Wednesday, July 16, 2014

To my former DE Colleagues: My Recommendations

Well it's been a busy year! With a new position comes new knowledge and with new knowledge comes a refined perspective on my former role as a distance education teacher. One of my former colleagues asked me what I would do, or change, if I went back to my position. Some of these I would like to pass on. 

Upon reflection, I believe that my former position within distance learning was insulating me from the changes that were and are occurring within the classroom. Since video use was limited, and with students reluctant to use audio, text was the only feedback we often received. What's at the other end of that Internet connection is far more complex than we can truly experience through it via text. I was resigned with text as the medium for communication, and, in hindsight, I should never have been. In a project I was working on this year, I helped facilitate the bringing of a student at home back into his classroom (virtually). When his present (and former) classmates seen him, his expression and theirs solidified for me the need for more than just text in k12 distance education. My recommendation would be to get students talking more (with video), even if its only with smaller groups  or individual students. 

A stat that I was given recently given involved the use of mobile technologies. 60+ percent of 12 year olds use mobile devices. Those students will be in high school very soon and that has implications on how distance education students access content and information. In short, the content has to be mobile friendly. With that in mind it would be my recommendation that links to recorded classes that do not play on mobile devices no longer be added to any course. Instead, those classes should be produced as mp4 files for downloading on any device and accessible when wifi is not available.

In terms of the recorded classes I always placed my links and files within an area that allowed me to track student access. I leaned that, despite their requesting them, students did not, as a rule, watch recorded classes, even if they missed class. The reasons why became more obvious to me when I read the following research: . In short, when an entire class is posted for student viewing, it is not accessed because (one of the reasons anyway) it simply is too long. My recommendation is that distance education teachers review their class and edit it into smaller videos. Its viewing may see greater uptake in immediate use as well as future video content within courses.

BYOD and HTML5 are two abbreviations that all distance education teachers should be extremely familiar with. Knowing both and keeping them in mind will ensure that any content that you post and any links to interactive objects that you place into your courses will be accessible by any student anywhere and on any device. My recommendation to my former colleagues would be to ditch the old flash content, if it exists and rebuild links and content to be viewable on any device.

When teaching via distance, one of the things that I always pressed for was allowing parents direct access to student grades and overall progress. Despite LMS use and tools with some grade book functionality being implemented, there is still no direct path between student progress and parents. I know a former colleague of ours was adamant that distance education purchase and implement PowerSchool. He was right. In fact with PowerSchool, such communication with parents is happening now throughout the province with non distance education students. It is being implemented provincially and it contains an awesome amount of data just ready for analysis. My recommendation to my former colleagues is to get a PowerSchool account and start learning how to use it for grades and parent communication. You will be glad you did.

Evaluation policies... I remember when I first heard of retests, alternate assessments, formative assessments, etc... thinking that, from a provincial distance education perspective, it was not manageable. That was until we, before I left distance education, stumbled upon the true power and functionality of Examview. With some code, a good question can quickly become 200 good questions. When uploaded into a learning management system (LMS) like Desire2Learn (D2L), it allows a distance education teacher to automate more assessment for students while allowing instant feedback for them to use in their learning. When certain processes are automated, it allows more time for other things, like lesson planning, etc... Second chances and formative assessment are pillars of the new evaluation policies and Examview makes their implementation much easier.

One of the things that I really never liked provincially in the past was that, despite having a relatively small teacher population, we never really communicated provincially as teachers. I am pleased to say that with all teachers in the province having a Lync account, the ability for real time provincial teacher communication and collaboration has been made easier. As of this point in time, all teachers in the province are also under one asynchronous communication/collaboration system, namely First Class. Conferences, discussions, etc... are now accessible to any teacher in the province and allow teachers from Makkovik to Francois to Mt. Pearl to collaborate and share. My final recommendation to my former colleagues is this... Use your account and be a part of the provincial collective. You have numerous resources and skills to share and equally important, there are loads of teachers in our province doing and sharing some incredibly cool things you can access too. 

Until my next blog post everyone :)

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