Take Your Online Teaching to the Next Level

Flickr Photo by Swisscan

Whether you are teaching a blended course (where a significant portion of the course takes place online) or have been using your institution's course management system to supplement your face to face course, there are a couple tools that can be used to take online teaching and learning to the next level.

 Level 1
YouTube has become a noted repository of high quality academic content from renowned universities. With the creation of YouTube Education, which aggregates the thousands of available videos into academic disciplines, finding informative videos to share online has become considerably easier. Including video that elaborates on concepts covered in the textbook or lecture can provide students with remedial support or enrichment opportunities without becoming a burdensome venture for the instructor.

Many of the institutionally created videos on YouTube Education often include captions or interactive transcripts. These interactive transcripts allow users to click on a specific line in the transcript, which will then sync the video to a corresponding portion of the video. By using the ‘find’ feature built into most Internet browsers, users can even search for specific terms used in the video. Here is an example video for a MIT Physics course that includes an interactive transcript (Look for the interactive transcript icon below the video beside the ‘share’ and ‘flag’ icons).

 Level 2
Asynchronous online discussion tools have been around for some time. Unlike traditional text-based discussion forums, Voice Thread is a multi-modal online discussion tool that allows users to contribute to discussion threads using text, audio or even video. Whether you choose to host your discussion on the Voice Thread website or embed the discussion into your course management system, this tool provides students with an opportunity to choose their medium of communication.

 Level 3
You can now annotate your own YouTube videos to include an interactive commentary that students can click on when needed. The annotations can include supplementary information about the video, links to other videos or websites or even create video with multiple possibilities as viewers can click to determine what they will see next.

 For an even greater level of student engagement, instructors can have students create annotations that pose questions or contribute comments regarding what is taking place in the video. Student created annotations could also be used as a means of assessment by providing learners with an opportunity to create annotations that highlight their analysis of the video content. In addition to facilitating professional reflection, having students provide annotations to their own performance videos could provide instructors with valuable insight into the student’s cognitive process.

Also posted on Academic Matters

Is Teaching a Meritocracy?

Flickr photo by Daviniodus
After reading the recent article,The face of education: Is it too white? I made the mistake of reading the comments that followed the article. More upsetting than the sad facts about the lack of diversity in the teacher population, were the many inflammatory comments that based their argument on the statement that teaching is a meritocracy and that "teachers are hired based on their teaching skills, not their skin colour".

Suggesting that this lack of diversity is simply a result of meritocracy ignores the reality of the diverse population that makes up the Canadian education system, other than the school staff room. 

What does it mean when the teaching population is not as diverse as the students they teach? - Maybe the system is not a meritocracy after all.

I recently came across a Tech Crunch article, Racism and Meritocracy, that highlights a similar problem in Silicon Valley. The author, Eric Ries, suggests we use a scientific approach to examine this problem. Even though I've included a few excerpts below, I strongly recommend that you read the entire article.

While it doesn't provide a complete solution for the lack of diversity in education, it may help the education community to begin thinking about the selection process and whether teaching is a meritocracy.

Excerpts from Racism and Meritocracy by Eric Ries

What accounts for the decidedly non-diverse results in places like Silicon Valley [or teaching] ? We have two competing theories. One is that deliberate racisms keeps people out. Another is that white men [people] are simply the ones that show up, because of some combination of aptitude and effort (which it is depends on who you ask), and that admissions to, say Y Combinator [teacher education programs or school district hiring], simply reflect the lack of diversity of the applicant pool, nothing more.

The problem with both of these theories is that the math just doesn’t work...

When we see extremely skewed demographics, we have very good reason to suspect that something is wrong with our selection process, that it’s not actually as meritocratic as it could be. And I believe that is exactly what is happening in Silicon Valley [and education].

*Please note I added the italics, bold and [ ] font colour for emphasis. 

What Happens When Leadership isn't Distributed

Flickr photo by Torrey Wiley
The 0-10 Indianapolis Colts lack of success should serve as a warning to all organizations that put their fate in the hands of a single person. Distributed leadership is needed to ensure sustained success. 

"In the knowledge economy, one of the most important risks companies must manage is the one related to team building. A strong team is not the one where a single person disproportionally influences the team's results. We treasure the project champion and team leaders, but if we want business continuity, there must be structures in place to ensure that the other members are ready to lead if the commander is not available." ~ Ndubuisi Ekekwe, Harvard Business Review

"If a company can't function without its lone star, it could be time to break that power silo and put others in positions to fail or succeed. It's imperative that the overall performance of the lone star is measured not just by job performance, but also by how he or she discovers and nurtures those who could become backups when necessary." ~ Ndubuisi EkekweHarvard Business Review
Read the full article, What The Colts Can Teach Us about Team Building

Making I.T. Happen

In contrast to all the talk about digital natives being different from previous generations, the vast majority of teacher candidates we encountered five years ago did not appear able, and many weren't even willing, to embrace the use of technology to support teaching and learning. While I can understand how some people may not have the know how, we were often shocked by the candidates that were reluctant to becoming 21st century teachers, because they were more than happy to replicate the education they had received. Thus, our first step to Making I.T. Happen was to create converts.

Flickr photo by Jackal of all trades
Planting the Seeds 
When a colleague returned from a technology conference in the U.S. excited about a session he had attended - a session about creating your own tech conference, we felt that this is what we needed to start building a critical mass of educators ready to embrace 21st century teaching and learning. The Brock Teaching and Technology Collaborative Showcase provided teacher candidates and classroom teachers with an opportunity to see how a variety of educational technology resources were being integrated in the classroom. The individual sessions, sponsored by a educational technology company, allowed the participants to hear from skilled classroom teachers about how they were using technology in the classroom. Many sessions provided participants with their first hands-on experience using these resources. The end results was that participants left excited about the potential of integrating technology into their teaching practice. In three short years, the Brock Teaching and Technology Collaborative Showcase has grown to become one of the largest EdTech events in Ontario. It may even be the largest free EdTech event in the country. We feel that ensuring the event is free for participants (we even provide a free pizza lunch), will encourage all educators, even those that are apprehensive about using technology, to participate. Creating a critical mass of 21st century teachers will not be possible if teachers have to pay for their own professional development.

In addition to creating converts, the tech showcase also includes a luncheon for school and district leaders to gather and share ideas about promising practices that support technology integration. In addition to facilitating networking amongst education leaders, the luncheon provides a unique opportunity for school leaders, teacher educators and technology companies to collaborate on how we can work together to make I.T. happen.

The tech showcase has allowed us to build a relationship with a variety educational technology companies. These relations have become invaluable in getting the latest technology resources into the hands of our teacher candidates and their associate teachers. It can be very discouraging when teacher candidates have embraced everything they have learned in our program only to find that their school is devoid of the technology resources that they are excited about using in the classroom. As a result of the partnerships (Epson partnership case study) developed via the showcase and the revenue the event generates, we are able to provide our teacher candidates with many of the resources they learned about at the tech showcase, with an opportunity to use them during their teaching practicum. In addition to allowing our teacher candidates, their associate teacher and their students to experience 21st century teaching and learning first hand, our candidates are provided with a unique leadership opportunity, as their are often asked to provide training and support to teachers at their placement school.

Nurturing Growth 
In the fall of 2011 we welcomed the first cohort of Ed Tech Leaders to our Hamilton campus. These teacher candidates opted to participate in an additional 72 hours of training that included hands-on training with a variety of classroom technologies, training on professional development curriculum design, and an introduction to educational leadership and the current technological challenges and obstacles facing the education community

The first module of their technology training included hands-on training with LCD projectors, clicker, iPod Touches, Flip video cameras, Livescribe pens, Front Row classroom audio systems and SMART Notebook 1 & 2 certification. The goal of this training was to ensure that these teacher candidates would be knowledgeable in the technical use any technology resource they could encounter in the typical classroom. To demonstrate what they had learned, the candidates were asked to create a video that highlighted their knowledge of how to use a ed tech tool of their choosing.  The end result was a series of ed tech 'how to' videos that were posted to the cohort's YouTube channel.

This ed tech leadership training was in addition to the 20 hours of Teaching with Technology coursework teacher candidates receive at Brock University. This mandatory course develops the candidates' TPAK (technological and pedagogical knowledge) which is essential if they are to successfully use technology to enhance classroom teaching and learning.

Even before the first day of class, the candidates were asked to create a Twitter and blog account. Despite the fact that the majority of the teacher candidates admitted that had never used Twitter or a blog before, they quickly embraced these tools are a medium for professional development and reflection. To help guide their way through the Twitterverse and blogosphere, the Ed Tech Cohort members were provided with a list of Virtual Associate Teachers so that they could see how experience educators used these social technologies. Nurtured by the example of the educational leaders they were following online, the blogs and tweets created by the Ed Tech Cohort highlighted their professional reflection, but also posed questions and concerns about traditional education practices that supported critical reflection and professional dialogue. These interactions are the type of professional activities school leaders often desire from experienced teachers.

A Forest of Leaders 
Within days of the start of the Ed Tech Leadership Cohort it became apparent that we had unleashed a tech-enabled virus into the education community.  Even before formally studying the leadership theories that serve as the foundation of the third Ed Tech Leadership module, the teacher candidates began to organically demonstrate their understanding of educational leadership and tech-enabled leadership. Their use of Twitter, blogs, Ning, and Google+ highlighted their understanding about the benefits of being open and transparent about their professional practice. Being open helped them to realize that they were not alone and served to develop a sense of community. Their commitment to being open facilitated the sharing of resources and ideas that serves as one of the hallmarks of leadership - the ability to influence the professional knowledge, practice or motivation of others.

As their professional learning community grew, they embraced the realization that using technology to foster collaboration would not only make their lives easier, but also contribute to their professional success. The candidates noted that without the use of collaboration tools such as Google Docs, they would not have been able to benefit from the insight of their colleagues or successfully complete many of their group assignments. Their easy acceptance of the virtues of collaborative practice is a realization that many educators have yet to acknowledge.

Through their use of a variety of social technologies it became apparent they were interacting with and being influenced by education leaders from across the globe. Participating in Twitter chats, Ning discussions, online and offline conferences and webinaires allowed them to be exposed to ideas and resources from around the world. It also provide them with an opportunity to share their ideas and possibly influence the practice of the educators they came in contact with. Watching their Tweets being retweeted and blog being commented on by experienced educators reinforced the notion that leadership is dynamic as it can come from a variety of places and is not dependent on formal roles.

By engaging in actions that were open, collaborative or dynamic that influenced the educational knowledge, practice or motivation or other educators, these teacher candidates have exercised tech-enabled leadership and have directly contributed to the advancement of classroom technology integration, and Making I.T. Happen.

Creating a Favourable Climate for Innovation

Courtesy Sir Ken Robinson:
"This series of short videos from Microsoft shows how digital technologies are transforming learning and opportunities to learn for students around the world. Understanding the nature and significance of these opportunities is part of what I mean by the education revolution." 

In the video he notes the importance of policy makers in creating a favourable climate in which innovation can take place. The end result - "A harvest of human achievement."

Solutions to the Education Blame Game

Flickr photo by A2gemma
I'm tired of hearing complaints about teacher training, teacher evaluation and teacher tenure that point the finger at teachers, but fail to hold educational leadership accountable for their contribution to these problems. 

The core function of schools is teaching and learning, and yet most school leaders spend a great deal of their time dealing with issues that are only indirectly related to teaching and learning. 

Many of the issues related to teacher performance could be eliminated if educators were provided with an appropriate amount of time to attend to the core function. School principal are supposed to be instructional leaders, but often do not have enough time to supervise and support instructional practice. 

The new teacher attrition rate is often a result of novices being thrown into a new profession with little support or mentoring, not because of inadequate training.  Even if they hold an advanced degree, many corporations spend thousands of dollars and countless hours preparing new employees to successfully enter their workplace. In contrast,  new teachers are often given the least desirable teaching assignments, with busy schedules that don't provide them with the time needed to interact, collaborate and learn from their colleagues. 

I have always found it ironic when educational administrators complain about teacher tenure, as the only way for a teacher to get tenure is by having a principal recommend them for tenure. Providing principals with enough time to properly interview and assess teacher candidates during the hiring process and then the time and resources to evaluate their performance during their first years of teaching would help to ensure that under-qualified or poor performing teachers don't get tenure in the first place.

Using standardized test results as a measure of teacher skill is just another cheap (not so cheap) and easy way to pretend that school systems are addressing the issue of teacher quality. Let's be honest - Principals can't do it all, nor should they have to. Teachers, students, and parents all have a role to play in determining what good teaching looks like. Teacher leaders, those master teachers that are found in every school, need to be provided with the time to work with the principal to support instructional practice. As the first line of defence, teacher leaders could provide invaluable support for new teachers, while facilitating a collaborative environment that sets high expectations for student and teacher performance.

Despite the image accompanying this blog post, these statements are not meant to point the finger at principals, but to draw attention to the challenging work they do and the systemic deficiencies that persist. These challenges will continue to persist until the education community carefully examines all the factors that have contributed to these problems and realizes that we have to work together and draw on the talents of all leaders to find solutions. 
Flickr photo by Lumaxart