The Access Obligation

I’m taking a class right now that is NOT using a learning management system or LMS. During my undergrad, I only had a few courses using an LMS and my masters was mostly online, thus we relied heavily on our LMS for making the course happen. However, this is the first semester since I started my masters (I’m working towards an Ed.D. now) that I haven’t had an LMS for a course. While I generally don’t like the idea of college controlled LMS, I have grown to expect them to be used if at the very least to provide access to the syllabus and other general course information.

It may sound like I’m complaining, which is good, because I am. I don’t typically like to complain, or at least not in a public manner such as this, but I expect that course information is going to be available online, anytime, and every time I enroll in a course. The impetus of my complaint is that I’m stuck at work without my readings schedule. I have the time to read since class doesn’t start until 6pm, and have been, but now that I’ve finished my chapter I don’t know what other readings I have to do.

Now I could call my wife and have her tell my what I need to read next, or I could have been more organized and brought my folder with my paper copy of the readings with me to work…but I didn’t and that misses the point. I’m a paying customer and I have certain expectations when I spend a large amount of money. As far as my education goes, I expect to have access to my course materials regardless of where I am and when I’m accessing them. This is a base level expectation I have for my courses and is something I have become very accustomed to over the last four years.

The best part is that making these items available is something that could be done for the instructor if requested. At the very least, someone in the department or within the instructional design services on campus could help walk the instructor through the process of uploading the syllabus, readings and assignment schedule, as well as any other general course information. I’m not asking for my courses to be taught online in any fashion as much as I am asking for access. And higher education has an obligation to provide me that access, because even though I’m not likely to switch institutions, others may and others may not choose to attend a school that doesn’t provide this basic type of service.  Millennials have and will continue to enter higher education and are coming with very specific expectations for their courses. Much higher expectations than uploading a syllabus and readings schedule to BlackBoard. Are you ready higher ed? For some reason, I doubt it…

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23 More Google Apps

It seems like it has been a while since I have posted an update, but with the holiday, I’m not surprised.  One thing I found while on vacation was that Google has made 23 more apps available for Google Apps users.  This has been a long time coming and I’m excited that schools finally have the opportunity to begin using more of these tools in their classrooms.  Here are a couple of the apps that are new that I’m excited about:

Blogger: For those who don’t know, blogger is a Google’s blogging platform and is quite simple for teachers and students to begin blogging and sharing their ideas with the rest of the world.  I know many teachers that have been frustrated in the past with the lack of access to this app.  However, now teachers can begin having their students complete blogging activities in their courses and help students develop a reflective voice that is necessary for life long learning.

Reader: Central to my PLN is my Google Reader page.  I follow a number of blogs from educational techology, to politics, to design, to weird and wacky news.  I have found that through the use of Google Reader that I have become more informed with what is happening in my field as well as staying abreast of what’s happening in the rest of the world.  Living in a rural state it is easy to become isolated with the lack of different ideas coming at you everyday.  Through the use of Google Reader I have been able to have my beliefs challenged, which has made me a better educator and person.

Picasa Web Albums: Picasa has become one of the ways I share pictures with family, friends, and co-workers, not to mention it is the place that I use to upload images to use on Web sites as slideshows.  This may be a simple app, but it does open the doors for increased multimedia applications in the classroom, whether it be through an annotated slideshow that tells a story or simply a way to share pictures of a class field trip.

Having access to additional google apps has made teaching more flexible.  Teachers now have more resources in their arsenal that are now easier to use since students don’t need to have an additional email account to access certain apps.  Not to mention the fact that IT admins now have greater control over these sites, so if a student violates an AUP, they can now restrict access to the apps, as well as follow other compliance policies.  This is a very exciting time and I can’t wait to see how teachers in all areas integrate some of these apps into their instruction.

ePortfolio follow-up

portfolios

I thought I would post a follow-up to my last post about eportfolios, which focused more on what I thought about ePortfolios as a medium for showing what we know and how I think they can best be done.  In the world we live in today, we need to consider the resources we draw upon to teach our students.  With very little effort, and maybe just a bit of thought, most teachers can find a media rich resource to use in class.  But how do we document the effective use of such rich resources if we are completing paper based portfolios?

The easiest way is to ditch the paper and go with an electronic portfolio or ePortfolio.  ePortfolios can take many forms, from non-linear PowerPoints to simple Web pages to full fledge Web 2.0 wikis, blogs, or even social networks.  The main thing to keep in mind is that the person creating the ePortfolio chooses the platform that works best for them, not their administrator or next door teacher.  Finding the right platform can be a little overwhelming, but here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Pick a platform that represents your work the best.
  • Pick a platform that doesn’t require a significant time commitment to learn the basics of “how” to use the software.  Some time investment will be required, but it shouldn’t be so much that you don’t have time for anything else.
  • Think about the type of media you will be using.  If you have video, but no way to embed said video you might want to find a different platform.
  • If you don’t know what platform will work for you, ask for help.  Talk to your administrator, the teachers in your hallway, or even ask for help on Twitter or Facebook.  Many people have been where you are and can help show you the way out.

What I like about ePortfolios, and really paper portfolios, is how easy it is to reflect on the “artifact.”  In most Web 2.0 platforms we have today, there are comment features for nearly everything associated with the software being used.  Whether it be a blog, wiki, podcast, etc., there is almost always some way to make a comment.  This easy access allows us to not only reflect on what we are doing and teaching, but it also allows others to comment on our work and provide feedback.  The power is in the feedback, not the process.  We are often blinded when we look at our own work, so it helps when someone we trust or even someone we haven’t built a trust with, takes a look at our work.

While this post focused more on teachers and ePortfolios, I think they are a great idea for students as well.  If I were teaching a class, I would have all students create an ePortfolio where they could submit their assignments for the course.  I would also have them share the URLs for the ePortfolios with other students in the class, and even other students, teachers, or experts in the state, nation, and world.  Give students the means and platform to speak from and to receive feedback from the rest of the world.  While you may be a very accomplished and educated teacher, receiving feedback from others may make more of an impact on your students’ education than you ever can.  And that’s okay.

Here are some platform ideas for creating ePortfolios.  Note: this is not a how-to perse or an exhaustive list, but rather a list of possibilities.

  • Blog
  • Wiki
  • Web Page
  • Social Networking site: Ning, Facebook Page
  • Podcasts
  • PowerPoint
  • Moodle
  • BlackBoard

Worksheets in Google Docs: A Dilemma

One thing a few teachers have been trying to do this year is to go paperless in their classes using Google Docs, but they run into a problem.  If I want my students to complete a worksheet, how can I share it with them so when one student makes a change, it doesn’t make a change for everyone?  This has been quite the dilemma, but there is a solution and it lies in the use of a template.

For those of you who use Google Docs, you may have noticed when you create new documents that there is a From Template option that you can use.  If you choose to create a new document from template you are taken to this screen:

From this screen you can look for templates that others have submitted or you can submit your own by clicking on “Submit a Template” from the right side of the screen.  Then choose the Google Doc you want to turn into a template and follow the rest of the steps on the screen.

For your students to access the template, all they have to do is click on Create New from their Google Docs home and choose from template.  Then they will see the screen above and can click on “Use this Template,” under the template they wish to use.  This will create a new, blank document that is not shared with anyone else.  Students can then individually complete the worksheet and share the document with you when they are done.

Some Tips:

  • The document you choose to be a template can be updated by opening the original in your Google Docs Home
  • Changes made to the original document used for a template from your Google Docs Home will be made for everyone using the template
  • Have your students change the name of the document to be more unique, instead of using “Copy of Worksheet”
  • Once students share the worksheet back to you, organize the shared files into a folder for a certain class.
    • For example, if your students complete a worksheet for a WWII unit, create a folder called History (name of class), then create a folder within the History folder called WWII Unit (name of unit), then create a folder for each of the individual worksheets the students will be completing such as Timeline, Holocaust, etc.
    • Then move the appropriate files to the appropriate folders.  Now when you go to check the papers and leave comments, all of the worksheets will be together in one folder and should help save a little time when you assess.