Category Archives: Weekly Writing

Preliminary Thoughts: Emerging Tools

How many of the proposed tools are contextualized primarily for teacher presentation (passive learning)?

There are several tools that are designed for the use of teachers. And there are some that can be used by teacher or student. Prezi is a presentation tool that could be used by teacher or student. TeacherTube could be a passive presentation tool if teachers find presentations or videos on that site. It could also be a place where teachers get ideas for interactive learning. Powtoon could be passive or active depending on how teachers use it. If they create a presentation and share it with the class, that would be passive. But teachers could also assign their students to make a presentation.

Which have potential for active learning or afford students opportunity to display a product of their learning?

There are tools that allow students to make videos through video editing. Camtasia and GoAnimate are both tools that allow students to make their own videos to display. There are also tools that allow students to create things other than videos. Prezi allows students to create a presentation via the internet. Powtoon allows users to create animated presentations and Seesaw allows for digital portfolios. There are other tools such as Toontasic that allow users to create storyboards.

Which of the tools have potential for developing or enhancing the community of learners?

Learning platforms such as Moodle and iTunes U have the potential to develop interactive learning communities. These sites don’t automatically have this feature. It is up to the teachers to design the interactive piece and insert it into the class. Socractive is also an interactive tool where teachers can ask questions of students and get real time responses. This allows for the teacher to know instantly where students are in their understandings of the topic. I haven’t looked too far into Seesaw nor do I have any experience with it to know if there is an option to work with another student on this digital portfolio. But that might be another interactive learning opportunity if it has the option. Remind is also another interactive tool where teachers can communicate with parents and students

Which features most actively support learner engagement in a community?

I think the interactive storyboard tools and the video tools could help to engage the community. Students could recreate oral histories and show them at a community event. I think the language learning tools could also be used for community engagement. Students could learn language in class through this tool then participate in community events and speak the language.

Mixed feelings

I actually have pretty mixed feelings about publishing homework publicly and look forward to seeing what everyone else thinks here.   On the one hand, I agree with the notion that an open audience being able to view what you write adds incentive to present yourself well. The thought of colleagues and employers (in addition to instructors and classmates) being able to see your homework is just intimidating enough to really push me to do my best. However, I think that consciousness of the audience must also stifle conversation a bit.   Controversial topics cannot be fully explored within the usual protection of classroom silence.

And though some choice in the public arena is offered in the syllabus, I think there are probably some who need to take the class that don’t really feel they have an option.   That is a little concerning.   I must admit that I feel like the size of the internet in itself offers the feeling of anonymity and I haven’t been overly concerned.   But if we were discussing more politically charged and sensitive areas?   I am not sure I would feel comfortable fully contributing an unpopular opinion.   And if no one is really expressing honest opinions, is there still a purpose to the conversation?

So, I guess my final opinion on the matter is…it depends.   It depends on the subject matter, the perception of availability of the opt out, and the position of the person taking the class.

Forced Presentation Online

I’m going to come at this from an English perspective. I know it’s going to be different for math (etc.) but I’ll stick with what I know. I’m all for students presenting their work online. If you sign up for an online class, I think that’s part of what you’ve signed up for. Also, admittedly, I think a lot of people with intense anxieties about things like this…well, the only they’re going to get over that anxiety is by slowly wading deeper and deeper into the cold water, and doing it online amongst peers is the easiest way to start. End of story! I think sheltering students from never having to share their work online is similar from sheltering students from never having to speak in public. With one, you’re going to end up with students who spend their entire lives terrified of being in front of people, which is, you know, an important skill. With the other, you’ll end up with students who spend their whole lives terrified of showing people their work, which is another important thing they’ll need to do in their lives.

That said, I think for some classes, then, yeah, you shouldn’t expect students to post things online. Creative writing, for example. Again, some part of me thinks you should just get over your anxieties, since living in that kind of space for your entire life is unrealistic. I also think students sometimes write things that you can’t expect them to share with people. I’ve read some really crazy personal things from students that you just can’t expect them to write if they think there’s a possibility that tons of people are going to see it.

I don’t really think of an online class as a “public space.” It’s possible to be private on the internet – I’ve had classes that operated through Google Plus and that was totally private. This is one of the reasons I’m against using Twitter in an online class – you’re taking control away regarding privacy. Students need to have control over things they might think are sensitive. While it wouldn’t ever both me to post things online, I understand that some students get the shakes because they’re so nervous about sharing something. You’ve gotta ask yourself if it’s worth knowing you might not get the sincerity  of assignments you want because students don’t want to do anything they might get ridiculed for. I acknowledge that teenagers are fragile and that the emotional trauma that can come with having your intellect picked apart online can be pretty serious. Let’s not kid ourselves – the internet is the most foul and volatile version of casual human interaction out there, but a class is a little different, so long as it’s not one of those mass classes that Owen mentioned a few weeks ago. Putting classwork out there to be seen is a little different from putting up private social information, so I don’t think students have a lot to worry about in most situations. In fact, you could maybe make the argument that creating positive social environments online for students might be beneficial to their social development in the long run.

All that means is that a teacher or professor needs to be really careful with exactly what assignments you do and don’t mandate be shared. Or, you mandate how they’re shared (amongst trusted partners, for example). Or, you enforce very strict behavioral codes. Either way, I think it very much falls on the course creator. They have the power to create a safe environment online, and it’s their responsibility to plan things out as far in advance as they need to. I do think there are benefits to sharing things online: I have on occasion gone back to watch an old video that a former classmate created. Alternatively, it’s nice to know that if I upload something, it’s there forever, and I needn’t worry about losing it. I’m not certain there are huge intellectual pros for this, to be honest, but it is very convenient. Outside of sharing material with classmates I’ll not meet in person, I’m not really sure I can imagine anything you can do by sharing online that you can’t do face-to-face. The pros that I’m thinking of really are those of social interactions and convenience. In larger mass classes, yes, there could be benefits. A huge amount of potential feedback is available instantaneously and for free! I’m not sure how common those situations are, though. What I see is that there are limited drawbacks to this situation, and potentially unknown benefits that we could be exploring. That, as far as I’m concerned, is argument enough!

Unit Draft


So, obviously we haven’t finalized our papers that go along with our units, but I want to contextualize some things first before you read through that. As I’ve said before this is from a Native American / Alaska Native lit course I’ve sort of worked on a bit here and there. This unit is from within the course – it’s not the beginning and it’s not the end, either. By this point in the course I am assuming that students have the skills they need to do what I’m asking of them. That is, they don’t really need to spend a lot of time going over writing skills (etc.) because the analytical skills needed would have already been covered. Hopefully.

Anyway, so, the biggest challenge so far has been in organizing “units.’ I’m used to drawing up daily lessons that go along with units, but obviously, daily lessons are kind of not very useful in an online class. So, I’ve taken a page from Owen’s book and done this in weekly units where students just have a set number of things they have to do in a week. Seems like a better way to do things. Ideally it would be great if you could do this as just one big unit that students did over the course of, say, a few weeks, but we all know we can’t always (often, or, ever) trust students with something like that.
Originally I wanted to create units that covered every region in Alaska, but my talk with Lexie last week convinced me that this wasn’t really a great plan. Too much to cover without being a specialist. Instead, this is kind of choose-your-own and it leads students towards resources. Assessment wise, English is pretty easy – I’ve got detailed rubrics that are easy to adapt. I haven’t done that yet because I’m not sure if the well-known 6+1 traits rubrics meet all three aspects of Information Fluency. I’m fairly certain they do, but they certainly feel a lot more summative than formative. There’s always that implication that once an essay is graded it’s done. Once a speech is given, it’s done. I’m not sure how to incorporate continuous feedback here. I haven’t included any rubrics for that reason…if anybody has some suggestions on that front (assessment cycles + speech assessments), I’d be most appreciative.

Also, note: for the final version I’ll probably link to articles/readings instead. I chose books that I expect most high schools in Alaska will have access to, but scans would be better.

Reflections about Learning in Public Spaces

There are many concerns about online learning. Some concerns are valid and require the instructor to address them. Others are created under false pretenses. As Northwest Indian College transitions into offering more online and online/hybrid courses we see more and more of these concerns in the Native Studies department. Though we are trying ensure online learning environments are a place where students feel safe, there are some instances where we feel that we can accommodate every student issue in these courses. So weighing the concerns to determine the value is something we have to do as educators.

One of the main concerns that I see is insecurity. This insecurity emerges in many ways. There are some students who don’t feel they know enough about the topic to create an opinion and post about it. These students are predominately non-Native students and at Northwest Indian College these students are the minority. In Native Studies our topics and discussions in online classes are about Native issues. Non-Native students sometimes feel insecure about posting in a public place when they feel they don’t have enough context about these issues to form an opinion. Some don’t feel its their place to even form an opinion on these issues. Online learning communities are a different space than face-to-face. Sometimes people feel more inclined to voice their opinions in online spaces. Non-Native students sometimes feel like they could get attacked if they voice their opinion.

Another form of insecurity come from Native students. I’ve observed some students feel they don’t know enough about the topic to comment publicly. Students react to this insecurity in different ways. Some students just avoid the situation all together, causing them to not do the assignments. Some students will struggle through, get feedback, and improve. I think both of these examples are valid. These insecurities impact student engagement and success in the course. The instructor should address these issues.

Other concerns that I’ve seen, given we haven’t had much experience with online courses in the Native Studies program, have to do with technical competence. Technical competence isn’t really an issue with dangers in public spaces, but it is really the only one I could think of. This concern  I feel could have easy solutions if they are approached properly. Faculty have reported that some of their students haven’t checked into the course at all. Canvas is new to our campus and  there are many instances where students don’t know the new software. This results in students not knowing how to access the site. At Northwest Indian College we have one person implementing online programming. These  factors should be considered when placing a value on this concern. But overall if a student communicates with the instructor and the the instructor responds to correct the issue, it wouldn’t  be a hinderance on student learning.

Reflections on Work in the Public Domain

As a parent to two young children, I have a lot of reservations about my children and digital life. At the same time, I am realistic of the day an age in which we live. More dialogue and education is needed in order to acknowledge existing laws and to create balance between comfort and apprehension.

If children’s online presence wasn’t a concern, there wouldn’t be Federal laws aimed at protecting them online. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) allows parents of children under 13 to control the type of information websites and services collect about the user. Under COPPA, children need parental consent to sign up and utilize many online services. COPPA 101 for educators was a document I found to be helpful in outlining factors teachers should consider as personally identifiable information According to iKeep Safe:
The definition of Personal Information that falls within COPPA compliance requirements includes: children’s names, nicknames, email addresses, telephone numbers, home addresses and other geo-location information, social security numbers, photos, video, and audio files of the child, any persistent identifier or tracker that can be used to recognize an individual’s use over time and/or across different websites, as well as any information that enables physical or online communication or contact with a specific individual.
In my mind, this is a comprehensive list outlining what can be considered personally identifiable information. Another law aimed at protecting students is The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This law prohibits teachers and schools from sharing personally identifiable information about students. (FERPA also provides families the right to review and request amendments to academic records.) An example of a potential FERPA violation could be posting class lists /physically or online at the beginning of the school year or in an online homework space. Dissecting this and trying to find which concerns are valid and which are hype can be complex. As a parent, I know I don’t want my child advertised on YouTube delivering the Pledge or daily announcements. I don’t want my child on the school’s Facebook page promoting an activity or event without my consent. Some of my apprehension is protected under the law. Could there be a balance? I think so, the school could have an internal method of delivering the daily pledge an announcements. Special school activities advertised on social media can include pictures highlighting an event rather than the people in attendance. As my children grow, I believe there is merit to creating work in a digital public space, Collaborative presentations, creating screencasts, and making digital stories are just a few valuable skills I hope they learn because of the educational benefits such as: problem solving, group work, producing a product, and practice with voice inflection and fluent speech. I am not trying to downplay the merit of Internet based resources, but I want my students to be taught critical thinking skills about Internet presence in conjunction with work assigned via the Internet. I think students presence online should be scaffolded and include explicit instruction in safety and privacy. We need to increase digital education for our students, so we can teach them how to have personal management of their digital life. Students learn citizenship on many levels in school: classroom, local, country…and it is time to include global digital citizenship.

When trying to answer the question of advantages outweighing concerns, to me, this is a no-brainer. Safety should never supersede convenience, fun, or school assignment. I think this can be balanced with employee education. The creation of guidelines, on-going professional development, revisions and audits of district materials, and student education are effective proactive approaches for districts to scaffold digital curriculum and digital presence for both staff and students. I believe it is the responsibility of any district to educate teachers of Federal law and district guidelines. I also believe it is important teachers receive quality instructional resources and assessments that have been vetted for quality and are in legal compliance (and receive professional development with integration). The creation of established guidelines for employee online behavior is necessary, as it creates known expectations. Guidelines for teachers can articulate expectations regarding educator’s online/social media presence, use of instructional tools, and review of district media guidelines. I believe educating teachers, students, and parents creates an environment where the question of advantages of the internet outweighing concerns such as safety, privacy and litigation will be lessened because elements of concern will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

On thinking about thinking

Surprisingly, this project has required much less personal mental anguish than is usually part of my work flow.   Things are   sorting themselves out with careful thought by diligently following the steps in the assignments, but lacking the usual tortured awkwardness.   I suspect rather than having   much to do with me, this should be mostly credited to the nature and pace of the assignments themselves, so thanks to you Owen!

Perhaps, in addition, I have also started to fully embrace my process and trusted that if I just kept moving forward everything would sort itself out.   Or perhaps, taking two classes this semester has put a time limit on how much I can overthink every single detail and forced me to move forward at a pace that was, for me, very productive and freeing.   I am not sure, but suspect a combination of these things to be true and I trust Fink would be happy that I have become more efficient as a learner and a teacher.

Selection of the right project has also helped. The last time I attempted such a project I initially spent too much time   struggling with choosing a project that would fit the requirements of the class, and one that I could also use in real life.   I used too much energy trying to force a fit with something I really wanted to do and it took me a while to let it go and embrace something more appropriate that was ultimately much better.   I wrestled with details of both the topic and scope before settling into it and being able to move forward.   By comparison, the timing of this assignment coincided perfectly with what I needed in real world and so the initial struggles have been in simply defining the scope.     What should I include, what should be left out and how will the content be organized.

I have enjoyed both the Fink text and the article reviews.   They seem well paced with thinking about the lesson plans and assessments, leading me gently to my next ‘aha’ moment.   I am not thinking there will not be more struggles ahead, only that I will trustingly keep moving forward and not let them bog me down knowing there will be another ‘aha’ is just around the corner.

The concept map assignment was appreciated.   It is a technique I use regularly, but probably wouldn’t have stopped to do at the perfect moment.   The exercise provided the comfort of familiarity and a quick way to pull all the brainstormed content into a logical sequence.   The meeting this week with classmates was also at the perfect moment.   I was far enough along in my thinking to be able to lay out a well developed concept, but not too far to embrace the given feedback while still having lots of time to make positive changes to the plan.

I think that brings me up to date!   On a side note, I will admit that I am wading without the same kind of trust into my attempt at online gaming and entering the World of Warcraft.   I am overthinking the naming of my avatar, and pretty much everything else. After thinking about ,and writing this piece, I think I will have to just keep moving forward and trust in the process set forth by the game designers and see where it takes me.

Reflection on this whole…process

Whew! Moved into a new house from start to finish in two and a half days. That’s gotta be a new record. Just got internet up and running – it’s amazing how, in our crazy modern world, you feel  really  out of the loop without stable wi-fi. Kinda sad, really.

Gotta try to keep this short, because it could get looong.

I first started developing this course idea in 2012 and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. No teaching experience, little  pedagogical grounding, and only a vague understanding of how courses need to be designed. The whole process involved was very confusing and the course skeleton has been through multiple drafts since then, being looked over by professors, committee members, Alaska Native educators and students, non-Native teachers, and even a district admin or two. They helped immensely, but, unsurprisingly, most of these people have never designed an online class. So the course has sort of been in limbo for some time before this semester – with me basically knowing (mostly) the sorts of things I want to teach but without much of an idea of how to structure it (in terms of the interface and unit layouts), organize it (in terms of content), or specialize it (in terms of making it place-based for different areas).

So far, the way this course this has gone has helped immensely with these three issues. Firstly, just watching the physical arrangement of the course has been immensely helpful. The unit arrangement in this course has helped me visualize in more detail how I want to organize the course. The concept map we made made me think especially about how to sequence the (admittedly very high number of) topics I want to cover in the course, and as I fleshed it out, I started realizing exactly which things are more important than others.

The interface and the organization of the content are tied together, and I had never realized that. I think it would actually be pretty cool if you could navigate the course by topic, but since that’s not possible (???), I’ve been thinking about dividing the course into units that the students can work through in an order that’s more on the students than me. Khan Academy style? I’m not sure how to go about building that but I’m sure it can’t be that hard (…).  I’ve been playing around with that idea because as we build our unit for this course it seems  somewhat natural  in an online course to have semi-isolated units that build on each other in a spiral (or, um, not in a specific order, but in relation to multiple units) instead of chronologically like in a face-to-face course. Specifically in a literature survey because, really, you don’t need to do things in order. Once you kind of know how to talk about literature, and if you start out with a good level of foundational knowledge (unit 1), then you can tackle different units in whatever order you want, really.

Lexie suggested that the units be arranged chronologically, so that’d obviously be different, but the great thing about online classes is that you can organize your units in different ways. As I’ve been working through this unit I’ve really been thinking about how online course design simultaneously restricts you a bit (assessments seem more limited), but also really frees you to do things you just can’t feasibly try in a face-to-face course, and I think Khan Academy (much as I’ve been hating on it) is a pretty interesting example of that. A sort of choose-your-own-adventure course. I don’t think it would be that difficult to plan out, especially this since unit I’ve been working on is sort of self-isolated.

If we’re supposed to be metacognating here, well, I just realized how important the social aspect of this course has been. I think I lambasted forced interactions in a previous post but they’ve become by far what I look forward to the most about each week – reading other people’s posts is a lot more informative for me than doing my own. Only just now, as I write this, do I realize I haven’t at all incorporated the social aspects of online learning into my unit. I’m not sure exactly how to do that, really, because I have so far been conceptualizing this course as a unit that was aimed for courses with small numbers of students (like, literally one at times, you know how rural Alaska can be). I’ll spend some time thinking about how to do that. Anyone who has any suggestions for how to go about that with classes that might have only one student, please let me know!

In conclusion, the units we’ve been designing have  been quite the journey. The progress has been wild and hard to keep track of and confusing. The course isn’t going to be done by the time this semester is over, so any version of the unit I’ve got ready is still not done. It’s as seemingly never ending (stoooory) project. This class has been very useful, but it’s also made me realize this is a larger thing than I kind of wanted it to be. There are a lot of threads and they’re a lot clearer than they were two months ago, but…there are a lot of them! I hope as the semester starts to wrap up, I can weave all these things together into one cohesive thread, because as is, the whole process has been a bit overwhelming.