Saturday, August 18, 2007

The TJ Middle ELC

Mr. Lininger and I met to discuss how the ELC would be laid out. He wanted an area where the latest news of what was going on in the professional development process could be posted for teachers to read. He also wanted a way that staff could sign up for their chosen topic for the month. At first we talked about how to create one professoinal development "course" with many topics. But I suggested that one course site could become cumbersome and difficult to use as we continue to use the ELC and the amount of information grows. So I offered the idea to separate each professional development topic into its own course site and have a "master" site with news and information about professional development. I knew that Moodle could "link" courses together using the meta course option, but I had never used it before.

Now that the decision has been made to use an Electronic Learning Community, I finally get to showcase what Moodle can do. One of the great featurs of Moodle is the creation of a Meta course which acts as a "master" course. A meta course may be used as a common area to allow Participants in specific courses to interact with each other, such as in an ELC with multiple topics which should logically be separated. Although I hadn't set up a meta course before, the documentation with Moodle made is easy to figure out. All I had to do was check a box for the main ELC course site and check a box on each of the 4 professional development topic sites to link it to the main site. This also made maintenance easier since all I had to do was enter staff names and log in information on the main site and it was automatically copied to the linked sites.

I feel pretty good about this set up. It seperates the differnt topics so the information doesn't get "muddied" as time goes on. It's clearly defined and easy to use. I put up extra menu blocks to help make navigating from one Professoinal Development site to another easier. Hopefully, teachers will find this easy to use.

One big question will be how much training time will I get with the staff. As I have stated before, the greatest professoinal development will be ineffective is staff do not have enough time to process what they are learning. Since few teachers have participated in an online course, and fewer have used Moodle, it will be critical to have at least two opportunities to present the ELC to the staff members so they can be introduced to the site, have an opportunity to practice, and then provide an opportunity to come back together to and ask questions or help each other.

Irregardless I will have to prepare detailed documentation for each staff member to help ensure this ECL works.

The other big question is how to train the facilitators. Since I have taken a course about online facilitating, I will have to rely on what I learned from that course. The general rule is to post a discussion forum that teachers can respond to and encourage discussion among the participants for that month by requiring the participants to read and respond to at least two other teachers' postings. It is also a skill to avoid the "That's a good idea" or the "I agree" response. Sometimes adults can be like students and do as little as possible to claim they have done the work. It's hard when we are all so busy, but I believe it will pay off in the end.

I have contacted one of the instructors, who is an FCPS employee to get advise. She said that my ideas so far are good and she'd be happy to help train the facilitators in any way they want to be trained. Hopefully the facilitators will be open to this.

EDIT 8-23-07: As I was afraid, teachers only had one 45 minute session with me which I feel went really well, but since it happened the first week back, I worry that there will be many questions when the end of September comes.

I had only one 45 minute session with the facilitators where only the bare minimum of information about using the ELC was given to them. I have noticed that forums are not set up in the most efficient manner, facilitators don't participate in their own discussion, and they are generally ignored. There really needed to be two sessions, one on how to use it, and one on how to facilitate.

EDIT 11-8-07 Teachers have voiced conecrns over how to use the ELC. They say it is not as user friendly as Blackboard. Others say it is much easier than Blackboard. In any case, most of the confusion appears to be from the infrequency of using the ELC, the lack of facilitator encouragement of continuing discussions, and that some of the discussions are just not set up well. I have offered to do another training with the facilitators but I haven't had anyone take the offer. So, where does that leave the ELC? As an administrator I would absolutely want to make sure the staff and facilitators are comfortable using the tools of the ELC. But I wonder why none of the administrators have come to me directly to ask what can be done?

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