Category Archives: Education Concepts

Logistical Challenges of Online Group Work

The surge in online education has led to questions about group work. This post is going to avoid talking about all the basics of group work such as setting expectations, dealing with lazy students, setting deadlines, etc. because these are principles that apply offline as well as online. Instead, we are going to look at the unique logistical challenges of online group work. Some of these challenges include

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Presentation

Communication

Finding ways for group members to communicate is a major challenge when working online. However, it depends on the context. Students may need to communicate synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous means everyone is together and talking at the same time such as during a conference call. Asynchronously means people communicate but not at the same time such as through a forum/chat.

If all the students are in the same time zone are neighboring ones, it is easy for them to communicate synchronously. However, if students are spread out all over the world finding a convenient time to discuss and work on a project together becomes difficult.

As mentioned earlier, forums/chat are a way for group members to communicate when it’s convenient for them. However, for some, working like this doesn’t feel look group work. This is s subjective view but is something to bear in mind.

A general recommendation to make is that the closer students live near each the more complex the project can be because of the ease of communication (synchronously). However, the converse is also true that the further away students live from each other simpler the project may need to be because of the challenges of communication (asynchronously).

In terms of the tools to use for communication, it’s probably better to have official channels worked out beforehand for the students to lower confusion. Again this is much more important as the students are more spread out geographically. Have all the students signup for whatever tool you pick and then have them use this one. There are so many different tools to choose from that this can be better decided between you and your IT staff.

If the communication is asynchronous, it might not be necessary to use any external tools as most LMS have forums and even a chat feature. If the current tools do not work again it is recommended to consult your IT staff.

Collaboration

The word collaboration in this post means some sort of document(s) that a group has to work on to complete the project. This can be a serious headache if you do not put in place some sort of system through which students can share document(s). What you really want to avoid are students emailing each other copies of the document which quickly falls apart. Another problem that you want to avoid is one student pasting together several documents from different people because there was no collaborating happening when this takes place.

Depending on your school there may already be tools for document collaboration. For example, Google or Microsoft both provide tools for institutions to share documents. The problem is that you as the teacher must learn how to do this and then explain and train all of your students, which is extremely difficult. This is probably one reason why group work in eLearning is talked about but rarely done.

Presentation

Often, when a project is completed it is shared with the class. Again, if all the students are geographically near each other a live class online is feasible. However, in a situation in which students are spread out this is not possible. This leads to the question of how to have students share what they learned.

The simplest solution is to have students prerecord there presentation. This is then linked inside the LMS so that other students can watch it. You can even require that students leave comments as proof that they watched the presentation. Unfortunately, doing this means that normally only one person gets to present in a group because of the challenges of communication.

Conclusion

Group work online is challenging, however, it can work in certain circumstances. People may disagree but the main challenge is differences in time zones that can impede live communication. When this is missing a lot of critical interaction is missing that is a part of the learning experience. Therefore, online projects are better if they are simply rather than highly complex.

Getting Students Online

In this post, we will look at getting students online for the purpose of learning. Moving students online requires some training for the students and clarification for the administration in terms of what they need to share and this post addresses both of these concerns.

Traits of Successful Online Learners

Online learning requires highly autonomous students. This means students who are self-motivated and organized. They must have the drive to work to achieve a goal. The reason for this is that social relationships are warp in the online context and it is hard to rely upon friends for encouragement and even the teacher for structure.

Online students must also possess the ability to read and at times find instructions for completing assignments adhering to due dates etc. Text is a primary vehicle fo instruction in online learning and students who do not like to read and or are aural learners may have a hard time in the context.

Perhaps the most important trait online learners need to possess is the willingness to ask help from the teacher or IT staff. It is difficult to survive online if a student is too shy to ask for help when they are confused. Again, this has to do with the inability to socialize with peers adequately online. Without the initiative to call out for help students will quickly become overwhelmed and lost.

These traits mentioned above are traits that students should possess before studying online. It is difficult if not impossible to develop these abilities while studying online. It is also equally challenging for the teacher to try and teach these skills. This means that online learning is not for all students.

To determine if students are ready for online learning it may be necessary to assess their skill set before online studying. Assessing study skills, time management, etc can at least help to flag students who may be at risk.

Tools for Online Learning

The tools for online learning are rather obvious but sometimes students do not seem to understand this. For example, a steady internet connection is necessary. This seems obvious but sometimes I have seen students try to study in public places are in a noisy home with many competing devices on the network.

There are also things to consider about the hardware. Students must have some sort of way to back up their data. This can be cloud storage or an external hard drive. Many students have computers that crash and leaves them without there assignments. This can be avoided for as little as $10 for a decent thumb drive.

Students also need to have the browser that your site supports as well as specific plugins for individual courses (adobe reader, Zotero, etc). However, be careful with adding more and more software as it can lead to difficulties for students who lack the technical knowledge or technology.

Student Orientation

The orientation to online at your school should deal with all the ideas addressed above along with the traditional topics your school deals with during their orientation.

In addition, you need to lay down expectations about communication, academic integrity, and the time commitment of online learning. Other topics include using the LMS, study tips, as well as handling online assessments.

Generally, the orientation is fully online. However, if the program is new it can be fully face-to-face or a hybrid model. This is because a new program may want to focus on students who are on-campus to work out the bugs and kinks of starting a new program. If you go live all over the world without any preparation it could lead to a lot of surprises.

Conclusion

Preparing students for online learning has a lot to do with the students being prepared beforehand. Online learning works for those with the discipline and motivation to work independently. If a student lacks this trait it doesn’t matter what the training covers.


E-Learning & Support Staff

Many think e-learning is only about teaching. In reality, there is an entire army of people working behind the scenes so the teacher and student can shine. In this post, we will look at support services and how they can be made ready to support e-learning

Defining Support

The support staff is all of the people involved in the online learning experience whose primary function does not involve teaching or leadership. Examples of support staff can include information technology, academic services, finance, student services, and marketing among other possible individuals.

A common problem with support staff is that like many teachers they have never studied or taught online. This means that they may not be familiar or comfortable with supporting students virtually such as in the context of an online experience. In addition, even though they do not teach support staff needs to be familiar with the LMS and other online tools so they can at least communicate basic information to students when it is necessary.

To put things as simply as possible, even the secretaries should be familiar with e-learning ideas an concepts not for the sake of teaching but for the sake of being able to understand students and even teachers’ questions and concerns as they provide support for them. This can only be done through training and some experience.

Information Technology

The IT team has the advantage of being thoroughly comfortable with technology. Therefore, learning about the technical aspects of e-learning is not much of a challenge for them. The problem with IT often is that they constantly want to add more and more technology to solve various problems with the existing technology that you are using. When this happens the new technology clashes with old technology causing bugs and the learning curve to use the LMS grows. This discourages students and teachers from using the system employed by the institution. Therefore, it is important to limit the expansion of technological tools employed for e-learning for the sake of simplicity.

Other problems facing IT is the selection of the LMS. Generally, you want them to be a part of this process to win their future cooperation. If you pick it without them and they know what you picked was bad they will resist supporting the lousy system with 100% commitment. However, if you pick a bad system together you will get full cooperation because of the IT’s ownership in the bad decision.

When deciding on what LMS to pick the choices are essentially free (moodle) and commercial (Blackboard). Free is not free as you have to provide extensive support to get the LMS working which may require hiring additional people. Commercial cost more but is already fully functional.

The choice of LMS also has to consider supporting the system. This includes standard procedures for updates/archives, the appearance of website, security, and how to address technical support. These are all basic IT concepts but they need to be worked out for the e-learning context.

Academic Services

Academic services will need to determine if the Student Information System is going to integrate with the LMS. This is primarily so that information in one system is simultaneously available in the other. Examples of information that may need to be in both systems include grades, student ID, student names, majors, faculties, etc. Doing this is simple for IT (most of the time) but there are security issues that need to be addressed.

It is also important to have all the standard academic policies adapted for the online experience. For example, addressing issues involving plagiarism and cheating need to be adapted for e-learning. Lastly, the academic office needs to think of how tutoring and remedial support can take place in the online context. For example, proficiency exams for entrance, writing support, and additional forms of tutoring needs to be addressed in the online context.

Library Service, Finance & Student Services

The library needs to establish a strong online presence by acquiring ebooks and electronic databases. The staff of the library must also becoming comfortable helping students online rather than face-to-face. For example, library staff may need to make a video recording of how to use online library services which means the staff has to be familiar with technology.

Finance needs to determine the cost of learning online. Students expect the fees to be lower than on-campus because there is no room and board involved. Therefore, there is intense pressure to keep costs down in e-learning.

In addition, contrary to what we see with MOOCs, online classes should be the size of traditional classes at your institution. Teaching 500 students at once cannot be done with 1 person even with all the technology. Students need the individual attention that comes with moderately small classes. With a large class, the institution is forced to higher TAs that quickly start to eat up the budget. Therefore, finance needs to be sure to treat online classes like regular classes financially.

Student services can involve such things as counseling and social activities. Therefore, it is left to Student Services to develop these tools in an online context. Students require emotional support like anybody else.

Another project is for the student service team to develop ways for online students to socialize and get to know each other. This may be done by breaking students into social cohorts who have to interact synchronously at times.

When thinking of all these services, they can be shared by the online program with the university or they can be separate. For example, the online program can share financial services or have its own financial services. There is no right or wrong but what works best for you.

Conclusion

There is a lot involved in support staff to have a quality online experience. Everyone needs to work together for the sake of the students to learn. If anything is neglected the online experience will be negative for many.

Online Teaching Competencies

In this post, we will look at teaching from the perspective of three different areas of competence. These areas are

  • pedagogical
  • technical
  • administrative

Skills in these three areas indicate a teacher who may find it easier to be successful in the online learning context.

Pedagogical

Pedagogical skills that an online teacher should possess include the following.

  • Content mastery
  • Responds to students inquiries (within 24 hours)
  • Provides feedback
  • Communicates
  • Monitors progress
  • Demonstrates presence
  • Instructional variety

Content mastery is the expertise a teacher brings to a subject. Generally, this is acquired through university studies and is not acquire while learning to teach online.

Responding to student questions and providing feedback all deal with the idea of communicating. When teaching online, messaging is a primary tool for reaching students. Therefore, responding to concerns and providing feedback on assessments promptly are key skills in successful online teaching because this is the primary way of interacting with students one-on-one

Monitoring progress is similar to providing feedback. However, monitor progress is about watching the students while they work rather than checking their progress after working. For example, many LMS systems have a way to know when students last logged in to the course and can even tell you what they clicked on. If you notice that a student has not logged in for a while you may want to contact him to see what is going on.

Demonstrating presence means providing students with evidence that you are watching and monitoring the class and know what is going on in the learning experiences. This can be done through the use of several skills already discussed. When students know you are there and watching it can boost motivation.

Finally, instructional variety means having different ways of providing instruction. Nobody enjoys only lecture-style teaching or maybe even exclusive group work. Rather, what people enjoy are different forms of experiencing the learning content.

Technical

Technical competency may be one of the biggest challenges for teachers. To demonstrate technical competency teachers must have strong computer knowledge. This can include fast typing skills, various forms of software, hardware, and even coding (i.e. Html). It may also be necessary to develop video editing skills for lectures and knowledge of different forms of social media for sharing content. In addition, all the tools mentioned are upgraded over time requiring a teacher to refresh their skill set. In other words, you never stop learning when it comes to technical competence.

The LMS is another highly specific that has to be mastered to a certain degree. No matter what your institution chooses (Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, etc.) there will be a learning curve to figure out what to do. A teacher will be responsible for grades, communication, course display, and even helping students with minor technical questions.

Larger institutions may have dedicated tech support for moving a class online while smaller institutions may not. Technical challenges are perhaps the top complaint of online teachers. Therefore, technical skills must be developed. Personal experience shows me that the only way to develop technical skills is to play with the software/technology involve. Large training sessions are fun for socializing and being together but people generally don’t develop the ability to do or use something in such settings.

Administrative

Administrative competence is highly similar to the pedagogical competency. Some of the administrative competencies include the following

  • Classroom management
  • Academic integrity
  • Course revision

In terms of classroom management, teachers need to make sure the syllabus/course outline is available, that the course is available from the official start and end date set by the institution, communication is taking place, student progress is being monitored, etc. As you can see, there is a strong overlap between pedagogy and administration.

Academic integrity is another important competency, particularly with older students. The policies for defining this behavior need to be explained in the syllabus/course outline and available to students. In addition, penalties need to be explained for violation of academic integrity.

Course revision is using feedback from students to improve the course. Usually, a course will have some sort of an evaluation that students complete for course improvement. However, student feedback in only one source of information. The teacher should always be looking for ways to improve their courses by incorporating new material, teaching approaches, and or technology.

Conclusion

Competencies help people to determine where they are at and where they need to be in terms of their skillset. Being deficient in a competency does not mean incompetence (no pun intended). Rather it is an opportunity to grow and something that may not be natural.

Roles in Online Teaching

Online teaching requires the teacher to be able to wear several hats in teaching online. These different hats are symbolic of the work and roles online teachers have. The following is a list of some of the main roles teachers have when teaching online

  • Course Designer
  • Facilitator
  • Manager
  • Expert
  • Mentor

Course Designer

Course designing was discussed in a prior post in this blog. For simplicity, course design is curriculum development in an online context. You must develop objectives, assessments, and learning experiences while aligning them.

Facilitator

The role of the facilitator involves supporting the students in the completion of the course. This can be achieved through the use of the following strategies

  • Contacting students regularly
  • Holding office hours
  • Present in discussion forums
  • Providing timely feedback
  • Modeling online participation for students
  • Motivates

Most of these strategies are self-explanatory. Contacting students helps to establish a connection with them which is critical in helping students to develop the resilience to complete a course. Holding office hours lets students know when you are available for impromptu communication. This will not wok all the time given the differences in time zones. However, the point of office hours in the online context is to advertise availability and not necessarily practicality.

Showing presence in online discussions demonstrates active engagement in the course. A facilitator needs to respond to comments made in forums to show and demonstrate participation. In other words, this simply a matter of prompt communication.

Timely feedback means that assignments are graded as quickly as possible to communicate academic progress to students. Without this feedback, students can quickly lose focus and become lost.

Modeling online participation was already alluded to in establishing a presence in the online discussion. Teachers need to set the example of proper online behavior/participation as determined by the institution. This can mean such things as frequent logins, messaging, discussion, and providing feedback.

Completing all these behaviors as already mentioned can help students with the motivation to complete a course. A main factor in poor performance online is the student feels isolated and alone and simply does not see any reason to finish a course.

Course Manager

The course manager role involves providing content for a course. Examples may include videos, text, links, etc. In this role, you maintain the maintenance of a course and make sure it functions properly.

Over time, it is common for an online course to have a breakdown in functionality. This means that you need to check the technology employed in a course periodically in order to ensure that the course is in proper working order. This is not hard, however, if you do not enjoy the technical aspects of online teaching you could struggle with this.

Subject Matter Expert

Naturally, if you are teaching a course you are an authority in the field that you are teaching. This means having a deep knowledge in you and staying abreast of the latest developments. Students are coming to you to develop expertise so you must possess this first.

Expertise can demonstrate through the development of activities, learning experiences, and assessments. If these things align, they will provide the students with a comprehensive knowledge of the field and convince them of your expertise. Expertise is not only knowledge of one’s field as it also depends on your ability to communicate efficiently.

Mentor

Mentoring involves advising students, This can involve academic and at times even personal matters. For academics, a mentor needs to advise students on studying, class selection and seeing how the current course is preparing students for the real world.

For personal matters, it depends on the context and the openness of the students and teacher. In the online context, the willingness to give life advice is useful in establishing connections & relationships with students. These relationships are critical to making students comfortable in a distance setting.

Conclusion

The many roles of online teaching can seem overwhelming. However, with practice, we can all learn to juggles these hats in a successful manager to support and help online students.

Developing an Online Course

Online course development is becoming more and more popular every day. In this post, we will look at one approach to designing a course and there are at least 5 steps involved

  1. Needs analysis
  2. Learning objectives
  3. Assessment
  4. Learning experiences
  5. Evaluation

These steps are essentially a modified version of Backward Design.

Needs Analysis

The purpose of a needs analysis is to determine the concerns the stakeholders have regarding the course you are developing. You take these concerns or “needs” and try to meet them in the course. For example, parents might be concerned that their kids need to develop problem-solving skills. This means that in the course you design there should be elements of problem-solving to meet this need.

How to conduct a needs analysis is a topic in its self. The primary goal is to collect data from stakeholders and this can be done through surveys, interviews, observations, etc. For those of you who are familiar with accreditation, it is often required that your institution do a site report before the visitation. This is done in part so that you know what you “need” to address to make your institution better.

Learning Objectives

Learning objectives identify what the student will do to learn. How many objectives to make depends on such factors as the needs analysis, the length of the course, general requirements, and the views of the teacher.

The main point to consider when making objectives is that they involve the student doing something to learn. If you, the teacher, are doing something then this is not an objective for the student but for you. An entire post on the details of learning objective development was already written at this blog and is available.

Assessment

Assessment is the evidence of mastery of the objectives This can take the form of assignments, quizzes, tests, exams, papers, projects, etc. that are used in teaching. Most forms of assessment that are done in a traditional setting can also be completed in an online setting. The challenge is having the teachers think a little differently.

For example, many teachers struggle with having students do presentations online. However, this can be achieved by having students record their presentation and then provide a link inside the LMS for the teacher and or other students. You can even embed the link in a forum and have the teacher and students provide comments within the forum.

Quizzes are another concern for many teachers online. Instead, of using quizzes for a grade teachers can use quizzes to get feedback in terms of their understanding. For example, a quiz can be developed just for learning and not for correct answers to help students prepare for future assessments. By removing the points there is no need to worry about cheating.

Learning Experiences

Learning experiences involve content delivery to learn new material. Examples of this in a traditional classroom can include such things as lectures, discussion, readings, etc. In the online setting most forms of learning experiences can be reproduced.

For example, video lectures can duplicate traditional lecturing. In addition, forums can be used to duplicate discussion. The purpose of the learning experiences is to experience learning. This means that active rather than passive learning should be the goal if practical.

Evaluation

Evaluation has to do with getting feedback about the course to improve it. Most courses at the tertiary level already provide some sort of way for students to give feedback about the course and the teaching.

Conclusion

Course development is a key skill in online learning. A teacher must know what the major concerns are from the stakeholders and address these concerns as they develop the objectives, assessment, and learning experiences of the course. If you are successful with this it is then necessary to determine what the students think about the course. This is the process of improving and developing a course

Getting Faculty Online

There are similarities between teaching face-to-face and teaching online. We all can tell that both involve teaching. However, online teaching is a new context in which teaching takes place. Therefore, some basic adjustments need to be made to have success in the context of online learning. This post will try to clarify some of the things faculty may need to know before they can teach online successfully.

What is Excellent Teaching?

One of the first things I try to clarify with teachers I am trying to support is to point out what excellent teaching looks like in a traditional classroom. I do this because many teachers at the tertiary level have no formal training in teaching. This often means that if they are good at teaching it is at a subconscious intuitive level. Teachers need to know what excellent teaching is because they need to duplicate this when teaching online.

Excellent teaching includes the following traits

All of these traits have been explained before. The goal is to make teachers aware of these traits and to duplicate them in the online context.

Online Empathy

Another experience that online teachers need is the experience of being an online student. This will allow the teachers to understand what the students go through when they are trying to learn in this manner. This experience also helps teachers to realize what they need to do as they teach online

Being a student first also allows for teachers to learn by doing. Many of us struggle to learn through presentations. Therefore, consider guiding your teachers learning experience through the use of such activities as being an online student first.

What to Teach Them 

There are many different topics and ideas teachers need to learn about when moving to online instruction. Below is only a partial list

The list above are things that most teachers are already familiar with. However, the difference is the context. As the online leader, you need to provide the institutional answer to each of these topics. Otherwise, your teachers will find their own answers which can lead to administrative chaos as everybody starts to use different platforms and ways of teaching online. This places a heavy burden on the students as they have to use multi-platforms because they have multiple teachers.

All of the topics above were discussed in prior posts and videos on this blog.

Conclusion

Moving faculty to online teaching is a tremendous challenge. It requires a look of work and sacrifice to find ways to move teachers online in a way that they are willing to cooperate to see success among students. Despite this, teaching online has quickly become a standard in education and teachers need to take notices of this.

Terms Related to Online Education

In this post, we will look at several terms used in the field of online education that are commonly confused and even at times misused. The purpose is to try and clarify these terms for times when details matter.

Online Learning

Online learning is the general mother term for all the other terms referred to in this post. Online learning encapsulates distance learning, e-learning blended learning, and virtual learning.

Online learning is simply learning that takes plus via technology over the internet. This is a broad and vague definition and essentially captures almost all learning over the internet. This is not to say that this is wrong. Instead, if we want to better communicate are intentions as educators we may need to be more specific at times.

Distance Learning

Distance learning is often seen as the same as online learning. The main difference is that distance learning is focused on students that are geographically separated from the institution that is offering instruction.

This essentially means that distance learning was a marketing term to attract students far from the university or institution. Again, this is not to say that having such a term is bad. Rather, the goal here is to explain the source of the many terms that are used in this context today.

E-Learning

E-learning is traditional education happening through an electronic medium over the internet. With e-learning, there is normally a student-teacher relationship in which they interact with each other. Online learning in general does not require this. The students and teacher may also be in the same physical space, such as a campus, but still teaching and learning online. This would not meet the definition of distance learning.

The term e-learning is also commonly associated with completing a degree or some sort of set curriculum. The planning can be rigorous and there are clear start and end times in terms of progress. For example, most e-learning experiences involve the use of a learning management system such as Moodle, which provides a framework for course delivery. In other words, e-learning is often more structured then general online learning or distance learning.

Blended Learning

Blended learning is a combination of any of the examples above with traditional classroom instruction. However, blended learning is generally associated with e-learning. This means that there is some combination of face-to-face and e-learning happening in a particular educational experience.

The ratio between face-to-face and e-learning will vary based on the course, teaching style, student preference, and other factors. For example, some teachers use the e-learning aspect of their course only for posting learning materials and not really for instruction. Other teachers flip their classroom and post lectures online and have discussion and feedback take place during class. There are lots of different flavors to this experience and finding the right combination is something every educator should explore.

Conclusion

Even though it is common for people to mix these different terms when speaking about education in an online context there are times when it is important to know which term to use. Naturally, there are other terms and even other definitions concerning this topic but that is a conversation for another time.

Challenges with E-Learning Implementation

Many, perhaps almost all institutions are wrestling with the implementation of e-learning at their campuses. This means that change is already here or at least coming. Generally, change does not work at the organizational level. Leaders talk about change, workers listen and agree but never do it, and the leaders never follow up with the implementation of the change.

In this post, we will look at several reasons why change implementation may fail in the context of e-learning implementation.

Change for What

Many times, leaders will try to bring in e-learning to provide evidence of their leadership rather than for a practical purpose. This leads to the implementation of complex technology and pedagogy without clearly establish goals/objectives. If there is no vision for e-learning there is little hope for success.

For many, e-learning is being forced upon them because of the rapid changes in the world today. Even though many have to teach online if there is no coherent plan in terms of what are the objectives of this experience people will wander about causing educational chaos with their students.

Resistance from Organization

When it is time to implement change, people love to talk about it. However, when it is time to implement and do things differently people often will quietly disappear and or disobey. This is because moving from theory to practice is difficult for people who already have a way of doing things.

The simplest way to deal with this problem is to have in place clear metrics to make to provide feedback in the implementation process. When progress is stalled it will be clear where the problem is and what should be done. When problems arise a mitigation plan must be enacted to get the organization back on track. This may involve things as unpleasant as holding people responsible for their actions. Having clear objectives with measurements can prevent a lot of this when people know that their behavior is being tracked and recorded.

IT Tools

Another unique problem with e-learning is the temptation to just teach the teachers all the latest technology and send them on their way. This is commonly done at the behest of the local IT experts at the institution who often believe the more technology the better.

More technology is often better for IT lovers but not for teachers. Learning every tool in Moodle or Blackboard is overwhelming. There are often 5 different ways to do everything and this is confusing for the average non-IT person. This does not even take into account the students’ need to learn the technology on their side. A simplified approach o learning just enough to get started is better Interactive videos are fun and can be engaging but perhaps a simple video with a forum is a simpler approach for a new teacher.

This is yet another instance in which having goals and objectives can prevent overzealous IT lovers from wrecking the e-learning implementation. Of course, those who are more comfortable with technology can do more advanced things. What is needed is a minimum expectation of what teachers should be doing in the e-learning context, not a maximum.

Conclusion

The ideas presented here do not all apply specifically to e-learning. Despite this, whenever we want to bring change, we have to have clear goals, a way to measure success, and to avoid the excitement of over adopting technology.

Motivation in E-Learning

This post will provide some ideas on how to engage students online in a practical way. Therefore, there will be no discussion on theoretical ideas but rather some ideas for best practice that might work in your class.

Be Organized

An online course must be well designed and structured. This is even more important than when teaching in person because it is hard to rearrange an online course in the middle of teaching. By organized it is meant that there is a coherent and consistent layout of the course. In addition, there are clear objectives for what the students will do as well as some way for communication to take place between the students and the teacher. This will vary from institution to institution but it needs to be agreed upon and adhered to within a course.

If a course is disorganized it can be highly demotivating for students. This is because the students shave to spend all their time trying to figure out what the links do, what the directions are, how this or that works, etc. This is one reason why a course should be peer-reviewed and or beta tested by students before it is used. This feedback can help to determine what makes the course disorganized so that solutions can be developed.

Get there Attention

A course can be well-organized but boring. This is also a problem and is similar to a well-prepared lecturer who puts you to sleep with their delivery. Perhaps the next step in online course design is finding ways to engage the students. This can be done by making the course visually appealing through the use of pictures, colors, and other forms of visual stimuli. Remember that the visuals need to serve some pedagogical purposes and not only an aesthetic one.

Interaction is another way to improve engagement. This can happen through developing multimedia such as interactive videos in which students respond to questions during the video. In many LMS you can assign the responses to the videos points that count towards the grade.

One more tool that can help is developing thought-provoking questions for forums. For students, the more controversial generally the better. By developing questions that challenge students thinking it may help to get them to invest mentally in the course as they look forward not only to your response to their post but also to the responses of other students. When students discuss and learn without you is when a course can be considered motivating.

Make it Fun

Fun can happen in many different ways. Interaction is essentially one form of fun. Other ways to make a course fun can include using humor. This can happen when communicating with students or through how the course is setup. You have to be careful with humor as it can be a double-edged sword because what is funny to one person is an offense to another.

Games can also be incorporated into an online course. Some authoring tools include games that can be employed such as H5P. Another approach would be to point students to educational games at other websites that are related to the course.

Having a good time knows no age limit. However, the younger the more important that there is some joy to the learning experience. Therefore, be sure to include ways for students to enjoy themselves especially for the younger ones.

Something inline with games but not really a game is gamification. Gamification involves putting in a game like feedback into the course. Examples can include being awarded points and or medals for completing various tasks in the course. This can be highly entertaining for students and it is amazing what even adults will do to earn one more point or badge by completing a forum.

Communicate

Communication may be the most important tool for motivation in an online course. Through the bridge of communication, the teacher and students can develop relationships with each other. This means that a teacher needs to send messages to students and respond to messages from students promptly. Failure to do so will be highly demotivating for many students as they are seeking guidance and not getting it.

Feedback is another critical tool in communication. When students complete assignments they need to know how they did and quickly. Therefore the teacher must communicate academic progress through marking assignments and posting grades. This allows students to make corrections to their mistakes and lets them know that someone is monitoring their progress.

Conclusion

The tips mentioned here are only scratching the surface of motivating students online. You must find strategies and techniques that work for you and your students. However, the ideas mentioned here will at least help to get you started.

Making Videos for Online Learning

Making online content is difficult. Without the interaction of the classroom, it’s easy for students to lose focus and struggle. However, with some basic help, teachers can make some small changes to their delivery approach to make videos that are more engaging for students.

Your Teaching Style

Before preparing your videos for your online class, you need to be honest with yourself about your teaching style. You need to ask your self how interesting you are as a teacher. The temptation is to think that you are an interesting and engaging teacher. However, personal experience has shown me that most teachers are terribly boring when they have to lecture in person and they are even more boring when they have to teach through a video online.

It is not a criticism if you are a boring teacher. Knowing this is important because it shapes how you approach the delivery of content when teaching online. An interesting teacher will be able to do things online that a boring teacher could never do.

If you cannot determine your style of teaching, you can consider the following options

  • Recording your face to face teaching and watch it
  • Examining course evaluations from prior teaching experiences.

If you choose to record yourself, ask yourself if you would really pay attention to what the teacher is saying if you were a student? If the answer is no, you need to determine what it is that is such a turnoff.

Guidelines

Once you know how engaging you are as a teacher, keep in mind the following to developing engaging online videos.

Keep it Short

Online videos should be between 10-15 minutes give or take. The reason being is that longer videos begin to put students to sleep and shorter videos become irritating because you always have to click for the next video. Another reason is that through watching television, people are already trained to pay attention for about 10-12 minutes at a time because that is how long a segment of a tv show lasts before a commercial break. If you talk for much longer than this you are not meeting the students’ preconceived expectation for how long they should receive content.

Whether you are closer to 10 minutes or 15 depends on how engaging you are as a teacher. A boring teacher should speak for 10 minutes or less while engaging teachers can go beyond 15 minutes because they know how to connect with their audience.

A general guideline to help you with timing and your PowerPoint slides comes from a Japanese presentation technique called PechaKucha. In this approach, you share 20 slides and talk for 20 seconds on each slide. This leads to a total presentation time of 6minutes and 40 seconds. This approach helps a presenter to talk less and show more which helps with engagement

7 minutes might be too short for your presentation. The point is not to adopt all the rules of PechaKucha but to use it as a guide to shape your presentations. Generally, you don’t want more than 30 slides in a presentation as things begin to bog down when teaching online.

More on Powerpoints

Powerpoints are a useful tool. However, the problem is that everybody uses them and this can be torture for students. If a student is taking 5 classes, he or she is probably experiencing 5 PowerPoint presentations every day. This is highly disengaging because of the ubiquity of PowerPoints.

An alternative to a PowerPoint is to use an on-screen whiteboard. This can be something like a simple paint app or an online tool such as Microsoft Whiteboard. By drawing are writing the concepts on the screen while recording can help to keep students much more engaged. This is due at least partly to the mental break students get while you are drawing/writing.

Of course, you can also have too much of a good thing. For example, if you are teaching math, it can be torture to have to wait for the math teacher to finish writing down the equation before solving it. In such situations, pre-written content can help to keep the video moving.

Naturally, I do not have to mention how you need to avoid reading your PowerPoint slides. Slides should be short and bulleted and should serve as a reminder of what you want to say rather than as a reading prompt.

Communications

There are also some tips for communications. You want to avoid highly formal language. This is because people tend to get lost when the language is dense. This means using 1st and 2nd person rather than third, which means speaking directly to the audience. When you talk directly to someone it forces them to pay attention at least a little bit.

A second suggestion is to avoid too many details. Experts love to share their expertise. However, most of our time is spent with non-experts. Therefore, every detail about every theory and concept is not always necessary. The amount of detail needs to match the expertise of your audience. College freshmen need fewer details than grad students. Generally, no matter what you are teaching, there is a good chance that the students will have another opportunity to learn it. This means it is not necessary to tell them everything if it causes them to fall asleep.

Whenever possible, try to wrap the content in a story. Storytelling is engaging and helps people to have a contextual frame in which to remember details. The stories don’t have to be that creative. It could be as simple as a story of when you first learned about the topic you are lecturing about. The point is to mix the theory with some form of reality that people can relate to.

Lastly, asking questions can also be beneficial. Of course, you will not be there to hear the response. However, when you speak directly to the audience and ask them what they think they have to pay attention to. If possible you may be able to make your videos interactive, which would allow you to post questions students can respond to during the video.

Beginning Middle and End

This is probably obvious but keep in mind that you need to introduce what you will talk about, present what you are talking about, and then summarize what you talked about. Many teachers can sometimes skip this. Doing so can lead to confusion for students at times.

Conclusion

Making videos online can be difficult. However, some basic tools can help a teacher to develop efficient and interesting content. It’s important to understand how you teach so you can maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses as you help students.

Assessing Students Online

Assessing students online is a major concern for many teachers. Generally, traditional tools may not work because of the ease in which students can cheat. However, there is a place for traditional assessment if they are used for feedback rather than for points. In this post, we will look at assessing students online

Before the assessment

When planning the assessment you want the students to do you need to first consider the objectives of the course/unit. In addition, you need to think about what kind of assessment are you trying to conduct. Is this going to be a formative or summative assessment? Will this be a product or process type of assessment? Finally, you also need to think about whether this will be a traditional or project-based assessment. Keep in mind that traditional assessment is often for formative purposes and projects are generally for summative purposes in an online context. What we have discussed so far deals primarily with curriculum questions that do not have much to do with technology yet.

Speaking of technology, you also need to consider what tools are available for you to use in the online setting to achieve your objectives. With enough creativity, almost anything can be done in any learning management system. For example, I once had my students do presentations online. Rather than watch them live (which is generally boring) I had the students record their presentations, upload them to YouTube, and past the link inside a forum on Moodle. By doing this, students did not have to watch every presentation but just the ones I assigned them. In addition, because the presentation was inside the forum I could assign a score and even provide feedback in the forum. This saved me a lot of time.

In a different situation, I had students do peer reviews of their papers through Moodle Every student was made a “student-teacher” in the assignment activity. Two or three students would then upload their paper to the “student-teacher” assignment activity and the “student-teacher” would provide feedback. I was able to see the feedback and could grade the teacher for their participation in providing feedback.

These are just two non-traditional ways of using your learning management tools. It really boils down to creativity and a desire to determine a way to get something done. Moodle in particular was built for all of these workarounds to support students.

During the assessment

Once the assessment is determined it is time to implement. At this point, clear communication is critical for student success. All directions and expectations must be written down and communicate for student success. If anything is left unspoken students may become confused and this could be a major problem.

There are at least two additional ways to alleviate anxiety students may face. One is to make sure you respond quickly to questions. The second is to provide some sort of an example of a finished product. Providing examples is especially important for project type assessment as students can you use this as a springboard for their own. This assumes that you have prepared a rubric for a project-based assessment.

Technology has a bad habit of failing. This means that you need a plan for the random disaster of internet access. If students are taking a quiz and the server crashes what will you do is a question you need to consider. If the students need to submit a project, how hard will the deadline be? For projects, my approach is to have a recommended deadline and a hard deadline. The recommended deadline might be 24 hours before the hard deadline. This means that students who have technology problems have 24 hours to find a connection to upload their projects. If students miss the hard deadline this is when the negotiating begins

After the Assessment

Now is the time to determine if the students have achieved the objectives of the course/unit. This is based on their actual performance of the assessment. For example, if students did well with a quiz, it indicates that it is time to move on. If they struggled then reteaching may be necessary. The reteaching can be done by sharing a message explaining the common mistakes that students made and or responding to individual quizzes when marking them. Quizzes should be mainly for formative purposes because it is hard to tell if the student was honest during the assessment

For a project-based assessment, the same principle applies. You can respond to mistakes individually and or share common misconceptions through the development of a message for the entire class. The message can be written or a short video. Off course, since projects have rubrics, you will be sure to make the completed rubric available to the students as well

Conclusion

Planning, communication, and execution are the main steps to keep in mind when assessing students online. Whatever creative or boring idea you have can be accomplished if you share your expectations with the students and provide tools for them to do it.

Online Classroom Management

Almost anyone who has significant experience with teaching will know that there is more to teaching than simply sharing content with student. There is a whole other world of grading, planning, and other tasks that need to be address so that learning can happen when it is time to teach. However, in my experience these other tasks are often neglected when people have to teach in an online setting. Therefore, we will look at some of these management task that need to be dealt with online just as they are in a face-to-face setting. These management task are

  • Communication
  • Task monitoring
  • Time management

Communication

Communication probably appears to be an obvious thing to do when teaching. In the classroom, this is true. This is because students can ask questions and the teacher can try to clarify things if students look confused. The ability to see each other helps to encourage communication in many situations. However, in an online setting, I have seen teachers wait for students to contact them and then the teachers are slow to respond if they respond at all. For some teachers, if there is silence it means that the students are ok. This can lead to disengaged or highly anxious students who do not know what to do are what is expected of them.

When teaching online it is important to be proactive with communication. A teacher should not wait for students to come to him but should post messages to the whole class and individual students. For example, a teacher might send a message to all the students in a class every morning just as a way to check in by expecting the students to respond to the message. This helps students to believe they are a part of a class and not just socially isolated.

In addition, struggling students need additional support. An online teachers needs to contact a student when the fail to complete an assignment. In a face-to-face setting, a teacher might talk to a struggling student. However, in an online setting this form of intervention can be forgotten which will generally make the situation worst. This type of support must continue through contacting the student to try and assess the source of difficulty for the student.

A second form of communication is providing feedback through timely grading of assignments. This is often ignored when teaching face-to-face but this can be a real disaster when grading assignments is neglected in an online setting. The feedback from the grades is another way to connect with the students. Since in person communication may not be possible it is doubly critical that students know their academic progress or lack thereof.

Task Monitoring

Task monitoring has to do with the students being able to see which assignments they have completed and which ones they still need to do. How this can be done varies from lms to lms. However, most lms have a way in which the system will place check marks next to completed assignments. In Moodle, this is done by setting up the activity completion feature inside a course.

For tracking progress for the entire course, it may be possible to setup some form of a progress bar that students can see. As the bar nears completion it can help to motivate students. One tool in Moodle is the the activity completion block that tells the students how many activities the have completed as well as the total number of activities in a course.

What both of the two suggestion above have in common is that they don’t require a lot of work by the teacher. Once there setup, these two ideas take care of themselves. Instead of watching the activity completion, the teacher should be encouraging students to look at these tools and followup with students who do not complete assignments.

Time Management

Time management is another task that is monitored naturally in a traditional teaching setting but is ignored in an online setting. It is common in my experience for new online teachers to provide too much content and assignments. This is due in part to the fact they are not cognizant of how much time an assignment or content should take for students to absorb or respond to.

One tool that can help with this is to use the calendar that is available in the lms. When this is done the teacher can see how much they want the students to do on a certain day. It is also beneficial to make a mental note of how long a teacher thinks something will take to do when teaching online.

Another tool that can be consider is using some form of tool that announces assignments that are due soon. For example, Moodle has a block called “upcoming events” which shares the assignments that are closes to being due. This helps students to prioritize what they need to be focusing on. It is important to note that at least in Moodle that the upcoming events block will not work unless the calendar is being used. Using the calendar is not hard but requires a great deal of discipline to constantly update which is hard to find in most people.

Conclusion

Classroom management online takes awareness from the teacher to understand the large amount of structure that students require in order to learn. Putting the mechanism here in place can help to reduce some of the anxiety that students have when learning online. This anxiety comes from the lack of connection they have with the teacher and others in the class. By communicating, monitoring, and managing time effectively students can have success when learning online.

Scheduling & Tracking Challenges in K-12

Time management is a constant problem in teaching. How long should class periods be? How often should students meet for one class? These are just some questions that need to be addressed.

Despite the challenge and confusion, determining how much time students spend with a teacher has some flexibility to it. In this post, we will look at options in terms of scheduling the time that students spend with teachers.

Looping

Looping is a scheduling strategy that involves the teacher moving to the next grade or subject with their students. For example, if the teacher is a multi-subject teacher at the primary level he or she may move from 1st to 2nd grade with their students. If the teacher is a subject teacher they may move from Algebra to Geometry with their students. This experience can last anywhere from 2-5 years for the students and teacher.

One of the main benefits of this is the relationships that develop between the teacher and students. The students benefit from the continuity of expectations. The teacher does not have to reestablish routines and procedures every year and can move straight to teaching rather than classroom management. Lastly, the teacher also knows the strength and weaknesses of all the students and can adjust accordingly.

Among the problems with this is actually a prior benefit. If the students get along well with the teacher looping can be a fun experience but if the students and teacher do not get along well this can mean spending up to five years with students or a teacher that is disliked. This can lead to serious problems with performance and motivation as well as stress for the teacher.

Another problem is the workload for the teacher. Every year the teacher is preparing new materials, not for a familiar class but a completely new one. This is particularly challenging when the teacher is going through the loop the first time. Essentially it can take up to five years to make it through one loop, which is a substantial amount of time for a teaching career. This kind of context is almost impossible for a new teacher and difficult for an experienced one with constant year-to-year changes.

Block Scheduling

Block scheduling involves extending the time of a traditional period from 50-60 minutes to 80-90 minutes. Essentially, block scheduling involves extending the class period by 50%. This gives the teachers more time to go deeper into content, it reduces the amount of time spent on transitions, and provides students with a glimpse into what class periods are like at the college level.

There are two common variations of block scheduling the 4×4 plan and the A/B plan. The 4×4 plan involves taking four classes in the first semester using the block schedule and a different four classes for the second semester. For example, if a student is taking algebra first semester, using a block schedule they would not take algebra the second semester because they have already completed all the hours they need. This can be a problem because the students would not be exposed to any math for almost a year.

The  A/B plan involves having students take all 8 subjects at the same time. The difference in this approach is that students will have the same classes every other day. For example, if a student is taking Algebra, they may have that class on Monday and Wednesday instead of every day. This allows the class to meet for the entire year, which helps to keep academic skills stronger.

The main complaint about block scheduling comes from non-core teachers. Subjects such as music and foreign languages benefit from meeting every day rather than every other day or for only one semester. The same can be said of PE as students need frequent exercise. Another problem is one similar to looping. If the teacher or students are bad it can be torture to have to deal with them for an additional 30 minutes.

Conclusion

Managing the time that teachers spend with students has several options to consider. There are strengths and weaknesses to all approaches but it is still important to know what your options are when making these decisions.

Computers and the School

As a teacher or even as an administrator, it will be necessary to consider the role of computers in the school or classroom. Some things to consider are how many computers will be available and how the will be distributed within the school. There can also be concerns with cost and supporting faculty and staff in helping students with technology.

In this post, we will look at different options for distributing computers within a school. There are essentially three choices to consider when distributing computers within a school, and they are computer labs, computer clusters, and a single computer.

Computer Lab

Computer labs are probably the most popular choice for integrating computers into the classroom. With the computer lab, students go to where the computers are. The benefit of this is all the computers are in one place which allows all students to use a computer. It also should make it easier to monitor the students as they all have their own resources so it should, in theory, be easier for them to focus. In addition, it is common for the computer lab to have a computer technician who can provide technical support.

There are also problems with a computer lab. There must be a schedule which means that usually, only one class can use the computer lab at a time. The startup cost of a computer lab can be high has well. Buying 5 computers vs 50 can be a big deal for many institutions. Behavior can still be a problem because even though the student has their own computer it doesn’t mean they are using it to learn. Lastly, with numerous computers comes a need to provide technical support through hiring staff.

Computer clusters

Computer clusters are essentially combining the computer lab with the regular classroom. Computer clusters involve having several computers in the regular classroom. How many computers make a cluster depends on the school. If we exclude the teacher’s computer it safe to say at least two computers would be considered the minimum for a cluster.

A variation of computer clusters is computer carts. Computer carts are carts that contain laptops. These carts can be checked out by the teacher for student use. You can think of them as a mobile computer lab. This allows the teacher to infuse their own classroom with technology rather than having to go to the lab. Depending on the school there can be enough laptops for everybody or simply to make clusters. In addition, instead of laptops, the school may have tablets or other technology available.

The benefits of computer clusters are that they are available all the time. Computer labs are book and taken but the cluster should be at the discretion of the teacher. Several students can collaborate on their computers to complete a project or other tasks. The downside is that it is not possible for everyone to be on the computers so there must be some way to manage the students who are not using them. Computers are generally popular with kids, so they will all want to be on the computers when possible.

Single Computer Classrooms

A single computer classroom has one computer. Generally, this is the teacher’s computer and or their laptop. This may seem counterintuitive but having only one computer helps to keep the cost down. However, the use of technology is limited to teach led actions because not all the students can use one computer at the same time. This means using such tools as videos, PowerPoints, demonstrations, etc. Activities that require more passivity from students.

Conclusion

The purpose is not to claim that any of the options discussed are better than the other. The purpose was to explain the options that are available for educators who are training to match their resources with their technology. Any of the choices mentioned here can work with appropriate support and cooperation.

Attitudes of Teachers

Some would say that success in the classroom begins in the mind. What and how a teacher thinks about the world around him can play a role in their success as a teacher. It’s within our minds that our attitudes are formed. By attitudes, we are talking about how one thinks or feels about something. What we think about something could have a serious influence on how we do oi ourselves. In this post, we look at several forms of relationships that teachers often develop attitudes about and these are attitudes towards self,  students, peers, and the subject

Towards Self

Teaching is a profession that requires a lot of people skills and extroversion. However, to reach out to others a teacher needs to understand who they are as a person as well. If a teacher does not keep track of their own mental and emotional health it can quickly lead to burnout. This means that a teacher needs to be aware of their own emotions and stress in addition to the needs of the students.

A teacher needs to also reflect on how they are doing in terms of their teaching. There should be an internal desire to improve to help students to be successful. Many teachers neglect this as they focus on the social side of teaching.

Towards Students

What a teacher thinks about other students matters as well. If a teacher believes a student is dumb that students will often find ways to confirm this as stated by the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy. However, sometimes a negative view of a student will motivate the student to excel in a desire to prove a teacher wrong. This is generally rare as students tend to succumb to the expectations of those around them.

Similarly, it is important for a teacher to consider their attitude towards parents. Demanding parents can have a negative effect on a teacher that can shape attitudes. The same can also be said of parents who are indifferent to their children’s studies. In both situations, a teacher wants to avoid a negative comment because the attitude you have towards a parent can spill over into the relationship/interaction with the student.

Towards Peers

As with any other institution, schools have people who see things differently. Teachers will sometimes get along and will some times try to undermine each other. There will be disagreements and even fights over the use/allocation of resources, responsibilities, teaching styles, etc. Gossiping and forms of passive backstabbing do occur as well.

It is not all negative. There is laughing and camaraderie, sharing of ideas, and support when there are problems. Through the ups and downs of dealing with other teachers, it is important to try to maintain a positive attitude towards the people around and the institution we are working at.

Towards Subject

It is also important that a teacher show interest and enthusiasm for their subject. This is normally not a problem as a teacher goes to school to learn this subject that they like. However, there are times when a teacher’s attitude towards a subject can become negative. If the teacher is asked to teach something they are not interested in or weak as it could cause a loss of enthusiasm. For example, a music teacher who is asked to cover PE. The music teacher might love music but would lack enthusiasm for PE.

Moving a teacher to a different grade or a subject within their expertise could also lead to this. For example, moving a 2nd-grade teacher to 4th grade my influence enthusiasm or moving a geometry teacher to teaching trigonometry. In both these situations, the teacher is competent for the assignment but not interested.

Lastly, any of the ideas present in the previous sections can influence enthusiasm for the subject. Lack of reflection, bad kids, bad parents, bad peers, can all drain the life of a teacher. This can carry over into the classroom and affect the enthusiasm of a subject that a teacher loves.

Conclusion

Success begins in the mind. For a teacher to be successful they must begin with monitoring their attitudes about themselves and the surrounding people.

Last Minute Online Teaching

There has been a surge in demand for online teaching resources due to school closures for health concerns. Many teachers are being thrust into online teaching with almost no notice or preparation. This post will provide educators with an awareness of some of the tools that are available.

To make things as simple as possible, you will need essentially some sort of online presence that allows for the following two things

  • Submission of assignments/completion  of activities
  • Communication

True online teaching can be much richer than this. However, for someone who is struggling with short notice to make this happen this is the bare minimum. We will first look at available platforms before looking at communication methods. As an aside many of the platforms have integrated communications tools, however, sometimes they do not meet the needs for various situations.

Platforms

An Elearning platform serves as a base of operation on the internet. Not all learning has to take place within the online platform. However,  the students’ learning experience often begins here before branching of based on the activities that are involved. Generally, the platform provides a place for submission of assignments and asynchronous communication ie forum posts and announcements. Of course, you can extend the functionality based on expertise and or support. There are several free online platforms that require no support from your IT department. The first we will discuss is Google classroom

Google Classrooms

Google classrooms provides a basic interface for teaching online. You can post announcements assignments and there is a basic gradebook as well. You can post links as much as you want to other places on the web as well. You can also arrange a google hangout with your students through the posting of a link.  This is a great resource for short notice. The functionality is limited for more advance actions but this works in a pinch.

Schoology

The layout for Schoology is similar to Google Classrooms but with more features such as attendance and a great way to organize content using folders. There is a free package and there is also a subscription option. Although Schoology wasn’t specifically designed for higher education it is a superior choice to what Google Classroom is offered right now. One downside is there is no integrated system for face-to-face communication with Schoology, which means you would have to employ some sort of third party communication.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams will not be an option for you unless you or your organization are subscribed to Office 365. Teams is a great resource that combines all the features of Schoology with embedded communication features and the integration of Microsoft products. There is a section for assignments, files, grades, and even a notebook. Students can also be placed into groups for online discussions. In addition, Teams is not limited to the classroom and can be used by the larger organization as well. Since Teams has more features, it can be a little harder to learn initial so it might not be the best choice in a last-minute situation.

Moodle

Moodle my be the mother of online platforms. The question is not so much what Moodle can do but rather what it cannot do. There are so many features and choices that it would be impossible to explain them all. Moodle requires extensive It support as it must be downloaded on the local server with all the other hassles of mandating a website. A such, unless you are already familiar with how it works Moodle would not be choice on short notice.

Communication

Communication in this post is defined as some sort of sc=ycrhonous interaction with at least the teacher providing audio and video. Below are some choices for doing this.

Youtube

Youtube provides the ability to upload videos and to stream. Uploading videos is not that complicated and essentially you make the video and upload it to Youtube. You can share content or communicate about assignment expectations or other announcements. You can also take the link and insert it into whatever online platform you are using

For streaming, it is a little bit more complicated. You will some encoder software such as OBS Studio. The details of how to stream on Youtube are beyond this post’s purpose but your IT or AV support should be able to help you make this happen. There is also a live chat feature now which can allow you to discuss things with students in real-time. The benefit of Youtube is there is a small delay and only the teacher is producing audio and video which helps with slow internet connections.

Another problem with Youtube is that the content is available to everyone. Whoever has the link can see. This can be a problem of there is a desire to keep some information confidential.

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is another choice. It does not take a great deal of knowledge to maneuver using this software. The main problem is that only 25 people can participate in one hangout. This means that Google Hangouts is best for smaller classes. Other features allow you to share your desktop while communicating. There is not a large dealy but my own experience shows that student frequently loses their connection and have to keep rejoining the hangout.

Skype

Skype is similar to Google Hangouts except for up to 50 people who can participate. This will work for large classes.

Discord

If you are a gamer you might be familiar with Discord. Discord was designed to allow gamers to communicate online. However, it now has a second life as a communication tool for online learning. The setup is a little weird if you are not in technology and there is also a 50 person limit on this communication tool as well.

Microsoft stream

Stream looks exactly like Youtube but it is software with the Microsoft ecosystem. You can upload videos or stream live if you have the right subscription with Microsoft. The benefit of Stream is that it can be used in collaboration with Microsoft Teams which makes it an absolute plus. In addition, because it is being used within a company the video is not available for all eyes to see which can be a problem with  Youtube videos.

Zoom

Perhaps one of the kings of Voice over Internet platform is Zoom. Zoom allows real-time interaction among up to 100 participants or more depending on the package you signup for. It also allows you to separate students in discussion groups like in a real class. You can share your screen or have the students share theirs. Also, the communication is secured and only available to participants. However, if you want decent service you have to pay as the free package comes with a lot of restrictions. For the Moodle users, there is an extension so that you can integrate it into Moodle.

Conclusion

Hopefully, the information provided here will allow you to explore whatever combination of features work best for you. This is not in anyways an exhaustive list of what is possible. The point to remember is that whatever you do you need a way to communicate and receive assignments from the students.

Common Goals for Schools

All schools have different goals and purposes for their being, In this post, we will look at some of the different goals and views schools have for themselves.

Intellectual

People who see the goal of school as intellectual development believe that the growth of the mind and reason is one of the chief aims of schools. Students who are well-rounded mentally are able to function in various challenges in the real world as people who support an intellectual purpose may say.

The development of the mind often happens through the study of the humanities and the “Great Books” of the past. Since the great books provide examples of the sound reasoning that students need, reading these books will help students to develop their own reason and thinking skills. These beliefs are drawn heavily from perennialism and its focus on the past to prepare students for the present and future.

Economic

The economic view sees school as a place to prepare students for the workforce. This means attaining relevant skills and knowledge for employment in the world. As such, students are trained to competency in various areas that they show at least some interests in such as accounting, plumbing, computer science, etc.

With the focus on job skills and the development of the economy, it is clear that the economic view has less tolerance for the study of “Great Books” compared to the intellectual view of the school. Reading irrelevant classics does not benefit industry and is not necessary. However, developing reason and critical thinking is beneficial to industry and should be encouraged in the context of problem-solving of real-life challenges and not intellectual debates. These views are similar to essentialism and its focus on developing practical skills for the application in the real world.

The economic development view of school seems to be the primary mover in education today. Almost everything is focused on the economy and the need for properly trained workers to help the economy grow. Rarely, does industry mourn the ignorance of its workforce in matters relating to the humanities and arts. For people who are not motivated by money and building the national economy, it can be intolerable to study in such a context.

Social/Character

Others view that the purpose of schools is in helping students to conform to the norms of society. This social view believes that a teacher’s job is to help students to find their place in the social structure. What society wants is what the child should become. This echoes the views at least partially of John Dewey.

This belief can lead to a large amount of social stability but a growing undercurrent of resentment from the pressure to conform. For example, the high conformity of the United States in the 1950s was followed by the rebellious 1960s and ’70s.  In addition, this view is seen by many as being oppressive today. Society now is pushing heavily the idea of inclusion of everyone. This means that all people are accepted as they are and the norm taught today is conformity to tolerance which is now the standard.

A social purpose is also related to political activism in a democratic context. Schools should be seen as places to develop skills in democracy in order to participate in civic life after graduation. This is important because democratic participation is critical to the success of the nation in the minds of many.

A related idea to social development is character development. Character development is focused on having certain traits as an individual. Whereas in secular education these ideas are often called social traits in religious education this concept is frequently known as character. The difference being that social traits and skills can vary whereas character in the religious context is thoroughly defined by some religious text.

Multi-Purpose

It would be naive to say that any school only has one purpose. Rather, schools serve multiple views. The views listed above are present at most schools in one combination or another. For example, some schools may emphasize intellectual views while also considering economic views. Since schools have a diverse student population it makes it necessary to have diverse views for schools.

One of the dangers a school may face is having a view that is out of harmony with the local community. If people want their kids to get jobs and want the school to focus on economic purposes it would be detrimental for the school to focus on other aspects of education as if they know better. Schools are there to serve the needs of the community and need to keep this in mind when supporting students.

Conclusion

Schools are a part of a society to provide a service to the families that make up the society. Therefore, it is not surprising that different schools have different goals for themselves. The primary responsibility of a person should be to identify the local vies on education in order to understand how to function in that particular context.

Schools & Reconstructionism

Reconstructionism is a belief among many in education that schools should serve as institutions that train and developed students to enact social change. This is in stark contrast to the view that schools should serve as cultural transmitters. Reconstructionists believe that reverence for the past is neglect of current and future problems. Furthermore, reconstructionists believe in making autonomous individuals who question existing norms, such as the dominant culture, and strive to make the world a just and equitable place.

One of the main influencer’s for the philosophy of reconstructionism was George Counts and his highly influential essay/speech “Dare the School Build a New Social Order?” Counts’ work was written in the context of the Great Depression and proposes that schools should be the source of change in America. His views laid the foundation for the philosophy of reconstructionism. In this post, we will focus on two main branches of reconstructionism. These branches are economic reconstructionism and democratic reconstructionism.

Economic Reconstructionism

Economic reconstructionism tends to have a strongly suspicious view of those in power. In this view, schools are used by the elite i.e. dominant culture to conform students to the existing world view. This allows the elite to maintain power culturally and financially. Schools are either willing or ignorant participants in this system of intellectually and social oppression.

To be fair, there are examples of this taking place in history. Both  Hitler and Ferdinand Marcos use various forms of “youth camps” to educate people to support the existing power structure’s worldview. Hitler had the “Hitler Youth” while Marcos had “Village Youth” which was controlled by one of his relatives. The purpose of these groups was to teach loyalty to the status quo through the transmission of state-approved values and beliefs. Or you can say oppressive cultural transmission.

Economic reconstructionists and reconstructionism, in general, are heavily inspired by Karl Marx and his communist views. This includes a deep suspicion of capitalism, which is viewed as oppressive, and catering to the whims of the rich. Marx’s focused on how the bourgeoisie uses capitalism to oppress everyone else. The economic reconstructionist tends to focus more on how those with money use education to oppress students.

The classic text of economic reconstructionists is Pablo Friere’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” In this text, Friere explains how he believes the elite actually use education to hold people down. This is based on his experience of teaching adults to read in Brazil. As he taught reading, Friere noticed that the problems were not only reading but the worldview and beliefs of the people. The students were passive, subservient, and indifferent to thinking critically or questioning. For Friere, this was due to how they had been trained in the past by an educational system controlled by those with power who wanted these characteristics in their workers.

There are naturally several concerns with this approach, Economic reconstructionism does not inspire cooperation between the oppressors and the oppressed. Both view each other as enemies which tends to lead to a zero-sum game in which one side wins while the other losses.

A second problem is that there is no end to who is oppressed. If one class topples another it becomes the new dominant group then has to fight off the new group of oppressed people. In other words, it is similar to a game of king of the hill. One group gains power and then uses the same oppressive measures it once despised to stay in power. This is one reason why communist states of today, who were once freedom fighters, are often oppressors now. To put it simply, the only thing that changed was who was doing the oppressing. This constant cycle of changing who is doing the oppressing can make a country unstable. In the end, the problems never end just the person who is blamed for causing them.

Democratic Reconstructionism

Democratic reconstructionist believes in training a politically active citizenry. In contrast to economic reconstructionists who often want to tear down the system, democratic reconstructionists want to work within the system to promote change.

To do this, schools should focus on teaching students about the democratic process, developing critical thinking skills, and solving local community problems. The focus is on problems rather than on conspiratorial views of oppression as with economic reconstructionist.

Democratic reconstructionists are highly influenced by John Dewey and progressivism. The ideas of changing society through the use of the existing system are things that he frequently encouraged through his views on democracy in the classroom.   This approach is less antagonistic in comparison to economic reconstructionism. Yet, the peaceful implementation of it does not happen as much anymore. For example, many protests in the name of change have become violent in ways that did not happen decades ago such as the protesting in Hong Kong and India or the violent protesting that takes place in America now.

As such, it is common to acknowledge this approach however, many schools support the more extreme view of economic reconstructionism even though they may believe that they are supporters of democratic reconstructionism. Just examine how people speak only of removing “privilege” and bringing equality even by force if necessary in the name of democracy

Conclusion

Change is a part of life. There will be times when life is good and when it is bad. Reconstructionism struggles with this cycle of good and bad. The primary tenet is that there should be no bad or suffering. However, whenever the oppressed takes over they simply become the new oppressors.

School as a Socializing Agent: Cultural Preservation

Many would agree that education, as found in schools, as an obligation to socialize students to help them fit into society. With this goal in mind, it is logical to conclude that there will be different views on how to socialize students. The two main extreme positions on this continuum of socialization would be

  • Socializing through the preservation of cultural form on generation to the next
  • Socializing through the questioning of prior norms and pushing for social change

As I have already mentioned, these may be the two extremes on a continuum going from complete and total cultural preservation to complete and total anarchy. In this post, we will focus the discussion on schools as agents of cultural preservation.

School as  Cultural Preserver

In the view of the school as a cultural preserver, the responsibility of the school to society is to support the dominant ideas and views of the culture. This is done through teaching and explaining things from a dominant group’s perspective and excluding or censoring other viewpoints to some degree. In other words, American schools should produce Americans who support and live American values, Chinese schools should produce Chinese who support and live Chinese values, etc.

This approach to schooling has been used throughout history to compel people from minority groups to conform to the views of the dominant group. In the US, there were boarding schools for Native Americans to try to “civilize” them. This was also seen in many parts of Asia in which ethnic tribes were sent to government schools, forbidden to use their mother tongue in place of the national language, and pledge devotion and loyalty to the dominant culture. Through the process of weakening local identities, it is believed by many that it will help to strengthen the state or at least maintain the status quo. If you are in a position of dominance either of these would benefit you.

What this view lacks in diversity, due to minority views being absent, it makes up for it through stability. Schools that support cultural preservation show students their place in society and how to interact with those around them. Through the limits of a specific predefined worldview, it lowers but does not reduce internal social strife.

Problems and Pushback

A natural consequence of schools as cultural preservers is a strong sense of pride in those who belong to the culture that is being preserved. This can lead, at times, to a sense of superiority and pride. Of course, if you are not from the dominant culture, it can be suffocating to constantly have other people’s values and beliefs push upon you.

This sense of exclusion can lead to serious challenges from minority groups. There are countless examples of this in the United States where it seems everyone is pushing back against the establish dominant culture. There are those who are pushing for Black, Latino, Asian, feminist, and other worldviews to be a part of the education of the school. This is not inherently a problem, however, if everyone has an equal voice and everyone is talking at the same time this means that nobody is listening. In other words, a voice needs an ear as much as an ear needs a voice.

Conclusion

It is convenient to take an extreme position and say that using school to preserve culture is wrong. The problem with this is that the people who say this want to preserve the belief that using school to preserve culture is wrong. In other words, it is not the preservation of culture that is the problem. The real battle is over what culture is going to be preserved. Whether it is the current dominant view or the view of a challenger.

Essentialist Teacher

Essentialism was an educational philosophy that was reacting to the superficiality of instruction that was associated with progressivism and the aristocratic air that was linked with perennialism. Essentialism was a call to teach the basics. This position of providing a no frill basic education for employment is the primary position of most educational positions in the world.

1Background

Starting in the 1930’s, essentialism is based on the philosophies of idealism and realism. Essentialism supporters have stressed the need to return to a more subject centered approach vs child centered position. Transmission of knowledge is more important than transforming society.

There were two major moments in American history that propelled essentialism to the forefront of education. The first, happened in 1957 when the Russians launch the Sputnik satellite. Critics of progressivism stated that all this child-centered teaching had crippled an entire generation who lacked basic skills in math and science to compete with the Russians. This was a major blow to progressivism as schools refocused on teaching math and science and having a subject centered curriculum.

In essentialism was not already triumphant it certainly was by the 1980’s when the article “A Nation at Risk” was published. This article stated that American education was mediocre and lead to schools needing to focus on the five basics. By the 1990’s such ideas as “core knowledge” or “common core” was being pushed. Such ideas demonstrate how there are basic truths and ideas that supposedly all students need to have.

Philosophy

School is a place where students master basic skills in preparation for working in society. This includes the three R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic) and some of the humanities. The subject matter cannot always be interesting or even immediately relevant for students.

The mind needs to be trained and some memorization is required. However, there is  less of a focus on raw intellectualism such as is found in perennialism. The center of learning is the teacher and the students are there to follow the teacher.

Essentialism has similarities to perennialism. However, there are differences such as the idea that Essentialism does not have a problem with adapting ideas from progressivism for their on own purposes.   There is also a general indifference to time honor classics  in the humanities for the training of the mind.

In Education

An essentialist teacher is going to focus on developing skills and competency rather the learning knowledge for the sake of knowledge. There will be a focus on the basics of education and the classroom will be subject centered. There will not be much tolerance for meeting needs or understanding differences among students.

Focus on job skills and training towards employment would also be stressed. The focus of the education is in training people to be equipped for the workplace and not for personal fulfillment. If students enjoy what they learn this is an added bonus but not necessarily critical for the learning experience.

Conclusion

Essentialism was in many ways a working-class version of perennialism. Stripped of the humanities and focused on developing job skills, essentialism is the engine of education in many parts of American education. As long as the economy and employment are most important to people we will continue to see a continued support for essentialism.

Perennialist Teacher

Perennialism was a strong educational movement in the early part of the 20th century. It pushed a call to return to older ways of learning and instruction in order to strengthen the man in preparation for life. In this post, we will look briefly at the history, philosophy, and how a teacher with a perennialist perspective may approach their classroom.
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Background

Perennialism came about as a strong reaction against progressivism. The emotional focus of the child-centered approach of progressivism was seen as anti-intellectual by perennialists. In place of child- center focus was a call for return to long establish truth and time honored classics.

Supporters of perennialism wanted a liberal education, which implies an education rich with the classical works of man. The purpose of education was the development of the mind rather than the learning of a specific job skill. This position has often been seen as elitist and has clashed with what the working class need for the education of  their children to be in a more practical manner.

A major influencer of perennialism is neo-scholasticism, which is also a supporter of classical studies and was based  on idealism. Perennialism was originally focused higher education and high school but by the 1980’s its influence had spread to elementary education. Prominent supporters of this style include Motimer Adler and Maynard Hutchins.

Philosophical Position

Perennialism believes that people are rational rather than primarily emotional beings. This is the opposite of progressivism which is always worried about feelings. Furthermore, human nature is steady and predictable which allows for everyone to have the same education. Thus, the individual is lost in a strong perennial classroom.

The focus of the classroom is not on the student but rather on the subject matter. The classroom is preparation for life and not design for real-life situations as in progressivism. The mind needs to be developed properly before taking action. Through the study of the greats it is assumed this will help the student become great.

Perennialism and Education

A perennialist teacher would have a classroom in which all the students are treated the same way. Material is taught and delivered to the students whether they like it or not. This is because material is taught that is good for them rather than what they like.

This material would include ancient time tested ideas because that is where truth is and exposure to this great minds would make  great mind. The learning experiences would be mostly theoretical in nature because training in this manner allows for intellectual development.

The classroom might actually be a little cold by the progressivist’standard that focuses on group work and interaction. This is because of the rational focus of perennialism. When the assumption is everyone  is rational and only needed exposure to the content with or without an emotional experience.

Conclusion

Reacting is not always the best way to push for change. Yet this is exactly what brought perennialism into existence. Seeing the lost of absolute truth and long held traditions, perennialism strove to protect these pillars of education. There are some problems. For example, their emphasis on the rational nature of man seems strange as the average person is lacking in the ability to reason and control their emotions. In  addition, the one-size fits all when it comes to education is obviously not true as we need people who have a classic education but also people who can build a house or fix a car. In other words, we need vocational training as well in order to have a balanced society.

Another problem is the fallacy of the appeal to tradition. Just because something is a classic does not make it truth or worthy of study. This simply allow the traditions of the past to rule the present. If all people do is look at the past how will they develop relevant ideas for the present or future?

The main benefit of these different schools of thought is that through these conflicts of opinion a balanced approach to learning can take place for students.

Progressive Teacher

Progressivsim is an educational philosophy that in many ways is the foundation of educational theory in the United States. In this post, we will look at the background of progressivism as well as the beliefs and how it may be practiced by a teacher.
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Background

Progressivsim is yet another reaction to traditional teacher. The era in which this philosophy was developed was the late 19th to early 20th century. This was a time of rapid change and the development of the philosophy called pragmatism, which had a strong influence on progressivism.

Pragmatism had such beliefs as that there was no fixed truth and that whatever works is true. Progressivism adapted and expended on this idea in the context of education. Another major source of influence on progressivism was the work of Freud who encourage self-expression in his writings.

The primary movers in propagating progressivism includes William Kilpatrick, George Counts, John Dewey, and others. This movement dominated educational theory in America from the 1920’s to the 1950’s until the launching of the Sputnik satellite by Russian moved Americans away from child centered self expressive education to an education focused on the essentials in order to compete in a global competition.

Philosophical Position

In the classroom progressivism does not support a teacher-centered approach, nor a heavy focus on textbooks or memorization. there is even concerns with the classroom environment in that the use of fear or physical punishment is discouraged.

The child is the centered of learning rather than the subject. This means that the interest of the child should be taken into consideration when developing learning experiences. Of course, there is a limit to the child’s input as the teacher has a certain responsibility for the learning. However, to even consider the child’s opinion on learning was somewhat revolutionary at the time.

Students need to be active rather than passive. This  means that lectures are unusually because the student not active when listening. Learning by doing is a primary assumption of progressivism. The teacher and the student interact and learn from action rather than from listening.

In order to establish active learning, problem solving is one of the primary tools for teaching. Problem-solving leads to a whole lot of thinking in a systematic manner in ways that are tied to reality rather than to theory.

Lastly, progressivism supports the idea of a democratic classroom. This means that everyone is a learner, including the teacher, and the learning environment encourages discussion and debate. The motive behind this is preparing students to participate in a democratic world.

Progressivism in the Classroom

There is little here to add that was not already mentioned. A progressive teacher is going to support a warm and engaging classroom. The teacher will see themselves as a facilitator of knowledge rather than as a dictator of it. Students will work in groups or alone depending on interest and the content learned  will have input from them. There will be few lectures and more hands on learning activities with a focus on the thought process rather than the product of the  learning.

Conclusion

Progressivism is yet another philosophical system that claimed to have the answer for learning only to eventually lead t people’s disappointment. It was hard to assess learning during the progressives era due to the open nature of problem solving. In addition, when the Russians beat the Americans into space. Focusing on the child simply became impractical due to the perceived threat of Russia. In many ways, progressivism was successful because when it was no longer practical it was abandon and this is something that progressivism teaches.

Postmodern Teacher

During the last half of the 20th century the philosophical school of post-modernism arose. Just as with existentialism, post-modernism is a school of thought that is anti-definition and anti-organized. As such, it is hard to pinned down exactly what post-modernist believe and stand for in a way that this could be done for older philosophies. In many, ways, as we get closer to the present era the ideas and tenets of the current philosophies become almost invisible  perhaps because we are living directly under their effect rather than looking at their influence in the past.
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Background

Post-modernism, like almost all philosophies it seems, is a reaction  to modernism.  Modernism primary tenet was to understand the world through the use of reason. Modernist believed that the world had fixed laws that could be observed and understood. Science was the way to understand reality and attain truth. There was also this sense of continuous progress, which is something that is still repeated in the media today.

However, modernism did not solve all problems and lead to a Utopian existence. Instead, throughout the late 19th and 20th century there were consequences of scientific and social progress from pollution, to atomic destruction, wars, famine, disease, etc. It seemed as if every time science solved one problem it eventually led to more problems that were not anticipated.

The foundation for post-modernism was laid by Friedrich Nietzsche who claimed that truth and God are dead. This shifted knowledge from something that was absolute to something that was human generated.

Pragmatism and existentialism further laid the groundwork for post-modernism with pragmatism’s position that knowledge was provisional and constantly changing. Existentialism simply reinforces Nietzsche’s position that knowledge is constructed rather than discovered.

Perhaps one of the strongest influences on post-modernism is Marxism. Karl Marx was focused on class struggles from an economic perspective. Within Postmodernism this was extended to other aspects of society including feminism, racism, sexism, LGBT,  weightism, or generally any minority group who is crying out against the perceived “privilege” of the majority.

Philosophical Implications

Postmodernists essential question everything and it almost seems as if they tear down everything with no real replace for what they are tearing down. It is permissible to have opinions about anything but there is no truth except for the truth that there is no truth because they say so.

An example of questioning reality itself  is in the work of Jacques Derrida and his work on deconstructionism. According to Derrida, language has blocked us from understanding reality because we are using words to describe this reality. This means that whenever we read or examine text we have to unpack or deconstruct the assumptions that the author of the text had in terms of their word choices and context. This is critical because the dominant group writes in a way that excludes the minorities and those without power. Of course, you would need to support Derrida’s words even though they may not be representative of reality either

Other postmodern philosophers suggest that reality is socially constructed by those who have power. Those in power shape reality to benefit themselves. There are examples of this in history, as people in power normally portray the powerless negatively. This has even happened in the world of science where views on bloodletting and even the consumption of cocaine.

After identifying these injustices, the postmodernist is not content to identify problems but to push change. The marginal groups need to rise up from the shackles of their oppressors. Pragmatism push change slightly but postmodernism can almost be revolutionary in its language for transformation. Everything is viewed with an eye towards suspicions that begets change except for the idea of viewing everything with skepticism that leads to change.

When everything is viewed as oppression eventually everything is overturned. Whoever gains power will then be viewed as oppressive until they too are overthrown. Eventually, there is nothing left. The problem with postmodernism is not that it identifies problems but that they have no solution beyond tearing everything down over and over again.

In Education

A postmodern teacher is going to be skeptical of absolute truth. They will stress the idea of doubting the text and trying to identify the inconsistencies in an author’s argument. There will be a focus on minority groups and how they are oppressed by those who are privileged.

With deconstructionism, students are trained to be sensitive to language and its use. This is perhaps one reason why such terms as politically correct are used today. People have been trained to be sensitive to language that does not fit the narrative and to identify hurtful language as almost dangerous.

All opinions are expected to be embraced and appreciated no matter how much they lack in validity and credibility unless they are defined as insensitive. Students will never be called upon to store and share the knowledge of the past. Rather, students are change agents who are called to overthrow the social injustice of the planet. This is not revolution as Marx saw it but rather reconstruction of what was deconstructed.

The curriculum is a process and not based on content. The teacher is also a social justice warrior. What is needed is people who challenge the status quo rather than work within it. Therefore, postmodernist thought is much more people in the softer sciences rather than in STEM fields. STEM requires stability in order to expand technology and make discoveries and money. Unfortunately, social stability is not required as much for a sociology or liberal arts major.  The idealistic nature of postmodernism denies the reality that life has never been fair ever in the entire history of humanity.

Pragmatic Teacher

In this post, we will take a look at pragmatism. This philosophy has played a critical role in shaping ideas about education for a long time. In particular, we will look at the characteristics of pragmatism, its philosophical implications, and how it may manifest it’s self in the classroom.

Background

Pragmatism is a uniquely American 19th century contribution to philosophy with some of the primary influences in this school being such people Charles Perce, William James, and John Dewey. The era in which pragmatism was developed was the industrial revolution and an era of great change. Science was gravitating towards the idea of evolution, which at the time was astounding and even the religious world was in turmoil with people speaking of the end of the world. This environment of rapid change was deeply influencing the thoughts of many people.

With all the chaos swirling throughout the world pragmatism came to the point that there were no ideals or principles to look for. Rather, the focus was on what works and benefits the most than on conforming to an external standard.  This position has had a profound impact on education through the work of the progressives as we shall see.

Philosophical Implications

There are no absolutes with a pragmatist. If there is some form of ultimate reality there is no way to know it here. In other words, while Plato bemoaned the cave and Socrates stated that the cave is all there is, a pragmatist may say that the world of forms is possible but since all we know for sure is the cave we should try to make it as nice as comfortable as possible.

One of the sources of argument that pragmatist make about the constant state of change implying a total lack of absolute truth is changes in science. Examples include, moving from a geocentric worldview to a heliocentric one, or moving from a creationist account of life to an evolutionary one. Since these ideas have changed there must not be any absolute truths to hold on to even though the realm of science is notorious for constant changed.

With all the chaos of the world, pragmatist has decided that truth is what works. Knowledge is based on experience. Through trial and error people learn how to deal with various problems. It is this active process of constructing knowledge through experience that knowledge is constructed. Knowledge is not external or outside the person, instead it is created through interaction with the world. This is a major shift in thinking from pass viewpoint and requires that the individual be an active rather than passive learner because they must interact with the world.

There is a separation in the mind of the pragmatist between knowledge and belief. Beliefs are private while knowledge is publicly available., which means it can be observed and verified by others. True knowledge or truth is relative because of the unstable and changing world that we live in.

Since truth is relative morals and values are relative as well. Local societies decide for themselves what is right and wrong and not an external standard. However, this does not mean anything goes. Stealing is disdained in most societies because it does not work as it tends to encourage crime and chaos. The same for murder. This does not mean to the pragmatist that there are universal moral laws, instead it is simply an indication that different groups of people have had similar experiences with stealing and murder and have made the same conclusion that this does not work.

Pragmatism and Education

A unique belief of pragmatism about students is that they need to be active learners. Students need to experience the world around them through learning activities. School is not preparation but is rather part of life it’s self. Therefore, life long learning is to be expected and not just a temporary period of life in which it is needed for studying.

The  teacher is an expert guide who helps the students. They  are a guide because the world changes too quickly to just dictate material to students. This means that the teacher is learning as well with the advantage of more experience living in a world of flux. Since truth is changing, there is no fix curriculum from yesteryear. Instead, the student’s interests are the center of how  the curriculum is built.

With the focus on the environment, the pragmatic teacher is focused heavily on having students impact the world. This means that an emphasis on social action is a part of the pragmatist classroom. In some classroom social change and attaining social goals (ie social justice warrior) is the entire purpose of education. Other philosophies were trying to maintain the status quo but pragmatism is trying to overturn it if it works.

Conclusion

Pragmatism, like most new movements of their time, is simply a reaction to what came before in response to the challenges of the current context. Pragmatist reject absolute truth except for the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth. The world was truly changing quickly when this school of thought was born. However, unlike Plato, who was also experiencing rapid change and decide to search for absolutes in order to find comfort, the pragmatist reject absolute truth for the comfort of constant change. Instead of trying to preserve knowledge it was better to go with the flow as long as it worked.

Existentialist Teacher

This post will examine the mysterious position of existentialism,  which is basic a school of thought that denies that it is a school of thought.  We will look at the origins of existentialism, the characteristics, and its role in education.

Background

Existentialism is all about the individual. In an interesting paradox, existentialism is so individualistic that they do not see themselves as a group with set of beliefs as other philosophies do. There is a rejection of any unified body of beliefs, thoughts, or system.

Early proponents of existentialism include Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. These two 19th century philosophers were reacting to the nature of Christianity during their time. Kierkegaard focused on emphasizing the responsibility of the individual believer and their choices within religion. Nietzsche went in a different direction and became convince that there was no God and that man was responsible for his actions alone. This conclusion  eventually drove Nietzsche crazy in a literal manner.

Between the extremes of Kierkegaard and  Nietzsche is where most beliefs of existentialism are. Primarily, existentialism is trying to regain the lost of the individual. This sense of lost may have come from more and more people living in cities to work for others along with the growth of the  government in providing services. The existentialist longed for the day when people were independent and could do what they wanted in returned for the responsibility for their actions.

Philosophical Implications

According to existentialism,  a person must define who they are. Defining who you are is not left to an Absolute Self or Natural Law but to the person who existence. Reality is found within the individual person. This is a major shift from idealism view that reality is beyond this world and realism’s belief that reality is in the physical world.

Truth is based on a person’s choice. People believe what they want because  they want to. This seems confusing but it is laying the foundation for post-modernism min the near future with its view of relative truth. Now, the individual is the source of authority and not any other code.

With a lack of external authority existentialism has to determine right and wrong with no source of authority. This source of freedom has been called a slavery to freedom by some. Slavery is bad but paradoxically too much freedom can be burdensome as well since there is no guidance in terms of how to act. Most people want some freedom but perhaps nobody wants complete freedom as this would be injurious to themselves and others if they could truly do whatever they wanted.

Existentialism and Education

A teacher with an existentialist perspective would be surprised at how students are taught. They would see it as oppressive and even with tendency towards being a form of propaganda. Students would need much more choice and responsibility for their own actions since the current form of teaching destroys individualism.

The existentialist teacher is not the center of the instruction but rather a facilitator. The goal is to help students better understand who they are as individuals. This also means that the student should have a choice in what they learn and that the curriculum needs to be somewhat flexible. The goal is the development of the individual and not the society as the society does not care for the ultimate development of the individual.

Conclusion

Existentialism is a system of thought that claims not to be a system because everyone within the system wants total freedom.  This is contradictory yet considered consistent among existentialist. The reaction they have towards the growing power of large society gives this philosophy a romantic longing for almost a wild pre-industrialization world. However, though many people may not agree with some of the tenets of this group many do wish that they could have at least a little more personal freedom and individuality.

Neo-scholastic Teacher

Scholasticism and Neo-Scholasticism is a philosophy that has had a stronger influence in Christian education rather than in secular circles. This post will explore the characteristics of these philosophies as well as their role in education.

Background

Neo-Scholasticism began as simply scholasticism and was simultaneously a movement and a philosophy that sprang up during the medieval time period in Europe somewhere between 1050 and 1350 originating in the early universities. This was primarily a movement within the Catholic church as they controlled higher education at this time in Europe. The scholars of this movement were not as concern about discovery new truth as it was with proving and establishing the validity of existing truth. In other words, Neo-Scholasticism was primarily reactionary in nature.

The reason for the reactionary nature of Neo-Scholasticism was the rediscovery of the writings of Aristotle. These writings had been lost for centuries but had been preserved in the Islamic nations. Through interactions with the Muslim world through trade and war Aristotle’s writings were translated from Arabic into Latin. Aristotle’s realistic views were a challenge to the Platonic/idealistic views of the Christian church.

Scholars, for whatever reason, were convinced that church teachings had to be harmonized with the writings of Aristotle. Why religious teachings and beliefs had to bow to the influence of one Greek philosopher is subject of debate but perhaps the status of Aristotle compelled the church to merge his ideas with their own in order to maintain intellectual leadership of Europe.

The leader of this merger of faith and reason was Thomas Aquinas. He proposed that people should learn as much as they can through human reason and have faith in matters that cannot be reasoned about. Therefore, at the heart of scholasticism was human reason which in many ways had displaced faith.

Neo-Scholasticism is the modern equivalent of Scholasticism.  The primary difference is that Neo-Scholasticism has religious and secular branch whereas Scholasticism had only one main branch or school of thought.

Philosophical Implications

Scholasticism focus was on accommodating the philosophy of Aristotle with christian thought. Therefore, many of Aristotle’s beliefs are reinterpreted as much as possible to be consistent with Christianity. For example, Aristotle spoke of the Unmoved Mover, which he stated was the first cause of all other causes in the universe. Aquinas equated the Unmoved Mover with God.

Reality had a dualistic nature to it for the scholastic. The natural world was understood through reasoning while the supernatural world was available through revelation and intuition. Truth could be self-evident such as “2+2 = 4” or it can depend on observed experience such as “The average life expectancy is 72 years.” The greatest truth are the unchanging self-evident such as those found in mathematics rather than observed experiential truth.

Morality is governed by reason. There is an assumption that people are rational at their core. The more rational the higher moral quality a person should have.

Neo-Scholasticism and Education

The teacher’s role from a Neo-Scholastic perspective is to help rational students develop their reasoning, will power, and memory. The teacher is the center of the education process and works with students to transfer information. The subject matter takes precedent over the students’ interest.

With  its religious roots, Neo-Scholasticism see the teacher as a spiritual leader. This involves discipleship and even discipline at times. Only through this process can the student acquiring understanding of the unalterable truths of the world.

The curriculum of Neo-Scholasticism would include the humanities, math, and foreign languages (primarily Greek and Latin). The humanities allow students to understand the logic and thinking of great minds, math demonstrates unchanging truths, and foreign languages provides rigors training for the mind. The mind is a muscle that must be strengthened through examining the works of other men.

Conclusion

Neo-Scholasticism has not had the impact on education that idealism or realism has. The emphasis on teacher-centered instruction and memorizing is a major departure from modern forms of teaching. A good memory is not the same as a critical thinker. As with all schools of thought, Neo-Scholasticism suffers from a lack of balance. What is really needed is a flexible position that varies depending on the context.

Metaphysics & Education

Metaphysics is the study of reality and the nature or character of it. This branch  of philosophy deals primarily with what is real. This may seem like an obvious question with an obvious answer. However, different people answer this question in different ways based on what they believe about the nature of reality and how we come to know it.

There are at least four sub-branches of metaphysics  that attempt to address the question of the nature of reality. These four branches are…

  • Cosmology
  • Ontology
  • Anthropology
  • Theology

We will look at each of these and then try to examine how metaphysics manifest itself in education.

Cosmology

Cosmology deals with the origins of the universe. The main views of the origins of the universe can be seen as a continuum from the universe was created or design by God or the other extreme that everything about the universe has happened by accident as is commonly viewed by evolution.  A middle ground along this continuum would be theistic evolution, which states that a divine being used evolution to create the world.

The beliefs an  individual has about cosmology affects other aspects of their life, education, and how they interpret what they experience. For example, an atheist scientist see nature and is awed by the random movement of natural selection to create such beauty. However, a theist would see the same evidence in nature and be led to the conclusion that God has created a beautiful climate. When these two sides meet they cannot agree because they have different assumptions or beliefs about origins and interpret what they see based on these beliefs.

Ontology

Ontology is the study of existence. This is probably one of the harder positions to understand. However, ontology deals with such ideas as whether reality is physical or spiritual, or a combination of the two. In addition, Ontology addresses whether reality is orderly and stable.

People’s beliefs about being can impact how the approach life. If there is nothing there is no reason to care or do anything. However, if there is something beyond this life and life was created with purpose this will alter a person’s behavior as they consider how they may be held accountable for their actions.

Anthropology

Anthropology is the study of man. Some questions that anthropology focuses on in particular is the relationship between the mind and the body. Is it the mind or the body the primary agent of behavior. Other questions include examining whether people or good or evil or morally neutral. Lastly, anthropology addresses the question of the freedom people have. Do people have choice or is their behavior determined by their environment?

The nature vs nurture argument is an old argument about the condition of man. The ultimate question is who is responsible for the actions that people take. The answer to this question evolves around views of the will.

Theology

Theology is the study of the nature of God and plays a profound role at least indirectly in all philosophy. Atheist strongly believe there is no God. As such, the support primarily science as a way of understanding reality. Theists believe there is a God or gods and this natural affects how they view realty.

Even among theists there is disagreement over how many gods there are. Polytheists believe in many gods while monotheists believe in one God. Pantheists believe god(s) is in everything and that they are gods. The position a person has on God can change how they view the world. Monotheists often believe in having a relationship with  one God in order to prepare for the reality of death in this life and the promise of living forever. Polytheists tend to have a contractual quid pro quo relationship with many different gods in order to do better in this world now and smooth the transition to living another life via some form of reincarnation.

Metaphysics and Education

Metaphysics manifest itself in many ways in education. In terms of cosmology and theology, most schools support the idea that the world came about by chance and that life evolved from almost nothing billions of years ago. This is related to theology in that most schools doubt the existence of God being openly atheistic in nature or may at most be agnostic in nature.   In a non-Western context, gods or polytheism is acknowledged and accepted in everyday life but traditional science and atheistic origins of the universe are generally taught in school. This can lead to a dual world view at times.

In terms of ontology and anthropology, the views on ontology vary by culture in education. In the West, the spiritual aspect of man is not acknowledged in education due in part to the focus on science. However, this is beginning to change with the emphasis on mindfulness and meditation in public education. In the East, there is a more open view towards the spiritual nature of man.

In terms of education, students are generally taught that man is inherently good but  may be corrupted by his environment and culture. In the East, education teaches that man is good by nature but may make mistakes. Culture is rarely criticized in eastern education.

Conclusion

Metaphysics is a difficult concept to try to address and understand. The important thing to remember is that metaphysics deals with the question of what is reality and that different people answer this question i different ways. How people answer these questions depends in part on their beliefs about cosmology, ontology, anthropology, and theology.

Realistic Teacher

Realism is another philosophy that has had a tremendous impact on education and the world in general. The modern world seems to be almost exclusively realist in terms of its worldview thanks in part to the scientific position that most individuals take on matters.

In this post, we will look briefly at the characteristics of realism. In addition, we will also examine how a teacher who believes in realism may approach teaching and realism’s impact on the broader educational process.

Background

Just as Plato was reacting to the change that was surrounding him when he developed his views on idealism, his pupil Aristotle react to idealism by proposing realism. Realism states that objects we perceive with our senses are independent of our mind. In other words, what see exist independently of us and our mind.

However, realism is not a rejection of idealism but in many ways an extension of it. Aristotle thought that everything was made of a combination of form and matter. Form was similar to the ideals of Plato’s idealism and matter was the new contribution that Aristotle was making which is a focus on the material aspect of an object. Form or ideas can exist without matter, such as the ideal or form democracy. Yet matter cannot exist with a form, such as a physical chair with the idea or form of a chair.

Aristotle further proposed that studying the world or matter would lead to a better understanding of universal ideas. This concept has had a strong impact on research in the development of inductive methodology also known as the scientific method.

Philosophical Implications

Reality as seen through idealism is the physical world. The world is similar to a giant machine in which humans are both passively acted upon and actively influencing as well. There are also natural laws that govern the physical world that can be discovered through observation.

Knowledge is gained only through the senses. Something is true because  it was observed. The natural law is within the reality of the natural world and the realist is looking for this through specific examples. This inductive process helps the realist to understand the world around him. In many ways, the Natural Law of the realist is the Absolute Self of the idealist. The difference is in how each is discovered. The idealist thinks about the Absolute Self and knows through intuition that there is an external standard. The realist observes the Natural Law with is senses which confirms the Natural Law’s reality.

Natural Law also extends into the realm of ethics. It is through observing nature and the world that what is right and wrong, beautiful and ugly can be determined according realism. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson  alludes to realism when he speaks of “inalienable rights.” In other words, Jefferson was proposing that some of the rights of man are obvious if one examines the world in which they live.

Realism and Education

A realistic teacher stresses that students learn through their senses. This involves teaching methodologies that have students doing and experiencing things rather than just listening. This can include such activities as field trips, group work, projects etc.

On a darker side, a realist teacher may believe that students are a product of their environment. This has been interpreted as meaning that students do not truly have choice as they are simple responding to the stimuli in their environment. This has lead to a push in education for a focus on behaviorism and even classical conditioning. Furthermore, most learning objectives are behaviorist in nature because a teacher can “see” a behavior which is evidence that the student can do something.  Off course, this has clash with cognitivism (idealism in the 20th century) which focuses on the mind rather than the behavior.

The teacher’s role is to provide sound information about the reality of the physical world and the Natural Law. This is further supported by a focus on math and science, which today is viewed as a focus on STEM majors. One thing all STEM majors have in common is a focus on what can be seen and a disinterest in the realm of ideas and the highly theoretical. Critical thinking is focus almost exclusively on  problem solving and never for the development of an opinion. What really matters are facts and not so much what people think about them.

With the focus on the senses, one thing the teacher and the students will notice is that the world is in a constant state of change. This has led to a rejection of a permanent Natural Law due to the ephemeral quality of reality.

Conclusion

Realism is the primary worldview of education  today. Seeing is believing as the saying goes. Almost nothing is taken seriously unless there is clear observable evidence to support it. Of course, many people believe that feelings and personal experience counts as evidence. This is because feelings and personal experience have actual occurred in the individual person’s life.

Idealistic Teacher

Idealism is an ancient philosophy that had a strong influence on education through the 20th century. Recently, this position has been overshadowed by realism, however, the influence of idealism can still be felt in education to this day. In this post, we will describe idealism, explain the implications, and examined how an idealistic teacher views education.

Description

Idealism is focus on reality as consisting of ideas, the mind and self. In other words, the mind makes the material world rather than the other way around as found in realism. Plato is the primary author of this philosophy.

The context of Plato’s life was one of change. This was during the time of the Persian Wars in which Greece, Athens in particular, did remarkable well. War naturally brings new ideas to both countries which was leading to changes. In addition, there was a push for individualism from a group of philosophers known as the sophists which was straining the communal culture of Athens.

Some have stated that Plato’s idealism was a reaction against this threat of change. Truth for Plato was permanent and unchanging. Since the world was changing, there could be no truth in this world. Truth must be found somewhere else. The real truth was found in the world of ideas a place that was beyond the senses used in this world.

Plato has rather negative views towards the senses. In his “Allegory of the Cave”, Plato essentially asserts that people who go by their senses are chain and trapped inside a cave of ignorance where they are bound to watch shadows of reality. Those who break free from these chains are those who have gone beyond their senses and use their intellect to reach the world of ideas. Naturally, only an elite handful of chosen ones or philosopher kings are able to do this.

Philosophical Implications

For idealist, the source of knowledge comes from intuition (knowing without conscious thought), revelation (knowing through supernatural encounters), and rationalism (knowing through conscious thought). What is important here is what is missing, which is empiricism (knowledge through the senses). Idealist do not require empirical verification of what is true. In the world today, this is almost laughable but was a core component of education for centuries.

Ethically, idealism emphasis a belief in an external ethical standard to man. Man cannot be the one to decide what is right or wrong. Instead, morals are determined by the world of ideas through the intellect. There is something called the Absolute self that the individual self is trying to imitate. This Absolute Self is considered by many to be God as seen from a christian perspective. Again this is something that would not be considered seriously by many educators.

There is an eternal consistency to truth for idealist.  Something is true when it fits with the harmony of the universe. Even art must make sense and must be used in a way that is consistent the perfect form of the world of ideas. This explains the sonority of early forms of music that have been lost gradually over time.

Idealism and Education

An idealistic teacher is going to focus on the development of the students mind. There is a constant striving for perfection in study of various subjects. Speaking of subjects, the curriculum consist primarily of the humanities and math. History and literature help students to see what is ideal for humans and the study of math is powerful because of its universal nature along with it being a self-evidently true. Generally, any subject that brings students into contact with ideas rather than things should be considered for the curriculum

The teacher’s responsibility is to pass their knowledge of the ultimate reality to the student as the teacher has more experience in this and the Absolute Self. Therefore, the teacher is an example for the student. Knowledge is seen as something that is transferred from the teacher to the student either verbally or writing. This implies that lecturing and direct instruction are key methodologies.

One of the more shocking positions of the idealistic teacher is that the school is not an agent of change. The idealistic teacher and the idealistic school do not train and educate “change agents”. Rather, since absolute truth is unchanging the school should natural reflect an unchanging nature and support the status quo. Anyone familiar with education in universities today would find this difficult to accept.

Conclusion

With focus on an other worldly perfect standard,  idealism is strongly out of place in a world that is governed or perhaps controlled by what they see and experience. Whenever people try to appeal to some sort of unqualified standard it is looked upon almost with ridicule. The exception seems to be when people share an emotional objection to something. Feelings have replaced some form of ethereally standard because emotions are experienced and felt rather than thought about.

The overemphasis on ideals is perhaps the weakness of idealism. Plato thought that people who only rely on their senses were trapped in a cave and unaware of true reality. However, the same can be said of a person who is trapped in the world of ideas. The person who is truly free is the one who can move between the senses and the mind or who can move between the reality of t ideas and physical world. Moving between these positions provides a flexible that neither has by itself.

Undergrad and Grad Students

In this post,  we will look at a comparison of grad and undergrad students.

Student Quality

Generally, graduate students are of a higher quality academically than undergrad students. Of course, this varies widely from institution to institution. New graduate programs may have a lower quality of student than established undergrad programs. This is because the new program is trying to fill sears initially and quality is often compromised.

Focus

At the graduate level, there is an expectation of a much more focused and rigorous curriculum. This makes sense as the primary purpose of graduate school is usually specialization and not generalization. This requires that the teachers at this level have a deep expert-level mastery of the content.

In comparison to graduate school, undergrad is a generalized experience with some specialization. However, this depends on the country in which the studies take place. Some countries require rather an intense specialization from the beginning with a minimum of general education while others take a more American style approach with a wide exposure to various fields.

Commitment

Graduate students are usually older. This means that they require less institution sponsored social activities and may not socialize at all. In addition, some graduate students are married which adds a whole other level of complexity to their studies. Although they are probably less inclined to be “wild” due to their family they are also going to struggle due to the time commitment of their loved ones.

Assuming that an undergraduate student is a traditional one they will tend to be straight from high school, require some social support, but will also have the free time needed to study. The challenge with these students is the maturity level and self-regulation skills that are often missing for academic success.

For the teacher, graduate students offer higher motivation and commitment generally when compared to undergrads. This is reasonable as people often feel compelled to complete a bachelors but normally do not face the same level of pressure to go to graduate school. This means that undergrad is often compulsory due to external circumstances while grad school is by choice.

Conclusion

Despite the differences but types of students hold in common an experience that is filled with exposure to various ideas and content for several years. Grad students and undergrad students are individuals who are developing skills for the goal of eventually finding a purpose in the world.

Using Blended Learning in Your Classroom

Blended learning is becoming a reality in education. Many schools now require some sort of online presences not online of the school but also for individual classes that teachers teach. This has led to much more pressure for teachers to figure out some sort of way to get content online to support studnets. This post will take a look at the pros and cons of blended learning and provide tips on how to approach the use of blended learning.

Pros and Cons

Blended learning gives you flexibility. You are not tied to either traditional or elearning completely. This allows you to find the right balance for your teaching style and the students learning. Some teachers want more online presence in the form of activities and submission of assignments. Others just want a centralized place for communicating with their students and tracking academic progress. Whatever works for you can probably be accommodated when employing blended learning.

Communication and documentation is another benefit of blended learning. Announcements and messaging can be handled by the online platform and these forms of transactions are usually logged by the system and saved. This can be useful for referencing in the future if confusion arises.

The drawback to the flexibility is actually the flexibility. When employing blended learning a teacher has to be proficient in both e-learning and traditional teaching. In other words, you have to become a jack of all trades. Without strength in both methodologies, it will be difficult to determine what you want to do online and to determine how the online experiences augment or replace in-class learning opportunities.

Another problem is the confusion over what is done in class and what is done online. When learning takes place in two mediums it increases opportunities for misunderstanding and miscommunication. I have frequently had students confused over what was to be submitted online vs in class no matter how clear I was in the course outline and calendar.

Success in a Blended Learning Context

To have success using blended learning involves doing some of the following.

  • Focus on using the online platform less for learning and more for communication when you initially begin using blended learning. There is a lot for you to learn as the teacher and trying to move everything online will lead to confusion for you and the students.
  • Consider having students submit the final version of assignments online. Final versions of assignments usually require the least amount of feedback because they have already been vetted by you in person. This will allow you to focus on the grade rather than on providing more support.
  • Online activities should support learning and probably not replace it. Blended learning is often more effective if it helps students to understand content in class rather than replace it. This means the blended learning platform is a study tool to scaffold students learning outside of class. If an assignment can be completely done online without having to go to class then perhaps this is no longer blended learning since the in-class part is not needed for support.
  • PLanning is critical to using any web-based resource. Websites are designed in advance before they are set up. Even post a blog requires you to develop a draft or two. Therefore, online activities and expectations must be planned well in advance and not just thrown online at the whim of the teacher throughout the semester. Many teachers fall into the trap of just making stuff up as they go. This is a poor methodology in a traditional classroom and a disaster in a blended learning context.
  • When in doubt go traditional. If you are unsure how to achieve a specific learning goal online it is better to stick to a traditional approach until you can figure it out. In-class teaching is old but it still has a place in the 21st century especially when it is unclear how to do it online.

Conclusion

Blended learning can be a powerful tool for helping students are a major headache that annoys everyone. The secret to success lies with the teacher who understands what they want from the online aspect of the students learning as well as what they want in the classroom. When this is clear is it critical that the teacher determine how to meet these goals through the use of various learning experiences.

Elearning Academic Success

Studying online has become almost an expectation now. Even if you never earn a degree or take a class for credit online there are still many opportunities to train and develop skills over the internet. The role of the teacher is to try and find ways to engage and support their students as they begin their learning experience physically alone with support perhaps thousands of miles away.

In this post, we will look at ways to encourage the academic success of students while studying online. Two ways to support academic success in elearning involve providing feedback and encouraging engagement.

Provide Feedback

Feedback is critical in every aspect of teaching. However, in elearning, it is even more important. This is because the students have no face-to-face communication with you so they have no idea how they are doing beyond a letter grade. In addition, there is no body language to examined or other paralinguistic features that the student can infer meaning from.

Giving feedback requires timeliness. In other words, mark assignments quickly and indicate progress. In addition, if students do not meet expectations it is critical that you point them towards resources that will help them to inderstand. For example, students seem to neglect reading rubrics. When a student gets feedback from a rubric they can see where they were not succesfful.

In terms of a more formative feedback approach, there may be times where it is beneficial to live stream lecture. This allows the students to chime in whenever they do not understand an idea or point. Furthermore, the teacher can ask a question or two of the students and get feedback from them.

Engage Them

Engaging is almost synonymous with active. In other words, students should be doing something in order to learn. Unfortunately, listening is a passive activity which implies that lecturing is not the best way to inspire learning.

In the contest of elearning, one of the ways to inspire active learning is to have the students go out and do something in the real world and report what happens online in the form of a reflection. For example, students studying English will go out and teach English in the real world. They will then come and share their experience. The teacher is then able to provide insights and feedback to improve the students teaching. This provides a connection to the real world as well as a sense of relevance

In a more abstract subject, such as history, music theory, or engineering, students can become active through sharing these insights with laymen or explaining how they are already applying this information at their job or in the home. The goal of using provides the purpose for learning the content.

Conclusion

Feedback and engagement are critical to success in a situation in which the student is primarily learning alone which is found in the context of elearning.

Introducing Google Classroom

Google Classroom is yet another player in the learning management system industry. This platform provides most of the basics that are expected in a lms.  This post is not a critique of Google Classroom. Rather, the focus here is on how to use it. It is better for you to decide for yourself about the quality of Google Classroom.

In this post, we will learn how to set up a class in order to prepare the learning experience.

Before we begin it is assumed that you have a Gmail account as this is needed to access Google Classroom. In addition, this demonstration is from an individual account and not through the institutional account that a school would set up with Google if they adopted tGoogle Classroom.

Creating a Google Class

Once you are logged in to your Gmail account you can access Google Classroom by clicking on the little gray squares in the upper right-hand corner of your browser. Doing so will show the following.

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In the example above, Google Classroom is the icon in the bottom row in the middle. When you click on it you will see the following.

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You might see a screen before this asking if you are a student or teacher. In the screen above, Google tells you where to click to make your first class. Therefore, click on the plus sign and click on “create class” and you will see the following.

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Click on the box which promises Google you will only use your classroom with adults. After this, you will see a dialog box where you can give your class a name as shown below.

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Give your course a name and click “create”. Then you will see the following.

1.pngThere is a lot of information here. The name of the class is at the top followed by the name of the teacher below. In the middle of the page, you have something called the “stream”. This is where most of the action happens in terms of posting assignments, leading discussions, and making announcements. To the left are some options for dealing with the stream, a calendar, and a way to organize information in the stream by topic.

The topic feature is valuable because it allows you to organize information in a way similar to topics in Moodle. When creating an activity just be sure to assign it to a topic so students can see expectations for that week’s work. This will be explained more in the future.

One thing that was not mentioned was the tabs at the very top of the screen.

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We started in the “stream” tab. If you click on the “students” tab you will see the following.

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The “invite students” button allows you to add students by typing their email. To the left, you have the class code. This is the code people need in order to add your course.

If you click on the “about” tab you will see the following.

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Here you can access the drive where all files are saved, the class calendar, your Google calendar, and even invite teachers. In the middle, you can edit the information about the course as well as additional materials that the students will need. This page is useful because it is not dynamic like the stream page. Posted files staying easy to find when using the “about” page.

Conclusion

Google Classroom is not extremely difficult to learn. You can set-up a course with minimal computer knowledge in less than 20 minutes. The process shared hear was simply the development of a course. In a future post, we will look at how setup teaching activities and other components of a balanced learning experience.

Time Mangagement and E-Learning

Time management is a critical component of having success when studying online. However, many people struggle with the discipline to manage their time so that they can complete an online learning experience. In this post, we will look at several strategies that can help a student to complete an online course.

Routine is King

Perhaps the single most valuable piece of advice that can be given is the benefit of routine. Routine is as simple as dedicating a certain time of each day to the class. Routine can also manifest itself through setting aside a designated place for studying as well.  The beauty of a schedule is that you have taken control of what you will do during a given day.

It is important that a student has a dedicated place and time for e-learning studies. Even though e-learning can happen anywhere few people can learn anywhere as they must be in a learning mindset first. Often, the mindset to learn is dependent on the environment which the student needs to control.

One Thing at a Time

Multi-tasking is tempting but does not work. This is an extra special problem for e-learning because a student is on their computer. Being on the computer can allow the student to check emails, chat on facebook, listen to music, while they are also supposed to be learning.

These other activities are only distractions when trying to learning content online. As such, it is important to close these other applications and turn off notifications from various websites when really trying to learn online.

Ask for Help

Elearning can be an isolating experience. A student is all alone trying to maneuver the complexities of a subject. At times, a student may even get stuck and not know what to do.

In such situations, it is important that a student reaches out to a peer or the teacher for support. The feedback that is received can make a difference in completing a course or not.

Something that was alluded to in this section is the benefit of taking an online course with a friend. Having a friend in a course can be a source of encouragement and also a way to share the burden of larger assignments.

Conclusion

The anytime anywhere freedom of e-learning is perhaps the greatest blessing and also the greatest curse of this platform. The flexibility gives people the impression they can study whenever. However, when there is no structure to the learning experience there is usually no progress made either. Therefore, each student must put in constraints in order to function at a high level academically when studying online.

Gamification

The concept of gamification has really picked up steam over the past few years in education. Gamification is the use design elements from traditional games within a curriculum. Examples of gamification include the use of badges, leveling up, progress bars, hit points, etc. As students focus on acquiring the various rewards in the gamification experience they also learn the content. In other words, gamification is primarily behavioral in nature.

The idea of gamification is not completely new. Many adults can remember earning stickers and or points for excellent behavior as a child. Gamification, however, tends to be focused on the online/ technology context. Instead of earning stickers like students in the 1980’s and 90’s today’s students can earn badges online in their schools learning management system as an example.

It may be clear that there are some pros and cons to gamification and these will be addressed below.

Pros

  • Engagement-Nothing motivates a student like playing a game. The badges and points in gamification often heighten engagement at least temporarily for many students.
  • Feedback-Through leveling up and earning badges students are provided with instant feedback. If they are unsuccessful it is readily apparent and there is no need to wait for teacher feedback.
  • Technology exposure-Gamification is focused in a technology domain. As such, it is a great way to help students to develop their technology skills.

Cons

  • Attention span-Games are often fast-paced. However, the real world is not often moving at the same speed. This can lead kids to struggle with everyday tasks that have not been gamified.
  • Assessment-Often the game serves as a platform to master a skill. However, the nuanced nature of grading can be difficult to apply to a gamified learning experience. In addition, the game may not always transfer to actual real-world skill, which further impairs grading. The focus on gaming often makes the learning take a backseat.
  • Cost/logistics-The cost of using software and other materials can be high. Even if you use a free system, such as Moodle, there is the logistics of setting up the badge system in your online platform.
  • Work ethic-A critical skill that students need to acquire is how to do something they don’t like to do. Gamification can make almost anything fun. However, in the actual world, there are a little of boring things that people have to do. Students must develop the discipline to engage in an activity because it needs to be done rather than because it’s fun.

Conclusion

The appropriate use of gamification is dependent on the extent to which it is used. Having a progress bar in a course probably will not influence attention spans detrimentally. However, more complex gamification is probably where you will start to see problems as shared in the con section.

Therefore, an appropriate analogy would be to compare gamification to salt. A little bit of salt makes food taste better. However, too much salt can ruin the food and impact the health of the eater. As such, a little gamification can enrich a learning experience but heavy doses could harm learning and perhaps character development.

Teacher Burnout

Teacher burnout is a common problem within education. The statistics vary but you can safely say about 1/3 of teachers suffer from some form of burnout at one point or another during their career. This post will define burnout, explain some of the causes, the stages of burnout, as well as ways to deal with burnout.

Definition

Essentially, teacher burnout is an experience of a person who is overwhelmed by the stress of teaching. The most common victims of this are young teachers as well as female teachers.

Young teachers are often at higher risk because they have not developed coping mechanisms for the rigors of teaching. Women are also more often to fall victim to teacher burnout because of the added burning of maintaining the home as well as difficulties with distancing themselves emotionally from their profession as a teacher.

Causes

Teacher burnout is generally caused by stress. Below are several forms of stress that can plague the teaching profession.

  • Workload-This is especially true for those who can never say “no.” Committees, field trips, student activities, grading, lesson plans, accreditation. All of these important tasks can overwhelm a person
  • Student behavioral problems-Classroom management is always a challenge as families continue to collapse.
  • Issues with leadership
  • Boredom-This stressor is more common with experienced teachers who have taught the same content for years. There are only so many ways to teach content that are appealing to the teacher before there is some repetition. Boredom can also be especially challenging for a teacher who values learning more than personal relationships with students.

Stages of Burnout

The stages of teacher burnout follow the same progression as burnout in other social work like professions. Below are four stages as developed by McMullen

  1. Closed off- The burnout victim stops socializing and is rigid against feedback. Signs include self-neglect.
  2. Irritable-The victim temper shortens. In addition, he begins to complain about everything. Problems are observed everywhere whether they are legitimate or not.
  3. Paranoia-The teacher is worried about everything. Depression is common at this point as well as a loss of motivation.
  4. Exhaustion-THe teacher is emotionally drained. They no longer “care” as they see no way to improve the situation. Compassion fatigue sets in which means that there is no more emotional support to give to students.

Dealing with Burnout

Perhaps the most important step coping with burnout is to prioritize. It is necessary for a sake of sanity to say no to various request at times. Personal time away from any job is critical to being able to return refreshed. Therefore, teaching cannot be the sole driving force of the typical person’s life but should be balanced with other activities and even downtime.

It may also be necessary to consider changing professions. If you are not able to give your best in the classroom perhaps there are other opportunities available. It is impractical to think that someone who becomes a teacher must stay a teacher their entire life as though there is no other way to use the skills developed in the classroom in other professions.

Conclusion

Burnout is a problem but it is not unique to education. What really matters is that people take control and responsibility of their time and not chase every problem that comes into their life. Doing so will help in coping with the rigors of the teaching profession.

Motivating Students

It can be frustrating for a teacher to spend hours in preparation and planning activities only to have to students who have no desire to learn or enjoy the learning experience. There are ways to help students to be more motivated and engaged in their learning. This post will provide some basic ideas.

Types of Motivation

In simple terms, there are two types of motivation. These two types of motivation are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is an inner drive to do something or in other words to be self-motivated.

Extrinsic motivation is when the push to do something comes from outside of the person. Due to uncontrollable circumstances, the person is pushed to do something.

Each teacher needs to decide which form of motivation to focus on or whether to try and address both in their classroom. A teacher with more of a cognitivist view of teaching will probably lean towards developing intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, a teacher who has more of a behavioral view of teaching may focus more on influencing extrinsic motivation.

Ways to Motivate

Involvement

Nothing motivates like having to help those around you. Getting students involved in their learning and in the management of the class often affects motivation. When students are called to help they realize that they have a role and that others are depending on them. This brings a naturally social pressure to fulfill their role.

Make it Relevant

Teachers often fall into the trap of knowing what’s best for students and sticking to teaching this. However, the student does not always agrees with what is best for them and thus are not motivated to learn.

To alleviate this problem, a teacher must provide immediate applications of knowledge. If the student can see how they can use the information now rather than several years from now they will probably be more motivated to learn it.

One way to develop relevancy is discovery learning. Instead of teaching everything in advance let the students work until they can go no further. When they realize they need to learn something they will be ready to listen.

Acknowledge Excellence

When students are doing good work, it is important to let them know. This will help them to understand what is acceptable learning behavior. People like positive reinforcement and this needs to come from a person of authority like a teacher.

A slightly different way to acknowledge excellence is simply to expect it. When the standard is set high often students naturally want to reach for it because they often want the approval of the teacher.

Conclusion

We have all faced situation when we were not interested or motivated to learn and study. It is important to remember this when dealing with students. They have the same challenge with motivation as we all do.

Critical Thinking Strategies

Developing critical thinking is a primary goal in many classrooms. However, it is difficult to actually achieve this goal as critical thinking is an elusive concept to understand. This post will provide practical ways to help students develop critical thinking skills.

Critical Thinking Defined

Critical thinking is the ability to develop support for one’s position on a subject as well as the ability to question the reasons and opinions of another person on a given subject. The ability to support one’s one position is exceedingly difficult as many people are convinced that their feelings can be substituted as evidence for their position.

It is also difficult to question the reasons and opinions of others as it requires the ability to identify weaknesses in the person’s positions while having to think on one’s feet. Again this is why many people stick to their emotions as it requires no thinking and emotions can be felt much faster than thoughts can be processed. Thinking critically involves assessing the strength of another’s thought process through pushing them with challenging questions or counter-arguments.

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Debates-Debates provide an opportunity for people to both prepare arguments as well as defend in an extemporaneous manner. The experience of preparation as well as on the feet thinking help to develop critical thinking in many ways. In addition, the time limits of debates really force the participants to be highly engaged.

Reciprocal Teaching-Reciprocal teaching involves students taking turns to teach each other. As such, the must take a much closer look at the content when they are aware that they will have to teach it. In addition, Reciprocal teaching encourages discussion and the answering of questions which further supports critical thinking skills development.

Discussion-Discussion through the use of open-ended question is another classic way to develop critical thinking skills. The key is in the open-ended nature of the question. This means that there is no single answer to the question. Instead, the quality of answers are judged on the support the students provide and their reasoning skills.

Open-ended assignments-Often as teachers, we want to give specific detailed instructions on how to complete an assignment. This reduces confusion and gives each student a similar context in which learning takes place.

However, open-ended assignments provide a general end goal but allow the students to determine how they will complete it. This open-ended nature really forces the students to think about what they will do. In addition, this is similar to work in the real world where often the boss wants something done and doesn’t really care how the workers get it done. The lack of direction can cause less critical workers problems as they do not know what to do but those who are trained to deal with ambiguity will be prepared for this.

Conclusion

Critical thinking requires a context in which free thought is allowed but is supported. It is difficult to develop the skills of thinking with activities that stimulate this skill. The activities mentioned here are just some of the choices available to a teacher.