Past Technology and Teaching Experiences

A reflection from the Alternative Delivery Certification Course on what I've seen as a teacher and a student in online classes.

Week 1 Quiz and Reflection

This week in our Alternative Delivery Certification at Heartland, we had a quiz about experiences with online classes and plans for how to use Canvas.

As part of my UDL Journey, I think it's helpful to post some of this information, so I'm sharing it here.  I'm also hoping that keeping my answers handy will help remind me of all the resources I'm planning on putting together.  Because if there'es one thing I've learned as a teacher, it's that nothing ever goes entirely according to plan.

Some Personal Notes

There is never quite enough time in the day.  As I type this quick intro, my son is very carefully decorating the carpet with LEGO constructions.  It's only a matter of time before my home workstation becomes an island of semi-productive desperation in a sea of LEGOs…

Also, never, ever hit Ctrl + Alt + [arrow keys].  In Windows, this will apparently change the direction your screen is oriented.  So my external monitor is currently pointed sideways, and it won't go back.  Like, how is this possible?  Related Question: why does the universe hate me?  (I love demotivational posters — I'll likely have a page for those soon.  Or later…much, much later…)

Have You Ever Been a Student in an Online Course?

I've been a student in online courses for creative writing through Writer's Digest, and as a Ph.D. student I took a graduate online course about how to teach online.  Most of these courses worked well for me — one of the creative writing courses was a "failed" course where the teacher fell ill and disappeared for a few weeks, but the other ones were helpful because of the enthusiasm from the instructors and from those classmates who really wanted to become better writers.  However, those courses were limited because the online system only allow textual interactions — there was no room for videos, and I don't think we even had profile pictures.  But we were reading each other's work and posting useful feedback, so I really did enjoy the experience. 

The grad course for online teaching was quite a well done course.  I believe it was done either through BlackBoard or ReggieNet (which is based on Sakai).  The instructor had a weekly video to introduce the topics, and then we each had a Skype appointment at some point during the course.  I can't remember all the activities, but I know I had to post a lesson video and paper as part of the final project. 

How Would You Describe Your Comfort Level with Technology?

I think my comfort level is a mix of experienced, adventurous, and apprehensive.  For a long time, I thought of myself as an "expert" when it comes to technology — among my classmates and professors in grad school, I was usually the one pushing for more technology usage.  In one department, my request for Blackboard access was denied because our program coordinator distrusted all technology and barred Blackboard for our set of classes.  At another institution, I served as a program technology coordinator for two years, putting together blog posts and technology guides while offering seminars and one-on-one assistance for colleagues.

However, despite these experiences, I've come to realize that I'm not the "expert" I thought I was.  I'm extremely proficient with those tools I use, but the technologies are changing so rapidly that I'm often caught by surprise when something newer and better comes out.  The video quizzes on Canvas, for example — I was just browsing YouTube for videos on Canvas, and then discovered this tool for adding quiz questions directly in the video.  That's an idea that never would have occurred to me.  And then there was the time I ran a teaching internship on using social media to promote creative writing.  The idea seemed perfect for me: I would provide my creative writing students with tools for sharing their writing online and building up potential audiences of readers.  But then reality hit: the tools I recommended only worked for two students, a number of students pointed out (correctly) that sharing their writing online would severely limit what they could write about sensitive topics, another group of students were too busy drafting longer stories to share their typos online, and another group had better ideas for how to share their materials with people they already knew.  As a learning experience, it was very humbling.  But also good.  It's helped me keep a more open mind about technology and listening to how my students use it.

How Would You Describe Your Experience Level with Canvas?

This is my first semester using Canvas.  However, for the English 102 course I'm currently teaching, I've already used the Syllabus, Assignments, and Quizzes, and I've found that I can copy multimedia materials from Google Sites directly into the Quiz and Assignment descriptions.  I've found Speed Grader very useful so far, and the automated grading for quizzes has been mostly successful (just a few hiccups as I figured out how exactly late points work.)

My next goals are to learn Canvas Studio, better organize weekly Modules, and use the Discussions tab to aid in collaboration.

Have You Had Prior Experience Teaching Online?

I taught an online English 101 course at Illinois State University.  It went okay, but the attrition rate was terrible (only half the students passed the course.)  I thought I had good lessons and readings, but I feel I could have done more to engage students. 

Which Canvas Tools Have You Used?

In the past, my entire focus was on the Discussions — I wanted to use those for collaboration and the majority of assignments.

Currently, I'm using more Assignments and Quizzes, and gradually deciding how best to organize my modules for future sections of my courses.  In the past, I simply did modules based on each week of the syllabus without explicitly describing them in either Blackboard or Canvas.

What Are Your Main Concerns for the Course You'll Be Teaching?

My main concern is ensuring the course is organized well enough that students have no trouble following along.  Next, I want to make sure there are enough online resources in enough formats (text, YouTube, discussions) to foster interest and engagement.  Finally, I want to keep myself focused enough so that when I'm teaching the course I can keep in touch with each individual student. 

What Are You Hoping to Learn from the Alternative Delivery Course?

I'm looking forward to the greater awareness of technology and also a better approach to organizing a course in general.  I've been very dependent on in-person interactions to organize my courses, so my current online components for English 101 and 102 are not as well organized as my lesson plans.

Any Other Comments?

Overall, I think everything makes a lot of sense so far.  I'm glad we have the separate sandbox courses to work with, especially for developing modules. 

Reflection on First Week of ADC

I've completed all the assignments for Module 0 — the documents, discussion, syllabus, and quiz went well.  I've found the Module very straightforward — the assignments were actually a bit more work than I expected, but definitely very engaging.  I see what you mean about adding rigor to an online course — the more specific and numerous the questions, the more sophisticated a student's responses need to be.

To "kill two birds with one stone," I've been posting some of my responses to the quiz and assignments to the blog section of my UDL website.  Since I'm also doing the UDL course, I'll be kind of "splitting" that website into how it fulfills the requirements for ADC and UDL.  The ADC components will be the lesson plans and assignments for my English 101, and most of those will be copied over to Canvas for the Show and Share and my summer English 101.  The UDL part will be the teacher-centered resources from the website — I have a number of pages planned for UDL, classroom management, and facilitating a writing workshop.  I know it seems very ambitious, but this is the kind of comprehensive website I've been planning on doing for years, so it's good to finally have the "push" of external requirements.  Though I will say, in the readings they pointed out the importance of having all the lesson planning completed well before the start of an online course so you can focus on your students — as I'm pushing back website goals to keep up with this semester's grading, I definitely see the importance of that.

Overall, I'm really enjoying this experience so far.  Thanks for making this so helpful!