learner rather than what I, as the teacher, need to portray in the classroom. I suppose sometimes what you think are your greatest strengths are often your weaknesses! I am working towards changing my role as a teacher into one that facilitates learning on the student level and encourages students taking an active and dominant role in their education.


Learning new design ideas, discipline, and a little balance

As the module is coming to an end, I am catching up on all the work I’ve been (admittedly) procrastinating. Although I believe the content of this course is not difficult in any means, I do however, believe that the way the course is taught is EXTREMELY challenging and I am finding myself struggling to the point of discouragement. I am working very hard on every assignment that is asked of us but I feel like I cannot do anything right. Am I the only one feeling this way?

In any case, I committed to taking this course and will work diligently for the remainder of the summer to pass and do my very best. I hope it will be good enough.

So moving on…

I observed the Developmental Psychology course before I began writing this blog and I had a few first impressions that I wanted to share with my classmates. To begin, I logged into the course and immediately saw the “Course Announcements” section on the homepage. I thought this was a very important element for both academic and design purposes of the course. The student will immediately not what is expected of them and when as the course progresses.

Also, I really like the “Your Grade” section if you just scroll down a little more on the homepage. This feature shows the student their progress in the course by presenting it in a graphical way that is easy to follow. They can see how they are doing and if improvement is necessary in a particular aspect of the course.

As I kept clicking around, I came across a page entitled “Detailed Instructions for all Assignments”. Like many online courses, a document like this is usually presented so the students are aware of what is expected of them in the different parts of the course. What I liked particularly about this page, however, was how it specifically laid out the professors expectations in one spot for the student to refer to. If I was taking this course, I would print out each webpage and whole punch them in a binder. That way, I have easy access to the documents if I have any questions as I complete various assignments.

One negative that I want to point out is the “Coffee House” section of the course that is meant to be a social spot for students in the course to interact and “socialize”. To be honest, I am not sure if I understand the purpose of this in an online environment. Sure, we all know it is important to foster interaction in an online course, however, students that generally are taking these classes are not doing it to “socialize”. I believe most students do it because of the flexibility and convenience that comes with distance learning. When I started clicking around in the Coffee House of the Developmental Psychology course, I noticed that no posts have been made to any board! Obviously, these students are too busy to even bother with just saying “hey” to their classmates. This is where face-to-face learning differs drastically from distance learning as the “social” and peer-to-peer aspect is obviously hindered…no matter how much the professor encourages it!

I apologize for not including any scholarly articles in this blog post. To be honest, I wanted to focus on getting this blog complete so I can work on the rest of the discussion and my Course Information documents that are due tomorrow. I am about half way through them and I want to make sure I do well. I am happy though that I observed that class before I completed all of my assignments because I gained new perspectives on how courses are designed and instructed outside of my Institution’s standard online courses. (3)

Improving some things, Changing others…

Okay…things are getting a little better during Module 2.

I have to say, I was a bit discouraged when this course began. Module 1 was extremely demanding in terms of discussion posts and the specifics Professor Pickett requested of them. Although I do have experience in taking online asynchronous courses, I was certainly thrown for a loop the first two weeks. I am happy to say now, however, that I am learning how to be much more specific in what I write and to back up my proposals with scholarly articles shared with the rest of my classmates.

So far in Module 2 I have completed two discussion posts on what it means to be an online instructor and have read the article “Do Online Students Dream of Electric Teachers” by Jason Scorza (2005). While reading this article, I began to think to myself how I plan on altering my approach in the upcoming modules of this course. For example, in my discussion posting, I addressed the concept of multiple intelligences and how online educators must be able to cater to ALL learning types in order to provide a meaningful learning experience for his/her students. This sparked a conversation with a few of my classmates and I look forward to continuing the discussion over the next week. Scorza’s article talked about a lot of the same points I stated in my discussion and I could have used some of his thoughts as additional evidence to prove my claims. In the next module, I will make sure that I read the articles assigned before continuing into the discussion boards.

Speaking of Scorza and his thoughts of online education, I was quite intrigued by his comparison of and online/distant learning environment to that of science fiction novels and movies. In his article, he suggests that “empathy, respect, compassion and consideration” must be portrayed to distance learners so that they “feel that they have taken a class taught by a real person and not an automaton” (Scorza, 2005, p.46). In my experiences, I believe this to be true as students and teachers are not afforded the luxury of an in-person experience while participating in an online course. Because of this, heavy emphasis is placed on student-content interaction. Online instructors must be able to show their students that same kind of personal relation that one would receive automatically in a face-to-face classroom.

So my question to my colleagues is how does one provide the level of empathy and compassion to his/her students in a distant learning environment? I have had online instructors in the past that have had little to no interaction with me as an individual student. I have had others that bombard me with emails and an overwhelming sense of “in your face-ness” behind the computer screen. Does advanced technology like podcasts, audio, images, etc help to provide the personal experience students need to connect with information in an online environment? According to Scorza, the answer is in “pedagogy rather than technology” (Scorza, 2005, p.48).

That brings me to another thought I will mull over the next week…

Is there one specific pedagogy that must be implemented in an online classroom to ensure empathy and proper implementation of knowledge? Is every instructor different? Can it even be achieved through just a keyboard and monitor? I welcome my classmates’ answers to these questions as I will need to use them in the course I am designing.