Wednesday, August 5, 2015

10 11 Ways Moodle Supports Teaching and Learning

   The tremendous, unparalleled access to information and digital technologies makes it imperative that today's educators understand how this access has reshaped the way both teachers and students learn as well as the way we all access and process information. Additionally, an abundance of research demonstrates how students learn best and how digital technologies can be used to access information to promote both rich, dynamic, interactive learning environments as well as deeper levels of understanding and student engagement. Effective integration takes place when the use of digital resources and tools is guided by sound pedagogical decisions made by the teacher, resulting in gains in student engagement and achievement. 
   So what does this mean to the classroom teacher? How does a learning management system like Moodle fit into classroom instruction, especially if it seems an imposition on traditional methods that "have worked" in the past? While not all inclusive, the following is a list offering the advantages of an LMS like Moodle:

1. Organization of Digital Resources: The tremendous abundance of world class online resources requires a means for teachers to organize and align those resources to the curriculum. Moodle enables teachers to organize resources to meet the needs of students as they progress along the learning continuum. Furthermore, its flexibility and adaptability ensures the teacher can make adjustments on the fly. Furthermore, Moodle gives teachers greater control over a wider variety of instructional presentations and activities without having to rely on a single resource or textbook. 

2. Scalability: Moodle provides teachers with opportunities to scale learning paths specific to the needs of individual students. From activities constructed to remediate to those designed to accelerate, Moodle can used to provide learning opportunities ranging from supplementary materials for an entire class to deeply immersive, targeted activities designed for specific groups or individuals in mind. 

3.  Pacing and Choice: Moodle allows teachers to create options for students, engaging them through self-selected activities that give students a sense of control and investment in the content. Furthermore, students can pursue activities at their own pace, reviewing or revisiting assignments and activities they have yet to master or accelerating through concepts or skills they already know.

4. Collaboration: There is ample research demonstrating that students learn best when provided with opportunities to work together, give and receive immediate feedback, serve as both teachers and learners at the same time, contribute to the classroom, interact with the teacher, exercise his or her voice, and participate in learning activities. Moodle creates a highly interactive environment to allow collaboration to occur both inside and outside the classroom. Furthermore, an LMS like Moodle allows for teacher collaboration, combining the best practices from more than one instructor and allowing for co-teaching and assessment as well. 

5. Ongoing Assessment: Effective learning takes place when teachers are constantly monitoring student progress by way of both formal and informal assessments. The use of ongoing progress monitoring and formative assessments assures teachers can access data to continuously inform the direction and progress of instruction. The tracking and reporting features of an LMS like Moodle provide teachers with an abundance of data to make informed decisions about the direction of student learning. 

6. Maximizing the Effective Use of Classroom Time: By using Moodle to provide learning opportunities both during and outside of classroom time, teachers can gain more time to specifically observe and work with students in small groups or individually during class time. Students can remain engaged and immersed while the teacher guides learning and thinking during the learning process instead of relying upon a summative assessment days or weeks later to determine if students have grasped the concepts or skills.

7. Flexibility: Using an LMS in the classroom can be like having a virtual teaching assistant. A teacher has options for presenting content and for measuring the transfer of knowledge in a number of different ways. While a content management system is often considered useful for learning outside of class time, it can actually offer multiple paths to learning concepts and skills in addition to direct instruction and face-to-face activities simultaneously. Extension activities, independent learning opportunities, immersive simulations and rich, multimedia experiences can all be used to present the curriculum in ways all students learn best. 

8. Constructivist Approach: Research provides evidence that far greater learning takes place when students are actively engaged in  constructing knowledge ("creating" or "doing") rather than passively listening, viewing, reading, or memorizing. Moodle provides the teacher with the ability to create immersive, interactive learning environments promoting student inquiry and engagement. 

9. An LMS is Student Centered, Not Teacher Centered:  Moodle provides opportunities for students to learn both independently and inter-dependently. In a traditional classroom, the teacher may lead the entire class via lecture or share media while students are passively engaged; in an LMS, students are actively engaged in activities created by the teacher while the teacher monitors progress, offers assistance, and makes observations of actual student thinking as they work to solve challenges or construct understanding. 

10. Framework for Digital Literacy and Citizenship: The proliferation of digital technology requires educators to model the effective use of that technology to provide access to appropriate information. The use of an LMS provides structure and guidance for examining valid and reliable sources of learning content while preparing students to appropriately use digital tools for learning beyond school.

11. Providing World Class Examples of Content and Skills: Alan November asks 6 key questions to differentiate the use of technology as truly innovative versus merely "using" devices as a substitute for what can be accomplished via traditional means. One way Moodle can support more rigorous student expectations is by serving as a collection point for world class models, demonstrations, and examples of exactly what it is we want our students to accomplish. When students are struggling to be creative, find ideas, or develop a thought, often it helps to provide models and demonstrations of exactly what we as teachers expect. With access to the global playing field, we can find and organize the very best examples of student work, problem-solving, thinking, and products for our students to consider as they tackle the challenges presented to them in the classroom. 


Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Death of 1:1 in My District

The Death of 1:1 in My District

It can be an instructional technology coordinator's worst nightmare: failing to adequately convey a vision for technology to a school board faced with difficult financial decisions. In my nightmare, the board votes to discontinue the 1:1 and I wake up in a cold sweat, fearing the worst for our students as we face losing the gains we have made over the past decade. 

But it was just a nightmare.

 The reality is actually a cause for celebration (sorry for the dramatic hook)!

Indeed, our board discussed ending the 1:1, but we were discussing a philosophical shift in how we view the initiative, not ending the resources given to our teachers and students. Instead, we will be replacing the nomenclature with the far more appropriate label: ONE TO WORLD.  Taking cues from Alan November's session at ISTE 2015, we viewed the name change as being far more accurate in conveying the purpose behind the provision of devices for every student:

1. We believe that calling our initiative a "one to one" emphasizes the device. In this instance, a 1:1 could refer to a textbook, a pencil, or a three-ring binder. Calling our initiative a "one to one" places the focus on device distribution as the ultimate end game of the initiative, and that is simply not the case.

2. Calling our initiative "One to World" emphasizes the function, purpose, and potential of our initiative. It's not the device that's important; it's about the opportunities, the audience, the resources, and the accessibility available to all. It emphasizes the scope of the initiative we are providing for our teachers and students. 

3. The change in label emphasizes what we are seeking to prepare our students for by providing technology for integration with teaching and learning. Not only are we able to access global resources, but also we are able to provide opportunities for global review, feedback, and assessment of that work. 

4. Referring to our initiative as "One to World" requires reflection by educators on how to craft instruction that takes into consideration the power of technology to transform assignments and activities. By leveraging the potential to consider how assignments look when incorporating global resources, we can have more productive discussions and training that focus on pedagogy and rigor as opposed to measuring success simply by that fact that students are "using a device or an app" during school. 

To read about the inspiration for considering this change, check out Alan November's article here!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Ending "Inservice Futility"

    I've been thinking a great deal about how to deliver the most "bang for the buck" during teacher inservice days. The purpose of an inservice is to enhance and improve the skills of our professional educators, to instruct and inform staff regarding changes or updates to curriculum, technology, protocols, and to provide pertinent information regarding local, state, and national policies. Most importantly, inservice days can be used for data analysis, instructional planning, and sharing best practices. Truly, there is no shortage of topics to be "delivered" on any given inservice day - so much, in fact, that each department, administrator, or program has to literally "carve" time to present anything on an inservice.
   Currently, a limited number of inservice days are sprinkled across the school year calendar. When they arrive, most educators are just looking to break the water's surface to gulp fresh air before diving back into the melee that comprises any given school day. And while they come up for air to take that gasp, we (administrators) often try to cram as much as possible into them. The result is they sink back into the waters with even more weight on their shoulders. What's more, there might be very little follow-through to assure topics presented have been effectively adopted or implemented. This lack of follow-through is in no way attributed to negligence or lack of effort; quite the contrary. It is a result of the innumerable tasks and responsibilities faced by both teachers and administrators upon returning to the "normal" school day. 
   As the instructional technology administrator for our district, I am faced with the challenge of providing the most effective PD possible during my "slices" of inservice day time. We have employed a coaching model in an attempt to provide "point-of'service" support for each building in our district. However, our coaches are also classroom teachers, so their time to prepare, support, and provide follow through on top of meeting "on-demand" technology needs is heavily restricted. We have worked to support the growth of PLN's by our teachers, and in some cases, our admins are using social media as a communication and PD tool for their staff. But the needs of teachers vary greatly. We're still trying to find the best possible balance in providing ongoing, on-demand professional development that has an accountability component while motivating teachers to take the time to learn, embrace new developments, and implement them in the classroom. Currently, we're planning to pilot an online PD service that will give teachers and administrators choices regarding both the kind and timing of technology training they want. We'll see if this approach proves effective, but it will still require both follow-through and accountability to work optimally. 
   I am not alone in this challenge. School leaders across the nation have been calling for an examination of professional development practices in an effort to find the most effective methods for developing and sustaining instructional improvement and student achievement. The authors of the MoreThanATech blog see the same concerns, and recently I saw a call by the Alabama ASCD to change how we deliver and evaluate professional development. I have included this link to the MoreThanATech blog; it is well worth reading to view how one district is trying to address PD and meet the diversity of needs among its staff. Hopefully, we can glean some wisdom and retool a practical, effective approach to PD that not only proves to be effective in the classroom, but also raises the level of expectation for teachers to take charge of their own professional learning outside of "inservice" days.