Virtually Teaching: My First Steps Online

Mary Mallon
Granada Learning C2k Consultant
Northern Ireland

Background
I had the privilege of being a recent graduate of the International Masters in Instructional Technology Program: Distance Learning Strand that partnered Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA with the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. To find out more about this innovative Masters and the work of the participants visit http://www.imscet.org/

Context

BlackCat Slideshow, a simple and easy to use tool for creating multimedia presentations, is one of thirty Granada Learning titles which have been supplied to all primary schools in Northern Ireland as part of Classroom 2000 (C2k) http://c2kschoolbox.granada-learning.com
 

Since it is a new piece of software the pilot had the potential to provide feedback on the use of Slideshow in primary schools whilst at the same time offering me an opportunity to draw together all that I had learned over the course of the Masters program in an online teaching practice, where I would design, build and teach an online course. My objectives were:

Implementation
The pilot involved each teacher making one slideshow per week during a three week period, targeting a different subject area.  My initial goal in selecting 10 teachers, from 5 schools across Northern Ireland, was to ensure a balance between key stages whilst at the same time minimising the feelings of isolation. The use of the VLE served to break down barriers of time and geographical location.

Proactive evaluation (Sims, 2001) at each stage of the journey from design, through development to implementation and evaluation helped me to clarify my thinking and also highlight any potential flaws. It involved experimentation, discovery and growth, as I created the course materials (Wood, 1988), and involved identifying an area where there was a need for change and then, subsequently, trying to provide a remedy through an evaluative process (McNiff et al., 1996).

This approach allowed me to identify the fact that the teachers would not be able to meet each other face-to-face as a weakness in this pilot, and I therefore set about ensuring that they all met me individually; a strategy that had modelled by Linda Wojnar in her early contact with us at the beginning of the Masters. It proved very useful in breaking down barriers and creating an atmosphere of trust (Hill, 2000) where people are more willing to take risks and share the lows as well as the highs, an important factor if the pilot was going to be used to inform future planning of support.

I felt it vital that I create and provide the participants with a guide to assist them logging on, in their navigation of, and the process involved in posting messages and uploading files to the online environment. I was also careful in providing them with a clear outline of what was involved in the pilot so that they would have the big picture up front and be aware of the commitment they were making to engage in three types of interaction: learner - content, learner - instructor and learner - learner (Schoenfield-Tacher et al., 2001).

The transcripts illustrate the supportive climate created by the participants in the pilot. They encouraged and supported each other in the non-threatening virtual learning environment. The participants were willing to take risks and experience success. They asked questions to clarify their understanding of how individual slideshows were created, seeking assistance in the 'Questions and Answers' section and offering solutions to each others problems. Such an environment builds confidence and motivates teachers to learn more. In this pilot the teachers were exploring the software without fear of failure and many experienced success by trial and error.  As a result, they were more willing to take risks, try different media, and hence become more confident and effective in their use of the software, for as Hopkins (1997) reports,

Learning is enhanced by risk taking, and ICT provides a medium where many more pupils are prepared to take risks.'    p.164

By sharing their slideshows in this safe environment the participants had the opportunity to try out things they had not considered themselves, so sharing and celebrating good practice as well as providing them with a bank of 30 slideshows in return for sharing three of their own.

I loved your slideshow on the Vikings! I will use it next year (if you don't mind!)  Can't wait to download the second part! Keep up the great work… Derek 19 April

Derek - We used your quiz today - very enjoyable! Class worked around laptop (with a ref!) in groups and answered the questions. We had prizes and the works… Never thought of using SS in this way… Adrian 24 April

Your fairy tale is super. These are giving me ideas for creative writing with my lot…Pauline 18 April

Thanks, you've given me a starter for my history in the last six weeks of term. Keep them coming. Well done. If we make any I'll send them to you… Pauline 22 April

I really have discovered a wonderful range of ideas/approaches to using slideshow - well done to everyone who has participated. Now I'll have to get recording and photographing from real life...Derek 27 April
 

These next two excerpts from the discussion forum illustrate the way in which participants were reflecting on each others work, striving to ensure they fully understood the process by which the  slideshow was created.

Janine,

I used Derek the Troll in my class today and my lot loved it - they are jealous that our sound recorder isn't working properly. But will force me to do something about it now. Congratulate your class - the story was superb, as were their voices and the vocabulary they were using. Did you spend long discussing/writing away from the computer? Did the clip art provide the stimulus for the story or did they choose the clip art to suit the story already written?...Adrian 24 April

I put the clipart pics onto acetate and let the kids view them. We discussed the "bones" of fairy tales -characters/setting/problem/solution etc and then they drew and wrote story boards in groups. From that, we built up one of the stories, using ideas from everyone (data projector was very handy), put the pics in order and then the kids (a lot of it in their own time as I am not a KS2 teacher and so see the kids for short spells only) drafted and redrafted the story itself. If I had more time, I would have recorded the sound individually, one child at a time. This was quite rushed and the other 26 were sitting listening as it was being recorded each time! Scrape that chair or cough AND DIE!!!
                                                                                                        Janine Thur 25 April

In addition, there is evidence of the good practice being shared within their schools where teachers have used SS created by others during the three week period to encourage others within their staff to investigate the potential of Slideshow, so acting as a catalyst for self-supporting staff development.

…Well done. I look forward to showing it on Monday to my key stage one staff. Hope it inspires them… Pauline 13 April

I really enjoyed your SlideShow! I told our P5 teacher about it and she is very interested… Janine 9 April

Just thought I'd tell you that when our principal saw what we were doing on Slideshow, he asked for it to be loaded onto his computer as he felt he could cope with this programme as he couldn't master PowerPoint… Alice 25 Mar

Throughout the pilot the online communication has served to record and paint the special stories behind the creation of the Slideshows.  The stories which have allowed all the participants in the pilot to peer through virtual windows into each others classrooms and bring the learning situations to life, as illustrated below.

This slideshow was created by a group of less able pupils. One of the children has a serious speech problem and I was a bit nervous about letting her speak but she did extremely well. This same child took over management of the last slide, explaining to another exactly what to do, she even recorded the speech herself as I had to leave the classroom. She made the other girl record it twice because she wasn't happy with the first recording. I can now go to Italy happy as I'm obsolete in my classroom… Alice 28 April
.
I ensured that as well as posting announcements to the Virtual Learning Environment, I sent a copy of all announcements to the participants email accounts, a very effective strategy which I first saw modelled by Nagy of Duquesne. In this way I tried to encourage those who had been participating whilst at the same time gently nudge those who needed it.  They served to summarise happenings to date and alert participants to the changes made in light of experiences in the pilot.

I also used the strategy of adding forums as the time progressed and confidence grew rather than overwhelming the participants with too many places to navigate through and potential places to get lost in as they took their first steps in to VLE (Hill, 2000).  I used this same strategy in the introduction of the Virtual Classroom to offer differentiated learning experiences for those who needed stretched. I was therefore delighted to find several messages in the same vein as this one:

Pauline > Hi, I was checking the mail and found this. Looks very exciting. How does it work?
…14 April

Whilst I see synchronous chat as vital element in online learning I am a firm believer that one of the biggest flaws is that of the chat not being focused. Therefore in an attempt to ensure that the participants had prior knowledge of what I hoped we would achieve as a group from the chat I posted three questions several days before the scheduled chat. The 8 page transcript is summarised in Appendix 1.

Assessment and Evaluation
I felt it would be valuable to have all the participants complete a questionnaire at the conclusion of the pilot. Much of the information in the questionnaire served to triangulate the data from the online transcripts and my own observations, as well as provide useful background information on the participants.  Appendix 2, the collated questionnaires, provides a rich source of information which highlights the participants views on their learning, the positive aspects to sharing their work, as well as, mirroring the literature (Ko and Rossen, 2001;McConnell 2000; Palloff and Pratt, 2001; and White and Weight, 2000) in their identification of the benefits and drawbacks of working in a VLE.

As stated earlier Slideshow had only recently been introduced to all primary schools in Northern Ireland and the pilot had the potential to provide feedback on the use of Slideshow in primary schools I would suggest that the comments from the discussion forums and questionnaires (Appendix 2) validate the use of Slideshow as tool for multimedia presentation in the primary school. In some cases it might be used as a precursor to PowerPoint for older pupils.

They all loved doing it! The rest want their turn on the next slideshow!    Ursula 17 April

Almost all of my class (also P7) have found it quite straight forward to use. I showed a small group how to use it and got them to show the others.  Adrian 23 April

The pilot with Slideshow was filled with more highs than lows. Undoubtedly we had technical difficulties; mainly with the time it took to upload and download the Slideshows and I can only applaud the teachers for the tenacity and powers of endurance as they worked through technical problems to share their work. In light of this they will be burned onto CD-Rom for distribution!

Sustainability
I have considered the issue of sustainability at two levels. Firstly within the life of the project did I as course designer and tutor facilitate and encourage the participants to ensure the collaboration online was sustained and did not wane? Secondly, has this pilot provided evidence to suggest this type of approach has potential for the future?

In terms of the life of the project, it was scheduled to run for three weeks and generated a total of 337 postings, 82 emails and an 8 page synchronous chat transcript.

In the forums specifically for each week the postings were as follows:

In addition, the Course Statistics generated by the VLE enable a more detailed analysis of individual participation as well as the participant's analysis of their own contributions as detailed in the returned questionnaires. I would propose that this quantitative and quantitative data broadly supports the sustainability issue within the life of the pilot.

The second issue of evidence to support the potential of this type of approach for the future is best supported by qualitative data generated through this pilot, in the chat transcript and in the returned questionnaires. All the participants said they would consider being involved in future projects and, whilst their recommendations are all documented, a resounding endorsement came from one participant:

'If this approach was adopted when introducing any new software, teachers would not experience many of the difficulties they currently do! Being introduced to the resources with time in a relaxed setting allows teachers to experiment and enjoy the software. They are more likely to then use the software positively with children. Also knowing that immediate help is at hand (by telephone/email/conferencing) re-assures staff. I thoroughly enjoyed my involvement in this pilot scheme and would recommend a similar approach to any future initiatives.'…
Derek (Questionnaire)

This pilot provided a 'powerful method of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of education' (McNiff, 1988, p. 1) where the focus was on the effective use of Slideshow by teachers and pupils and support was channelled through a VLE.

Post Script: I just wish you could all see the wonderful work that the children and the teachers in the project have produced


Appendices for this paper in Rich Text Format

Bibliography



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Hill, J. R.  and Raven, A. (2000) Online Learning Communities: If You Build Them, Will They Stay? http://itforum.coe.uga.edu/paper46/paper46.htm

Hopkins, C. (1998) 'The role of information and communication technology in providing access for all'. Support for Learning, 13(4), 163-166.

Klemm, W. R. Eight Ways to Get Students More Engaged in On-line Conferences. The Higher Education Journal. 26 (1): pp. 62-64 Retrieved June 29, 2001 from http://www.cvm.tamu.edu/wklemm/Eight%20Ways/8waystoengage.htm

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Schoenfeld- Tacher, R., McConnell, S. and Graham, M. (2001) Do No Harm - A Comparison of the Effects of On-Line Vs. Traditional Delivery Media on a Science Course. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 10(3), 257 - 265

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ITFORUM PAPER #64 - Virtually Teaching: My First Steps Online by Mary Mallon. Posted on ITFORUM on October 10, 2002. The author retains all copyrights of this work. Used on ITFORUM by permission of the authors. Visit the ITFORUM WWW Home Page at http://itforum.coe.uga.edu/