Journey To Online Teaching – A possible answer to Why School? 11/23/2013

This week in my online courses we have been discussing delivery and assessment of content and how that is different in the online environment.  In my last JOT post we discussed the modes of learning online and how that affects engagement.  Engagement is an education code word for student motivation.  How do you motivate students in your online class?  In the online environment how do you encourage your students to attend and participate in your live synchronous sessions?  In my “Today’s Online Teacher” class we used our live session this week to discuss this. Unfortunately I could not attend the live session and watched it recorded. In the interesting juxtaposition I was learning what it meant to be that student who was not motivated to attend the live session live.  Now saying it that way makes me sound horrible.  There is not back story.  As a teacher we need to know the whole story.  I did not attend because it was my wedding anniversary  and I spent the time with my wife.  Ah ha..That seems reasonable, but I found that watching the recorded live session was kind of like watching TV without sound. I missed out on all the interaction with the other students in the class.  So the next time I have a live session I am going to attend just for that reason.  I have my motivation.   It is because I felt like I missed something by not being there.  I felt left out.  In our face to face experience when a student is absent they just miss all the experience.  I think by seeing the recording I got a glimpse of what I missed and that created a motivating force in me.  I believe using live session is a must for online course.  Which means it is important for all students is to attend.  So my question would be when do those get scheduled? During the school day , at night on weekends..are they mandatory or can they be recorded for later use…should they be done in small groups…can student do live sessions without me if there are too many small groups for me to participate in every live session?  These are questions that have to be explored and answered before I start this online course.

Online teaching is so very different then face – 2 – face instruction. As I weave my way through this conversation about motivation and engagement I can’t help but think about two authors Dan Pink and Will Richardson.  In Mr. Richardson’s book ‘Why School?’ one of the major themes is school should assess on things that are authentic and not googleable. I agree with him,  we don’t assess the ‘good’ stuff in brick and mortar school.  Part of the reason for that is the system (students, teachers, curriculum, standards and parents) is locked into the grade.  I have recently tried to work outside the box a little and found the students them selves are horrified by the idea of not getting points for something they do.  Dan Pink does a great job of laying this out in his book ‘Drive’.  I think ‘we’ are trained the we need to be scored every time we are assessed.  However, online education is something different in that we don’t have to put a number to everything.  I believe in the end goal …what can you make and can you justify why it is good.  I think that should be the standard of assessment and since online school is so different we might be able to break free of the mold.  I just recently gave my geometry students a quiz where they had to make a pantograph.     Either it worked or it didn’t and if it didn’t they had to go back and fix it using math to justify that it would work.  The product was the quiz.  The goal to be mastered was proving lines were parallel.  They could not make the pantograph without proving their lines were parallel. The product would just not work correctly.  That is the kind of assessment I think we should do and an online course might allow us to do that.

Web design ( the course I plan to put online)  is primarily a performance based course. Often people think of web design a ‘code’ but that is only part of the story. In fact now a days that is really a small part of the story. That being said students do have to demonstrate understanding of aspects of design such as color theory, above the fold, and layout.  These concepts are very similar to concepts you will find in any design course.

To asses my students in an online course  I plane to use  journal posts for student to write about those concepts.  I will also use assignments that have the students apply the design concepts to a problem such as what would be a good color scheme for a hospital and justify your answer using color theory.  No decisions in design should ever be based solely on the reason “I like the way it looks.” Students will have to do a lot of writing supporting their decisions.  Since design is often a team effort I see the students also working in design teams coming up with designs together to solve a problem and justifying those.  The other mode of assessment for this would be presentation.  I foresee some graded live sessions where students will present to their classmates, defend their design, take constructive criticism and use that to make their design better.  That whole process of defending a design is formative by nature.  It is ok to have a design torn apart and you have to re do it.  That is part of being a designer.  The end product is what matters. For things like that students will receive grades for actively participating in the conversation.

As I am building this course and going through this process I am fining that I am too much of a resource in my curriculum.  I am finding I need to re write my curriculum so my students find the information themselves.  I discovered this when I started to think about how I was going to put all this instruction on the internet…video will not work…there just is not enough time to sit down and make videos to teach they way I do in class.  So often in class we have discussions and asynchronously watching videos of me talking just won’t do it.  I need to create that conversation virtually and asynchronously through journals, discussion posts, blogs, and yes even twitter.

So I think that online school might just be that answer to break the mold.  Why School? might not be answered in the brick and mortar buildings. It might be answer all across the world behind screens and keyboards.


One question I have is when to find the time to have 25 individual conversations as opposed to having a single class voice.  The major issue ( and it is a good problem ) is that everyone will clearly be visible in the conversation and a few voices will not dominate the conversation.  Lastly the conversation will not end in 42 min.

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