End of Semester Reflections

clerk-18915_1280The spring semester of 2016, my second semester in the Ph.D. Learning Technologies program at University of North Texas, is just about over! It was a fascinating past few months. I took two classes: CECS 6100 Theory and Practice of Distributed Learning and CECS 6320 Creating Technology-Based Learning Environments. Both of these classes greatly expanded my knowledge of working with technology for learning and online education.

In 6100, I was asked to explore my personal theory of online learning throughout the semester. In general, my theory of online learning does not differ from my theory of face-to-face learning. I feel every unique instructional situation needs to be assessed and evaluated to create the most effective learning environment to help the students reach the intended learning objectives. My theory had not changed over the semester, but my beliefs about online education overall were challenged and explored.

student-849828_1280Online learning is not going anywhere. One of my primary goals for completing this degree (and was when I completed my MS Learning Technologies) is to help change the face of online learning. I want to create effective online learning. Through my research this semester and last, I am excited to see how much research there is on what makes online learning effective. But, through my own coursework and my experiences facilitating and grading for online learning, it is disheartening to see that the practice of creating and delivering online learning in an efficient manner is still not taking place. My hope is to see the area active online learning progress and to be a part of that progression.

business-19156_1920As always, my lessons learned for the semester revolve around better time management and less procrastination. My procrastination is more flip-flopping of priorities because I put too many things on my plate. It is certainly not procrastinating because I am sitting around being lazy or doing fun things. However, I may need to give up some of my volunteer work and/or businesses if I am going to be able to continue to be successful in this degree program. I am only taking one class over the summer so that should give me a little break to get things in order before fall.

World of Warcraft for Learning

World of Warcraft (WoW) is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) with 5.5 million users in 2015 (“World of Warcraft”, 2016, “WoW subscription numbers 2015”, 2016). WOW is an action fantasy video game that allows people around the world to play together to complete quests gaining experience level to reach different milestones in the game. It has incredible graphics, a very intricate storyline, and a cult-like following. It only makes sense to try to capture the engagement people of all ages feel for this game for an educational purpose.

Educators are working to incorporate WOW into their learning curriculums. WOW in School is a Wiki that serves as a collaborative space for integrating WOW and other MMORGs into classroom settings. Schwartz (2013) discusses how Peggy Sheehy (one of the designers of WoW in School) uses WOW in her English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum.

Sheehy designs “quests” with particular learning objectives in mind that the students or — “heroes” as they’re called in class — must complete. Quests might include components of comparative writing or characterization exercises (para. 4).

The Wow in School Wiki lists lesson ideas in many subjects, including math and digital citizenship and online safety lessons. Rama, Black, van Es, & Warschauer (2012) conducted a qualitative study on the affordances WoW offers for second language learning and socialization. They found “the affordances of the game space were beneficial for participants’ language development and socialization. However, findings also suggest that these affordances might be enhanced by a more structured approach to introducing MMOGs into formal language learning environments like classrooms” (p. 337). Zheng, Newgarden, & Young (2012) explored using WoW for English Language Learners. They found the participants collaborating on quests provided a unique opportunity for using language skills in an engaging manner. It seems WoW for learning had its advantages.

In one of my recent Ph.D. classes, we conducted one of our class meetings in WoW. It was interesting to be able to play a video game with my classmates and instructor while we were all in our homes. We were given different tasks to complete and guided instructions of what we were looking for in the game. Specifically, we were exploring the learning affordances in WoW used to help users understand how to use the game and analyzing how educators could use the environment for learning. WoW’s use of interactive characters, menus, maps, and visual cues makes it easy for most players to quickly understand what they need to do next. For example, the characters a player needs to interact with will have an exclamation point over their head. I found the WoW class meeting to be engaging and entertaining, but I may be biased because I love WoW. It certainly made me think more creatively about how this type of learning environment could be beneficial for different instructional designs.

minecraft-529462_1280Overall, games for learning are the wave of the future. Beyond WoW, the video game Minecraft has a cult-like following for children of all ages. Despite somewhat poor graphics and a seemingly non-existent plot line, children (mine included) cannot get enough of it. Educators are trying to harness this interest for learning. There is a Minecraft Education Edition for just this purpose, with different world teachers can download for various learning purposes. I am excited to see if the use of Minecraft in classrooms will become more widely used.

References

Rama, P. S., Black, R. W., van Es, E., & Warschauer, M. (2012). Affordances for second language learning in world of warcraft. ReCALL : The Journal of EUROCALL, 24(3), 322-338. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0958344012000171

Schwartz, K. (2013, March 5). World of Warcraft Finds Its Way Into Class. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/03/05/world-of-warcraft-finds-its-way-into-class/

World of Warcraft. (2016, May 3). Retrieved May 10, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_of_Warcraft

WoW subscription numbers 2015. (2016). Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://www.statista.com/statistics/276601/number-of-world-of-warcraft-subscribers-by-quarter/

Zheng, D., Newgarden, K., & Young, M. F. (2012). Multimodal analysis of language learning in world of warcraft play: Languaging as values-realizing. ReCALL : The Journal of EUROCALL, 24(3), 339-360. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0958344012000183

Twitter & Facebook Application in a Higher Ed Course

twitter-848528_1920In a recent Ph.D. course, I participated in a learning activity using social media. The two social media applications we used were Twitter and Facebook. The learning activity consisted of creating a Facebook and Twitter account if we did not already have one, and we had to follow our professor and other professionals in the field on Twitter. Additionally, we had to subscribe to our professor’s course Facebook page. We were to post on both Facebook and Twitter for two weeks with a summary of a research article and interaction with other course participants.

facebook-box-1334045_1920I was excited about the activity since it combines my loves of education with my obsession with social media (mainly just Facebook to stay in touch with everyone). However, it was a little disappointing. While I have had a Twitter account for some time, I never use it and am not Twitter-literate. I have yet to make a real effort in understanding how Twitter works. Although I think I know the main premises of it, I was confused as to why I was missing posts my instructor and peers put up even if I used searched using the hash tag or went to their main pages. As far as Facebook, I was paranoid about ‘friending’ people and it being an issue later. So, I just subscribed to the course Facebook page. It may have just been my own personal things going on, but I did not get engaged in the activity as I thought I would. However, I am still a believer that social media has value as an engaging and effective learning activity.

cloud-709089_1920 (1)Another social media we used during this same course was creating weekly blogs (as I am doing right now). This is a learning activity I have participated in many times throughout my MS and Ph.D. courses. I had a hard time engaging and completing the blogs throughout the course, which I am now trying to get them all done as the course comes to an end. Reflecting on what my issue was, besides the usual putting too many things on my plate, poor time management, and procrastination; I feel there were two things that may have helped with my success in that area. One was, the blogs links were not made available to the whole class to read and comment on. The additional pressure of knowing not only the professor knows you did not submit but also your peers is sometimes motivating to make an assignment a priority. Also, many of the blog topics felt repetitive where I did not know how to say what I had already stated in a different way. Overall, I still feel the blogs were a valuable addition to the course content in forcing me to reflect on my learning experience even if I ended up doing most of it at the end. I am pretty sure I am the only one in the class who stressed out about the blog posts.

Social Media for Learning

social-media-1177293_1280Social media can be defined as “the collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration” (Rouse, 2015, para. 1). The most popular social media site today is Facebook with 1,100,000,000 users, followed closely by YouTube with 1,000,000,000 users and Twitter with 310,000,000 users (“Top 15 Most Popular Social Networking Sites”, 2016). Since so many people are connected to social media constantly, it only makes sense to try to harness this engagement for learning purposes. Thus, a new trend in education is utilizing social media for learning.

facebook-1183710_1280I am on Facebook constantly. My experience with using Facebook for formal learning is fairly limited. Mainly, Facebook has allowed me to get to know my classmates better and afforded another way to communicate with them. It has certainly allowed me to keep in touch with former classmates and provided networking opportunities. Through University Facebook pages and groups, I am able to access information about events and other pertinent things I need to know. However, I have yet to experience it being used as a formal learning activity for any university classes I have taken until recently where I was required to post an article summary on a professor’s course Facebook page.

In my non-academic world, I have used Facebook as a learning tool. For my Beachbody business, I use Facebook groups to run accountability groups where I educate participants on clean eating and physical fitness. Additionally, I use Facebook groups to conduct classes on essential oils for my Young Living business. I have participated in Facebook group classes on photography, business building, and running. Also, I have seen Facebook groups used in MOOCs as a way of creating community and allowing students to collaborate. My experience has always been positive.

communication-1297544_1280The problem I see with Facebook for formal education is privacy. I will admit I do not want to ‘friend’ my professors or professional peers who I feel may be judgmental on Facebook. I use Facebook as a way to communicate with my family and friends who are all over the world. It is my main means of communication with many people because I am too busy to talk to people most of the time. It feels like an invasion to wonder if something that gets posted on there is going to be used against me. As a professor or teacher (and many other professions or job seekers for that matter) it is scary to even put anything on Facebook for fear of job loss. A way around this is to create a separate Facebook account for professional purposes. However, it may not have the same engagement because signing in and out of accounts is a pain.

twitter-1183719_1280Beyond Facebook, other social media offers affordances for learning environments. Youtube can be used to deliver video instruction to students, as well to provide learning activities for students to create videos that align to a learning objective for a particular instructional design. Warren and Wakefield (2012) discuss how the use of Twitter in a course helped students to form connections with each other, as well as the instructor. Bonk (2008) talks about how social media can be used to help students with “exploration, personalized learning, socializing, sharing, and collaboration” (p. 97). I can think of many creative ways social media can be used as an engaging learning activity, as long as it is centered on the learning objectives of an instruction.

Largely, I feel there is value in exploring social media as an engaging and interactive learning activity where it fits into the learning objectives and environment of an instruction. I do not think generalizations can be made that it always will or will not be effective. It really depends on the situation.

References

Bonk, C. J., & Zhang, K. (2008). Empowering online learning: 100 activities for reading, reflecting, displaying, and doing. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rouse, M. (2015, May). What is social media? – Definition from WhatIs.com. Retrieved May 08, 2016, from http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/social-media

Top 15 Most Popular Social Networking Sites. (2016, May). Retrieved May 08, 2016, from http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-networking-websites

Warren, S. J., & Wakefield, J. S. (2012). Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions. Handbook of Mobile Learning. doi:10.4324/9780203118764.ch7

Group Work in Distributed Learning

For people who have never done it, they may wonder how it is possible to work on group projects in an online learning environment. With today’s technology, it is not as hard as you might think. Having participated in quite a few group projects in this format, I can tell you; it is possible and not any harder than in a face-to-face learning environment.

monitor-66616_1920 (1)I just finished working on a group project for a Ph.D. class I am taking. It was a proposal for a research study we hope to conduct over the summer or in the fall. As a group of five Ph.D. students, we created a proposal for a Think Aloud Protocol usability study on the Canvas LMS. We designated one member of our group as the team leader. He was responsible for interfacing with our professor, looking over final deliverables to ensure quality completion, and turning in final deliverables for grading. Other than that, we did not define specific labels for other group members, but I ended up taking on the role of organizer of group meetings and trying to make sure the project moved along with everyone knowing what they were supposed to do.

social-media-1177293_1280Our project required two different deadlines for deliverables. First, we had to turn in three draft deliverables: a scenario for the Think Aloud usability testing, an IRB application, and annotated bibliography. I volunteered to do fill out the annotated bibliography and help find references. The team leader took charge of creating the IRB application while we split the protocol scenario and finding references between other group members. To collaborate on the project, we created a Google Drive folder to hold all the documents and references. Additionally, we communicated synchronously through Google Hangouts and Skype both through instant messaging and video conferencing. Asynchronously, we used email to converse.

The second and final deadline was a rough proposal for the study combining our previous deliverables. We split up the parts of the proposal. I worked on the literature review section concerning the Think Aloud Protocol, as well as helped with formatting the various parts of the document. Additionally, I reviewed the final document for grammar before the team leader did the ultimate final product for reconsideration before submitted it.

buddy-37197_1280Overall, we worked well as a team in the distributed learning environment. However, we did run into some communication issues that are inherent to collaborating in virtual environments. Without facial, tone of voice, and body language cues, it is sometimes hard to discern the actual intended meaning in text writing. This disconnect was especially true when we were down to the final deadlines and trying to communicate through instant messaging to get core tasks complete for finalization. In the future, if a similar situation were to occur, I would try to speak over a telephone where the tone of voice is heard. Regardless, this type of group work is invaluable for creating community in an online environment and should not be avoided due to possible communication issues.

Boline, Hough, Krinsky, Saleem, and Stevens (2012) discuss the creation of effective online learning environments in their article Cutting the distance in distance education: Perspectives on what promotes positive, online learning experiences. Their findings revealed:

When students were asked to describe one or more favorite aspects of their online courses, they pointed to the social exchanges that occurred. These included such activities as texting fellow students and completing real-world assignments that required them to interact with others in their local communities. When asked about their least favorite activities, they pointed to learning through rote memorization and engaging in group activities where their classmates’ lack of involvement had the potential to negatively impact their own grades. (p. 123-124)

I enjoyed reading this article because it points out ways to create positive experiences for students in online learning. Most of the article I agree with whole-heartedly. Their findings indicate participants found courses that included interactive learning activities, multimedia, real world activities, flexible and interactive instructors, and peer-interaction much more engaging, helpful, and positive than text-based, learn-on-your-own settings. My experience has been the same. However, I was sad students did not enjoy group activities. Personally, I feel the value of group activities outweighs the negative aspects.

In both face-to-face and online learning situations, I have experienced some team members not pulling their weight. I feel this is just another real world experience that takes place in the workplace and life in general. It is how we deal with it that defines us. Of course, the course assessments and grading need to be set up to account for this, and students need to be made aware from the beginning their grade will not be affecting by what others do or do not do. If the learning activity is set up effectively, group activities are enjoyable and valuable in all learning environments.

Reference

Boling, E., Hough, M., Krinsky, H., Saleem, H., & Stevens, M. (2012). Cutting the distance in distance education: Perspectives on what promotes positive, online learning experiences. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(2), 118-126. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.11.006

Designing Instruction for Online Learning Environment

My personal perspective on the best manner to design instruction for online teaching and learning is to use an instructional design model, such as ADDIE, for the planning and development process. Instructional design models provide a framework for the process of creating learning environments (Evans, 2008). It is a plan used from start to finish while developing an instructional environment. While ADDIE is usually the one to come to mind, many instructional design models exist. Creating instruction is like working on any other type of project; the final product will not be successful without a well thought out development process.

The ADDIE ModelADDIE is an effective instructional design model because it streamlines the development process into five distinct phases: analyze, develop, design, implement, and evaluate (Ferriman, 2013). These steps aid in the creation of a unique instructional design based on the needs of the learners, instructors, and learning objectives. Each phase of the development process is essential to the overall product. Without following an instructional design model, it is too easy to skip important stages in the development and end up backtracking during development and/or have a poor final product.

I learned to development instruction using the ADDIE method while completing my MS Learning Technologies degree, but I had used similar development models for video production and website design in the past. The first step, the analysis phase, sometimes seems like the most tedious, but it is probably the most important. It is during this phase I decide the overall goal of the instruction. Additionally, this phase is when I consider the learning environment, audience needs, instructor needs, and available tools. Without analyzing the learning situation, it is not possible to develop instruction that is truly customized to meet its goals.

During the design phase, I write the learning objectives for the instruction. I use a combination of Bloom’s Taxonomy and the three domains of learning (cognitive, affective, and psychomotor) to develop learning objective. While keeping the overall learning goal in mind, I create learning objectives aligned to the learner reaching the appropriate level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Additionally, I strive to incorporate learning objectives in each of the three domains for each overall learning goal. After creation of the learning goals and objectives, I design learning activities that align with the objectives and assessments to evaluate if the learner has met the goals/objectives.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 10.11.22 PM

Example Learning Objectives

In the development phase, the instruction, content, and all materials are created, so the instruction can be delivered in the implementation phase. After implementation, the evaluation phase (which can be a continuous process) allows instructional designers to reflect on how effective the instruction is and note any needed changes.

My theory on developing learning is that it is a very individual process depending on each particular instruction that is being designed. The process I use works well with this theory because the instruction is designed to meet the needs of each specific learning audience and situation, as well as the learning activities are created to align with the learning objectives. I use this same process whether developing instruction for an online or face-to-face format. The learning environment is thoroughly examined in the analysis phases and kept in mind throughout the rest of the phases.

 

References

Evans, A. D., & Lockee, B. B. (2008). AT A DISTANCE: An instructional design framework for distance education. Distance Learning, 5(3), 11-16. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/230741268?accountid=7113

Ferriman, J. (2013, August 1). ADDIE Model Explained [INFOGRAPHIC]. LearnDash. Retrieved May 7, 2016, from http://www.learndash.com/addie-model-explained-infographic/

You mean I have to do research?

college_of_information_whtI am currently a PhD student at University of North Texas finishing out my second semester pursuing a degree in Learning Technologies with a minor in Computer Science. I am not really sure what I expected when I enrolled in this program. I have attended school in some shape or form since I was 5 with very little breaks. It was very important to me that I got my Bachelor’s degree, which is the main reason I went to the Air Force when I graduated high school. It took me 12 years to get that degree between being in the military myself, becoming a military spouse, and then a mother. Every time we moved and I had to change colleges, I lost college credits. Eventually, I had to switch to going online because I could not pay for childcare to attend college and my husband was never home being an Air Force pilot. However, I did it! I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. I ended with a BS in Interactive Media Design.

ali_gradApparently that was not enough for me because I decided to continue on to get another BS degree, the one I had started for in the first place (BS Computer Science). Not long after, I decided to complete my MS degree at UNT in Learning Technologies. It seemed like the logical next step to continue on with my PhD while I was at it. After all these years in school, I should have had a PhD! My goal with the degree was to help change the face of online learning. I knew it would be hard with a lot of writing involved (not my favorite thing) but what I did not think about (I do not know why since it seems so logical now) is that I would have to conduct research studies. I guess I just thought I would be going more in depth to what I had learned in my MS, just more advanced knowledge and the ability to teach the material. However, I found out pretty quick PhD pretty much equals research and lots of it. So, I have been working to wrap my head around that and jump in. I am not a quitter. So, I am in it for the long haul.

research

I wish this is where I did my research!

Since I am only in my second semester, I have not completed a research study from start to end yet. I have mostly been learning how to do that and studying a lot of other people’s research studies. I worked on the beginning concepts for several research studies and think I am starting to get the hang of all it entails. In one of my current classes, Theory/Practice of Distributed Learning, I have been working on a pilot study on whether Learning Management Systems (LMS) are effective for higher education. We are conducting the study as a group project. This is the first time I have worked on something like this in a group. True to understanding how distributed learning works, we have mostly been working in a distance-learning format. Google Drive has taken on a new meaning to me and works really well for collaborating on this type of project. We are also using Google Hangout and instant messaging quite a bit to work together.

Our study is very interesting. As a group, we are developing and conducting a research study using the Think-Aloud Protocol to evaluate how effective instructors and students find the Infastructure Canvas LMS. The hope is to expand this to a larger study to add to the body of research on the use of LMS for online and blended learning in higher education. I would like to see it expanded in the future to evaluate a number of widely used LMS with a large group of both students and instructors. My hope is it will find the best and worst features of the LMS to aid in the creation of an LMS that is most effective for distance and blended learning, as well as aid in the best ways to use LMS for instruction.

Over the next few years I am working on this degree, I will be conducting a number of research studies both on my own and with others. As my anxiety that I am not qualified to be doing this subsides, I am really started to realize how cool it is that I am actually going to be contributing to field of learning technologies. I also think I would like to continue on doing research once this degree is over. Now, if I can get over my anxiety of writing, everything will be awesome!