ETEC 540 Community Web

9 09 2008

Crazy as it likely was, I signed up to be the web designer for ETEC 540. With my co-designer Dieder Bylsma we created the website for the class.  I learned some valuable lessons in the process.

  1. Communication is key.
  2. Configuration control is *really* important and needs to be communicated (see number 1)
  3. Servers go down, people make mistakes, backups are a wonderful thing.
  4. Patience is definately a virtue, and being able to explain HTML in ways that make sense to regular people is a very handy skill.

Online Learning Communities

4 09 2008

The Scratch Project – Building community through storytelling

4 09 2008

April 7, 2008

by Jarrod Bell, Carolann Fraenkel, Drew Ryan and Laurie Trepanier

1. Key Frameworks

The stories of our ancestors and the folk literature of the past has, for decades, been rooted in print.  Today, even though our society has become more rooted in digital technology, the print medium still holds our stories.  (Mello, 2001)  Storytelling, as it is defined here, is a “linguistic activity that is educative because it allows individuals to share their personal understanding with others, thereby creating negotiated transactions.” (Egan,1995) Storytelling is an art form that allows us to communicate ideas, and images .  Jerome Bruner states,

“The imaginative application of the narrative mode leads instead to good stories, gripping drama, believable (though not necessarily “true”) historical accounts. It deals in human or human-like intention and action and the vicissitudes and consequences that mark their course. It strives to put its timeless miracles into the particulars of experience, and to locate the experience in time and place.” (Bruner, 1986 p 13)

Shared narratives, in the form of texts have been passed down through generations and have formed our stories and are often the basis of the collective social knowledge that we teach our children.  The art form of storytelling has, until recently, been an interaction between storyteller, and audience.  The storyteller honed their craft by practicing and trying to gauge the experience of the audience.

The digital video format allows students to develop these personal narratives without face to face pressure, and to build community with their online classmates.  The learners will have the advantage of developing the ability to distinguish what information is required and relevant, within an ever-shifting environment.   “[A] healthy amount of connected behaviour within a learning community is a very powerful stimulant for learning, not only bringing people closer together but promoting deeper reflection and re examination of their existing beliefs.”  (Siemens, n.d.) The digital format allows learners to select from the personal stories of others and of themselves while making the connections that are necessary to facilitate the learning process.

To engage the learner, shared language and culture provide an environment that ensures learning does not occur in isolation.  Scaffolding techniques are utilized to present new information including new language and social constructs.  Through a basic understanding of the language and culture, the children can engage in storytelling to present their “personal” histories. These histories can be both fictional and non-fictional.  The act of collaborating in the creation of the story, both visually and textually, will span both the cognitive and affective domains.

About the Learners

It is our belief that all students can benefit from storytelling and story creation.  We have narrowed our focus to students in grades 5-8.  “This group of learners is typically egocentric.  They love to talk about themselves and their many opinions.” (Gibbs 2001) They are beginning to look outside themselves and consider how other people think and feel.  They have a well defined trust system, and a strong sense of fairness and social consciousness.  They are often witty and have a good sense of humour.  This group of students is in a new stage of their development as they are experimenting with new roles and values.  Their peer group is very important to their sense of self worth, and a strong motivator to their learning.  (National Middle School Association, n.d.)  In building community through storytelling, it is our hope to harness the love this age group has for talking about themselves and develop inclusion, influence and community through the stories they tell.

2.  Intentions and Positions

Our main objective behind creating this technology enhanced learning environment (TELE) is to provide a platform in which students can actively create a community of learners promoting artistic creativity, technology skills and community through digital storytelling.  “A culture is created through communication and it is not so much the events that are told in the stories, but the telling of stories that builds the culture and community” (Using Community Informatics to Transform Regions, p. 45).

Carol Doyle-Jones, author of Story-Dialogue: Creating Community Through Storytelling, started to recognize the importance of having her students create and share stories within her classroom.  “I noticed subtle changes in the tone of the class.  Talking about the issues brought us closer together as a group and a sense of community continually evolved…” (Doyle-Jones, 2006).  We believe this is a core value embedded within our project; that is, the ability of storytelling to create, nurture, and evolve students’ understanding and empathy of one another.

The power of storytelling is that it is a universally recognized medium which has the “…ability to create empathy and build relationships between different people and communities by connecting both the storyteller and the listener within a common narrative” (Third World Majority, 2002).  The collaborative TELE, along with the Scratch platform, will encourage students’ social and emotional growth in a respectful and mutually beneficial forum.  In “Making Classrooms ‘Safe’ for Adolescent Learning” Glenda Beamon referenced Sagor who explained how teachers can provide a safe learning environment that engenders competence, belonging, usefulness, potency and optimism by:

providing students with genuine evidence of academic success;
enabling them to become members of a community;
reinforce feelings that they’ve made a significant contribution; and
empower Students.  (Beamon, 2001)

We have entered an era in storytelling which allows a transition from storytelling as a traditional oral pass-time through pencil and paper and has now entered the realm of digitization.  As quoted by Judy Salpeter in “Telling Tales with Technology” Bernajean Porter (author of DigiTales) notes that “digital storytelling takes the ancient art of oral storytelling and engages a palette of technical tools to weave personal tales using images, graphics, music, and sound mixed together with the author’s own story voice” (Salpeter, 2005).  Not unlike traditional storytelling methods, digital storytelling recognizes the importance of a student’s voice and in many cases enables “storytellers…to take control of their own story, and tell it in a way that has not been possible before the advent of multimedia approaches…” (Using
Community Informatics to Transform Regions, p. 44).  Through the enriching platform of technology we envision students being able to not only develop and give life to their own stories, but more importantly, to learn to value, share, and ultimately collaborate on others’ stories; in turn, students will develop a sense of community which we envision will transcend their online environment and extend into their daily lives.

Some of the challenges students may experience in effectively utilizing our Moodle are access to ICT resources and the possibility of feeling influenced to create stories which are reflective of Western mores.  We believe that both of these issues can and should be addressed by teachers/facilitators early in the planning process.  For example, knowing that specific students in your class do not have PCs and/or broadband connectivity considerations regarding when and how the TELE will be used must be addressed.  As well, we believe rather than being a prescriptive forum for creating digital stories our Moodle is both flexible and authentic to students’ voice.  Students will definitely be influenced by one another on their journey toward creating collaborative stories in a reciprocal manner.  Though as Bernajean Porter author of DigiTales suggests, “[t]he magical power of releasing our own story into local and global communities is its ability to create understandings, build positive relationships, and leverage shared values between people of different communities or cultures. Our world could use a LOT more of that!” (Interview with Bernajean Porter)

As previously alluded to, this TELE will immerse students in constructivist online storytelling.  Immersion facilitated by teachers and senior peers, in correlation with exemplars, will support students’ continued development as young authors.  Curricular outcomes will be varied as they will be designed to fit the needs of individual and/or groups of students in relation to established guidelines by the teachers and facilitators who use this TELE.

In order to support teachers a teacher resource section has been provided on our Moodle.  Links to the British Columbia English Language Arts IRP as well as the Performance Standards for both technology and writing have also been provided to enable quick curricular referencing with exemplars.  As well, a link to DigiTales’ media rubric has been included for teachers to customize their assessment and evaluation tools.  The British Columbia (BC) Ministry of education recognizes the importance of building community through their strategic planning for 2005-2008.

“For the upcoming year, the Ministry of Education will focus on three key areas: literacy, health, and building community …” (BC Budget, 2005).  A key component of the ministry plan is to build literacy through community interaction.  In addition the English Language Arts outcomes for grade 8 students include a section entitled Self and Society (Building Community).  It states that students should interact purposefully, confidently, and respectfully in a variety of situations, and use language to demonstrate that they respect and value diversity.  One of the suggested instructional strategies is to interact using communications technology, or praise, and to encourage or support someone.
3.  Key Concepts and Contexts

Driscoll (2002) describes learning as having four major components.   Firstly, learning occurs in context: using digital media for storytelling puts the curricular goals set forth into the context of a story.  Secondly, learning is active: the community building component of the storytelling will add to active learning by incorporating decision making.  Thirdly, learning is social, so collaboration as facilitated through technology brings learners together socially.  Finally, learning is reflective: having digital media will allow users to watch and reflect on their work and that of others.

Community has been defined by many people.  John McKnight, identifies five indicators of community: the unique capacity of each individual, collective effort, informality, stories, and celebration. (McKnight 1992) Our focus will be on stories.  Storytelling is a tradition in many cultures and has not been used solely for entertainment.  Historically, stories help to define purpose, model values and behaviour, provide language models, and establish a need for co-dependence.  They give meaning and context to most of what we do.  The focus of this project is on three major goals which are supported by storytelling: inclusion, influence, and community.

In order for students to experience inclusion they must have a sense of belonging.  They need a way to present themselves, to state their needs and expectations, and to be acknowledged.  “If a person does not feel included, he/she will create his or her own inclusion by grabbing influence-attracting attention, creating a controversy, demanding power, or withdrawing into a passive belligerence.” (Gibbs 2001)  Inclusion is an issue for everyone.

If we don’t have a sense of belonging we are never fully comfortable to learn and grow.  In the context of storytelling, inclusion means that all stories are valued and shared.  There is no judgment.  Rather, in order to successfully meet the needs of all learners, in particular historically disenfranchised groups, integration of technology within the classroom must be grounded in a holistic pedagogy which recognizes students’ cultural diversity and unique needs.

Following these pedagogical principles, our online environment will be moderated by an adult, an advanced learner, or a senior student mentor to ensure that certain rules of engagement are followed that encourage inclusion.  These rules include responding with positive commentary: you have the right to decline to answer.  Mutual respect is also required: you don’t have to agree, just be respectful.  As well, moderators will provide scaffolding opportunities for students which in turn will support students’ successes and ultimately target their zone of proximal development (ZPD).  ZPD “is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help” (“Zone of Proximal Development”, 2008).

Influence, the second goal of this project, means sharing leadership and valuing differences.   We must all feel like we can influence the group in order to have a sense of community.  In the context of storytelling, it means respectful turn taking, active listening, and tolerance. Sometimes influence is sharing a story, sometimes it is commenting on a story and sometimes it is a poignant silence.  Influence will include some shared goal setting, and problem solving.  The rules of engagement will be very important in helping to build a circle of influence.

The third goal we are working toward is the product of the first two, community.  Community has been defined as “support from people who share common joys and trials.” (Brown 2001)  It involves building social skills, sharing responsibility, constructive thinking, and celebrating our achievements.  Through the use of storytelling it is our hope that middle school learners will come to terms with differences in themselves and others, identify with other competent students and by modeling and observation learn some of the uses of their knowledge set forth above (Wilson 2001).

Possible Issues

Because our design is web based, it brings up some technology related issues, which are addressed in the Inter Activities section.  In addition to the technological issues, some question could be raised as to the validity of spending time and resources to build community.  Is online community building any better than face to face community building?  There are some distinct advantages of online learning over face to face situations.  These advantages are outlined by Mark Kassop as follows: online learning is student centered, it is interactive, it is geared toward lifelong learning, it provides an opportunity for enriched course materials, it offers immediate feedback, flexibility, and an opportunity to develop community (Kassop 2003). “The great potential that learner-centered computer-mediated classes have is that when a community forms, its members can easily keep in contact with one another through the very medium they used to create the community, the Internet.  Community does not have to end when the class or the program ends.” (Brown 2001)

4.  Interactivities

The Scratch programming language will be the main multimedia tool for creating collaborative multimedia objects to enable storytelling. We will use scaffolding, direct instruction using text, video and sound, synchronous and asynchronous communication to enable the learners to build stories in scratch together.

The dynamic objects will be available in a moodle course on a moodle server in School District 60 (  The UBC moodle server does not allow for large enough video files to be directly added to the moodle site (12Mb upload max).  A solution to this would be to add video to YouTube and embed into moodle; however, screen capture videos added to YouTube generally have a marked reduction in quality that can serve to hamper asynchronous learning.

We will have screen capture video walk through’s on how to use different features in squeak and moodle.  We can build these using screen capture video programs like Zdsoft or Camtasia on the PC and Snapz Pro on the Mac. This design proposal will be made available in the course shell for instructors/facilitators. The chronological order format of Moodle makes lesson planning simple for teachers as they can tackle resources online as time permits and it allows for advanced students to accelerate their learning. As well, we will have exemplars and a collection of story starters, story finishers and images that could be used.  Audio clips could be created with Audacity on the PC or ProfCast or Garage Band on the Mac. To increase portability of videos we will use different video formats for the same videos.

In moodle we will use discussion forums for students to post and share work, synchronous text chat for students between different schools or locales to meet and discuss, web pages with video instructions.  Also we can use the moodle groups feature so that groups of students can have access to private forums to discuss their project. The private group forums can enable a democratization of discussion and planning as each participant has an equal voice in this asynchronous mode of communication. The forums would also be helpful in a Distributed Learning (DL) environment.  A separate group for teacher discussion is also possible to have frequently asked questions answered by experienced users to help scaffold inexperienced teachers.

To minimize technical problems in the classroom an expert teacher or facilitators would work with the classroom teacher building class specific lesson plans, creating their own exemplars, and walking through common troubleshooting techniques.  A facilitator would be present to introduce the project to students and how to work in the environment.  In a DL environment a live face to face facilitator could be replaced with screen capture video and audio as well as synchronous video using common networking tools such as MSN, iChat, Skype, or Elluminate if available.  As a classroom teacher gains experience in the project it will build capacity for expansion of the project within the school as there will be another facilitator or expert teacher available.

5.  Verification

Verification of the design for this project would occur in three stages.  The first stage would involve instructors from two of each of the targeted grades (5- 8).  These instructors would be provided a survey and asked to rate the usability of the project in their current classrooms.  The instructors would also be provided with two weeks for each class to use as applicable in their curriculum.  This would provide feedback from the instructional viewpoint.  Instructors would be asked to comment on the students’ reactions to the project including negative and positive reactions, difficulties experienced by the students and comments/complements from the students.  Results from the instructors would be used to align the design with the required curriculum for the target population.

The second stage of the verification would include the random selection of the students who were given the opportunity to use the Building Community with Digital Storytelling project.  These students would be asked to answer basic questions regarding the appearance of the project, the ease of use, enjoyment of the activities and community building aspects.  Students would be asked to participate in focus groups to further identify issues concerning the design from the student standpoint.  In addition, students would be encouraged to complete the reflection journals so that course designers could evaluate their progress and note areas of difficulty as well as provide feedback to learners as they use the system.

The last stage would be the analyzing of the stories created by the trial students.  Instructors experienced in storytelling would be asked to review the material created by the students to ascertain if the use of the digital format is equal to, less than, or better than traditional methods from recording stories.

6.  Group Reflections and Connections

The process this group has gone through in completing our final project should stand as an exemplar of how online learning environments (not unlike our project’s moodle) can build strong collegial relationships among individuals.  In turn, what begins as a group of strangers brought together by small commonalities becomes a cohesive learning community who are not only focused on their common goal (i.e., finishing their project) but more importantly are genuinely interested in one another’s knowledge, skills, attitudes and well being.   The dedication and common purpose which goes along with group self selection is a key to success.  Engaging activities that involve problem based learning, such as this project, encourage active learning and appreciative inquiry.

Our group began a weekly Wednesday meeting where we could chat, joke, provide personal information and to conduct the business of completing the assigned task.  This weekly meeting allowed all members to have a voice and have all other members hear that voice.  The concerns that were raised were dealt with as they occurred ensuring that the work was completed with the consent of all involved.  The chat sessions also provided an area for brainstorming ideas and reducing confusion and redundancy of work.

Reading the literature and conducting research, provided us with pedagogically sound principles, which are embedded within our project to target students’ interests, learning styles, and are founded on constructivist/connectivist educational theory.  The ideas of  Bates and Poole’s “A framework for Selecting and Using Technology” have influenced our selection of the moodle platform, and the use of Scratch, as our goal was to make our design one which could be easily shared and developed in an online community.

7.  Jarrod Bell, Reflections and Connections
During the past semesters work in ETEC 510 along with our group design project I have found that traditional classroom learning needs to fall by the wayside.
This is not to say that there is no place for a classroom sans-technology; however, traditional stand and deliver teaching methods must not be the only method of delivery.
Engaging activities that involve problem based learning, active learning, appreciative inquiry and all the other names we give epistemological learning must overtake the usual instruct and test industrial teaching model.

Having worked extensively in web design and course creation prior to this course I learned much about collaborative learning in the wiki edit and design assignments as well as the group project that we are currently finishing in moodle. While I have made several courses in moodle and was enthused of the collaborative power of a web 2.0 learning management system (LMS), I am now convinced that teachers or facilitators working together on learning objects will be a mark of future educational innovators.

Looking at Bates and Poole’s “A framework for Selecting and Using Technology” from the course readings it became abundantly clear that a LMS like moodle was the correct choice for this kind of activity. As the online course readings also talked about UBC’s use of WebCT, moodle takes under 20 minutes to be familiar with the use of the LMS. It is adaptable to students needs and it is easy to use. Being open source software, the cost of creation of materials was only the time of the group members. Any digital media created was done so with open source or freeware as well. Teaching and learning of the particular project with Scratch led to an online LMS as Scratch itself is meant to be easily shared and developed in an online community. Scratch and Moodle are both highly interactive with the simple ability to import and export objects in Scratch, and the ease of use of forums, chats, and assignment tools in Moodle. Organizational issues were limited as I have previous experience and infrastructure for successful implementation of a moodle course server. Moodle is novel in terms of my lifespan; however with over six hundred thousand moodle servers and millions of registered users, there is a significant community of users and developers that support it. It is not an expensive piece of software that we picked up at a trade show! As for speed I have previously presented (TRU: Tech It Up! August 2007) that a moodle server can be installed, users added, and course building started in under two hours. I frequently make decisions in my job regarding use and selection of technology. The SECTIONS framework is something that will be a valuable addition to my toolbox.

The knowledge building community of our small group exemplified Scardamalia and Bereiter’s thought of “Researchers benefit from the advances of others, with continual interplay of findings, not just among scientists working concurrently but from generation to generation.” (Scardamalia & Bereiter. p 269). While our group was not an example of differences from generation to generation, we quickly learned from our communications online in the forums in the UBC course shell and the chats we held in the moodle shell. And a final thought regarding Mark Prensky’s idea that “today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.” With projects like these, it will help to change our educational system and the teachers within to teach the learners of today.

8.  Drew Ryan, Reflections and Connections
As this is my fifth course in the MET program it has been motivating being involved in a mode of continual reflective practice.  The ability to self-reflect ideally enables an individual the opportunity to learn from their trials and tribulations and go beyond mere sensory learning and acquire knowledge at a more in-depth level.  While as a teacher I often speak of self-reflective practices to my students and their merits my own time for self-reflection seems to diminish as the school year proceeds from one month to the next.
Therefore, it has been an enriching experience having to schedule in reflective time within my day.  Generally, it has been my experience through other MET courses that collaborative groups come together smoothly, interact both synchronously and asynchronously to accomplish a common goal, and create sound educational artifacts.  It has been a pleasure working with another highly motivated and knowledgeable group of peers who (more than any other group I have worked with) have provided scaffolding opportunities which have pushed me both as an educator and student.
From our first tentative posts I was impressed by my peers’ solid understanding of pedagogical principles as well as their technological prowess.  From wikis to web sites, our group quickly discussed different platforms to use for the basis of our project before deciding on using a moodle.  While I knew of Moodles I did not have any previous experience with them hence the start of my propelled acquisition of knowledge for this project.
Over the course of the next few weeks I became familiar with Moodles, GIMP, ZD Soft, Scratch, and Squeak.  There were many times I thought I could not keep track of all of these new experiences let alone the learning that I was engaged with.  Yet, that is one of the most beneficial aspects of group learning, I always had someone to reinforce or redirect my learning processes.  Whether it was during one of our chats, through our ETEC 510 group forum, or via gmail one or more of my peers was always available.  The reliability and rapport this model creates in connection with a common goal (i.e., the creation of our group project) has most definitely created a sense of community with my peers.  I suggest that while learning the various new technological applications were pieces in this larger puzzle my most valuable reflection is that I have developed real relationships through the aforementioned process.  These relationships have not only positively affected me during this course but are now part of who I am as an educator and person and will have their own life outside of ETEC 510.

9.  Laurie Trepanier, Reflections and Connections
Within our group, I was intrigued to see how much information I actually could assist with, considering I do not have any experience or qualifications in the primary education sector.  At the beginning of the project, I was anxious that I would not be able to assist my group with the content and the design of the project or the website.  The project appeared to be a large obstacle, but I believe that I was able to capitalize on my adult training and Systems Approach to Training (SAT) experience to provide input and assist the group with the overall design and development of the final paper, course design and website.   This experience has taught me that the approach to teaching adults and children are very similar.  The difference in adult and child education rests in how the individual learns, as all learners need to be motivated and interested in the subject and the method in which the subject is presented.

The second major learning event that occurred concerns the insight and appreciation of the variety of free learning management systems that exist in the public (and free) domain.  The other members of my group furnished valuable links to educational freeware, as well as tips and tricks for the use of the freeware.  This knowledge will unfortunately not be used in the Canadian Forces (CF) as we are highly restricted in the use of ‘other’ software due to security and public policy issues.  In my other professional life, as a professional training developer, these freeware platforms will be valuable in the creation of Community of Practice (CoP), commonly used to communicate with other Military Training Specialists both in Canada and Internationally.

The last learning event that has occurred rests on a more personal level.  During the course of the project, I was restricted in my complete participation due to my father-in-laws health and eventual death.  The other students in my group showed compassion and understanding for my tardiness with work.  This was exciting and new, and proved (to me) that a community can be created in a digital environment.  Until this course, I had a disbelief that online learning could lead to a “community”, but this experience has changed my mind about the interactions between students and peers in this type of environment.

10.  Carolann Fraenkel, Reflections and Connections
This has been the first self selected group that I have worked on in the MET program, and I find the dedication and common purpose which goes along with self selection is a key to success.  The project and course in general have made me realize that collaborative projects can be well designed, and the learning that comes from them, while not always recognizable in traditional testing methods, is invaluable.  This project has made me think about ways to use collaborative projects in my own teaching, how to assess them, and how to design them so that they meet the needs of my own students.  The reading by Mark Prensky comes to mind, and it has become very clear to me that the students I teach have grown up in a very different world, and our traditional ways of teaching are not necessarily preparing them for the world in which they will live.

As a music teacher, I have a unique teaching situation.   I really have no colleagues at my school, and I often feel as though I am an island, working in isolation.  I miss the collegiality and the integration that I had when I taught in a classroom environment.   Due to budget considerations, there is growing pressure to integrate “academic” areas with music.  While I have always used speech and language, poetry, and children’s literature in my practice the one area that has been lacking has been an integration with the other arts.  As a result of this project, and seeing the possibilities, I have embarked on four new collaborative digital arts projects with four teachers at my school.  I expected some hesitation on their part, but in truth they were excited and energized by the projects I proposed.  All four have a different focus, one is drama, one is language arts, one is social studies and one is a social action project.  Each will integrate music, drama and visual arts with these areas being taught by the classroom teacher.

I read about communities of practice with some scepticism that it was really possible to develop true community online.  I stand humbly and admit that within this group we developed what I hope will be lasting friendships in this project.  We all come from different parts of the country, and from different backgrounds which made the group interesting and dynamic.  We supported group members who were going through difficulties in life and truly did what we are hoping to do with this project, which is build community.  In our project proposal we looked at inclusion and influence as integral parts of community, and I believe that we each were included and also brought our own brand of influence to the project which was celebrated and sought out.

This project has been, in many ways, a way to reflect on and integrate concepts into my teaching practice.  I have come to learn the importance of community, of trust and the joys of well designed and structured group work.  It has given me insight into my own strengths and weaknesses though the eyes of my colleagues, and through my own self reflection.

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