Friday, December 18, 2009

Course final reflections

The description for this course is as follows:

"This course emphasizes techniques for improving instruction and learning through the application of the research on effective schools and on models of instruction. Topics include leadership related to curriculum, instruction, supervision, and theories and methods for adult learning and professional development. The principal as the leader of learning involves such tasks as teacher evaluation, supervision, mentoring, and effective communication."


This description does not appear to be significantly related to the course offered. As such, I had no idea that this course dealt with instructional technology. The course description makes no mention of the sole focus on technology of this course. In fact, the course description sounds as if it is describing a different course entirely. The description
does sound like a course in which I would be interested. However, once the course began it became obvious that my knowledge of technology and its use in education was more limited than I had thought. I discovered that I had a fair amount to learn about intellectual property, and about uses of technology to increase students' learning.


Once the course began, I began to see that I especially could learn a lot about creative uses of technology to increase student learning. While the course materials mentioned several means of doing so, especially areas such as project-based learning, I still am starving for more concrete examples of ways this is used, especially in math classes. Generalities do point in a direction, but until you give someone an example, it is difficult to envision their use. I still do not understand how to develop a project which will help students learn advanced mathematical concepts when they do not even know what mathematical concepts they may need in order to work on the project. Telling a student, for example, to develop a plan involving advanced use of force and motion without having first taught him vectors, would seem to work only to frustrate the student. On the other hand, how then is it different to teach a student the concepts of vectors and give him a web site or PowerPoint to develop on the project, versus having him create an actual model? Why is the former better than the latter?

The material in this course will, however, help me in my current job in that it has opened my eyes and made me more aware of concepts such as project-based learning, and about the wealth of intellectual property. I am much more sensitive now as I create work for my current job, whether it is a presentation about the course selection process, a lesson for my students, or the curriculum for a course. Additionally, I also am much more sensitive to the use of copyrighted material in class. Today was the last class day before winter break, and several teachers showed movies. In the past, they would not have even made a blip on my radar, but today it gave me great pause.

The assignments in the course did help me learn the material. However, I already had a blog, which I simply adapted for the course. I also use Facebook, Twitter, have a web page for the course, and text and e-mail so much that I had to go to unlimited text messages on my own cell phone. While my age puts me in the generation of "digital immigrants," I am fairly fluent. I even have been known to translate something for a "native," today even explaining to a student what a pdf file is.

I do think that blogs and blogging can indeed be helpful for education. However, the most recent set of readings also pointed out the pitfalls inherent in blogs. To begin with, there are inherent concerns about the suitability of anything students might post in such a forum. How to keep the focused, for example, on the course material? How to keep them from plagiarizing or cheating in the forum? Additionally, there are even more significant concerns, which had not occurred to me before, related to students' privacy. Is inviting students to participate in a teacher-created blog which is not sponsored by the school district a dangerous step to take? It would appear to be so, particularly without the wealth of recommended permissions, including those of the students' parents and the school's administration.

However, a blog would seem to be an extremely effective way to simply communicate information to parents. I am still uncertain about the advantages of a blog versus a traditional teacher webpage with a calendar or log of notes and assignments. The blog might have more room for a more narrative style of information, but this may not outweigh the ease of posting on a district's own web site. In my district, for example, teachers have web sites on which they can post course information, including homework, and can put a link for parents or students to e-mail them with questions. Certainly part of that web page could become something moderately close to a formal blog, while still remaining under the safe umbrella of the school district's purview. On the other hand, for a teacher at my school to create her own blog would require her using a service such as Blogger, which would take her outside the control and protection of the school district, and I am not certain that I would recommend her doing so at this time.

Blogs certainly would be extremely helpful for communicating course information both to students and to parents. Additionally, a school's administrator could use it as a less formal, more comfortable way of communicating with parents and the community at large, touting students' successes and upcoming events such as ball games and musicals. The administrator also could commend outstanding teachers, and even discuss in a conversational tone the impact of recent school news, such as a recent snow day at school.

I have enjoyed and learned a lot from this course. The course professors are the first with whom I have had direct communication throughout this entire program, although my January course will be my penultimate one. I appreciate the time and effort they have put into this, and the learning I have had from them.

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