Baking Your Cake…. and Eating it Too!

As I round out my experience with the Extend East cohort, I’ve been reflecting on the experience and what I’ve taken away from it.  Although this comes at the end of my time with the cohort, it really belongs with the Experimenter module.  The whole process of Extend was a chance to play with new creative challenges, perspectives, ideas, and tools.

I’ve often considered the practice of teaching and learning to be similar to building a cake.  There are many layers which go into building the cake, and you need to check your recipe from time to time to see if it is still delicious or if it needs to be tweaked.  Through Extend, I’ve added many new layers to my cake.

Using the cake as my guide, I thought I’d document some of the layers I love the most from my experience with Extend to date.

One of the most foundational layers for me was Twitter.  Honestly, I’d had a Twitter account for years and I’d tweeted maybe a half-dozen times.  I’d never really understood the power of Twitter.  I admit that I was nervous when I found out we needed to Tweet for the Daily Extend.  However, I soon found that it can be a rewarding way to share what I’ve done and interact with others.   I’ve gone from a Twitter-phobe to an enthusiastic user.    It’s opened me up to a world of new connections.

Domains of Our Own (DoOO) and WordPress also are part of the foundation of my new cake.  The opportunity to start a domain of my own and host it at Reclaim is really encouraging me to spread my wings as an Experimenter.   It’s let me experience many new things about setting up websites and how to run a blog using WordPress.  I know I will continue to learn more as I go.  My next steps are to build a front page/landing site and to install a curation type of tool.  This layer is one that will keep expanding as there are many different ways to expand my online presence with the website.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) involves bringing research to teaching in a systematic way.  As teachers, we should be continually striving to improve our practices. SoTL applies research and evidence to support the practice.  I had been playing around with SoTL, although I didn’t have a name for it in my classes.  I collected input from students and outcomes and applied that in making changes in my classes, tools, and teaching practice.  However, what I was missing from this scenario was the back end evaluation which made this a full cycle and allowed for continuous improvement.  This is an area I’d like to continue to expand, applying research methodologies to continue to improve the flavour of this layer of my cake.

The Open Faculty Patchbook is a site I was introduced to through Extend.  This site, developed by Learning Design and Support (LDS) at Fleming College gathers “patches” from faculty.  It’s a compilation where each contributor shares a story about teaching and learning.  As this has grown, it’s also been gathered together into a book that will be provided to new faculty.  What a great way to give new people the benefit of others’ experiences!  This initiative has been so successful, it’s spun off into the Open Learner Patchbook to give the other side of the perspective and let students have a voice about their experiences.

Widely available and openly shareable resources.  Who knew?  Extend gave me a taste of Open Educational Resources (OER) and my practice will never be the same.  Lately, the trend has been towards curation when designing courses, rather than reliance on a single textbook.  OER makes this approach much more palatable by presenting many more options for content.  OER Commons has become one of my new, favourite hangouts.

As someone who spends most of their time involved in distance education, the Collaborator module and Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) brought me out of my isolation.  This digital network facilitates learning and the sharing of thoughts and experiences of people and organizations.  You can interact at whatever level you wish, be that lurking to read or giving people a taste of your own work and sharing with the group.  The development of a PLN has made a significant impact on my practice and brought me out of isolation and into a vibrant network of people who constantly amaze me with their insights, creativity, and humour.

I’ve included Ontario Extend as the icing on my cake.  Ontario Extend is what holds the layers of my cake together and makes it into  a sweet and delicious treat.  Every day working with the Extend is like a celebration – it’s fun and wacky and brings me many gifts.

If you haven’t tried Extend, I encourage you to give it a taste!

Extend, Scholar

Subterranean Scholarship Blues (#oext138)


Today’s Daily Extend (#oext138) is titled Subterranean Scholarship Blues.

This Extend challenged us to consider instructional challenges we have faced in the past.   This Extend ties into the Scholar Module during which we will explore the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL).   The Scholarship module is all about evaluating your teaching practice and finding the places where it’s just not working, where we can improve as teachers, or how we can better support our students.

For this Extend, I decided to create a mini-presentation about an instructional challenge I faced.

A few years ago, I was asked to step into a course that was half-way through the semester when the original instructor had to leave.  This course which taught Microsoft Office applications was a challenge for me.  I quickly found that the students were struggling and were not very engaged in the class.  We shuffled through the remainder of the semester as I tried a variety of approaches, none of which seemed to do much.

At the end of the semester, I asked the students to participate in an open discussion about the course with the goal of researching and experimenting with alternative approaches in subsequent years.  Once the students realized there would be no repercussions for speaking up, the floodgates opened and a productive talk ensued.  The key issues that the students had with the course were:

  • A huge spiral-bound textbook which only 2 people in a class of 35 had ever opened and used – no one would carry it to class
  • Slide decks for the class were not engaging
  • More demonstration and less lecture were wanted
  • The computer lab was tightly scheduled, leaving them little time outside of class for practice
  • Students like to work on their own devices, not be tied to the school computers
  • Students have many outside commitments and want flexibility as to when they work on their studies
  • Initial student proficiency has great variation, meaning some students are bored and some struggle to keep up

Research into the tools which might be available to improve the situation led me to Paradigm’s SNAP tool.  This tool allows for web-based training and assessment.  The textbook comes in a convenient electronic format bundled into the web tool.  Pre-assessments, guides, and tutorials allow students to self-assess their proficiency for each lesson and adapt the level of study needed.  Students can break out of the classroom, have availability to work at any time, and can access the tool from their own devices.

We’ve just gone through the first semester using the new tool.  While there were a few teething pains, overall the response from the students was very enthusiastic.  In future classes, I’ll continue to refine how the tool is used with the goal of increasing student engagement, learning, and satisfaction.

The link below is the slide deck I created for the Daily Extend.

A huge thanks to Greg Rodrigo (@greg_rodrigo) for his recent workshop on Creating Dynamic Presentations.  He helped me to break free from the PowerPoint bullet list.

Instructional Challenge Presentation


Reflections on Extend East Launch


A short while ago, I did a short reflection on my experience so far with Ontario Extend’s East Cohort.  I was lucky to have that reflection shared at the eCampus Ontario site.    I’m also going to repost it here (thanks for the suggestion Terry Greene!) to share with those who are following the Domains of Our Own blogs.    If you’re here and haven’t been part of an Extend Cohort, I highly recommend it.  (Next Cohort will start on May 5 – signup here: https://bit.ly/2GwMwWu)  Read on, for my thoughts on Extend!

I joined the Extend East cohort of eCampusOntario’s Extend initiative as a means to developing skills in online learning and teaching, especially in the area of emerging technologies. I’d stalked the Extend site in the past and had seen the modules based on the Anatomy of a 21st Century Educator. This fit in with some of the institutions where I work, who use the framework for instructional design. Rather than just work through the modules on my own, I decided to join a cohort going through the modules together. Has it delivered what I expected so far?  Absolutely not.

Wait a minute? Not?

Let me explain. I expected an introduction to the framework. I expected to gain knowledge in the six modules. Check and check. So far, so good.

What is not what I expected is what else the Extend experience has delivered. While there are many aspects of Extend that go above and beyond, here are a few of my favourites.

Sharing resources. The Extend community is very open about showing off things they’ve done or discovered and making them available for everyone to use. I feel like someone has just handed me a beautifully wrapped gift that, when opened, has a wealth of tools, educational resources, and ideas that I can use and adapt to enhance my course design and teaching. Open educational resources – what a wonderful new world!

Fun. This is not the dry, boring experience I was expecting. What people contribute is often silly, humorous, or just plain weird. And that only enhances our learning.

Community. For the most part, I’m an isolated practitioner, working for several clients in a distance format. This means that I’m often very isolated both socially (no water cooler to chat around!) and from a sharing of professional knowledge perspective. Working through the experience in a cohort has introduced me to many amazing people with a widely diverse range of knowledge and experience.  I feel like I’ve suddenly become connected to a network of brilliant professionals that will continue to expand and grow even after the cohort has finished the Extend.

Extend hasn’t met my expectations, it has shattered them with an experience far beyond what I anticipated. Huge thanks to everyone at eCampusOntario / Ontario Extend and to all the other Extenders out there.  It’s been a blast so far. Can’t wait for more!