Screencasts for teaching Computer Science online

I’m teaching ICS3C/ICS3U online using the Java programming language to 24 students whom I never see, ever. ICS has a lot of technical components, and computer programming can be finicky. In a face-to-face class you can help a student debug (troubleshoot) their code while looking over their shoulder.

Online isn’t like this. It’s not exactly a disadvantage, though – students are solving their own problems more often because they don’t want to take the time to write an email or because I take too long to respond (i.e. more than 15 minutes – jokes!).

So, how do I teach students the mechanics of coding in Java without making them read a book?

I take a screencast of myself coding and talking about it. I use Screencast-O-Matic because it’s very, very reliable and awesome (on my own laptop I install the application so I’m not using Java in the browser).

an image showing a program being written in the NetBeans IDE

Are your videos excellent?

No, I don’t believe the videos are compelling in the way that a Hollywood film is, but they’re at least useful. Students can see the order in which I solve a problem, hear my thinking as I work, and see the mistakes I make.

Mistakes?!?

Yup, I make mistakes when I code. I get error messages. Java throws Exceptions. Flashing red lights, irritating Microsoft “dings”, and all that.

They’re not on purpose (I’m not trying to make mistakes), but they’re beautiful opportunities for incidental learning. Students will make the same mistakes too, so I think this will help them to recognize these types of errors and be able to correct them.

What do you do with them?

I post the videos in two places:

First I post them into my e-Learning course in the Content area, mixed in with text explanations, assignments, discussions, and so on. I’ll usually also post the code that I write in these screencast sessions.

an image showing content items in an e-Learning course

Second I post them to YouTube and add them to a playlist I’ve been maintaining for this course. This is so that other people can use them if they want (including parents), and so that students can possibly download them more quickly or on different devices. I think it’s worth the extra time to cross-post.

An image showing a YouTube playing for ICS3C/ICS3UDo they use the videos?

They certainly do. I surveyed my students early in the course and most wanted the videos as well as PDF files with code examples and screenshots. Most students access the videos in the online learning environment, which probably makes sense since there’s more structure there. The number of views on YouTube isn’t very high, but it’s not zero :)

Hasn’t someone done this already? YouTube is FULL of stuff like this!

I know. There is a lot already out there, and a lot of that is “better” than what I’m making.

But there are some distinct advantages to doing this myself:

  • I run into the snags that students would run into, and I fix them
  • They can hear my voice and get to know me a bit, hopefully making other communication easier
  • I use the same IDE they do, so it’s up-to-date, not version 6.8 or whatever
  • I can focus my videos on the course concepts and not other stuff (like some tough math)

Are you going to keep doing this?

For this semester I will. In the future offerings of this course I hope to be able to reuse at least some of these videos, although I know they will become obsolete in some ways. And if I get a chance to teach ICS4C/4U I’ll get to work on a whole new round of concepts, which is kind of fun for a geek like me.

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#CS teachers: I need help developing an inquiry task

I am trying to develop a task for my online ICS3C/3U Computer Programming/Science class, and I need the students to be deeply “engaged”.

I return again to my latest, favouritest definition for student engagement: “A student is engaged in learning when they feel a compulsion to pursue the learning apart from external motivations.” That is, not just for marks, and not just because Mr. G said they have to. I want them to want to learn.

So I want the students to pursue their own interests as much as possible. I believe giving students the freedom to choose will be a lot more likely to kindle that compulsion I want to see in them, and will result in deeper learning and, rather importantly, more fun for all of us.

My challenge is figuring out how to frame that task so that I give them

  • enough latitude to pursue whatever interests them (knowing that I can’t predict these things!)
  • enough guidance to help them formulate their plans (so they can learn from the experience)
  • enough restrictions to ensure that they are learning for this course (since I have to assess and evaluate them).

So I’m a little stuck. I’ve created an openly-editable Google Doc with their learning goals and my initial thoughts. I would be very, very pleased if you would take a look and add comments, ideas, criticisms… anything that can help me move forward with this. I’m trying to plan very carefully to minimize the chance that this wastes my students’ time and effort, and to minimize any unnecessary frustrations they experience.

Here’s the document; please share widely: Learning Computer Science Through Inquiry

Much thanks in advance, from me and from my students!

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

Why I’m leaving the Board Office and going back to the classroom

Yup, it’s true: in September 2014 I’ll be teaching in a high school and I won’t be the e-Learning Contact for the Algoma District School Board. That means I’ll also be giving up the positions of Regional Chair for the Sudbury-North Bay Region, Secretary for the Northern e-Learning Consortium, and of course Chair for On The Rise.

This isn’t precisely news; I “made the announcement” in June of 2013, but a lot of folks are just hearing about it now. With On The Rise approaching I’m having a lot of conversations with eLCs and other edtech folks from around the province, so it’s come up a few times in conversation. I wanted to clear some things up and explain myself for everyone.

They’re not forcing me back

Just wanted to get that out of the way. No one is making me leave the eLC position, although that’s a popular misconception. I applied for and was offered a position as the Subject Area Head (department head) for Math at Superior Heights C. & V. S. in Sault Ste. Marie. That process happened in June, and the principal and I agreed to wait a year while I tried to transition out of the eLC role. We’re eight months into that year now.

I like being the e-Learning Contact

This is work I’m good at, and it’s work I enjoy. I have contact with every school in the system and lots of great people from around the province. The eLCs are wicked-awesome and it’s a pleasure to collaborate. I like planning conferences with them. I like getting free PD. I like having time to explore new ideas and talk to people with other perspectives and from different contexts.

But I’ve been doing this a long time

This is my sixth year in a central role, and my fifth year as the eLC (I spent a year in Numeracy support first). I last taught daily in a classroom in 2008. Think about how long ago that was. Really. Take a minute.

Wow, eh?

It’s a good idea to get back to the routine and rewards and challenges of daily classroom teaching. I don’t want to lose touch with what it’s like to struggle with content, with WiFi, with supervision, with all of the dozens and hundreds of things that teachers live with, deal with, and overcome each day.

I once had a teacher tell me I’d been out of the classroom too long and that I couldn’t understand what it was like to be a “real” teacher anymore. That was almost two years ago, and I want to ensure that she doesn’t become right about that.

And I have other things I want to do

I’m going to teach math. I like to teach math. I’m excited to try Blended Learning and e-Learning and using my YouTube channel and graphing software and graph paper (I miss graph paper) and….

I want to work with the math department at SHCVS. They’re good people and I’m looking forward to digging into our instruction together to make things even better for students and for each other. I want to spend time every day in the same place to help people. I want to go deep into instruction, not just wide.

And I also miss being part of a larger staff. Working on Program Team is fairly isolating in a lot of ways. I spend a lot of time in my office at my computer. That’s not the way it’s “supposed” to be, but that’s the way it is. I talk with most of the people who work in our building, but we’re not having after-work social gatherings as a rule.

Plus there’s a lot of travel as an eLC

I have a family. They don’t get to see me when I’m out of town, and although I have travelled less this year I’ll still be out of town over 20 days this year. I realize that’s not “bad” compared with some of the jobs out there, but it’s a lot more than what I’ll have as a classroom teacher.

I’m also tired of travelling. I’m tired of driving and flying during the evenings and on weekends. I leave on Sunday. I get back at 1:00am on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. I have to eat out for three days. I work in the airport lounge. I have to get rental cars. We have to have two vehicles because I’m going East and my wife and kids are going West. I have to pay for stuff out of pocket and get reimbursed later. Six years of that is a little exhausting.

Also, someone else should do this for a while

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who can do this job. Then I look around and see that there are over sixty other people in the province who do the same job every day, often with fewer resources, more resistance, and less time. Perhaps I am the only person in our board with my skill set and experience. But I developed this over the course of years, and someone else can do the same (or better!).

Also, I probably have biases and baggage that prevent me from making progress in certain parts of the work. Maybe I’m not pursuing a project or strategy, or maybe I don’t know about a teacher whose work should be shared. Maybe I am stubborn about something that I really shouldn’t worry about. The problem with these gaps is that I can’t see them all, and only bringing someone else in to do the work can make them clear.

But who’s going to…?

The work will get done, or not, as the case may be. Frankly, it’s not all getting done now. I am a terrible bottleneck at our board. My to do list is mercifully digital, because if I was to record it on paper I might need a logging permit first.

Sometimes I think it’ll be good if someone coming in can’t do some of the things I do. This is a highly technical job right now, and I don’t think it should be. The eLC is a teacher, and the work should be work that only a teacher can do well. I feel that other kinds of tasks should mostly be given to the people who are best suited to looking after them.

Some things will be different. My successor will have other ways to accomplish stuff, novel approaches to tired problems, and generally a lot to offer. I certainly wish them well, and I’ll be here to support them in the transition and beyond, because that’s who I am.

I think I’ve done well in this role, and I can look back and see objectively that we’ve come a long, long way from 2008 by any measure. I’ll miss the near-constant contact with everyone in my Skype group most of all, and I hope that catching up at 3:00pm and on Twitter and at eSymposium, ECOO14, or OTKR12 will be enough to maintain those relationships.

I have four more months as the eLC, and I plan to cram in as much as possible (including OTRK12 and an EdCampSault). I want to leave things both easy and awesome for the new eLC so they can focus on effective instructional practice instead of technical issues and clerical work.

Thanks

I’m not gone yet, but for the last few months of my eLChood I want everyone I work with to know how fantastic they are and how much it means to me to have been a significant part of what we’ve done in our board, in the North, and in Ontario.

Thanks for a great time, everyone. 

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.