Thursday, May 9, 2013

DNLE Brought Out the Best in Me!

Retrieved May 9, 2013 from here
I'm Azhar Youssef, an Egyptian EFL teacher who teaches high school students in a village. Learning adventures are only what I seek for since I became a teacher. Completing my post graduate studies helped me a lot to research and try out things to make my students happy while learning. My whole professional teaching life completely changed when I was nominated to take a 10-week online course offered by Oregon University titled "Building Teaching Skills through the Interactive Web" and instructed by Prof. Deborah Healey in 2010. This course was about how to integrate technology into curriculum. We were introduced to many tools that can make a difference in our classes. Once I got involved and found my way in the Nicenet platform, I started to help my colleagues as I always do. One of them called Roxana commented on my last post: "You became my trouble shooter. I am very thankful for all the pieces of advice you gave. They really worked." Helping people and drawing smiles on their faces is one of my dear things that I love to do in my daily life. As a result to my hard work during these 10 weeks, I was also nominated to attend the E-Teacher Scholarship Program 2011 hosted by Maryland and Oregon universities. This 3-week program was another amazing learning experience where I managed to meet 26 colleagues from all over the world face-to-face at UMBC. Really, I never forget all those sweet memories we spent together learning, discussing, creating, evaluating, presenting and finding time for chatting and laughing. I came back home with a strong desire to create a new life for my students. I used all  what I learned previously to encourage them to be more innovative and responsible citizens who are able to serve their country. They created  a wiki through which they invite tourists to visit Egypt again after the 25th Jan. Revolution. They won the First Place in the Regional Forum held in Jordan 2011 and also participated in the Global Forum held in Washington DC, 2011 to showcase their achievements. I was also Featured on Microsoft website to tell the whole world how a teacher with limited facilities can make a difference in her classes. 

Azhar in the Global Forum held in Washington, DC 2011

To continue my successful endeavors in the field of teaching, I have to find more lifelong learning opportunities to update and improve my skills. Searching on the internet, I found Coursera that offers online courses for free. I chose "Gamification" to start with. It is a new concept that I need to know more about. The videos were so exciting and the assignments required much time to do and evaluate. However, I didn't get engaged in the forum and interact with my colleagues. I just watched the videos, completed the assignments, evaluated my peers' work and took the final exam. At the end, I received my statement of achievement with 94%. 


To be frank, I wasn't happy with it. I don't know why? Maybe because I didn't fully participate and interact with other people. Maybe it was not a completely educational course that cares about teaching in classrooms. Two months later, I found the answer of these questions when I took Designing New Learning Environment (DNLE) 10-week online course by Stanford University. It was recommended by my Facebook friends. Its title attracted my attention as I always search for some learning opportunities that help improve my skills in the field of teaching. First, my reason behind participating was just for fun and meeting new people. Once I got involved learning and helping other colleagues, I felt myself not just a learner, but a partner in the learning process. I felt this more when reading one of our instructor's (Prof. Paul Kim) posts in the forums starting with "Dear co-investigators and co-designers". DNLE was a JOINT experience where the instructor and the students worked together to learn with and from each other.

The Most Valuable Part in DNLE:
  1. Reading my colleagues' work and leaving constructive feedback to them. This helped me a lot to see things from different perspectives.Their discussions enriched my knowledge and encouraged me to research more to let conversations go. 
  2. Meeting new people from all over the world with different background and areas of specialization. Just imagine to work with over 20,000 people in one place! You will gain more information, know new cultures, hear various experiences and make new connections for further communication.
  3. Watching Prof. Paul Kim's videos and following his contributions. He was a real example of passion and love for teaching and making a difference in other people's lives. His involvement in the forums and giving pieces of advice and encouragement throughout the course was a great touch he added. Modeling is not by words, but by deeds. 
  4. Working with a group of teachers (Ana, Claudia, Debora, Miriam, and Silvia) from 6 countries (Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Peru, Singapore, and Uruguay) was another beautiful thing happened to me. There was a very harmonizing spirit spread in the team. Although we had some challenges of time across our countries, we managed to create a great project that can be a starting point for other teachers who want to make a difference in their communities.
The Most Difficult Part in DNLE:
  1. Finding myself unable to give a hand to whom they needed was one of the most difficult moments I spent. Sometimes, I didn't have enough knowledge or ability to resolve problems. This feeling of inability encouraged me to spend more time researching and asking to find solutions or suitable responses. 
  2. To be a good model was also a difficult task to do in such a MOOC with over 20,000 participants. Really, I spent a lot of time and exerted great efforts to do something of high quality. 
  3. Leading my team took a lot of my time and energy. To bring out the best of all those innovative teachers wasn't an easy job. We used a lot of channels and tools to create such a great masterpiece. Of course, this needed more time to organize and collect. What helped me a lot was that they had a sense of commitment and devotion to the work. Really, I was lucky to have such amazing group members whom I enjoyed working with.
What can be Improved in DNLE:
  1. It can be shorter. 10-week course is a little bit long learning experience. Teachers are always busy doing extra work most of the time. I suggest dividing the DNLE into TWO levels. The first level is to introduce the participants to how they design new learning environments using their innovation and to design a prototype of their project. The second level can be a Follow-Up short course to implement their projects on reality and discuss the problems and challenges they face.
  2. Introduction to some new theories and approaches to teaching would be great for those who are interested in mixing pedagogy with technology. I suggest preparing some webinars in which Prof Paul Kim can extend interaction with participants. 
  3. Recording some Google+ Hangouts to train participants how to evaluate their peers' work. Their feedback was not constructive enough to reinforce and support learning. Evaluating is one of the higher-order skills that needs to be taught and practiced more often. 
  4. Venture Lab would be great if its technical team took into consideration all what we suggested during DNLE. 
  5. Creating more clear rubrics is another strongly recommended suggestion. I spent some hard time to know what was exactly required of me in some assignments. 
  6. In the next round, we need a section for former participants. For me, I love to enjoy learning new things. 
About the Project my Team Designed during DNLE: 

Click Connect is a project designed by a group of teachers for those teachers who are reluctant or unmotivated to integrate technology into their curriculum. It is divided into TWO stages. The first stage is LOCAL where teachers (from each country) meet together in one place to learn more topics about pedagogy and how to mix these pedagogical approaches with technology. We will prepare some webinars to teach them how to use tools or ask them to create tutorials to each other. It is a stage that breaks the ice between the reluctant or unmotivated teachers and their fear to get started. Once they get some confidence, we will start the second stage that is the GLOBAL collaboration where groups of teachers from these "6" countries (We welcome other countries to participate) work together to create collaborative projects using what they learned in the Local level. Teachers can also participate in the Annual Global Forum by Microsoft to share their products with other educators from all the corners of the globe.

Last week, I created a post in the Partner in Learning Network by Microsoft to get started. We are discussing the content with teachers and educators who are interested in teacher training. We need to know what they would like to find in our course. We chose Microsoft because it offers some professional development modules for free, in addition to the tools and the huge community where you can meet a lot of teachers and educators. You know one can't work alone. We need a help from these companies to create a vast step towards change and innovation. 
 
Last words about DNLE: 

This course really enabled me to Discover Myself. Yes, I mean it. It helped me discover some characteristics and abilities that I already have but I don't know about them. I used to say "I'm good at accomplishing difficult tasks as a member not as a leader." During the collaborative project that we did, I practiced the leader role very well as my colleagues asserted. I can admit that DNLE brought out the best in me. It raised my awareness of what I have and what I can do.  

What makes my participation in designing the collaborative project different is that my role has taken a new direction. It is not just a teacher who wants to make her students' learning enjoyable, but it has become a coach to other colleagues to design new learning environments in their classes. It has also become a publisher of innovative and successful experiences shared by others from different places. My main concern has been directed to my community not just to the school where I work.

Last but not least, DNLE showed me the way to high quality learning opportunities. After the completion of DNLE, I signed up for many MOOCs to enjoy learning and extend my knowledge. I didn't complete a week and dropped most of them because DNLE taught me how to select learning opportunities of high standards. 

Conclusion: 

Sometimes, people can't express all what they have because it can't be described adequately using words. This is what I feel while writing this post. Very valuable learning experiences can't be described because it can only be felt. Talking about what someone gained from a course,  it doesn't only include the knowledge constructed. What about these inner motives and personal capabilities that have been implicitly developed?
 
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