Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Using Schoology to facilitate online course communication

During the first cohort of my online course, Introduction to K-12 ePortfolios, I used Edmodo as the environment for discussion. The normal process in conducting distance classes is usually through a structured course management system, such as Blackboard or Moodle. These systems are very instructor-centered. I wanted to use more student-centered tools, so why not use a social network? There are many available, including Facebook and Ning. Since this course was for K-12 teachers, I selected a tool that can be used in K-12 classrooms. Therefore, the primary social network was Edmodo, with some use of Google (Groups, Plus).

my Schoology Folders (Intro to K-12 ePortfolios course)
While Edmodo was easy to use, and looked like Facebook, it did not have true threaded discussion. While I could post a question, and the participants could reply to a post, there was no ability to reply to a reply. I also found it difficult to scroll back through all of the posts to find specific entries...the organization was chronological, not thematic (no one used tags). I tried setting up age-level groups, but they were not used by many of the participants. As a social network for schools, I think it is a great tool, but I was not happy with using it to facilitate my course. So I went looking for another online service.

Years ago, I used NiceNet, so I opened a new account, and set up a course, but I was not happy with the text-only nature of the website (it is a voluntary effort that hasn't changed much in the last ten years). I'm also not sure it does the type of threaded discussion I am seeking. I have taught courses using Blackboard, so I opened a course under their free CourseSites service. I know Blackboard supports the kind of threaded discussion I want. I have also used Moodle, but I'm not sure I have the time to find a reliable free hosting site.

While in Canby School District in early April, I asked about recommendations for a learning management system and was told about Schoology. So, I signed up for an account, and spent most of today setting up my course. I am impressed! I was able to set up folders and organize all of the course activities for each lesson within the appropriate folder. I could hide some of the materials on the site, giving participants a simple interface shown here. I even copied a lot of the content from the course Google Site, so that most of the course information is in one place, but it retained the links to the resources in my Google Site. I also like the Calendar, where I can announce our live events to be held using Google+ Hangouts.  Oh yes, it also has an iOS app!
Schoology course calendar

The next cohort begins May 1, but participants in the first cohort can also join this group. I have also changed the time frame for the course. Participants can proceed at their own pace through the course materials. I will conduct weekly Hangouts for the course participants as online Office Hours, where I will respond to individual questions and learning needs. Register by April 30, 2012.

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