Sunday, January 27, 2013

Connections & Connecting

Photo Credit: cbucky via Compfight cc
This past few weeks has been all about connections for me - and they (the past few weeks, that is) have been pretty well a blur too! First off being a connected educator has been the theme over the first few weeks of the course I teach here at BU's Faculty of Education called 03.467, Internet for Educators (#I4Ed is our twitter hashtag devised by one of my students). I have also decided to TRY to take part , as much as I can in a very packed term, in #etmooc, which has Connected Learning as one of the first topics - and is in fact the nature of the course. Fortunately, since this is the 'stuff' I teach - the tools and methods of connecting are, for the most part, not new to me. I must digress to say that I am getting a new view of Google +. I never really paid much attention too it, but connecting with more people on it and the use of the communities feature is giving me renewed enthusiasm about it - and thinking of ways to use it in my teaching and future research projects.

I have been fortunate and honoured to have three amazing speakers present to my class over the past few weeks to talk about the topic of PLNs and connectedness. John Evans (@joevans, MB Education) came out to share his experience as a former teacher and principal to talk about PLN's and MAPLE (a soon to be released network for all Manitoba teachers). Then Dean Shareski (@shareski) skyped in to present his lessons about being a networked educator, and finally Dr. Alec Couros (@courosa) popped in via Adobe Connect to share his wisdom (this almost right after he presented to etmooc folks!). It is interesting to note that I really got to know this educators through online means (mainly twitter) before I met them in person (to be honest, I did meet Alec briefly when I was in the process of applying to the U of R Ph.D. program - I decided, however, to attend U of Manitoba instead). I like sharing how I have met some incredible people online and that these relationships are every bit as real as the face to face ones (but the 'separation' of online & physical spaces is a topic for another post). Having these various points of view coming into my class spurs great thinking about teaching on my student's blogs (here is a list of their blogs if interested).

Photo Credit: courosa via Compfight cc
One of the tasks I asked my class to do was to consider their connections as educators and to map them out (using Alec's famous diagram shown on the right) as a guide. I also asked them to consider the connections that their students have - and how these connections might impact on their own classrooms. I will share some of these diagrams. One of the first ones in was by Tyler and is pretty remarkable, and here is the next, by Kirsten (btw, Tyler and Kirsten - are taking etmooc with me - we did our lip dub line together - it is enjoyable to have these two along, and now another student, Lisa joined up). If you wish to see more of these visualizations, check out some of their blogs - which I mentioned in the previous paragraph (I made one of these for myself a few years ago and need to reconsider it). I find this an interesting assignment; reflecting on our connections gives an appreciation of the breadth and depth of our connections and how they contribute to our learning. Considering how our students connect gives us insight into their worlds and how we can use the information in our teaching. I really enjoy following the thinking that goes on as my students and I try to make sense of the implications connected learning has for their future careers as teachers. And, these people will be amazing teachers, so if you are a school Principal, start signing them up.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Introducing Myself (#etmooc)

Hello fellow mooc-ers, here is my Introduction made using Haiku Deck on my iPad. Wanted to try something new for this, I have had this app for awhile, but never really used it yet. It is easy to use and does a nice enough job. I can see this as a great way tool for digital storytelling. So ... here it is.

Haiku Deck is the best application for creating presentations on iPad
This term is a little crazy for me, I am teaching 4 courses (full load in a term is usually 3) and I am collecting data and starting analysis for my dissertation ... among some other responsibilities like committees, other research projects... I am NOT complaining, just a little warning that I might not contribute as much as I might like to the MOOC. I will be giving it my best shot though! Looking forward to learning & sharing!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

To grade .. or not to grade ...

     The past few months I have been struggling a bit with the direction to take 'grading' in my courses this coming term. The last term of last year, and for one course in the fall term, I tried using a no grade system. The main reason I went to this is the belief that learning should be about professional & personal growth and improvement.
     The terminology used at my University for this is 'Pass/fail', which is really a misleading terminology. It implies that one can do the minimum and obtain a pass - this is not the way I see it - or apply it. I set, often with student input, a minimum expectation - one that I hope is high - and students must meet that minimum, not just get by. In my courses - generally about educational technology - I want to encourage my students to take risks, try out something new, explore new ideas. Often students will play it safe, striving to get that 'A'. I want them to try things and do their best, then look at how to improve on that. I want them to be critically self-reflective. I want them to think and be creative.
     Now, back to my struggles. I was a pretty successful student in the 'traditional' system, I have been indoctrinated into the system of grades and percentages and competition (not that competition is always bad) - like most of us have been. From this standpoint, I certainly understand what grades are supposed to do - distinguish between people (sorting), provide a measure - of sorts - for learning, and as an external motivator. I even might agree with some of those outcomes, some of the time. I have, however, always really thought that learning is the important thing, not the grade. But grades are so ingrained, it is hard to leave them behind - especially with arguments such as "how will this affect me getting into grad school?" or "getting a job?" and others argue that "some people will just put in the minimum" and others claim that they are motivated to get a better grade. Sometimes I found myself looking at student work and thinking - well, this should be better ... it would only be worth a ...", then I stop and think about what I am doing, it is about improvement, not 'punishment'. I have also found that assessment is so much more enjoyable - I look at the work for what was done well, how it can be improved, and giving suggestions - much more relaxing and productive, often leading to good conversations with students. Last year, most students enjoyed the system - found it made them more comfortable taking risks.... So ... I made up my syllabi last week - and with the input from a colleague and my own reflection about what I was really after - I stuck to the Pass/Fail - and I feel good for doing so. If this term works out, then - unless I am told from someone higher up than me - I will be sticking with this system. If anyone out there has experience with this type of evaluation, I would love to hear your experiences and any ideas.