What does it mean to learn?

Learning is stretching.

I had an instructor describe the process to me once as this:

1. We all have 3 zones: comfortable zone, stretchy zone, and panic zone

2. You’ll never get better if you stay in comfort.

3. You cant get better if your in the panic zone.


Looking back on this conversation I cannot remember if we were discussing training horses or teaching humans.  But it doesn’t matter the same is true.   As we began this class (ETAP640) we were being pushed way out into that stretchy place, some paniced and dropped the class.  For those of us who stayed I think our stretchy zones began to grow and shift and we did learn.  As a teacher it will never be possible to have everyone react the same and stay in their stretchy zone – what’s once persons panic is another’s comfort.

Keep learning –

Stay stretchy!




What’s been learned?

It is quite amazing to realize that we have only completed five modules.  I would swear we have covered enough content to make it 10!

As a way of reflecting on what each module’s main influence in my learning was lets review:

Module 1:

This module was all about the discussion forum for me.  While the readings (particularly the Minds on Fire article) were interesting they were not the main contributor to my learning.  Professor Picket asked us to dig deeper and this led to in depth discussion posts that I have never seen before in an online class. I took on the challenge and dove into perplexity and motivation (See a 4 point post). I also tried out the idea of a “social post” ( See a one pointer from module 1).  This distinction was new to me, and I feel it lends more freedom to the discussion forum – you can choose when to be academic and when to be social without feeling like it detracts from your grade.

Module 2:

While the discussions were in depth in this module the article that captivated me was Do Online Students Dream of Electric Teachers? .  This article focused on empathy as an online teacher and the need to be a real present human and present yourself as such within an online community.

Module 3:

This module was dominate by the discussion of critical thinking.  I dug in and really thought about how to create thinking in students, what the best methods of inquiry were, and was the Socratic method valid (see Questions Socratic).

Module 4:

This is where my learning took a turn away from the discussion posts and articles and towards the development of my course.  I began finding outside resources, building my scratch animations and thinking about how to effectively communicate my content.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much content there was in the MERLOT resource and feel that it will something I return to in the future – certainly a sticky bit of learning!

Module 5:

This was all about building and doing.  Sure I was still thinking about theory, but doing and making took over.  And as a side note it shows in the lack of attention I paid to blogging.  I spent a ton of time working out the minutiae of my course – font sizes, borders, images, spacing – it all takes so much time to be perfect.  This is the main learning for module 5 – the amount of effort and patience required to develop an online course.


And here we are in Module 6 wrapping up the course!  What a journey it has been.



Creation and an exploration of education as performance.

This course has taught a lot, but the address the question of what I have learned we should look beyond the course offerings.  What I have learned is reflected in what I have created.  While there have been discussion posts throughout the course focusing on specific aspects of online learning, the development of our own courses is by far the most substantial creation.

In creating my course I learned.  And learning was necessary for its creation.  This process of discovery often leads to deep practical learning.

First I learned about motivation, learning theories, and the community of inquiry. This was then put into practice as I developed the whats? wheres? and hows? of my course.

I feel my most significant learning was understanding what the process and effort required to build an online class is.  As I developed my documentation, figured out assessment and structured the modules I came to understand the skeletal structure of all education much more clearly.  It also became easier to identify when and where this structure might break down.  Providing clear directions seems to be at the heart of maintaining structure and clarity in online classes.  I feel like I have begun to learn, but certainly not perfected the art of giving just the right amount of information to have successful students.

In addition to what I have learned I am also a little disappointed that the progression of technology and production in education is not keeping pace with that of the culture.  We are capable of creating education that is as captivating as facebook, but we don’t.  I have had a similar discussion with my friends who are involved in theater.  If we complain about audiences dwindling and young people not attending why do we produce Hedda Gabbler poorly for the fifth time this decade?  If you want something you have to know your audience.  In education I feel teachers sometimes lecture, give weekly spelling tests, or assign only even number problems because that is the tradition; this is no different that producing Hedda Gabler.  If your audience doesn’t care – change what you perform.  And yes every educator is a performer.  Seize that opportunity to teach in inspiring, audience-relevant ways!




Presentation, Presentation, Presentation!

I enjoyed watching the different personalities, styles and points of view in the Module 5 YouTube playlist.

The person I found to be the most insightful was Jen M. her comment “find a way to put together engaging activities and the motivation follows”, was a refreshingly honest point of view. She continued her point that we should not focus so much and creating motivation as engaging our students, “motivation becomes a non-issue when your working on something thats relevant”.


Jen then discussed the issue of collaboration and connection, personally she hates group work. This point is furthered by her discussion of what collaboration means. When it means coming to a consensus on a shared outcome Jen is quick to voice her annoyance. However when collaboration is used as a way to foster critical discourse her view shifts. “Critical discourse was the benefit of collaboration not necessary the skill development”. Her view is that collaboration is wrongly used for skill activities when the hidden goals are “teaching people better skills for being able to work well with others and good group dynamics”. She thinks that if that is the goal then we should teach that as a class not hide it in among other activities. The main theme of her piece is to use collaboration sparingly and to develop critical discourse, highlight the importance of personal reflection and to engage peers to challenge positions and view-points thereby creating critical discourse.


In looking at the presentation styles of the people in the YouTube playlist we are offered a full-spectrum. From Jen M who seems confident and comfortable to JJ in Washington State who sounds like he’s reading a telemarketing script and looks like he would rather be anywhere else but in front of a camera we can see how presentation influences our interpretation of content. If Jen and JJ said the same words who would you believe more? Who seems more confident? While they might both be highly-qualified individuals with excellent information to share the way they present it influences how we understand it. Bryan Alexander’s video conjures images and associations of a night-vision view deep inside a video game. Do we trust this bearded mountain man speaking from the depths of the night? Larry’s audio quality was distractingly bad, so whatever he had to say I did not hear because I had turned down the static. Holly seemed to be aware of her intonation and expressions and as a result over acted her video. Across the board the videos left much to be desired in presentation. Now I realize this is meant to be informal, but at some point informality becomes sloppiness and undermines the ability to learn. I feel that in we need to place more value on production values in distance education. It matters and so far does not seem like anyone is studying this topic.


Now I am fully aware of the challenges to creating good video and good audio and how awkward it can feel to be in front of a camera. I recently shot a few videos to use in my course and it took me a quite a few takes to be able to say what I wanted to say in an organized way. My rhythm was fast my eye-contact non existent, so I did it again, and again. By practicing we get better. It’s unfair to think that anyone can turn on a camera and produce articulate well-made content on the first try. I am still not satisfied with my final videos, of course there are things I would do better. Not look up over the camera lens, maintain eye-contact for longer and allow myself to be more expressive are on the top of my “next time” list.



As a side note how many of the presenters had an “American room”? This blogger takes on the typical youtube aesthetic of webcams across America.





Breaking Courses

Being the type of person to work ahead and plan on being done early I now have time to work on the more subtle things in my course. I played with the database feature last night and found it fairly easy to use but not very easy to make the display visually appealing (at least not without writing my own html for it). I am hoping to use the database to collect and manage horse-world resources.


I have also had time to go through my classmates courses and see what everyone is doing. This is an interesting process since the topics and styles are so varied. In creating things I find the best approach to understand how others will interact and finding problems is to let people use a tool (or course in this case) and try to “break” it. I have found a few little things in classmates courses that were “broken” and think that it was helpful for them to see and know.


In my own course I have had a very technologically savvy friend go through it, I also had my mom play with it when she was visiting over the weekend. Fascinating to see the different styles. My friend made it through had some good comments for language in the what to do pages and offered a few visual adjustments. He also found a broken link and unexpected behavior within a quiz activity. My mother on the other hand immediately go lost. She is a fairly competent day-to day user of computers and a University Professor, so her struggle made me think about the design, navigational cue and how I could improve.


Overall it feels like the course is coming together nicely and I am excited to have a product to use.



Perfecting my course.

After a review and multiple checklists I am feeling fairly good about the content and layout of my course.   Discovering how to collapse the module so the specific pages, activities and discussions display don’t all display on the home page has done a lot for the visual appeal, as has changing the theme.  This feature of Moodle is rather clunky as it has no way to preview or see an image of a theme before selecting.  This meant that I had to go through each theme, set my course to it, go to the home page, view the course with the theme then return to the settings menu to try another.  I narrowed it to three themes in the first round and after a second look found one that is primarily html color olivedrab.  Don’t worry its a pretty forest green than drab might imply.


Because I can’t find a way to use CSS with moodle I am having to format each and every picture, page and window individually.  This is a rather tedious task, but needs to be done to ensure consistency.


Tomorrow I am shooting video for my video segments and hopefully will have them uploaded to YouTube and embedded into the course by the weekend.

Right now I am tightening up the What? and How? language associated with every activity and assignment.  Making sure all of the instructions list the exact phrases that appear and the buttons and that there is continuity from assignment to assignment.


I love the details, just wish they weren’t so time consuming.




Designing Assessment

This post needs a big thank you to my mom who spent nearly 10 years as head of the Outcomes Assessment Committee at Johnson and Wales University. In need of some rubric and assessment motivation I called her up and asked about good sites and information. Here is what I was pointed to:

The University of Minnesota has a nice explanation of how to design rubrics from their CARLA site here.

The Practical Research and Assessment Journal, while the website is poorly designed and we have to forgive the use of papyrus font, has some good information.

Texas University has good quality video showing rubric use in a math classroom.  The same site has other videos on rubrics and their uses.


She sent me some other useful pdfs, I will work on a way to effectively share with the group.





Nitty Gritty Details

In working through the specific learning activities for my course I am seeing ways the connections between particular theories or ideas we have learned about and their practical implementation.  For example the Community of Inquiry model is supported by the discussion forums.  but when we dig deeper into the creation of the actual discussion forums we will use in our classes we see that not all discussions are created equally.

I am really enjoying the process of building the course and figuring out how to best use the tools provided to create learning activities and environments that are conducive to meaningful learning.  Yet at times Moodle feels limiting.  I am searching for a way to have a learning journal activity that is private yet able to be edited and re visited the way a blog or discussion forum would be.  However this functionality does not seem to exist.  I have set up a series of written assignments, but feel this falls short of my goal for the students to view their journal as a cumulative written record and reflection.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the quiz tool in Moodle.  I am finding it easier than I had imagined to integrate pictures and different styles of questions into a quiz.

Has anyone else had luck making a journal in Moodle?  What ways are you putting theory into practice as you build your courses?






I’ve learned about community

Perhaps more than anything I’ve learned about the ways to develop a community of learning within an online class.  While I understand the need for community and see how it is the foundation for the SUNY Learning Network, I am still struggling to understand exactly what it means to have a community of learning and why it matters.  I have read the survey results and papers assigned in the course, and the many resources shared by classmates. Yet, I find that it all seems distant to my own experience. I can learn, and in almost every way prefer to learn in more solitary ways.  I value the feedback of knowledgeable professors, and question the knowledge of peers.

Other people have raised the issue of peer feedback and the validity of it.  I can see both sides to the argument.  Personally I feel that peer feedback is rarely critical and doesn’t actually push people to learn.  And when I have gone out on a limb and offered critical yet constructive feedback in other online courses I have been met with silence.  Yet the other side is research from Coursera that supports the notion of peer feedback.  But even the Coursera model is not immune to criticism of peer feedback.  A Google search for “Coursera peer feedback” yields many more negative than positive sites.

I feel a bit like I have become very good at incorporating theory into the building of my course, without actually believing in all of the theories I am applying.  Sometimes that’s the way with science, if its proven its easy to trust.  But I have my doubts about the validity of some of the educational studies, there seems to be a lot of weight put on anecdotal evidence in the education field. And since formal study of the field is new to me I am cautious.  Open to learning, open to science, but cautious.



Teaching is like baking.

If you want to make a batch of banana bread you need to know what you need, what to do with what you need and for how long.  If you want to teach you need to tell the student what they are going to learn, what they will be doing to learn and for how long.

While organizing my learning activities I noticed I had a tendency to want to leave out the overview and explanatory text.  But this wouldn’t actually be as useful in creating a learning environment.  Students need to know what they are going to learn before they can be left to learn.

I am working to follow the guideline offered to us in this module.  I’m seeking ways to have students do most of the work, to create community and interaction, and to have a teaching presence.  But I realized that I was forgetting to let students know what was going to happen.  Giving the recipe as we attempt to make bread is most useful.  I want my students to feel safe and engaged and that they have a clear plan of where we are going right from the start.


Banana Bread:

3/4 c margarine or butter
1 1/2 c sugar
4 eggs
4 bananas
3 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

preheat oven 350
grease 2 8x4x2 pans
cream butter and sugar
add eggs and banana
mix in dry ingredients
and vanilla
bake 60 -75 min


A Happy Student:

1 tsp. Overview

1/2 c. Schedule

1 c. Explanation of Activities

1 c. Interaction with Course

1 c. Interaction with Peers

1 c. Interaction with Instructor

1 tbl Feedback

Preheat course to “everything’s working”

Mix course ingredients in a separate bowl

Slowly pour over student

Cook until visible learning, engagement and interactivity emerge.