Thursday, May 26, 2016

Online Learners all get the Front Row

     In the online classroom,  every student in the class is in the front row.  Everyone can see and hear. You don't have to worry about your voice carrying, or that someone can't read your writing on the whiteboard. No one is jumping up and leaving when the bell rings, questions unanswered.  No one is dominating the class so that others can't talk.  There is less chance for the conversation to go off-topic, and zero chance that you have to repeat yourself because someone is late. 

     This means that online teaching can be as surprisingly time-consuming and exhausting as it is rewarding and exciting. While we have the chance to interact with each student as an individual with our feedback, that can take a lot of effort in larger courses.  And while there is a growing array of tools to use to create active learning environments for our students,  becoming experts on what and how to use them takes time and effort.  We have to stay on our virtual toes all the time; it is a different mindset to being "on" for a class period.  It is a shift in perspective that requires intentional adjustments. 

    But the more I teach online the more I think it is ultimately well worth the shift. I have found that I get to know so many students on a personal basis online, and the format has given them a chance to help me  not just by with my typos (which happens more often than I like to admit) but by pointing out relevant articles and contributing amazing posts and ideas that there simply is no venue for in a ground classroom. Hybrid has long been my favorite format, but as my schedule has become filled with creating and facilitating more and more online courses, I am gaining a deeper appreciation of what it can bring to our learning experiences. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sparrow Goes to Conference, Gets Crumbs

I have attended and presented at many conferences over the years, and have always felt conflicted about attending. It is not just my introverted self; it is a problem of life interruption. First there is the paperwork required; I know I am lucky that I can usually have my institution cover most of the costs, but that demands that a somewhat esoteric and 1970s- style paperwork process be carried out.

Signing up with excitement months in advance, I tell myself that surely my life will have more breathing space than it does at that moment. (Scheduling Denial is the go-to attitude of every Over-extender.)  I have matured somewhat out of my penchant to Attend Everything over the years, but the impulse is still there. My work schedule has gotten nothing but busier and responsibilities have increased immensely. (Over-Extenders thrive on self inflicting responsibilities.)  Time away requires carving out some space that pushes work to be somehow fitted in with a mad rush to wrap up before I leave, or piled up in a stack of papers covered with sticky notes  - even more than usual - after I get back.  My email inbox looks like a rush-hour traffic jam if left unattended for a day or two, complete with horns honking. So I usually just don't "leave" as far as my email colleagues are concerned.  

The development of a very engaging Personal Learning Network has also given me a great avenue for connecting with new ideas and brilliant people without the cost and time required of conferences. I have followed blogs for years, and had my ESL students blogging when I was a teacher in that sphere.  Facebook groups and Pinterest have been another great source of ideas. I  learned to use twitter in a MOOC course in 2012, and - after an incredibly slow and painful struggle to "get" it - have found it to be  the single most meaningful action I have taken as an educator in the past five years; I connect with educators all the time, and whenever I want a short burst of inspiration, it is there with articles, visuals, and ideas.

With my PLN nourishment I feel less need to attend every conference, and can use my budget for other things. When I do attend conferences, I sit up front so I can see  (and hear!) the slides and presenter clearly, I turn on my phone, take a picture to help myself remember it, and listen for a "golden line" to tweet.  With some practice, it has gotten easier to juggle listening, tweeting, and thinking. And not feeling self-conscious about doing all of the above.  It focuses me on the presentation and gives me something to remember it with afterwards. And the act of doing that invariably connects me to even more people interested in what I'm interested in.  Tweets are re-tweeted and commented on, and the conversation grows beyond the room I am in. They are like crumbs from the conference table; maybe not as fancy as the main meal, but tidbits that many sparrows can enjoy.

sparrow | Flickr - Photo Sharing! : taken from - Abhilash Kumar 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hands-On Equals Minds-On

Three years ago my institution began to shift from competencies to outcomes.  First, college-wide outcomes were written, re-written, and settled on. Creating and aligning program-wide outcomes was next; each department gathered together in meetings to collaborate with their teams and create them.  There were various outcomes workshops, to talk about how to write SMART outcomes, and look at examples of clear, measurable outcomes. Those were collected by the program Deans, and added to our website.  I helped with the workshops, and added the program outcomes to our Canvas site as well.

This year, the focus is on course outcomes. There were various discussion as to how to make sure all faculty write them if they haven't already, and to make sure they are in the syllabi. There was some talk of having some more required meetings for faculty, but based on the fact that most faculty are pressed for time and we had already had a series of meetings, I suggested that faculty be allowed to submit their syllabi tabs online (we are using Canvas as our campus-wide grade book) and that I would give their outcomes a quick check, helping to adjust if necessary. Had I been really thinking about how many outcomes that would be to read, I might not have made that suggestion.  But that's what we decided to do.   

I created a short do-it-yourself course in Canvas,  The Outcomes Project.  It includes information on what outcomes are, the difference between competencies and outcomes, measurable verbs, and various samples of syllabi with outcomes.  Throughout spring quarter, faculty are submitting their syllabi for one year of outcomes; winter quarter first, then spring, then summer/fall. Several times a week I open The Outcomes Project,  and look at course outcomes from across campus. 

I  am the Outcomes Gatherer. As I look at the diverse outcomes from courses in allied health, business and welding to construction, automotive, and culinary arts, I am looking at our campus with new eyes. As a technical college, we see ourselves (and portray ourselves) as a hands-on institution.  "Learning by doing" has  been one of our mottos. Our mission is to put a diverse student population to work. But the outcomes show me something else as well. Hands-on equals minds-on:  Thinking skills are just as important as doing skills. 

This is what we have in common. 

For every photo or video you see of people working with their hands on our website, what you aren't seeing is what's going on in their minds. At the heart of all the courses are analytical skills. Cross-departmentally, students are expected to learn to analyze problems, find solutions, calculate numbers, explain issues, and make decisions. They are expected to demonstrate the Why along with the How. This is what we have in common, no matter what tool we are holding, what safety skill we are instilling or what repair we are practicing. 

The course outcomes speak to this side of what we are doing.  Yes, we are a hands-on place, for hands-on people.  But our focus is on empowering the mind as well as the hands, and with today's job market looking for innovation, curiosity, and critical thinking, we can make a great contribution. It may behove us to shift our self-perception to align with our course outcomes. We are a Minds-On college.