Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Enter nature!

    I was thinking, before Hurricane Irene blew through, that we could use the strategies for “hurricane days” that we have used for “snow days.”  For snow days, we post assignments, links and resources on the class webpage, while letting students and parents know the assignments are there and that the work is expected. 

    I forgot that snow days don’t usually mess with electricity.  Hurricanes do.

    It’s Day 3 without electricity, with no end in sight.  Hard to ask students to get on the internet to get access to school-work when they have no electricity to run their computer, and may also not have the DSL or cable or fiber optic cable or even telephone for their Internet service either.  I have DSL at home, but a faulty generator, so can’t use it there.   

    I’m typing this sitting at McDonald’s using their wonderful free wifi, eating a hot breakfast.  Thank you, McDonald’s!   Given the number of downed trees that still haven’t been cleared, I don’t think I can expect parents to drive their kids to the local wifi spot for them.  I teach at a private school, where kids come from roughly half of one state and even from an adjacent state. 

    The school doesn’t have power either – and we are discovering how hard it is to communicate the message “no school today” to people without phones, electricity, internet, TV – or even a portable radio.   I was kind of hoping for school today – at least to have access to running water.  (Those of us who live in the country get our water from wells – which are pumped with – you guessed it – electricity.)

    Humbling, isn’t it?  Mother Nature: 1, school: 0.  We will have lots to write about though, once we get back. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Refreshing Moodle for new school year

    School starts soon, so I am resetting my Moodle courses so that they are ready for my new students.  I don’t want this year’s students to see last year’s students’ discussion forum posts, for example.  

    Moodle has a nice feature called Reset that takes care of this.  Per Moodle docs, reset “allows you to empty a course of user data, while retaining the activities and other settings.”  http://docs.moodle.org/20/en/Reset_course   (I'm using Moodle 1.9, but the directions seem to be the same for Moodle 2.0.)

    First, make a backup of your course.  Don’t skip this step.  Example: having the backup turned out to be useful for me, first, because I thought I might want to reset the course differently.  Later, I wanted to get content from forums that had been deleted by the reset. Having the backup made these options possible.

    Then, in the Administration block, click on Reset.  You’ll then be given a dialog with lots of possibilities to choose to reset. 

    You can reset events (in the calendar).  I just added calendar events for the new school year, so I don’t want to reset events. You can also reset  logs (student activity) and notes (about students – but if you have the students more than one year, you might want to keep the notes).  Under Roles, you can unenroll specific roles – like students; if you have a whole new crop of students for this course, you want to unenroll last year’s students.  Your students aren’t deleted from the Moodle, just from the course you are resetting.

    You can reset grades and grade settings; you definitely want to reset grades to remove last year’s grades.   You can reset groups; each year I use groups differently, so resetting groups makes sense.  You can reset assignment submissions so last year’s submissions are deleted, and reset chats so last year’s chats are deleted.

    You can also reset forum posts.  Even if you’ve unenrolled the students, their posts will still be there if you don’t reset forum posts, so you want to reset – and thus clear – the forum posts.  This ends up making extra work for me, since I use separate threads for vocabulary words within a discussion forum about a vocabulary unit.  I’ll have to add these threads again.  But removing individual forum posts would take longer than forever (for each post: delete…are you sure?... wait for it to happen…), so resetting forum posts makes sense. 

    At the end of your selections, you click on Reset.  Then go into the class to check Participants, Forum posts, and so on, to be sure all that you wanted removed was removed. I'm using this opportunity to change things, like switching the type of forum I'm using.

    I’ve never used Reset before, because in the past I made such major changes in my courses, I wanted to start from scratch (and also compare one year’s work with the next).  I’m at the stage now where I want to tweak, so Reset makes a lot of sense.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Using surveys to gather data, assess, communicate

    In the past year, I’ve used a lot of surveys which have really helped in gathering data for students to work with, in assessment of student learning, and in parent communications.  I use SurveyMonkey http://www.surveymonkey.com/ but Zoomerang would work just as well.  Both have free versions.  I put links in Moodle or in emails.  I tried embedding in Moodle, but some students couldn't access the surveys, so I don't embed surveys any more.

Gathering Data

    At the start of the year, when I might not know my students all that well, I find out a little bit about their attitudes toward my subject (English) and what they’d like to learn.  At the end of the year, I ask which topics students enjoyed most/least, what I should do more of, and advice they’d give next year’s students.  The feedback was valuable http://adventuresonlineteaching.blogspot.com/2011/06/what-students-like-about-moodle.html and helped me make changes to improve learning. http://adventuresonlineteaching.blogspot.com/2011/06/student-survey-helps-me-improve.html

    During our media literacy unit, we used a survey to determine how much time students spend with different media, and any difficulties they had experienced (strangers, bullying, etc.)  We then used this as the basis of discussions, writing, and math and graphing work in Excel.  http://adventuresonlineteaching.blogspot.com/2011/04/using-surveys.html  


  Surveys are good for pre-tests – what do you know and what do you want to learn?  The free SurveyMonkey account won’t allow you to download a spreadsheet, which would make surveys better for tests, because then you could see who gave which answer; with the free account, copying and pasting makes this possible, but is more time-consuming. 

    For a part-way through a unit assessment – just to see what questions can be answered correctly – a survey could be helpful.  

    I don’t usually attach a grade to a survey.  There are really no controls with free surveys to assure me who made which responses.   But there are many assessments I do that aren’t graded – they tell me how I’m doing and how the class is doing.

Parent Communications

    Last year, I asked parents which communication modes I used which were most useful to them.  I wrote about that here:  http://adventuresonlineteaching.blogspot.com/2011/05/parent-survey-says-communicate.html  I want to ask some of the same questions at the start of the year, and ask for other suggestions.

    It’s easy to create a survey and there are many different kinds of questions possible, including short-answer, essay, multiple choice.  It’s possible to require an answer to a question, to control whether the survey can be taken from the same computer, to include page-breaks and choose color. The free version of SurveyMonkey is limited to 10 questions, but I find that fits well with my students’ attention span.

    I’m setting up my start of the year surveys, modifying questions, clearing last year’s answers, curious to see how the answers will change.

    For Surveymonkey tutorials and guides, see http://help.surveymonkey.com/app/tutorials/categorylist

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Reuse course materials in Moodle

How can I save myself some time at the start of the year?  I can reuse materials used in previous courses.  It’s easy, but there are a few wrinkles.

First, to copy:

  • Start in the course you want things to end up in (the Import TO course).
  • In the Administration block, click on Import.  You’ll be asked to identify the course you want to import things FROM.  You are offered several ways to find it, including searching on the course title. Find it and select the course you want to use.
  • Then you’ll be asked what you want to import – labels, activities, links, quizzes.  You can take everything, or de-select everything and just click on what you want.  The default is to take everything.  
  • If you use labels a lot, be sure to include these, says the voice of experience – you can always delete the ones you decide you don’t want.
  • Keep on clicking “continue.”  The actual import can take awhile, depending on how much material you are importing.  Eventually, you’ll be told you’re now ready to go to your course (the Import TO course).  You can then see what's been imported.

Second, the wrinkles:
  • You won’t get student data, but you’ll get the raw course materials.
  • The materials will be placed in the TO course relative to where they were in the FROM course (the course you are importing from).  So if a quiz was in topic 3 in the FROM course, that’s where it’ll end up in the TO course.  (Then you can move it using the Up/Down arrows when you have Edit turned On.)
  • Images don’t copy, but they are still stored in the Moodle when you’re ready to insert an image. (You’ll just have to remember the name the image was stored under.) If you've embedded the picture (a Wylio image, for example), then it will copy. 
  • The blocks don’t copy.  So you’ll have to redo anything you have in those handy side blocks.
  • If an activity has a link to a resource that's in the FROM course, it will still link to the resource in the FROM course, not even if you copied that resource into the TO course. You don't want students getting frustrated because when they click on a link they can't get to it because it's in another course.  You'll have to set up any such links again. 

It’s not perfect, but imagine creating all that via copy and paste between the two courses (which I did once before I found out about this feature).

Here’s a great video by Erica Vail  that shows how to copy materials from course to course http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQStUOfDe5w  Thanks to Moodle News for sharing Ms. Vail’s great resource: http://www.moodlenews.com/2011/video-how-to-importing-course-materials-in-1-9-by-bbcs_elearning/

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My brain is full

Glancing through my twitter stream, I think of  the Gary Larson cartoon where the student asks to leave class because “my brain is full.” 

'Dividing line' photo (c) 2010, Lee Haywood - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
That’s the thing about social media; your brain gets full.  Experiencing twitter has been compared to drinking from a firehose.  Yup. 

I handle that in three ways.  First, I use Tweetdeck to separate out my twitter stream into hashtags.  I love hashtags because they collect posts by topic, organizing the content for me.  They also show everything being posted in those hashtags, not just posts by people I follow.  

But here’s the second way of handling the firehose.  I look at my general twitter stream, but not all that often. 

It used to drive me nuts that if I wasn’t constantly checking out my stream that I’d miss something.

Yes, there are wonderful resources and ideas posted all the time.  But good stuff gets retweeted (RT), and rediscovered all the time. 

And it’s the serendipity I enjoy – stumbling on a gem like, “When was the last time you read a great book and thought, I want to write a book report?” attributed to @InnovativeEdu.

But the point is for twitter to be a tool, not a tyrant.  So here’s the third way I handle the firehose:  I take a vacation.  I give myself permission not to be connected.  So I check to see if there were any direct messages or mentions I should respond to.  And that’s it.  Some days, not even that.

It’s hard for this information junkie to cut back, but being dis-connected can feel so good.  Give yourself permission to do it.