I just completed our final class for the Quality Matters certification.  The course criteria and guidelines in QM helps the instructor keep everything in alignment.  Even if I never participate as a peer reviewer, having to think about course design from a student's perspective will help me develop more intuitive classes.  I liked that even though Quality Matters is designed for online courses, many of its guidelines can be considered for face to face classes as well.
Our final unit in this course is obtaining the "Quality Matters" certification.  Quality Matters is a rubric to help guide instructors in creating online courses that meet certain criteria of course design.  The instructor may use the rubric to check various elements of their course design, or they may have their course reviewed by a panel of three certified peer reviewers.  Points are given for various elements and the course must obtain a score of at least 85% to receive a Quality Matters seal.

As more and more courses are offered online, I feel the Quality Matters rubric is a valuable tool to keep course design in check.  There are many effective instructors teaching online, but the structure of the course (such as ease of navigation, means of communicating with students, etc.) could be improved.
I have to admit I was pleased with the process of turning PowerPoint images into an iMovie.  I have done this before, and did learn some new strategies for setting up the movie before importing the images.  

I ran into some problems with the transitions automatically changing my image length.  When I changed the length by clicking on the gear icon, it wouldn't save.  I looked it up online and found that if  you just double-click on the image, a yellow box appears around the image.  You can grab a "handle" on the right or left side and change the length.  This worked fine.

Another student enabled Closed Captioning.  Since we had uploaded our audio script I thought I would add Closed Captioning also.  This is a great feature that I really didn't know existed!
For this week’s assignment, we were to save our audio narration text (from the PowerPoint project) as a Word document.  This text would then be uploaded to Turnitin, a plagiarism detection program.  As we wrote our script, we used citations and references just as we would for any other writing assignment.  So, by running the paper through Turnitin we could quickly detect any missed citations or questionable wording. 

Once we uploaded our script to the Turnitin prompt on our class website, it only took a short time to receive the results.   Turnitin gives you a color-coded similarity index based on a percentage of text/phrases that was found to have a match elsewhere online.  When you click on the color code a match appears in a new window with the text and website that was found to be a match.  Turnitin is simply a text-matching tool; it is up to the teacher to determine if there was plagiarism involved.

My script only had two similarities show up, both of which were common phrases that would not be considered plagiarism.  So I was good to go!

I was impressed with Turnitin and would recommend it to any instructor.  As a student, I liked having the ability to double-check my references and citations this way, and think it would be a good idea to allow students to use it as well.  I’m glad I had the opportunity to use this tool, as I will give more thought to citations and references the next time I write a paper or article.

The following are my reactions to the questions regarding our Turnitin experience:

1.  What color was your similarity index block?
            -My similiarity index block was blue

2.  What percentage was your similarity index block?

3.  What were your top two matches?
            -#1- Richard Mayer's professional title:  sbbtonline.org (1%)
            -#2- "If you have any questions please feel free to contact me..."   

            www.aspelleleather.com (1%)

4.  What are your thoughts on how Turnitin worked for you?
            -I think it was great. Both of my detected texts were not anything            

            plagiarized but I know it only detects similar text, not actual plagiarism 

5.  What are the positives and negatives of this technology?
            -Positives- that it is an effective tool to prevent plagiarism and it does 

            give the teacher the ability to prove students did or did not use their 
            own wording
            -Negative- I can’t think of too many except the teacher may not want to         

            address plagiarism

6.  Do you plan to use plagiarism detection with your students?
            -if I were in a teaching situation and gave students a lengthy writing 

            assignment I would definitely consider Turnitin

I have been pleasantly surprised at how well the chapters of this book have related to my field of instrumental music.  Chapter 4, “How Do Students Develop Mastery?” explores how we move from novice to expert and the various steps of consciousness/competence.  This chapter made me stop and re-think how I learned what I know (and now comes automatically, or “unconscious competence”), and if I am as effective as I can be as a teacher. 

We as teachers often don’t put ourselves in the students’ frames of mind or consider how transfer of knowledge affects their connection with new information.  It is important to remember that as musicians we are spending years honing our craft.  Most of us are always in flux between the third and fourth stages, “Conscious Competence” and “Unconsious Competence”.  As with athletes, musicians find it difficult to remain at the latter stage (the “expert” stage), without consistent practice to maintain technical and physical skills.  “Use it or lose it” is very applicable to keeping musical skills sharp and we all find ourselves in need of polishing a passage or skill if we’ve been away from it for too long.  Muscle memory fades and brings us back to reality, forcing us to slow it down, use the metronome and tuner, and check our musical interpretation. 

Recognizing the effect of Cognitive Load, we usually focus on rehearsing one musical skill at a time.  One tool featured in Google Apps is the ability to create a game.  In my Chapter 4 summary, I created a Google flash card game which can help reinforce musical terms.  While most of the time musicians are developing technical or musical skills, there are times when basic drill-downs such as flash cards are necessary.  The flash cards were created in Google Docs and the process was very simple.  For extra learning benefit, students can be taught to create the flashcards themselves.  Google flash cards adds a fun spin to an otherwise tedious study method.

This chapter gives us a different perspective on the stages of learning, and helps identify the skill level our students have attained.

My own reflections as I read Chapter 3 made me realize that while I intrinsically knew that goals, values, and expectancies could all influence our success in the classroom, research on this subject is rarely discussed. 

Reading the chapter, I thought back on what my classroom environment was previously and is now.  I like to think my teaching style and the environment I seek to cultivate is a positive and supportive.  But I think it is easy to get caught up in objectives, testing, and daily activities and forget to reflect upon our own class “environment”.

As I continue my long-term substitute position as an orchestra director, I have had the good fortune of working with a lead director who has mastered motivating her students with goals, value, and expectancies.  Many students in her high school orchestra are already highly achieving honors students, and all of them have auditioned for chair placements in the performing ensemble.   In addition to performance technique, this director teaches her students to be organized in their notes and practicing, is clear about her expectations, and doesn’t request more of them than they are capable of giving.  Students are continuously reviewing and rating their own rehearsals and discussing how they can be more productive.  They are learning in an environment where they feel supported by teacher and peers and usually find that they develop skills far beyond what they imagined by the end of the year (this is one of the top high school orchestra programs in the country).  While the director maintains high expectations and runs a strict rehearsal, she does so with a sense of humor.  She is clear about the groups’ objectives and the students respect her.  There are always bumps in the road, but as an assistant with this class for the past year I have been amazed at how environment does affect learning (and the students’ belief in self) in a big way. 

When I began reading about the effects of mentally organizing knowledge and building connections between subject matter, I immediately thought about cross-curricular teaching in my music classes.  As an arts teacher I feel that music offers an alternate way for students to reach that "aha" moment when knowledge suddenly clicks.  

Connecting an abstract concept to a musical idea while building upon prior knowledge is often the combination students need to get the big picture.  In my current long-term teaching position as an orchestra director, the students listen to a variety of musical styles at the beginning of class each week.  The pieces are culturally diverse; today's listening was of a young hip-hop violinist who lives in the US but was born in Israel (Miri Ben-Ari).  The students read an interesting article about the artist and you could see instant connections to their studies of current events involving Israel and the Middle East. This is an excellent way  to build those clusters of knowledge that, in the long run, play off each other and feed the introduction of new information.  Suddenly there is a personality and artistry attached to a culture, and this new role model performs with the same musical effervescence we are trying to draw from our young musicians.  The combination of seeing her perform, learning her struggles as a young Israeli musician, and hearing her amazing performance with Kanye West creates the "aha" moment that connects a person they can relate to with the Middle East politics they've been reading about.

It doesn't always take music to generate such an association.  As the chapter outlines for us, teachers need to take the time to review first and try to create knowledge organizations that match the task at hand (such as the way a test is  administered).  This takes time at the beginning of each lesson but may be well worth it in the end.

Concept mapping to outline knowledge clusters gives students the advantage of a visual image.  Using Powerpoint to recreate the concept map found in our text was a great way to become familiar with the extensive image editing features available.  These tools are something we will use frequently as instructional designers, since Powerpoint is a popular program to create those slides for various learning management systems.
This week's reading explored how students' prior knowledge affects their learning and ability to understand and retain new information.  The authors suggest prior to lessons, making an assessment of which skills the students possess using techniques such as pre-assessments, talking to colleagues who taught the students the previous year, brainstorming with the students, observing patterns of error, etc. These are good suggestions, probably something that most experienced teachers are aware of but may not always put into practice.

As an instrumental music instructor, I can say we have the opportunity to review prior knowledge and skills every day during warmups and skill review.  Most directors will incorporate rhythms, scales, or tone production exercises within the warmup.  The students are reviewing basics on a daily basis which is not always possible in an academic classroom.  In addition, instrumental music students usually have the same team of directors for a number of years, so they know what prior knowledge the students have been taught. 

In setting up my Weebly website shell for this class, I found it to be extremely easy.  I first used Weebly in another class and I have found it to be one of the easiest website platforms I have used.  There are also great tutorials if you need help, and the topics of each are nice, short, and easy to understand.  There is even a live chat/tutorial option.  

Weebly's web design tools are, indeed, easy enough for young students to use in a class.  I think it could be a very engaging way for them to create a web-based portfolio for their work while learning technology skills that will be valuable to them later.

The only negative I found with Weebly is that there doesn't seem to be an easy  option for changing the font color in the templates.  This would be a nice feature for teachers with visually impaired students.  I plan to experiment with the HTML coding to make minor adjustments to both the text color and the standard templates.