Hello world!

September 10, 2014 | 2 Comments

Hello World, This day in history I entered the blogging sphere and am eerie of the process, but am excited to document my year at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. During this year I am determined to blog each week and share helpful technology tools for middle school and high school teachers. My other goal is to survive the winter, but that hopefully will not be a focus of this blog. There will be many more posts to come and I look forward to sharing this crazy adventure with all of you. photo (1)

When I began this semester at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), I had absolutely no idea what a MOOC was. Now I can confidently share my top 10 MOOC facts people should know.

1)   MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses.

2)   MOOCs were created for a variety of reasons, some of which include: increasing access to educational resources, transforming higher education courses, and adapting learning to students’ needs and interests (Hollands & Tirthali, 2014, p.14)

3)   Although MOOCs are completely free for participants, it costs anywhere from $39,000 to $325,300 to produce each MOOC (Hollands & Tirthali, 2014, p. 12)

4)   MOOCs are usually structured around videos, readings, discussions, and quizzes (to name a few). (Hollands & Tirthali, 2014, p. 30)

5)   MOOCs usually have 3-15% completion rates, but the enrollment in each MOOC can be hundreds of thousands of people (Hollands & Tirthali, 2014, p. 42)

6)   According to the Harvard X and MITx: The First Year of Open Online Courses Report (2013)“The most typical course registrant is a male with a bachelor’s degree who is 26 or older (p.2)”

7)   According to the Harvard X and MITx: The First Year of Open Online Courses Report (2013) 2.7% of participants are from countries on the UN’s list of Least Developed Countries (p.2).

8)   MOOCs are starting to be created for high school students (Atkeson, 2014).

9)   You can sign-up for a HarvardX MOOC by going to https://courses.edx.org/register and registering, then select a course, and get started.

10)  The future of MOOCs is uncertain.

Even though many of these are basic, these ten facts demonstrate what MOOCs are. They are a combination of beneficial and negative components with a murky yet hopeful future. Albeit MOOCs have many flaws, or areas for improvement, the idea of providing open online resources to the masses still leaves me hopeful. Something wonderful must come from sharing educational resources. As MOOCs continue to be researched and re-iterated, I am hopeful that completion rates will rise and participant diversity will increase.


Atkeson, S. (2014, September 23). Harvard-MIT Partnership Opens MOOCs for High Schoolers. Education Week, 8-8.

Ho, A. D., Reich, J., Nesterko, S., Seaton, D. T., Mullaney, T., Waldo, J., & Chuang, I. (2014). HarvardX and MITx: The first year of open online courses            (HarvardX and MITx Working Paper No. 1).

Hollands, F. M., & Tirthali, D. (2014). MOOCs: expectations and reality. Full report. Center for Benefit- Cost Studies of Education, Teachers College,                   Columbia University, NY.
Retrieved from: http://cbcse.org/wordpress/wp content/uploads/2014/05/MOOCs_Expectations _ and _Reality.pdf

Experiential learning is not a new notion. The idea that students should experience historical situations in order to fully understand their ramifications is not a novel concept, but it is still rare. Now don’t get me wrong, experiential learning can be very difficult, especially when you are trying to re-create situations from ancient history that are so far removed from students’ current conceptions of what society looks like. Nonetheless, we should encourage historical exploration and get our students out in the real world as frequently as possible.

Spending these last few months in Boston has made me realize just how important it is to get students out of the classroom and into their local communities. Granted, Boston is glorious city full of historical significance, but every local community has a history that should be shared with students.

Whether I am on the Freedom Trail or in the Museum of Fine Arts, the best part of my trip is watching student groups ask questions, analyze primary sources, and be thoroughly excited about being outside of their classrooms. Now I realize this is in part due to the fact they are running around and getting ice cream, which is not a usual occurrence in their school day, but the learning and things they experienced will stick with them. To this day I can still remember my trip to the San Juan Bautista Mission when I was in the fourth grade. Even though I don’t remember every particular detail, I do remember the glorious feeling of seeing the pictures in my textbook come to life. I was on the same land the ranchers and missionaries stood hundreds of years ago, and although this is just one of my favorite learning experiences, I firmly believe that many peoples’ most influential learning moments are characterized by field trips or other truly experiential learning opportunities.

In order to continue to bring history alive and foster experiential learning, I encourage history teachers to check out some of these beneficial resources. Despite the fact that organizing a classroom full of students on a field trip is a very daunting task, it is one that shows students that history is all around them and part of their everyday lives—and that learning is a lifelong process that they can continually seek out in a variety of avenues.

I have this saying I used to tell my classes quite frequently—“All Learning, All the Time.” Even on days I didn’t say it, I had it posted on the front wall to remind students of my strong beliefs in the value of education. Although I understand not all people share my same passion for learning, especially some of my 8th graders at 7:40 AM, I tried to convey the message that they would always be learning and working in room E-13, which I believed made it a “fun” place to be.

“Fun,” I soon learned was a term that means a lot of different things to different people. My sister who is also a teacher and my mentor once told me, very early on in my teaching career, that you should never say, “we are going to have so much fun today.” Before she mentioned this, it was one of my main go to phrases, but I always wondered why my students’ responses were so unenthusiastic. However, my sister said, what’s “fun” for her, or teachers in general, is not always aligned with what students think “fun” is. Now don’t get me wrong, my sister is an excellent teacher who planned rigorous and engaging lessons, I should know I was her student several times, but to many teenagers “fun” wasn’t necessarily those things.

But, what if we could make learning history “fun” for students of all ages? What if we could inspire each and every student to value politics and history?

Although this has been something on my mind my entire, rather short, career, I started to really consider the possibilities after attending Politics and Humor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS) forum with Seth Rogen and Lizz Winstead. At this event, Seth Rogen and Lizz Winstead discussed their careers in comedy and the vital role satire plays in raising political awareness. As I laughed hysterically and listened attentively, I couldn’t help but think how informative and entertaining this hour long experience was, and how nearly everyone would find it “fun”. This being said, in order to find it “fun”, you must have the historical and cultural awareness of history in place in order to appreciate the satire.

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By the time my students reach my 8th grade history classroom, many are completely disinterested when it comes to history. Because, although I firmly believe Social Science should produce citizens that are informed and embody the skills they need to analyze current events based on historical understandings, many teachers treat history as a good time to read textbook chapters, answer questions, and memorize facts. Even though I see how this path could be tempting, it cripples students’ chances of falling in love with a topic that will help them develop critical analysis skills that will benefit them, and our society, for the rest of their lives.

We need to emphasize the importance of Social Science education and make it “fun,” because it is essential to our success as a nation. Listening to Seth Rogen and Lizz Winstead made me realize just how tragic it would be if students couldn’t access political humor because they don’t have a foundational understanding of history and government. We need to start Social Science education early and we need to make it “fun”, or as close to “fun” as we can.


Please check in as I begin exploring ways to make this happen.

As a history teacher, I am very fond of primary sources. In our credential programs, history teachers are taught how to integrate primary sources into our classroom instruction. We are taught that primary sources bring learning alive and allow students to analyze, gain perspectives, and overall do the work of great historians.

Knowing the many beauties of primary sources, I used them as frequently as possible. My students analyzed visuals and texts from various eras of American history, and when they did, there was a heightened level of engagement and learning in the classroom. I was sold on primary sources and convinced I knew all of the ways they helped students access historical information—I was so wrong.

I never even realized the actual beauty of primary sources until I saw Tom Brokaw talk at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government forum. Mr. Brokaw shared his experiences covering the falling of the Berlin Wall. While he discussed the historical climate of the time period and inserted his personal anecdotes, I couldn’t help but notice the awe that was in the air. He was an exemplary example of a primary source that could ignite a passion for history. Participants of all ages were hanging on his every word, and I was falling in love with history all over again.       IMG_1763

For all of my teacher readers, I realize Tom Brokaw can’t visit all of our classrooms—although I highly recommend he go on tour—I just merely wanted to remind us all of the magical topic we are teaching. Its easy to get bogged down in district mandates, standardized assessments, and textbooks that its easy to lose sight of our passion for history. Whether its watching a documentary, reading a piece of historical fiction, or going to see Tom Brokaw speak, I encourage all teachers, to take time to fuel your passion (whatever it is) and integrate it back into your classrooms.

As educators we aspire to create lifelong learners, but we can’t forget to lead by example.

My professor Justin Reich did a talk on Open Educational Resources, and their possible effect on decreasing the achievement gap. In the talk, he covers a plethora of topics, but what sparked my interest was the use of Wikis in Title I schools, or the lack thereof. Being a teacher from a Title I school, I realized I never explored Wikis as an educational tool.

I decided to dive right in and started creating my own Wiki on Wikispaces. Although I am still really new to the tool, I can already see how it could make the organization and structure of classroom logistics easier. Teachers can post discussion questions, assignments, and much more. However, what I am really interested in, is getting the device in the hands of students, which is something Justin Reich mentioned could truly enhance learning.

Having students create a Wiki to demonstrate their understanding of a topic, or co-create a site with their peers, could really give student agency and increase their learning. This being said, I still haven’t have the opportunity of trying it out with students, so if any readers have, please feel free to let me know if you think Wikis truly enhance learning outcomes.

Recently I have decided to give up on the CS50 MOOC before I have even started. Although this failure may have been due to a lack of research behind the MOOC, I am starting to see some of the flaws of Massive Open Online Courses.

There are countless benefits to MOOCs, but with anything new and exciting, there are going to be some negative side effects. For my course T-509 Massive: The Future of Learning at Scale, we were given the task of creating a dramatization for the worst-case scenario of large scale learning.

My friend, Lindsay Evans, and I created a PowToon that shows some of the tragic implications of large scale learning. Feel free to check it out our animation on YouTube. Please keep in mind, this is a dramatization and does not represent the beliefs of the authors (even though I may agree with some of them).

My MOOC Progress

October 15, 2014 | 2 Comments

A recent article, The Professors Who Make the MOOCs by Steve Kolowich highlights some key statistics from a survey taken by MOOC professors. One in particular that stood out was 79% of professors (who have taught a MOOC) believe that “MOOCs are worth the hype.”

One of my missions this year is to complete a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). I am determined to experience a MOOC first hand to see why such a low percentage of students complete the courses. Why are thousands of people taking the initiative to sign-up for a MOOC, but very few end up completing it?

Unfortunately, I am not off to a good start. Over two weeks ago I signed up for a HarvardX MOOC, and still haven’t logged in. Why? I am taking four graduate courses and complete all (or most) of my work and reading in time for class, but for some reason, I do not treat an open online course the same as I do my regular graduate course work.

How can so many professors believe MOOCs are worth the hype when so few people are learning from them? How do we get people to treat open online courses as true commitments? If “MOOCs are worth the hype,” 70% or more of group participants should be completing them. I am hopeful my MOOC adventure will turn itself around… in fact, I am going to sign-in right now.

This week in my world of graduate studies, we examined the effectiveness of peer evaluation. Having peers evaluate each others’ work is just one of many options Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are exploring in order to handle the large enrollment numbers. However, as we study the pros and cons of peers evaluation, it is important to think about how we would feel with another peer, we didn’t know, examining our work.

There are plenty of things I really dislike, including birds and heights, but one of my prominent fears is receiving scrutiny from my peers. Having your writing reviewed by anyone, especially by a peer who you have never met, is a pretty intimidating thing. How do you know they are taking it seriously? How do you know they are not talking trash about your work with others? All these are fears I have had my entire life.

Although I see the possible value of effective peer evaluation systems (as mentioned in Online Learning Insights), I am afraid to fully commit to it. We live in a society that generally looks down upon failure, and therefore, we are less open to being critiqued by our peers, or anyone else for that matter. I saw it each and everyday in my own 8th grade classroom where my students would be hesitant to experiment, but were eager for me to “just tell them the answers”. Even though I am not praising this aspect of society, it is part of the world we live in, and shouldn’t be ignored when designing MOOCs.

At this moment in time, Automated Essay Scoring (AES) is a valid option for grading essays in MOOCs. As Justin Reich mentioned in his blog on EdTechTeacher, there is a correlation between essays scored by AES and by professors. AES appears to be highly accurate and a good balance for participants in MOOCs.

This feeling needs to be remedied before peer evaluation is ever going to become an effective grading tool. (Source)

Don’t get me wrong, peer evaluations definitely have a place in the learning process and should be utilized much more frequently, but it should be a formative assessment and not a summative one. Our educational system and society at large would be greatly enhanced if we were able to truly accept experimentation and failure. Until we foster this at a young age, risk taking will continue to be limited among teens and adults in society.

Peer evaluation places a large responsibility on the grader and grade recipient, neither of which have ever really been trained in these roles. The grader probably rarely was taught how to provide effective feedback and constructive critiques. The grade recipient probably never was trained to value their peers’ opinions nor were they taught it was okay to have areas for improvement. Forcing participants to be at the whim of a peer evaluation system for their summative grade seems illogical, especially when AES systems are in place that align with the social norms we are more familiar with.

Hello Readers (all two of you, including my mother),

As I was reading an article for my class on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), I realized where I think MOOCs can really be beneficial. If we make more MOOCs available to K-12 students, maybe there will be higher completion rates throughout the years because students will grow up learning from MOOCs their entire lives.

MOOCs currently face low completion rates and only reach a small portion of the population. According to the MOOCs: Expectations and Reality (Full Report) by Teachers College at Columbia University, hundreds of thousands of people sign-up to take MOOCs and approximately 5-10% of participants even finish the course. On top of that, we still don’t know if those people actually retained any information. Each and every time I see these dismal completion rates, I am shocked and saddened by how few people stick to their commitments and take advantage of these wonderful learning opportunities. But then I realized…I have never even taken the time to sign-up for a MOOC. How can I be so hypocritical of others, when they at least signed up?

I am firm believer that if MOOCs are going to be transformative they need to have higher completion rates. One way of doing this is by starting MOOCs at an early age. The MOOCs: Expectations and Reality Report mentioned a movement to create MOOCs for high school students, which would be fantastic! As long as the MOOCs are prepared with their audience members in mind, it would be a wonderful way to help prepare students for college. I also think it would be great to create MOOCs for younger audiences. MOOCs that are fun, active, and truly engaging can enhance childhood development at a very early age. If we make exceptional MOOCs available for all ages, then perhaps students will grow up appreciating MOOCs, and in turn be more likely to take (and complete them) for years and years to come.

Granted this is coming from a MOOC believer, who has yet to even register for a MOOC. I can’t help but hope that these free, and oftentimes wonderful, resources will make a difference. In order to truly practice what I preach, I am now on my way to research possible MOOCs and am going to sign-up for one before my next blog post. Wish me luck!