Saturday, October 31, 2015

Frist Steps with a LMS

The most effective way to start using an LMS is to get some good PD for it.  Dha!
Ok, I get it, this doesn't always happen. Often we have to figure out how to fly while building the plane and this is what teachers are very familiar with. So what do you do beside screaming, crying, and wish the world was fairer to you? Here there are a few suggestions for keeping your mental and emotional sanity while get the handle of your new LMS.
  1. Before starting look around the Web for some good examples of courses created using the LSM of you choice. You can gather ideas and strategies for planning your own e-learning course. I have found some good examples searching Google for "Canvas course".
  2. Make a list of the MUST HAVE elements that should have in your course and start writing the text that you will add to the LMS using World documents. Having this content ready will save you a lot of time when you will start building your course.
  3. LMSs have a website with resources, forums, and troubleshooting guides that can help you in figuring out how to get started with the LSM you are using.these are the links to Moodle and Canvas resources sites.

  4. Fortunately out there there are a lot of people working on LMS and some of them are eager to share their knowledge making very helpful and instructive videos. Search YouTube or Vimeo and you will certainly find  something that will help you getting started and troubleshooting some of the adversities you might encounter on your way.   Here there is an example of video found on YouTube with the directions for getting started with Canvas.

  5. In Alaska most if not all school districts are using one LMS. Connect with other educators and asks for help with the particular feature you are working at. A good way for reaching out for educators in Alaska is through one of the Google+ communities such as ASTE Networks, Alaska Online Teachers, and AKTeach.
    I am sure that each state has similar resources, however thanks to the WWW it does not make any difference where you are, today you can reach anybody around the world as easily as your extra neighbor!

How to....videos, the best way to

If you are a teacher, you value your time and EFFICIENCY is one of your best friend! With this in mind, in the years I have been teaching online I have learned that "How to...." videos are you secret weapon! Something else that I have learned is that their placement int he course is very critical. If they are placed strategically in the e-course, most of the time they will allow students to find an answer right when their question rises, and save teacher from replying to numerous similar emails on the same topic.
Yes, I have learned this the hard way.... and I share my experience so that you will not have to do the same.

Today whenever I receive 2 emails asking explanation about the same topic, I go ahead and either look or make an "how to..." video. This year with the change of LMS I had to redo some of my videos, while I have found great resources on the Canvas Help website. The only problem though was that the videos were hosted on Vimeo, and our district blocks it, so I had to move them to YouTube and doing so I have crated a playlist with all of them that I can share with students.
You can access to my play list at this URL: Mrs. Pokryfki Courses - Guides and How to...

I have created specific videos for guiding showing student how to type accented letters and how to deal with some tech issues such as when their headset is not recognized. What I use for making these videos is Camtasia, a pretty good video editing software, a little spendy though. If you want to try a free tool you can use Screencast-o-matic. You can have some more features and tools using the paying version, which is still a  fraction of the cost of a more advanced tool, such as Camtasia. I have used Screencast-o-matic especially when I want a podcast done on the fly. Also being a web based tool, I can use it from any computer, as long as I have a webcam.

Another tool I am using for making videos is GoAnimated. This tool allows you to created animated cartoons and you can either record your voice or use computer generated voices for having your characters speaking. What is pretty cool is that you can also have the speech done in several languages, male and female voices. I have used GoAnimated for creating stories and instructional videos as well. I really like this tool for the many options you have for presenting concepts in a fun and engaging way.

The last tool I would like to share with you is VoiceThread . My best way to explain what this tool does is "PowerPoint on steroids!" Basically you can create a slide show of still images or of videos, add your voice and test, and students can comment vocally or in a written way to each slide.
I use this tool a lot in my language courses for creating interactive activities in which I ask questions and students reply to me in the target language, allowing asynchronous interaction with students.

Both GoAnimated and VoiceThread can be easily embedded in your LMS. I have used on Moodle as well as on Canvas.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Planning an effective introductory to the course video

The first rule should be "put yourself in the students' shoes". This is a mistake that unfortunately comes easier that not when you spend a lot of time creating and developing a course. You know the course inside-out and this familiarity with its structure can make you underestimate some of the challenges or some of the "unexpected" and not successful ways students could move in the course getting confused and frustrated.

Retrieved from
When I designed my course I did this, and I have followed the steps students should take in the first video I made, however something that I did not consider was the starting point from where a student access to the course. I gave for granted that the starting point was the homepage of the course, while it is not. In the page where students arrive when they log in, is a general Canvas entry page that at this time does not show the list of the courses the student is enrolled in, but students need to click on a tab "Courses and Groups" for opening a drop down menu with the list of the courses/course in which they are enrolled. Then clicking on the name of the course they do arrive to the home page.
In the entry page though students see two lists: "to do" and "coming up".
The first list shows a partial list of assignments already due. This is particularly challenging for students who are enrolling in the course after the beginning of the course, and it happens very often. This list as I said does show assignments graded, however some assignments that have embedded content do not show in this list. Also anything that needs to read, watched, listen, does not show unless is linked to a grade.
The list coming up shows only assignments graded that are coming up in the calendar.

Before the beginning of the course, when the course was not populated, I did not see the presence of the list "to do". This has been a very misleading section that made students click directly on those assignments without accessing to the homepage and following through with the course. Since I did not foresee this issue, my original video did not include any direction for the entry page, while now I am aware of the importance of that first step for avoiding a huge sidetracking of students.

Another think that is overestimate is the fact that students will read directions :) For this reason in my video I had to add a couple of directions for finding some essential tools or the course: one is a video with the directions for typing accented letters on a keyboard, and how to use Microsoft Lync, a chatting tool that is already installed on all computers of our school district. While the former is a tool for students work, the other is their tool for connecting with me directly. Both tools are very important.

An overall good strategy for creating an introductory video should include:
  • Make a plan of the flow of the course: from where students enter to where they should go to.
  • Consider any possible deviation from he flow and alert students of the risks in taking those paths. 
  • Identify and introduce students to icons connected to particular elements of the course, so that they could recognize them later instead of guessing.
  • Make a list of the important elements students should know right from the beginning, contacts with the instructor, how to see grades, how to see teacher's comments, where to see the due dates, where to see announcements, etc...
  • If you can, TEST IT with someone who is not familiar with your course, a colleague would work, the effectiveness of your video in his/her ability to access to the course and move through following the path you planned. 
The tool I use for creating my video is Camtasia Studio. It takes a little longer than using some of the more immediate tools, but it also offers great editing capabilities, so that the final product can be of a good quality.
Unfortunately I was not able to finalize the new video today for some technical difficulties, but I hope I will be bale to publish it here tomorrow.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

Everyone needs a road-map!

This is even more important when we are talking about online courses. Over the years teaching online I have found how important is to give students right at the very first contact an effective and user friendly tool that takes them exactly where they need to go in the course and that shows them around the course as a good hostess.

Thinking about it seems a pretty logical tah! idea, right? The challenge is making an EFFECTIVE introduction video!
This process takes quite some time, effort and definitely a few failures to launch. After working on Moodle for 5 yeas I thought I had my intro video pretty much nailed down to perfection. I was so proud of it. This year though with the adoption of the new (for me) LMS Canvas I had to remake all my introductory video on a LMS I was not very familiar with, so I am back dealing with my first "failure to launch" Canvas' road-map.

It is amazing how many things I learn in the first 48 hours of the school years, when the floodgate is open and students are pouring into the courses. That's when you find out a lot of the things that can go wrong! This time around though there was a particular step that I totally underestimated and that has proved to be critical in the misguidance of students arriving to the course. I had some great conversations with some of my colleagues at the Distance Learning department, and we are planning to put our hands back on the video and create some guidelines for all our intro to the course videos so that students enrolled in any of our courses would find some sort of consistency in the navigation.

This is my first Canvas intro video and the Home Page shown here actually has been already restyled reducing the size of the 3 buttons, placing them on the right of the welcoming message, and adding my photo and contact info right under the buttons, as you can see in this image on the right.
I am not yet 100% satisfied with the layout of my home page, however this organization did not cause any troubles, while the video did, and this is why I would like to start tacking that first.

I would greatly appreciate any constructive criticism about the video and if you have 2 cents also for the home page, feel free to throw them here as well :)

Next step: listing problem caused by the current video and then start planning the new video!

Friday, October 9, 2015

My LMS world
These days we often hear talking about LMS, but not necessarily everybody knows what this anachronism means or what it represents.  LMS stands for Learning Management System, which in other words is a software that allows the creation and management of an online based course content, students data and work management. In other words is the online classroom in its broad meaning, including curriculum, communication, and students' activities of a given class.
 Sometimes it is called "virtual classroom", "e-learning environment", or "online course", and it can be used either for formal instruction or for training in either completely online deliver or as online component of a blended learning environment. Schools of all grades, especially post-secondary education, use LMS for delivering online courses to students and for educators' professional development. Industries as well are using more and more LMS for providing training to their staff, especially when they have personal on multiple locations.

I have been an online teacher at KPBSD since 2009 and over the years I used various LMS for my online courses. The first LMS I have used was ANGEL. This LMS was already in use by my school district, and honestly I did not now anything about LMS at that time, so I was not in the position of being able to appreciate or not all its potentials.
The second year as online teachers my district migrated the online courses to Moodle, and we used this LMS for five years until this summer we switched to Canvas.
The initial move to Moodle was supported by the idea of using an open source software, which technically was supposed to be financially advantageous for the district. The problem that raised over the years was the need of full time support for the management of the software and the technical development needed for customizing Moodle to our needs.
We also came upon some challenges connected to the use of some of Moodle's features, such as the questionable functionality of some audio and video recording/playing, negative feedback from students about its navigability, and difficulty in integrating external services in a smoothly integrated fashion, such as YouTube, Quizlet, Dropbox, etc.
Moodle has also some great features though, such as the ability to store the "note for grader" which is a general feedback for essay questions in which a teacher can store an answer not visible to students, but useful for the person who is grading students work as reference of what the correct answer should be like.

At this time I have been working with Canvas only for a couple of months, so I am still pretty new to it for being able to provide a reliable review of this LMS. For what I have heard form students, it seems that they like it better than Moodle and they find it much more user friendly. What I and all my colleagues of the Distance Learning Department have noticed in the short time we have been using Canvas, was the exponential increase int he students interaction with their instructors using the messaging/emailing feature build in Canvas.
One feature that I am particularly fond of, considering that I teach world languages, is the easy to use video and/or audio feedback I can leave to any type of work submitted by my students.

Overall though I will be able to provide a more comprehensive and reliable critical review of this LSM by the end of this school year.

On other LMS that I have been using form the student prospective is Blackboard. This LMS is used by the University of Alaska system, and taking my classes with UAF via distance delivery I have been using it for few years now. From the user prospective, it is definitely not as user-friendly as Moodle or Canvas can be, but I do not have the insight of the teacher/course-builder prospective. I would actually appreciate if someone would fill me in with their knowledge and experience about this LSM.
This is all I have to share about LSM, I hope this post has been informative and if you have any questions, suggestions, comments about any of the LSMs mentioned here, please drop a note. :)