My Unresponsive Course

You have me thinking again, Mr. Peterson. Today it’s with your post, “You Need to Be Responsive“.

My own blogs are responsive and so they display well on multiple device types.

My blog on a computer browser.

My blog on a computer browser.

My blog on a phone browser.

My blog on a phone browser.

Students tell me they like the theme (The Suits Theme) on my class blog; they say it looks professional.

The class blog in a computer browser.

The class blog in a computer browser.

The class blog on a phone browser.

The class blog on a phone browser.

However my e-learning course is less responsive. There is a mobile interface which becomes active when you use mobile device, but there are a couple of components on my course homepage which only appear using the desktop interface (custom widgets with links to the Padlet and the YouTube playlist for the course). Some course tools aren’t available in this view (e.g. the Checklist Tool).

My course homepage on a computer browser.

My course homepage on a computer browser.

Course homepage in the mobile view.

Course homepage in the mobile view.

Tools in the mobile view.

Tools in the mobile view.

What’s more, I have created quite a few PDF files for the programming concepts in the course. These files, because they are paginated, are not responsive.

PDF in a mobile browser

PDF in a mobile browser – portrait

PDF in a mobile browser - landscape

PDF in a mobile browser – landscape

Honestly, I don’t remember considering that issue when finally deciding to use PDFs. Since students are coding on computers anyway perhaps it doesn’t matter that much. And other stuff, like news and discussions, are mobile-friendly.

But I’ve unintentionally made it difficult for them to use small, mobile devices to keep up with the “text” part of the course (i.e. when they’re not actively programming). I do have a lot of video on there, which is (I think) fairly accessible.

I’ll have to think about whether it’s worth fixing the responsiveness of those PDFs.

Why I’m happy with the design of my first e-Learning course

I’m teaching ICS3C/3U (Computer Programming/Computer Science) online this semester. I was the e-Learning Contact for my board for several years, but this is my first time teaching online in “real life” (i.e. not a professional learning session).

Overall I’m fairly happy with how I approached the design of my course, and I’ve also learned a few things that I’ll improve upon.

I work in Ontario using the Desire2Learn/Brightspace platform. The Ministry of Education here has provided a “starter course” for each of my classes. I’ve discussed the problems with the format of that course before (see here), and thoughts I had about improving on it. I mostly followed my own advice.

In the end, there were significant differences between the provided course materials and the approach I wanted to take with the course, so I ventured out on my own.

News

I use the News area to share interesting links, reminders, and extra details. Notice I don’t post a news item every day; I’ve decided that’s too much without a real payoff.

A screen capture of a news feed.

 

YouTube

I post a lot of “instructional videos” in the course. The videos show me coding applications live, so students can hear my thinking while I work, see the errors I make and how I correct them, and see how the development environment works visually.

A screen capture of a link to a YouTube playlist.

Of course, playing videos successfully in the online learning environment is a bit device-dependent, so I also post every video to YouTube. I maintain them in a playlist (here) and I post a link in a widget on the course homepage. The YouTube videos also have the advantage of sometimes being faster to download, and users can change the resolution on the fly (not very helpful for code, I suppose).

And most importantly, those videos are available for anyone on the Internet to use. That makes me feel good in my heart.

Other Resources

In an out-of-the-way place on the course homepage I maintain a Padlet. I use this to post related-but-not-necessary links.

A screen capture of a Padlet.

Calendar

I don’t use the Calendar directly, but I do use due dates for Content items so they show up in the Upcoming Events list. More on that later.

 

A screen capture of a calendar and upcoming events list.

 

Units, Activities, Modules

I divide up a Unit into Activities, and I number everything:

 

A screen capture showing the activities of a unit.

 

Within each Activity I also “letter” my items sequentially (3.1A, 3.1B, etc.):

 

A screen capture showing activities organized into modules.

Due Dates

I used to only put due dates on the items that needed to be submitted/completed, like Dropboxes and Discussions. After helping an e-Learning student in the library here with her English class, I realized that students were using the Upcoming Events list in the Content area. I had never explored it before, but it was a sparse list in my course.

Now I add due dates to Content items which I want students to consume as well; for example, I put a due date on 3.2E, which is a video I want them to watch by the end of today. They don’t have to submit anything, but I’m hoping the due date helps to keep them on track.

(Note: This is not an “end date”, which would make the item unavailable after the date has passed.)

A screen capture showing upcoming events.

 Content in PDF

I have tried to use HTML, Word documents, and PDF files to post CS content, but I’m happiest posting a PDF that I generate in Word. I get excellent control over the look and feel of the text/images, but the links I put in there still work. It’s also universally-readable.

HTML takes too long to format correctly/beautifully, and Word documents are rendered as images by D2L (disabling any links).

In the end I think the videos are more valuable for the students, especially later in the course. I have several students now requesting videos explaining a certain aspect of the course, but not a lot of PDF requests.

A screenshot showing a PDF file from the course

Still Thinking

I have a lot more to learn, but I’m pretty happy with the workflow I’ve developed now. Suggestions are very welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upcoming #OTRK12 Session Highlights – Part 3

Another chance to hear about the great opportunities at On The Rise K-12: Enhancing Digital Learning on April 1 and 2, 2014 in Mississauga, Ontario. You can read all the details at http://otrk12.ca. If you want to attend, you can register there (the cost is $100 per person per day).

The awesomeness continues

I’m sure you’ve already read through Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. Here are a few more beautiful learning opportunities.

Note: If you have already registered and wish to change your session choices, just send me an email with the new session code(s).

Tuesday

Session Block 1

D1S08: Leaping into Literacy Test Preparation with D2L

This session will look at the TVDSB OSSLT preparation strategy using D2L. We will demonstrate what the course actually looks like, the data that can be collected when utilized with students (individual/group, skill/competency) and how it is being put to use in a variety of different ways in our schools to suit their unique needs.
Intended Audience: Secondary Teachers, eLCs/DeLCs, Administration
Experience Level: Intermediate-Advanced
Presenter(s): Shereen Miller and Carrie Huffman

Session Block 3

D1S22: Blended Learning Meets Science & Technology (Elementary Focus)

Join us for a look at Ministry provided Blended Learning resources specifically for K-8 Science & Technology, including the provincial Virtual Learning Environment (vLE). Did you know that Ontario teachers have access to blended Science and Technology packages, carousels of OERB objects, as well as tools such as ePortfolio, News, and Calendar? Did you know that Blended Learning provides flexible and engaging ways to help students demonstrate their learning and focus on activities that highlight communication, collaboration and differentiation? Come and find out more about how you can make Blended Learning part of your students’ learning experience.
Intended Audience: Elementary Teachers, eLCS/DeLCS, Administration
Experience Level: Any Level
Presenter(s): Sharon Korpan

Wednesday

Session Block 1

D2S08: Building a diverse, digital learning ecosystem

Just as a carpenter wouldn’t get very far with just a hammer in his toolbox, so to the e-teacher wouldn’t get very far using only a single digital tool. This presentation will look into various online tools for replacing classroom techniques as well as unique digital tools that offer opportunities that can’t be found in a f2f learning environment.
Intended Audience: All teachers
Experience Level: Beginner-Intermediate
Presenter(s): Tim King

Session Block 2

D2S13: Inspiring Technology Training

This session will cover lessons from voluntary and incentivized tech training. Examples include lunch and learns, after school professional learning “tech” groups, and earn a laptop type session. The session format will be a short overview of what other boards have done, followed by discussions and questions by attendees on how to encourage this type of learning in their own boards. Attendees are encouraged to share their own stories and questions regarding how to expand PD opportunities in their own boards.
Intended Audience: eLCs/DeLCs, Administration
Experience Level: Any Level
Presenter(s): Gino Russo, Corrine Pritoula

Upcoming #OTRK12 Session Highlights – Part 2

Another chance to hear about the great opportunities at On The Rise K-12: Enhancing Digital Learning on April 1 and 2, 2014 in Mississauga, Ontario. You can read all the details at http://otrk12.ca. If you want to attend, you can register there (the cost is $100 per person per day).

Some more awesomeness

I’m sure you’ve already read through Part 1 of this series, so here are a few more session highlights.

Note: If you have already registered and wish to change your session choices, just send me an email with the new session code(s).

Tuesday

Session Block 2

D1S13: Blended Learning: The First 20 Days

New to Blended Learning? Don’t worry! This workshop will unveil a twenty day plan that will help you transform your classroom by improving communication, promoting greater collaboration, and differentiating student learning. By connecting powerful pedagogical practices with specific applications of the vLE, it will be demonstrated how blended learning is the ultimate teaching and learning experience for both teachers and students! Participants will receive the day-by-day plan, companion D2L manual, and access to various training videos.
Intended Audience: All New Learners
Experience Level: Beginner
Presenter(s): Sean McDade and Paul D’Hondt

Session Block 4

D1S36: Try Something. Don’t Try Everything.

The session will introduce tips and tricks for teachers new to blended learning to help avoid the common pitfalls of frustration and feeling overwhelmed. The session will incorporate blended learning best practices and introduce teachers to some helpful resources to get them started.
Intended Audience: All Teachers
Experience Level: Beginner
Presenter(s): Brock Baker

Wednesday

Session Block 2

D2S14: Developing a Real Professional Learning Community in a Virtual World

Building a culture of collaboration among e-learning teachers who infrequently meet face-to-face takes creativity, coordination and plenty of good will. Successful strategies used by the TDSB e-Learning team for building professional learning communities using Desire2Learn, Adobe Connect and Google Apps for Education will be explored.  We’ll share tools and resources that we have co-constructed with our e-learning teachers to enhance student learning in the online classroom. The TDSB e-Learning team will share successful strategies for building professional learning communities using Desire2Learn, Adobe Connect and Google Apps for Education. We’ll share tools and resources that we have co-constructed with our teachers to enhance student learning in the online classroom.
Intended Audience: eLCs/DeLCs, eLearning Teachers, Administration
Experience Level: All Levels
Presenter(s): Andrea Brożyna

Session Block 4

D2S36: Replace the shovel with the snow blower and you get better results. Free and cheap software you can use to engage students.

Blended learning environments allow students to set their own pace and work to their potential. Project based exercises allow students to demonstrate, analyze, re-teach in ways traditional paper and pencil busy work cannot. The amount of incredible web based software that I will share with you keeps growing, allowing teachers to give students projects that challenge them in new and exciting ways. The projects we are seeing are the best we’ve ever seen and many are professional level. The ability to update, improve and collaborate makes for better and much less expensive content.
Intended Audience: All Teachers
Experience Level: Beginner-Intermediate
Presenter(s): Mitch Lapointe

Upcoming #OTRK12 Session Highlights – Part 1

If you haven’t already heard, On The Rise K-12: Enhancing Digital Learning is a great meeting of educators from across Ontario on April 1 and 2, 2014. Representatives will be attending from every school board in the province: from Windsor to Moosonee, from Ottawa to Kenora. You can read all the details at http://otrk12.ca. If you want to attend, you can register there (the cost is $100 per person per day).

There is too much awesomeness

I’m going to point out some of the fantastic sessions we have scheduled (there are 80!). This is partly to encourage you to join us, partly to build your excitement, and partly to send kudos to the presenters/facilitators. I know many of the presenters, but not all of them, and I haven’t seen most of the presentations. I’m not being exclusive here; I’m just picking a few from each day of the conference. There are 9 other great choices for every session slot, so you’ll have to go the website for the full list. I’ve tried to steer away from “eLC/DeLC-only” sessions in the highlights below, since most eLCs and DeLCs are already registered (thanks everyone!).

Note: If you have already registered and wish to change your session choices, just send me an email with the new session code(s).

Tuesday

Session Block 1

D1S03: Bitstrips for Schools – Online Comic Creation

In this session you will learn how to use Bitstrips to create full-colour, professional comics. You will be guided through how to sign up for an account, build your avatar, create a classroom, add students, and design and assess completed work. This session is suitable for all grades and subject areas and BYOD is a must! Bitstrips for Schools is provided free of charge to all Ontario teachers by the Ministry of Education.
Intended Audience: All Teachers
Experience Level: Beginner
Presenter(s): Jennifer Ayres

Session Block 4

D1S35: How to Start Out With Blended Learning in The Primary Grades

This session is designed to help support our K-3 Primary Teachers as they move to extend the walls of their classrooms.  Come find out how the provincial Virtual Learning Environment can provide a safe and engaging space for you and your students.  Use these online tools to easily connect and communicate with parents.  Give your students a chance to explore rich multimedia.  Create interactive lessons for your class and your colleagues.  In addition to a quick tour, this session will give you opportunities to learn how others are using the LMS to engage their primary students in the classroom through blending learning.
Intended Audience: Elementary Teachers
Experience Level: Beginner
Presenter(s): Shelley Lowry

Wednesday

Session Block 1

D2S06: Customize the Look and Feel of Your Course

A great looking theme improves the vLE experience for everyone. Want to improve the look of your course but need some help? This hands-on workshop will demonstrate the basics of editing a course theme and provide time to work on your own theme with experts in the room to help you. Theme resources, ideas, and free images will be provided.
Intended Audience: All Teachers, eLCs/DeLCs
Experience Level: Intermediate
Presenter(s): Tim Robinson & Peter Anello

Session Block 3

D2S22: Say What? – “Oral Proficiency”

Oral communication is an overall expectation in many subject areas, but it is often the one area that is the most difficult to assess and evaluate. Why? From my own personal experience, it is difficult to speak with 28-30 students in an authentic assessment/evaluation situation. In this presentation, you will have the opportunity to try several useful tools/programs to see how Blended Learning can transform the way you assess and evaluate Oral Communication in your courses. Please be sure to bring headsets/microphones. This presentation will be interactive.
Intended Audience: All Teachers
Experience Level: Any Level
Presenter(s): Gillian Walker

What’s the difference between e-Learning, online learning, Blended Learning,…?

Janet Broder (@peachyteachy) asked this morning,

HELP! eLearning and Online Learning: Same or different? If different, why/how? And..GO! #edtech @avivaloca @royanlee @fryed @mraspinall

A bunch of folks tweeted back at her, including me, but I thought it was worth a slightly longer explanation that Twitter permitted.

There are a lot of terms

e-Learning (or eLearning, or elearning – we fight about this one), Blended Learning, virtual learning (I don’t like this one; makes it sound like it’s pretending to learn), online learning, hybrid learning, digital learning… gross, eh? They’re not all useful, and some of them make things fuzzy.

I’ll explain my take on each of them. You can have your own take; it won’t hurt my feelings.

e-Learning

This is learning in which the interaction between student and teacher is online. For us this is generally a student taking a course from a teacher without going to a physical classroom with that teacher. They might be in the same building, but the learning and the communication is done online.

There may be an offline component (for example, a student might write a response on paper), but there is always an online connection (e.g. they take a picture of their response to send to the teacher).

Blended Learning

In Ontario, Blended Learning is the use of the Provincial Learning Management System (more recently termed the virtual Learning Environment) with a face-to-face classroom. At the moment that’s using Desire2Learn with your students.

But that’s Blended Learning with capital letters. For “blended learning” I feel you only need to be using online tools. Connect your students to the Internet. That definition is more inclusive, but then it also includes some less meaningful implementations. Not all forms of blended learning are equal. Using the Internet to enhance instruction is complex, so we spend a lot of time figuring out how to do it well. [Plug: that’s a big part of On The Rise!]

Hybrid learning is the same thing, but I think is a term more commonly used in the United States.

Online Learning

For me, online learning encompasses both e-Learning and blended learning. I think of it as “using online tools for learning”. It doesn’t matter where you are on the face-to-face to e-Learning spectrum; online learning is the spectrum itself. The key element is the use of the Internet. Just like blended learning, this can be done poorly or awesomely.

Digital Learning

This one’s my favourite. This is everything. Digital learning includes online learning which includes blended learning (and Blended Learning) and e-Learning. It also includes “offline digital learning”, like using local software and digital cameras.

The picture in my mind

A venn diagram showing the relationship between the terms discussed in this post.

We’re still figuring this out…

…and in the end, it’s all just learning. I’m optimistic that we’ll get to the point where the only distinction will be whether you’re face-to-face or not; digital will be the norm.

Math rendering in Desire2Learn

I made a mistake (gasp!) in our eLC e-Community yesterday, saying that rendering math equations in D2L required a Java plug-in because browsers don’t support MathML. My information was out of date (I did check an existing course to confirm the browser’s behaviour, but the course was from 2011-2012; the new versions are updated).

Thankfully Tim Hasiuk posted this morning with some gentle corrections, so I figured I’d explain for the world what’s going on.

What I said in e-Community

“If I were to teach a math course using the learning environment I’d probably replace all of the equations with images using a service like CodeCogs.com’s Online LaTeX Equation Editor (http://www.codecogs.com/latex/eqneditor.php) and keep all of my source LaTeX equations. Here’s how CodeCogs renders f(x)=\frac{5}{2}cos(x-\pi)+\frac{1}{2}

CodeCogsEqn

I’d grab that image and insert it into the course – it’s browser and platform independent.”

Tim’s reply

Tim made the following points (portions removed, indicated by …):

“Problem with using images is that they degrade if resized, and the vLE doesn’t allow a lot of image options.

As a side note, MathML is what is used by the vLE embedded viewer to display the LaTeX equations created within the content area. So instead of copying an image, you could copy and paste the code from cogs into the LaTeX equation editor within the vLE content editor.”

Some investigation

So I looked at a newer course (MCV4U for next semester) and saw that Tim is right – the equations are rendered using MathJax (http://www.mathjax.org/), which is a Javascript project. The MathML in a course might look like

<math>
  <mrow>
    <mfrac>
      <mrow><mn>3</mn></mrow>
      <mrow><mi>x</mi><mo>-</mo><mn>3</mn></mrow>
    </mfrac>
  </mrow>
</math>

which renders in the browser, using MathJax, inline like this:

a MathML example

So that’s pretty nice.

Testing the different equation editors in the vLE

But if you’re trying to write new equations, what’s the best approach? I tried expressing the same function in each of the three D2L-provided equation editors: the Graphical Editor, the MathML Editor, and the LaTeX Editor.

The MathML code was

<math>
    <mrow>
        <mtext>f(x)</mtext>
        <mo>=</mo>
        <mfrac>
            <mrow>
                <mtext>2cos(x</mtext>
                <mo>-</mo>
                <mtext>π</mtext>
                <mtext>)</mtext>
            </mrow>
            <mrow>
                <mtext>π</mtext>
                <mo>+</mo>
                <mfrac>
                    <mn>1</mn>
                    <mn>2</mn>
                </mfrac>
            </mrow>
        </mfrac>
    </mrow>
</math>

The LaTeX code was

f(x)=\frac{2cos(x-\pi)}{\pi+\frac{1}{2}}

Here’s how a test page I made renders in each browser I have (you may need to click/tap each to see the full version):

Chrome 32

EquationEditors_Chrome

Firefox 26

EquationEditors_Firefox

Internet Explorer 11

EquationEditors_IE11

As you can see, the browsers were very similar in their handling of the code. In each case I left the default settings for MathJax, which users can choose on the fly (in the past, it was a D2L preferences setting to use a Java plugin or to render the MathML directly). Here are the choices:

EquationEditors_MathRenderer

In IE and Chrome it was best to leave as HTML-CSS; MathML was not rendered by the browser (as expected) and SVG was a bit wonky (inconsistent type size was the most noticeable issue).

Firefox provides native support for MathML, though, so here’s what it rendered:

EquationEditors_Firefox_MathML_Renderer

Looks familiar, eh? Firefox did a nice job, which makes sense.

So what’s the right approach?

Take a look at how things rendered above.

First, the Graphical Editor doesn’t do a nice job (or I’m using it incorrectly). This is really clear in the function notation on the left side of the equation. Kinda gross.

Second, the MathML was rendered nicely. It’s a bit small, but you can adjust the zoom as a user, so that’s not a really big deal. It’s also done inline with the text, which is nice.

Last, LaTeX is the most beautifully rendered (in my opinion), but it suffers here from being a separate, centered block (it’s not inline), which is arguably an issue that is a dealbreaker. Most interesting to me is that the LaTeX is actually converted to MathML for rendering. Has anyone found a way to get LaTeX’s prettiness while still being inline, without having to dive into the HTML? I’d like that to be something a math teacher (and a math student!) would feel comfortable with.

Semi-Final Conclusions

If I were teaching it, I’d be using the LaTeX editor because I’m comfortable with LaTeX as a language. If I didn’t know any LaTeX I’d probably go to an extension or website which uses a graphical editor to produce LaTeX live, like CodeCogs.com’s Online LaTeX Equation Editor (http://www.codecogs.com/latex/eqneditor.php) This is the easiest one I found in my quick search. There are also ways to convert the LaTeX to MathML so that you can use the MathML editor and get the inline capability if you want (see http://www.fmath.info/java/latex-mathml-converter/ for one example).

LaTeX Update

There is currently a really nice, comprehensive guide to using LaTeX for Math at ftp://ftp.ams.org/ams/doc/amsmath/short-math-guide.pdf and another helpful resource at http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/LaTeX/Mathematics

Another LaTeX Update

This is a really cool tool for recognizing your hand-drawn symbols and returning the name of the symbol in LaTeX: http://detexify.kirelabs.org/classify.html

And here’s a graphical/the-way-you-type-math conversion tool that will generate LaTeX: http://mathlex.org/latex