Designing Synchronous Online Interactions and Discussions

May 17, 2016

IDEAS 2016: Designing for InnovationA few weeks ago I co-presented a session at the University of Calgary’s IDEAS 2016 conference. This year the theme was “Designing for Innovation”. My colleagues, Barb Brown and Meadow Schroeder and I presented on how to effectively design synchronous sessions for e-learning.

The three of us are all award-winning educators, and each has her own approach to how we design and deliver real-time sessions via Adobe Connect in our classes. We offered ideas and tips on what we do and how we do it. Our paper has been included in the conference proceedings, which have just been released. Here’s a link to our paper:

Brown, B., Schroeder, M., & Eaton, S.E. (2016, May). Designing Synchronous Online Interactions and Discussions. In M. Takeuchi, A.P. Preciado Babb, & J. Lock. IDEAS 2016: Designing for Innovation Selected Proceedings. Paper presented at IDEAS 2016: Designing for Innovation, Calgary, Canada (pg 51-60). Calgary, Canada: Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/1880/51209

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10 Tips for Succeeding in Virtual Teams

March 27, 2014

Almost all of the online courses I teach involve group work of some kind. Some groups thrive in their virtual teams and others fail miserably. After observing what works and what does not, here are ten tips to those who are new to online collaborative projects:

  1. Give one another the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Be kind to each other. Point out one another’s strengths.
  3. Refrain from commenting on each other’s weaknesses.
  4. When in doubt, assume good intentions. Tone is very difficult to “hear” in online communications. If you find yourself miffed or offended, take a step back. Are you sure that you are not making an assumption about the other person’s intention? Then ask yourself, “Is this really the hill I want to die on?” Forgiveness is important in virtual teams.
  5. Focus on supporting each other through the process.  No one gets left behind and if there’s an assigned leader, that person doesn’t forge too far ahead. Instead, keep the group together and moving forward.It’s a journey and your job is to make it up the mountain together.
  6. Be flexible with one another. Scheduling can be especially challenging in an online context. Change up the meeting times to accommodate people from different time zones. Don’t expect the same person to always get up at 2:00 a.m. for a meeting.
  7. Ask what you can do to help or what others need most from you. Don’t assume that your virtual team mates know your strengths.
  8. Avoid writing frustrations down and sharing them. If you need to work out issues, find a way to talk about it (e.g. Skype or phone).
  9. Sometimes you are right and sometimes you are wrong. It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about working together.
  10. Everyone is responsible for making back-ups of the work along the way. If one person’s system crashes, they get a virus or their laptop is stolen, the other members of the team all have copies of the back-ups. Using online storage such as Dropbox or Google drive is a great idea, but it’s not the only idea. Back everything up.

Working in virtual teams can be challenging, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. With a bit of patience, common sense and a good sense of humour, you’ll be surprised how much you can achieve in a virtual team.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


“Math Wrath”: Are parents pushing for a return to tradition?

January 13, 2014

Recently, Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, published, “Math wrath: Parents and teachers demanding a return to basic skills.” The article talks about a movement by some Canadian educators and parents to put greater emphasis on developing concrete math skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and less focus on discovery and creative strategies.

I find myself fascinated by this debate. I have long wondered about “creative strategies” in education. At the very beginning of my teaching career I took the Gregorc learning styles test. I came out perfectly balanced between all four quadrants: concrete, abstract, random and sequential. Apparently, that’s not particularly common. What it means though is that I can see and appreciate a variety of different learning styles.

Over the past 20 years or so (about the length of my teaching career), I have noted a distinct shift away from concrete sequential learning. Order, logic, learning to follow directions and getting facts seem to have diminished in value, while experimentation, risk taking, using intuition, problem-solving, learning to work in teams and focusing on this issues at hand all seem to fit with the creative learning strategies that have become popular in recent decades.

There has been a notable shift away from valuing sequential learning, structure, learning to follow precise directions and memorizing. In decades past, educational structures and systems may have favoured the concrete sequential learner. Today’s educational systems favour a more random or exploratory approach.

The debate has become almost vicious in some educational circles. Those who favor teaching methods that are concrete and sequential have been poo-poo’ed or dismissed by colleagues who insist vehemently on the random nouveau. I have known colleagues who have been quietly yet unapologetically exited from their teaching jobs because they continue to insist that their students follow directions, do activities in a particular order or memorize.

I worry a bit about the defiant horror expressed by some educational experts and parents at the idea of memorizing. While I agree that rote learning may not employ the highest levels of our cognition, memorization has its place. Learning to say, “Please” and “Thank you” are largely memorized behaviours. Learning to stop at a red light and drive on a green light is also a memorized response. Memorizing how to do CPR could save someone’s life.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I believe that we need to go back to the days of corporal punishment for an incorrect answer based on memorization. What has always puzzled me though, is how quickly methodological fashions change in education. When a new way of learning or teaching is introduced, old ways seem to be immediately, unequivocally and vehemently dismissed. Really good teachers whose background are more traditional than fashionable are thrown out along with their teaching methods.

Do we need to take a step back and look at models that integrate and value a variety of approaches? Would it be wise to hesitate… just a little bit… before we denounce traditional methods as being heinous and abhorrent, with only newer and more fashionable ones as being worthy?

I wonder if the obsessive focus on creativity, exploration and problem-solving might be doing some harm that we can not yet predict? Perhaps a small dose of memorization, learning to follow specific directions and learning systematically might be helpful?

Personally, I give both children and adults more credit than some educators or policy makers who insist on a singular approach to learning, regardless of whether it is systematic memorization or exploratory problem-solving. Being the utterly complex and capable creatures humans are, surely we can cope with both memorization and developing creativity simultaneously?

It’s the drastic swings of the policy pendulum that should worry us. The unflinching insistence that exploratory methods are the only legitimate or credible ways of learning should make us nervous. Polarized and uncompromising opinions on the singular “best” way to learn should be considered suspect.

There is almost always more than one “right” way to learn.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Free webinar: Learning the 21st century way: Making sense of how to use social media for learning

August 16, 2012

Over the past decade social media has changed how individuals connect online and share information and how organizations interact with stakeholders and customers. Did you know that social media is now being incorporated into learning programs from Kindergarten right on up through adult education? Does it really add any value to the learning process?

In this one-hour webinar, I’ll share exactly how I incorporated social media (and in particular, Twitter) into one of my classes. I’ll share what worked, what didn’t and what you can do in your own teaching or training practice to effectively integrate social media ‐ and why you might want to.

By the end of the webinar you will:
• Have a basic understanding of how social media can add value to your learning programs
• Gain insight into how to incorporate social media into a lesson plan
• Get ideas on how to assess activities using social media
• Get ideas on how to incorporate social media into your own learning programs

There will be time for questions at the end of the webinar.

This free webinar is sponsored by Essential Skills Ontario. Here are the details:

Date: Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Time:

10:00 a.m. Pacific Time (Vancouver, BC)

11:00 a.m. Mountain Time (Calgary, AB)

1:00 p.m.  Eastern Time (Toronto, ON)

2:00 p.m. – Atlantic Time (Halifax, NS)

6:00 p.m. – British Summer Time (London U.K.)

7:00 p.m. – Eastern European Time (Cairo, Egypt)

It’s free for you to join in, but you must register, since there are only 100 spots available.  Click here to register.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too


Where the Grass is Greener: How to Learn Anywhere (A year of inspired insights #9)

July 24, 2012

Don’t you just hate being cooped up in a classroom during the summer?

When I teach language during the summer months, I often take my university class outside to sit on the grass. We take our textbooks with us and do our lesson sitting in a circle somewhere quiet outside. For the most part, I try to stick with the lesson that we have planned for that day. It makes me sad that much of my teaching career has been governed too heavily by a curriculum that dictates what we must learn on any given day.

Every now and then, I rebel. The results are as inspiring as they are effective.

Once I told my students to forget about the textbook. I said, “Much of the real world vocabulary that we need to know is not in the textbooks. And a lot of what is in the textbook is not really useful in the real world. Look around. What are some every day items that you do not know the names for? Point or use the phrase we have learned in class for “How do you say…?”

We spent the entire hour learning vocabulary of every day items that were all around us.  We spoke only in the target language. Students learned to be resourceful with their body language to point, shrug and use facial expressions to express what they wanted to learn.

The students were engaged and energized. They were learning words that made sense to them in a real-wold context. They also realized how much they did not know… and how much they wanted to learn.

We not only said the words aloud, we made lists of the words. I spelled the words out using the alphabet. This encouraged them to listen closely and practice using the alphabet to spell out words.

Once we had a list of forty words or so, we began to categorize them. We came up with categories together that included: “nature” (grass, trees, etc.), “buildings” (library, student centre, etc.), “structures” (bench, stairs), “art” (poster, statue) and “other things you find outdoors” (bus stop, garbage can, etc.)

We not only learned vocabulary, we practiced spelling, listening, non-verbal communication and critical thinking skills to group the vocabulary words in a logical manner.

Often, finding inspiration in a textbook is difficult. But learning, that can happen anywhere.

5 Strategies to Learn Anywhere

1. Ditch the textbook. It may not be possible to avoid using a textbook most of the time, but every now and again, a teacher’s creativity, experience and wisdom are enough to shape an effective learning experience.

2. Involve the students in the learning design. Ask them what they want to learn. If you are using a “learn anywhere” approach for a second language, challenge your students to communicate using the target language. Also, have them tap into their inner resilience and problem-solving skills to use body language and gestures to communicate.

3. Incorporate scaffolding. In the activity I shared with you above, we looped back to the alphabet they had learned some weeks earlier. They had to work hard to remember it and use it again in an authentic context. As you incorporate previous knowledge and skills they have learned, you encourage them to internalize them even more.

4. Create order from chaos. After we did some brainstorming and generated numerous vocabulary words, we began to categorize them. This helped the students organize the material they had just learned in a meaningful way. The idea is not to impose order, so much as create it. The students had a say in the categories we developed. There is nothing wrong with random learning, but organizing the new material can help some students make sense of it.

5. Relate your learning to the real world. There is no point of learning in the real world if it is just an academic exercise. Get students to think about how and when they would use what they have learned. Link something as simple as learning new vocabulary to real world skills such as learning how to ask the names of things. This builds their resourcefulness and problem-solving skills.

Learning is a lifelong process. The opportunity to learn new knowledge and skills are around us every day. I love books, and I also believe that there is as much (if not more) to be learned outside books, as can be learned from inside them.

Go outside and learn this summer.

Related posts:

A year of inspired insights #8: A language teacher’s legacy

A year of inspired insights #7: What to do when a student hates technology

A year of inspired insights #6: You can raise me up: The lasting impact of a teacher’s words

A year of inspired insights #5: When reason falls on deaf ears

A year of inspired insights #4: How teaching Spanish to a deaf multilingual student opened my eyes

A year of inspired insights #3: Servant leadership in the scullery

A year of inspired insights #2: Conversations change everything

A year of inspired insights #1: There’s a silver lining in every ambulance

My 2012 resolution project: A year of inspired insights

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Inquiry and ICT: Inquiry in Curriculum

July 4, 2012

University of Calgary logoI’m tickled pink to be teaching an intensive Master’s of Education course this summer at the University of Calgary. Here’s an excerpt from the course outline that describes the cool content we get to do:

Course description

This examines fundamental questions related to Information Communication Technology (ICT) and education in the 21st century. Through this course, students will examine:

  • the ways in which inquiry and digital technologies open new possibilities for representation, creation, expression and engagement;
  • the ways in which fundamental conceptions of learning, pedagogy and design reflexively influence one another;
  • the links between these conceptions and current issues in technology integration in schools;
  • the necessity of teachers of 21st century learners to be designers of learning;
  • issues of instructional design for the meaningful integration of technology in K-12 settings, including the use of Web 2.0 environments;
  • and a model of instructional design that fosters individual and collaborative searches for meaning in ambiguous, multi-dimensional environments.

Via inquiry and technology, students will explore visions of an education that not only informs learners but also equips them with knowledge, attitudes, and thinking and learning skills for nimble adaptability and responsible participation in a complex world.

Yesterday was our first day and I can’t wait to get back at it today.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


5 free downloadable resources on effective E-learning principles

June 26, 2012

Here are some excellent downloadable resources that clearly outline basic e-learning principles in clear, easy-to-understand language:

Six principles of effective e-learning by Ruth Clark (Free 10-page .pdf from the eLearning Guild)

E-Learning: A Guidebook of Principles, Procedures and Practices by Som Naidu, Ph.D. (a free 100-page .pdf book published by the Commonwealth of Learning)

Efficiency in e-Learning: Proven Instructional Methods for Faster, Better, Online Learning by Frank Nguyen and Ruth Colvin Clark (Free 8-page downloadable .pdf from the e-Learning Guild)

E-learning Tools and Resources: Putting Principles into Practice by Wendy Chambers (A 41-page .pdf. I’ll put in plug for Wendy here. She’s a personal friend of mine and I can tell you, she really knows her stuff.)

Back to Basics: Using Adult Learning Principles to Create E-Learning Success by Steven R. Aragon (a 10-page .pdf. Note: This document opens in a separate window.)

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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