Planning a new online course

My initial thought is how do I tie in the methods of constructing a course to meet the competencies required in the curriculum by the ministry and link all these requirements with a manageable, engaging online community. My biggest challenge at this point is not knowing anything about the host sites like Moodle or Blackboard. It seems easy when I read about creating a discussion forum, or using automated feedback in a quiz, but how is this done? I feel that missing this link is really making all the technology applications that I have learned just seem theoretical at this point because I fear the process of building a course on the LMS. From what I have read I do believe any course can be adapted to the online environment if You Know How.

The three main factors that come to mind are; instructor presence, course objectives and assessment. I chose these three because I believe all the other components, even though they are equally important, will fall into place if the three listed are well established.

Teacher presence: this begins with the construction of the course, establishing a community of learners, supporting the students throughout the course, facilitating learning and guiding the learning journey, building student confidence, adapting content for engagement, offering and requesting feedback, and being available for questions and support and basically just being present for the duration of the course.

Course Objectives: these are often regulated by curriculum requirements but will lay the foundation for all teaching and learning activities that follow. Concepts that must be learned will require different activities and assessments than concepts that require practical application. The whole purpose of the course is to achieve the objectives. They are the driving force of the course or the heartbeat. Everything revolves around the achievement of these objectives

Assessment: How can you know if students have met the course objectives if you have no method of measurement. Assessment is critical throughout all the stages of the course. It starts with finding out what students already know, what life experiences are they bringing in to the course, what is their level of proficiency with technology and language skills, what are students’ expectations. It continues within the course to measure knowledge acquisition along the way. It highlights areas that are not clear and what students can and can’t do. Assessment provides the opportunity too make adaptations to the course to ensure success. Final assessments demonstrate if students have met the objectives and if their learning was successful. Designing assessment based on the identified learning objectives provides the blueprint for the design of content and activities, choice of media and delivery options and basically forms the foundation for the development of the course.

To sum up my learning experience this far I can identify with Phil Jupitus in the video below when he discovers what seems like the sun is not the sun, just a mirage. “It’s just not there!” I feel that all my years of teaching “are just not there” when I look at creating and facilitating an online course. What seemed second nature to me “just like seeing the sun” is now a mirage and I need to discover where the sun really is. Where are my learners and how can I connect with them in a meaningful way through cyber connections?

Enjoy the video

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Assessment Activity Plan

Assessment measures what learners know or have learned. An assessment activity plan has been developed for The Foundation of Early Learning Course. Click on the link to view the detailed assessment plan.

early learning framework

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Assesment Glossary


Aligned: When the complexity of content is at the same level for: the curriculum, the instruction and the assessment.

Assessment: Evidence of student learning

 Authentic Assessment: Asking the learner to demonstrate their knowledge in a “real world” scenario. An example might be to “parallel park the car” as opposed to asking the learner to describe what is involved in parallel parking.

 Cognitive Assessment: These are tasks that assess cognitive ability such as memory, problem solving and other intellectual functioning. Traditional exams and essays are examples of cognitive assessments.

 Curriculum: WHAT we plan on teaching

 Discrimination: This relates to the ability to differentiate between marks/grades. If one learner got 2/3 and another got 2.5/3 on an item can we articulate why? If not, then the item lacks effectiveness.

 Formal Assessment: Assessment in which a mark is allocated, as opposed to simply providing feedback about a learner’s progress.

 Formative Assessment: Feedback to the learner about his or her progress throughout the course (i.e. not at the end of the learning).

 Informal Assessment: No marks are given – feedback is provided on the learner’s progress – can be done individually or as a group/class.

 Instruction: HOW we teach the curriculum

 Item: These are often referred to as exam “questions” but technically, an item on an exam is not always a question. Consider the following example: Provide the definitions for the following terms: (this is not a “question”)

Reliability: This term relates to validity. While validity refers to accuracy of an assessment, reliability suggests that that assessment will ALWAYS give us the same results. When you go to the gas station and put 25 litres of gas in your car today, do you trust that it is the same amount as when you filled it with 25 litres last week? Then the measurement of 25 litres is a reliable measurement. When we are building a well-aligned course our assessment strategies must be reliable as well as valid.

 Summative Assessment: Assessment that provides a mark (or a decision – e.g. pass/fail) at the end of the learning.

 Validity: An assessment is valid when what we are attempting to measure is ACTUALLY what we are measuring. For example, when our doctor uses a blood pressure monitor on our arm and determines whether we have high, low or normal blood pressure, he or she (and we!) trust that test to be valid – it gives a true and accurate measurement of our blood pressure. If it gave a different reading each time, then we would say the results of that instrument are invalid. Validity relates to reliability. When we are building a well-aligned course our assessment strategies must be valid as well as reliable.

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Knowing your Learners

Stew not salad

What is our students’ specialty? Through my learning journey I have become more aware of the critical task of finding out who our learners are in each of the courses we teach. What is their learning style specialty, how do they prefer to communicate, how do they perceive their own learning, what are their expectations from the course, what is their experience and educational level, how about their technology specialty, do cultural or belief systems influence use of technology, what does assessment mean to the learner. The list can just go on. In the cartoon above the key ingredients are similar but the method of putting these ingredients into a final product will differ.

As instructors we must consider the learning styles of our students: Below is an article from the University of North Carolina that focuses on ways to accommodate individual differences in the design of online learning environments.

As instructors we need to be aware of cultural or religious implications: Section 6 in the article below makes reference to technology and culture.

The following blog post looks at different technology bans in different countries.

The role of the instructor is to get to know their learners: This should be done at the start of the course through a synchronous connection if possible. The instructor should be prepared for this meeting and know what information about the learner they wish to gain through the synchronous meeting. Nachamma Sockalingam suggest the use of student evaluations .  “Understanding learner needs is essential for providing quality education.

Further information is available in the resource section. Take a look at the assessment resources too.

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Where do our thoughts get us?

I love this quote. It inspires me to think. Sometimes I wonder where my thoughts will get me. Are they futile or productive? During the learning journey I find that I have so many scrambled thoughts and I often wonder where they are taking me. The quote below is comforting because it highlights the value of thoughts.

“Our achievements of today are but the sum total of our thoughts of yesterday. You are today where the thoughts of yesterday have brought you and you will be tomorrow where the thoughts of today take you.”- Blaise Pascal

Kitten thinking

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photoReflecting back on my learning journey reminds me of a snow road. In order to drive along this road the snow needs to be scraped to the side or the car will get stuck in the deep snow. Each time more snow falls this process is repeated so that traffic can flow and not pile up in a chaotic traffic jam. I liken the learning journey to this snow road because everyday new knowledge fills up our path and if we do not scrape it and store it on the side by attaching meaning and relevance, eventually all the new knowledge will just form a confusing mass in our learning journey. Reflection is the best snow shovel for learning, or should I rather say it is the best snowplough!

There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

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To Group or Not to Group

Group work facilitates community but cannot in itself be the online community since it usually does not include all the participants of the course. I do however believe that students who work in a group form stronger and deeper community attachments to their group members than to the rest of the students in the course. Reflecting on my online experience, the students I remember, are the ones that were part of my group at some point.

According to a post in Faculty Focus “Better Group Work Experiences Begin with How the Groups Are Formed” group formation depends on what the instructor wants students to learn from the experience. If the assignment entails tapping into a variety of skills then it might be better for the instructor to select group members based on criteria required to complete the assignment. Group work should produce an assignment that accomplishes more than would be possible for an individual. In “Five things Students Can Learn Through Group Work” a key thread is encouraging a deeper level of thinking. Through interactions, explanations and trying to justify ones own point of view, thinking is clarified and students learn to “figure things out.”

One of the advantages of group work is it reduces the instructor’s workload. According to Restine in “Group Work, Discussion Strategies to Manage Instructor Workload”, it is important for the instructor to plan group work. Simply putting students in groups to work can in actual fact increase the instructor’s workload and negatively impact students’ learning. Students enjoy many advantages of working in groups such as; sharing ideas and perspectives in case studies; enjoying a safe place to explore ideas and questions; expand their knowledge of people beyond their friends; develop higher cognitive thinking; developing group skills. Maryellen Weimer in “Reflection on Group Experience”, suggest the use of journaling about the group experience.

Disadvantages of group work include the famous “easy ride”. Frequently students enjoy an easy ride while other group members do all the work and then happily accept the mark awarded to the group. Some students are leaders and others are followers, group work often encourages the leaders to control the direction of the group work. If careful group selection is not implemented these followers seldom present their views as the leading idea in group work. If clear guidelines are omitted, group work can result in disrespectful interactions, frustrations with the easy riders and discoherence if there are too many leaders. The instructor can be involved in very time consuming mediation that is often unrelated to the course content.

Allowing students to self-select groups has both advantages and disadvantages. Students that select groups usually know each others strengths and are able to collaborate immediately. However, repeatedly selecting the same friends will minimize the learning experience because other students’ views and perspectives will not be added to the learning experience. In face to face instruction, there are usually disappointed students because their friends picked other group members. Self-selected groups are also not reflective of the real work environment. In my personal opinion self selected groups can be incorporated into learning activities but should be used in moderation. In the study “Are Student Selected Groups More Effective” the final conclusion is that they are not.

Teaching the ECE certificate program included and enormous amount of group assignments. To balance the group selection I used a variety of methods such as random, criteria selection, instructor selection and student selection. Regardless of the selection method the “easy riders” remained a concern for all group members. Since our course was overloaded with group work, students were quick to develop a negative attitude to group work and it required in depth planning on my part to ensure that the groups would foster a positive learning environment.

In an online environment I think group work is essential in starting the community environment and some form of group work should be included in each course, even if it only involves two students working together. In my opinion group work should not exceed 25%- 30% of the final mark.

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