deanhcc 2013-10-04 03:09:26

Thank you, Jim, for revisiting so many interesting posts in your blog:

I was especially interested your review of Julio‘s posts.  Thanks, Julio, for such thoughtful posts! :

1) I, too, worry about the audio file/voice message not leaving a paper/typed trail.  In fact, that’s my biggest concern.  However, the way I use the audio files just sort of complements or emphasizes the written feedback the students receive on their essays.  If I were a student, I would definitely need the written feedback trail.   And, I agree with you that discussion forums with audio files would leave me feeling at loose ends.  After Heather’s (?) presentation about allowing students to use a variety of tools (audio, visual, etc.) to introduce themselves, I thought maybe audio would a great option. But now, I definitely pull back from that idea.

2) I’m trying to wrap my mind around your really insightful comment, Julio:

I can’t help but feel that teamwork, like some other strategies (such as webinars), are carryovers from F2F learning contexts. In other words, in classrooms with 20-50 students, small groups or teams are a practical alternative to everyone shouting all at once. Online, the conditions are different, and the purposes for certain strategies that are useful in onground classes may not be as relevant online. Perhaps we ought to reverse engineer the practice of teams: begin with the purposes of teamwork then explore purely online strategies for achieving them. In this way, form follows function.

I was really struck by that last line.  I often feel like something genuine is missing in a lot of the group work.  Like the tail is wagging the dog.  This comment struck me fully this week because, in my f2f developmental writing class, I decided to try something new.

In the past, the course has been designed because of dept guidelines in way that created this pattern:  Assign an essay.  Teach a mode (eg., compare/contrast) and read sample essays. Give students a few sample topics and let them explore their own (eg., two bosses you can contrast, two social media tools, two places, (yawn!)etc.)  Put them into random groups (some ability based, some content/topic based, etc.) to prewrite and peer review.  It has always seemed so flat to me.  Where ‘s the true motivation to share, inquire, explore, and write vigorously?

Yesterday,   I flung open the doors at the beginning of the process, telling them they would have to discover any common interests or experiences they have, group themselves, and then talk about various “ways in” to discovering their specific topics within that group and, ultimately, get around to figuring out how to use compare/contrast as a mode to further their thinking and their writing.  So, I asked: Anyone interested in traveling? Anyone have a regret they could write about? Anybody a driven athlete?  Anybody think about technology a lot?

Then, I left them to discover each other, to discover what they would possibly want to work on as a group that could generate different perspectives and interesting dialogue.

I hope to see individual essays emerge in each group under the umbrella of one common broad interest and the essays will sort of end up being anthologies that can then be shared with the other groups. But, who knows what they’ll do.  They may actually start writing in reaction to each other.  That would be great!  I always talk to my students about the need to see their college writing as additions to the academic conversation that exists around them (rather than as downloading and regurgitating information), so that’s my hope here — for them to start  senses what it feels like to be in an academic community and  conversation.

Anyway, the essays may end up looking the same as they always look from semester to semester, but these students need a chance to take control of their group-making and discussion and become more “alive.”  So, there you have it:  That’s why Julio’s comment about the form following function really struck me.  I hope that makes some sort of sense! ;-)   Hard to describe, but it feels like a significant shift in empowering the students to create group work — rather than be assigned to groups — and to see it as theirs and as meaningful exchange.

Now, I have to think about what this means for my online writing classes!  Hmmm…

Mahalo! -Tanya

For Those of Us Who Beg Students to Use E-mail

I thought I’d share this NY Times article about how and why college students do not use e-mail:

Interesting — they feel it’s antiquated!  Aaagh! I AM old! ;-)   I take to heart the additional comment in the article that some students who might consider using e-mail shy away from it because they worry about the etiquette (eg., what do I put in the subject line? how do I address my instructor? etc.) .  This made me think I’ll add a little lesson about that at the beginning of each semester.  The authors go on to say how many of us veteran e-mail users do not composing effective  messages, so how can we expect our students to use this tool effectively?


Week 3: A Late Wrap Up

  1. First, I want to thank the facilitators for a great Week 3. I found all of the materials really thought-provoking and informative.  I will have to revisit them after this busy semester!  I am inspired to share key ideas with my online colleagues here at the college.
  2. Discussion Questions:


  1. I thought a lot about the social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence concepts.    I really like the idea of exploring how students are present in these three ways.  How can I encourage more student-student teaching and problem-solving.   I also appreciated the reminder that the social presence is critical.  I am very aware of needing to create a safe place for my students and now I also want to encourage the interpersonal connections between students more.   Simple things like having them post their questions to the class  can help. I do want them to become greater resources for each other.

I also liked Heather Farmakis’s take on introducing herself to her classes.   I’d love to do something like this online, and I like the idea of telling students about our own educational journeys.  When I share parts of my experience as a student, they are all ears.

I reflected on the “sense of puzzlement> info exchange> through “applying new ideas” quite a bit and realized that sense of puzzlement is so quickly passed over at times.  Students need to puzzle, resist puzzling, and don’t really realize that’s what’s happening.  Instead they just feel uncomfortable and fearful.  I’d like to highlight this sequence for them and help them understand, “It’s all good!, ” but if they get stuck there in the puzzlement and it’s not generating the next steps of learning, they have to reach out for help.

Greg, thank you for this reminder on the effectiveness of questioning.
It reminded me of a time when another mom turned to me and said, “You ask your son (5 at the time) a lot of questions! I love that.  How do you know to do that?”  I was really taken aback.  I guess I just found it so fascinating to engage him and hear from him.  I have to keep that alive with my students!
And, lastly, I bookmarked rubrics for discussion posts to adopt/adapt later.
So what? and What changes did you make?
  1. As students posted their first round of responses to a reading this week in a discussion forum, I went in and highlighted their salient points and I commented on each with a greater focus on asking them follow-up questions and directing them to other students’ posts (eg., “Oh, that sounds a lot like what Jenny said.  Is it?” or “This goes along with what Mitchell wrote in a way? What do you think?”  I noticed several student went back in and responded to each other this time… It’s building!  Also, on the announcements home page of the course, I wrote a little blurb with bullets like:  “Please go back to the Discussion forum where : ~  Jenny asked for help with her thesis. ~ Mitchell made a really interesting point about xyz ~ Pam gave Alice a great pat on the back. etc.   Gee, it’d be fun to move over to students doing this sort prompting!

And, I added a thought-provoking image to my home page with some questions to prompt their thinking.  I change it up weekly or every other week, but now, I just have to figure out if it’s too much to ask them to respond to such images as well or to give them a place where they can voluntarily discuss it.  I’m finding anything voluntary doesn’t get attention.   Sometimes, enough is enough.  Students are so busy!  Just putting the image and question up there for now may be just fine.

In my f2f readingn class, I introduced a blogging assignment — “A Reading Together Ritual” based off of these two touching NY Times articles that promote the idea of reading as a social act.

We talked about how can you really begin to id yourself as a reader?  Make it part of your social identity.    They’re responding to it well.  The students are sharing all sorts of interests and reading experiences.  This week I threw it out to them: “How do you want to continue with this blogging experiment? How can we sustain your interest and expand your interactions?”   This is new to me… I want this to become their baby; we’ll see if we can make it happen.

Enough for now!

Week 3 catch-up/ thank you’s & Techie Questions about Voice Messages

I was hit by a nasty, nasty cold this week, so I’m a bit behind, but I want to thank Rachel, Greg, Veronica, Sara D., Dawn and others for responding to my blog and offering tips on discussion forums,etc.  As a new blogger,I have yet to figure out how to respond directly to your comments without e-mailing you. (I don’t want to set up an edublog account just to be able to respond to those of you using edublog.) Two of my to-do’s take-aways is to add a rubric for discussion posts and more clearly define my expectations for their responses to each other.  I do provide exemplars and I chime in to applaud students’ worthwhile posts and to ask more questions to prompt further thinking.  And, I do grade their posts, but these two additions may help. Mahalo!

Veronica, thank you as well for your post on using audio recordings to add the “human touch.”  This became my focus this week.  It raised a lot of questions and some techie frustration.  Here, I’ll launch into a how-to discussion that may not interest most folks (especially since you’re all on Week 4!, but I thought I’d put it out here:

I find my online writing students love my audio comments. Ones that had been lurking also seemed to become more engaged. I started using them when offered a new voice message tool last year.  It gives an instructor 3 minutes of recording time, so I had to get used to being concise. I also liked it because I found myself focusing on positive feedback more and I felt more personally connected to my students.  In addition, I found it saved me from additional wrist and back aches because I wasn’t typing as much.  (Ahhh!  The hazards of this kind of work! ;-)

This week, however, I returned to experimenting with other voice tools since I’d like to interact this way  outside of  I experimented with using Adobe Pro’s voice embed tool and I thought, “This is slick and easy!” I saved their essays as pdfs with my comments and just clicked Insert voice memo.   Nope!  Several of my students couldn’t see the speaker icon in the pdfs.  I researched this but got completely overwhelmed because it seems students with different hardware and software will experience different luck with this.  Forget it!

So, then I tried ScreenCastOMatic which is also easy and slick. ( I had contacted my instructional tech team about all this and they recommend it again.)  I loved it because I could scroll through the essay on the screen and talk my written comments, etc.  But, I’m hearing from students who say they can’t open it with  their media players.  Harrumph!  I’ve tried both ScreenCastOMatic options of QuickTimePlayer and WindowsMedia MP4s and AVI files.  I’m also experimenting to find out if Laulima/Sakai limits the size of the attachment sent via Messages.  I think it does.

So, these are the challenges that instructors face when experimenting.  If anyone has any tips, I’d love to hear them!  I don’t want to give up on this.




Reaction to John Thompson’s talk- re: Discussion forums

Question for my fellow MOOC-ers:  Any tips on promoting interaction  in whole class forums where let’s say 20 students are reaction to a reading or what not? How can I help students get past the “post-’n-go” mentality? I want them reading each others’ posts and respond.  I will say: “Post AND respond to at least two other students’s posts,” but it seems stilted and generally it seems like a lot of “Oh, good job, Johnny” that doesn’t lead anywhere. I also don’t want to get into nickel-and-diming them points in the gradebook for posting/failing to post these kinds of responses to each other.  How can we help it become a more organic process for them? (This is for a community college writing class where some inexperienced students and a range of abilities.)  Also…

~Thank you, John Thompson, for encouraging instructors to be involved in discussion forums.  A colleague and I have discussed this – ie., does it highjack the students’ interactions if the instructor inserts herself?  I tend to chime in and highlight students’ posts that show quality thought, supportive interaction, etc.  I also try to refer students to other students’ posts (eg., “Did you see Jenny’s post?  She said a similar thing but added a point.  What do you think?  Neat to see the same line of thinking here!” )  Otherwise, I fear forums are just another place where students submit  their writing and walk away without reading each others’ posts.  In fact, that’s the hardest part of whole class forums for me:  getting students to interact. Small group peer review forums are more interactive, but sometimes I want the whole class posting in the same place.  I think my presence helps there, but, yes, it takes a lot of time!

Week 2: Response to What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain

I appreciate the list from Ken Bain’s book.  Given my experience teaching community college writing online in a really diverse community here in Hawai’i, I think he hit the nail on the head.  The Canadian h.s. survey, however, included some suggestions and teaching practices that worry me a bit.  I understand the survey focused on adolescents who may need a different online experience than adults, but I question suggestions like — ie., be willing to allow as many resubmissions of work as students need and engage socially (to the extent where you may become a counselor, it seems to imply). This goes hand-in-hand with some comments in this MOOC that students need to know we’re available 24-7 online. Hmmm…

As a recovering workaholic (ha!), I’ve been talking lately with another dedicated writing teacher about how to make our jobs sustainable.  We’ve also been talking about how to make students more accountable for problem-solving, using the resources we provide (“Did you read the assigned sample essays and analyze them as we asked?”), and not blaming the instructor as a first reaction.  Comments made in this MOOC in the webinars and readings acknowledge that teaching online requires an enormous amount of time and personal investment.  That’s both wonderful and challenging.  But, I do think we need to train students to understand there is a balance… We are there to support them in a genuine, connected manner, but we also have to find ways to make this work sustainable.  For example, for me, this semester, it means I cannot read every draft of every paper my students write and allow repeated graded revisions. There are too many of them, too few hours in a day, week, semester.

I am reminded of readings I’ve encountered about the “milleniums” — this generation of students who have been described as highly distracted, multi-taskers who want things to be spoon-fed (ideally through multi-media), etc.  They want what they want –now! I don‘t agree with a lot of the negative descriptions, but the conversations that arise out of trying to define this generations’ qualities do make me question: How far do online instructors work within a culture of “give me what I need now”?  Can instructors really keep up and provide these students with the “quick hits” (quick responses, immediate feedback) that social media, etc., sets as the norm?  Just thinking…

Last thought:  In the community college setting where adjunct faculty are underpaid and where full-time faculty are saddled with committee work, etc., how do instructors commit to the level of involvement needed for a successful online class?  More and more, we’re asked to think about “engagement” as an answer to curing the horribly low graduation rates and swelling numbers of developmental students.  Cracking the code to “engagement” is hugely important, and I do agree that small efforts can have great benefits.  Ex: I’m try to show my personality, add humor, motivate with cool quotes and images, respond immediately to questions/concerns, grade work quickly, post announcements and reminders, use voice memos, pick up the phone to call struggling students, and generally cheer on students daily.  That’s all do-able. And, I love it actually.  I really do.  Compared to the 1.5 hours/2x/week that I get with my f2f students, I do enjoy the on-going rapport with my online students tremendously.

But, over- individualizing instruction or extending ourselves too far in an effort to engage students who come to online education without really understanding their role or without the necessary skills can drown us and make us feel like we’re bending over backwards in a setting that doesn’t necessarily support us.  (Examples:  A college allowing students to register and begin an online class 3 weeks into the semester.  Or, a student who wants feedback on every draft every step of the way and thinks nothing of messaging me 3-4 times a day. ) That’s a recipe for burnout.

  To an extent, the learners need to find it in themselves to show and do the work and take charge of their educational experience.  So, that brings me back to Ken Bain’s last point: “Understand your students’ ambitions.”   I’d add “Help your students define their own ambitions and help them seek the many resources that can assist them (not just you).

In What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain (2004) discusses some of the major ways that teachers can connect with students through the practices of effective teaching. Below is a list of suggestions to help you connect with your students.

  • Spend time online with students to nurture their learning.
  • Invest in your students by not fostering a feeling of power over them.
  • Have the attitude that, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”
  • Create an online environment where everyone can contribute and each contribution is unique.
  • Foster the feeling that teachers are fellow students and human beings struggling with mysteries of the universe.
  • Provide task praise (you did that well) and avoid person praise (you are so smart.)
  • Give students as much control as possible over their learning.
  • Provide lots of non-judgmental feedback.
  • Encourage collaboration and cooperation.
  • Provide many opportunities to revise and improve work.
  • Avoid language of demands and promises.
  • Make a promise to your students that you will try to help each one achieve as much as possible.
  • Understand your students’ ambitions.

Response to Tony’s Step 4: Build on existing resources

With each new semester, I have become more and more convinced that using available resources is helpful and necessary.  When I started teaching writing online, I produced a ton of original content to supplement the textbook.  In a way, it was an important step in my evolution as a f2f and online teacher. Like Greg and Tony mentioned in the webinars, it made me focus, articulate, and refine my goals and strategies.  (Yes, online teaching has improved my f2f teaching greatly!)   However, now, I definitely see the value in “using existing online resources rather than re-inventing the wheel” and  Tony’s other point:  “Indeed, if several of you are developing a program, then there is considerable scope for working collaboratively to develop high quality materials that can be shared.”  Of course, the work involved in further tailor what I have gathered from others can be labor-intensive, but it’s often better than starting from scratch.  For example, our department recently re-purposed and revised a online Library Competency Unit created by the main library staff that is better suited for our students at our smaller branch campus of the college. Now that we have this nice resource, more and more instructors in various departments want to use it.  That’s terrific.  This sharing has also led to valuable questions like : “Wait… in which classes should students be covering this content?  If they encounter the same material in different classes, is that bad or is it positive reinforcement?  etc.”  

Finally, I loved this reminder: “The main question is whether you as the instructor need to find such material, or whether it would be better to get students to search, find, select, analyze and apply information. After all, these are key ’21st century skills’ that students need to have.”   I can see myself doing more of this! Food for thought…



About sensemaking and artifacts

Thanks to our classmate Ida and others,  I’m starting to see now how I can use my blog as a record of reflection and depository of other related material I chance upon.  I guess I do engage in “sensemaking” and “artifact” collecting all the time. ;-)   I also gravitate toward having my community college students do so, but sometimes I back away from introducing them to this kind of process because I worry they’ll struggle with the technology (especially my older students) and get distracted or overly worried (they’re already overwhelmed by the college experience and fragile). Or, they’ll get so wrapped up in the fun of the technology (the younger students usually) that they’ll burn excess time in an already crowded semester.  Ex:  I thought about teaching them to use bubbl mind map online to collect quotes from their readings across the semester and represent their connections.  But… can they handle the tech?  Some could do it on paper with pens and sticky notes, I suppose.  It could be up to them.  Or, we could do one massive class bubbl… It starts to feel like there are a lot of possible glitches and things to work through, so I haven’t jumped into it, even though it could be a rich learning experience for us all.   Really, it’s the time pressure created by a tight class schedule that is not conducive to more exploration and unpredictable time-tables (how long will it take students to get started? how much time can they dedicate to this outside of class? if I want to use this with f2f students in a sort of hybrid model, how much time do I have to support f2f students online as well,?etc.)

In response to Tony’s Step 1: Decide how you want to teach online

I am really enjoying Tony’s 9 Steps!  I thought I would copy some of his key comments into a Word doc and respond to them as I read on.  Step 1 alone has raised so many thoughts, and I’m realizing I can’t possibly respond to everything I’ve copied! I have been teaching writing online for about 6 semesters and I remain excited and challenged, so  I will also enjoy reading Tony’s posts on 21st learning for experienced online instructors, too. For now, these 9 steps are wonderfully affirming and thought-provoking.  Here are some tid-bits that struck me:

Tony writes, “online students need to feel that the instructor is ‘present’ online.”

I work hard at this and I just got wonderful feedback from a student who said, “You spoiled me!” and went on to explain that her current online class in the same discipline feels impersonal.  She said she doesn’t even know the instructor is there, but she “misses” me.  I am certainly amazed by how close a relationship some of my online students feel they have established with me by the end of the semester.  At times, it’s closer than I feel.

What worries me, however, are the students who do not realize this is an integral part of their online learning (despite my best efforts to help them “acculturate”) – that establishing a connection with their instructor is a good thing and requires they step up and respond to the invitation to interact.

Many of my recent high school grads come to community college unprepared to engage in the learning environment actively.  I love this part of the job – ie, helping them develop an understanding of what it takes to succeed as a learner.  And, the online environment really challenges them on this level.  The hard part is reaching those who have little experience seeing instructors as mentors, coaches, and people who are in this line of work to cheer them on, support them, and respond to them.

 Tony writes, “Or do I see learning as individual development focused around developing in learners skills and the ability to question, analyse and apply information or knowledge? Do I see myself more as a guide or facilitator of learning for students?”

As I am reading this I am thinking about how so many people have said to me , “I can’t imagine teaching writing online.”  However, writing teachers are very accustomed to being guides, facilitators, coaches.   To me, it feels like a very natural fit for instructors who strive to respond to their writing students genuinely and in a timely manner.  The students’ full writing process is all there in full color and it’s very instructive — for them and for me.

Tony writes, “Moving your course online opens up a range of possibilities for teaching that may not be possible in the confines of a scheduled three credit weekly semester of lectures. It may not mean doing everything online, but focusing the campus experience on what can only be done on campus.”

Yes!  This is exactly what I’m grappling with.  My f2f writing classes feel like such a struggle because I only see the students 2x per week for 1.25 hours each session.  The sessions are too short and they are too spread out.  In contrast, online students have access to me 24-7. My f2f do as well, but they are not accustomed to taking me up on my offer to correspond outside of class.  So, more and more, I am creating online opportunities for my f2f students to work, interact with each other, explore, and think about content throughout the week.

On the other hand, I am hesitant, to be honest, to create due dates or invitations for students to create more artifacts online, especially those require attention outside of our two class sessions per week because I need to limit my own workload.   Tony addresses work load later in his posts… Teaching online in an interactive, “very present” way involves exceptionally more time!  (That is something some English colleagues who shake their heads at teaching writing online don’t quite seem to understand.  The online writing instructors I admire spend soooooo much more time with their students and developing their courses.  As Tony says in his later Steps, there needs to be more collaborative sharing perhaps to cut down on this.)

More later…

My best teacher

We were asked to consider our best teacher.  I had many great teachers, but I certainly regard my high school Latin teacher as a true inspiration. I attended a very large public high school and she had three full sections of 9th and 10th grade Latin. Imagine that.  We all wanted to take her class.  She was spunky and energetic, and yes, the guys drooled over her, but I think we were all captured by her passion and obvious intelligence.   I still remember chanting noun endings: us, um , i , o, o , i, os, orum, is, is!  She was incredibly rigorous, but she made us feel like reading the Aeneid in Latin was absolutely do-able.  She made us care about the human stories in great literature, while also teaching us how to translate with incredible attention to detail.  And, she combined the learning with fun; she held huge Saturnalia parties each year (togas and Cesear salads) and had us make mosaics out of painted broken egg shells.  In 11th and 12th grade, we stuck with her, filling her two AP Latin classes and scoring remarkably high on the AP tests.

The fact that I went off to college as a Classics major speaks volumes.  When I returned to visit her one Christmas break, she burst out enthusiastically, “I am engaged!”  No… she was not re-marrying after years of being a single mom; rather, she was referring to her intellectual engagement.  She had been in Rome on a Fulbright scholarship that previous summer. Her research was making her hum, and  her teaching remained electric.  I remember the way she beamed.  “That,”  I thought, “is why she is a great teacher.  That’s the kind of teacher I want to be.”

So… how does one convey that kind of “teaching like your hair is on fire” in the online environment?  I try… I think I succeed to a degree.  But can it really be shared in an online learning community??  Can students feel a teacher’s “burning to create” attitude and approach online?    Hmmm…

Week 0 – Intentions

  1. What is your intention for this course (why are you here)?

I am fascinated by the ideas behind MOOCs and I want to catch a glimpse of where education is headed online.  I teach expository writing online for a community college, creating all of my own course work, etc., using Sakai (Laulima).  I find the tools helpful but limited and often glitchy.  I hope this experience helps me understand the online learning experience as a student and its potential for motivating students to create and explore.

  1. What issues do you think are important?

I am interested in the idea of re-purposing and re-mixing and having students make their own connections.  I also like the idea of breaking open access to free education — Where could this lead for college students as well as K-12?

  1. How will I contribute?

I have to see.  I suppose I may be asking a lot of questions.  ;-)

  1. How would you like to see community develop among participants?

I’m not sure what this is asking, so I’ll say I hope we see each other as resources and stay in contact afterwards if we make a neat connection with other like-minded educators.

  1. These types of courses are new for most people. In fact about 90% don’t even participate. How will you overcome the fear of learning in the open and the frustration of using new technology? How do you plan to courageously work through any setbacks, and not give up?

I watch my online students do this every day.  They are remarkably resilient.  I’ll try to model their behavior!  Learning in the open is odd for me, but increasingly more and more comfortable.    I had one other experience with “learning in the open” and supervisors were present and somewhat participating (lurking?)… Now that was odd!