Supporting teacher success in our online course

Since our teacher training sessions are relatively few and short compared to a typical online course, we focused on covering the basic information needed by the Givercraft teachers in order to begin the first scenario.  The Givecraft Guide for Teachers outlines responsibilities (listed as tasks) for each teacher in preparation for the experience.  The most critical tasks or responsibilities (besides reading the unit plan) are for teachers to ensure that the MinecraftEdu client software is working properly on student computers and that they have designated a building area in the game world with a border and teleport block identifying their class.  These specific responsibilities alone can consume more time to complete if teachers have not adequately set aside time to ensure that they are completed before the first day.  Moore and Kearsley (2011) point out three factors that could point to success in an online course:

  • If a student indicates a desire to successfully complete the course,
  • If a student completes the first assignment on time, and
  • If a student has previously completed other courses.

In the context of our teacher training, we have some clues about these three factors:

  • Teachers were contacted about teacher training and sent a needs assessment survey; with the short timetable, we only received one (1) response prior to our first training.  However, all the teachers eventually completed the survey, which could indicate an interest in participating in the training.  When we communicated final reminders and sent handouts for the trainings, teachers responded about whether or not they would be there and one made arrangements to meet with one of us at an alternate time to review the training information.  These could also demonstrate that teachers are invested in Givercraft and were interested in completing the trainings – even if that meant watching the recordings at a later date.
  • The first set of questions on the needs assessment survey are about whether or not the teachers have successfully found, downloaded, installed, and tested the MinecraftEdu client software on student computers.  All teachers responded that they had successfully completed these tasks.  The client software is the single most important tool teachers need for this experience.  Considering the time and effort needed to complete these tasks, it demonstrates significant investment by the teachers, to have completed these tasks prior to teacher training.  The next task or responsibility after teacher training has been completed, is for teachers to create a class zone in the MinecraftEdu game world using the Teacher Tools.  This will need to be completed by the first day that each teacher intends to start their students in the game world, which for most of them, will be Monday, March 2nd.  We will be able to assess this by looking for each class zone in the game world and we may hear from teachers before then if there have been issues or difficulties in completing this major task.
  • We have two (2) returning to Givercraft from having previously participated during the Fall 2014 experience.  We were also able to ask teachers on the registration form if they had prior experience using Minecraft/MinecraftEdu, and in our needs assessment survey, teachers indicated which required MinecraftEdu tasks they were familiar with or skilled at using.  If teachers have previous experience or successfully completed Givercraft, we can reasonably expect that they will be successful in completing the experience this time as well.  For those teachers who are familiar with Minecraftedu or have previously used it before in their teaching, that can also indicate that they will most likely complete the experience.  On the other hand, the training sessions (courses) could be used to supplement what teachers know already.  One of the teachers, who previously participated in the Fall 2014 experience, attended the MinecraftEdu training course.  Since this time the teachers are responsible for building their class zones and managing their students, it was a natural next step for her to learn the Teacher Tools and build on her understanding of Givercraft and previous experiences with her students.

If we think of success in our online course as teachers being able to successfully kick off the experience for their students on the first day (and throughout the first week), then there are several ways we can support them.  First, we can consolidate all of our training materials and recordings into a web tool or location that teachers can easily access as needed.  Second, we need to monitor the communication lines without overwhelming them with “check-ins”.  We need a fine balance of being available and responsive but letting them test their skills and knowledge (from participating in our training).  We have a lot of communication tools that have been introduced (Google Group, Hangouts, Emails, Diffi-Tools, Google Drive, Wikispaces) so it will require us to pay attention to what forms of communication teachers use to report on their progress or issues.

Moore and Kearsley (2011) also tell us that our teachers could be unsuccessful if we have poorly designed our trainings or we are not knowledgeable about the training content, the teachers are misinformed about what to expect, and/or technology issues or a lack of technology expertise by either the teachers or the trainers (us).  Although our training sessions have been completed, we each need to become familiar with all of the content that was covered so that we can provide assistance to any teacher.  We also need to be able to make changes if needed to prepare for the next course for Survivalcraft teachers.  We have outlined our expectations of teachers, framed as tasks or responsibilities, and we asked teachers on the needs assessment survey what they (and their students) wanted to get out of this experience.  We need to pay attention to cues and communication from teachers about what their assumptions or unspoken expectations are of us, the course, and the support they receive throughout the Givercraft experience.  And finally, as we have continued to learn throughout this process, the technology tools we use play a large part in the success of our course and therefore the teachers.  We need to continue to be intentional and effective in selecting and utilizing technology tools that will help teachers to be successful rather than adding more responsibility to learn technology tools for communication that don’t necessarily meet teachers’ needs.

Billington (1996) highlights “Seven Characteristics of Highly Effective Adult Learning Programs” which resulted from a study of adult learning and what factors contribute to successful adult learning environments. 

  • A safe and supportive environment that embraces abilities and accomplishments and accommodates needs and differences.
  • Fosters intellectual freedom, encourages experimentation and creativity.
  • Teachers and students are peers
  • Self-directed learning
  • Pacing or intellectual challenge
  • Active involvement in learning
  • Regular Feedback Mechanisms

In contrast, Pappas (2013) lists “8 Important Characteristics of Adult Learners“:

  • Self-directed
  • Practical and results-oriented
  • Tendency to be less open-minded
  • Slower learning, yet more integrative knowledge
  • Use personal experience as a resource
  • Motivated
  • Juggle multi-level responsibilities
  • Hold high expectations

While these two articles are more than several years apart, they still point to similar themes that can help us understand adult learners and how they learn best.  I found a cool infographic about Knowles’ Andragogy learning theory; this really got me thinking about how we could reflect on the course design and implementation to prepare for our next round of training.

The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – Infographic

We can use Knowles’ principles of andragogy to help frame our thinking for the Survivalcraft teacher training.  Many of the participating teachers were in the Fall 2014 Givercraft experience and we will need to figure out how to meet their needs as well as incorporate their experiences into more interactive training modules.

References:

Billington, D.D.  (1996).  Seven Characteristics of Highly Effective Adult Learning Programs.  New Horizons for Learning, John Hopkins School of Education.  Retrieved from:  http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/lifelonglearning/workplace/articles/characteristics/

Infographic – The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy.  (2014).   eLearning Industry.com.  Retrieved from:  http://elearninginfographics.com/adult-learning-theory-andragogy-infographic/

Moore, M.G. and Kearsley, G. (2011).  Distance Education: A Systems View of Online Learning.  Cengage Textbook.

Pappas, C.  (2013).  8 Important Characteristics of Adult Learners.

eLearning Industry.com  Retrieved from: http://elearningindustry.com/8-important-characteristics-of-adult-learners

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