Month: August 2014


Leading Edge Certification – A Reflection on the Learning

1371694787This week brings the culmination of the IEASC Spring 2014 cohort Leading Edge Certification in Online and Blended Learning. The learning throughout the process of earning this certification was tremendous. Each module brought a specific focus that increased the knowledge base of members in this cohort. I, however, found three areas that proved to be most transformational in my personal development as an instructor.

I entered the course feeling like I was bringing with me a pretty solid foundation and understanding of assistive technology (AT) and universal design for learning (UDL). I’ve spent the past couple of years working closely with and supporting the work of an occupational therapist and speech language pathologist who have real expertise with AT and engaged in a two year Assistive Technology Project. This course however got me to dive in and start creating and embedding accessibility features into my websites, videos and presentations. I learned a lot about what it takes to create accessibility features and grew in my understanding of how many people can benefit from their incorporation into instruction. It is essential that we provide pedagogically sound programs to all of our learners whether they come to us with typical cognitive and physical functioning abilities or with disabilities.

I appreciated the focus the course placed on the four primary roles that an online/blended learning instructor engages in. Ed Hoostein describes the roles of social director, program manager, technician and instructor in his blog post, “Wearing Four Pairs of Shoes: The Roles of E-Learning Facilitators.” There continues to be discussion in the education community about the integrity of online coursework and how it measures up in quality and accountability to traditional brick and mortar instructional environments. Diving into a deeper understanding of how these four roles are interwoven into a strong program gave me an understanding of what to look for in evaluating online and blending learning courses and their pedagogical soundness.

Finally, a review and self reflection of the iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Instruction proved to show me just how much room for growth I continue to have. As I finish the requirements for the Leading Edge Certification, I am cognizant of the need to continue my professional growth as an educator interested in incorporating digital literacies into the curriculum for both adult learners and students in the K-12 education system. The role of the technician as referenced in the four roles of the online/blended learning instruction in the blog post by Ed Hootstein, as well as ongoing inquiry into developing software that supports student learning, will continue to be an area of focus. Embedding the use of the tools society uses in everyday life into instruction are an essential component of providing students with an education that will allow them to be contributing members of society.



Who Should Plan, Design and Lead Teacher PD?

“There’s got to be a better way to do professional development of teachers than to talk down to them and bore them to death.”

-Peggy McIntosh, Founder SEEDS Project


District offices have traditionally dedicated personnel resources with previous classroom experience to spearheading teacher PD and continue to be a valuable resource. With the advent of social media, however, and the creation of online Professional Learning Networks as well as Edchats via Twitter, educators have been able to engage in more personalized professional development. Teachers are becoming more empowered to take ownership of their learning and to engage in leadership that supports the professional development of colleagues in the field.

As instruction models begin to adapt to 21st Century Literacies and more online and blended courses become available to take and to teach, the teacher’s role in the professional development process is also adapting. In order to take advantage if the best of both worlds and as many resources as possible, there is wisdom in a model of PD in which teachers and management collaborate to define, plan and lead staff development meetings and trainings. This is a statement that can make some administrators nervous. As teachers, we’ve all sat in staff meetings or department meetings with colleagues who haven’t pulled their weight, focused more on complaining than collaborating or just simply weren’t engaged. These educators really make up a very small percentage of the profession, but they can take a lot of energy and focus away from the magic that can happen when teachers define, plan and lead school-wide PD.

There can be a be a feeling of security for administration is defining, leading and planning school-wide professional development. If student progress isn’t adequate at a site, the ultimate accountability falls on the principal. Keeping this in mind, the principal is charged with ensuring that there is a well trained staff implementing the agreed upon curriculum and strategies in each classroom on their campus. This level of responsibility demands that there be a high level of trust and confidence in a site’s teaching staff to allow for shared ownership of the professional development program.

Not every administrator is gifted in planning staff development or knowing how to differentiate training for different subject matters, experience, ability and interest. As a result, projects such as SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) have formed. In her foreword to the article “Peer Led Professional Development for Equity and Diversity: a report for teachers and administrators based on findings from the SEED Project,” project founder Peggy McIntosh writes“I founded the SEED Project because I believed, “There’s got to be a better way to do professional development of teachers than to talk down to them and bore them to death. I identified with the teacher who had leaned over to a colleague during a required faculty development session and said, ‘I hope I die during a professional development day. The transition will be so imperceptible.” This sentiment and the work accomplished through SEED highlight the need for increased teacher input and leadership in the professional development process.

But should the process be the sole responsibility of the teacher? As Tracey Thomas, a principal in Baltimore says in the online article “Teachers Teachers Teaching Teachers: Professional Development That Works,”  “”Teacher-led professional development fosters accountability, collegiality, professionalism, and pride. Teachers feel appreciated and respected for their contributions and knowledge, and they become confident and more competent in their own teaching practice.” Nevertheless, it just wouldn’t be feasible for teachers to bear the full responsibility of designing and leading a comprehensive professional development program in addition to their classroom duties.

The site administrator continues to play a crucial leadership role in the collaborative setting of the vision for the school. In addition, the principal sets the tone and the expectations of the site and has the responsibility of being a good steward of the school’s finances. Teachers in the SEED project acknowledged the importance of the role administrative support was to their participation in the project, giving as one example, administrators participating in SEED seminars. Where a principal or administrator spends their time tells what they value.



Assessment in Online/Blended Learning Environments

imagesIn considering the incorporation of formative and summative assessments into online and blended learning environments, it’s striking how similar the considerations are to traditional assessments. Formative assessments continue to be designed  for learning and monitoring students’ progress. The goal continues to be the same: engage in formative assessment to support students through the learning process and use results to adapt to students’ needs to understand the material.  Summative assessments of learning continue to be designed as an evaluation at the end of a learning objective. Timely feedback and use of the testing data to improve instruction continue to be crucial elements of the purposefulness of the assessments.

While the purpose of the assessments continue to be the same, there are some nice differences to be found with Web 2.0 tools that support the formative and summative assessment process. The use of a learning management system allows for student work (essays, exams) to be submitted in the cloud. The result – no more stacks of papers and notebooks for teachers and course instructors to carry around. Depending on the Learning Management System, grades can self populate in the teacher’s grade book. Teacher feedback/comments, when using tools such as Google Docs, can be accessed immediately by students, even allowing the student and the instructor to engage in a collaborative conversation about the student’s work. Not only do the opportunities for the student and teacher to engage in increased collaboration increase, but it can be done both synchronously and asynchronously. Thus allowing for greater flexibility to support the learning/feedback process. Web 2.0 tools also support project based formative and summative assessments such as creating a video, a website or a blog.

There are many positives to be found with the incorporation of digital literacies into the assessment process. Yet, as with every element of instruction, whether it be digital or analog, there are pitfalls to avoid and considerations to be conscientious of. Student and teachers must have consistent and working internet access, access to the supporting hardware and software, and be proficient in the use of the tools being incorporated into the instructional process and feedback process. Whatever the tool though, the most important aspect of using formative and summative assessments is to have defined and consistently implemented plan for timely use of the assessment results to support student learning.


Incorporating the Formative Assessment Process with the Use of Web 2.0 Tools

imgres-1As I prepare for another school year and continue my personal professional development, specifically in the year of education technology, I am on a constant look out for tools and strategies that support student learning. Simultaneously, I am also seeking tools that can be used to model sound instructional practices and 21st Century literacies in staff development meetings. It is therefore essential that the tool and the strategy also appeal to the adult learner. I am on a continuous quest in search of ways to engage and inspire the adult learner who is also a teacher. It is my hope to provide staff with an experience that supports their implementation of deeper learning strategies into  their practice and to be inspired to continue to develop their craft. As we transition to the Common Core and seek to incorporate 21st Century literacies into student instruction, including formative assessment that supports a blended learning environment, is a topic that is on my mind.

The practice of backchanneling staff meeting and staff development discussions has been one of my favorites for a couple of years. I’ve enjoyed using Twitter and Today’s Meet for this purpose and was recently introduced to Chatzy as another alternative. These are great tools to monitor and further discussions and have transcripts for. Their use can also be incorporated into a formative assessment process to support student learning.

As part of the coursework for the Leading Edge Certification in Online and Blended Teaching, students are asked to read Harry G. Tuttle’s blog post “Web 2.0 Use May Not be Formative Assessment.” Tuttle summarizes the formative assessment process with this graphic:

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 3.48.35 PM

The premise of Tuttle’s article got me to thinking about my previous practice as a classroom teacher and as a facilitator of staff meetings and professional development. It is essential to define the criteria needed to ensure that tools such as Chatzy, Twitter and Today’s Meet are truly being used for formative assessment and not just to facilitate a conversation. In reviewing the stages of the assessment process, stages 1-4 can be fairly easily incorporated into a lesson. A “chat” or “discussion” allows for students to respond and for easy monitoring of responses as well as diagnosing and sharing feedback while the chat or discussion is happening.

However, stages five and six can run the risk of being left out. It is therefore critical to be sure that student’s have clearly defined expectations on what the next steps are. This will allow them to use feedback provided through Web 2.0 tools to support next steps in their learning.Steps for stages five and six, in which students use the feedback to further their learning and share their increased knowledge and skills, may come in the form of further reading via suggestions found in the discussion thread and creating a project to demonstrate their increased knowledge.

The same can be said for using these tools as part of professional development. Stages one through four allow staff to respond to a discussion, monitor each other’s responses, diagnose the discussion thread as a part of the process and share feedback throughout the session. The key in demonstrating stages five and six will be to have staff share how they will use resources found in the discussion to further their learning and how they will incorporate their knowledge into their teaching practice. This can be followed by staff sharing their teaching success stories with their colleagues at the next meeting during a time set aside to demonstrate and celebrate instructional success. It is during this time that staff can also share the resources they used from the previous Twitter, Chatzy or Today’s Meet session.

As a teacher I enjoyed using student blog book review posts as a way to engage the formative assessment process. The stages Tuttle has defined in his graphic can be applied to the learning process that developed through the student book review blog. Each student would read a book, write a review, post the review on the class blog and respond to entries made by other students. The process which became a part of the year long classroom system of learning fit nicely with what are now known as the Four Cs of the Common Core: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity and more specifically within the standards framework for English Language Arts with a particular emphasis on writing. In Tuttle’s third stage of formative assessment, diagnosing the response, the teacher as well as other colleagues, peers and parents could and would provide responses on students’ responses to blogs. The teacher is also given the opportunity to provide immediate feedback to students either through the blog itself or by creating mini lessons on how to further develop replies to a peer’s writing and the elements a student can consider incorporating into a reply. A clear, concise rubric of expectations for blog responses allows for students to understand what the criteria are, the elements they should be incorporating into their responses and a reference to use when seeking to improve their writing on future entries. Use of the rubric, immediate feedback and a comparison of writing over time combined with an analysis of the differences in posts create a strong formative assessment process.