Monday, 16 May 2011

My Professional Development Project

Along the many online courses I have taken, I have noticed that effective and efficient communication seems to be one of the key factors in the success of a course. In face-to-face interaction, we have the aid of body language and intonation to perceive if and how we are getting our message across, and to make the necessary adjustments to ensure that our course is inclusive and engaging. In online environments we do not have these cues so it becomes crucial to make the best possible use of the tools at our disposal as well as to look for other ways to hone communication so that we can prevent the learner from feeling isolated and lost, and from eventually dropping out as a result.

I find this topic fascinating so I decided to choose it for my PD. I carried out my project directly on the Moodle sandbox (no links therefore), which helped me put into practice the skills I have acquired during these workshops.

Course Description

This is more or less what I had in mind, though I have been able to cover only 2 weeks of the three I had initially planned.

Week 1
The idea was to have participants reflect on the nature and requirements of effective communication and think of ways of making this possible in online learning.

  1. Success in Online Learning: Communication 
  2. Online vs Face-to-Face Communication  
  3. Promoting Efficient Communication with Moodle as a Curriculum and Information Management System

Activities and Resources:
  1. Wordle image to trigger reflection and discussion
  2. Forum to share views asynchronously
  3. WiZiQ session to discuss the readings and the participants' reflections synchronously. Tutorials are provided for those not familiar with this virtual classroom.
Week 2  
The focus of this week was the different types of communication available in online environments, the features and affordances of synchronous and asynchronous tools,  and the importance of including synchronous tools in a medium that relies heavily on text-mediated communication.

  1. How to Enhance Online Student Engagement and Satisfaction 
  2. Opinion: The Importance of Being Synchronous
Activities and Resources:
  1. Participants are invited to watch this video:       
  2. A forum is created for participants to share their views on the readings and the video. 
  3. Participants are invited to take part in a Webquest to explore different tools that can be used to provide online live meetings for the school where they work.
Week 3
In this week, the aim is to have participants explore other tools that can help enhance communication both synchronously (Skype, voice boards, instant messaging, mobile devices, chat) and asynchronously (email, forums, news groups, blogs, wikis, podcasts, text messaging)

    Sunday, 15 May 2011

    M4T-A: Book Review

    For our book review, Sandra, Jose and I had chosen "Moodle 1.9: English Teacher's Cookbook" by Silvina P. Hillar. An English Teacher and a Certified Legal Translator, the author has done a lot of research on writing and composing techniques and describes herself as passionate about educational technology, qualities that can easily be noticed in her construction of the book.

    Here, Hillar focuses on activities and resources for developing reading and writing skills with the Moodle environment in mind. Along its 10 chapters, the book moves gradually from simple activities designed to improve writing at sentence level, to reach more sophisticated levels of written discourse like poem, description, composition, essay and article writing.

    She uses a wide variety of resources and tools, including Hot Potatoes, Twitter, Facebook, cubing techniques, Venn Diagrams, Mind Maps, Tree Diagrams and Discussion Clocks. Most of them call for collaborative and creative work, and are clearly presented and illustrated by means of abundant screenshots. The latter feature could be seen as a bit redundant for those who are already familiar with Moodle, though it will be of great help for the Moodle newbie.

    All in all, this is a good book for those teachers looking at honing reading and writing skills within Moodle.

    Here's our presentation:

    M4T-A: Week 4 Group Challenge Project

    For our group challenge project, we chose a voiceboard tool that Sandra came up with. All of us immediately fell for Gong since we think it would make an invaluable addition to any course. It would be particularly useful in the EFL field as it would provide listening and speaking practice in an invironment where there is normally not much opportunity for the development of these skills. Among other features, it offers the possibility of listening to and responding to text and voice messages. It also allows the participation in group discussions using synchronous and asynchronous chat.

    Here's the presentation we put together:

    Nanogong or gong
    View more presentations from Mary Di Monaco.

    And here's our advertisement for the tool:

    M4T-A: Week 4 Readings

    I've been going through two of the suggested readings in Week 4: Success factors in online teaching and Nine principles for excellence in web-based teaching

    Not surprisingly, they both emphasise the need to engage learners by using materials that are relevant to their needs and to the learning objectives. Both of them also stress the importance of creating a supportive and safe environment for learners to achieve their goals. 
    • Success factors in online teaching  
    This presentation states that, as online learning entails isolation and a need for time management skills, technical skills and computer access, it is essential to provide a collaborative and supportive environment and to ensure the accessibility of the course materials. In this medium, the role of the mentor becomes crucial for engaging and supporting learners. Success depends on learning resources that are relevant, challenging, but achievable, and easy to navigate. 

    Providing support and feedback by means of regular meetings becomes central in this context. The presentation illustrates the point by referring to an experience in which several tools were used to this effect:
    Gmail: to profit from a wide variety of Google apps by creating a Google account.
    Google Calendar: one of the many Google apps, useful to schedule and view events. for mentors to add events to calendars, and check preferred meeting times. Good tool for selecting event times convenient to the majority of the students.
    FlashMeeting: to hold group meetings as a way to foster collaboration and a sense of belonging, as well as to provide opportunities to clarify doubts
    my.TAFE: for students to receive announcements and see them in the Google calendar.
    redcoal: to send meeting reminders by sms text with the link to the meeting, and feedback on marked assignments.

    • Nine principles of online education
    This article elaborates a bit more on the subject, outlining nine principles that are essential for online education to become a successful experience.
    1. The online world is a medium unto itself: materials need to be designed with the web dynamics in mind, providing clear guidelines to navigate them.
    2. In the online world content is a verb: learners need to be actively involved with the content in order to master it. Rather than merely providing content, the instructor needs to design tasks and assignments that learners can engage with in order to meet the course objectives.
    3. Technology is a vehicle, not a destination: tools must be chosen taken into account how they can help to meet the learning objectives, and they need to be constantly evaluated to make pedagogically informed decisions for their implementation.
    4. Great online courses are defined by teaching, not technology: a successful online course presupposes clearly stated objectives and goals, regular and individual contact and feedback.
    5. Sense of community and social presence are essential to online excellence: it is crucial to develop a sense of community to make up for the lack of face to face contact and so that the learner can be percieved as real person.
    6. Excellence requires multiple areas of expertise: excellent instruction must be accompanied by technical expertise to ensure that the contents can be properly delivered and accessed.
    7. A great web interface will not save a poor course; but a poor web interface will destroy a potentially great course: it is necessary to articulate a clear guide to lead students through the course.
    8. Excellence comes from ongoing assessment and refinement: course effectiveness and efficiency should be regularly and systematically reviewed so as to obtain diagnostic feedback.
    9. Sometimes the little extras go a long way:  additions such as exemplars, rubrics, guides, tutorials, personal email messages, calendar reminders, audio clips and video segme