Week 1 Pre-Assessment(s)
First and foremost, I would like to state for the record that I loathe any sort of personal inventory. During my first semester of college, I was in my required "Cornerstones" class (learning how to be a college student) and we had to do a personality inventory and then write a paper about it. For basically every other student, they thought this was the greatest thing since sliced bread. For me, it was a complete waste of time. Why? Because it tells me information about the guy I know best: myself. I have never taken a personal inventory and been surprised by the results. What is even better is when you finish the inventory and have to tally up the results and of course, the questions are randomly distributed throughout the test to help you get an honest assessment of yourself. This is great because it means that not only am I spending time reading through these questions that I already know what they're getting at, but I have to then spend time decoding their answers, only to come to a solution THAT I ALREADY KNEW. It's like giving me a 9 by 9 Rubik's cube with the encouragement of "when you solve it, it will tell you the answer to 1+1." I don't need to spend time on the Rubik's cube to tell you the answer is "2." That being said, here are my reflections.

Learning Style Inventory
Since I was very young, I've always known that I was a visual learner. In fact, learning style is one of the few areas in my life where I'm not balanced at all. As you will see in my Teaching Style Inventory results, I'm a fairly balanced person with this one exception. I've always done best in school whenever I could "see" the process or results, either in literal form (graphs, charts, notes, etc) or in my mind. As a golfer, the times I play best are the times I can actually picture in my mind what I'm trying to accomplish. If I don't take the time to "see" the results, I usually don't achieve them. My next highest was auditory, which I've always said was an "acquired taste." In college, I started listening to audiobooks and podcasts (in addition to many professors that opted to lecture sans notes, forcing me to remember what they said). Thus, I now do much of my personal learning through auditory channels, especially via podcasts and audiobooks during my 45 minute commute. My least highest was tactile. I've never been much of a "touchy-feely" guy and actually building and/or creating things didn't really help me grasp the concept. Many times in education, teachers use this after they have already taught the concepts (meaning I've already learned them) so one more exercise doesn't really help me to actually learn. I wonder if my theory (that teachers use this after the presentation of the background information rather than as a discovery lab) has any influence over my own learning styles or if learning styles are somehow otherwise acquired.

Teaching Style Inventory
I didn't go to school to be a teacher. I haven't been dreaming of planning lessons and working with kids. It is something I fell into. It is something I am sticking with because, having experienced it, there is nothing else I can imagine myself doing. I absolutely love my job and always strive to find relevant and engaging methods for presenting information and concepts. Since my background is in business and not education, I don't have many of the typical methodologies when it comes to teaching. Essentially, all I have to go on is my own creativity and my prior experiences. Thus, I believe that students have to be able to work together. It was an essential skill for me all throughout my own learning and is for many others. Further, I hear so many teachers and administrators talking about cheating and academic dishonesty that it is really disheartening. For my own theories, I believe that we have placed such a value on the letter grade and not on the learning process. Students have so much pressure to perform numerically on a scale from 0-100 or, in Texas, the TAKS scale scores. Rather than fighting this, I leverage technology to teach concepts in a way that demand collaboration of some kind. In an age where kids can literally Google the answer to a question, we have to be thinking in higher orders (See Bloom's Taxonomy ). I have students work in groups or partners almost exclusively. My Teaching Methods results indicate as much. I am firmly planted in Quadrant D, which is described as, "Instructor prefers to have students learn through hands-on activities completed collaboratively."

My Teaching Goals, however, go back to the balance I referred to earlier. I make a conscious effort to stay as balanced as possible in this area, leaning towards analysis (rather than rote learning) that focuses equally on practical and familiar applications. I very intentionally give a balanced blend of abstract processes and real-world problems. One of the things that was very helpful for me in my own learning was to start in the abstract and test your theories/learning in the real-world. This promotes extremely high levels of thinking but does not exclude anyone.

Reflections (4/26/10)
One of the things I think is interesting is that the crux of this course is about beginning with the end in mind. The fact that this is something that is apparently revolutionary at a Master's level course should probably say something about the education programs at the baccalaureate level. Either that or the people that go into teaching! Further, the assignment(s) in this course essentially comes down to the creation of an online course where we are identifying what we want the students to learn before we actually design the instruction. To me, this is very "duh." That is, I can't imagine not teaching that way. Another part of it includes utilizing assessment that not only identifies what needs to be taught, but also whether or not they've learned it. Again, I get the impression this is new or revolutionary, but I just can't imagine what it would be like to be in a classroom with a teacher that doesn't do that already. Surely they would simply be spinning their wheels! Overall, I am grateful that there is a very clear, three-step process to instructional design. However, it seems fairly common sense thus far!

Reflections (5/1/10)
Here's the prompt I was given for the week, followed by my reflection on it:
"Last week, we began our discussion of 'backward design.' Steps 1 and 2 of the template focused on an identified need and then the desired results. Educators are not accustomed to designing instruction in this manner. In this week's discussion board, share with your colleagues what steps you would normally use in designing instruction. Also, discuss your overall impression of the 'backward design' process. What are the pros and cons of designing instruction in this manner?"

I think it's interesting that the prompt assumes that backward design is not what comes naturally to educators, thus assuming all educators are cut from the same mold. Part of me wants to be a little upset by this (the educator part of me) and the other part thinks it's just an arrogant assumption (the non-educator part of me). I know that in most things I am not "normal" (my wife, who lovingly calls me "weirdo" quite frequently, would assert this is true) but it just seems irresponsible to design your instruction without a clear, defined goal. I would never start a project without a set list of outcomes that I am looking for. That's just how I have always operated. My favorite question to ask when I was in school (to the disdain of my teachers) was, "What is the point of this?" My own instructional designing always has begun and always will begin with the end in mind. In fact, what I typically do is look at the desired outcome, such as the ability to use Microsoft Word to create a personal-business letter. Then, I start thinking of ways that would be creative, engaging, and challenging that would work towards this goal. Earlier this semester I created a project that involved a fictitious billionaire from Prussia who would donate any required funds to the student who had the most thoroughly planned vacation. First, they had to apply to him through a personal-business letter. Thus, we started out the project learning how to create the letter tied to a real-life scenario in the same vein as grant writing (etc). There was a clear purpose and a clear use for the skill (I believe my principal called it "connecting to life applications"). I didn't create the fictional billionaire because I thought myself clever and wanted all of my students to get excited about a person I made up. That wasn't the point. The point of the first part of that project was to learn to write a properly formatted letter with a clear, concise, professional message.
It could be because I am only a second year teacher or because I don't have a baccalaureate degree in education (B.S. Business Administration), but I simply couldn't imagine the "other" way of instructional design as described by the authors as "typical" for educators. Backward design (or, if you prefer a habit of highly effective people, "beginning with the end in mind") is the only way that made sense to me, I just didn't have an official name for it.
I suppose I just called it "teaching with a purpose."
Reflections (05/09/10)
In my own classroom, I incorporate a blended learning model. I utilize the online space for the actual teaching/modeling and the physical classroom for facilitating/answering questions. Essentially, it is almost like someone else created the online learning sphere and I am merely helping them to understand and implement it. Obviously, I am designing both, but it is freeing to be able help students individually and allow those that immediately "get it" to move ahead at their own pace. I would love to see this type of instruction (or at least a blended model) incorporated across our campus, especially since we have at minimum five computers per classroom. I am blessed with 31 machines for my lab, which makes it easier, but there's no reason that at a 5:1 student to computer ratio you couldn't utilize them at the very least for collaborative group projects. Our district, being a fairly large one, has incredible potential for utilizing an online learning space. There is no reason we couldn't be pushing a blended model of instruction/learning into all areas, not just in the classroom. For example, many teachers would struggle with how to implement this "new" type of instruction and would thus needed it modeled for them. This is where administrators have the greatest opportunity to shine. By modeling and implementing a blended (or fully online) method for professional development, they could assist teachers with ideas on how to utilizing the same practices in their own classroom. Additionally, teachers have the opportunity to help develop "best practice" for this and in turn give feedback to administrators, who could use this feedback to create even better professional development and training opportunities. By creating a generative, collegial relationship between teachers and administrators in regards to online learning, the district has an opportunity to become a preeminent example of where we should be headed in regards to technology in education. Corporate America has, by and large, figured this out already. Many companies are beginning to implement more and more online components to their corporate culture, especially in regards to training/development. In fact, not too long ago, Citrix (famous for their fabulous "GoTo" products such as gotomypc.com) released GoToTraining based on the idea that corporate training should be easier and more dynamic. Schools must be leaders in this area, not followers. If teachers and administrators work together and create a blended atmosphere (that is, in all things there is an online component), students will have something that comes naturally to them (living online) reinforced and taught in a way that is, by nature, progressive and, by virtue of the district, generative. Rather than a game of cat-and-mouse where we always feel like we're a step behind or a sad spiral downwards (or at least the impression of such spiral as standards rise and performance does not), districts can create a positive, upward trend in student achievement and post-secondary accomplishments, entering the "real world" more ready than they realize to engage a brave new world.

Final Reflection 05/16/10

This assignment is, by and large and much like previous assignment/discussion questions, rather presumptuous. Essentially all of the reflection questions for this week's assignment essentially assume that you knew nothing of online or blended learning and certainly had never utilized it yourself, either in the classroom or in a professional development setting. As is in accordance with my nature, I tend to rebel against educators that presume anything. It is rather arrogant to set up and teach your course as though you are the creator/provider of all knowledge and that your students are clearly at a great disadvantage without you. This philosophy of teaching, popularized long ago, is outmoded as our classrooms become flatter and more democratized (Jenkins, 2009). As educators move away from the mentality of "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side," the presuppositions that an educator brings to the classroom (real or virtual) must be moderated. However, I think that we must continue to evolve, moving from "guide on the side" to "meddler in the middle" as we educators, realize that we have as much to learn as our students do and we should be collaborating towards our goals, not fighting against one another. The teacher should be fully prepared to utilize new tools, such as a blended learning model, not for its novelty but rather because it will take the entire class on a journey together towards new, meaningful learning (Roberts, 2005). During my Instructional Design course, I learned the importance of beginning with the end in mind. Granted, I believe I had instinctively known this already, it was more than comforting to have research back up what I do. I already utilize a blended model of learning and utilize Edmodo as my course management application, so the running theme of creating a course on Schoology was fairly easy for me. All I had to do was port over my assignments (etc.) from Edmodo into Schoology. Additionally, I am not a big fan of learning style inventories (or any sort of self-inventory, for that matter) but after giving them to my students and having them fill out the inventory and reflect upon it, many of them told me it was very interesting and that it will help them in the future. So, regardless of what I may feel or my own disdain for inventories, I now realize that they are beneficial to some and should probably be utilized in and out of the classroom. Online learning has phenomenal potential for teaching and learning (Brown, 2005). I love the interactivity that the online space provides, both in and out of the classroom. It is empowering, too. Many students who would never raise their hand or walk to the front of the room to solve a problem are often empowered by technology to "speak out" and offer their own commentary and thoughts to the class discussion.
One of the things I am trying to get started for next year, even though I am not yet a staff developer in title is an online space for our campus Wired Wednesday trainings (and possibly all trainings). It would be great to keep all of the resources, links, discussions, etc all in one place for easy reference. Additionally, it would be easy to provide "on-your-own" trainings rather than forcing teachers to given up their conference times. By utilizing discussion forums, assignments, and blogs (among other great tools) teachers could be given more flexibility in how they receive their trainings. For example, our training last week involved inserting a picture into a PowerPoint presentation. This is extremely simple but I still had to give up 30 minutes of my conference period to show the trainer that I could do this. If we were using an online learning platform such as Edmodo or Schoology, all I would have to do is either point him to a link of my online presentation, turn in the file as an assignment, or send him the file directly. There have certainly been many trainings where being physically together has been quite beneficial, but even these trainings could be greatly augmented by adding a realm of resources that are easily accessible. What of those teachers who have questions about the training after it ends? An online space allows them a place to pose those questions and any of the other teachers (or even the trainer) can answer them. Under our current system, teachers with questions typically send an email to the trainer and wait on his response. This will get the job done, obviously, but what if other teachers have the same (or similar) questions? What if another teacher can answer their question more quickly and easily than the trainer, who most certainly has many things on his or her plate? There are so many benefits to this blended learning model, I would hate for it to be available but never utilized.

References

Brown, M. (2005). Learning spaces (Excerpted from Educating the Net Generation, 2005), Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/Resources/EducatingtheNetGeneration/LearningSpaces/6072

Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century (Kindle edition)

Roberts, G. (2005). Technology and learning expectations of the net generation (Excerpted from Educating the Net Generation, 2005), Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/Resources/EducatingtheNetGeneration/TechnologyandLearningExpectati/6056