The reading on global distance learning programs this week was compelling because it demonstrated the range of technology tools and course design elements being utilized all over the world. I had a strong reaction to the reading because of the obvious disparity in access to technology that makes distance learning possible. Because the world is “bigger” and technology continues to propel us to more advanced methods of communication, teaching, and learning, those that still do not have access or means to technology, are falling further behind. The trend is not just global but here in the U.S. as well; it can be argued that some of the most drastic disparities are in developed countries because of the incredible contrast between or within communities when it comes to access and means to technology. Having spent the last four (4) years in the San Francisco Bay Area, I witnessed this disparity not only on a daily basis but it continued to grow at an alarming rate. I also see the disparity here in Alaska compared to other states and I felt like I need to call it out in my writing this week.
I also enjoyed reading the blogs of my peers and was enlightened about several important points from the reading. I think working on our own course design really highlighted the process of course design and when I read about each of those global distance programs, I think about all the steps and elements that are needed for them to work. As I read through the chapter, I was curious about how the programs are designed. I also came to understand that there is no single process to arrive at a well designed course. Sometimes you have to work with what you have and make the best decisions possible based on your circumstances, students’ needs and interests, and the tools and timeframe available to you. I also realized that a traditional classroom teacher, program coordinator, or trainer needs a new skillset to effectively meet the needs of distance learners. Because teaching and learning at a distance requires a different approach then a traditional classroom, the guidelines, policies, expectations, and tools will need to reflect the unique learning environment of online or distance education. The rate of innovation in technology also means that teachers will have to keep learning new tools as well as gain an understanding of how they are best used for teaching and how learning evolves because of technology. If anything, the global distance learning programs we read about, show us that technology does not need to be advanced for learning to be effective. A good lesson for teachers today, whether they teach in a physical classroom or at a distance. Technology trickles down and out from the innovators who are creating new technologies and using them in increasingly more complex ways. Even schools will always struggle with the cost and choices in selecting appropriate technology. Teachers can instead focus on the tools that are appropriate and effective for the specific needs and interests of their students and to consider which tools would best be used for the content.
Earlier this week Amanda and I met twice to work on our join unit plan for this course. We started off with the idea of a MinecraftEdu reading club and discussed why this would be useful and who would benefit from this unit plan – especially since I am not currently teaching and Amanda’s own students are not using MinecraftEdu. We decided that we wanted to create a course for teachers who are considering using MinecraftEdu with content that they currently teach. So if a 6th grade teacher has the same unit plan to cover a specific topic each year, we wanted to take the topic and incorporate MinecraftEdu to demonstrate how it can be integrated into the teacher’s current unit. We don’t think that teachers have to throw out their own content or give up time to incorporate a separate plan with MinecraftEdu. Amanda collected the 6th – 8th grade academic plans for the Anchorage School District and we looked at what Common Core standards were being met through the content outlined in the plan; since we are basing our unit plan on these ASD academic plans, we hope our unit will be used by a 6th grade teacher in the Anchorage School District. We found many similarities in the Common Core standards that we use in Givercraft which was encouraging but also told us that we were on the right track. We decided to write a unit plan on the life of Matthew Hensen, an African American explorer to the Arctic. We felt that the non-fiction story was compelling as well as the timeline and scenes outlined in the readings. Students would be able to build a virtual map of Matthew Hensen’s journey to the North Pole and depict the people and villages that he encountered along the way. We completed a draft of Stage 1 of the UbD template and this week I focused on learning to use Versal, which is our chosen online tool for our unit plan. This coming week, Amanda will discuss our Stage 1 details (Standards, Essential Questions and Understandings, etc.) with a 6th grade teacher at her school and ask for feedback about the direction we are taking with this unit plan. I also spent some time reading up on Matthew Hensen and collecting student resources that could potentially be used in our course.