Sonntag, 26. Februar 2012

first eLearning conference - Moodle, Mahara and ePortfolio

Last thursday I had the opportunity to go to an eLearning conference about Moodle with my professor and one of my colleagues. We got to present Mahara and our use of it in teacher training. Even tough I had no prior experience with Moodle, it was still pretty exciting to be part of a conference and to be part of presentation.
And now I just want to give you a short summary of my experience (also you can check out some of the pictures here):
We are working with ePortfolios for almost one and a half years now, and we use Mahara as our platform. At this conference I got a little bit of taste of what Moodle is all about. On the other hand, I was kind of disappointed that there weren’t a lot of practical examples from teachers and educators. Of course I didn’t get to see all the presentations, but the ones I attended and where the title had at least something to do with teaching always ended up with way too much focus on the technical side. But since it was my first Moodle conference I can’t be certain that every one of them is like this, and I’m also sure that if you’re more familiar with it, then the things involved all become more interesting.

I was really looking forward to our presentation as it was the first I could ‘officially’ present at a conference. The template for it was a presentation my professor gave at the Online Educa in Berlin last year. But since then we made a lot of progress with our research project, so could already implement our findings.
The first part was just basic introduction about the University of Education, our teacher training and about what Mahara is and how we use it. My part was to talk about the setup and structure of a students ePortfolio, in this case I showed mine. Since the beginning of our Mahara usage, a lot has changed in the way we setup our portfolios. Part of it was that our old Mahara version wasn’t very good to look at and not that much fun to work with, but as soon as we got upgraded, whole new world opened up to us and it became real fun to build our ePortfolio.
So after I showed the students portfolio, my colleague talked about our use of it. Especially the collaboration and communication part, where we get together in groups and share materials but also send reminders regarding exams and deadlines.

The last part was about the research project and some basis statistics that outline the usage and approval of Mahara, compared between student groups (e.g. first semester students and third semester students).
After we were done there were some good questions regarding the reflections with our portfolio and how we incorporate it into our ePortfolio. It was great to know that Mahara is already in use in schools and also used actively in the classroom.
All in all I think it was a good opportunity to connect with other educators who already have experience with Mahara, and also with people who want to incorporate Mahara in their teaching.

Dienstag, 14. Februar 2012

student teachers and the internet

A little while ago I came across an article or study of some kind, where they’d researched the use of the Internet among teachers. The study divided the study groups into younger teachers (around the ages 20 to 25) and older teachers (it was something around 40 or 50). And if I remember correctly it showed significant differences between those age groups. But it wasn't the difference that everybody expected. The results showed that older teachers are more likely to use the Internet for their teaching then the younger teachers.
At first I was really surprised, but then I began to think about my experiences with student teachers and the Internet. Now my experiences during teacher training includes different things considering the use of Internet. To begin with, our English class was the first class that started using an e-Portfolio for our practical training. Secondly, as I already mentioned in an earlier
post we had a seminar dedicated to Web 2.0 and the use of it in teaching. So all in all, we were confronted with the internet right from the start and also from all kind of different angles.
We are using
Mahara as our e-Portfolio platform. And to be honest, we had a rough start with it. Unfortunately it took the Universities’ administration very long to get us updated on the newer version of Mahara. Now for everyone who is not familiar with Mahara, as for the difference in the versions, just imagine the step it took from the old-school Nokia mobile phones with regular buttons and black and white displays to the newest iPhone. That’s the step we took with the update. So you can imagine how fun it was to work the older Mahara version. Looking at it in that light, I can’t blame my colleagues for not seeing the benefits of an e-Portfolio. But then again, if you are familiar with Facebook and you can operate a mail-account and you even have a smart phone, you shouldn't have any troubles with it anyway.
We had different tasks to keep us involved and working with this platform. We had to form groups and got tasks to post something a group-forum, we could put up our lessons plans and worksheets for the other student teachers and we had to put up our reflections about the practical training. It seemed to me that the whole year long, people complained about it. And I still can’t imagine how the platform could have presented any real issues for these young student teachers. The good thing is that for our second year, and also for the beginner student teachers, the new version was already in place and as I see and hear it, the complaints have gone back.
As I’ve been researching for an article on Web 2.0-teaching, it’s became clear that teachers have to be taught about the possibilities of Web 2.0 before they start teaching kids. As I already mentioned above, we have this opportunity during our training. But unfortunately they were a few among our group who didn’t seem to get the whole idea of the why-and-how of Web 2.0 teaching, and it reflected in the use of our e-Portfolio of course.
I think as we move forward in our training and as the world (of education) develops technically, it is vital to at least know about these kinds of things, even if you’re going to be more of an ‘old school’ teacher and just use the blackboard and the workbook and hand out sheets, but then again, you will probably have to use the Internet to research and prepare your worksheets and your blackboard exercises.

Samstag, 11. Februar 2012

practical training - getting things done

I wrote a post about the positives (pros) in our teacher training program. At first I had in mind to write a pros-and-cons list, but after I wrote the first post I kept thinking about the issues that could be counted as negatives. The more I thought, the more I came to the realization that there aren't real ‘cons’ to write about. Of course there are a lot of issues that should be fixed rather soon to keep the level up, but nothing major came up to me.
Now the things that should be done, and can be counted as negatives as of right now arent really one persons or teachers fault. The root of most problems lies within the general framework of teacher-education and some times the school system itself.
Before I start explaining some points I’d like to see get fixed, I want to point out that most of issues I’m going to mention could only be fixed in a perfect world; because a lot just can’t be done logistically.
The first major issue is the number of hours we get to spend in an actual classroom teaching. I mentioned it in an earlier post already, we (at the University of Education Vienna) are still enormously lucky to have practical training implemented in our training right from the start. (Sidenote reminder: our first time in a classroom and in school is the second week of our training, after that we are in class every week, and we are already teaching sequences at the end of the first semester; whereas the main university student-teachers get to be in class somewhere around they second or third year). So, even though we get to spend more time in class doing stuff, I’d like to be in class even more. Teaching is one of the things that you learn best by doing it practically. And although I think it’s the best possible way to get student-teachers ready, we would raise the quality even more by being in class two hours per week more for example. The good thing is, there are a lot of student-teachers who think like me, we want to spend as much time as we can teaching and working with kids. So the easiest solution is to find work where you get the chance to practice, e.g., coaching sports or tutoring.
And from what I’ve experienced, you definitely see the difference between the student-teachers who work on their teaching skill besides the university and the student-teachers who don't (care).

So the time spent teaching is the most valuable time we as student-teachers can spend. And if you care about what you are doing, you are going to find a way to get even more practice time.

Now to the second point which might be a problem for some teachers but probably not all.
Almost every school we get to teach in, has already had student-teachers work there for quite some time, so the kids know about the whole routine. To be more specific, they know we are
student-teachers. This is were the problem lies, beginners who don't have that much prior experience in standing in front of a class and/or working with kids are facing some real disciplinary issues. There are always beginners without having taught previously that have a natural authority. It can be difficult for them to get into this teacher role, if the kids don’t treat them like a real teacher. The solution would be kind of easy to, but lies within the framework of the teacher training. Since it has been established that we are student-teachers it would take years again to get it across (also to some other teachers) that the students are to be treated as real teachers.

These issues don’t hinder the development by much, but it could be more effective without them. I think the key thing is to embrace the opportunity you have with your teacher training, but if you want to improve and develop as a teacher, take every chance you get to work with kids or in a teaching environment, be it as a tutor or coach.

Samstag, 4. Februar 2012

speaking and presenting skill

The main skills teachers should have, is to be able to talk in front of people.
In our teacher training, we have the opportunity to present and talk a lot. Not only do we get to teach in class, but there are also a few seminars in which some of the tasks require presenting something to a group.

If you want to be a teacher you shouldn't be too introverted, you should be comfortable with talking in front of groups, regardless if it is a group of kids or other colleagues.

I know it’s not for everyone to talk spontaneously about anything in front of a crowd, and it’s totally okay to be nervous.
But if you know you will have to present something, and you get two or three weeks to prepare for it, and you get specific instructions about what you’re supposed to talk, then there should be no excuses not to present professionally.

I’ve experience a lot of other student-teachers dealing with ‘stage fright’. Fortunately practice makes perfect, but there are also some basic tips that can help. Most of the mistakes made, are just because of the nervousness and can be easily fixed by focusing on a few key aspects:

- don’t talk to one person, try to incorporate everybody
- find spots in the room that you can focus on
- or look for two or three people in the audience that look friendly to you, and focus on them
- try to maintain eye contact, even though it’s not easy, it keeps everyone involved
- speak loudly and try to stay with you natural tone (speed and intonation)
- if you need something to hold on for, take a pen in your hand, of fold a paper in half and hold that

- don’t stand behind a desk or a chair
- try to get a feel for moving, step in front of the audience, but don't move all the time, it can be distracting

and the last and most important part:
- be confident

because you know you prepared for everything and it is something you worked on enough.

Take every opportunity you have in seminars and talk and try to remember one or two of points I mentioned above, and you'll develop this skill step by step.

thought a week - feedback and teacher training

The last week of every semester our groups get together with our teachers to reflect and talk about the teaching practice. Depending on the leading teacher, this talk can go either in the direction of self-evaluation or just feedbacking about the teaching experience and the teacher.
I have experienced both scenarios with a different set-up. One time we had a pretty big group, with about 30 to 35 student-teachers and six to seven teachers and we’re supposed to give feedback on our experience. Another time we had only ten to 15 student-teachers with two or three teachers and we had to talk about our personal development and reflect on it.
From my point of view, the differences in content and arrangement made a huge difference in the style and outcome of the whole discussion.
If you have a big group with a lot of different people in it, with some of them you may have closer relationship and others might seem more unfamiliar. And now you are supposed to share very personal thoughts about your experience in school. I can imagine that is not easy to do. There are more outgoing people in this group too, for whom it’s not hard to share stuff like that, but I’d say for the most part (and especially in the beginning of teacher-training) there are more conservative people.
With the previous thought in my mind, I expected that it’s going be an awkward silence with nobody really speaking up. But the thing that was a surprise for me that somehow the exact opposite happened. Unfortunately not in a good way. Everyone spoke pretty openly about their experiences and about their teacher, but everyone was giving way too positive feedback. Not only that, but each one was scratching on the surface with their feedback.
It was 20 times almost the exact same monologue, ‘yes, I really learned a lot and I really enjoyed the experience’. And the really weird part was when most of the teachers replied in the same way, ‘yes, it was the best student group I had in a long time, they worked really good...’ and so on.
Now I know that every group (we had smaller groups of two to three student-teachers in a semester) had really good conversation with their teacher
in private, in a confidential little circle, where was just the two other student-teachers and your teacher. During these meetings everyone opened up about their experiences and feelings and also gave valuable feedback to one another and the teacher. So in this case, I just don’t understand why it is forced onto bigger groups to do a group-talk, because it was obvious that nobody spoke honestly, and it’s understandable. On the other hand, it was great to talk with people who where closer to you during the whole semester, and nobody had a problem to share and give good feedback.
In the other scenario, I saw some other issues. First of all it was way better to talk in a smaller group, you wouldn't think that ten student-teacher really make that much of difference but it does. The other part was the self-evaluation process. The teachers asked everyone to talk about what they think their strength might be and what they’re planning on focusing for their future development. And their teachers were supposed to comment on that, and either confirm it or just give them some advice and encouragement. And out of this group, I’d say only two students said something about their weakness and that they want to work on a certain part. And also, there was only one student where the teacher said that he really needs to work on something, or that it might not be suiting for him to work with kids.
So even though the group was more private and the task was different it still ended up with the same results. Nobody was really honest in describing how they felt about themselves and nobody got valuable feedback for their development.

Giving valuable and appropriate feedback is enormously difficult, so not surprising to see almost everybody struggle with it.
We tend to think that we could hurt the persons feeling by giving feedback, so instead we don’t say anything or we say something superficial and overly positive.
It is extremely hard not to judge immediatly and get personal, we have to take a little time, really think about it and formulate a proper answer.
Easier said then done, but it’s actually not that hard to talk about something objectively, and explain what one saw and how one experienced it, and then suggest a solution based on that.
I think it’s really important to know about giving valuable feedback, because both parties can benefit. And especially if it’s needed in education or for a job, then all the participants should be taught about proper feedback and what they need to understand about the whole process.