As I researched for my very first grad school presentation in my course Distributed Learning on the topic of “Instructional Design for Distance Education” (Simonson, Smaldina, Albright and Zvacek, 2012), I found myself drawn to the concept of learner profiling. Why? Well because, this past year, I ran into challenges in some of my technology classes because I did not take the time to learn my students.
This past year, I was fortunate to change teaching assignments in my school. Moving out of a fine arts position, I began designing and teaching a variety of technology classes. These classes included “D2L and Miscrosoft”, “SMART Software”, “Garageband”, PLN’s & Blogging” and “iPhoto”. Because these were new classes to me, I must say that I did quite a good job in the beginning. My first two classes, D2L and SMART, went quite well. Unfortunately, the others were quite challenging at times. As I reflect upon why there was such a disparity between classes, I now realize that this was possibly fueled by the amount of time I spent getting to know my learners.
In the first term, because I wanted to know student ability, I had set up an entry survey to determine student comfort using D2L, Microsoft, and SMART programs. Once complete, I printed off this data, reviewed it, and even took it back to my staff. The results were surprising. Even with word processing, almost half of my grade 9 students expressed low comfort levels with how to properly use the program. From this information, I was able to change the course to pay more attention to basic skills.
Unfortunately, as term two began, I did not practice what had worked so well for me in the term prior. Still using a course management system (CMS), I did not think to reassess my new classes for their comfort level. Instead, I moved ahead, teaching what I had designed. As a result, the students struggled. I spent more time answering basic questions, like how to submit assignments electronically or how to export to iTunes, than helping the kids develop projects. The classes were much less productive than I had hoped. This trend continued into third semester as well.
Next year, I plan to improve my teaching practice by taking that time every semester to get to know my learners, even if I have taught them before. Yes, this will take more time on my part as I will have to create more surveys and engage in more discussion posts. From there, I will have to tailor course materials to meet the needs of my learner. However, if I invest that time into the front end of my work, I believe I will see more productivity and I will be more satisfied with my own practice because I will know the work my students are completing is more meaningful for them.
If you are looking for ways to learner profile or if you have any success stories of your own, please feel free to share.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of Distance Education (5th Ed.). Columbus, OH: Pearson.