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POT Cert Week 6: internet skills and tools – sussing the search algorithms

This week of the POT Cert course sees a move away from the course textbook, for the time being at least, to focus on internet skills and tools. As such, I’ve refreshed my fledgling knowledge of HTML (it’s true – just take a look in the page source code), over hauled my RSS feeds in Google Reader, embedded a video in this blog post, and I’ve also taken the Internet Skills Quiz where I scored 11/12. Yes I confess, I can’t name the device that connects your computer to the internet via cable or DSL (like what’s DSL in the first place??). It’s this aspect of internet skills that’s had me thinking this week, especially as the purpose of this week’s post is to “find a video on YouTube […] that teaches something from your class or that teaches you something about teaching online. [And] embed it in your post and comment on it”.

So here it is, despite the ubiquity of access to videos on YouTube, and the fact that for the 3rd consecutive year YouTube was rated 2nd in the influential Top 100 Tools for Teaching and Learning Survey, I have to say that generally I’ve tended to avoid searching for video content on the platform because I just can’t abide the amount of time it takes to find something of real relevance and quality. Typing search criteria into YouTube is like searching for a needle in a haystack, the eager anticipation when you hit the play button, followed by the disappointment 30 seconds later when you realise you’ve selected a turkey. As a consequence, I recently (very recently) set about the task of getting myself  better able to find relevant quality content within YouTube, which incidentally is more like the kind of Internet skill I’m after.

Usually, I just haphazardly favourite videos that I come across, often in other resources. But the question is, how might I better find these video gems for myself? Well, first off it transpires that Google operates YouTube’s search function, which means that it’s possible to search the site more strategically by using Google’s advanced search operators, but even so, you still need to have an understanding of how Google’s search engine works in order to effectively evaluate the results of your search. For example, Google ranks pages based on a technical algorithm that determines the number of links to a page matching a particular search term, and then again to the number of links that in turn link to those pages. However, because the term that I’m interested in, ‘digital literacies’,  signals different things to different people, results are often still of little relevance, so it’s  here that I need to deploy my own agent-based or social algorithms in order to better evaluate the search results. That is, via social networks make use of people or groups of people to guide me to useful resources and also, based on the demands of the particular circumstance, intelligently apply my own mental processes to the results. Agent-based algorithms take account of multifaceted information and  ‘fuzzy logic’, and social algorithms help form not only relationships with data but also relationships with trusted people.

Consequently, the video that I’ve chosen to embed here is based on such a search. I’ve come across the work of the video’s producer before, and it accords well with my take on digital literacies.

Digital Literacies by Lou McGill

POT Cert Week 5: the online syllabus

Chapter 5: Creating an Effective Online Syllabus somehow failed to ‘grab me’ . Unlike previous chapters, it failed to make much of an impression on me. I don’t think I can rightly say why that is either. Maybe it’s because  I haven’t actually taught online (yet) and haven’t designed my course to a sufficient stage as to be thinking about the nuts and bolts of the syllabus. That’s not to say that the information wasn’t useful, it’s just that I don’t think I’m in a position to say exactly what information was most useful, or indeed what information might be considered ‘questionable’.

However, reading the chapter has caused me to ponder how I might best ensure and/or establish that learners have actually read the given texts within the course. In my experience discussions often fall flat because insufficient numbers have actually read the material. This is an aspect that I’m keen to make crystal clear within the syllabus. Does anyone have any advice on this?

You might have already guessed that I took away from the chapter the importance of being clear from the outset in your instructions and your expectations for the course. It can be said that the syllabus sets the tone for the course, and if it’s not well structured and the ‘geography’ of the online environment not clearly explained, a lot of precious time and energy will be wasted in the weeks to come. Here, I liked Ko and Rossen’s idea of producing a narrated guide to quickly help orientate the learners and to alleviate any anticipated difficulties (p.121).

The recording of The Interactive Syllabus highlighted the importance of taking account of the amount of clicking a learner will have to do in order to arrive at the required location and gave practical instruction on how how to design this in. It was very useful.

I’m interested to hear how others found this chapter and what they took away from it.

POT Cert Week 4: designing authentic learning with ‘real’ people – a portfolio approach

Continuing to develop the topic of course design, this week’s POT Cert task was to read in Ko and Rossen the second part of Chapter 3: Course Design and Development and to consider which elements of course design you’d want to build into your course.

The chapter explained that this crucial stage involves ” the actual creation of a syllabus, class schedule, content, exams as well as activities the class will follow” (p.63), and that these activities can be divided up into the following categories

  • instructor generated content and presentation
  • discussion/interaction/communications
  • group-oriented work and student-centred content
  • research
  • assessment

It was also re-iterated that course goals and objectives should already be drafted before proceeding with your course assembly.

With regards to my objectives, Jim Julius, commenting on my post last week, advised me to think through the kinds of assessments I might use in order to clarify a deeper set of objectives for my learners. As I’m taking a holistic view of digital literacies within my course, which not only promotes amongst  learners critical engagement with the topic but personal reflection on their own digital literacy practices, I’m minded to design my course with a portfolio method of assessment. I like this idea because a portfolio can demonstrate not only knowledge but skills and attitudes too, and it seems to resonate with the “life skills” approach that I’d be happy to take. The key to this method of assessment though appears to be “planning an adequate variety of activities” (p.85) from which the learners can assemble a portfolio of their work.

So now the question is what array of activities will best constructively align with my objectives and this method of assessment? At this stage my answer is  fairly generic, ‘any that promotes active learning and learner autonomy’. It’s a work in progress.

However, as the course is aiming to be fully online the element that I’m determined to build in and develop throughout is the sense of authentic learning with ‘real’ people. So I must work hard to develop not just activities for assessment but ways to develop the high degree of  familiarity, trust and interaction necessary so that meaningful discussion and effective group work can take place. It is noted that ” group organisation and working procedures take longer to develop in the online environment” (p.77).  Thankfully, there are some useful ideas for developing this aspect of course design; namely, a personalised introduction to the course or instructor via audio or video, ice-breaking activities, paired chats, exchange of private email and the availability of a “learners’ lounge” (a discussion area specifically set aside for casual conversation).

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