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Reflection Letter

Page history last edited by Eric Folks 9 years, 6 months ago

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November 30th, 2014


Dear Educational Technology Faculty,


I did things a little backward from the start. After about 10 years teaching secondary English in Canyon, TX, I managed to secure Lampasas ISD's first ever Instructional Technology position in 2010. I had no formal education in Instructional or Educational Technology; I had simply jumped in and learned by doing whenever an opportunity to use technology presented itself. When the library secured a document camera for teacher checkout, many teachers avoided it as it was something new and unfamiliar to them. I however, realized technology enabled me to be less wasteful and more productive with my time: no more transparency copies, no more paper towels or marker mess. I could throw anything I wanted to under that camera for my students to view live and respond to, be it a article, a book, or a seemingly random set of 3D objects for forced analogies. The document camera was a technology game changer that allowed me to teach (and my students to learn) in a way I never could before. When the Canyon high school librarian told me I had to let the other teachers use the document camera too, I found my own on eBay for $150 and never looked back.


When the district went with Smart interactive whiteboards, I applied to be one of the first in the district to have one in my classroom. When it was finally placed on my wall, I felt like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, accessing, swiping, and manipulating software and files from the front of my room on a giant interactive display. No one ever told me I was suppose to let the students use the board too, so at first, I used it like a teacher computer placed on my wall (and taught too often with my back to the students). It didn't take long before I realized that with the right degree of preparation, and a little time spent creating digital versions of my hard copies, and a few random word choosers (in this case, student names), I could shift the responsibility for learning from my shoulders to the students' shoulders, and put the technology for learning in their hands. I began to have them teach each other and create interactive lessons and activities and play the role of teacher. I had learned more in one year of teaching English than I had in four years of learning English, and hoped they would learn best by teaching too. My efforts paid off. My students did exceptionally well on the TAKS test, but more importantly, they came to me in subsequent years and told me how much they'd learned in my class, and how easy English was now that they'd "survived my class." The key to my success was not the technology itself; it was who used it, and for what purpose.


Years later and in my current role as an Instructional Technologist, this shift of responsibility for learning from teachers to students is something I still believe in and work toward. Now however, I'm able to affect the lives and learning of an exponential number of students through assisting their teachers with identifying, critically evaluating, and effectively implementing new instructional technologies and strategies. I love my job as much now as I did when I first began in 2010, so I decided that same year to apply to the M. Ed. Tech. program at UTB. I wanted to continue my education, to perform my new job even better, and most practically, to keep the job!


Since making that decision, I've learned much during my time at UTB.


In EDTC 6320 and EDTC 6341, I became acquainted with instructional technology as a framework that could guide learning strategies in the classroom. I reviewed tools I'd used briefly before like Microsoft Office and Photo Story 3, but I was also introduced to new tools like Camtasia and PB Works.  I was impressed with the way Camtaisa could bring more interactivity to my video HOW TOs, including hotspots, embedded quizzes, and more. Using PB Works for the very first time, I was able to work collaboratively and apply the ADDIE model to a real-life challenge, which produced Using Student Response Systems in the College Classroom. I was also able to further my understanding of Student Response Systems (SRS) by writing Alternatives to Student Response Systems, or "Clickers".


While my understanding of Student Response Systems has greatly increased during my time at UTB, I've also come to realize that the use of a SRS is largely an effort to add engagement and interactivity to what I believe is a fairly limited, teacher-centered approach to teaching (and learning): while direct teach has its place in any classroom, it is often overused and ineffective, despite being the strategy that most teachers know best, and the easiest strategy in terms of upfront preparation (as long as a teacher knows their subject area, they can play the role of "sage on the stage").  Despite these facts, I suspected then and know now there is a better way to place responsibility for learning on the shoulders of the students. One of these strategies, Problem-Based Learning, I was able to learn more about in EDTC 6341. As I learned more about the principles, design elements, and strategies involved in PBL, I was able to produce my first ever PBL lesson, Save the Southwest! I concluded that with some upfront preparation and good design, teachers really could become floating facilitators of largely self-directed, student learning.


In EDTC 6340 and EDTC 6323, I learned how various web 2.0 tools, like Prezi, Wordle, Delicious, and Diigo, could be used in the classroom. I also learned about Mayer's Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, which has greatly influenced the design of my videos and eCourses. I no longer use on screen text and audio narration simultaneously and do my best to avoid cognitive overload. You can see this approach in most of my newer videos, like this one on using Google Drive, produced for EDTC 6332 with music I created using another web 2.0 tool, Soundation.


In EDTC 6321, EDTC 6325, and EDTC 6358, I learned more about the theories and foundations underlying good instructional design (Dick and Carey, Bergman and Moore, ADDIE), and strategies for housing my courses in various Learning Management Systems, be it Moodle or Blackboard.


Lastly, in EDTC 6332, I was able to bring together all of the theory, all of the tools, and all of the strategies to produce an instructional unit that represents much of what I've learned at UTB. Producing this project, Roaming Profiles at Lampasas ISD, not only reinforced previous learning about instructional design, but also gave me an opportunity to apply everything I was learning about project management in general (via POMBOK) to a real-life project, based on a very real performance problem in need of address at Lampasas ISD. 


In summary, I've been exposed to countless new instructional tools, platforms, and software; I've learned how to make engaging instructional videos for my teachers and students using Camtasia and Screenflow, and even how to use Viewbix to add more end-user control to the user interface itself; I've learned the all important theory behind learning as it applies to various ages and platforms, including design principles unique to eCourses and online delivery; I've learned best practice for creating and delivering engaging and effective presentations; and I've learned how to analyze instructional problems and evaluate potential solutions, how to analyze learners and (learning/performance) context, how to break down instructional goals into performance objectives, enabling objectives, and task analysis plans.


But, if I was to do it all over again, my advice to others that follow me would be to save everything: every piece of feedback from peers and professors, every iteration of every project at every point, and every resource and slide shared via Blackboard, yours peers, or the professor.  There's just so much to learn, and learning for most of us involves continuous review. It's nice to have those resources available on demand, even after graduation. Plus, being organized throughout the program obviously helps in the creation of the ePortfolio itself.


Looking forward, I hope to continue to discover new and effective ways to transfer responsibility for learning from the shoulders of teachers to the shoulders of students: not through a go-it-alone approach that leaves students feeling stranded and unsupported, but by teaching teachers how to structure the learning environment in such a way that learning can truly be a process of self-discovery. Finding that balance between providing too much structure (in terms of goals, deadlines, state-mandated learning objectives, district policy etc.) and too much flexibility (in terms of differentiating instruction, pacing, content, goal setting, learning preferences etc.) will be an ongoing learning process, like the art of teaching itself. I plan to take the next year to pursue my Google Apps for Education certification, and work towards becoming an Apple Distinguished Educator. I also plan to strengthen my application for Boise State's Ed. D. Education Technology program, with hopes of being awarded a graduate assistantship in the fall of 2016 so I can continue the pursuit of the elusive "perfect learning environment," bit online of face-to-face. I'll let you all know when I find it!


In all seriousness, thank you all for the time, effort, and assistance you've provided me over the last few years. I've always been able to count on specific and timely feedback, and as a learner as well as a teacher, quality feedback means a lot!






Eric Folks





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