Thursday, February 28, 2008

E-Learning Solutions for Rural Schools

My first session today was called E-Learning Solutions for Rural Schools. It was put on by Robert and Thad from the North East School division.

ELearning Definition: Learning assisted by technology. Notice that it is not teaching computers but teaching assisted by computers.

Two buzz terms that they used (and I will also unfortunately use) are Synchronous Delivery and Asynchronous Delivery.
Synchronous Delivery:
This is where students are all online and watching the teacher teach at the same time.
Asynchronous Delivery: Modules are presented and the student works at their own pace (much like a correspondence course).

The NESD school division has been working with distance learning solutions for rural schools now for about 5 years. The powers that be realized that it was not economically feasible to have a class with 4 or 5 students. It also doesn’t really work to have a teacher teaching two or three classes at the same time. (Ask me – I tried to teach Math C30, B30, and A30 all in one classroom. We did not have success.) The teacher load is just too much, both in prep and in class demands. The NESD School Division decided to create Synchronous Clusters. Six small rural schools coordinated their timetables and they pooled their students to make delivery viable. Using Adobe Connect, Moodle, and Blackboard they are able to have a teacher in one school teach a class to students in all six of the schools. Their programs vary from asynchronous (pure online) delivery to a more synchronous method (stand and deliver). In many cases (synchronous delivery) a teacher teaches using a webcam, an interactive whiteboard, and an internet connection. In the teacher’s home school it is more like a traditional classroom. The difference is in the other schools. The students work in a computer lab where they can see, hear, and respond (using a built in chat program or a webcam) to what the teacher is saying. Students who had timetable conflicts (or were absent/sick) were able to simply view recordings of the lesson. Other classes were offered in a more go at your own pace type of model (asynchronous delivery).

They found that the best delivery method depended upon what course was being taught. Asynchronous delivery was better when flexibility was needed where as the synchronous delivery method was better for sciences and maths.

My thoughts:

ELearning looks like a much better option than a multi class classroom. It is a much more effective use of a teacher’s time. They don’t have to prep for as many classes. I personally find it hard to get excited about a class where there are only a couple of students. Once you get over the initial technical hurdles I think that it would be much like teaching a regular classroom. In this context the internet doesn’t really change the assignment. It is a communication tool. A class set up along the asynchronous model really is just like a correspondence course (with a faster teacher response time).

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Yeehaw Convention Time

First thing that I have to say is that I love conventions. I get to see old acquaintances (I don’t say friends because not all of them are). I also get to learn new ideas. I love hearing people talk about things that they are passionate about. And face it - if you are not passionate about your subject don’t waste my time with a PD session.

I don’t really understand people who skip conventions, especially ones with as many choices as Showcase. (I am not picking on people who use this time to go on a major trip – that in itself is a type of personal development.) Do you already know everything?

It took me almost an hour to pick what sessions I wanted to go to. I had a hard time. There were about 12 sessions I was interested in and only 4 slots that I could attend. I find that to be a happy problem.

I almost skipped an afternoon of my convention once. It was a tiny little convention and there really wasn’t very much that caught my eye. For that one session that I had trouble filling I almost skipped my convention. I was going to go to another division’s convention. It was right next door - with no nametags – or security. I still wish that I had.

Let’s go back to being passionate about your subject. I was a co-facilitator at a convention once. My apologies to anybody who went to the session “Thinking Outside of the Cracker Jack Box – 7 Simple Rules to Liberating Your Inner Child.” A co-worker and I put in a session application just to see how much we could get away with. We wrote a catchy title and vague description filled with lots of education buzz words. The organizing committee never even batted an eye and we were given a conference slot. No questions asked. (They must have been desperate). Our reaction? Uh oh – we got away with it, now what do we do? Well we ran with it. We even had fun. And got paid for it. Oh yeah.

Was I passionate about my subject? Not fanatically. Did I believe in it? Well I believed that the joke was funny and yes I did actually believe in the subject. How did it go over with the audience? Only one person got up and left…… Perhaps I should elaborate. This particular conference did not actually have a lunch break. The expectation was that we would go to 4 out of the 5 sessions and take one off for lunch. So the general consensus among teachers was to take the first four sessions and skip the last one. Guess who was scheduled during session 5 on Friday. Well we managed to attract a half full room and got an audience that participated in the session. I thought that was not too bad. No we did not let them in on the joke.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

In a Land Called Honali

My wife and I recently bought the book Puff the Magic Dragon for my son. The book is the words to the song drawn up as a childs book but the pictures caught my eye. I fondly remember the song from when I was a wee gaffer myself. It even came with a CD with 4 songs by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary) and his daughter.

I couldn't wait for bedtime so that I could read it to him. I popped in the CD and read the book to him (with the music). I was not disappointed but it also wasn't quite how I remembered it. I never realized just how sad the song is. Puff gets abandoned when his best friend grows up.

"Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,So Puff that mighty
dragon sadly slipped into his cave."

My son is 14 months old and a ton of fun. I really didn't need the reminder that he may grow up one day and lose his innocence.

As a child I think that I only focused on the first half of the song. Jacky Paper was cool - he had a dragon for a friend and had lots of adventures with pirates and stuff! Now as an adult my focus has changed and so has the song. I think I need to go back and revisit more of my childhood classics and see how they have changed. It is also time to share them with my son. I guess I will have to experience them again through him.

Until then I'm hoping that my son, (like his dad), never grows up completely.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Green Eggs and Spam

I think Google has labeled our school as a spammer!

I was setting up a my IP 10 students with Gmail accounts yesterday when I ran into a problem. We all were creating Gmail accounts with a similar form. We all clicked the create account button and only the first few students were able to create accounts. The rest of us got an error message. We couldn't create any more accounts from school. Every attempt at creating a Gmail account after that brought up the error screen!

A little research and I found out that if enough accounts are created from one area Gmail starts disallowing them assuming a spammer is setting up shop. They did mention that teachers setting up class accounts can run into this problem. They recommended Google Apps. Google Apps looked interesting but not something to learn about in the middle of a class with students waiting.

So what did I do? I went home and created the IP accounts at home and will have the students just change the passwords tomorrow. Fun, fun, fun.

At least Google is trying to cut down on automated spammers.