CEP 820: Taking Learning Online

This semester I took a class called CEP 820:  Teaching Students Online.  My purpose for taking this class (it is an elective) was to get a handle on how to help the teachers in my school as they transition into a more blended model of instruction (partially face to face and partially delivered online) using Canvas.  In this reflection, I am going to work through the different modules that we went through and focus on one element that stood out the most as being most useful for this goal.  Finally, I’ll give you an idea of where I ran into issues and how you might avoid them.

In the first module, we looked at several rubrics that could be used as a way to evaluate online class environments.  While there were several, the one that struck me as the most useful was called Quality Matters, which can be found here.  This rubric can be used in the development of the class as well as an evaluation of it.  It is virtually a step by step guide for what an online teacher should be doing as he/she design online classes.  This strikes me as most beneficial in my environment, because most of the teachers we have have never taught online before.  This rubric will give them several ideas of what they can (and probably should) be doing as they design their online class.

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We then moved onto looking at the different available CMS (LMS for NC folks) platforms available.  As I looked at the different ones that are available (free and otherwise), I grew in appreciation for the one that my school uses (Canvas).  There are CMS platforms that allow more depth and others that are less complex to use.  However, Canvas strikes a balance between the two that allows a novice the ability to get started and learn on the run while offering a plethora of options and components to the more advanced user.  

Next, we looked at different models of online instruction for the third module.  I focused on an article about flipped classrooms (technically called Synchromodal Learning Environments).  The article I read explained that there are pitfalls for this method, but that teachers need to be given the tools to use this with their students since the teachers will be the driving factor behind the methods success.  In short, students learn the content of the lesson at home via online lessons.  When they return the next day, students engage in experiences that allow them to use the knowledge they gained in authentic and real world ways.  When students buy in, this method is very successful.

The fourth module focused on communication between teacher and student, as well as students with other students.  Here we looked at some case studies and thought about the best ways to respond to students and parents.  We also created a communication policy that outlines up front the expectations for students and the teacher.  I had never thought to make a communication policy before other than a sentence or two in the syllabus explaining how to get in touch with me and how quickly to expect a reply as well as a respect each other blurb.  With an online class, I agree that it is important to go into greater detail.  The one that I wrote can be found here.

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The fifth module was an opportunity to reevaluate assessments and what they look like online.  As you may have guessed, assessment is a recurring theme in the classes that I have taken at MSU.  In this particular class, we focused more on what formative and summative assignments look like in an online environment as well as the need for detailed feedback since you aren’t necessarily giving feedback face to face.  This class (CEP 820) has used something called the Developer Notebook which serves as a place for me to turn in my work in an easy to access place while giving the instructor a place to provide inline comments as well as summative comments.  While Canvas does have Speedgrader which is quite useful for quickly grading, I feel like this idea of the Notebook better meets the needs for feedback.  Additionally, the online method of teaching provides a wealth of opportunities for peer feedback.  In Canvas, the feedback can even be done anonymously.  

The sixth module took the most consideration for me.  It related to Universal Design for Learning.  The part of UDL that I focused the most on was Universal.  I spent a lot of time thinking about whether my course creation would be accessible to everyone that needed to take it. The major change that I wound up making was going back and giving multiple ways for the people taking the course to learn about the information that was either visual or through reading the directions.  

Finally, we looked at Classroom Management which offers very different problems in an online classroom.  A fair amount of this module was spent on thinking through the revision process.  In particular, it is important to maintain a list of ways that you want to adjust the course in the future by focusing on the student’s interaction with the material and ways to streamline that so that the students don’t have barriers to learning.  I also liked the idea of having a FAQ page that addresses questions that you get throughout the first time you teach a course so that students have a place they can go for quick answers to those questions.

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Fortunately, the creation of my online course was mostly free of frustration.  One thing that I wish I had done was use more external sources of information for videos and directions of how to do things.  This was the most time consuming part of creating the module. If Canvas is to be believed, I spent 98 hours in the Canvas course.  I’m thinking a significant chunk of that was my leaving it logged in and walking away, but none the less I spent an inordinate amount of time creating materials that I probably could have found created already. While I am glad that all the materials directly relate to our environment, it might have been wise to at least look for other materials that I could have used. The other main issue that I ran into was a desire to have conversation between participants without making it seem like an extra extraneous thing that they had to do. The discussion boards took awhile to make useful to the participants as well as me determining if they learned what they needed to learn.

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