Colin's Sandbox


Online teaching / coaching options in Alaska

by on May.27, 2013, under #oltak

In my twin roles as a “Technology Specialist” in education as well as a Master’s student, there’s quite a few options for me to pursue when planning my work in the #oltak class.

I’ve been in discussions with a couple professors from the University of Alaska Southeast to help them come up with a STREAM curriculum which would utilize Minecraft to help students engage in real problem solving.  I’ve blabbered about this before.  We should hopefully hear back soon as to whether this will be green-lighted; if it goes through I expect we’d be planning this throughout the summertime, so it’d be a perfect fit for this class.   Since nothing is even set in clay I can’t provide all that many details, but since I just came fresh off the #diffimooc I would envision one way it could come off would be a college course provided in a MOOC format to meet three different populations’ needs: educators taking the course for required continuing professional development, master’s level students, as well as interested individuals from outside the traditional roles who could jump in during different sections of the course.  My role in the project could be one of creating / assembling the initial training materials ahead of time, working with others to develop some of the GIS functionality (real-world topography within the Minecraft world) and providing technical support to individuals looking for help in setting up the MinecraftEdu client and server within their environment.  As much as possible, the interactions would be kept in the open so that others can benefit from our work.

Another idea that’s been floating around in my head for the past few months (again, the icy hand of the MOOC is rearing it’s head again) is the idea of the RTFMOOC.  Amongst the IT crowd, RTFM means “[R]ead [T]he [F]ine [M]anual”.  Or something a little less “couth”, as my momma used to say.  In any case it does have the acronymic portmanteau that I’m such a big fan of.  The format that comes to mind would be a 2-3 week (or longer) sectional format, in almost every aspect learner driven.  Users would submit themes to focus on for the next section, and each participant who wants to take part in the next section would identify a small project in their own environment that identifies with the theme.  Grouping would be strongly encouraged – the IT field is in constant evolution and every environment is very unique, so there is not any “one true way” to implement things.  Soliciting others’ input is important to bring out weaknesses in design.  Keeping the sections short in nature allows people to come in and out of the revolving course in order to meet their schedule and needs.  To keep the overhead down ideally we would come up with a method whereby different individuals could lead each section.

A little secret about how my work habits have evolved: I have been enormously guilty of reinventing the wheel in isolation on innumerable occasions only to later uncover other, and most often times better, implementations out in the wild.  But this duplication of effort is not without its benefit; these efforts of mine often result in a much better understanding of what quality work is, as well as a decent idea of what I’m [quickly and easily] capable of doing and what is better left to third parties to accomplish. Upon reflection I think this tendency of mine is due to overly narrow searching at the outset of a project and coming up with my own opinions too early.  Perhaps you could more succinctly describe this as “hubris”.  This past couple of years I’ve been looking more and more to open up my social network, scanning through email archives of groups of other professionals and participating more in discussions to gain a better foothold on how to attack problems.  It’s an ongoing, transformative effort – sometimes it’s hard to justify spending time helping others on their issues when I’ve got such a limited amount of time to work through my own.

This week we engaged in a webinar with presenter Adam Ross Nelson (@AdamRossNelson on Twitter), discussing FERPA.  I look at Law with a capital L like others look in fear at the great god Math with that imposing capital M.  I suspect others do the same.  When during the presentation he held up his personal copy of FERPA guidelines and it looked like it weighed as much as the Haynes manual for my beat up old van, I cringed.  I think however that it really boils down into for online courses is to be up front with students, parents, and other educators about the nature and expectation of the online discussion.  For students under the age of 18 (or upon enrollment in college, whichever is earlier), special care should be made so that students’ identities are kept private to the course itself.  Don’t disclose student information (outside of directory information) to third parties unless they too have signed a disclosure agreeing to the terms of FERPA.  Evaluations (not encouragement, or discussion however) from teachers need to be kept private from all other students.  In the upcoming weeks I’m looking forward to spending more time diving into this and it’s 2nd cousin, CIPA, as in my work I often get questioned about how these relate to online student communication and access to the Internet.

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by on May.22, 2013, under #oltak, ramblings

salutationsI picked this picture out because I’m not afraid any longer to admit that Charlotte’s Web, the 1973 animated feature, holds a special place in my heart.  I don’t have anything special for pigs necessarily, no matter how cute and adorable.  Against my better interests and frequent attempts not to, I do eat bacon and sausage.  Like a pig, I can sometimes be seen rolling around in muck as well in the pursuit of what may be called “yardwork”. What’s special is the way that Wilbur greets others, openly, without pretense, willing to interact for the betterment of both conversational participants.   I think that is something to strive for in life.

I am happily enrolled as a student in the M.Ed. Ed. Tech program at University of Alaska Southeast.  I did my undergraduate work at Virginia Tech, graduating with a degree in Electrical Engineering one extremely hot day back in 1999 and then while the degree was still hot off the presses I bounced around for a few years around the country before ending up here in Juneau.  For almost the past decade I have been doing computer and network support around the state, mostly with school districts.  I am married to a wonderful woman who epitomizes the very essence of patience, who happens to be a teacher.  She is also very wise and thus hasn’t yet allowed me to work with her in her own classroom.  In her own way at times, she is my Charlotte, except without the eating insects part.  I have two young children (a little boy, 4 and a girl, 2).  I haven’t figured out yet which characters they play out.  Is it wrong to sometime see the traits of Templeton in your children?  We can’t be Fern all the time I suppose.

terrificOver the past few years I have been looking to crawl out from the cobwebs of the server rooms and instead work more directly with teachers in pursuit of their goals.  I’m hoping that at the end of this degree program I’ll be in a better position to do just that.   The more I study education the more I realize that I am at the start of something much larger than I anticipated and it feels good to be a rookie once more.  I would love to work more with location aware technology, place based education, and games and gamification in education.  It’s easier for me to love the idea of learning how students learn and empower them to seek out information to meet their goals, than the concept of getting through a set volume of content per course.  I fall into the camp that believes the hyper-focus on standardized testing as anathema to that goal.  I don’t foresee myself having a classroom of my own any time soon, so I have that luxury.

In that vein I love the idea of the constructivist MOOC, which allows a greater community to form that helps to guide each other to expand their abilities in tasks relevant to their own practice.  Again – I’m a rookie, and on the sidelines drinking the Kool-Aide for the most part, so take my words with a grain of salt.  I hope to carve out the time in the future to design a course of my own in this regard for other tech professionals such as myself, or perhaps working with teachers to incorporate something like Minecraft into their own classroom.

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