Lumi Tunes

Ladies and gentlemen, you’re about to witness…

I have to admit that I was a little nervous going into this week’s activities.  I had never heard of Lumi, or H5P, let alone used them before.  Turns out H5P stands for HTML5 package; essentially it uses JavaScript to create interactive elements that we can share on our websites.  Since my online course uses a lot of video elements I thought it would be most fitting to add interactions to several of them.

There was only one small problem – I didn’t have any videos yet.  So I decided to create a few from scratch.  But isn’t that placing the cart before the horse?  My course would certainly need a syllabus.  Right?  Okay, no problem I can put one of those together.  What about a teacher introduction?  A quick start guide?  How about several sleepless evenings of feverishly creating content so I could get back to adding interactive elements to the videos?

I forgot.  I hadn’t made them yet.

Cue the internal screaming.

On your mark, get set, CREATE!

If you didn’t get a chance to read my ADDIE profile (if you didn’t I don’t blame you – its longer than the manifestos of some political parties) here is my course in a nutshell: I am making a unit on leasing and buying vehicles for students who failed grade 12 workplace mathematics (in my province workplace mathematics focuses on on practical day-to-day applications).  My grand scheme is to eventually create several units so students with attendance issues can earn a credit in the course.

Before I could create my nifty videos I needed to set the stage and create the shell of the course in Google Classroom.  I apologize for not linking to it directly, but my school division has created an electronic walled garden of sorts, and outsiders aren’t allowed past the gates (to be fair we did suffer a massive ransomware attack – so the paranoia is somewhat justified).

The preliminary work is below.

Boring Teacher Stuff

  • The aforementioned ADDIE profile

Getting Started

  • A quick start guide
  • Meet the instructor
  • Introduce yourself – this is the first assignment for my students.  They will create a short video introduction (under 30 seconds) including their name, an interesting fact about them, and why they took workplace mathematics.  I have provided an example of what I am looking for.
  • A course syllabus – I included a code of conduct to set my expectations for student-to-student online interactions

H5P content, assessment, and my rationale

Have you ever been shopping for jeans and you can’t seem to find the right pair?  The pair that are the correct size aren’t the right colour.  The ones in the right colour are way too big, etc.  This is how I felt about the videos I found on YouTube comparing buying and leasing cars.  Some hit on several key points, but left a few out that I wanted to discuss.  The ones that were comprehensive enough went way too long.  So I rolled up my sleeves, fired up PowerPoint, plugged in my microphone, and made my own video.

Next it was time to add H5P content throughout.  But what to add?  Interaction for interaction sake defeats the purpose.  In other words I wanted my tools to enhance the lesson in some sort of meaningful way.  For starters I wanted to keep obtrusive pauses to a minimum.  Every time I threw out a factoid I placed an optional link for students to click on if they wanted to see the source material.  Secondly I used text to summarize the main points made in major sections (again, an optional button rather than something that would kill the pacing of the video).  At several key intersections I placed quizzes to provide formative assessment to students so they could gauge their understanding.  These do stop the video so I tried to keep them spaced apart.  Due to my crippling need to organize everything I placed chapter markers throughout.  This allows students to jump to specific parts of the video when they complete their first written assignment (more on that in a second).  Lastly, there is a summary quiz to wrap up.

Here is a link to my first H5P enabled video created with Lumi.

As my first video is fairly neutral in terms of leasing and buying vehicles I then have students watch a video from Dave Ramsey (an internet finance advice guru) lambasting leasing and an article from a popular driving website defending the decision to lease.

For an assessment I provided the following written assignment (to be submitted through Google classroom).  My priorities where for students to engage in critical thinking and application of the content.  Understanding terminology is important, but I am really interested in how they apply this new knowledge.  The assignment description is below:

For this assignment you will answer the following questions:

1) Why is Dave Ramsey so strongly against leasing (which he refers to pejoratively as “fleecing”) vehicles?  Cite 3 reasons that he directly addresses in his video.  Your answer should be 3-4 sentences long.

Example: Dave Ramsey is strongly against leasing vehicles.  Firstly, he notes that when you lease a vehicle ________________________.

3 marks

2) In his article Benjamin Hunting describes why he ultimately decided to lease a new vehicle for 2 years.  Explain why he reached this decision noting two of his strongest arguments.  Your answer should be 2-3 sentences long.

Example: Although Benjamin Hunting didn’t initially want to lease a vehicle he came to this decision for several reasons.  First, when he ______________________.

2 marks

3) Based on the video in lesson 1 (part 1) and video/article in lesson 1 (part 2) which do you feel is a better option for you, buying or leasing a vehicle?

You cannot “sit on the fence” i.e. you must make a decision.

Example: Given my circumstances and preferences I think it would be best to…

You need to give a minimum of 4 reasons to support your position that should be specific to you and your context.

Example: One of the reasons I chose to lease a vehicle is that I intend to teach English in Korea for two years after graduation.  If I lease a vehicle then I won’t have to worry about selling it when I return home at the end of my contract.

2 marks for clearly stating your position (buying or leasing)
8 marks for your 4 reasons (2 marks each)

15 marks (Assignment Total)

You may submit your assignment as Google Doc, or if you are more comfortable speaking, as a short video on your cell phone (you may have to speak to your instructor on how to do this).

And then I made a bunch more stuff…

I then made several more lessons linking videos and articles.

I made another Lumi video for my second module which you can view here.  It pertains to reading window stickers on new vehicles.  As this is heavily focused on terminology I felt it was appropriate to assess this knowledge using a multiple choice quiz.  Multiple choice quizzes are not always the best – but the worlds of finance and car dealing have a lot of jargon (I think intentionally to confuse the consumer) that needs to be understood.

My Final Thoughts on H5P and Lumi

I like it.  But like all web tools like WordPress it omits the fine granular control that you get from writing your own JavaScript, CSS, and HTML.  It makes the tools accessible to all, but when something doesn’t work the way you want it to, you aren’t left with a lot of options.  As long as you are okay with some of the baked in limitations I think it is an excellent way to enhance content.

But be warned, all the neat interactions cannot compensate for the weak base content.  If the underlying video is inaccurate, biased, or poorly created all the interactive quizzes in the world won’t make it better.

Avoiding Awkward Silence – Planning for Student/Instructor Interaction

A drill sergeant leans in close towards a young man.

USMC-02659 by Staff Sgt. Thomas Perry, Public Domain.

Creating a Conversation

According to Michael Welsch an online course should feel like a conversation.  In his opinion, meaningful dialogue occurs when one engages in responsive teaching practices (integrating student questions and observations into lesson materials, using video introductions, etc.).  This builds a sense of trust and comradery amongst classmates and leads to higher engagement.

Looking at my own course it feels more like an awkward family supper with the in-laws.

Essentially, Welsch is emphasizing relationships, which is hardly a revelation to any veteran instructor.  So why is it so difficult to transfer these practices into online spaces? Why do I find planning a blended course so difficult?

That old sinking feeling

I am far more adept at connecting with people in person given my nearly twenty years of conventional teaching experience.  Call it familiarity, or call it the fear of the unknown, but I don’t feel comfortable with most features of my chosen LMS (Google Classroom).  But more than this am I have a more fundamental worry: I don’t know if my course will be engaging enough.

The purpose of my online course is to help students credit complete a failed class.  Mercifully, due to luck and circumstance (I don’t use those terms when my principal is around) I don’t have many students that flunk.  This creates a unique situation – effective models of online learning like OCL require rich student-to-student interaction, but my community of learners may only consist of one or two students.

How do I build a community amongst my learners if I only have one person taking the course?

It feels like being picked last for dodgeball all over again.

A man sits alone looking out of a window.

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash.

Possible Solutions – Possible Problems

  1. Building Social Presence – It is important that students feel a part of something when they take an online course.  With only a handful of students working through my mathematics unit it will be incumbent upon me to step up (more so than someone with the luxury of creating sub-communities within their class).  My initial plan was to post short discussion questions in Google Classroom with students typing out 2-3 sentence responses (to maintain engagement).  Instead I think it would be better if students recorded short video answers to which I could respond with my own videos.  This will help students feel that they are authentically interacting with the instructor and provide an impetus for them to return to the course website frequently.  These short video clips will require clear goals and expectations (length, content, what is appropriate to discuss, etc.) both in written and video form (how can one teach how to respond in video form without making a video themselves?).  Creating an exemplar conversation between myself and a teaching colleague (playing the role of a student) would be helpful.
  2. Structure learning materials to support discussion – As Bates cautions our teaching materials, videos, and readings should be chosen with the explicit purpose of supporting student discussion.  In his view discussion is not an optional addition, it is the core around which all other activities are built.  This means my quizzes and questions in Google Classroom need to generate conversations, rather than being mere summative tools.  Thus after a quiz I will need to post a discussion question asking students to expand upon what they have learned, something to the effect of “After watching the videos and completing the quiz pose one unanswered question you still have.”  Circling back to student engagement I could then use one of these as the next major topic for video discussion (see number 1 above).  This would validate student contributions and make them feel that their input is valued.
  3. Create a relevant resource section – Part of establishing social presence is creating openings for learners to show what they have learned.  To keep students engaged I will create a message board section of my course (or a place on the main newsfeed in Google Classroom) where students will post news articles, or websites that are related to classroom activities.  In particular I would like students to share links to places where they have found information for their final projects.  To keep things simple I will provide examples of what I expect (A sentence describing the website, the link, and why they feel it is relevant to what we are talking about) and respond in either video or text format to encourage their participation.

I am wrestling with the idea of how this should be evaluated.  I would like student responses to flow organically from the material and peer discussion, but I am not sure how to get away from extrinsic motivators (i.e. “is this for marks”).  Obviously as part of my expectations I will have to have some sort of marking scheme (I am thinking about utilizing a rubric, but part of me feels like explaining what I liked about student responses in video form may be more effective – encouraging excellent work and asking questions when work is not hitting the mark), but I am not sure how best to do this.  If I had multiple students working through the course I could ask them which discussion answers they appreciated most, and factor their responses into student grades (perhaps using a google form?).

In short I am very open to your suggestions and feedback.

Blended Learning: A Mixed Experience

Blended What?

Sometimes the simplest tasks can cause the most trepidation.  Take for example this week’s blog entry: the relatively simple task of describing my experiences employing blended learning in my classroom.

Easy.

Except that until 48 hours ago I didn’t know what blended learning was.  But no matter, academia will come to the rescue.  Certainly there must be a measured consensus on what constitutes blended learning?  As it turns out the spectrum of modalities (and associated pedagogical practices) through which blended learning may be delivered has resulted in semantic chaos in the literature.

Okay, that may be a bit of hyperbole – but the fact remains that we need a working definition for today’s discussion or we will be chasing our tails all day.  For our purposes we will call blended learning “an approach to education that combines online educational materials and opportunities for interaction online with physical place-based classroom methods.” With that out of the way let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

This is the part where we talk about the pandemic for the 4000th time

For most of my career have I worked face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder, teenage body odor to gasping instructor with my students.  I have employed (kicking and screaming the whole way) technology relatively sparingly as the profession has evolved.  I have a Google Classroom, I speak with parents through a learning management system, and I have dabbled with the odd online quiz/game for review purposes.

So like many instructors the shift to teaching online during the pandemic was as refreshing as being hit in the face with a garden shovel.  It is clear from the literature that I was not alone in these feelings.  It has been pointed out that  a lack of preparation and technological challenges left many teachers ill prepared to engage in a online instruction.  As such, Emergency Remote Teaching, or ERT,  should not be compared to well-designed blended learning courses or distance education programs.

Despite this, ERT was my first true experience teaching in a blended learning environment, and I feel it bears further examination.  Outside of a lack of preparation, why did my efforts fail so spectacularly?

Who could have predicted that poor design decisions (ill suited for the audience and medium) would result in disaster?

As Tony Bates points out merely transferring one’s in-person instruction to an online platform is usually met with mixed results, as we saw during the lockdown.  My first instinct was to duplicate my regular classroom in the digital world.  I recorded my lectures, posted assignments (that I had been using for years), and maintained the same pace that I have used with students face-to-face.  There are several flaws with this approach.  First, and possibly most importantly, it failed to take into consideration the needs of my learners.  Learning online is not analogous to attending a brick-and-mortar building.  Students working online have different needs.  For example, long unbroken lectures are ill-suited for screen viewing and should be broken up with activities and small group discussion.  As Bates put it,

It is important then to look at the design that makes the most of the educational affordances of new technologies, because unless the design changes significantly to take full advantage of the potential of the technology, the outcome is likely to be inferior to that of the physical classroom model which it is attempting to imitate.

Online instruction need to play to the strengths of the digital medium.  Essentially my emergency remote teaching was garbage because I didn’t try to meaningfully and thoughtfully integrate technology throughout.  Had I effectively used blogging, message boards, or met students on platforms that they were comfortable with (TikTok, Instagram, etc.) I may have had better results.

Furthermore, my asynchronous approach was not well suited to the types of students I was teaching.  Distance education is best employed with individuals who have high levels of education, are mature students, or work well independently.  Essentially I was fitting square pegs into round holes with a mallet.  My students were accustomed to a lot of support with differentiated instruction.  Simply dropping dozens of lessons online and saying, “here you go” was never going to work.

So…online is bad?

No. No. A thousand times no.

There is a pervasive belief amongst instructors that online learning is inferior to face-to-face instruction, this view, however, is unsupported by research.  I am embarrassed to say that I believed this as well. I thought that without personal interaction online classes would descend into endless tedium. However, instructional practice is the difference maker.  As Valerie Irvine argued online learning is neither passive nor boring, pedagogy is the chief determinant of engagement, not modality. Online instruction is engaging if you make it engaging.  In a similar vein, face-to-face instruction is engaging if we make it so.  Conversely, instruction is not improved automatically by seasoning it with technology.  It is not parmesan cheese, its mere presence does not make things better (I love parmesan).

A block of parmesan cheese

Parmesan Cheese by Jon Sullivan, Public Domain. If you think adding technology to your lessons will improve them automatically, you’re doing it wrong.

The case for cautious optimism

Blended and online learning made a poor first impression on me.  But in retrospect it was not a fair shake.  I was not given the support required to develop successful blended or online program, and I didn’t put the effort in to make my pandemic teaching work for my students.  This is one of the reasons I have taken this course – it is time to learn how to do this well.