Web2 course M10: Virtual Learning Environments

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were encouraged to consider tools to design Virtual Learning Environments.

Web based instruction has been a popular educational delivery option in many sectors of society. Given its growing use and potential however, it is important to understand if this delivery option is effective; as well as the contextual, pedagogical, and theoretical approaches that augment its effectiveness. The use of the www in the delivery of education does not necessarily equal effective activities or quality instruction for students. The development and advancement of technologies has brought the increased expectation of technology should be used in education. This is where Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or Content Management Systems (CMSs) have been implemented by educators in a way of responding to the change of trends in education in recent times.

Below are 5 tools that can be used to design online learning:

Wikispaces: A great tool for it’s ability to let users edit, build and comment upon changes to pages and content on a simple structure.

Google Sites: is a lot like wikispaces, although it does have a wider range of widgets…and of course, googly integration into its other services (for eg. Google Groups for setting up discussion forms).

Nings: Nings are a lot more social, and allows spaces to be designed so users can contribute to personal and shared contributions.

Edmodo: Like Nings, interaction is social. Files, assignments and libraries can be shared and accessed easily.

Moodle: Open source software that requires web hosting, but a fully fledged LMS that quite a few university institutions are using it as their platform.

This year I have had great success in using Wikispaces with our students in our 1:1 laptop program. First, let me begin by explain where we have come from.

For teachers in the catholic system here in Victoria, you might be familiar with the online system SINA and MyInternet. Since I graduated 7 years ago, MyInternet was already in schools. It was slow, unintuitive, and handled like a shopping trolley. Nothing much has changed to this day in 2013, and this is what schools are given to use (and we are still waiting for the implementation of ICON, based on the DEECD’s Ultranet system; which promises to be somewhat better than MyInternet).

So, with the introduction of widespread laptop access this year, it was imperative that our VLE be based on something robust, quick, easy to edit and post content, and relatively easy for staff and students to navigate. I would say wikispaces has fulfilled this purpose perfectly. At the moment we are using it in a very transmissive way, in that, teachers upload links, lessons, files, and activities onto the wiki, and then we access them as a class, group, or individual. Having a reliable and easy to use platform has made our teaching and learning with the laptops very effective.

Personally, I have noticed that my teaching has changed in how I design lessons and resources for the IWB. For example, our students have a sequence of lessons to complete in order to earn their “Laptop Learner’s License” as part of our 1:1 program. The lessons are described on a full page, complete with learning intentions, success criteria, and instructions to specific learning activities which sometimes include links to images, media, and external links. The lessons have been designed so that if students are away and miss a lesson, or if the lesson is incomplete, they can complete the lesson at their own pace in their own time. Writing the instructions and designing the lesson so students can independently go through the lesson process with minimal need for adult intervention has been challenging! I think this is a good thing, as it forces us to ensure that lesson’s are clear and they have an explicit purpose, including an objectives and assessment means. Not to mention that it is available for everyone to access in one central location!

Which platform are you using for your VLE?

Web2 course M9: Twitter, the PLN of choice.

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were encouraged to consider how social networks could be used for personal and professional (educational) purposes; including Second Life, Facebook, Linked In & Twitter.

Another popular platform which I have seen many educators use for professional purposes is Google +. However, my tool of choice, and the tool which has made the biggest impact in my development as an educator, is Twitter. Here is why:

  1. It allows me to tap into areas of education that are relevant to me. A few years ago I used twitter to research current trends in #BYOT and #mlearning for tertiary study. Being able to find people and resources on this topic was invaluable.
  2. It allows me to connect to other link-minded individuals. Like-minded individuals who care about staying abreast with technology and their own educational development. Twitter has deepened my perspective on education and learning, and has connected me to blogs, nings, webinars and new tools that other tweeters share.
  3. It allows for a richer experience at conferences, teach meets, and other networked educational events. Sitting, listening and engaging with educators in a physical sense is one thing. But this is taken to a whole new level when your engagement with others becomes expanded in a digital sense. Being able to follow conference hashtags that one is not even attending is an experience in itself!

 

For me, twitter has impacted me as an educator in a major way since I started using it (@anthsperanza). I can honestly say that it changed the way I think about my own classroom, school, and teaching & learning practises. I am a firm believer in a collaborative approach to education. Twitter has given me access to an amazing network of educators, from all different sectors and walks of life.

Hoping to share my enthusiasm with my colleagues at school, I lead a presentation to staff in regards to twitter and it’s usefulness as a Professional Learning Network tool. There has been some take-up, albeit most of the behaviour seems to be sign-up, follow, lurk, and the odd update here and there (this is fine, as we all need to start somewhere and find our feet). I take comfort in the fact that these educators are starting to embrace the truth  that our profession is not private, and that we don’t improve as individuals unless we share ideas and thoughts, and reciprocate on these.

After all, isn’t this the type of learning that we expect from our students?

In a previous blog post, I asked the question whether educators that are serious about educational technology are willing to utilise digital tools to connect themselves to online networks, to seek and take control of their own learning and development. For me, Twitter has been the perfect avenue.

Below is a list of resources that I think educators would find beneficial if they are looking to build their PLN on twitter:

  • My presentation on Twitter – What’s in it for teachers and why should we care?

Are you actively building your PLN?

Web2 course M8: RSS

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were encouraged to consider how RSS technology can be used to manage the flow of information from the web. It was suggested that we use Google Reader, which is a tool that I have used in the past. Unfortunately, come July 2013, Google Reader will be no more. Despite all the hysteria, and even protests, I think RSS is here to stay a little while longer even if Google has dropped one of their main tools to utilise the technology.

Earlier in the year when it was first announced that Google Reader would be discontinued, I immediately looked into a tool that would take care of my daily RSS feeds. I had been experimenting with Pulse on my Android tablet for some time, but wasn’t really happy with the experience when using it on the desktop via Chrome. I came across Feedly, which happily offered to take all my current feeds from Google Reader by signing in with my google account. The experience was easy and pain free! I am now enjoying my news on feedly, which works well seamlessly on the desktop and across mobile devices.

Other thoughts / musings:

How do you manage your RSS feeds?

Web2 course M7: Social Bookmarking

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were encouraged to consider the benefits of social bookmarking tools such as Delicious and Diigo.

I was first introduced to social bookmarking at a Boys and Technology conference many years ago, when the presenter shared a list of resources via Delicious. Since then, social bookmarking has been a game changer for me in terms of how I save, manage and find resources on the web. Prior to social bookmarks, I would save links locally in Internet Explorer in a massive list that was getting increasingly out of control; not to mention making it a nightmare to backup. Slowly but surely I started to transfer my local links to the cloud and I haven’t looked back since. When I need something that I have saved in the past, I know I will have it at my fingertips in a mater of moments via the search and tag tools.

I have used both Delicious and Diigo. While Diigo offers more advanced features like highlighting and adding notes to links, I prefer the simplistic, clean, no-fuss interface of Delicious. For me, it does exactly what I want to use it for…save bookmarks. The other neat feature of social bookmarking is how you can be recommended other links, based on what other people similar to you have been tagging.

I know that there are other educators using other tools like Stumbleupon and Pinterest for managing resources. Two interesting boards that I have found on pinterest lately are Penny Lane’s collection of Daily 5 and CAFE links and Nik Peachey’s collection of educational themed videos (I’ve spent a bit too much time absorbed in some of the videos on there!).

Another tool for bookmarking which I have come across recently is Symbaloo.

As well as another alternative to saving bookmarks, it also appears to replace some of the functions of iGoogle (which is to be discontinued shortly). Symbaloo looks like a good way of visually organising links, or using it as a  dashboard for workflow.

How do you manage your resources?

Web2 course M6: Picasa

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were encouraged to investigate Picasa; a tool available on the Google Apps suite. The official video from Google below is a few years old but still explains the features of Picasa really well:


I must admit, historically I haven’t been a big user of Picasa. If I’ve ever needed to host an image, I would get by with other services like Flickr and Imageshack. I really didn’t see the need to upload personal image albums, but would rather back them up on local storage.

The thing that entices me to Picasa now is its obvious advantage of being linked in with google (and my ever increasing reliance on the google ecosystem!). Now that generous storage is offered, internet bandwidth has increased, and cloud apps are more accessible across devices and platforms, I can see a real merit. Now that I am also creating and sharing more digital content for both professional and personal use, it makes sense to have picasa stream-line my content, rather than having bits here and bytes there.

Being available for Google Education accounts is really exciting me. I think Picasa would be a valuable asset to the children’s tool box in terms of capturing evidence of their learning, and having it sync with their google account and keeping everything in one place. Shortly, we are enabling Google Apps for our students as part of our 1:1 laptop program; and I will definitely be giving some thought to how students can be using this tool to their advantage.

Do your students use Picasa in their learning?