Friday, June 23, 2006

Going to the next level: baby steps and big breaths

I was reading Michael's post about taking his Web Design course to the next level and as I did I began reflecting on how we're going about revamping our PD workshops around flexible learning and delivery. I sighed that familiar sigh, "how do we get teachers' attention about our workshops?" and "what's in it for our teachers?".

I'm all for the 'go where the teachers are at' approach, and trying to work that way as much as possible AND (you were waiting for the 'but' right? ;oP) while this IS a sound approach to take, it also needs to progress teachers' skills and knowledge about flexible learning and delivery.

I often feel like I start from square one (teachers do too). It's a good place, safe, easy and most teachers are comfortable there. However, (OK that's more like a 'but') there seems to be a much wider gap between square one and step two. Maybe step one is a tad too comfy?

So, square one:
Explore the environment (in our case it's mainly WebCT), and see what the common tools do (Like linking a file, organising pages, loading documents). Teachers usually say that this is good, they can load their documents and subject info there and all students need do is download it - easy! :o)

Step two is more like:
Add communication tools and quizzes (including feedback surveys), get students talking, using the calendar tool, and so on. That's a bit more involved isn't it?

I'm going to guess that it is partly because teachers 'manage' in WebCT (and similar environments) rather than viewing it as a place for students' learning.

Why does it always seem that this gap between square one and step is the hardest one to bridge? Why do I still feel like this question places me back at square one - again?!

Baby steps are fine but a leap of faith is inspiring!

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Michael said...

Hi Marg,

I know this isn't going to help you, but I dont' reckon the problem is that step one is a tad too comfy... - at least at that stage your teachers are exploring the environment (after all, it's new, it's kinda interesting). And most importantly, step one contains something simple that is incredibly useful to teachers: uploading resources that students can download.

You could try making step 2 a bit smaller, but as Kathy Sierra points out, each step/level/whatever needs to have something useful, something that gives us that "I rule" or "I can use this straight away in class" feeling...

Really, this is the "what's in it for me" that you mentioned, and I reckon this might be where your problem lies (happy to hear that I'm wrong!):

When was the last time a WebCT Feedback Survey made you feel "Wow, that's really useful.. that's really going to inspire my students to learn". The closest I've ever gotten with a moodle survey is: "ah, that's kinda cool, not too sure how it might be useful". I've tried using a moodle survey in class a few times, and the students in my class at the time said "ah, that's kinda interesting" then went back to doing whatever they were working on before... not particularly inspirational stuff - no matter how hard I work to create interesting questions.

Same goes for quizzes, calendars etc., but not "get students talking"... are you able to show teachers how they can get students talking? THAT would be really useful! Most class discussion forums that I see look like the teacher has said "I've posted a question here, I want everybody to go and post one response each"...

I was thinking about this a little while ago and wrote Learning Tools for Life (which is a little overboard, but you get the gist). If the tools we were trying to equip teachers with were inherently really useful, both at work and at home, then it wouldn't be so difficult to engage teachers. Instead of a WebCT calendar, get them to setup a google calendar account where they can manage there home calendars, work calendars, student learning calendars. Start with tasks that are more interesting to them: "Let's create a calendar of birthdays so you won't miss you mates next one!" before doing the class assessment calendar etc. But note it's not just an activity - it's actually useful to them, they can use it from home, show their husbands/wives/friends, extend it for their own use etc... truly engage with the technology because it is inherently useful to their lives (and also their students' lives).

So, I do sometimes wonder whether the problem isn't actually the steps we've setup, but rather the real usefulness of the tools that we're offering. WebCT looks great from a managers point of view (as you hinted), but honestly, have you _ever_ really engaged and learned with a WebCT/LMS-based course yourself where the learning wasn't part of a PD to learn WebCT itself?

If so, I'd love to hear how it was setup/structured...what made it different. Look forward to hearing your thoughts :)


Marg O'Connell said...

Michael, you've made me consider Kathy's post further on taking a crash course in learning theory - in fact I have pointed my workshop participants to this post too! Talk about the spiral! :o)

...and Steven's simple idea seems highly appropriate too!

I think we tend to do lots on the run and tend to forget where it is we're coming from (as in securing a rationale to what we do in our PD).

Cheers, Marg