We are planning for the Program for Online Teaching Certificate Class for fall, and there will be some changes!
We’re keeping the independent blogs.
After discussion about having all participants as authors on one blog, we’ve decided that the “space of ones own” concept was too important to lose. MiraCosta instructors will continue to have the ability to get a blog through the college. For others, we’re no longer encouraging Edublogs (which makes you pay now to embed video). We enthusastically encourage a hosted blog of ones own, but we realize not everyone is up to that challenge. We are moderately encouraging WordPress.com. We’re noting that Blogger seems to work rather well, so it’s the first time we’ll recommend that. Since we aren’t aggregating, there are more choices – people could even use Tumblr.
No more FeedWordpress or a big aggregated blog
This turned into a nightmare that could only be improved by being a coder, which I’m not. Dealing with recalcitrant feeds (and finding them when people can’t tell where they are) became a major time suck. I can use another plugin to create a page of feeds if I want to, but it won’t be the core of the course. I still recommend the FeedWordpress method to anyone who has coding knowledge, time, and/or the staff to make it work. I have no staff.
Commenting will be part of a larger community are instead of on the blogs.
Last year, posts were aggregated and clicking to comment led back to the participant’s blog. The blog and comment (call and response) model has not been working as well as we’d hoped.
There are many reasons for this, but my take is the basic idea that blogs weren’t really intended for conversation, only commenting. One purpose of blog comments was to make sure participants knew they weren’t blogging into a void, but this wasn’t always achieved despite the very best efforts of our mentors, moderators and participants. Requiring comments leads to useless comments, and not requiring them leads to very few comments. The method was not fostering community. And no, I don’t believe it would have done so even if the comments had stayed on the aggregated blog. Moderators weren’t really moderating a conversation, but rather giving attaboys which, while important, did not provide real conversation.
Instead, we’ll be asking participants to share a link to their weekly posts in a new Google Plus Community, which is where all discussion and commenting will take place.
No, this is not ideal. There are privacy concerns (well, not so much privacy as Inappropriate Gathering and Use of Personal Information) in forcing folks to use Google. The same was a concern in our Facebook Group, where much interaction has taken place. But in order to introduce participants to the largest social networks being used for education, and in order to have meaningful, recorded and open synchronous sessions, we’ve decided to go with Big Brother.
Workload is reduced and more options provided
It’s a heavy course, with much reading and many tools. We’ve reduced these by providing options (for example, try a video or audio tool, not one of each). We are moving some of the readings into an “optional” column.
A badge can be earned for one semester
We’ve changed the structure to divide the 24-week class into two 12-week semesters, each with a different focus: Online Pedagogy for fall, and Online Education (for spring). Each can earn a badge, with both badges within two years required for the certificate.
This will provide a reward for those completing one semester, and choice of focus. Fall is heavier on pedagogy and course setup; spring is heavier on tools and theory. Beginners will be encouraged to start in fall, but more experienced online instructors are welcome to hop in for spring.
So we’re still working, but these are the ideas so far!
I administer the technology for our POT Certificate Class. This is despite the fact that I do not code, don’t know PHP, and basically taught myself anything I happen to know, with a lot of help from my online network. Over a year ago, I posted about the initial setup.
One of our class participants, Jaime Orozco at the University of Alcala in Madrid, is trying to create a similar setup at his place, and so has been asking me about what I’ve done. Responding to him gave me the opportunity to pick apart what I’ve done a little more.
Participants set up their own blog wherever. Then I need to get the feeds from those blogs into the Pedagogy First! aggregated blog, using FeedWordPress. I use the Add Link widget (yes, I know it’s old) so participants can add their own, and have provided more extensive instructions for them about blogs and feeds. In particular, we want people who post on many subjects to not only use the “potcert” tags for their posts, but use the feed for that tag only. This is so only their class-related posts show up on the class blog.
The back end of this process is a little more complicated. When participants enter their information in Add Link, it goes directly into the Blogroll. The Blogroll is what feeds into FeedWordPress as a default.
I customize the titles of feeds and the names of participants to use their real names for everything. I change the titles of feeds by going into FWP’s Syndication area and using Feeds & Updates. Using the drop down menu to bring up a particular blog, I change the title and click manual control so it doesn’t revert back the next time the feed updates. When I do this, it seems to update automatically in the Links area. Then I go to Users and make sure their names are their full names by editing them individually.
I also want a widget listing everyone’s blog so that readers can go directly to anyone’s blog at any time. For this, I use a Links widget with a Link Category (this year I called it “Certificate Students, Mentors and Facilitators”). On the Links page, I make sure that everyone’s blog is in that category so it shows.
I created this visual primary to show Jaime what I was doing – he helped me refine it:
For some reason, this year I have experienced no CPU throttling that I’m aware of. I’m using CPU throttling to check load because I had big trouble with it in my summer Moodle class – only 40 students and it was constantly overloading. But despite last year’s problems, I haven’t seen any problems yet, even though I forget to optimize the database more frequently than every two days, the default setting.
So just FYI for anyone trying to do this without knowing how to code.
Since the demise of CoComment and co.mments, it’s been as difficult as it used to be to follow comments on blogs.
Fact is, if people don’t put a subscribe or email followup button on their blog, it’s impossible.
The only solution I’ve found, especially for the POT Cert Class where we have many blogs and lots of commenting, is to make a Google Reader feed bundle out of the comment feeds.
Each WordPress and Blogger blog has a separate feed for all the comments. You can find them by adding “/comments/feed” to a WordPress.org or Edublog URL, or “/?feed=comments-rss2″ to a WordPress.com URL, or “/feeds/comments/default/” to a Blogger URL.
It wasn’t all fun and glory. Typepad, unfortunately, only has comment feeds for individual posts, not for the whole blog. Also, these feeds pull in all comments from the blog, not just the ones related to the “potcert” tag (anyone know how to change that?)
I added each participants’ feed into Google Reader and made a bundle, available here.
Although I appreciate Google’s ability to do this, I don’t like reading anything as a bundle or in their Reader. I much prefer Netvibes. So I took the RSS feed from the bundle, and put it into Netvibes:
Not ideal, but at least I can see what’s up on the blogs!
I’m going to let industrial designer Eliot Noyes inform me a bit about course design, as I watch Alec Couros design his #etmooc open class by using a Google Group. Alec was one of the very first to offer open online classes, by offering a regular class to his teacher education students, but opening the class to the world to participate. I took Alec’s EC&I831 as an enrolled student, partly to learn from him, partly to get credit I needed to advance on the salary schedule, and partly to be part of an open class from the “inside” and study the class design.
Since then I’ve designed the POT Certificate Class, and have abandoned the MOOC idea (or at least what it has become) in order to do what we want to do. Similar to Alec’s initial design, we have a core group of “students” (even though they are non-credit) and a surrounding “community” of helpers and mentors.
I have watched the designs of the big MOOCs evolve into three models, and for a task-based open class I have concluded this is the best design for us. The course is aimed at a particular group – we’ve been calling them newbies or novices but it might be more accurate to consider them as teachers or trainers who have been limited in their experience using the web for teaching. This might be because they’ve been forced to use an LMS, or because they do not participate in their own online networks related to their teaching. Either way, they spend their time making lesson plans and teaching, not participating in MOOCs.
POT’s organizers and facilitators have made the decisions about course design for the POT Cert Class, and there is a centrality to that role of facilitator that I think is important. (I have never been a fan of instructional designers creating courses for others to teach, because I believe that the process of class design is an inherent part of teaching.)
At the root of the POT Certificate Class is the idea that the individual instructor determines his/her own pedagogical approach, articulates it, then realizes it in the online environment through various technologies. The class reflects its own goals about what we want our participants to become, designers of learning experiences for their students. So…
1. Fulfills its function
This wouldn’t work with a free-for-all design, since its function it to offer a guided experience. Teachers do not naturally examine and articulate their own pedagogy. That is the first step. They also may not know which articles or videos might be beneficial in their process of realizing this pedagogy. While open exploration could ultimately lead to these goals, most of our participants are busy professionals who have limited web experience. They seem to benefit from guidance and structure at first, then interpreting the usefulness of the proffered sources themselves, and then having the freedom to choose both tools and method.
2. Reflects its materials
In this case, the “materials” would be the affordances of the open web, which is why assignments are not limited to particular technologies – there are many that work, depending on the teachers’ goals. (A closed online class in online pedagogy offered inside an LMS would be an example of a course that does not to reflect the “materials” of the web.)
3. Is suited to method of production
While we don’t have a “product”, we do have a certificate that is based on the idea of full engagement and exploration through the curriculum. This engagement is demonstrated through weekly tasks and reflection, posted on their blogs. In furniture design, the design must take into account the manner in which the final product will be (usually mass-) produced. Although mass production of certificates (or certificate holders) is not the goal, the quality of each participant’s experience must be grounded in the method, in this case guided exploration, reflection and the creation of artifacts.
4. Combines these in imaginative expression
In some MOOCs, the imaginative expression is the entire point of the class. In the POT Cert Class we provide the framework through the curriculum, but when participants create their artifacts each week (blog posts, videos, audio files, etc) they are combining the function, materials and method by creating their own works in pursuit of their pedagogical goals.
While this may seem instructor-centered, both in the facilitation of the course itself and the objectives we have for participants, the ultimate goal is always effective learning for our students. As with teacher education and faculty communities, the goals can best be achieved by teachers engaging in course design. Charles and Ray Eames designed their chair, but it’s the person who has it in their living room who benefits from its aesthetics and comfort.
I think Noyes’ elements are as useful for course design as they are for furniture design.
Image source: http://images.businessweek.com/ss/07/01/0127_eliot_noyes/source/2.htm
Some information on how I’m formatting the WordPress blog for our Program for Online Teaching Certificate Class at Pedagogy First! (I blog, you know, to help me remember what I’ve done. In this case, I’m also blogging about this process because others are trying to design similar courses and ask what I’m doing.)
Bringing in the Feeds
To join the POT Certificate Class, participants have been adding their feed via the (outdated, I know) Add Link widget, which pushes the info into the Blogroll. Then FeedWordPress picks up the Blogroll to syndicate.
The feeds that are put into the widget usually need some hand-worked corrections. Some people don’t know their feed and just put in the blog URL. Others are rightfully confused by the stupid complexity of discovering a feed, or discovering the feed for the “potcert” tag that’s supposed to be used by folks who blog about other things also (thus this page of advice).
Customizing the Feeds by Hand
As the Blogroll gets longer, two things happen.
First, it’s hard to tell whose blog is whose. Add Link uses the standard name of the feed as it comes in, so it can be something like WhatamIdoinghere>>potcert. I have to go to the blog to see that WhatamIdoinghere is a blog written by John Smith.
I want to change the name to John Smith so it shows that way in the blog roll. To do this I have to go into FeedWordPress Syndication, go to the feed, and change the name to Edit manually. Otherwise (if I just change it in Links) it reverts every time a post is brought in.
Coming in through the Blogroll also means that all authors are added as Users. I also have to edit their names by hand, since they often come through oddly as the username from their blog.
Splitting Blog Posts into Two Parts of the Swimming Pool
Getting more complex, I wanted the Blogroll split into types of participants, listing Certificate Students, Mentors, Facilitators, Non-Certificate Contributors, and Cohorts under separate headings.
I only wanted the certain types feeding on to the main page, the Certificate Students and Facilitator posts especially, the posts that belong in the “shallow end” of the pool where newbies are learning.
I wanted the rest of the posts feeding onto a separate page that’s super easy to get to, for the “deep end” of the pool (with diving boards and toys and people doing cannonballs).
But, the way FeedWordPress works, only one Link Category can be syndicated. In the original setup, this Category is the Blogroll (a default). WordPress no longer supports subcategories. I tried the Hierarchical Links Categories plugin to create subcategories, but although it does list everything correctly in Links, the subcategories don’t show up in the Links widget for the Blogroll on the main page. So I had to group Certificate Students, Mentors and Facilitators as one category that’s really the Blogroll.
For the deep end, the separate page of contributions from Non-Certificate Contributors I loaded all their feeds into Google Reader, created a Bundle, then wanted to take the RSS feed for that bundle and somehow put it on a Page. I first tried the RSS in Page plugin. They did all feed, in full form, onto the Non-Cert Posts page. But they were ugly. The Google Bundle page itself looked great, but I was unable to embed it in a Page using iframes or templates. It just wouldn’t show up as a web page.
So I tried other plugins.
WP RSS Multi Importer let me add the feeds one at a time and attributed them to the source, but lost all the formatting, creating big blocks of text.
WP RSS Aggregator just put links, not the actual posts.
SilenceSoft RSS Reader did the same.
Fetch Feed shortcode pageable showed the html code of the posts.
HungryFEED was perfect. It let me take the Google Reader feed and format it so it looked good. I could even increase the size of post titles and authors.
I can see this as a good way to create a blog for any class (such as a History honors class) and allow external feeds of all kinds to be on a page – the readings could all be added this way, for example.
Alan Levine explained in a comment on my last post that I could use categories a certain way in FeedWordPress to do something similar, but I couldn’t figure it out. FWP had already added a ton of categories along with the feeds, and the way to get just one category to feed on the main page while another fed on a separate page was beyond me.
When the Blog Went Down
Thanks to Alan Levine providing a link to here, I was able to add a bit of code to the .htaccess file inside the WordPress folder for the blog to automatically redirect people to a static site while the blog was down. It was up and down in multi-hour stretches for the entire week before and several days after the class began, until Bluehost got tired of me begging and moved my account to another server.
At the end of the standard code in the .htaccess file, after # END WordPress, I just added:
Redirect 301 /wppf12 http://lisahistory.net/potcertbackup
This created the proper redirect and I just erased it when the blog was stable again.
This one I haven’t solved yet.
As it stands, I need all people who want to participate in the class to email me first, both to make sure we have room and so I can keep their email for my email list.
I also need all participants to provide information on a Registration Survey, including their blog URL and feed. We need their emails to contact them, their goals so we know who’s going for the certificate, their location to get them mentors nearby, etc. So I have a Google Doc survey for that.
But in addition to emailing me and doing the survey, participants also need to add their feed to the blog themselves. That’s three places they need to go.
On the main website, I have directions:
But oddly, not everyone follows them, so I have some some participants who just me, some who put all their stuff on the survey but no email and no feed, and some who put their feed into the blog without doing either the survey or emailing me (this I thought was rude so I put a password on it).
The three different places is confusing, and the survey is a problem because people can’t fully do it until they have a blog set up already, and that usually happens after they’re in the class.
The last step I’m working on is making a FAQ. The one from last year was only about the Certificate itself, how to get it, how to get flex credit at MiraCosta. It has become apparent that we need to answer questions about getting a blog, setting it up, finding a feed, understanding the terminology (blog, post, comment, feed, RSS) etc.
In future, we should provide an on-campus workshop to do some badly needed f2f for our own instructors, broadcast on the web or duplicated with cohorts, who I believe are already doing something similar. The two-week pre-class workshop in Facebook was designed to provide this, but for the most part those who attended it already had set up their blog. Newbies started right on September 1. Must be all that educational institution training! We may even pull back the date so people new to blogging can get set up before the class starts.
I’ve gotten out the rope with the red floaty balls and divided the pool.
The main page of the POT Certificate Class now features posts from those who enrolled to earn a certificate, their mentors, and our facilitators. It’s the shallow end. We’ll all do the same thing, learn the same strokes, wear the water wings, till everyone is comfortable.
A separate page now features posts from those who wanted a larger experience, not so guided, more open to big ideas, comparisons and experimentation. It’s the deep end, where you can dive, swim laps real fast, or do cannonballs, and no one will complain.