Enabling Skills…

I took note of the problems learners were having in the lab today, as we near the end of the program.  The learners that can navigate the web are obviously having a much easier time completing the assignments.  Today was a catch up day; students were to go through the LMS, find the tasks they have not completed, do them, and submit using the dropbox.

Thus the first complaint:  It’s too hard to find out where to go to hand in assignments.  There are too many steps involved.   Here are the steps:

  1. Answer the questions, write a memo, email, letter etc. on a word document.
  2. Save the word document
  3. Login to the LMS.
  4. Click on “drop-box”.
  5. Select the right dropbox, and open it.
  6. Select “add file”.
  7. Find the right file, and attach it to the dropbox.
  8. Click submit.

Now, sometimes the learners encounter problems if they have an older browser.  They need to download Chrome or Firefox, and this should solve some of these issues. But really, it is one of the easier things to do in the LMS.

Learners need to be able to navigate the LMS, especially the main areas.  We regularly use the “news”, the “quizzes”, the “surveys”, “the dropbox” and “content”.  The news is the first place that the learners come to when they log in.

So the program is almost done; learners have had active logins for over three weeks now and yet there are still a handful who do not login at home, who do not know how to access hyperlinks and submit documents, and who have real difficulty with basic navigation despite the very close personal attention that they are getting in the lab.  Clicking, scrolling, cutting & pasting, toggling between screens, typing with two hands – these are enablins skills that they need to have in order to progress in the course.

I think I’ve said it before, in this blog, that I need to re-evaluate what “success” means for this group of learners.  The three or four students who had the skills coming into the class can be assessed on the quality of their assignments – they have done practically everything we’ve asked.  They have expressed some frustration over the constant review of basic computer skills that we seem to need to do in the classroom.

The rest of the group have submitted maybe 20-30% of the tasks, and are more likely to come into the lab with the assignment handwritten in their notebooks, which they then need to copy onto a Word Document, and then put into the assignment dropbox.

Part of the flipped classroom experiment is to have the presentation material available on the LMS, so that learners can review the readings, PowerPoints, videos, etc. and then spend classroom time producing the assignments, with the instructors available for guidance and support.  That said, it can be frustrating knowing that the learners have not logged in and done the required prep work, then expect individual tutorials.  More than once, I’ve directed the students to the material in the lab, advised them to review it, then ask me.  That takes up a lot of the lab time, which is at a premium anyway.

Blended learning takes a big commitment to e-Learning from the students; if they don’t feel they have the skills or inclination, this can be a waste of time.  However, it can work out really well for others, namely, the ones who can type faster than 5 WPM.  Also, this format would work exceptionally in a ESL in the Workplace course.  Ideal, in fact, because computer literacy is highly sought after and expected in the workplace. Setting up workplace-specific courses in a LMS would yield high returns.

Setting up, though, is the crux.  It is where the most effort is spent.  Finding the right material, setting up modules, time-released news items, quizzes, surveys, self-assessments, all of this is time consuming.   I think that the benefits of flipping the classroom outweigh the initial heartache.  What I’ve experienced so far is just a taste; blended learning has a lot of real potential.  I can’t wait to set up Moodle this summer for the retail program.

Teaching ESL in a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

Blended Learning: Writing for the Real World is now at approximately its halfway point. Here are some of my thoughts thus far.

Tools: Without a doubt, it’s the tools that are going to be the biggest challenge in developing and implementing a VLE. Let’s have a look at the tools used in my flipped classroom.

The PC: Our language lab is running Windows XP. Windows XP is not the best tool to use. We have browser issues constantly, and although I can upload and input course content, much of the content is delivered through Adobe Flash. Again, I’m sure there is much more coherent technical jargon that can explain the issues much better than the words I know, but I’ll give it a shot.

When certain parts of the LMS are selected by clicking on them, a timer appears. This timer is without end. It never loads. An error message never appears. It’s like this black hole in the LMS that can NEVER be accessed in the computer lab, or anywhere at school for that matter. So I can never test the content (which might be one of the SCORM activities, or any other module that links learners to any kind of interactive task).

Our Technical Support guy has indicated that at some point in the future, the computers will be updated. That’s fantastic. It just doesn’t do me any good at the moment, and I’ll tell you why.

The learners need a lot of guided support, at least initially. In the lab, during classroom time, I focus on particular elements of the LMS, such as the dropbox, the quizzes, the discussion forums, etc. They have to demonstrate mastery of these functions in order to access the program outside of the classroom. Now some of these we can do; some we cannot. Long-answer quizzes, for example, will not load in the language lab.

BLOGS: In one of the articles I sited in an earlier entry, I mention one that explores using different internet resources in an ESL classroom, including blogs, forums, wikis, etc. Only three of my learners were able to create a blog, remember how to log in, remember how to create an entry and how to post it. No one else was able to do so.

In my LMS, there is a blog tool. I know, because I googled it. I just didn’t know where it was. I sent in an email to our DELC (district e-learning coordinator) on the first day of the program, but only just now got a response. I also called the HELP desk, but was misdirected. One of their first instructions was to click on the “Blog tool” on my dashboard. Problem – there was no blog tool on my dashboard. They then suggested that it needed to be added by those who created my course.

*Big sigh* I thought that creating blogs on a free site like this one would be a real benefit to the learners, but it was a huge failure and needed to be abandoned, otherwise we’d be spending the first half of every class problem solving the various blog issues. I decided, then to use the “dropbox” tool in the LMS.

DROPBOX: This is one of the tools that does not require the most recent version of Adobe in order to run. Learners have to know how to create a document in WORD, save it, upload to their “locker”, then put in their dropbox. Three learners are able to do this. (Guess which three? Yup – the same ones who had previous success with their blogs).

There are some challenges in developing a blended learning program, but there are some advantages as well. Even though the majority of the learners are struggling, they *are* learning and they are becoming more computer literate. I can certainly see the pros to using a VLE and I plan to develop other VLEs this August for my Retail Program and the Canadian Citizenship Preparation Course using Moodle, since I won’t have access to D2L after this course.

I’ve signed up for Moodle, but I need to figure out how to use it. Watch out, Moodle, I’ll be blogging about you next!

Desire 2 Learn

Yesterday was a great success. All learners were able to log into the LMS and watch the orientation video. One learner was able to explore other parts of the site, and through him, I was able to figure out one of the major stumbling blocks I’ve had.

When you click on a “module” or other links that use the ADOBE Flash Player, nothing opens. You see a “timer” icon, perpetually going round and round, but never being able to open. I could create modules here, on these computers, but I could never test them. I never got an error message explaining the issue. Thus, I didn’t know whether it was a problem within my LMS, or if it was a problem with the computer.

Then I noticed “T” open up the site, and he did not encounter this issue. Intrigued, I sat beside him and tried to figure out what he had done. I noticed he was not using Internet Explorer; he was using Google Chrome, which is a newer browser. When “T” got to the home page, he could see the orientation video embedded in the LMS, and did not have to click an outside YouTube link, like everyone else had to.

Aha! It’s a browser issue! In order to view the modules, and the SCORM thingies I successfully installed last Friday, you need the latest ADOBE and a newer browser. It was then that I realized I don’t have the permissions to update the lab computers with the new ADOBE, so I sent an email request to our IT person. I’m waiting to hear back.

In the meantime, all login and password issues have been resolved. I do foresee learners trying to get into D2L at home and being thwarted by the browser/ADOBE issue and not knowing what to do. I plan to create a “Screenshot” help word document (or pdf) so they can update their own computers.

Even though we are in week 3 of the 5 week program, I don’t see this as a major issue, because, for the most part, learners were able to access my Teacher Website and do the tasks we set out there. Now, in the LMS, we will be able to track learner progress and see when/if they have logged on, and the duration of their login sessions. This is one of the major advantages of using a LMS; it makes the learners more accountable.

Blended Learning Websites

There are quite a few websites out there exploring the flipped classroom. I’ve been digging through the www maze and have found the resources I’ll list here to be quite helpful, though I wish there were more Canadian links.

1. Cambridge University’s pdf link “Blended Learning: Creating Opportunities for Language Learners.” by Debra Marsh

Topical information (2012), Marsh does a thorough review of the Blended Learning case studies, and outlines the benefits and challenges of using a blended approach in the ESL classroom. Marsh very clearly explains both the instructor’s role AND the learners’ role in this experience. Any ESL instructor looking into flipping their classroom really should read this.

http://www.cambridge.org/other_files/downloads/esl/booklets/Blended-Learning-Combined.pdf

2. ESL – Blended Learning Case Study, by Maja Grgurovic.

A good overview of what Blended Learning can look like in an adult ESL classroom. I thought it was useful as it showed what the potential could be of employing this model. The learners all had some computer experience, so the one difference that I find between this study and my own classroom is that half of my students are still struggling with basic computer literacy, while the other half are regular computer/internet users.

http://journals.sfu.ca/CALICO/index.php/calico/article/view/928

3. “Learning outcomes and students’ perceptions of online writing:
Simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog, and wiki in an EFL
blended learning setting” by Terumi Miyazoe & Terry Anderson

If you are looking at setting up your own course, it is always advisable to see what others have done, and how they were able to handle the challenges. The authors looked at using different media in their blended learning course, and what the pros and cons were of each.

Having tried to implement blogs and forums in my own class, I know that there are challenges but also many benefits of doing so. The learners who successfully created their blogs and used them are already showing progress. However, half of the learners often forget the login procedure, or how to add “new posts” to their blogs, so a great deal of classroom time has already been spent on showing the basics of using a blog.

http://members3.jcom.home.ne.jp/t.miyazoe/MiyazoeandAnderson_20100602_System.pdf

4. The Research on Blended Learning of ESL Based on Moodle Platform by TANG Jingwei (2013)

I just came across this paper while digging through the links I had already saved in my “blended learning” favourites tab. It is a 2013 publication. The author provides an overview of Blended Learning and the Moodle platform. Moodle is a Learning Management System (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) that is free (always good!) and user-friendly (another plus!).

The LMS that I am currently using is called D2L (Desire 2 Learn); I haven’t explored Moodle’s platform, but I have been hearing about it. There was a Moodle workshop at a TESL Ontario conference that I desperately wanted to attend, but it conflicted with another workshop that I desperately wanted to participate in. After reading this paper, Moodle is at the top of my list for this October’s conference.

Google the title: “The Research on Blended Learning of ESL Based on Moodle Platform” by author Tang Jingwei. It appears as a document that you immediately need to download.

Got SCORM?

A month ago, if you’d asked me whether or not I’d be able to configure the SCORM on my LMS, I’d probably have looked at you like you were nuts. Today, I can tell you (proudly!) that my LMS is not only SCORM compliant, it’s actually configured to track and record learner progress. I know this because, after a lot of trial and error, I am able to marry two systems into one. Clarity English, meet Desire 2 Learn. May your union be long and happy.

I remember staring at my inbox, at the “zip” file, knowing that it was going to be an uphill climb. I know that there are two help lines, one for D2L and one for Clarity, and I’ve been using them both. The problem, however, is that I didn’t know what to *say* when I got through to the CSR.

Rrrrrrring.
CSR: Welcome to D2L. How may we be of assistance today?
Me: Great. Thanks. Yeah, I need help. I can’t get the thing on the thing, you know, the thing where you click it and it lets you do things.
CSR: Eh?
Me: I’m having problems with my SCORM.
CSR: Is it compliant?
Me: Not today; it’s behaving badly…

I think I ended up telling them to walk me through the process, using human-speak, not computer tech/programmer jargon that only 1 person in a million can understand. Sid and Darren held my virtual hand as I entered areas of D2L that I didn’t know existed, and showed me how to import the “SCORM” object… First time through, I hit a snag. The zip file I was using was incomplete, missing its manifest. (which, I figured out, was a fairly crucial piece of the puzzle).

I went back to my inbox and downloaded the file again from Clarity, and instead of calling Darren and Sid, I tried it on my own. It worked. I did a little dance, virtual-fist bumped Sid and Darren, and then went in to actually *use” the SCORM. Turns out the computer lab I was in uses an outdated browser and the SCORM can only run on the latest version of ADOBE Flash Player – which I have no access to upload. The computer lab that I normally work in won’t access certain parts of the D2L (we haven’t figured out the reason why yet), SO, essentially, that meant that I wasn’t going to be able to test-drive the SCORM at work.

When I got home, I immediately logged into D2L, anxious to find out whether or not the successfully uploaded SCORM would properly manifest itself into the D2L. It’s like an organ transplant. Would my LMS (D2L) be able to integrate the foreign body, or would it reject Clarity completely?

Wait for it… yeah baby, transplant success! A learner will be able to login, access Clarity within the D2L AND (bells and whistles please) track learner progress.

Minor victories. Only took me 8 hours…

Onward and through the www maze…

Instructions

This is a learning process for me, for sure. On Tuesday’s class, I wanted to make sure that the learners knew where my message board was, and that they knew how to post messages. I realize that my instructions need to be CRYSTAL clear, and I need to provide links within my instructions (it is not enough to say “go to the message board link on the left side bar”).

All learners but one could locate my webpage. I had not considered the possibility that, at this point, there would be *anyone* who could not locate my webpage. I realized that she had been relying heavily on another student to help her in class, so I stood beside her and guided her through the process. I did not touch her mouse at all (that can be too much of a temptation, to just take the mouse and click the link myself, but how is she going to figure out how to do this at home?) This learner has not yet turned in any of the assignments, but she is not the only one.

Got the Right Stuff?

Prior to registration, learners were told that a requirement for this program was that they needed to have a reliable computer, internet access and an active email account. One of our learners has none of the above. She, too, has yet to submit a single assignment. She claims that she can use her cell phone to read articles, view videos etc. This is problematic, especially given the amount of independent e-learning that is supposed to take place outside of the classroom. I suggested that perhaps this was not suited for her needs, but she promised to access public library computers to do the assignments.

There is still a noticeable division of skills within the class. This is evident whenever we are attempting to “produce” something in the classroom time. Yesterday, I had the learners create “blogs” using either blogger or wordpress. WordPress, obviously, is more ideal for our purposes, but you still have to be able to navigate the site. Most were able to create an account and compose their first blogs AND, not only that, send me their links.

I’ve opened a Blended Learning Blog favourite folder on my Internet Explorer, so from now on, all I need to do is to open the learners’ sites to check their understanding/comprehesion of any given task. Before this, I’d asked learners to send me emails. Blogging is preferable for many reasons, namely the following:

1. Blogs allow learners to keep all of their writing in one place.
2. Instructors have immediate access to the sites and can provide comments.
3. BLogs can be kept up after the program and can be an awesome tool for improving written communication skills.
4. Even being able to create a blog account, set it up, access it, and write something is a huge technological advance for at least half the learners.

The challenge this week is going to be the D2L platform, but I think we are ready to take it on.

Am I Expecting Too Much?

Hopeful

It is Monday morning. Eagerly, I signed onto my homepage to check. Did *anyone* do the message board assignment? I must admit, I was hoping for at least half of the class to have added comments.

Of the 15 enrolled learners, only two posted comments on the message board. Two. I’m thinking over the assignment. Really, was it asking too much? Learners were to read an article on Chris Spence, answer some questions about the article, then comment on it.

Even if the Toronto Star article was too long and complicated for the learners, they still could have reacted to: “Plagiarism is a kind of intellectual theft. Agree or disagree.”

Learners also were required to answer an initial survey about their needs and submit it to me via email. Got about a 50% response on this. Gave a deadline of Friday afternoon.

Time Management

Classroom time is Tuesdays and Thursdays – totaling 5 hours a week. Learners have committed to taking on the responsibility for the remaining 20 hours at home, on their own. Blended learning has worked in other places, in ESL, so I’m stumped.

Not all is a loss, however. One of the learners, who struggles with basic computer skills, was one of the two who figured out how to comment in the message board AND when she had difficulties answering the survey, she came in to the classroom to consult with my colleague and I, and then worked quietly on one of our computers until it was complete. I’ll take that as a win…