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BlendKit2015 Week 1

I decided to participate in a Canvas Network MOOC this semester. I’ve tried a couple of MOOCs in the past with not very much success. Usually the topic interested me, but not enough, with my busy schedule, to keep me engaged in the activities, discussions, assignments and readings. In this case, the topic is of extreme interest to me, so maybe it will hold my interest. I have a couple of reasons why I think this particular experience may be more successful:

1. The topic is Becoming a Blended Learning Designer. Although I have a lot of experience with fully online instruction, I’m hoping this course will provide new insight for me into blended learning.

2. The course is affiliated with the University of Central Florida, an institution with a high level of authority and expertise in this field.

3. The course is being conducted in Canvas. I have a lot of experience in LMSs (Moodle, Blackboard, Brain Honey, BUZZ, Haiku, Schoology, Edu2.0) – this is one LMS that I don’t have experience using so I’m interested in seeing what Canvas has to offer.

I have to admit that I have already started the course late. It began on Monday and it is now Wednesday. The facilitators have let me know, through the first recorded webinar, that this is ok. In fact, they addressed the needs of the asynchronous participants and latecomers explicitly – letting us know that they understand their audience, who bring with them a variety of learning needs and expectations. Even though I was late to the party, I have been able to jump in and get started with very little effort. Our first assignment was to read an article and post a reaction to it.

Much of the information in the article Understanding Blended Learning was already familiar to me. I am an experienced fully online instructor in a graduate program and my field happens to be teaching K-12 teachers to teach online. I also provide professional development and consulting to schools in both online and blended teaching. Where I have struggled in the past is in helping teachers make the transition to blended learning for their own professional growth. Teachers who want to teach online, typically are motivated to do so either by employment potential or because they are enrolled in a program with that focus. However, the movement to mainstream blended learning has propelled many teachers, some of whom are very resistant, to accept a new classroom structure that is foreign to them and for which they have little interest or investment in changing.

My past attempts to model a blended approach have been less than successful. In particular, I found it very challenging to engage teachers in the online component of the training. In all cases the tendency has been to revert to waiting for face-to-face time for any meaningful learning. So for me, I was most interested in the two case studies at the end of the reading. What I liked about the first case study was the practical and applicable broad conceptualizations of practice. The second case study was especially relevant to my situation since it involved teaching teachers about teaching online. But, as I stated before, I find that teachers enrolled for college credit are often more motivated than in-service teachers. I guess my question is how can I engage practicing teachers in a blended learning experience when they are resistant to change and when they have little experience with the potential for blended learning? Or more philosophically, how do you change a mindset? It is the practical aspects of implementation, at the teacher level, that are most critical and can have the greatest impact on the success of any blended initiative and I often think it is much easier to attack the problem by moving fully online before transitioning to blended. Is it only when learners are immersed in a fully online learning experience, that they begin to see the transformative power of technology for learning and to erase all of those old cultural standards and norms of school that have been ingrained into our psyche? I am very anxious to more fully explore my own perceptions about this topic.

On Innovation in teaching

I was directed to the video When a Lesson Goes Wrong while attending an Edweek webinar on Helping at Risk Students Develop Literacy Skills – an excellent webinar btw, but beyond the scope of this post. The video is of high school English teacher, Sarah Brown Wessling, attempting to instruct her students in literary analysis with the inclusion of outside resources – a lesson developed to meet the requirements of the new Common Core standards. It’s fascinating to watch both the total failure of the first attempt and the quick, on-your-feet thinking, that leads to greater success in the second lesson. But that’s not the only fascinating thing about this “day in the life” of a teacher. The entire experience  speaks volumes about how challenging it can be to be innovative in our attempts to transform  teaching practice. Her blog post, Making Mistakes: The Best Way to Grow,  illustrates rather acutely, the thought process behind her willingness to take the challenge and her acceptance of failure as part of the learning process – all while being filmed for an episode of the Teaching Channel! It’s an excellent lesson for all of us if we ever hope to “see what’s really going on, without filters and without judgment or self-loathing of the less-than-perfect moments; rather, using them as catalysts to collaborate or take an intellectual-risk.” I learned so much from watching her experience and I heartily applaud her efforts.

 

Kindred Spirits

When I originally applied for the Fulbright, I had asked to be hosted with the Department of Didactics and Media in Education at Nicolaus Copernicus University, because in our past experience working together we had recognized that we had many common interests. My goal and my hope has always been the establishment of a lasting collaboration and partnership in whatever form that might take. However, working at a distance proved challenging,  Part of the challenge was due to language, but part was also a lack of understanding about our relative government and university systems. To this end, I have spent quite a bit of time learning about the Polish university system, policies, practices, trends in pre-service teacher training and about educational technology in particular.

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That’s me observing Technologie Informacyjne Konversatorium course in General Pedagogy at UMK.

My friends and colleagues here have been very generous with their time and in providing opportunities for me to visit classrooms. Undergraduate Pedagogy students at Nicolaus Copernicus all take a general curriculum which prepares them to teach. Included in that curriculum is a course in Information Technology, which is an introductory course similar to the course we offer at Boise State for our pre-service teachers.

The course covers the basic MS Office suite of tools in an educational context.  It is technically classified as a “Konwersatorium” course which means that the course combines both a lecture/discussion and practical hands-on experience. Similar to a lab/lecture course in the U.S.

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Dr. Malgorzata Skibinska demonstrating how to alter an image in MS Word.

Dr. Marlgorzata Skibinska teaches the Information Technology course for pre-service teachers and I have visited her class a couple of times. When I visited, the students were beginning a new project to gain experience in using the tools and features in MS Word. In the photo on the left, she is instructing students to create a tutorial in Word on how to make a Christmas ornament of their choice. The instructions must be original and of course there are specific requirements about the features required to create the document in Word. Students actually build the ornaments and these are then sold and the money is donated to a local children’s charity.

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Students in the Technologie Informacyjne course (Aleksandra and Blanka with Dr. Dorota Siemieniecka).

I have also had the opportunity to observe several courses in the new University Centre for Modern Teaching Technologies. I observed a course on Computer Diagnostics and Pedagogical Therapy taught by Dr. Dorota Siemieneicka and watched students give presentations on various digital diagnostic tools for learners with disabilities. Another course on Interactive Digital Media taught by Dr. Agnieszka Sieminska-Losko, was taught to third year students on using Flash technologies to design and create multimedia diagnostic tools. The majority of content for this course was housed in Moodle.

In a tour of the Center by the director, Maciej Pańka, I learned that it is one of the most technologically advanced centers in Poland. In addition to supporting faculty in the use of technology for teaching and learning, the Center houses a state of the art video recording studio and NCU TV. (They will actually be recording one of my upcoming lectures.)

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Tutorial in Moodle for students in Interactive Digital Media course.
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Classroom in the Centre for Modern Teaching Technologies.

I have always believed that we were more alike than different and my experiences thus far have proven this to be true. I have found kindred spirits in the Department of Didactics and Media in Education and the new Centre for Modern Teaching Technologies here at Nicolaus Copernicus University. The goal now is to capitalize on these similarities and our willingness to find a fit for our mutual interests. Where it will lead is anybody’s guess but I’m happy to say that we have plans to collaborate on a text exploring the evolution of educational technology in the U.S. and in Poland which we hope will provide a solid foundation to move forward with other plans. These include discussion around a faculty/student exchange, a blended/online course exchange, and perhaps a dual degree program is in our future.

Getting past the culture shock :-)

I continue to settle into my life in Poland – my flat is organized with all the creature comforts I might ever need, I’ve figured out how to get around, the work is going well, I’ve gone mushroom picking in the forest outside Torun with my colleague Dorota and her friends, I know what shops to go to for bread, milk, meat, pickles and donuts and I’ve located several eateries where I can figure out most items on the menu. What has been most surprising to me is the daily challenge of living in a foreign country – something I have been completely ignorant of in the past. (To all our visiting scholars and international students – please forgive me for my lack of awareness as you were struggling with these same challenges). It’s this struggle that has been the most difficult for me and has at times caused me to question my decision to move here for five months. I’ve done some reading up and learned this is a pretty common reaction – and most importantly – that this too shall pass. So here is what I have been doing to cure my culture shock…

Being myself…. I spent the first several weeks worrying that I might appear too “American.” I felt that people were staring or looking at me funny if I smiled too much or appeared to be overly enthusiastic, which – if you know me – is pretty normal for me. I have learned this is MY reaction to not feeling completely comfortable in a new environment. Now I just go about my business as I normally would. And guess what?? I’ve been asked many times for directions or assistance – I’m not sure which because I’m always asked in Polish which I don’t understand. Nevertheless, it’s a true testament that I do fit in!!

The honey isle in the Real hypermarket.

Going out of my way…. I have found the most amazing things while jogging or speed walking around the city to no particular destination. On one trip, I happily discovered Real hypermarket – a store very similar to a Walmart in the states. The first time I entered it was as if the heavens opened up and the light shone down upon me – hallelujah! Now my only problem is learning to shop without a car – and it’s two bus stops from my flat. I limit my purchases to what I can fit in my little rolling shopping bag. I also found a Brico Depot (similar to a Home Depot) which completely solved my dilemma of where in the heck to buy a light bulb.

Meeting new people…. Thanks to the only Fulbright ETA on my campus (Alex), I learned of a Symposium on Human Rights that was being conducted on campus and entirely in English. It’s not really my field so I could have let it pass by, but the topic was interesting AND it was in English, so I decided to attend. What a great decision that was. I got invited to an after hours reception, met the most amazing people, and I have the inklings of an idea for a similar type of exchange with the department I am associated with here. Now I am on the lookout for any other opportunities that increase my exposure to other faculty and events on campus. Thanks again Alex!!

Networking…. The student Fulbrighters definitely have their act together. From the very beginning, they communicated and networked through a Facebook account. This is an absolute lifeline for me – it keeps me connected to all the Fulbrighters in Poland – most of them students, but I don’t mind if they don’t mind. At any one time I can log on, and see who’s doing what, who’s going where, and what activities are being planned. As I write this, an event is scheduled in Krakow for Halloween weekend. And guess what?? I’m going to be there!

Fulbright Update

I realize now, that I have waited much too long to update the status of my Fulbright experience, but in my defense it has been a very hectic couple of weeks. I’m finally feeling settled, now that I am in my flat, and I’m making great progress in learning my way around the city of Torun, so it seemed a good time to take a breath and reflect on the last few weeks. It seems ages since I first landed in Warsaw for the welcome session and first meeting of the Fulbrighters to Poland.

I arrived in Warsaw on Tuesday, September 11, had a quick briefing at the US Embassy on Wednesday morning and meeting of the Fulbright commission in the afternoon. We arrived in Torun by bus on Thursday to begin our orientation.

Most of the Fulbrighters (50 or so) are students who will either be English Teaching Assistants (ETA’s) or conducting research on various topics – all really fascinating and quite outside the scope of my expertise. There are only about 7 senior Fulbrighters, me included, so I spent a lot of time with students which was especially rewarding. We have a Facebook page for staying connected and reaching out in case we need a place to stay when visiting other cities.

In addition to Polish language instruction, the orientation also included some pretty intensive cultural immersion activities which I found most helpful. I attended a concert of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Bydgoszcz, home of the Academy of Music, have been to the Gingerbread Museum (they are famous for their “Pierniki” in Torun), the Modern Art Museum and Malbork castle (when this region was controlled by Germany, it was known as Marienberg), and I’ve even had Polish folk dancing lessons. I’ve listened to lectures on Polish literature, poetry, art and the Tuetonic Knights, on Polish Nobel Prize winners and the influence of Communism on all of it. I completed 24 hours of Polish language instruction. I can say my numbers to 20, hello, goodbye, excuse me, please, and my address. I can order mushroom soup (grzybami zupy – my favorite here because the mushrooms are local and fresh), goulash, pierogi, nalishniki (crepes or pancakes, but not like any pancakes you have ever tasted) and wine at a restaurant. I can buy a few staples, meat and vodka (woodka) at the grocery store. And I think I can purchase a train ticket but I haven’t actually tried it on my own yet. I’m pretty comfortable with the public transportation system and now have a permanent pass to use the system whenever I want. I have found the major shopping centers and can get there relatively easy by tram or bus. I’ve gotten used to walking though – it’s just what everybody does here. I’m about 15 minutes walk from Old Town and about a 10 minute bus ride from the university.

I’ve also had a chance to meet several times with the Department Chair and faculty in the department where I am housed. I am using my time now to learn about the department and to understand their processes which are somewhat different that those at a typical university in the US. The goal is to find opportunities for partnering in the future. I will also be conducting special lectures and workshops for students and faculty during the semester but in the meantime, I plan to sit in on classes taught by my colleagues. Yesterday (Monday, Oct. 1) was the inaugural address and official opening of the new academic year. I was surprised and excited that the Vice Prime Minister of Poland spoke at the ceremony.

In the middle of all this, I was invited to attend a reception at the home of the US Ambassador to Poland, to recognize outgoing and incoming Fulbrighters. It was also a special celebration to say goodbye to Andrzej Dakowski, the Executive Director of the Polish-US Fulbright Commission. How could I refuse? This meant a quick trip to Warsaw, which I managed to accomplish on my own. I did get off at the wrong train station though. After a moment of panic and walking in circles, I managed to find a taxi to get me to my destination without any further problems 🙂

That pretty much covers it. I have many photos of my activities that I will post separately here and on Facebook.