CEP 820: Reflecting Thoughts on Building an Online Course Module

My goal was to create a fully online learning environment that afforded the same unique learning experiences and opportunities as my traditional math classroom, which proved to be a lot more difficult than I imaged.

The design decisions within this course changed several times. When I first began developing my online course, I had the idea that I would just upload content and make it available for my students to access as they needed. Sort of like I do now for my face-to-face classroom. I hadn’t really considered the organization and I definitely didn’t consider the factors that go into policy and practice. As a traditional classroom teacher, the specifics of policy and practice are developed and modeled much differently; they occur much more naturally. However, after reading through various lectures and participating in is several “play” and “design” activities, I realized that developing an effective online course model would require a lot more than I had initially thought. It would require me to be intentional not only in my design choices but also in my instructional choices. Specifically, in order to create an online learning environment that is conducive to learning, my instructional and design choices would have to be much more explicit. I would actually have to think about the learning progression and how my online classroom would run, opposed to the natural progression that occurs in the classroom.

Similarly, the style of teaching has to change with an online course. By reflecting on my own online learning experiences and through the assignments in CEP 820 (assigned lectures, resources, and tasks) I began to realize just how naïve my initial thoughts were about online course development. Additionally, I was sort of disappointed in myself for forgetting about my own powerful online learning experiences and how they helped me develop as a learner and teacher…I should have known that it would require more than uploading content to create an effective online module. Let me elaborate. I would say I am not a traditional mathematics teacher. I use a much more progressive, creative approach. You see, I have a particular passion for online learning, especially when it comes to math. As far back as I can remember, math has always been a struggle; it never came easy for me. In fact, I was actually pretty bad at it! I wanted nothing to do with it after high school. However, as a freshman in college I took an online math course and REALLY learned math for the first time. It was the most rewarding experience; it is the reason I became a teacher. I loved being able to rewind the video- something you can’t do to a teacher- and learn at my own pace. After that I took several other math courses using video instruction–all the way up to Calculus II. I also took four other courses using online instruction–all of which I excelled in. With that established, you should also know that online learning is really the driving force as to why I became a teacher; it changed the way I felt about learning and helped me realize I was capable of understanding math. Consequently, technology integration has shaped my classroom environment and my teaching methods.

Through this reflective process, I was able to refocus and refine my online learning design to better align with my instructional goals. That is, I wanted my online course to encompass similar design features, tools, and supports that afforded me with such positive, powerful learning experiences. Additionally, I wanted to provide my learners with the opportunity to engage in the type of learning that fits them best, using tools and resources that support their unique talents and abilities. Because I know first hand the effectiveness of carefully designed and operated online courses, I felt a lot of pressure to ensure my online course would encompass the design features and tools necessary to make learning possible for ALL learners, including learners who struggle with math, much like I used to. Thus, I concluded that organization was key to producing a successful online course. As an online learner in the MAET program, I have particularly enjoyed the overall design and setup of my graduate school classes. Consequently, I modeled a similar structure in my online course. This model allowed me to scaffold instruction and learning by delivering lesson content in chunks and it provided consistency in content delivery.

After I had mastered content delivery and organization, I was able to tackle differentiated instruction, unique assessment opportunities, collaborative workspaces, and timely feedback amongst other things. Rather than dispensing knowledge and information as I had initially thought I would in my online course, I was able to optimize learning through scaffolded instruction, tools and supports and by creating differentiated, unique opportunities for learners to interact with the course content and each other using interactive multimedia and discussion forums stimulating conversation while providing direct, immediate feedback. Through the differentiated tasks, “quick checks,” and feedback, I was able to inform teaching and learning. Also, after reviewing the Universal Design for Learning guidelines, I refined and improved my content delivery and organization to ensure I was providing all learners with the opportunity to engage in the type of learning that fit them best, using tools and resources that best supported their unique talents and abilities, which I was able to identify through the task design and feedback. Specifically, I focused on providing multiple representations of content and differentiated delivery approaches in addition to unique assessment opportunities, affording all students with the opportunity to demonstrate learning. This is shown in module six in my online course where the learners are provided with additional instructional videos, multiple representations of lesson material, interactive applets, practice problems and activities of varied levels, and objective (skill and performance) based assessments.

Taken together, both organization and differentiation of content led me to my ultimate CMS choice, which is Haiku Learning; however, as I will explain below, it wasn’t an easy process. The goal for my fully online math course was to develop an individualized and differentiated approach for students learning online, and I was hoping to discover a CMS platform that would encompass my instruction, design and feedback ideals through features built right into the framework. As I will elaborate on below, the biggest issue I ran into during my CMS selection was that I would focus on one aspect of something I wanted my online course to encompass, and I would focus on that only, neglecting the other must haves I identified. So, for example, if I liked the organization and grade book feature, I would ignore the design capabilities…typically finding out too late that the platform didn’t accommodate the type of content delivery I needed it to.

When it came time to choosing our Course Management System (CMS), there were several aspects that I focused on, such as but not limited to: organization of information/course design, usability, built in grade book, collaborative work spaces, built in assessment tools, assignment collection features, and the ability to embed outside content/multimedia. So, during a CMS comparison task, I focused on checking whether or not different management systems afforded the design, features and tools I was looking for. After the CMS comparison activity I selected CourseSites because it aligned the most with the type of platform I was looking to use. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t spend enough time “playing” during the CMS comparison activity, rather I spent most of the time reading about features and clicking to see how they would appear on a course page. So, despite the fact that CourseSites checked out on paper, it didn’t check out during the construction stage, which I elaborate on here. Because I planned to embed multimedia and interactive applets to make certain online learning experiences more tangible, I made the quick decision to switch over to Weebly for Education. This was a safe choice because I have used Weebly throughout my teaching profession. However, after spending quite a bit of time designing my online course on Weebly and uploading content, I realized that what I was gaining in freedom of design, I was giving up in organizational structure. Trying to set up links and hide content pages proved to be too much of a hassle; disorganization and confusion was inevitable. So while Weebly meets my more traditional needs as a face-to-face instructor, I realized that it was definitely not working as a platform for my online math course. With no idea what to do next, I headed back to the drawing block (AKA: the CEP 820 showcase of student work). However, through my platform-choice-failures, I was able to develop a clearer understanding of the CMS features I could not work without. That is, I had to figure out which CMS platform could offer me structure and organization similar to that of CourseSites in addition to the design freedoms, such as the ability to embed multimedia, afforded by Weebly for Education. Having established a more explicit design agenda, it didn’t take me long to realize that Haiku Learning was the obvious CMS choice for me, which surprisingly, wasn’t one I reviewed earlier in the course.

Looking back, if I were to offer up any advice to future online course developers, it would be to spend time actually “playing” & building during the CMS comparison activity, rather than researching and window shopping. That is, any car salesman could show you a beautiful car and hand you a printout of the car’s history and features, but chances are you wouldn’t buy it without test-driving it at least once, right? What I mean is, to really understand if the CMS’s tools and features will align with your course vision, you need to test them out. Reading about them in FAQ section isn’t enough, even if they show you pictures J Trust me when I say this: you will save yourself time and trouble in the long run if you spend adequate time properly playing and experimenting with the different course management systems upfront.

Having completed CEP 820, I have a much better understanding of how to effectively design and inform online learning. Through this course, I was able to reconnect with personal learning experiences that I had forgotten about to create an effective online course module that I can build and expand on in the future.

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CEP 813: Self Assessment Blog Post – Sandbox for Professional Growth

Since I began the Master ‘s in Educational Technology (MAET) program at Michigan State University about two years ago, I have been using my WordPress blog as a way to submit work, reflect on my learning, and collaborate with colleagues. In CEP 813: Electronic Assessment for Teaching & Learning, I have had the opportunity to explore, examine, and learn how digital portfolios can be used as an assessment tool in educational settings. In fact, many of the benefits we learned about for using digital portfolios in classrooms mirror the benefits that WordPress offers to professionals utilizing it as a digital medium in the educational community. In this post, I will reflect on how the features of electronic portfolios, like this WordPress blog, afford opportunities for learning and professional growth.

Digital portfolios are easily used for self-assessment. Throughout the past few years, I have utilized this blog as a digital platform to organize, document, share, represent and reflect on my professional work. The digital format allows me to easily access my creations and provides a thorough documentation of my progress and performance throughout time. Being able to see where I started and where my learning experiences have taken me is rewarding and encouraging.

Unlike the paper portfolio, the digital medium makes it incredibly easy to compile, organize, tag, link, and revise work. I can easily locate work by searching tags, categories, courses, or even a specific time frame, making a digital portfolio an ideal option for multi-part work. In addition to serving as a platform for document and reflecting on personal progress and growth, digital portfolios make it easy for colleagues and other professionals to collaborate and provide/receive real-time feedback. As we have learned both indirectly and directly in CEP 813, feedback is an essential component in the growth process of any individual. We learn not only from receiving feedback, but also from reviewing our colleagues’ work and providing feedback.

Moreover, by publishing content on the web, I am not only establishing a digital profile and presence within my network of collaborators, I am also opening the door to a global network and audience, allowing for richer, more diverse feedback. By using digital portfolios, educators (and students) are able to make connections with other professionals on the web, establishing a sense of community in a digital context. This has been feature of WordPress that I have truly enjoyed since starting this blog.

Perhaps one of the most impressive affordances of using a digital portfolio for learning and professional growth is that it is both useful AND useable. Not only do digital portfolios allow users to publish text, images, files, etc., they are also accessible. Most Content Management Systems (CMSs) can be accessed on almost any networked device, such as but not limited to: cell phones, tablets, laptops, netbooks, and desktop computers. The ability to access and share information anytime, anywhere takes learning beyond the confines of the classroom walls and turns it into a life-wide experience, reconnecting learning and life. Likewise, the accessibility also extends to viewers who can see new postings in real-time, allowing them to post comments quickly and easily. This is a game-changer for giving and receiving feedback.

In addition to being useable, content management systems offer various tools and supports making them very useful. For example, the review comments feature that allows users to view, accept, or decline public feedback on posts prior to them being viewable to the public is very useful for shy users or users who lack confidence. This way they can still receive feedback without fearing what others may think when they see it. Actually, I prefer this tool so I can manage spam and unrelated posts, but from an instructors perspective, it is a great support to ensure students are not giving or receiving inappropriate feedback. Another useful tool is automatic email notifications whenever there is activity on your site or on the site of those you follow. This way users can manage their online presence and decide how active they want to be with other bloggers they follow.

While my digital portfolio could use some fine tuning and organization, I genuinely appreciate having a medium that allows me to record my thoughts and share my work. There are so many features and supports that digital portfolios offer that often go unnoticed. Before, I don’t think I truly appreciated the global audience and connections I have made with other professionals through this WordPress blog because I didn’t understand the importance of community and feedback. Currently, I value and appreciate the connections and dialogue much more than I had and from a new perspective, too now that I know how to use the feedback given. Before this course, I wasn’t entirely sure how to use a digital portfolio as an assessment tool, but as we bring this course to a close, I have a much better understanding of how utilize digital portfolios in my content area as well as how to assess student learning and provide effective feedback.

CEP 813: CMS Assessment Design with Haiku Learning

Assessments should be used as a way to gauge where students are in their learning and the feedback from the assessments should inform both instruction and learning. However, I think that more often than not educators are forced to give assessments that generally don’t align with their instructional style and fail to provide insightful feedback. Sometimes I feel like assessments are used just to provide some sort of data to parents…to communicate a grade in a way that parents understand, even if it doesn’t serve a purpose for improving teaching and learning. For me, I didn’t understand math until I was in college and was taught to reflect on my learning rather than erase mistakes. Based on my personal experiences, for my online math assessment design, I included both traditional assessment measures and nontraditional assessment measures such as, reflective think-aloud, investigations that require problem solving, reasoning, and proof, and collaborative workspaces.

Through both my screencast and this post I am going to tell you about the assessment I created for 8th grade math students enrolled in a fully online math class using Haiku Learning.

CMS: Haiku Learning

Log-in Link to Haiku Learning Math 8 Course, or you can self enroll using this link and by entering 527L3. Keep in mind, this fully online 8th grade math course is something that I am still designing and working on. It is a perpetual work in progress.

Subject Matter: 8th Grade Math: Pythagorean Theorem Unit (Geometry)

Assessment Location: Unit 6: Pythagorean Theorem; Lesson 1: Assess.

Age/Grade level: 8th Grade

Role of intended student: 8th Grade Math Student

Type of course: Fully Online

CMS SCREENCAST LINK

CMS ASSESSMENT DESIGN/CREATION RATIONALE:

There are several reasons why I chose to use Haiku Learning for my CMS assessment design. First, haiku learning is both effective and efficient: the design is clean, user-friendly, and easy to manage from an instructor and student’s perspective. Haiku Learning also has gradebook and multiple assessment features built into the site making it not only a great platform to teach learn and assess but also to communicate progress and proficiency accurately and in a timely manner to both parents and students.

Additionally, Haiku learning is extremely efficient from an instructors perspective as content is easily embedded and uploaded, as you can see in the videos and the multiple-choice assessment on the site. Moreover, for both teachers and students, there is an equation editor available any time you choose to type, which is key for math students especially in an online environment. Lastly, the calendar, announcements, discussion forum and Dropbox are just a few great features designed in the CMS’s infrastructure that make assigning, collecting and assessing a well-organized process.

For this particular task, the assessments I created are designed to measure whether learners have reached the desired learning outcomes at the end of the first lesson of the Pythagorean theorem unit. Since assessment should inform both teaching and learning, I will show you how the lesson design, activities, and tasks align with the assessment tasks, goals, and standards.

As shown in the screencast, the lesson and assessments are aligned with Common Core State Standards for 8th Grade Geometry and the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice. Additionally, I explain how the assessment tools I have created will be used to measure proficiency regarding the basics of the Pythagorean theorem: what it is; why it makes sense; and how to use it.

The Pythagorean theorem is one of the main topics covered in an 8th grade mathematics geometry unit, which is also a standard students will be expected to further develop in both high school geometry and trigonometry. Furthermore, the Pythagorean Theorem is commonly present on standardized assessments such as the M-Step and ACT, and in the ever changing world of standardized assessments, the Pythagorean Theorem and its applications have withstood the test of time, making it a key standard for secondary math learners.

Specifically, for this task, I created three different assessments. For the first assessment, I used the built in assessment creation tool in Haiku Learning. This tool, the equation editor, automatic feedback, and direct link to the gradebook made Haiku learning an easy choice for this assessment. The last two assessments utilize the discussion board tool built in Haiku learning. Again, the discussion board tool has a built in equation editor and also allows students to upload pictures and documents to their posts. Perhaps the most impressive tool, though, is the built in rubric creation tool that links rubrics directly to assessments, discussion forums, and the gradebook, making Haiku learning the best choice for all three different types of assessments I created. In addition to those unique features, the discussion board assessment tool allows for collaboration and stimulates conversation.

These three different assessment tasks are designed to give all learners the opportunity to show they have mastered the skills in the first lesson. By differentiating the instruction and assessments, I believe I will be able to more accurately gauge what students truly know in addition to identifying misconceptions. That is, the multiple choice assessment allows me to check their computation and retention, while the metacognitive problem writing and reflective proof re creation assessments allow me to assess transfer, or each learners ability to apply their learning to new scenarios, in addition to each learners ability to consolidate and connect new learning with old. For example, in the Starbursts Re-Creation Proof assessment, I ask learners to consider using half of a Cheez-It on one side of their right triangle. By posing that question, I will be able to see if learners have made the connection between irrational numbers and the Pythagorean Theorem. Additionally, by having students write and solve their own problems dealing with the Pythagorean Theorem, I can ensure that students understand both the math content and vocabulary associated with the Pythagorean Theorem and how to apply that to new real world contexts.

Taken together, these assessments will accurately and effectively measure whether or not learners understand what the Pythagorean Theorem is, when to use the Pythagorean Theorem, and how to use the Pythagorean Theorem.

REFLECTION ON ASSESSMENT DESIGN AND IMPROVED LEARNING OUTCOMES:

Moreover, after reflecting on this weeks task of using a Content Management System to create an assessment, I feel as though the assessments I have designed align with my instructional design, which I hope stimulates learners’ curiosity, engages them in differentiated tasks, and intrinsically motivates them. By creating a collaborative workspace, students are able to ask questions and participate in interactions between one another.

I’ve also included traditional quizzes and non-traditional performance tasks. In addition to traditional assessments, which students may try to cheat on but I feel are still necessary, the performance tasks allow students to demonstrate what they know and evaluate their own learning through reflection. I tried to balance the types of assessments so that they scaffold learning but also inform teaching and learning in different capacities. For example, the results from a multiple-choice test provide much different information on learners’ understanding than the evidence revealed through reflective posts or performance tasks. I don’t think that one form of assessment provides an accurate measure of students understanding, so I included various forms that allow me to gauge where my students are at and how they are progressing using different approaches. Through this process, students will receive feedback regularly from their peers and me.

  • What went into your choices as you focused on certain aspects of your assessments?   While designing my online math assessments I decided I would take what I have learned thus far in the MAET program about online learning, how we learn and instructional design and combine those factors with the format and design of many of my MAET classes, which are also fully online. In addition to the design, I tried to focus on efficient, yet differentiated presentations of lesson content and assessments that aligned accordingly. This task has proved to be harder than I initially thought it would be. I tried to focus on including both traditional and nontraditional assessment methods that allow learners to demonstrate what they know. So, in addition to multiple-choice-like assessments, I made it a priority to implement performance based assessments, reflective assessments, and collaborative assessments. Regardless of the assessment type, I also focused on providing feedback within and throughout the lessons and assessments. For example, responding to reflective posts or setting up quizzes so learners receive automatic feedback based on their correct/incorrect answers.
  • How will your assessment of your students be a tool to grow your students’ learning? The assessments shown in the screencast are designed to inform teaching and learning. Through immediate feedback on lesson quizzes students are able to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Similarly, that data provides insight to me as their instructor on which areas I need to go back and re-teach. Moreover, the assessments I implemented in each lesson are designed to stimulate collaboration and reflection. This allows me to assess learners understanding on an individual level and within a community. For example, in the third assessment, students are recreating a proof using Cheez-It snacks and posting their findings to the class discussion. They are also writing their own real world problems and providing insightful feedback to their classmates. Through differentiated assessments learners are receiving feedback from multiple sources and are making adjustments in their learning as they progress, which ultimately leads to personal growth. In fact, learners will not only grow by completing the assessment tasks, they will also grow by reading and providing feedback to their classmates and reflecting on the process. Through this process, by providing multiple different methods of assessment in each lesson, I hope that learners are appropriately challenged and stimulated and if they aren’t that the data collected from the various assessments informs my instruction and allows me to make changes.
  • How will students be involved in the assessment and evaluation process? The way students are involved in the assessment and evaluation process differs based on the assessment design. For example, in reflective assessments, students will receive personal one-on-one feedback from me, sort of like the feedback we receive in our portfolio for CEP 813. Based on my feedback and questions, learners are able to modify and edit their posts and assignments. Moreover, in collaborative assessments, students are involved not only by providing feedback to their peers, but also by responding to the feedback they receive from their peers and me. In additional to reflective and written assessments, students are involved in their lesson assessment quizzes based on how they respond to their immediate feedback and score. They should accommodate their study habits based on their performance scores so they can make improvements by the time they reach the unit summative assessment.

Review of Content Management Systems Through the Lens of Assessment

This week in CEP 813 we examined and compared the affordances of free Content Management Systems (CMSs) through the lens of assessing student learning. I chose to compare Weebly for Education, COURSEsites by Blackboard, and Haiku Learning. The results of my critical review of the three sites listed can be found in this spreadsheet.

Based upon my analysis of these three CMSs, I have chosen to use Haiku Learning to create my CMS assessment. The main reason I chose Haiku Learning is because it not only had all of the redeeming qualities and capabilities I was looking for in the assessment framework, but it also was very user friendly- from an instructor and student perspective. All three sites appeared to offer unique and differentiated options for assessing students-formative and summative, but I was most impressed with the design and usability of Haiku Learning. For example, Haiku Learning offers the following options that could easily be used to assess student learning: 1) discussion forums, 2) dropbox submission, 3) surveys, 4) rubrics, 5) learning portfolios, and 6) peer and self assessment tools. However, I did find that COURSEsites by Blackboard offered perhaps more specific options for collaborative group work, like assigning roles and jobs, but it was much more difficult to navigate and set up than both Weebly for Education and Haiku Learning, which made the features not worth it to me. I felt like Haiku Learning‘s traditional and non-traditional assessment tools worked harmoniously within the framework design and flowed well with content, opposed to Weebly for Education and COURSEsites by Blackboard where I spent a lot of time clicking around in different places to utilize and create different assessment types, but again, that is a design issue not an issue of whether or not the features exist. I am just a huge believe in USEFUL and USEABLE tools, and the challenging design framework in both Weebly for Education and COURSEsites by Blackboard made some of the features and tools less USEABLE.

Since assessment should inform teaching and learning and in many ways drive our instruction, I was pleased to see the various options for feedback in relation to the assessment type. Some sort of gradebook feature is available on each of the CMSs I reviewed, keeping both parents and students informed and up to date. Additionally, through various multimedia tools and options on each of the sites, students are able to express themselves creatively and receive direct feedback via comments from their instructors and peers. For example, in math class, I like to utilize GeoGebra as a teaching, learning and assessing tool. Unless I used a link to a new page for each GeoGebra activity, I would need to be able to embed Java applets into my site. Having learned to navigate Weebly for Education quite well over the past few years and through my explorations with Haiku Learning the past few weeks in both this course and CEP 820: Teaching Students Online, I know I am able to embed Java applets into both of these sites; however, I was not able to figure out how to embed Java applets into COURSEsites by Blackboard. I don’t want to say it isn’t possible, though, because I am still learning to navigate the site and it’s tools. To view a GeoGebra lesson I created on Weebly with a Java applet embedded in the site page, check out my webpage on quadrilaterals and technology. Feel free to play around with the Java applet 🙂

Another great feature I was surprised to find is that all three sites offered an equation editor. As a math teacher, that was a feature I looked for right away. Having created online assessments using a shifty equation editor in Schoolnet for over three years now, I have become all too familiar with writing an equation in Microsoft Word, taking a screenshot of the equation, uploading the PNG file to the assessment question, and then repeating for additional assessment questions as needed. This daunting process is something I would definitely want to avoid while developing an online math course because we use equations so often in math class. As far as I can tell, the equation editors in each of the three sites appear to be up to par and don’t require coding like the equation editor in Schoolnet does.

Moving forward, the plan is to create a collaborative formative assessment activity using Haiku Learning and GeoGebra that allows learners to explore the Pythagorean Theorem. My Math 8 students will work together in a collaborative group space, using GeoGebra to explore and develop an informal proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. Through this activity I will be able to monitor and direct learning by providing feedback and stimulating discussion conversation, allowing my learners to eventually demonstrate their understanding of the Pythagorean Theorem.  In the assessment, students will go on to become “Problem Writers” posting a real-world question involving the Pythagorean Theorem for their peers to read. Then, they will go on to review and respond to at least three questions posted by their classmates.  This will foster collaboration between the students while also assessing students’ understanding of the Pythagorean Theorem (the question they write) and it’s application (their ability to solve their classmates real-world questions).