The “flip” is a flop?

Wondering what MOOC stood for, I did a quick Google search about an hour ago and came across this article by Steve Blank.  (MOOC, by the way, stands for Massive Open Online Course.)

Blank, who apparently teaches to scientists at Stanford, tried to flip his classroom, and noted that there were a number of benefits, but ultimately, he needed to modify the flip and make it a sort of a hybrid.  The true flipped classroom offers the lectures via video and then the in-class component is to be more of a hands-on, demonstrate learning type of thing.

Blank likes the technology, and since he’s teaching a group of scientists, wanted to find a way to make this style work.  He is still using an online component, but has chosen to continue to present and lecture in person.  Doing so by video or webinar seemed to distance him from the learners.  His hybrid model looks like this:


I think this is where online learning is going – the true “flip” won’t work for every group of learners.  The online learning component works best when it is used as one tool, used in the CALL lab, and not as a substitute for lectures and teacher presentations.

Anyhow, that’s my thought for this morning.


Resisting the Urge to Hurl Virtual Sheep


Having spent a great deal of time in the computer lab between September and November of this past term, I was hoping that I would have been able to hammer out the basic functions of the LMS with the learners.  We spent hours going over quizzes, polls, uploading assignments, responding to discussions, responding in blogs, etc.

The learners went on to their employment counselling downtown.  I no longer had them in my classroom, but they were instructed to continue to log on  and complete weekly assignments.  I was able to get the learners back for two days last week, and again, no apparent issues.  I even had two learners from the Spring session return to complete the co-op part of the program.  They were both impressed with the LMS, and took some time in the computer lab reviewing WHMIS in preparation for the WHMIS test at the co-op partner (Home Depot).

Time Off – Use it Or Lose it

It seems that the amount of time off  they’ve had has been detrimental to their LMS retention rates.  The two snow days didn’t help.  Week 1 assignments were, for the most part, incomplete.  Only one learner completed both parts (read an article in Workopolis and respond, and the go to the discussion group and discuss the training they had at the co-op).

It can’t be a time issue.  They are only in the co-op between 10am and 2pm.  There is even a computer lab at the co-op that they can use to access the site and to do the work if they are there before or after their assigned hours.

Unrealistic Expectations?

It got me thinking.  Am I expecting too much?  Then I think about high-school credit co-op programs, and no, I’m not asking too much.  If they were taking this course in high-school, they would have major assignments on top of weekly assignments that would receive late penalties if not in by the due date.

If they were taking courses at a community college, they would be required to log in and complete assignments weekly as well.

So, Solve the Problem…

Problem = Learners don’t have the time or inclination to do the online tasks.

  • Possible Solution = Potentially offer one “make up lab day” every two weeks in the lab.  I would need to arrange this with the employment agency
  • Possible Solution = Make up screen shots of each task that definitively outlines how to do a particular task
  • Possible Solution = Visit the learners and solicit their feedback.

The problem is that I don’t know for sure what the problem is.  Are learners completely unable to shut out family life and complete a task at home?  Do learners not have access to internet/computers at home? (No one has before mentioned this as an issue).  Are the tasks too difficult?  Have the learners consulted past classes, who might have told them they had no further ESL assignments once on co-op, so they may feel this is unfair?

Maybe they think that they still have plenty of time to complete the assignments and aren’t worried about it.  At this point, I think that I will send out reminder emails to each of them, with their Week 1 grades attached.    If this doesn’t prompt some action, not sure what else I can do. 

I would toss the virtual sheep at them, but I threw my shoulder out in a virtual squash game.

Hide (‘n’ seek??) or I Spy with my little Widgit

Round Two:  Hiding Content

Now, why would I want to do that?  Well, say you’ve got your course loaded up for the term, all topics or weeks laid out, ready to go.  Yes, it’s awesome to have learners so eager they dash ahead and complete readings and tasks, etc.  However, sometimes, you want to control what goes out to the group and when this info is released.

First, I have to say I like the “time release” function in D2L for news items.  V. useful.  Moodle may have this as an administrative function, but I haven’t seen it yet, as a non administrator.

(Time release lets you set up a series of instructions, or news items, that will only appear on a date you select.)

Hide It – D2L

Now, having done a search for how to do this on D2L, I thought that the solution was fairly straightforward.

Click on the little yellow pen that appears beside the content that you would like to hide, select “hide”.  So, the first problem was that I do not have a little yellow editing pen tool. Okay, there has to be a way, really…  There is.  You need to select the module you would like to hide, and then deselect “publish” and choose “draft” instead.  There is no time release feature for the modules; this exists for news items, and maybe some other features.  When an item is in “draft” mode, is is not visible to the learners.  When you want them to see it, just select “publish”. (see picture below of D2L)


Hide It – Moodle

Moodle does it like this:  make sure your editing is on.  See the content you want hidden?  See that there is a wide open eye for all currently visible content?  Click the eye.  You’ll notice that the eye closes, and the content to which it is attached is now greyed out.  Ta-dah! (Check out the Moodle pic; you can see how simple this procedure is.   Notice the greyed out topic with the closed eye… so easy, a trained chimp could do it. ) (Uh, my trained chimp is taking offense at that last remark, so disregard it.  You don’t want to get a chimp angry…).


Not to seem like I’m ragging on D2L, but why couldn’t they make these features a little more user-friendly?

Note: Yes, I see the little yellow pencils under bulk edit in the D2L pic, but these do not allow me to hide content at all; it allows you mass delete files.  Look above at the Moodle graphic; see how straightforward an action it is to hide something?  Yes, one can fairly easily select “draft” in D2L but one would have to know first that this is what one needs to do.  How would one know that a draft is not visible to all participants?

Resistance is futile… or at least, annoying.

Not All Are As Excited As I

I am, at this moment, gearing up to start an exciting new project at work:  I get to develop an LMS and train* two other instructors who are in the same SLT group as I.  I am super excited about this because I know that learners need these skills, and not only that, these are skills that effectively are transferable to the workplace.

There are some details to sort out before we dive into this project for January, but I was interested in feedback from the two other instructors with whom I’d be working.  One is similarly excited, and keen to learn about how to use an LMS with her program.  In the lunchroom, we talked briefly about how she’d use it, and how my role would be to help her develop and support her in the smooth functioning of her platform.  The other, not so much.  She believes that her course is fine the way it is, and that she can’t see how an LMS could be worked into her schedule.

That got me thinking.  Now, I know that learning a new tool can be daunting.  I also know that instructors are wary of the next best thing.  This instructor has said it would be a challenge to make the time to learn and to use this tool.  Her 5.6 hours per day are solidly booked. She asked “Are they paying me extra to learn this? Are they giving me more hours?”.  No.  They’re not.  And she’s an employee, not a volunteer.

She’s got a point. But it’s disheartening all the same.  At this point in time, I believe it would be doing our learners a disservice not to include an element of technology in a workplace SLT program.

An LMS is a  REAL WORLD Tool – Why not Introduce it?

If any of our learners are moving onward and upward in their education, there is a good chance that they will encounter a Virtual Learning Environment.  In fact, last I checked, 90% of colleges and universities in the US have some kind of LMS. (Jon Mott, 2010  I’d hazard a guess that Canada is up there too.

I’ve read before that one of the biggest obstacles facing the development of a LMS is instructor resistance.  Why?  Really, why? I’ve got some thoughts on this:

  1. An LMS makes you accountable, both to the learners and to your employer.  Your program becomes transparent to everyone enrolled. Your program, then, is much more open to feedback for development and improvement.  Transparency does not appeal to everyone; in fact, it makes some nervous.  I can understand this.
  2. Time and effort:  anything worth doing takes time to sculpt, create and maintain.  If you don’t have the time, you don’t have the time.
  3. People in general can be creatures of habits.  If you’ve been doing the same thing for many years, why change?  Opting for something new can often mean dropping something that has worked effectively for the instructor.
  4. Technology can be intimidating.

If You Force it, You Will Fail…

I’m not about to try to force anything on anybody who has already decided against using advanced technology in the classroom (by “advanced”, I mean more than just PowerPoint).  If you want to find a surefire way to fail at a project, impose it on someone.  Give them no choice.  Then watch them dig in their heals and all your efforts go up in smoke.

How to Get Instructor Buy-In

Idea: I’ve got to sell this.  I’ve got to use what I have been doing in Moodle & D2L, show examples, and sell it to my colleagues.  I can’t just stand at the front of a meeting room, blathering on about engaging learners with technology – I’ve got to take pieces of my platform, throw it up there on a screen or whiteboard, and show them how it can be used.  I need them to recognize the benefits, and want to develop this in their CALL times.  I need to show them that it’s not rocket science.  Well, maybe the grader tool is a little rockety, but most of it isn’t.

You’ve heard the expression “if you build it, they will come.”  In my case, I very well could build an LMS, and the instructor will choose not to use it.  The thing is, if you want an LMS to fail, you can find a way to do so.

On the flip side, if you want an LMS to be successful, you can make it happen.

* Note: I can’t actually “train” my colleagues.  This would be in violation of our Collective Agreement.  What I do is part of something called “PD Partner Model” which calls the action “sharing” and claims no expertise on the part of the sharer. Am I training or sharing?  That’s the rub.  Resistance comes in many forms, and a skilled Resistor employs whatever resources she can.  In this case, that’s the Union.  Big sigh.


One of the benefits of using a LMS is having all of the learner tasks, grades, posts etc. in one place.  I love the idea of being able to look in on their activity to see what they’ve been up to.  I know that MOODLE is going to update shortly and work on a way to enable feedback in the blogs  – because right now, I assign a reflective writing topic in the blog, learners write, then I have to print them off, make comments on the hardcopy, and hand it back.  I have tried copying and pasting comments from their blog into a message, but that was too messy.

One of the challenges for me, both in MOODLE and in D2L, was the gradebook.  Before I gripe about it, I know that I need to go back, find the help document and re-read it.  It could be easier for instructors to use.  Right now, if I select a participant, all gradable activities show up in the order that they were created.  Because I created my own tasks after the LINC tasks, all of my assignments show up waaaaaay at the bottom.  I end up deselecting all, and then just checking the bottom portion to produce the midterm summative assessments.  There must be a better way to organize this – I just haven’t stumbled on it yet.

D2L was more complicated – there was a selectable field when you created the assignment.  You had to choose to automatically import to gradebook, or the task would show up with no grade (instructor would then manually enter everything).  One you wised up to this, you made sure to check that box.

I will eventually figure out a way to do this that works for me.

Like Lego (TM)

Blended Learning – Learning Management Systems & Virtual Learning Environments

A virtual learning environment is like Lego ™ .  Bear with me – I just woke up and this was the first thing floating around between my conscious and semi-conscious state.

A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) can be as simple or as complicated as you choose.  Lego ™ systems can also be fancy, with a plethora of bells and whistles.  Depending on your collection of pieces, you can have any of the following:

  • Standard, three blocks
  • Single piece blocks
  • Arches
  • Long flat pieces on which to use as a base
  • Corner pieces
  • Drawbridges
  • Ramps
  • Parts for vehicles
  • Little miniature people
  • Etc.

As you can see, it starts relatively easy and gradually gets more intricate.  My kid can put together a Star Wars Millennium Falcon practically with his eyes shut.  Without a map, even.  I still need the map.

At the TESL Ontario conference, I attended a lot of tech workshops and presentations.  I saw some great ideas.  I also noticed a trend.  An intake of breath, a shaking of the head, and a confession that the instructor or teacher would not be able to use that particular program, LMS/VLE, whatever, in her classroom because it was too difficult. This is a valid concern.

Manageable Chunks

The advice offered was always the same: start small!  Don’t try to design the Millennium Falcon on your first go.  Start with something manageable; like an Inukshuk. Start with making something in all the same colours and sizes.  I’m serious.  When you first jump into using online resources, start small.  If you have decided to introduce a Learning Management System like MOODLE ™ (which is NOT entirely FREE[i], by the way, unless you are LINC).  Keep your interface simple.  I’d suggest using only news, and group forums to begin.   This will get learners used to this format and a bit more comfortable sharing their thoughts online.

Gradually build up your platform.  Add a few bells and whistles.  Throw in the WIKI glossary.  Start using the BLOG tool.  Give learners enough time to get used to these tasks and to feel comfortable with them before asking them to go elsewhere on the net to a different site, create an Avatar, and then import the html code of that avatar to the home platform.  This is what some instructors asked their learners to do (I don’t know the abilities of their particular class, so this may have been a reasonable request).  I couldn’t resist asking if they ran into problems with this task.  Yes, they had.  But this team had great technical support and they were able to handle the crisis.

Avoid the Urge to Use EVERYTHING

For instructors and teachers looking into using a Learning Management System, or a Virtual Learning Environment, I suggest taking it a step at a time.  I may have misunderstood the LearnIT2Teach instructions that said you needed to use at least 10 different functions and report back on them, because that is what I did.  I have used the following: news, groups, wikis, blogs, questionnaires (choices), quizzes, SCORMS, nanogongs, calendars, and something else.

Since my class is only 12 weeks, I have jumped right into these tasks, asking learners to do all of the above.  I knew it would be too much too soon, and my main page is overly crowded.  Thus, as is the complaint with other instructors who have started using LMS’s, too much time is spent on the technical part of the platform than actually using the platform as it was intended.

Virtual Dream…

I have a Virtual Learning Environment dream: creating interactive second-life scenarios, connected to the LMS.  Learners could create and use their own avatars in simulated environments to do any number of tasks.  I saw this at the TESL O conference, and my mind was buzzing with the possibilities.  I teach an SLT program in Retail – can you imagine what you could do with Second-Life?  Create a retail space, teach customer service then have learners apply what they’ve been learning.

I’m not there yet.  I’m still learning how to put the windows on my Lego ™ house.  Still it’s the same concept.  One brick at a time.

[i] Citizenship and Immigration Canada has picked up the MOODLE project, and therefore funds LearnIT2Teach who are administering the MOODLE platform.  If you are not LINC-funded, (and it seems that there was an annoying assumption that everyone was), and you would like to use MOODLE, then you have to go a different route.  You have to purchase and maintain a domain (not expensive, like less than $20 a year), then install MOODLE yourself.  This part is free.  But there is a great deal of computer-programming tasks that you need to do in order to get this up and running.  If you are not LINC, this would be like building the Death Star as a first year engineering project – a little too much to handle except  for the exceptionally gifted.