MOOCs – Keeping Up the Motivation (or Somebody Notice Me, Please!!)

I have to be honest; the first MOOC  I tried, I didn’t finish.  Started off well.  Read the required articles.  Watched the Rick Mercer-like instructor videos.  Eagerly participated in the online discussions.  And then tuned out.  I think I know at least 4 reasons why.

1. The material was too basic

I knew it already, for the most part, but thought I would try the MOOC regardless, figuring I could always learn something new.  The MOOC was offered thru Canvas.  The course I was in was called “Learning to Learn Online”.  My objectives were to gain some insight into how my learners feel about online learning, especially those encountering the technology for the first time.

2. Pat on the head – NOTABLY absent

I hadn’t realized prior to this MOOC that I need recognition.  I admit it, I am a bit of a Lisa Simpson in that I want to be assessed and then receive the double gold star…  With a MOOC, that’s impossible.  There are too many learners, so attracting individual attention from the instructor is rare.  The “M” does means “massive”, by the way.

So I’d put in extra time and effort, and when I thought, ha! This answer will surely get a nod!  And nothing happened.  A virtual speck in the online galaxy.  

Maybe I’m not as brilliant as I thought I was… I know about effective feedback, and I know that, as instructors,  we ought to avoid mindless “good job” responses on their own. But to get no feedback at all made me feel like I was writing in a vacuum.   You know what MOOCs are missing?  That “like” button from social media sites like Facebook.  Even getting a virtual atta girl would have kept my motivation up.  

3. iPad App malfunctioning 

I was doing the entire MOOC on my iPad.  There was an app for that.  However, the Canvas app froze out and went non responsive half the time.  I would have then had to find an alternate online resource.  It was too much effort to figure out.

4. Time

Like any adult learner, time is always going to be a factor.  I did not plan my MOOC into my weekly schedule like I should have, so I began falling behind.  Plus, the app was unreliable, and no one ever noticed my outstanding class work so, gradually, I let the course get away from me.  

I’ve since gone back and have viewed the videos, and reviewed the discussions.  I think I got out of that particular MOOC what I wanted.  I’m now in another MOOC through Coursera, Foundations of Virtual Instruction.  I have MOOC time twice a week, for 2 hours each time.  I’m already more invested in FVI than my first MOOC.  More intrinsic motivation.  I’m not behind, and I’ve aced the quizzes.  The discussion groups are a little more active.  They even offer a way to receive recognition badges…however, you need to pay for them.

MOOCs are a way to keep on top of recent innovations in your field, whatever that field may be.  It’s a way to connect with MOOC users worldwide, and start building a network.  MOOCs are self directed, and learner focused, and are really just beginning to connect users globally.  I think I will be taking advantage of MOOCs in the future, even though it’s highly unlikely the instructor will ever give me a virtual fist bump.

Man, some students are so needy, eh?

SAMR + SmartBoard: Reflections on a Webinar

Last night I presented a webinar on using Smartboard and the Smartboard software (Smart Notebook) in an adult ESL classroom, and although I received some positive feedback, I wasn’t happy with it.  I had a few tech glitches, lost my mic at one point for about 30 seconds, and then my son forgot I was in a live webinar, and proceeded to the kitchen to make a sandwhich… loudly.  I muted myself and then shouted “LIVE webinar going on!!!”  Then, for a split second, I wondered if the mute button was really working, given that the tech that night had so far been a bit wonky.

I will record it again, myself.  I’ve been collecting my webinars and uploading them to my webpage at weebly.  

I wanted to introduce SAMR to my ESL peers, because it’s a model/continuum that has resonance and reflects how I feel about using technology in the classroom.  This, I did, but not as well as I wanted to.  So I’ll outline my points here:

Smartboard is a tool that can be used in any number of ways – it all depends on the instructor.

(NOTE: the picture above isn’t me!)


A Smartboard can simply be used as a blackboard, whiteboard or screen, with no change in how the classroom material is being developed.  Instead of picking up a piece of chalk, the instructor or learner writes on the Smartboard. Instead of wheeling in a clunky media cart and reaching up into the rafters to deploy a film screen older than I am, just use the Smartboard as the projection screen for movies, or PowerPoints.


Once you start getting comfortable with SmartBoard, then you begin to realize the myriad of uses it has.  But you begin slowly, and now you learn how to upload other document types (Word, PPT, PDF) into Smart Notebook so that exercises can be annotated, or taken up.


Now you begin to realize that you don’t need to spend hours online searching through interactive online games for your learners; you can create SCORM-like materials yourself without needing to be an IT professional with a specialty in Instructional Design.  By exploring and modifying existing templates in Smart Notebook, you can now produce material that is immediately relevant to your learners.


This is the transformation end of the tech continuum.  How is the tech changing your delivery?  Is its use meaningful and mind expanding?  Can you do things with the tech that you couldn’t do without it?  With a Smartboard, I’d argue that yes, you can.  At the very least, all of your class notes can be exported as a PDF, and uploaded to a class website.  Enabling learners to access class notes and materials hands control of the learning experience over to the students.  Of course, not all have access to the internet, or a computer for that matter, but those that do have access, or that can get to a library, will now be able to collect and review classroom material on their own time.  Perhaps they were ill for a day or two; now they can catch up.

For those that do not have digital access, or lack the know-how to navigate the web to locate the teacher site and download  the files, the teacher could print off the Smart Notebook file pages, like a PPT, in slide-format to save paper.

So that’s what I wanted to convey last night, but I remember looking at my slides, realizing that I had 189 of them, and an hour to deliver it in.  I rushed through it.  So, I extend my apologies to the patient Tutela members who attended, and to the ones who will watch it later!  To really get a good grasp of this tech, ideally, I’d like to present it in a lab, with an actual Smartboard in front of me.

To be fair, using the BBB webinar platform, I’m able to interact and reach members across Canada, members who would not realistically all be able to attend a live conference.  Hmm, a piece of tech that’s changing how PD is delivered… Kind of transformative, don’t you think?

Word Up – on SAMR, that is…

Technology for Technology’s Sake

If you’ve been reading the latest e-learning articles and blogs, you’ll note that the current in vogue ideas of technology in the classroom is that the tech used needs to serve some kind of purpose.  Why is this particular tech being used?  What’s its function?  How does it play out in the overall learning objectives?  And if a simpler mode of delivery could be used, why isn’t it?

Many of the writers that I’ve been reading are cautioning the use of tech in the classroom, and argue that simply using a Word program, for example, to write up an essay, is a waste of time.  That this use of tech is merely “substitution” and does not further learning in any meaningful way.  A further argument is that the tech used, ideally, should be of the higher SAMR – the redefinition level  of tech use in the classroom.  You know, the mind expanding, we never could have done this 20 years ago, type of tech.

Who’s Your Audience?

That’s fine, for an audience of learners born and raised in the western world.  An audience of adult ESL immigrants is different.  They have different needs.  They have had a different kind of exposure to tech, if they’ve had any at all.  And before  I get back to the “Word program example”, I want to revisit the SAMR model for a moment.

I’ve looked at SAMR before.  Here’s another picture below,  just to refresh your memory.  The idea behind SAMR is that tech use is a kind of hierarchy, with the ultimate goal to reach the redefinition stage.

Redefinition means being able to guide your leaners in a way that expands their mind, that takes advantage of multi user collaboration, critical thinking,  creativity and problem solving in a way that standard classroom procedures and a textbook can’t.

Using a WORD document, then,  would not be considered a mind expanding activity.  Its use is old school, CALL-style tech that we need to step up from.  It most certainly isn’t redefining.  Or is it?

Think about what functions are available in a typical Word program.  You know what happens when you make a spelling or grammar error; the red or green squiggly lines appear.  This makes the self-editing process decidedly easier, and quicker.  Clicking under a red-squiggly line opens up a drop down menu of suggested corrections, allowing the writer access to more options when correcting her or his writing.

Once satisfied with the document, students can peer correct by sharing their documents in an active directory, via email, or in an LMS.  An editing peer can then select “track changes”, and “add comment”, then forward the peer edit back to the original author.

The question is, is this essentially different than a handwritten piece that goes through the same process?

Substitution:  “Tech acts  as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change”.

Certainly, a Word doc could be used as a simple substitution, but there are functional changes that the learners take advantage of (spell check, grammar check, track changes, using pre-loaded templates, thesaurus, word count, formatting options, including headers and footers)

Augmentation:  “Tech acts as a direct tool  substitute, with functional improvement”.  At the very least, Word is augmentation for the reasons listed in substitution.

Modification: “Tech allows  for significant task redesign”.  Learners can insert tables, create charts and graphs, save the Word document as a pdf, or use a “book creator” app to add images, and professional formatting.

Redefinition:  “Tech allows for the creation of new tasks previously inconceivable”.  Connecting to the internet allows access to search engines.  I’d argue that teachers are now able to use search engines to do a quotation enclosed search of a paragraph submitted by a learner to check for suspected plagiarism.  Programs such as “turnitin” are based on this same technology, allowing teachers to determine whether the work submitted is an original piece, or something pulled off of the thousands of free essay sites available on the internet.

Alternatively, learners can further use internet research on their Word documents to find similar points of view, or contrasting points of view.  Final drafts can be posted on a class blog, and thus opened up for comments and suggestions from a much larger audience.  This can also be done in the LearnIT2Teach blog, which opens up blog writing to the ESL community (students can use just first names to ensure confidentiality.)

Depending on how its used, Word can be on any level of the SAMR model, from straight substitution through redefinition.  I am not, by the way, proposing that the use of Word is the only piece of technology that can be used in a writing class. The tech writers who claim that using Word isn’t advancing learning in any meaningful way are not thinking of the bigger picture, nor are they considering how Word can be used in an Adult ESL class to expand learning, to develop critical thinking skills, and to develop multi user collaboration creatively.

Book Report Example: