Having pursued my bachelor’s degree in a face-to-face setting I was not aware of how commonly discussion threads were used in online education. I had online courses and hybrid courses during my undergraduate and MBA coursework, but none of these courses featured any discussion threads. Discussion threads were viewed as ineffective as discussions could occur within the class meetings. Additionally, other assessment measures were taken to “test” for student achievement. Assessments such as papers, tests, homework assignments, and presentations were common.
Then, I pursued two other graduate degrees online. I noticed a disturbing trend, the overuses of online discussion threads. These courses were asynchronous in nature [no set meeting time like a synchronous course would have]. At first the discussion threads seemed to replace the homework aspect of the grading scale. Then, it became clear that the online discussion threads were being used as a means to check whether or not students were completing the assigned literature. Readings were assigned over periods of the course; called modules, that were generally one to two weeks long.
This is where the problem came to exist. As educators we should strive to have all assessments associated with learning objectives and the course curriculum. Having assessments that have no direct or indirect correlation with objectives and the course are viewed as busy work. Busy work is viewed as an unnecessary request by students. I have seen first hand that undergraduate students struggle to understand what busy work actually is, but graduate students have a firm grasp.
Why are discussion threads busy work? They require a limited response related to a small piece of information. For example, you may have been assigned to read 100 pages in a given week and the discussion thread has to do with three of those pages. These three pages may have been viewed as irrelevant to you and their focus is not in line with the learning objectives of the course or the course curriculum, but the instructor thought it was something interesting.
Why are discussion threads frustrating and ineffective? The focus is on obscurity; rather than understanding. All discussion threads I have seen focus on an obscure fact or comment made within a module’s readings that needs to be addressed. These are often statements that have nothing to do with the course content or learning objectives, but were interesting to the instructor when they glossed over the readings. How to fix this? Online discussion threads need to focus on a broader outcome that can be tied to the learning objectives. For example, if the learning objective of Module 1 is to ensure students can identify a communication style in education, the question should be associated with that, not a question on a few pages out of the 100 pages a student read. Another issue is the setup and execution of the discussion thread itself. In my experience the discussion threads have required an initial post by a certain day of the week and then two responses by the end of the week. This hamstrings students who are go-getters and want to get their coursework done; as they are relying on their classmates who are likely to procrastinate until the due date. This limits the effectiveness of the discussion thread. The focus becomes more on responding just to fill the quota and complete by the deadline. How to fix this? Make the discussion threads more organic. Give overall parameters [or a rubric] of what is expected in the responses, but do not exercise a limit or strong deadlines. Discussions are more effective when they are done like they would be in person. For example, if someone sends me an email asking intriguing questions it may take me more than 24 hours to consider a response. I would not write a response simply to have it done, but would contemplate the questions, formulate an effective response, and respond when appropriate.
Online discussion threads can be much more effective than they currently are. Due to their current setup that are viewed as busy work that just needs to get done. Online instructors need to find an effective way to make their discussion threads appropriate in relation to the learning objectives and the course; as opposed to simply a manner to check a student read or as a manner of attendance.
These six critical skills are sometimes referred to “soft skills”. In my opinion there is nothing soft about them. They are critical to survive in the workforce, they are difficult to learn and without them you will have a very difficult time finding and keeping successful employment. When you go to the Internet and look up “soft skills”you can find an comprehensive list of different skills by different authors. They may include: communication skills, teamwork and collaboration skills, problem solving, critical observation, conflict resolution, creativity, common sense, empathy, adaptability and the list goes on. These are all “people skills” and how you interact with others. The number one reason that people get fired, demoted or not hired at all is the lack of these skills. Technical skills may get you an interview, but these critical skills will get you the job! All of these skills are learned skills that can and should be taught by yourself, parents, teachers and mentors or other key people in your life.
Here is my list of the six most critical skills that someone needs to survive in the 21st century. They are:
(1) Communication Skills: both written and spoken communication skills are essential. Can you write a paragraph with good spelling and grammar? Can you speak, in english, and make a point about a topic? Can you write or speak in a way that the receiver of this information finds it clear, concise and easy to understand? Communicating effectively with other employees or team members is an essential skill for success in the 21st century.
(2) Listening Skills: learning to be a good listener is one of the most important critical skills to obtain. Communication is a two-way street. After you have spoken about something, listening carefully will help you understand if what you said was fully understood. Good listeners are appreciated by others. You need to listen to other peoples ideas and not cut them off with your ideas or solutions if you are going to be a good communicator. Learning to be a good listener is not easy for everyone but is critical to learn to do.
(3) Problem Solving Skills: Having good problem solving skills can make a huge difference to your career and future. Can you clearly defined the problem to be solved? Many people want to start with solutions rather than clearly defining the problem to be solved. Can you incorporate other peoples ideas and suggestions into a plan? Can you keep an open mind during the discussion?
(4) Teamwork and Adaptability skills: Can you listen to others ideas without imposing yours? Can you question other people without insulting them? Are you a good participant when planning or discussing activities? Are you willing to put in the same amount of time and effort?
(5) Willingness to Try New Things: Are you open to new ideas and considering doing things in a different way? Are you open to new and different thinking about solutions to problems? Employees of different ages can approach solutions with radically different approaches and ideas…. are you willing and able to consider their ideas?
(6) Good Manners: Good manners seem to have gotten lost with a lot of people. “Please”, “Thank You” and “Your Welcome” are seldom heard from the “me generation”. As I mentioned earlier in this blog, all of the above skills, are people skills. and your ability to communicate with others, gain there respect and trust are essential to your success. Good manners are appreciated and respected by others and demonstrate that you are a first class person. I will have more to say about manners in an upcoming blog.
We are well into summer and children are enjoying their “time off from school” as they spend more time with family and friends. Summertime can be almost 3 months in length with family vacations taking up only a few weeks of that time. So what do children do during the time that they’re not actively involved in the family vacation? Watch TV, play on the computer, play video games, text to friends? It is easy for parents to think these activities are actively engaging a child’s mind and keeping them out of trouble. Too much time on any of these activities is putting your child at risk.
Let’s look at some facts. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF):
(1) two thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen on an average of two hours a day,
(2) children under the age of six also watch an average of two hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos,
(3) children 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of the TV screen and almost 2 additional hours on a computer playing video games. That adds up to a lot of time in front of a TV or computer screen. All of that time is nonverbal with little or no interaction. Add to this, that in just a few short years texting has become the mode of communication with children. The average youth does 100 texts a day, and that adds up to over 3000 per month.
Why is this important? Children look occupied, they’re not fighting, they seem to be enjoying what they are doing….. so why should I be concerned? Here’s why! For children to be successful in school, work and in life they need to be able to interact with other adults. When you verbally communicate with someone you learn to read body language as a major source of input. We pick up on tone of voice, facial expressions, body movements and other signals that tell a lot about what the person is saying. You don’t learn these through video games and texting. This is a very important and an essential part of communication that parents need to make sure that their children are not missing out on.
So what can you do? Here are a few things that can help:
1) Create opportunities to give children a break from the television, computers and PDAs. Go to the library, museum, sporting event, pool or shopping but leave the technology at home. Hard to do but if they can’t spend their time texting then they might start talking and that’s good.
2) Limit the amount of time children can watch television or use a computer. Two hours a day might be a reasonable time frame.
You may want to review to previous blogs I wrote on May 11, 2015 “The Electronic Babysitter… could be harming your children” and on May 20, 2015 “Creating a Healthy Dialogue with children of all ages”. Remember the challenge as a parent is to get our children socially ready to interact with other people in effective ways.
If children are taught the skills that will help them deal effectively with others they are on the road to success. As a parent you have a wonderful opportunity to help teach your children to be socially smart and how to relate to others. With these skills they are on the road to being successful at school, work and in life.
The Flipped Classroom or Flipped Learning has been a buzzword in education for years. This popular pedagogical model reverses the traditional elements of lesson planning, where listen to the lecture outside of class and complete assignments inside of class. Educators at all grade levels are using this valuable strategy to develop engaging lessons, collaborative learning experiences, and learner-centered environments; however, does this model work for ALL students?
Challenges of Flipping
Think for a moment about the challenges that Flipped Classroom videos create. We may spend hours designing the most engaging and groundbreaking video; however, we may create unintentional learning barriers for hearing impaired students, students with visual impairments, and even students without Internet access.
Here are some basic ways that you can flip your classroom and meet the needs of your students:
Helping Hearing Impaired Students
- Where you publish your video can make all of the difference. YouTube’s advanced speech recognition features provide automatic closed-captioning on many published videos. Although it is not a perfect solution, it helps students with hearing impairments understand the video.
- If your school does not permit YouTube, you may want to consider providing students with a transcript of the video. Whether they are hearing impaired or just need to read while listening, this is quickly becoming a popular method in how online courses are developed.
Helping Students without Access to Technology or the Internet
Even in the 21st Century, there are many students who do not have access to the Internet at home for a variety of reasons, such as poverty, religious beliefs, and even parental choice. Here are some ideas to help:
- Community building is an important part of creating a learning environment. As part of your getting to know you activities, survey students at the beginning of the year if they have technology and Internet access.
- Rather than alienating the students who do not have technology or Internet access, it may be a good idea to have help ALL students come up with a “back-up” plan if their device breaks, the Internet goes down, or they don’t have access.Help your students find places such as the library, a friend’s home, or a coffee shop.
- Have a USB flash drive with the video for students who have a computer, but no access to the Internet.
- Ask parents and students to help create a borrowing library of old devices, such as old cell phones, iPods, etc. If students do not have technology, the can borrow the device and watch the lesson.
Should we scrap this highly popular way of learning? By no means! Instead, we need to direct our attention not to designing experiences that work for students regardless of ability or disability. In other words, we need to look at ways for universally designing the flipped classroom to work for all students. When planning a highly impactful and engaging use of technology, it is important to plan for and address the needs of ALL students.
Matt Bergman is currently a Technology Integration Coach at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA. He is responsible for helping teachers integrate technology into their classrooms, while providing ongoing professional development throughout the school year. Matt has designed several graduate courses on Universal Design for Learning for teachers in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey. He is a member of CAST’s Professional Learning Cadre and recently developed a five-hour online professional development course on UDL for teachers in Florida. Matt has made presentations at Harvard University, ISTE, Towson University, and Clarion University. For more ideas or questions, please feel free to check out his blog, follow him on Twitter @mattbergman14, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Parents and teachers will join forces on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 for Read Across America Day, which is not coincidentally the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss is known for writing beloved children’s books such as “Cat in the Hat” and “Oh the Places You’ll Go.”
The celebration in some schools may last a week, and others may recognize, March 2nd, in honor of Theodore Seuss Geisel with the goal to promote reading through classroom activities and special visitors. This celebration is a wonderful opportunity for children to see how reading can be fun.
There are numerous ways to promote this week. As a building reading specialist I have coordinated many celebrations for the past 16 years. Here are our top 10 favorites:
- Invite community members in to read to classes. Students especially love police officers, firefighters, parents.
- Ask local television celebrities in to read. Many local television anchors are willing and happy to read aloud to a grade level or even an entire school. On several occasions the visits have been filmed and aired on the local news which was very exciting for the students.
- Contact a local sports figure (or mascot) to join the fun. Locally, our Pittsburgh Pirate Parrot visited many times. Although the mascot can not read, the read aloud becomes a lot of fun when the mascot is acting out a book such as “Casey at Bat” being read by a principal, teacher or Superintendent!
- Reach out to a local bookstore. Barnes and Noble is one example of a bookstore that may offer a promotional deal to schools that will afford districts a chance to invite a popular author in to read at a discounted price.
- Bring the world to your school for free. Visitors can join students remotely through a long distance connection. Skype in the Classroom has been a tool I have used for many years and have met many wonderful authors who have connected for free or for a minimal fee.
- Have a Dr. Seuss Riddle Challenge. A daily riddle is created by a group of students and then read on the morning announcements. All riddles pertain to a Dr. Seuss book that classes must solve within the hour. Winners are announced on a daily basis and the class with the most points by the end of the week wins a small popcorn and movie party.
- Create whimsical Seuss-like art to be displayed throughout the halls.
- Have a door decorating contest. Judges could be principals, art teacher and board members.
- Reach out to a local shelter to see if they have an outreach program. Handlers and their dogs visit individual classes and read stories to students. Students not only strengthen their listening and comprehension skills, but learn valuable information about how to interact with our furry friends.
- Have a reading challenge. Motivate children to read more with a book challenge. When the school meets the goal a reward will be earned. Display a large thermometer poster in the lobby of your school to see the progress being made.
Reading is a fundamental skill for children and NEA’s Read Across America helps children discover their potential. So let’s join forces and work toward the goal of creating a nation of readers and don’t forget to take the pledge! Reader’s Oath
Additional links that will help you to plan a great event:
Research indicates the presence of dogs lowers people’s blood pressure while interacting with a dog. The September 2002 issue of the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine research demonstrates “that pets can buffer reactions to acute stress as well as reduce the perception of stress.” One reason this holds true is because animals are not perceived as judgmental.
Common characteristics of struggling readers include not wanting to read outside of school and reading to “get done”. Children are aware of their limitations and feel judged by classmates. The use of four legged friends and their handlers has been proven to be a purposeful way to overcome these hurdles. Visits offer children a non-judgmental and supportive environment that helps make reading fun. The relationship associated with reading and dogs becomes memorable.
How does it work? Partner with local shelters that host outreach programs. Sessions may take place during the school day, weekends at your local library or as an after-school program.
Who can participate? Classroom teachers can request a visit for their class or reading specialists can invite Rover and their handler in for their students.
How long are the visits? Visits are approximately 30-45 minutes. Frequency of the visits are determined by the availability of handlers and the preference of the teacher.
Why? Canine assisted literacy programs develop fluency and comprehension skills and can also have therapeutic value. Students will begin to willingly reread books at home to prepare for a visit from Rover. The time spent reading new books or rereading familiar books will help build reading skills. When Rover visits, children are excited and motivated to share their stories with their visitor.
What books can be used? The implementation of a visit from Rover is twofold. First, it helps children to participate in a calm, fun reading time. Second, it is an opportunity to introduce books that will teach proper care and treatment of animals. There are many wonderful books that are appropriate for younger children that lend themselves to meaningful discussions about taking care of a pet. The Animal Welfare Institute site offers free publications to teachers.
Where to begin?
- Contact a local shelter to inquire about therapy dogs/handlers that visit schools.
- Send home permission slips for parents. Let them know about the visits and make certain they are comfortable with their child interacting with a dog. (*Note: Participating shelters will most likely require a signed permission slip. It is always a good idea to include a parent letter explaining the visitors and their dogs have been trained to work with children.)
- Announce the visit to your students! Ask students to prepare for the upcoming visit by working on their reading at home.
- The day of the visit have your students read a book aloud to Rover and the handler. Following your students read aloud time, the handler can share a story about dogs or join the group and read a story to your students. It is normally a very relaxed visit so students should be ready to sit in a circle on the floor. Following the reading allow time for a meaningful conversation about how to take care of a pet and time to interact with the visiting dog.
Looking for some free resources, visit: Free Publications. Pablo Puppy’s Search for the Perfect Person and Kamie Cat’s Terrible Night are two favorites. Also the Gryphon Press has a huge selection of educational books that can be purchased. Many of which are award winners. One of my favorites is Buddy Unchained, by Daisy Bix. Gryphon Press
The day of the visit students will feel special and will certainly bring home many wonderful stories about the visit. Students will begin to gain confidence in their reading ability and even make a few new friends along the way!
There aren’t too many professions where the raw material a person works with is unique in every circumstance. It makes the process of creating an end product unwieldy, unreliable, unstable. It is inefficient to use unique and heterogeneous raw materials. In short, it is against every model of business practice known around the world.
Enter education, public, private, charter – any at all.
A teacher is expected to take the person that walks in the room, and bring all of the other young people in the room on a journey where they all reach a high-end result. It doesn’t seem to matter to the pundits whether the “raw material” being supplied is high-grade, low-grade or nonexistent. Somehow, teachers should be held accountable for the quality of the material being supplied to produce the end product.
It also doesn’t seem to matter to the pundits that there are external forces that weigh on students that have impact in the classroom.
No, none of that makes for good media.
So, as I teach my college Career Development course for future school counselors late into the night, as every piece of academic literature seems to consistently remind us to take account of the myriad contextual variables that all inform a person’s decisions every single day, I am reminded of one thing: Education is personal. What I am willing to put into it is defined by where I came from, what tools, both physical and mental I have been provided to work with, whether anyone fed me breakfast or not or if there was anything to eat, what’s it going to be like when I get home, how long will I be home alone, are my clothes clean, do I need to pick up and watch my sister, are the water or lights going to turn off?
Many have some of these or other burdens they carry throughout the school day, and some have none of these. And you, teacher, counselor, principal, custodian, cafeteria staff, receptionists, school data managers, teaching assistants, bus drivers, media center specialists, you work everyday to take an inconsistent set of variables and hopefully add them to at least 13. Hopefully, without any repeat or retention, but trying nonetheless.
June comes soon, to soon for some to pull it together. But you, there is a student who needs someone just like you to realize the variables can add up.