Friday, December 7, 2012

Week 10: The Final Curtain

As much as I hate goodbyes, it is a fact of life, and the best way to get over this feeling is by looking back at the accomplishments through this course to praise them.

I feel this final blog is like a final comprehensive exam that our students go through, if not taken, then the wrap up is not done; hence, there is something missing like the need for the closing of the curtain in a play!

Before writing the final post, I read all my weekly posts that I had crafted to be able to write now, and this experience (retrospection) is the constant learning one (introspection). I believe this was the highlight of the course, and in a flashback I will stop at the topics that were most successful even though it is very difficult to exclude any as the whole package was beneficial to me, for I consider myself a novice in web skills.

  1. Week 1: The blogger experience
  2. Week 2: The ABCD model
  3. Week 3: Aural/oral skill building websites and
  4. Week 4: Reading/writing skill building websites.
  5. Week 5: PBL, webquests and rubrics.
  6. Week 6: Student-centered classes/large classes and the effective use of PPT.
  7. Week 7: Learner autonomy/Wallwisher
  8. Week 8: Peer review/ creation of a survey.
  9. Week 9: Learning styles/multiple intelligence
  10. Week 10: LoTi
I will continue to read, explore, pilot, apply, and keep on evaluating. 

I thank Courtney and the guest moderators for teaching, guiding, and involving us and for great planning of this online course. Also, gratitude to my e-mates for teaching me vicariously because learning cannot happen individually or in isolation. The byproduct of this experience is the ability to organize and multitask to reach a target. Thank you for giving me this unforgettable opportunity although I had some moments of pressure but as said "no gain with no pain". 

Graduation ceremonies are described as commencement exercises for a valid reason, so the end of this course is ironically a beginning of new learning experiences. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Week 9: Meeting the Deadline!

An interesting coincidence happened as I was finalizing the last draft of my final project. As I lifted my head from the screen to take a short break, I saw fireworks bursting in the air! I happen to live next to the national sports stadium and the reason for the fireworks was the result of a winning game, but I felt that I deserved the celebration after having finished my project!
Another interesting quotation that I came across reflects my state as a learner in this course. According to Benedict Carey in "Forget What You Know About Good study Habits" published in 2010,but is true all the time, " The more mental sweat it takes to dig it out, the more securely it will be subsequently anchored". I believe that I will never forget the project experience as I worked hard to make it a success. The feedback I got from my students was very rewarding and I am glad it will be something they will probably remember from their college days.
The theme of this week is a chance for learning and reflection done through introspection. Examining learning styles / multiple intelligences was done in a dual fashion with our teaching styles and in evaluating of how much technology can be of support to cater for different kinds of learners' styles . The basis of this week's readings was Howard Gardner's "Multiple Intelligences after Twenty Years" that is after his launching of Frames of Mind in 1983. The key word behind this theory is 'multiple' that invites educators to consider multiple methods of presentation. He himself realized that there are new kinds of intelligence that appeared now ,namely,digital intelligence that we teachers have to invest in when deciding on teaching methodology.
An enlightening experience was taking the learning styles online quiz from Edutopia. My learning style results were not surprising : linguistic 67%, intrapersonal 63%, naturalistic 75% and mathematical 38%. I certainly prefer to write in a journal than keep track of my expenses! This exercise can be a learning experience for our students as much as it is for ourselves.
After that, I read two articles co-authored by R.Felder; the first one written with B.Solomon entitled:"Learning Styles and Strategies"shows the four dimensions of learners in contrasting pairs. The authors give practical suggestions for classroom practice based on a learner's style. The most striking observation is that the majority of learners are visual , but most college classes present very little visual information ! As teachers ,realizing the fact should make us enhance our lessons with more visuals such as charts,time-lines, photographs, videos, and CD Roms.The second article was written with E.Henriques focusing on learning and teaching styles in Foreign and Second Languages . The highlight is the challenge that teachers face solved through blending and balancing of instructional methods to ensure the matching between learning styles.The results of a research study conducted by Stice in 1987 were cited in the article and the percentages about student retention should send us a message. It says, students retain 10% of what they read, 26% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they say, and 90% of what they say as they do something. This reminds us of the Chinese proverb that ends with: involve me and I learn. It is for teachers to reevaluate the types of strategies they use when they learn what the results may turn out to be based on their provision of different options. It also makes us think of our involvement in this course that made us active learners even though distances separate us.
"Using Learning Styles to Adapt Technology for Higher Education" by T. O'Conner invites the readers to think of the present teaching styles and what can be done to augment them with technology. It suggests PBL as one type of complex activity and culminates with complex projects that connect learners with the wider world . I am excited to observe the results of the hooking of my students with Ina's as a complex project as O'Conner labels this kind of engagement.
The last article on the list was published in the New York Times in 2010, but the truths in it hold to our present. In his article,Benedict Carey advises us to re-examine our knowledge about study habits. To him, varying the type of material studied in a single sitting is better than one at a time. He makes an original analogy between cramming and packing a suitcase; he believes that hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase; it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out. I wish my students who choose to study overnight instead of dividing the material would see this picture. Another attractive quotation by Dr. Kornell is cited in this article ;"the idea is that forgetting is the friend of learning"which is closely linked to the title but in a productive way that occurs when you forget something , it allows you to relearn it effectively the next time you see it.
To conclude, this week's theme is an invitation for all :teachers, learners and administrators to reconsider learners' needs whatever age-group they belong to and that includes us teachers.

Christmas is in the air; as much as I am sad that this course is coming to an end, the timing is good for me to start thinking of X-mas shopping and planning for X-mas Eve that is a special time for my family since it is also the birthday of my husband , and this year will be his 50th , so I have to make it different!

Downtown Beirut: The land of contrasts
The largest Christmas tree in front of the largest Mosque

Monday, November 26, 2012

Week 8: Feeling Great!

The feeling of accomplishment dominates this week as we all drafted our projects and got constructive feedback from our partners. I feel a sense of achievement with the preliminary success of my class blog so far. The posts are increasing every week and the enthusiasm from the students is multiplying.
So I chose to make a survey using google docs to get initial feedback on the use of this new tool with my freshman English students. If they send me their replies early enough, I will try to include the results in my final project. I already feel closer to my students and think that I have provided them with a new learning experience that promotes autonomy.Because of the sensed results with my pilot group, I plan to incorporate blogging next semester and maybe encourage other teachers to do the same. Also, if the link between my students and Ina's can be established ,then I shall try to keep the international scene open to my students with the help of my present e mates.

The plethora of online tools provided by Courtney for this week's readings cannot end by the end of this week! Easy Test Maker, Hotpotatoes, tools for educators are just few of the examples that I explored and would like to save on my Delicious for future reference. I also explored ANVIL and would like to further study how it can be used in my setting. As we all felt, we are the decision makers when it comes to what to use and when to incorporate those tools in our classes.

The experience of the peer review is a learning one not only for our projects ,but for us to make our students evaluate one another before we decide on a final grade for them. Ironically ,it will also help them not to plagiarize which was my partner's target in her project. I think the whole experience was extremely beneficial.

I don't want to think about the end yet, so I will close by looking forward to week nine!


Monday, November 19, 2012

Week 7- Close to Heaven!

The reason I chose this title for week seven is because I feel rewarded for what I have done so far for my project, my class blog! This week's posts doubled and students' comments on each others posts outnumbered those of last week. I am amazed not only by the number of entries but the level of serious engagement; I even find posts from the quietest students in class and am surprised by their contributions. Up to this moment, more comments are being published.At the beginning of the week ,I shared with them the rubric that I shall use for the evaluation of their entries after which I agreed to add one more criterion that was suggested by them. This exercise showed them how they can be responsible for their own learning and knowing what to expect. I also found myself unconsciously emulating Courtney's style in responding to their posts; for example, I try to see a similarity between two students, so I respond to both in the same comment. Besides, I realized that an online teacher's job is certainly not easier than the face-to face  situation. Having to respond to 25 students is not simple , but it is worth every minute when you see the exceptional results of the exchange.
I reversed the order of my post this week because I am excited about the preliminary results of my project!
I will now reflect on the  readings...
The first reading on" What is Learner Autonomy and How It Can Be Fostered?" by Dimitrios Thanasoulas was the backbone of this week's theme.It had many references to researchers in the field of autonomy and presented an interesting history of theories of learning starting with positivism,then constructivism followed by critical theory reaching autonomous learning. Besides ,the conditions for learner  autonomy to happen are worthy of mentioning:learning strategies,cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies.It ended with different ways of how learner autonomy can be promoted through self reports, diaries and evaluation sheets, and persuasive communication as a means of altering learner beliefs and attitudes.As I was reading this article, I thought of the webskills course as a true application of learner autonomy.
The second reading on "Learner Autonomy:Bird-in the-hand or Bird-in the-Bush?" by Samuel Sheu reminded me of a similar saying in Arabic except the second part says, ... better than ten in the bush!
It criticizes systems that are dominated by exams and those that aim at completing the textbook. This point made me think locally as our students have to sit for official government exams before entering any college which becomes a constant nightmare for both students and teachers . Some suggestions were given on how to adopt learner training activities accompanying the textbook.
The third reading on " Interconnections: Learner Autonomy Teacher Autonomy" discussed the importance for institutional change to happen.It advocates that  informal collaborative work is the best milieu for autonomy to happen and the need for the existence of a certain threshold of willingness by the teacher to be responsive to learners' wants. It was advised that a critical investigation of the 'real' external constraints, and what is feasible in terms of self-directed work lead to learner and teacher autonomy .
The second theme was on the one-computer classroom; the links are practical and can serve as a beneficial resource of possible activities or projects dependent on the student population. The additional readings were a plus especially Deborah Healey's article that I saved on my delicious . It always feels good to see someone's written work after being introduced though online!
The disappointment and frustration this week, however, was when nicenet stopped functioning;I kept on trying but no avail until this minute. I wanted to discuss with my classmates further but I guess this technological failure has an underlying message that the teacher seldom fails us but technological failure is not in our hands. On the other hand, a technological highlight was the wallwisher exploration; I frankly did not know about its existence and now I can sense its value. It is useful in several ways like brainstorming,discussing in groups,collecting feedback and finally bookmarking favorite sites like we all did!
That was the end of investigations of the heavenly week!

Hope you all have a smooth start in writing about your projects,


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Week 6 - Reflections

The highlight of Week 6 was around engaging students using technology aids from the required readings and through our application of the first step of the project. I started this week with a number of readings on using technology in teaching large classes that proved to be very useful. From the first reading I learned about priming, integrating, reinforcing, and generating/facilitating engaging and effective online discussions. From this reading I also learned that when using technology students benefit as much as three times the face-to-face interaction, and many times more peer-to-peer interaction.

The second  reading "Teaching Large Classes" took me to an enlightening article from tomorrow's professor mailing list sponsored by the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning entitled "Teaching Naked: Why removing technology from your classroom will improve student learning. It advocated using technology before and after but not during class time. Several ideas were suggested to make utmost use of class time without abusing technology. 

The third reading "Enhancing Learning by Engaging Students" from Rick Finnan and Donna Shaw focused on shifting students from being passive recipients into active constructors of their knowledge. Small group informal learning activities were suggested such as Think- Pair-Share, concept tests, quick-thinks, minute paper, scripted cooperative learning, and concept maps. It was also advised that small group activities can be extended for an entire term. 

The second topic that I explored was the readings on powerpoint (ppt) to give me a better idea of its key elements and how to make it interactive. I also explored the additional readings, and I particularly liked "Interactive Lectures: A Summary of 36 Formats" that I want to add on my delicious account.

This week also marked the "lab" component of the course; all the theory that we have read about was applied this week in its initial stage. In my case, I created a class blog and posted on it the type of writing students are expected to do on it , and that it will be counted as 10% of their course grade which was 5% for journal writing and 5% for homework on their syllabus, so I thought of combining these 2 grades to give my students an impetus to write online. I told them about the blog idea in class and I asked them to check it after class for the furst assignment. As an ice-breaker, I wanted them to write about a topic that they can relate to with focus on the rhetorical mode they are studying at present: exemplification. They were encouraged to write about their opinion on the upcoming student elections (November 9) as new students and to illustrate how they are similar to the American elections. Some vocabulary words were provided in the prompt and they were supposed to choose/select few to be used in their writing. I excitedly waited for the appearance of their postings. After I saw the first one, I received few emails saying that some students couldn't get through because of not knowing that they had to open a Google account, so I replied explaining how to, then new posts followed and they seem to have contacted one another on Whats App to get help on the know-how.

On the first day, 10 students published. It was open for a week, so I was expecting more to come. The best part was when I met them in class the following session. Everyone was excited to share their experience and I felt that vigor got into those who have not written yet, for I saw their postings that night after class. The least talkative in class started sharing their ideas on this new medium. I am going to add a rubric, the one I created in this course, since they also asked how they will be evaluated. I promised I will post the rubric because one of them said, "I felt I was writing like I do in sms, but then I started correcting my spelling realizing this is academic stuff:". I assured them that my emphasis will be on their ideas first, then on the mechanics of the language used, but it has to be comparable to academic English. Another observation was that not many of them remembered to post on someone else's comment, however, I think they realize it now and I will wait for the second task to observe their application of that.

I am looking forward to the second post which is about two parallel readings that were covered in class, and I'll try to ask them to link them to their own experience.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Week 5 - Course Mid-Point!

I cannot believe that we are halfway in the course! For the past five weeks I learned a lot about web skills, but the fifth week was the climax. It is when we are starting to think practically about the inclusion of technology in our courses at present and possibly also in the future.

I started with the readings specified for this week beginning with alternative assessment methods which I am somehow familiar with but gained knowledge in learning about their specific attributes variety and timing of use. The highlight was the Rubistar website for it helps any teacher whether a novice or a professional create a rubric in a simplified way since it has variety of samples, ready-made criteria, and the option of including one's own. When I made one of my own that suits a writing task for a course that I am presently teaching, I felt a great sense of achievement. The fact that a tailor-made rubric is within reach is a great relief!

The second focus of my readings were on project-based learning and web quests.  I learned a lot about their nature, elements, and means of evaluation when using them. After going through many articles and websites on those topics, I got excited about adopting them in my courses. I immediately felt I want to try at least one project or web quest in one of my courses at the moment. I started envisioning one but I want to think about its execution in depth before I go ahead and try it. I also felt that teachers have very responsible roles in selecting topics dividing the work between members of a group and thinking of evaluating them, but I am in total agreement with Susan Gaer that this will lead to more learning.

Even though this is an online rather than a face-to-face course, I have come to feel that I know the teachers who are taking this course with me. By discussions on nicenet, reacting to blog posts, and sharing our concerns, I feel we are all in the same boat on this no matter how far we are from one another; I always find a similarity either in the kind of students we teach, the approaches we follow, and the difficulties that we confront, and this is healing!

Looking forward to week 6....

A view of the Mediteranean sea and of the city of Beirut from our balcony

PS. Sandy made the news this week. As we were all watching how wild nature can be, we in Beirut are still experiencing a pleasant fall season and for that we are thankful. I would like to share with you a better image of where I live than the one I earlier posted following the car bomb.

The "crazy" plant as we call it in Lebanon, at the gate of my kids' School.
Is it following or defying the road sign?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Week 4 - Reflections: A lot of reading and writing

This week I started my homework on Tuesday as I was not at home on Monday for safety reasons; I was  away with the family at my parents' house but unfortunately with no internet connection. I was back to my daily routine on Tuesday and commenced with my tasks.

I started with my readings since I feel that they always give the necessary foundation for the upcoming tasks. Margo Dill's article on "How to Write an Integrated Lesson Plan" was an eye-opener on the elements to consider when technology is augmented in any lesson plan. Jarek Krajka's article on "Using the Internet on ESL Writing" was the highlight of my readings, for teaching writing is my favorite. It included very practical ideas on how to teach different writing genres with the help of technology. It also included very useful references to websites. On the other hand, Mei-Ya Liang's article on "Three Extensive Reading Activities for ESL/EFL Students Using E-books " focused on how to choose books, share and evaluate them while involving the students in the process.

The second task was a website exploration, specifically on  reading, writing, and vocabulary skills. My delicious page is growing as a result. I feel overwhelmed with the numerous available choices that leaves the teacher compelled to choose according to the needs of his/her students. The world of technology is vast with its offerings but one has to be cautious not to get too carried away and just skim to get the cream of each site.

Most of my energy got consumed in preparing an integrated lesson plan with a technological component. I looked at samples from the Baltimore County Public Schools as suggested which gave me a number of ideas to emulate.

The last task is to re-visit a class issue or problems that technology might help with, and that made me think of the needs related to my students and myself.

Ironically, working through our tasks in Week 4 involved a lot of reading and writing!