“Exploring the Feasibility of E-Learning…”

eLearningpic

Contact magazine just released its spring edition, and one article caught my attention right away: Exploring the Feasibility of E-Learning in Ontario ESL Programs by Geoff Lawrence et al.

Because I have been doing my own feasibility exploration, Lawrence’s report resonated with me.  One thing that I did notice, that I now seem to notice whenever I do any research on e-learning and LMS’s – is the use of the term “robust”.  It appears to be the adjective of the day to describe how engaging and attractive a computer program is.  The term always reminds me of coffee.

Robosity

Yes.  I can see the red squiggly line under the above title.  The word, however, has been adapted into the Urban Dictionary to mean “the power to perform with great vigor, if not overkill.”

Why the anthropomorphism of a Learning Management System?  Well, it makes perfect sense to inject some element of life into it.  Computers and programs often do take on their own personalities.  An LMS that inspires conversation and engages the participants is considered robust and lively.  One that lacks this je ne sais quois eventually dies out due to disinterest.

computer is alive

So, how about the FEASIBILITY?

Incorporating e-learning into mainstream adult ESL programs is going to take some time.  Also, stop signs are red.

Unsurprisingly, there is sometimes a disconnect between what administrators want and what instructors envision.  As I have noted here, there is not going to be widespread buy-in of e-learning from the teachers, especially if e-learning initiatives are dumped on them en masse, with little training and outdated computer labs.

Admin has got to put their money where their collective mouths are.  Do you really want to make your site e-learning friendly?  Then you have got to invest in the infrastructure firstly.  Next, you have to hunt down a dedicated posse of instructors who have the requisite KSA*s  to use e-learning.  Then you have to ensure that this group can develop these skills (read: paid and continuous professional development).    This tech-savvy group needs to:

  1. develop their own skills – get caught up on what is available
  2. explore different e-learning opportunities and decide which one would best suit both the learners at that particular site and the instructors who would be using
  3. present findings to colleagues in a PD-sharing moment
  4. address concerns by colleagues in said moment
  5. begin to roll out the e-learning themselves
  6. continue to develop and learn about e-learning by attending conferences and reading stuff
  7. have dedicated time (outside of teaching time) to the maintenance and honing of their e-learning skills (use it or lose it applies here big time – I have not logged onto my teacher website in two months and have now forgotten how to get onto the site…I need to dig out my notes because I  have not kept this skill active)
  8. act as peer support for colleagues who will be expected to develop some e-learning platforms

Once all of these factors are nailed down, then you start rolling out your e-learning initiatives.

One thing that needs to be figured out fairly early on is how the e-learning platform is going to work?  Is it:

  • a tool that is to be used in a CALL environment with no at-home expectations?
  • part of a blended learning curriculum that has a significant amount of face-to-face (say 80% f2f and 20% at home)?
  • part of a flipped classroom with the significant e-learning to be done independently with some dedicated check-in with an instructor (20% F2F and 80% at home)?
  • completely done online, with maybe only the final outcomes done in the presence of an instructor?
  • both a CALL tool and a homework tool?

Lawrence et al encourage the e-learning to have a significant amount of face-to-face time to assuage the isolation that learners can feel when they are not a part of a classroom.  Also, from the “Flipping the MOOC” article I referred to in an earlier blog, the instructor noted that flipping the classroom resulted in far more learner alienation, and a loss of some of the joys of teaching that instructors often feel when delivering a well prepared and engaging lecture.  As a learner in Lawrence’s report said:

“We need to keep the human feel in the class… the teacher is very important in motivating me and helping me to learn.”  (Lawrence, 2014)

E-learning is coming… no doubt about that.    Now, excuse me.  I’ve got to get back to my LMS – she’s been very fussy lately…

*Knowledge, Skills, Abilities

Podcasting

Last week, I asked two of my Retail students who are presently on a co-op placement, to come back the classroom to make a Podcast about their experience with using the Learning Management System.  Both immediately agreed to come in, and were excited to do so.  That was a relief; I was a little worried that this would be like pulling teeth.skills-podcasting

I arranged this myself.  I called their HR managers to let them know what was going on.  I think I made the mistake of explaining the project in too much detail to her.  She appeared to have been multitasking at the same time, but pleasantly agreed to let the two learners off for the day.  When I contacted them, I asked if the manager had told them what we were going to do.

Claudia said yes.  And that she was excited to do a radio interview for the CBC.

I knew I should have comprehension-checked the HR manager!  Regardless, I cleared it up with Claudia and Diego (who seemed more relaxed to know that it was not a live radio interview with CBC).

The Podcast Procedure

When I fired off an email to the media centre explaining my project, I was actually just wanting a microphone.  Our lab has headsets with a mic attached, but only one person can record at a time.

So, I ended up with a monstrous mixer board which came with an encyclopedia of instructions, over 75 feet of cable, two standup microphones, and two other microphones whose purpose I could never entirely figure out.  I used the program “Audacity” to do the recordings. The recordings could easily be converted into an MP3 file.

What Claudia & Diego Had To Say

I chose one learner who I knew already had some technological competence, and one who didn’t.  Diego, the one who didn’t, was an interior designer and I was interested in his opinion on the layout of the program.

They both talked about the program’s user friendliness.  Doing a task was fairly straight-forward.  Diego wished he had known about all the units we never had time to do.  He always did the front matter and didn’t know to scroll down to see what else was there.  Looking through the LMS prior to the interview, Diego was surprised to encounter the other LINC tasks on the site – that was my fault.  I should have made sure the class knew that there were many other activities on the site that they had access to that would help with their LINC 5-7 Reading/Writing/Listening skills.

Both are currently using technology in the workplace.  Claudia is using several different computer programs; one is very cool.  It’s the retailer’s colour-match program that involves taking a colour sample, scanning it, then working through the system to create the exact colour that the customer wants.  I actually got to see her do this at the co-op a few days after the Podcast.  She was beaming as she took me through the stages.

Diego took me through a product-search program on his workspace computer. He showed me how to enter the product code, and how to maneuver through the system to find out if the product is in the store.  He did this with ease.  This is the guy who sat at the computer on the first day of class with a deer-caught-in-headlights look in his face.

Lessons Learned

Diego and Claudia  were under no obligation to approve or disapprove of the LMS.  I had to press them to get them to talk about anything that they thought could be improved.  Their overall impressions were that gaining confidence using technology was very important.  Technology is used in the workplace, and the employer expects some understanding of basic computer functions.  Using the LMS helped in this regard.

Also, making podcasts is relatively simple.  I may be doing more of them in the future – sans 75 feet of cable and the 40 pound mixer.

E-Learning Workshop

Workshop

In a workshop at the central library last week, a speaker gave a short presentation on e-learning.  I was able to go, but I have to admit, it was fairly basic.  I was hoping to learn more about LMS’s, and what others are doing with them.  It seems that LMS’s are too new for there to be a large group of people using them together in the same room.

The speaker has a guest account with a D2L platform for a credit high school English course.  She introduced the group to it briefly, but didn’t seem to know very much about the platform.  She indicated to the group that discussions were not used here, but could be in college or university courses.

Bells and Whistles

Discussions can be used in D2L; in fact, that is one of the main reasons why we are exploiting D2L and Moodle right now in SLT.  Discuss and share.  What is your experience like?  What are your thoughts on this particular reading or concept?  A teacher can choose not to include discussions in their platform, (which for me would be nonsensical, but to each her own), but discussions, and groups are a huge part of many LMS’s.

The speaker had responded to a question about student interactivity.  I did stick my hand up and share that yes, if the instructor chose, this option could be added.  As could blogs, groups, glossaries, and any number of other functions.

Choose what works for you

I know that for me, and for my learners, there are some functions that are more useful that others.  Having clear content, weblinks, discussions, handouts, and quizzes are part of the learning experience that makes sense to them.  Or so I think.

Podcast

What my learners prefer, and what they find challenging, I will find out on Friday.    I will create a poll in the LMS to ask the whole group, but for now, I will have two of my learners come to school to be interviewed about the LMS.  I chose two; one of whom always did everything I asked in the LMS, and the other who tried but struggled.  I think we need to hear both perspectives.

My Predictions

I think that both learners will talk about how difficult it can be to access the platform at home; that they both got so much more out of it when we had access to the lab at school.  The more technie of the two will likely be able to appreciate the practice and recognize an LMS’s applicability to the workplace.  I think that they will prefer the free-writing aspect of the system, but that they both will also comment on being able to access videos, links, SCORMs etc. outside of the classroom on their own time.  Yes, it can be hard to find the time, but when you do find it, you can enhance your learning significantly by using an LMS.

The Future of Learning

I hear, regularly and often, that learning is changing, that education is changing, and that instructors need to be ready to embrace this change.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here – there is no one stop shopping for learning.  There is no one model or method or pedagogy that works in all situations in all times. We don’t work that way.

As Jim Edgar told me once (he was quoting someone but can’t remember who), technology is not going to replace teachers.  But teachers who use technology are going to replace those that don’t.

Why not surf this wave and see where it takes us?  If there are authentic learning opportunities available for our students, lead on, MacDuff.  If these authentic learning opportunities will open up doors for our learners in the workplace, then we have a duty to support them.

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:

lean-launchpad-class-organization

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.

 

What? A Speaking Task on an LMS?

Speaking on an LMS

An LMS opens itself up more easily to Reading/Writing activities.  An instructor can direct learners to a website, or upload a reading onto the LMS, and then link the task with a writing assignment.  Listening activities are also quite simple to do…  But a speaking activity?

MOODLE uses the “nanogong” tool – which I have used, with some degree of success in the classroom.  Nanogong is a voice recording tool, similar to Vocaroo or other such devices.  I like that it connects with the LMS, for tracking and whatnot.

How Learners Use it:

The Instructor needs to create a nanogong activity first, which the learners can then access simply by clicking on the activity.

Nanogong in Action

The learners in my SLT class (Retail) were researching interview techniques, specifically the STAR interview process.  Learners had ample time in the classroom with this procedure, and had written STAR answers in their journal prior to this activity.

Learners were then posed a common behavioural job interview question, such as:

  • Tell me about  a time when you had to work with a difficult person.  How did you resolve your differences?
  • Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty at work.

I encouraged the learners to think about their answers, and to maybe jot notes, but not to write out their entire responses.  To illustrate this, I had a teacher demonstrate by reading some text, and then by naturally answering it.  Learners discussed the differences in the two responses.

When they were ready, the learner would access the program and record his or her answer.  They could stop, rewind, delete, and try as many times as they wanted until they were satisfied.  Then they could listen to their responses.

The instructor can give feedback right in the activity, and provide links to help with fluency, or provide feedback face to face.

Challenges

The learners were all together, in one CALL Lab, working on the LMS.  They were also working on other assignments, and would not all necessarily be on the speaking assignment at the same time.  Students would feel self-conscious in an otherwise quiet lab, suddenly giving an answer to the interview question.  Or, if a few were on the same topic at the same time, the recording would pick up the background noise.

Solution:  The lab was big enough that we could dedicate a recording corner, which might afford some privacy and keep the background noise to a minimum.

TECHNOLOGY

The Nanogong tool works best in the Firefox browser, but it still comes up with a security alert message.  Learners have to be directed to select the right response, or the application will not work.

Other Speaking Tasks:

  1. Leaving voicemail messages:  Students are given a scenario where they have to return the phone call of a job interviewer, and give details regarding availability, etc.
  2. Customer Service Scenarios:  Return phone calls –voice mail message; students role play customer service associates returning a customer call with specific information
  3. Customer Service – Inquiries: Role play learners as customers asking about a specific service or product
  4. Work Role Play – Calling in Sick – students are given information or told to make up their own and role play a phone call voicemail message to their supervisors
  5. Customer Service – Product Knowledge – students use the nanogong to record their response to a customer’s question about a specific product (warrantee, features, benefits, etc)

LIMITATIONS:  The nanogong is hard to do interactively, but it can be done if you have the right equipment in the lab.  Our lab is currently set up with a headset/microphone, so only one person can record at a time.  With a hand-held microphone, however, you can do more interactive role-plays and other scenarios that would be useful training tools.

All Things Tech

technical-difficulties

I am currently in an online conference with Myenglishonline.  It’s a national online conference for EAL/ESL professionals.  I’ve been looking forward to it for months, now.  Logged on this morning to the welcome session with no problem.

Now, the site is overloaded.  Nothing opens.  Can’t log on to anything.  The page timer icon spins and spins, and nothing happens. Into the void…

When I was doing some research into the pros and cons of various LMS’s, one thing that came up was something about balancers, or a gateway.  If there is only one door, then it can get bottlenecked when you’ve got a load of participants trying to get through at the same time.  To solve this issue, you need multiple entry points.  And an idea of what your numbers are.

I know that planning any kind of webinar or online conference, there can be multiple issues that come up.  In the welcome session, the host started off with a contingency plan in case of difficulties such as this.

Glad I thought to log on to Twitter.  I don’t normally use Twitter, as I don’t have a cell phone.  The host, Briar, just tweeted about going to a test server site and said to check emails.  For some reason, I don’t get emails from these guys.

The point of writing this was that I was considering applying to TESL O for their volunteer webinar admin position.  Am still thinking about it.  I think I’ll be checking with the myenglishonline folks after this conference to learn a little about their experience with this medium.

Got a nod from LearnIT2Teach

In case you’ve arrived here fresh from the LearnIT2Teach December newsletter, just thought I’d fill you in a little on what I’m doing here.

I’m lucky.  I’m fortunate to be able to get to experiment with not one but two Learning Management Systems at my workplace.  I use my LearnIT2Teach Stage 3 platform for my ESL Retail course, and have had some great success with it.  Moodle has a lot of advantages; Moodle + LearnIT2Teach is even better.

Because I work for a school board, I have been granted access to Desire2Learn, another kind of a LMS.  I was able to use it last summer, and I was just now (as in last week) given the green light to use it for the SLT program out of my school.

I’m in the unusual position of being able to use and comment on two different LMS’s.  So while I initially set up this blog to record my foray into the virtual learning environment, I had NOT  planned to keep it going after the end of my summer blended learning course.  However, one thing led to another, and I decided to keep on blogging, if only to keep things straight for myself.  How did I resolve the SCORM issue in D2L?  Where is the blog tool again?

I have also been searching for others, like me, using LMS’s, to learn from them.  You all seem to be few and far between.  Or at least disinclined to posting your rants on a public forum.

So, in this blog, I write about the different features or functions of an LMS, and when I can, I compare the two systems with which I am becoming familiar.  I don’t have a tech background.  I’ve had to learn all of this stuff by doing it (ye olde experimental method) and through LearnIT2Teach.  They’ve been invaluable.  Much of the information that you can learn from them using the open source LMS can be transferred to a proprietary LMS,  many of the same bells and whistles.

Anyhow, I’m Jennifer.  Nice to meet you. Comment if you wish.