I am taking a class! Can't you tell?

The intent of this scenario is to provide a glimpse at life during an online course. The distance learning format is new for most people and it takes some getting used to. Hopefully, by reading through this scenario, you will have a better understanding of what it takes to be a successful online learner.

Getting Started

It's Friday evening and I just got e-mail saying I've been accepted for the LInC Online course. I'm really excited to try this new approach to doing course work. My wife and I have talked about how tricky this could be, doing a course at home, but I think it will turn out fine. We've agreed that I will stay late at school on Mondays and Thursdays for two hours to work online without interruption. I will have to work from home though for the online chats. It won't be easy to convince our kids that I'm not available when they can see me sitting right there.

I decide to start looking over the materials so I will be ready for our first chat. I bring up the home page for my section of the course and read over the instructor profiles. It looks like they are a good group - lots of different teaching experiences. Next I go on to read the introductory materials. There sure are lots of pages here! I am a little confused about all the different ways we will be communicating. There's an electronic discussion board, a listserv, live chats, and e-mail. Plus I guess I'll be getting something in the U.S. mail soon. Phew!

I realize that two hours have passed and the kids are going to bed. As I finish logging off, I write a to-do list for Monday. I need to let our technology support personnel know that I'll be doing this course and I will be putting the Web editor software on my machine at school. Hope that's okay with them. I need to go buy that software. I will also need to get the file transfer software they mentioned. I will need some help with that since the directions said I had to download it. I think I'll post a message to the electronic discussion board and ask for more help.

It's Tuesday and I've just about got everything I need for tomorrow's first chat. I got e-mail from Jason N., who is going to be my facilitator. He gave me the details I needed about which server to log into tomorrow and which chat channel to join. I played with the chat program awhile last night. I also posted my response to the Meet and Greet activity on the electronic discussion board.

Getting Into It

I've just turned in my first project proposal to Jason N., my facilitator. I did not spend a great deal of time writing the proposal itself, but I did spend plenty of time researching resources on the Internet, exploring other projects, and reading about engaged learning. I've realized that engaged learning with technology is quite different than what I thought it was. I didn't want to "wordsmith" the proposal because this is the first real piece of work I've submitted to Jason N. I'm not sure what he is looking for and I want to be open to accepting his suggestions.

I've had to revise my ideas about time too; this is not easier than a college course. It's requiring just as much time as any other graduate courses I've taken. The two hours on Mondays and Thursdays wasn't enough. I've found another teacher in the course that I want to collaborate with, so now we meet regularly on Sunday nights for a few hours to discuss ideas and help each other out as we work on the project. I found her by reading through the electronic discussion board postings from the Meet and Greet. I've also had to make a sign for the bedroom door, "Do Not Disturb. Dad is in school starting at 5:45pm!" Our chats start at 6:00 p.m. and I want to be logged in and ready.

I am starting to play around with Web editor software on my computer at school. I went over the pages on file transferring and got the templates folder that I read about. It helped when one of the other facilitators walked me through the download via a chat. I also put a note in our technology troubleshooter's mailbox to ask for some help with downloading Shockwave in case my browser doesn't include that plugin. That's supposed to help me see some movies of how to do things with my web editor. Cool! My Saturday night chat buddy has decided to wait until she has more of her content written before trying out the web editor. I'm really glad we can investigate on our own and move at our own pace. I needed to start playing now so I could see how easy it is to use. It's really a lot like a word processor.

Getting It

After three or four revisions, a total topic change and a long talk with my students, I'm off to writing my project. I've made a few visits to that "Hitting the Wall" page. I've been doing most of the scenario and presentation page in the word-processor, and then pasting my work into the templates I downloaded. It has really been terrific the way this course meets my needs and I can already see how it will help in assessing the needs of my students.  If I want to start learning about something before it has come up with the whole group, I just click on those pages and start reading. We also suggest chat topics and have "break-out groups" during the class meeting times - the online chats. This really allows me to be responsible for my own learning. I've even posted a few links I found for graphics archives on the electronic discussion board. It sounded like some of the other participants were having trouble finding free graphics.

I've found a rhythm now that I wished I'd had earlier. I have a daily routine of checking my e-mail and the electronic discussion board. I've discovered the table of contents, search, and the navigation bar at the top of every page. I have four bookmarked sites at the top of my bookmark list - one is the class homepage, then the assignment page, the electronic discussion board and finally the chat schedule. This makes finding things much easier! All the information was a bit overwhelming at first, but I really feel like I know my way around now.

I'm also getting used to asking for technical support from both my building-based person and the facilitator team for the online course. Sometimes I'm not sure who to ask and I get help from both - that's okay. Our building's troubleshooter is really excited about this project and wants to take the course the next time it's offered.

I've had my share of stumbling blocks too. I had carefully configured the computer at school for my web editor, with the graphics folder and so on. However, I forgot to do the same thing at home. I was really confused there for a while. I was sure I was doing everything the same at home and at school, but all my links were coming up broken. I went to online "office hours" for help and the faciltator showed me how to see this by viewing my own pages on the Web server using my web browser. I'm glad I checked my work over before the chat where I was presenting.

Getting It Done

I have truly learned the benefit of peer review! You get so close to your own work, it all looks good to you. Then, when someone else takes a peek, wow! So much for catching all my mistakes prior to the chat presentation. More importantly, I received some terrific suggestions for including more student direction in the project, and for some great resources and contacts my students can use as they are working on the project.

It was fun to set up the computer with my chat window on one-half of the screen and my web browser on the other half, and then lead folks through a virtual tour of my project thus far. I got lots of great tips from other participants. In fact, now there's four of us meeting for Sunday chats. We're going to be looking at our assessments together. I'm also glad that there's a team of facilitators so I get multiple perspectives. I've taken the time to re-work this project so that I can really be proud of it. I'm so excited to share it with the rest of the fifth grade teachers.

First I must finish the staff development action plan. This has been tricky, but again, my horizons have truly expanded. I haven't been really involved in staff development before, but now I've met with our principal, and two other teachers who are also taking this course, and together we decided I had a lot to share. We're starting small and keeping the focus on student learning and assessment. That's why we'll be targeting the other fourth and fifth grade teachers for this year. Who knows where we'll be going next year!