Although it’s possible that I haven’t yet articulated it as such, my action plan is centred around the idea of implementing project-based and personalized learning in my Grade 11 Communications Technology class. I realized after our third face-to-face session in January that my plan of attack was a bit misguided (see “Keeping the cart behind the horse”). While revamping my entire course for this academic year would not be possible at that stage in the year, I decided to take some small steps to try out a version of personalized learning for the tail end of our unit on Graphic Design.
This year was the first time that TGJ3M was offered at CDS, and I wasn’t sure how the timing would work out. My plan was to structure it as a survey-type course, offering units in basic technology skills, photography, graphic design, video & audio production, and social media. The graphic design unit had a lot of elements, including technology instruction in Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Muse; partway through it, the plan was to introduce the ISU – a large, self-directed project where students would use some of the tools they’d learned to create a media campaign. As most teachers quickly find out, even when they’ve taught a course more than once, the school year seems to disappear before your eyes. Before you know it, exams are looming and you’re not where you’d planned and hoped to be. Comm Tech was no different for me. We’d barely scratched the surface of InDesign and we were already getting late in the year.
As frustrating as it seemed at first, it turned out that this was a gift from the Cohort21 gods, who must have known that I needed to stop thinking about my action plan in terms of next year, and do something now to implement it. I still needed to cover Muse and Illustrator, but there was no way that, in the time we had, students could learn both with enough depth to actually create something with them. Enter the personalization bit: after being introduced to the concept of the ISU, students needed to choose which program would serve them best for their end-of-year project. Muse would be for the wannabe web designers, whose media campaign would include a website, and Illustrator would be for those who wanted to create a logo as part of their campaign. We watched introductory videos for both, and then students were off to the races.
Self-Directed Learning Module
In the weeks leading up to what I came to call the Self-Directed Learning Module, I explored the extensive collections of short, simple how-to videos found on adobe.com, copying video URLs and descriptions to two separate hyperdocs (hyperdocs defined). I divided each module into three sections: Getting Started (short, basic introductory videos for the key tools for each program), Assessment for Learning (a series of videos with sample files for students to create either a logo or a website along with the videos), and Independent Learning (a section for students to seek out resources that answer their burning questions or teach them additional tools). For each video, students were to take detailed notes to look back on for reference. Each section was followed by a reflection and a learning skills self-assessment.
You can view each document here:
Adobe Illustrator Self-Directed Learning Module
Adobe Muse Self-Directed Learning Module
I knew they were long documents so I tried to make use of some of the tools in Docs to make it easier to navigate. I created bookmarks for each section and made a footer with links to each bookmark. Just recently, Docs also introduced the new “Outline” feature, which recognizes your headings and uses the grey space beside your doc to create a “smart” table of contents.
Learning skills are something that I don’t keep track of as much as I should; I had students complete a self-assessment of their learning skills three times throughout the process, and my final assessment at the conclusion of the module included my take on their work habits and learning skills. (Needless to say, students’ perceptions of how hard they’re working often differed from my own!)
Students had to reflect upon their learning skills and work habits after each section of the module. (Click the image to view the entire Self-Assessment form.)
The final time they completed the self-assessment, I used advanced Google Forms tools (“Go to page based on answer”) to have students provide the basic information required for a Certificate of Completion, and used the Add-on Form Publisher to automatically generate a certificate and email it to students. I liked the idea of incorporating the idea of badging into the process, and it also made it easier for me to see exactly which students had fully completed the module.
A custom, automated certificate brought in a “badging” element to the module.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
One of the challenges I identified in the first step of the action plan process was that I was beginning to find it difficult to stay far enough ahead of the students to feel like the expert. Although I knew my way around Illustrator and Muse, this self-directed learning module was a perfect opportunity for me to learn along with the students. I gave myself homework, and I went through the video-watching and note-taking process just as the students did. Knowing exactly what was in the videos made me a better resource for my class – I faced some of the same difficulties they did, and my background knowledge of the software could help to fill in the blanks where the videos did not cover something. I was able to use my notes as an example for students, as I found that many of them didn’t really know how to take effective notes (I saw a lot of video summaries in place of notes).
I was able to use my notes as an example for students; I’m not sure if they’ve ever had much explicit instruction on how to take effective notes.
During class, I used the time to respond to student questions and go through their documents, making comments on their notes and reflections: How could you take better notes to help you remember a process more effectively? Could practicing with the software as you watch help you to retain things better? What do you do when a video doesn’t explain something thoroughly?
This process was certainly not all roses. Trying to keep students on track and using their class time effectively was a challenge. I had a hard time balancing the “independent work time” with my desire for students to act as resources for one another and try to problem-solve together (in my class, at least, this often quickly devolves into social time). I found it frustrating that despite writing what I thought were crystal-clear instructions, students seemed not to read them. I spent most of the class periods responding to questions whose answers were contained either within the document or within the videos or webpages. Part of the intent for this module was for students to recognize the vast network of resources available to them when they wanted to learn something, and my hope was that they would try to find an answer before turning to me. I’d love to hear some ideas about how to help students work towards greater independence and resilience in the face of setbacks. I want to create a culture of independence and problem-solving in my classroom next year – does anyone have any activities that I could use to start the year off on the right foot?
Despite the challenges and frustration, I believe that this was a valuable experience both for me and for my students. It was awesome to see some students embrace the freedom of working at their own pace, and I could tell that they enjoyed having the freedom to choose what to learn. I was able to spend more time supporting and facilitating individual student learning and answering questions, and less time trying to deliver content to a large group. My biggest takeaways are to keep instructions simple, and next time I might divide the three sections into three separate documents, with a clearer structure (part 1, part 2, part 3 as opposed to my three randomly-named sections). Does anyone have any other feedback or ideas for making this a more successful experience for all?
My action plan goal will remain to work towards a completely revamped course for next year with a personalized structure based on larger projects. In the meantime, however, I will take some of the lessons learned from this experience to support my students as they work on their ISUs.