Watershed Moments

Our Queens E-Learning AQ course ended off with two last readings – One about documenting student learning (featured in my previous posting) and this last one – reflecting on an edu-bloggers posting about Watershed Moments in his career [link].
At first, I thought that writing this article would be a little boring – but as I wrote it, I really reminisced about what have been some key events that have shaped my views in life and in pedagogy. I find that its hard to narrow down which PD activity or which Presentation inspired me the most but – for what its worth – here is my list:
The WECDSB school board had a great PD session last year called WEC-TECH and basically – there was about 10-15 different edu-tech courses you could choose from and you were able to choose whatever you were interested in attending.
I attended a video-editing workshop for the whole day – which was pretty fun. I know other staff that attended sessions on Mindomo, Kahoot and other edu-tech offerings. I look forward to perhaps trying new sessions this year if they offer this great PD again.
There have been so many great presentations that I’ve attended – but one that really stood out was a visiting guest speaker during one of our PD days. The man was a principal from New Jersey ( I forget his name) who famously turned a failing school district around. I remember him explaining a simple but great point at the end of his presentation. It went something like this:
If a kid takes a physics course and fails the unit 1 test. What happens?  We all move on to unit 2. Unit 2 might build on unit 1’s concepts – so the student is doomed to continue failing. Basically – if a student fails anything – she/he should be given more opportunity to go back and fix their mis-understanding (or lack of learning skills). Students should thus always be given another chance to demonstrate an improved understanding. To this day – years later, I took that lesson to heart. Any work that a student fails, whether it be a quiz/test/assignment/project — I would always invite a student to go back and make it right-correct their understanding. Fixing mistakes and failures is how humans learn! 
Other presentations that were watershed:
-Differentiated Instruction
-Importance of Learning Goals
I’m not a big book reader – perhaps because I’ve been in night school for the last 6-7 years completing my third degree – a BComm. Here are three books I’ve read that left a lasting impression on me though:
(Business/ Self Improvement) I really enjoyed reading Stephen Covey’s -“7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Challenged me to be more productive, and smarter with my time. It also talked about getting involved within your workplace/organization and expand your circle of influence. One last memorable concept was the concept of “sharpening the saw”. Imagine a man trying to cut a tree down with a dull saw. You could approach him and say “take a break and sharpen your saw” — manypeople in this situation might say — I don’t have time! and continue at their task in an in-efficient manner. (I need to go back and read it).
(HISTORY) Howard Zinn’s A people’s history of the United States of America- Gave me non-European a historical perspective of North Americas’ history since european settlement. This history was amazing because it was written from the perspective of the Native American Indian, the African Slave, the Women who tried to form labour unions in the textile mills of  Mass. This book really helped me have more compassion for native peoples and minorities that helped shape our country.
(Personal Finance) Robert Kiyosaki’s “Unfair Advantage: The Power of Financial Education: What Schools Will Never Teach You About Money” – I picked up this book because I thought the title was thought provoking. I wanted to see if I could learn more about personal finance and bring some lessons back to my students. This book lets you peak into the world of entrepreneurs that own revenue producing assets like apartments and golf  courses.
Google Docs – a couple of years ago, I had a few days to close up the school year in June and I forced myself to do all my work in Google Docs instead of MS Office. Its hard to break old habits but that week gave me enough experience in google docs to make the switch. When I collaborate and comment on student work (in google docs)- its just so efficient and painless – and then I get an email the next day that all the issues I pointed out have been “resolved”…. wow…amazing!
Google Sites, Blogger and WordPress are also awesome brilliant tools! Believe it or not, I was a late adopter of youtube. I didn’t get how amazing it was until a few years ago. What an amazing tool for learning!
I can’t really think of a single watershed person that has influenced me. I have a few co-workers that I have worked with who had great energy and passion for education. My friend’s dad was a teacher when I was growing up and was such a smart and talented person – I think I wanted to follow his footsteps of being an intellectual and having a great work-life balance. Some of my heroes are as follows:
Jesus Christ – Taught through parables and had a message of compassion, hope and social justice for the world.
Dr Martin Luther King- Changed the world without looting, violence or killing a single person.
Nicola Tesla – Pretty well created our modern AC electrical system, and radio communication.
MC Escher- Brilliant artist
Steve Jobs / Linus Torvalds- Innovators
John Locke- Freedom of thought
Alan Turing – Created the foundation for the modern computer, broke German encryption during the war. Criminalized for his lifestyle choice and (sadly) committed suicide.
I’m sure there are others that I’m forgetting right now.
In conclusion – it is a thought-provoking activity to go through this list of influencing people/events/books/tools in your teaching life.  Like one of our classmates (Julie’s) – blog subtitle states: What we learn becomes a part of who we are … an amazing thought.

Documenting Learning


Our Queens E-Learning AQ class was recently challenged to comment on a blog posting about the importance of documenting learning. The mind-map / infographic above does an excellent job on selling the concept to any educator.

My response and thoughts on this article is that — yes — documenting student learning has so many benefits that its hard to do anything other than agree with it. Beyond agreeing with it, we should think about how we can implement it into our activities, units, courses etc.

Student Benefits:

Just like blogging – documenting student work is a meta-cognitive activity that benefits students. They get to see their work, not just on their desk, but on their smartphone. They can think about their work and reflect on what they did well or what could have been done a little better. If shared online, students get to think about their work when others comment on it – perhaps complimenting them, asking how they did something or perhaps giving constructive criticism.

Teacher Benefits:

Documenting student work benefits teachers as well. It lets teachers see their students work – which is (in many cases) a reflection of their own teaching and expectations.

Another benefit of documenting student work that it demands this question:  How can this work be improved upon? A teacher might look at a particular work and ask – if I teach this next semester, how could I challenge my students to create an even better version of this? A teacher might create a peer-editing checklist, or add more requirements to challenge students to refine their work even further.

Many of the units that I teach have at least one major task or culminating activity. I like to occasionally take one example a student’s good work — and occasionally ask a student if I can use their work as an “exemplar” for future students. Future students will look at this work and some of the more motivated students might say to themselves – “I can do better than this!”… and the bar can continually be raised. One such exemplar was this “Multi-Page Report” [view] that one of my students completed in my BTT Class. Of course, she gave me permission to use it as an exemplar, and I annonymized to respect her anonymity.

Implementation Ideas:

STUDENT PORTFOLIOS: Basically, in my business computer classes – I have students create a portfolio using Google Sites. Its a simple website technology that has a very quick learning curve and it (much like blogger or wordpress) does not require HTML coding as it provides a simple wysiwyg editor.


Much like the “multi-page report” exemplar I mentioned in the previous paragraph, a teacher has many benefits from keeping student work. It is evidence of learning, it can be an exemplar, it can be looked at and questioned — is it worth even doing? How can it be improved? How can it be more engaging? Can differentiated instruction be applied? Can technology be integrated more/less? Could the assessment (for, as , of) be improved? What feedback would my peers give me? Parents?


This article challenged me to appreciate the pedagogical benefits as well as the heutagogical (self directed learning) opportunities documenting provides to both the student and the teacher. Its an easy way to increase the learning that takes place in both our physical and online classrooms. I had been using it already to a limited extent — but why not try to add more documentation to all my activities/units /courses?







Resolving Issues – Plagiarism

My E-learning AQ course presented to following question in our latest readings. It had us consider the OCT ethical standards in education [link] and some of the difficult issues that arise in an e-learning environment. The question at hand and my answer are below.

Question: Select one of the following issues: absenteeism, cyberbullying, plagiarism.   Complete the following activity:

  • Identify the issue you have chosen.
  • What tools and strategies could you include in an online course to prevent the problem of happening in the first place? 
  • Determine how you would address the problem, should the situation arise in your class.


My Answer:

Plagiarism is a term that I am quite familiar with – I actually discuss this term as part of my BTA30 course. Plagiarism is using someone else’s work as your own without giving credit to the author.  One of the learning goals in my BTA30 course is that students will learn to cite electronic sources using APA orMLA format.


Plagiarism is a huge issue in education and the advent of the Internet made it an even bigger issue.

I often tell students a story about a (non-technical) teacher I knew that once came into my class after school, threw three essays on my desk and stated “look what these stupid computers do — all three of these essays are clearly plagiarized!”. I looked back at my co-worker and told him that computers aren’t stupid — they give students access to unimaginable amounts of information. The problem is that sometimes, students lack the computer literacy skills to use information correctly.

There are two ways a student could use a computer to complete an essay/report/school project.

The wrong way: A student procrastinates in starting his/her project until the night before its due. Just before bed, the student googles the topic, finds the first article he/she can find and pastes the content into a document. This is the wrong way to do things, yet probably happens alot.

The right way: A student gets their project/assignment and reads it over thoroughly. He /she should then do some internet research on at least 3-5 sources of information. Students could also visit their library for books /  journals to reference. The student should continually be evaluating the information they gather. After reading at least 3-5 quality sources on their topic, they can reflect on that knowledge and how it fits into their own life, their own world, their own context. This idea is called synthesis. NOW they can start to write their paper/essay/project! The student writes a paper using his/her own thoughts as the driver of the argument/discussion. Relevant facts, ideas, stories could be referenced in the paper as direct quotes or paraphrased ideas — but they must be cited properly. That means they include an in-text citation and a bibliographic entry.

How I detect plagiarism

I think most educators – either in a traditional classroom or in an e-learning environment know when a student’s work is plagiarized. Sometimes when the writing is too good, or if the context of the writing is off – or even when there is a strange font change (paper is in Times New Roman, but one paragraph is in Arial) its almost difficult to plagiarize a paper to a teacher that is paying attention. I often google a sentence from the paper in question. I will use a sentence with a particularly interesting sequence of words. I google that sentence in quotes and I generally find the article the student used.

Punishment for plagiarism

Back in the 90’s – (when I was in high school) if a student was guilty of plagiarism, he/she received a zero on that paper   –end of story–. Now days- I think instead of punishing a student with a zero- there is a tone of “rehabilitation”.  Sometimes, a student may not even realize they plagiarized because they mistakenly thought that paraphrased content need not be cited. My approach is to tell the student that their paper is plagiarized and explain to them why its plagiarized. I would let a student re-write the paper with proper citations and authorship standards. Thus, a student would only get zero on a paper if they were caught plagiarizing and refused to fix the problem once it is found.

Preventing Plagiarism

Students need to learn research skills, citing skills, and understand the idea of synthesis. Students need to see exemplars of work that is properly cited. Students need to know what plagiarism means, paraphrasing and direct quotations. They need to understand the workflow – “the right way” of doing things. It takes a lot of energy and effort – but in many places in life – there are no shortcuts. The student has to put the time and effort into their project, and a teacher has to show them the right way. In an e-learning environment, this could be done in an orientation course or in a sub-section of a module.

-Dwayne Murphy

PS: Here is a video I share with students about Synthesis:


The Tiered Approach to Student Support

Section 6.3 of our e-learning course challenged students to think about how we will support students who are struggling in our e-learning environments. The question at hand and my answer are below:

Q: Consider the importance of supporting students who may struggle in an online environment, whether due to their poor work habits or due to their (???). What strategies and/or LMS tools could you use to support these students’ abilities to work independently and those with weak literacy skills?

A:  Every student group will have its own natural variation on how academically strong they will be. Think of the statistical “bell curve” – almost any group of things in nature will fall into that curve – adjusting for standard deviation etc. There will be students who struggle in almost any course. Our readings have us refer to this three level “tiered approach”.

Fullscreen capture 2016-09-24 104121 PM.jpg

So tier 1 starts us off by reminding us to use good UDL (universal design for learning) and Differentiated Instruction as part of our course design. Hopefully, this would deal with the first line of students who may struggle a little.

Tier 2 might catch some students who are struggling beyond what tier 1 above may accommodate. Tier 2 suggests interventions and adjusted instruction. More monitoring and communication is needed here for these students.

Tier 3 demands even greater levels of personalized instruction and assessment. An “in-school team” is suggested here to give the student more support.

In Summary –  As an E-learning teacher we should do the following:

Good course design
UDL / DI generously applied
Communication / Monitoring
Mixed Media (reading /video /audio)
Engaging, Relevant Content & Activities
Learning Skills
Checklists/ Customized Calendars
Challenge students to set goals, monitor themselves and reward themselves

The last three points provide some of my own personal thoughts that could help a struggling student when we start communicating with them more.  Students should be reminded and challenged to improve their learning skills. These are the “verbs” of being a good student.  Also, a teacher could help a student organize themselves and drive towards the completion of the course by creating “progress checklists” that the student could use to move towards completing modules. It might be a good idea to mix a progress checklist with a calendar to really help a student break their tasks into “do-able” smaller chunks – within specified time windows.

With all that stated … I must admit that E-learning has a pre-requisite skill set and will probably be unforgiving to those who lack a basic literacy and computer skill set. Students who lack those two skills will probably need a face to face learning environment until they develop the basics skills required to learn on their own in a digital environment.

-Dwayne Murphy

Building Online Community


Our Queens E-Learning AQ course had a module on “Building Community” within an e-learning environment. Five community building strategies were given and we were challenged to come up with ideas to implement these strategies.


Community Building Strategy Suggested Implementation
Strategy 1: Regularly give students a place to be themselves and share their experiences, thoughts, and interests. Help them see the value of their participation by representing the information back to the group. – An introductory discussion activity would be an obvious example.

-Insist that students create an avatar.

-Occasionally, you might make a link to a PADLET bulletin board (break out of the LMS!) where students can talk about how an issue relates to them. Perhaps they can add images / video that will allow them to express themselves beyond just text.

Strategy 2: Give responsibility to individuals or groups for discussion threads on select academic topics. – In the course orientation (and the assignment description), perhaps it should be made clear that at least 3 comments should be made per discussion forum.

Contact 1-2 students per discussion thread to moderate or to comment on all postings.

Strategy 3: Encourage student-to-student advice regarding assignments. -Perhaps create a “study buddy” system where (based on diagnostic assessment) weaker students might be linked to a stronger student.

-Perhaps a simple early “group assignment” might force two people to become a little more comfortable talking to each other. This gives each student at least one person they can contact if they need help.


Strategy 4: Use synchronous communications to strengthen ties to the classroom community. -Contact students periodically for F2F discussions using Google Hangouts.
Strategy 5: Leverage students’ love of mobile technologies. -Use #hashtags to get a discussion going on twitter.

-If applicable, perhaps a instagram account could be created where images related to course content could be shared. (ex: environmental science).

-Encourage blogging and having students create links / subscribe to each other’s blogs.

-Make links to quizlet, kahoot if applicable




D2L Course Builder Learning Resources

Just a few Youtube Videos and Links to learn about using D2L’s Course Builder. I was a little unclear on how to use it – but these videos help.


Course Builder Demo


Instructional Design Tutorial / Course Builder





uwosh.edu Webpage Overview





Communication within an E-learning Environment

In our E-learning AQ course, there is yet another very interesting module entitled: 4.3 Interaction.

This first video below highlights a very subtle thought about human communication. there are three major aspects in the way we communicate:

Para-verbal – Speed , rythm, cadence, tone

Communication within an e-learning environment (mainly text) lacks the Non-verbal and para-verbal communication that we really need when we communicate.

E-learning teachers need to “check in” with students when they are in a course, because we can’t physically “see” the students reactions to their work.

Check out these resources on Social Learning Theory and Engagement Theory:


Social learning theory – We learn in groups and by interacting with each other. Learning is strengthened by belonging to a community, building an identity, practice (doing) and learning through experience. This is illustrated in the image below.

Fullscreen capture 2016-09-01 112544 PM

Engagement Theory

  • Have students work in teams
  • Create tangible products
  • Do authentic work that can benefit an authentic customer

Fullscreen capture 2016-09-01 112646 PM

Use student Names, record audio welcome messages, ecourage and personalize comments.

Encourage peer feedback. Peer teaching, model quality by interacting well with students.

Encourage higher levels of blooms taxonomy: Analysis, synthesis, evaluation

Learners solve problems and reflect


There are four basic types of interactions involving students in a learning environment:

  • student-teacher
  • student-student
  • student-content
  • student-interface (LMS)

Question: For each of the four types of interaction listed above give an example and state how you would ensure the best possible experience for the student. For example it can often be challenging for students to have effective student-student interactions in an online course. What tools and strategies would you select to ensure that students communicate effectively with each other?


Student – Teacher Interactions: An obvious example here would be a student needing to ask a teacher for help and/or clarification. In my experience, an email would be sent – which is asynchronous communication (this is one shortcoming in elearning as there is an undesirable time lag for the student to get a response). To make the experience better – a teacher should personalize the message and give high quality, generous insight. Anything a teacher can do that supports the social learning theory and engagement theory details above is a bonus.

Student- Student Interactions : A student commenting on another student’s work is an obvious example here. Students should always be polite, yet, not afraid to challenge each other. Good student-student communication should be honest, well thought out – not just lip service. In commenting on someones work, learning takes place in the meta-cognition that results from just understanding each others work and framing an intelligent question or response.  Any efforts to build community and the encourage the social learning theory aspect of “learning as belonging” creates meaningful learning opportunities. Also, one other suggestion to increase student-student interactions is to encourage “Break Out Sessions” where students might use better F2F chanels, such as hangouts/skype to maximize synchronous , non-verbal and paraverbal communication.

Student – content : An example of student content interaction might be a  student considering how to complete an culminating task at the end of a module. Engagement theory would suggest that students should interact with their content then produce team projects that produce tangible products and serve authentic customers. By the design of the course, students should have well thought- out assessment where students might reflect and self/peer assess each other. Of course, content should be designed to be inclusive, varied, respect various learning types and learning styles.

 Student – LMS  interactions: A student interacting within their LMS might include a student submitting a file to a dropbox using the features within the LMS. It would be nice to have a rich feature set for students to interact with , yet, a simple interface that makes all learners feel comfortable. Students should be focusing their energies on the content of the course, not the LMS itself.

Let me know what you think!