Week 3: Summary of Best Practices in Distributed Learning – A Look at Needs in a Variety of Contexts.  Where to from here?

What a fantastic learning exercise!  I recently returned to the third week in our course to develop a summary of the main themes from that week- best practices in DL, and to take a gander into the blogosphere (I just learned and used another new word! Go Nic go! – that’s my inner coach talking)  to try and come up with common problems and ideas, to complete this part of assignment one.  As Mary indicates in the course blog – “It is helpful to read everyone’s blog posts and comment on them. Doing so can help you synthesize what you are learning.”  I’m not sure if maybe I didn’t believe her before I did it, or have not had many opportunities to practice this excellent learning strategy (to now be included in my online unit), but I was shocked by how many new connections I made, how much more I understood from others postings based on my own learning over the past weeks, and how I am better able to synthesize it all than when I first began.  As I read over several of the comments that were made on different blog pages, I was shocked by my improved vocabulary, understanding of web 2.0 tools discussed and understanding of best practices in the DL context.  Summary is a great tool to help students synthesize, self-evaluate and consolidate learning!

Common themes most certainly emerge from the various posts, and it is evident that we are all working towards similar goals.  All of us are wondering how to use best practice, established from years of education research and experience, to enhance learning in a DL context.  We struggle with balance and lack of time to adequately learn and implement technologies that have the potential to improve learning for our students.  We sometimes fear the unknown and aren’t sure if taking risks without adequate information is worth the potential loss of time in terms of learning new skills and tools.  We aren’t sure that supports exist in our various contexts to successfully implement web 2.0 tools, and we struggle with student motivation and engagement.  We know that we are on the cusp of something new in education and the excitement, energy and hope is real in all of our posts and what motivates us to take this course.

What does matter most for best practices in a DL context?  Relationships and online community make a difference in the success of online learning experiences.  Teacher presence is key.  Communication of course objectives,  expectations and assignments with clear criteria need to be set.  Choice and variety in learning experiences, as well as work samples improves student motivation and engagement.  Assignments that involve blogging, journaling, open-ended questioning, summarizing, etc. all provide ways to show learning, and can be tailored to student strengths and needs.  The nature of online work naturally lends itself to asynchronous and/or synchronous learning work.  A mix of both is ideal.  Give and get timely feedback (as Mary did, embedded early in her course) about how things are going and what needs to be addressed to improve learning.  Use accessible, quality, online content in a variety of forms (audio, visual, interactive, etc.) and differentiate your instruction, individualize and shape the program, to support learners goals, skills and needs (like Mary has done for me!).  Always end the learning with a useful project to provide students with the opportunity to showcase their learning (Dare I say it? Of course!  Like we’ve done!).  

On a more individual basis we all contributed to our blog sites with descriptions of our current DL context, what it would take to implement web 2.0 tools effectively to improve learning for our students, and specific barriers.  Kerrie and Rick looked at a college/university environments; Kerrie finding a paucity of data and/or research to support implementation and assessment of success and Rick noting the underuse of digital literacy skills at Thomson Rivers University.  Kerrie defined the web 2.0 (websites that generate content, easy to use, social in nature, collaborative), expressed “cautions” around potential student use/abuse (digital narcissism, amateurism in terms of service agreements, surveillance, copyright, etc.), and then discussed applications to education (i.e. Digital Tatoo – UBC website). Rick suggested more use of Blackboard, Moodle and other LMS within university courses, and improved online content for students to use.

Muhammad shared his offshore, high school context where he is working with the BC curriculum, whereas Sasha, Scott, Blair and Delano discussed more local high school scenarios.    Muhammad has found the progress towards a DL context to be slow given the firewall challenges, and non-Chinese servers that hold most of the relevant educational material that he is not able to access.  More specifically, he discussed the benefits of using Web 2.0 tools as being collaborative in nature and that open-source blogging systems improve communication.  Teacher fear and/or lack of confidence using Web 2.0 tools was a common theme – brought up by Muhammad, as well as Rick, Scott, Blair and myself.  All of us have great ideas and ways to improve learning for students (i.e. Natural Reader app used to support students with reading challenges access online material that is above their reading level, learning and implementing Google Apps for education school wide in a DL context like Scott suggests, Blair hoping to develop units around safety, project development, theory, and assessment in a woodworking/welding course using technology, and Delano incorporating Web 2.0 tools to improve high school writing with a 2.0 “cure”).

Barriers in all our contexts include a lack of teacher time to learn to use the technologies well.  Lack of technological support, and internet and/or district (i.e. creating gmail accounts through the district to address FIPPA/FOIPA concerns – see Scott’s blog) access in some cases.  Adequate resources to do the job well was underlying most blogs – for me specifically the special needs far outweighed the resources (my time) and my job felt next to impossible (since writing my blog, and advocating for my students my time as school based resource teacher in a K-7 context has increased to .3 so it never hurts to make your voice heard!).  Risk taking and leaving behind outdated (Microsoft Word) programs in an effort to try newer (Google Docs) ones was seen as a barrier by Scott, and Sasha felt that Web 2.0 tools were needed to improve British Columbia Learning Network courses he works with.  

In conclusion, I believe that all blogs expressed concern over a sense of needing to know everything all at once, lack of time to do it, and a desire to improve teaching for the sake of their students.  Ultimately, we are all in the process of learning and we need to remind ourselves that through this process we will improve our use of technology, with practice – trial and error we will adapt and adjust the things we try, and that after working our way through this course and others, slowly but surely our dreams can become reality.  Keep playing with the “art and science “ of teaching.  It’s one day at a time… (right – that‘s my inner coach talking again!  Thanks for bearing with me!)

2 Comments on Week 3: Summary of Best Practices in Distributed Learning – A Look at Needs in a Variety of Contexts. Where to from here?

  1. Mary says:

    Nic, I’m glad your inner coach cheered you on through writing this excellent summary — and I’m glad you found the activity helpful. I think it is an excellent activity to incorporate in online courses generally — particularly in education courses, since it is a skill teachers use often, but in general, just because the process of synthesis is so valuable.

    Certainly the question of time loomed large in Week 3, as it continued to do through the course. I think you’ve noticed a particular thread to that when you comment on the challenge of trying new things without the certainty that they will work. This is always a challenge in teaching, I suspect, but perhaps even more so when the new thing is a new technology that you may ultimately decide not to use with students at all!

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