Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Module 2: Collaborative Tools

Distance education has been more prevalent and gaining more acceptance these days. George Siemens identified three different factors that are leading to better quality experiences in distance education: global diversity, communication, and collaborative interaction. One factor that I find particularly beneficial is collaborative tools.

An increasing number of school districts have an online suite of tools through Google including Gmail, online email,  and Google Docs, a web-based office suite.  Google Docs allows for people to create documents, forms, spreadsheets, and presentations online as well as upload existing files. Not only does Google Docs allow for creating, editing and data storage, but it also allows for real time online collaboration.  A teacher could share a document with the class and the students would be able to access it and add to it. Google Docs is also a great way for teachers to share data for tracking and analyzing. Last year I created a color-coded spreadsheet for all of the students in fifth grade. I included their scores from Arizona's standardized test, AIMS, as well as scores for the predictive testing, Acuity, that they take during the school year. There was a column on the far right side for teachers to add in comments about any intervention and/or enrichment that the students were receiving. This was a handy tool for us to use and update as we received more information on our students. During our Professional Learning Community time, the spreadsheet was a handy tool to facilitate conversations about where are students were and where we wanted them to be. 

Another collaborative tool that has been around for a while are wikis. A wiki is a website where users can add and edit through a web browser usually using a rich-text editor.  Wikispaces is one of the many different host websites that offer people to make their own wikis.  A wiki that I am currently participating in is Clickers, Cloud, and Cyber Teaching. The other members and I are able to post work that we are doing on the wiki.  We are able to view what each member is doing and provide feedback and engage in discussions. It is a wonderful tool that is designed for collaboration.

Cloud computing is another collaborative tool that I have just begun to learn about. It is a way for people to store and access files and documents online from any device that can connect to the Internet. April Lawrence wrote an article, Go Into the Light: Succumb to the Power of Cloud Computing, where she talks about the benefit of cloud computing for business. 

There are numerous ways that these collaborative tools could be used within education all areas of education - traditional, hybrid and distance.  One of the biggest barriers I have currently being a traditional classroom teacher is the limits the school district places on what we are able to access and use.  Right now only one pilot school has given students access to the Google suite of online tools.  We are discouraged by blocks and firewalls to use wikis in the classroom as well.  In time I have hope that the "powers that be" in the school district will open up these tools for all of us to use. 


Reference

Laureate Education, Inc. (2008). Principles of Distance Education. Baltimore: Author.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Module 1: The Evolving Field of Online Education


Online learning has been growing at an increasing rate over the past several years.  Students of all ages from little ones beginning kindergarten to adults pursuing advanced degrees have the option to take classes and programs online. With the growth of online learning, professionals in the field face challenges to providing a quality education.

Simonson (2000) stresses the importance of equivalency of learning online.  Students will not have the same learning experience as they do online as they would if they were taking classes in a traditional stone and mortar setting, however they can have a “different but equivalent learning experience.”  Four steps are outlined by Simonson to achieve equivalency which include assessing technology to be used, defining learning objectives and learning experiences along with preparing the learning experience to be delivered online (Simonson, 2000). 

Huett, Moller, Foshay and Coleman (2008) write about how the field of instructional design and online learning needs to evolve in the training, higher education and K-12 education divisions.  The focus needs to be on sound instructional design and practices.Huett, Moller, Foshay and Coleman feel that there are many opportunities for the field of instructional design to grow and evolve but it is at the utmost importance for professionals to commit to the task without being encumbered by theoretical or ideological differences. They emphasize how we need to reach these goals by working collaboratively and cooperatively. 
Over the past decade since I first began taking online courses, I have seen the quality of my own classes change.  The platform for instruction has improved along with the vigor of the course work.  The classroom discussions that I participate in now are of real quality whereas in the past it seemed like another hoop to jump through with no real meaning.  It is exciting for me to see the changes and to hopefully be able to help with the continuing evolution of online learning.

References:

Huett, J., Moller, L., Foshay, W. & Coleman, C. (2008, September/October). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the Web (Part 3: K12). TechTrends, 52(5), 63–67.
  
Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008, May/June). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the Web (Part 1: Training and Development). TechTrends, 52(3), 70–75. 

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008, July/August). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the Web (Part 2: Higher Education). TechTrends, 52(4), 66–70.

Simonson, M. (2000). Making decisions: The use of electronic technology in online classes. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 84, 29–34.