Aloha from Veronica – my week 4 reflections

My reflections in week 4 are a kind of mix of end of week 3 and week 4. So what did I do? I watched a recording of week 3 round-up and it felt like an “aha” moment – yes, I think I’m finally beginning to get my head round the Community of Inquiry theoretical framework  :-) And it’s about time too – I’ve seen/read about it numerous times, but what I found really helpful were all the annoying (!) HOW questions Greg kept on asking: So, how will that look? How can you stimulate learners’ interest?

My to do’s/think abouts/memorable sayings/comparisons from the week 3 round up:

  • Ask lots of how/why questions to encourage students to think deeply.
  • Give students a problem to think about and as a teacher/lecturer move from telling students to letting them discover/uncover.
  • Think about how I could use the following during the online phases of my EFL/ESP classes: case studies, debate, roleplays i.e. each student chooses/is assigned a specific role to play, e.g. using “Hats”; current events to stimulate discussions.
  • Community of Inquiry and the Buddhist parable with the blind men and the elephant. By working together, cooperating, forming a community whose goal is inquiry, they’d be better able to overcome their limited perspectives and discover the truth.
  • “What you teach teaches you!” (so encourage peer teaching).
  • “It (teacher presence) doesn’t just happen – it involves work, careful thought!”
  •  And this was a great website on how to build an online learning community that I want to explore in the future.

Blog posts I read: my two cents to audio feedback/no paper trail & voice threads/discussion forums:         I read most of the blog posts and responded to some– a special thanks to Julio, Tanya, Sara and Jim for their very interesting and thought provoking contributions – 2 comments:

There has been quite a lot of discussion going on about audio feedback not leaving a paper trail – yes, this can be a problem which is why I usually give each student a written feedback sheet with minimal comments (like Tanya) which highlights the main good points/needs work points as well audio feedback. This means that I can also quickly look to see if a student has made any progress when resubmitting work without having to listen to my audio feedback.

Jim & Julio – you both raised a very valid question, namely: “Do discussion forums gain anything from implementing audio threads?” I personally feel they do in my EFL/ESP classes, which is why I include this mode (and not only/always written forum posts). I feel it gives my students valuable speaking practice – German is their mother tongue. It also means I can give them feedback on their pronunciation, e.g. word stress, intonation, connected speech.

Other things that I did: I read some of the suggested articles and listened to a recording of Debbie Morrison’s webinar on how to promote critical thinking in the online classroom, which I very much enjoyed  – thank you, Debbie!

Here are my take aways/some of the things that I totally agree with:

  • Ask how and why questions – YES!
  • Re teacher presence – students kind of know when the teacher is “there”; this maybe makes them try to do better – YES!
  • A lot of work goes into creating the best conditions for students to learn in an online course – YES! It shouldn’t be confusing to students (what we ask/want them to do); any technology used should be in the background and NOT what students are trying to get their heads around – YES!
  • When moderating online discussions: it’s a balancing act; be careful not to take over – YES!
  • Students can be moderators – YES!
  • Use rubrics to grade posts – YES!
  • Provide feedback at the end of a discussion forum – can be a collective or individual comment.
  • Share with the students why you’re having an online discussion – – YES! Shouldn’t just be “busy” work!
  • From Greg: “Failure is an indicator  for learning” – YES!

Some discussion prompts:

  • What would be an example?
  • Where did you get this example from?
  • What is your main point?
  • Can anyone see this from a different perspective?
  • Could you explain further?
  • What assumptions are made here?
  • What are you assuming?
  • How can we find out?

Activities mentioned which I really liked and want to try out soon:

  1. Students introduce themselves and say what their 3 favourite websites are (first modelled by teacher).
  2. Small group guided discussion (recorded): teacher with 3 or 4 students on a specific topic; other students watch the recording and reflect/discuss the points raised.

I also watched Linda Elder’s recorded webinar and totally agree with what she said about content being the product of critical thinking, and that lecturers tend to teach/lecture “this & that & this & that …” Will have a closer look at And Greg’s final comment: Anything worthwhile is not easy; it takes commitment :-)

So what?What I’ve learned this week?/ What now?/What will I do differently in the future? /What I want to remember:

  1. Listening to various presenters talking about the CoI over and over again was a good reminder that it’s a good idea to revise/revisit content more often.
  2. Thinking is driven by questions and not answers, so ask more, especially HOW/WHAT?
  3. Choose triggers for discussion forums carefully: ask more questions; start with a problem; be provocative/controversial.

Yes, we’re more than half way through this MOOC – it feels like a long time probably because it’s been a pretty intensive time and learning experience for me. Thank you, everyone!

Something that could be improved from my perspective (i.e. living in Europe/12 hour time difference) is the times of the webinars. Personally, I’d have preferred anything before 12 noon (Hawaii time zone). Would have meant that I could have joined in more often, which I really enjoyed being able to do on 2 occasions. But it was great that recordings were made – I presume week 4 round up was recorded? I want to watch that too :-) Right, that’s me. I’m probably not going to be around next week, because I’m off to France (poor me!) with 6 girlfriends for a week, and I don’t think we’ll have internet access in the old stone house we’ve rented. But I’m sure that I’ll be able to catch up when I get back. So have a great week 5, one and all! Mahalo!

2013 Fall Global Conference on Education | UNIVERSITY of RIVERSIDE

PROGRAM & CALL FOR PAPERSNovember 15 – 16, 2013 – Ontario, California USA (Los Angeles Metro)

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Ontario Airport HotelFormally Ontario Hilton700 N Haven Ave.Ontario, California  91764 USAPhone (909) 481-1743Fax  (909) 941-6781
May 2 – 3, 2014 (Los Angeles Metro)August 8-9, 2014 (Los Angeles Metro)
The Global Conference on Education is an international refereed conference dedicated to the advancement of the theory and practices in education. The Global Conference on Education promotes collaborative excellence between academicians and professionals from Education.
The aim of Global Conference on Education is to provide an opportunity for academicians and professionals from various educational fields with cross-disciplinary interests to bridge the knowledge gap, promote research esteem and the evolution of pedagogy. The Global Conference on Education invites research papers that encompass conceptual analysis, design implementation and performance evaluation.

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

I really enjoy this week’s video in which…

I really enjoy this week’s video in which Simon Sinek presents a simple but powerful model for how leaders inspire action, starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers.

The model is based on the three distinct and interdependent elements (Why, How, What) that makes any person or organization function at its highest ability. I feel that the approach gave me a stronger sense of my own purpose and my motivation increased. I look forward to start using this in practice, not just in my teaching but also my personal life.

TOMOOC Fishing in Week 4

Tanya, in Week 3 catch-up/ thank you’s & Techie Questions about Voice Messages (10/3/13), tested Veronica’s ideas re audio feedback on student papers/projects. She tried TurnItIn’s “new voice message tool,” “Adobe Pro’s voice embed tool,” and ScreenCastOMatic. Re the last, she says, “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.”

Thanks, Tanya, for doing this! It saves me and others who are interested a lot of time and effort. My feelings re audio in this role is torn. On the one hand, I realize it does give a more human “face” to comments, but I’m not totally convinced that text doesn’t do the same, though in a different way via tone, persona, etc. On the other hand, part of the review process is to create a log of past performances to guide future growth and to measure growth, and for this, text is very efficient. The result is a performance continuum (or record) rather than isolated bits of feedback. I’d think audio comments, even if only a few minutes long, might take time to review — for the teacher as well as students. For example, I can scan a text transcript quickly for info I need, but searching a video or recording is a hassle. Thus, even if the technical issues could be worked out, audio recordings may not be worth the extra effort they require. When the purpose is to convey info on problems and strengths in a student’s paper, perhaps the best medium is the one that’s quickest, easiest, and most effective. However, this decision may be a matter of teacher preference, and buy-in may be a critical factor in student success.

Sara, in Week 4 Activity Post — 10/3/13, says, “I find that students don’t know how to think critically.” In the context of her post, I understand where she’s coming from. However, I don’t think she means that “students don’t know how to think critically.” Of course they do — but maybe not in the areas and in the ways that we deem important in our fields of study. The fact is, the vast majority of human beings are excellent critical thinkers. The key, for teachers, is to tap into that natural ability by helping students connect it to the teacher’s topics. Students may need to learn new labels for what they already do, and they may need to learn how to refine their thinking, but we shouldn’t forget that teaching is often reminding students about what they already know and showing them how to transfer prior learning to newer contexts. In short, ignorance is relative.

Sara mentions a problem in Dr. Elder’s session: “I felt like most of  [the] session was spent explaining what critical thinking was.  I was looking for specific examples about how to implement it into a training or class and how to engage student in that thinking.” Most teachers are familiar with critical thinking principles in F2F settings, so their interest is in implementation in online contexts. She leaves us with a comment that I’d like to echo: “I would still like to know what others do besides asking probing questions to encourage critical thinking in their students.  I know there must be more strategies out there that would reach out to a more varied audience of learners and I would love to hear about them.”

Ida Brandao, in “MOOC How to Teach Online” (9/28/13), says, “I must confess that I have great difficulty to follow synchronous communication, for professional reasons, for reasons that one forgets the timings. So, most of the synchronous events I watch as recorded sessions.” I’m like Ida. While I’m watching the linear real-time progression slowly unravel, I keep wondering, Couldn’t this have been provided in text, for me to review at my own leisure, at my own pace, in my own way? Then again, I may be asking all the wrong questions.

Julio C. Castro, in “Suggested Reflections (week 3)” (10/2/13), says, “It is a tricky situation when you have to put together teams of students who have not met before in a on-site course. But to do it in an online class, it is even more difficult. My take on this is that, even though many instructors practice this, the students have to figure out themselves how to pair up, the instructor only needs to create the right environment.” I agree that teamwork in an online class is “even more difficult.” 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.

Julio, in “Activity Reflection (week 3)” (10/1/13), says, “It got me curious because I thought that maybe this is just some kind of resistance to the use of new technology or maybe there is indeed no foundation on the usefulness of this system in online learning. So, I think I have found a problem I liked to explore possible solutions to, that has really excited me.” Good point, Julio. My guess is that audio is simply not as efficient as text in forums. In discussion forums using text, we have a visual sense of the parts and the whole. If all were in audio, we’d lose that sense of location and finding and tracking individual posts would be baffling. Still, I applaud your spirit of inquiry and encourage your exploration.

Julio says, “I guess the big questions is whether discussion forums gain anything from implementing audio threads, here at UF there is no guidelines on how students use the tool, I think this time I will spend some effort on creating these guides to help students create a truly engaging community through voice and text.” I’d begin with this big question, too: Do “discussion forums gain anything from implementing audio threads”?

Leanne Riseley, in “Making Sense of Connecting with Learners and Creating Community” (10/1/13), says, “I created a new page with all of the technologies we use in the course on a single page. This page has video tutorials, resources, and links to tech support. In the past, I had the technology listed in my course syllabus and throughout the course modules, but now it is all in one place.” I slowly came to this “solution,” too. I use WordPress blogs for course info and developed a separate blog called “course resources,” a central location for info that’s repeated in all the separate course blogs. Course maintenance and info flow has become much more efficient.

Leanne says, “I’ve used teams in my online course for the last four years, constantly reviewing and revising the process each semester. A small change that I will be making –  I have always named my teams 1, 2, 3, etc. and encouraged the teams to pick their own names.” Please see my comment, above, to Julio re teams.

Mshin11, in “The best resources are your colleagues” (10/1/13), points to the Northern Arizona University site, an excellent resource for practical rubrics, for example:

Example 6: Wondering what you should do for the participation portion of our class?
What do I mean by a substantive post?

The following are some ideas to set the stage for substantive participation for the development of your critical thinking skills:

  • Ensure that the posting contributes to the overall discussion thread that is being developed. Your response must contain some reference back to the original discussion question.  Stay on track by always referring back to that original discussion question.
  • Try to use your posting to add value to the discussion. This is more effective than simply responding to meet a requirement.
  • Check to see that the posting expands on the main theme (in the discussion question, or assignment posting).
  • Make sure your posting is at least 75-150 words.

Other Ideas for Participation

  • Share a related experience.
  • Comment on others’ experiences.
  • Ask students questions about their ideas/experiences.
  • Consider an idea being discussed, and offer a different perspective on it.
  • Describe an interesting idea from the week’s reading, and explain what insights you gained from it.
  • Ask the group a question about the week’s reading.
  • Disagree (respectfully, of course) with a point that someone else has made.
  • Discuss a related issue on which you would like some feedback.
  • Describe how you have applied the recent course concepts to your personal/professional life.
  • Share another resource you have used as you explored the course topics.

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.




Week 4 Activity Post —

Critical Thinking — Creating a Natural Critical Thinking

This week I’ve really had to pull out my thinking cap.  I believe that teaching and encouraging critical thinking is one of the most difficult things we do especially on the collegiate level. Often, especially now with all of the required testing, I find that students don’t know how to think critically.  They have spent so many years in a system that has been so focused on teaching to the standardized tests, student aren’t given the tools to think much beyond regurgitating information spoon fed to them. To me this really causes issues on the collegiate level and leaves me wondering just what we can do to overcome this.  I was hoping this week to learn techniques that could help.

With that question in my mind, I selected items this week that I hoped would guide me toward activities I could share with the instructors I teach so that they could in turn use them in their online classrooms to encourage critical thinking.

1.  What?

     1.  Briefly describe what you did.

          This week I watched the two webinars (both the How to Promote Critical Thinking and the Engaging Students webinars) and was able to complete two of the readings.  The two readings I selected were Online vs. Traditional Course Evaluation Formats and Critical Thinking in Asynchronous Discussions.  I chose the first because I feel that the thoughts of our students can better help us design our courses and to determine what those thoughts are we need to evaluate our courses.  I chose the second because I was hoping to discover ways in which we can encourage more critical thinking in the online classroom.

2.  So what?

     1.  Describe why you did what you did.  What are your feelings about what you did?

           Like I said before, I chose these items in hopes of getting more ideas about just how I could implement more critical thinking into the courses being designed and taught by the instructors I work with.  For the most part, I felt a little disappointed in the material covered this week.  I was able to gain a few things from Debbie Morrison’s webinar and from Greg Walker’s article, but for the most part, I felt like most of Dr. Elder’s session was spent explaining what critical thinking was.  I was looking for specific examples about how to implement it into a training or class and how to engage student in that thinking. 

        2.  How will this help you?

              I will be able to take pieces of what was covered in both the Morrison session and the Walker paper and use those as I design trainings and pass the information I’m learning on to the instructors I work with.  The discussion prompts from the Morrison webinar will be most helpful as I can use these as suggested starting points for instructors.  I will use what I learned from Walker’s paper to suggest to instructors how they might create better discussion boards that inspire more, deeper thinking. 

        3. What did you learn from this experience?

            I learned that it’s important, especially on discussion boards, to ask probing, multidimensional questions that challenge students.  I learned that when this is done correctly, students take their learning into their own hands and learn more from the experience.

3.  What now?

          1.  What changes did you make?

          2.  What will you do differently in the future?

                I think the primary change I will make and what I will do differently in the future is to give more consideration to the types of questions I am asking for discussion boards and journals.  I think that with slightly different wording I could make my questions much more effective when it comes to encouraging critical thinking and student learning.

            3.   What do you still have to learn?

                   I would still like to know what others do besides asking probing questions to encourage critical thinking in their students.  I know there must be more strategies out there that would reach out to a more varied audience of learners and I would love to hear about them.

Activity reflection – week 4

I read the text of the website and some other articles of the readings (and the secondary literature) whose titles interested me. Then I made a sensemaking artifact, consisting of a mindmap with the ideas I found more practical for my professional scenario.
So what?
When it comes to technques and strategies to make my job as a teacher better, I rather synthesize than analyze, that’s why I chose a mindmap. I feel satisfied because I can access and read it in case I will need it. I created a practical tool for me.
I learn two things: first a new tool to make online mindmaps (gifly) and also to identify when a threaded discussion does not promote critical thinking.
What now?
⁃    What changes did you make?
Since I do not teach online, I couldn’t change anything.
⁃    What will you do differently in the future?
I will definitely promote learning through questions in case I teach online.
⁃    What do you still have to learn?
How to make good questions. I have no experience.

Hi everyone when reading the activities for week…

Hi everyone,
when reading the activities for week 4, I had a doubt about this statement: “2. How do you facilitate discussions in ways that promote critical thinking and discourages interaction?”. I have always read that interaction is needed for promoting knowledge. I do not understand why a “good” question should discourage interaction. Can someone clarify me what is meant in this context by “interaction”?
Thanks a lot,

Suggested Reflections (week 3)

  1. In your blog share some of your reflections of what you have learned this week.
    One of the things I have learned this week relates to team building in online settings. It is a tricky situation when you have to put together teams of students who have not met before in a on-site course. But to do it in an online class, it is even more difficult. My take on this is that, even though many instructors practice this, the students have to figure out themselves how to pair up, the instructor only needs to create the right environment. Maybe the instructor leaves breadcrumbs that students could follow. One way I envision doing this is by first start the course with a simple discussion introduction or a simple poll that could give details about what the students are interested about in the course. Then I would set up forums for them to come and start discussing topics that interest them. The first post would come from me and then I will let them know I am paying attention to their conversation so that they know I am present and interested in what they have to say. I will post encouraging comments to them so that they can keep discussing possible projects together.
  2. In particular, reflect on your experiences of two different facilitation styles or strategies for promoting critical thinking. What are the implications for the facilitation of online courses?
    In my experience in the classroom and the online environment the use of case studies and questions with not a definite answer can be effective as promoters of meaningful thinking. The case studies I have designed included images and in some cases, video. Then I would ask questions about how they use the data provided to come up with a solution that they can justify and defend. For the open-ended questions I would clarify that there is no right or wrong answer but their thinking process will be evaluated. In all these cases, I would establish in the guidelines that the best way to approach their response is by providing external resources they used for their research (I think there needs to be a clarification that I don’t expect them to complete the activities in one sit). These activities can be implemented in the classroom in a faster manner because the students and the instructor are in one place and the communication includes body language, voice tones, verbal cues, etc. In the online environment this is not possible, so the guidelines have to be designed carefully so that no loose ends will create confusion and discouragement on the students. The instructor has to make sure that the students feel that he/she is present in the forums, from time to time by making comments or by asking questions to the students. The students need to know that the instructor cares about their work and values their ideas express in the discussions.

I’m not (quite) dead yet!

Hello all,

Well, my participation in the course has dropped off significantly. I am bummed, because when I engage I find it really valuable. Ironically, it has made me give more attention to the online course I am teaching, which takes time away from this course! I basically have way too much on my plate- just moved into a fixer-upper, I have 2 jobs, working on my PhD, and being the primary caretaker of a 3 year old. I may just have to tune in when possible and pore over the archives over winter break!


A Gift from Pat — Vanessa Paz Dennen

Pat, in “Did we miss the point” (Online Learning, 9/30/13), shares an excellent resource on online discussions with a decided emphasis on online: Vanessa Paz Dennen’s “From Message Posting to Learning Dialogues: Factors affecting learner participation in asynchronous discussion” (Distance Education, 2005). According to Pat, “The article has specific examples of what is being discussed and how it was being used in the discussion forums.”

Following are excerpts from Dennen — with my comments in italics:

Vanessa Paz Dennen

Vanessa Paz Dennen

The research question for this naturalistic study was: “How does the design and facilitation of different types of asynchronous discussion activities impact student participation in terms of quantity, quality, timing, and nature of messages posted?”

Asynchronous discussions are unique to online learning. There is no traditional instruction method that is truly an analogue to asynchronous discussion, and thus this medium needs to be examined closely in order to generate knowledge that will help online instructors learn and make informed decisions about how to design and facilitate asynchronous course interactions.

Interaction requires “two discussants.” Just because students were composing and posting messages within these classes did not mean that they were engaging in dialogue. In order for dialogue to be present there needed to be evidence of at least two discussants who were communicating in response to each other.

Feedback and assessment are not necessarily the same. Assessment here refers to the assignment of a grade; feedback is a related issue, although feedback and assessment are not quite the same thing. An instructor might provide feedback without assessing a grade, and a grade may be assessed without providing any other feedback than the numerical or letter rating.

The impact of discussions may be found in “other course assignments.” Intersubjectivity among students was evident in many of the transcripts; in courses where actual dialogue occurred students were negotiating meaning relative to course content with each other. By communicating and pooling their shared experiences, they created a wealth of perspectives from which to draw upon in their other course assignments. Students repeatedly hailed these forums as a good place for exchanging and learning about different viewpoints.

Instructor presence can be established outside of the discussion forum. Instructor presence affected how much, and to whom, students wrote their messages in these courses. It could be established either within, or outside of, the discussion forum, and the most favorable presence seemed to be one that let students know that their messages were being read without taking over the discussion. Instructor presence was related to feedback and assessment; when there was no feedback or assessment, there likely was no instructor presence.

More than one way for instructor to be present. Instructor presence, given these observations, seems to be something that is important in moderation, and that can be achieved in different ways. It was established when students knew in one way or another that their instructor was reading their discussion contributions. [emphasis added]

Instructor domination is a no-no. On one end of the continuum was Dr F, whose classes had a great deal of instructor– student dialogue (he posted about half of all messages) but little peer dialogue. Dr F began most of the discussion threads and monitored the Web boards closely when they were open. His level of attention to the Web boards was admirable, yet created an instructor-centered feeling within the discussions. He responded quickly to student messages, which ensured that they received a response but also shut down the potential for much peer interaction, since students would not likely feel the need to respond when the instructor already had. In this class, students looked to Dr F for confirmation; on the few occasions when he was not present, they were upset. Student comments on the post-course survey indicated that his facilitation strategies caused problems, specifically a feeling of abandonment one week when he was ill and less active and a feeling that peer interaction was not appropriate.

Work smart, not hard. More is not necessarily better in terms of presence, and, as Dr B demonstrated, an instructor need not be a frequent contributor to an online discussion in order to have a presence.

Many online students are nontraditional, and their expectations are different from their traditional counterparts. Many of the instructors and students involved in this study, however, responded that for the non-traditional student socialization in a pure or traditional sense may not be an adequate motivator for generating discussion. . . . Students should be told explicitly that knowing and interacting with classmates will be an important part of their course experience.

Prompts aimed at opinions rather than a correct answer are better. The classes that generated lively discussions, such as Drs B’s and D’s, used discussion prompts that were phrased in a way that allowed everyone to take a different perspective or share their own point of view. . . . For example, if an instructor were to post a question with one clear, expected answer on a discussion board, there would be little use for multiple students to reply once the correct answer was given. Additionally, there would be little reason for students to discuss this topic further. On the other hand, if a discussion question allowed for multiple perspectives to be presented, supported, and argued, there is greater opportunity for students to engage in the activity.

Degree of instructor domination is inversely proportional to student-student dialoguing. An instructor taking an “expert” role had a clear effect on the tone of the discussion, with students writing to the instructor rather than to their peers. . . . Conversational treatment by the instructor generated higher quality student contributions

Conclusion. Further complicating the matter, there does not appear to be one correct or better way to teach via an online medium . . . instead, one’s contextual factors should greatly affect the selection of teaching methods and activities, just as they should in a traditional classroom. . . . Clearly, some approaches to group communication on the Web will better serve instructional purposes than others. . . . The experiences of these classes suggest that it is indeed possible to generate principles of instructional design and facilitation that may apply broadly to online instruction, encouraging student participation that ideally will support learning processes.

Activity Reflection (week 3)

Please post a reflection that addresses what you did this week, why you did what you did, and what you would do differently in the future. Your reflection will be framed by three broad questions: What? So what? What now?
  1. What?
    1. Briefly describe what you did.
      This week’s subject on making learners connect to each other has made me consider the application of audio and web 2.0 technologies like Voicethread, to discussion forums. If we establish rules for making posts of this type, I believe it can work. There is little research on this area yet, but I think the evidence is building up on the usefulness of these technologies in online teaching.
  2. So what?
    1. Describe why you did what you did. What are your feelings about what you did?
      I got curious after Dr. Farmakis presentation when I asked if she had used audio for discussion forums, then came a series of posts in the chat from some other attendees that leaned on the drawbacks of using the technology in the discussion setting. It got me curious because I thought that maybe this is just some kind of resistance to the use of new technology or maybe there is indeed no foundation on the usefulness of this system in online learning. So, I think I have found a problem I liked to explore possible solutions to, that has really excited me.
    2. How will this help you?
      The use of web 2.0 technologies for online learning is developing fast and I want to be a part of this inquiry. This new task is going to help hone my research skills in education research, which requires different methods than the ones I have used in engineering.
    3. What did you learn from the experience?
      That I should not be afraid of using new technologies for creating engaging and interactive activities in the discussion sections of my course. I also learned that there is still little research on the use of these technologies in online learning, maybe this research is being conducted now, but there a few papers out there already published. This is a fertile area for research, which I am hoping to conduct at some point later in my career.
  3. What now?
    1. What changes did you make?
      I will start making some activities that include the use of presentation tools such as Voicethread. One way we can implement this is by letting the students use a different identity if they choose to. They can also choose the using of the audio system only, we will have to create netiquette rules so that the postings do not get confusing to other students.
    2. What will you do differently in the future?
      I think I will start considering using web 2.0 tools, even though there is not enough research to support the effectiveness of many of these tools. Since I am interested in doing research later on, I think I might be able to find a topic here. I guess the big questions is whether discussion forums gain anything from implementing audio threads, here at UF there is no guidelines on how students use the tool, I think this time I will spend some effort on creating these guides to help students create a truly engaging community through voice and text.
    3. What do you still have to learn?
      I think I need to work on the guidelines and instructions for conducting audio postings for discussion forums. This is basically uncharted territory for me but I am excited about this possibility. In addition, there are other web 2.0 tools that I think can be used for online learning. I am especially interested in finding a good use of that app called Vine, maybe it could work for creative activities related to the arts and social sciences. The roadblock here is that this App is not integrating on any LMS so far, but I think this is going to change soon.

Making Sense of Connecting with Learners and Creating Community

I fell behind with creating my artifacts for the MOOC, but have been reading through the resources, viewing the webinars, and reading the discussion posting. I have tried to apply some of what I have learned by modifying the online course I teach. Here are a few things I have done and why.

  1. Getting Started Module – I revised my Getting Started Module. Although I had one before, I revised it with clearer prompts – What you should do first, what you should do next, when is the first assignment due, etc. Although all the information is in the course syllabus, I wrote it out clearly in the Getting Started Module. I revised this as a result of taking a step back and deciding how I wanted to teach this online course -part of Tony Bates’ webinar and 9 Steps to Quality Online Learning. I also read what others do to “orient” students to their courses and found some great ideas in the discussion posting.
  2. Technology In This Class – I created a new page with all of the technologies we use in the course on a single page. This page has video tutorials, resources, and links to tech support. In the past, I had the technology listed in my course syllabus and throughout the course modules, but now it is all in one place. I created this as a result of what Dr. Melissa Kaulbach said during a webinar that she is not tech support to all of her students. At times, I tried to be, but found that it was frustrating for both the student and me. It is much better to provide resources to the student and have them contact tech support to work out their computer problems.
  3. Connect with learners – I revised my introduction activity and my own introduction. I had been using Xtranormal to introduce myself. For those who are not familiar with it, Xtranormal was a free online animation tool that created movies that were posted and could be shared. I used to have students create one of their own as their introduction and they seemed to enjoy it. This past summer, Xtranormal closed. Based on the MOOC discussion, webinars, and content about creating community and connecting with learners, it seems connecting in the beginning is very important. It seemed important for students to “see” and “hear” the instructor and each other. I will be using Fotobabble to create my introduction and have students do the same. Fotobabble allows you to use a picture and your own voice for a short introduction. I will have them include their Fotobabble link as part of the written introduction on the discussion board. I also added two questions they could pick from to help them with their introduction posting. I learned from how Greg has structured this MOOC, that it is helpful to have prompting questions.
  4. Building Relationships – I revised my About Me information. Based on what Dr. Heather Farmakis shared, I revised and will continue to revise what I share with my students. In the past, I only shared minimal personal information and a photo of myself. However, based on what I’m learning in this MOOC, I can see how my story can encourage and positively influence my students. In addition to the Fotobabble, I am sharing how I started my career and took several turns to end up in education. I will share how my past experiences have shaped the way I teach, what I have learned, and why I enjoy teaching the course. Currently, my story is on a webpage, but I’m thinking of making it into a Prezi as Dr. Farmakis did or a Powtoon to experiment with using Powtoons.
  5. Teams – I’ve used teams in my online course for the last four years, constantly reviewing and revising the process each semester. A small change that I will be making –  I have always named my teams 1, 2, 3, etc. and encouraged the teams to pick their own names. Most teams never changed their name. Based on what came up in one of the webinars, I will change the team names to colors. I had always thought that it wasn’t good to name the first team Team 1, so I started forming the teams backwards (starting with Team 5 and ending with Team 2), but that didn’t work very well. I like the idea of using colors.  I also liked what Brent shared in one of the Weekly Roundups on how he assesses teamwork. As a result of what he shared, I created a Google Form for students to give me feedback at the completion of each project on how the teamwork went. I will give students a team grade for the project they turn in AND an individual grade based on their feedback of how the teamwork went. In the past, I only gave them a team grade for the project and assessed teamwork at the completion of all the projects. However, based on what I have learned in this MOOC, I will make a small change and assess teamwork after each project as well as after all the projects.
  6. Create a natural critical learning environment – I have used Problem-Based Learning (PBL) for the last four years and by using PBL students need to uncover/discover information on their own, use critical thinking and communication skills to synthesize the information into a meaningful product, and apply computer skills to present their findings. What I would like to incorporate more into the course is the questioning strategies brought up in this week’s MOOC. I would like to give students the opportunity to process questions and develop written responses to these questions. Greg has modeled well the power of reflection and asking thought-provoking questions and I need to think further about how that could be incorporated into my course.

I feel like I had a pretty good course before taking this MOOC, but making changes, tweaks, and additions will be improve the course and benefit the students.


The best resources are your colleagues

Everyone knows this and it is proven time and time again, but a “thank you” reminder is always nice.  I have been pilfering from all the rubric examples people have posted links to–recently and earlier in the MOOC–and now have a good base to choose from.  The best thing besides having an awesome rubric for online discussion is that, by reading them, I understand the expectations for online discussion posts.  They have definitely been informative to me and I can see the scaffolding of what separates a good comment from a great one much more clearly.

The Northern Arizona University site was a particular favorite of mine as well because it provided “classroom management” tools as well, like expectations for “attendance” and participation and “nettiquette.”

The four methods of Questioning strategies were a helpful read.  I have already, like most teachers, utilized all four (to some extent) in my classroom, but it is nice to see them so clearly defined with key words and examples.  The “Socratic” method was the only one where I knew the actual name to the strategy and I rely on that one a lot–often with quite leading questions when necessary.  In the physical classroom, it is easy to start the “leading question” and then kind of leave it hanging while my facial expression clearly indicates that I expect someone to follow up.   In the online world, I suppose that is what ellipses are for.

Right now the only “online” component to my courses are my announcements on Laulima and my databank of all the materials in Resources.  But next semester I want to take everything I have learned about online discussions and move some of the readings and discussion onto the Laulima discussion board.




Sample Rubrics for Discussions

by Jen Hegna

Debbie Morrison, as a followup from her webinar, provided these resources for rubrics from various higher ed colleges.  They are good resources for creating your own rubrics for discussion board assignments. Revise them to fit your own class situation and grading scheme.

Comments on Selected Week 4 Resources: ‘Natural Critical Learning Environment’

The following is a quick review of the following authors from the list of resources, including brief excerpts from each: Ken Bain, Debbie Morrison, Greg Walker, Hua Bai, Nega Debela & Berlin Fang, Erst Carmichael and Helen Farrell.

Greg Walker

Greg Walker

As expected, the packages are labeled “online” but the contents are pretty much standard onground material. The most difficult turn to make in online teaching is the one that separates the F2F mindset from the virtual. The medium is the message, but the message in the online medium is still the F2F instructional framework. But there’s one exception, and that’s Greg Walker, who attempts to match the message with the medium. He says, “Blanchette (2001) found that asynchronous discussions allow for a higher level of cognitive questions that encourage critical thinking,” and the difference, he says, is that “learners have more time to process questions and develop responses.”

Carol B. MacKnight

Carol B. MacKnight

Carol B. MacKnight wasn’t included in the list, but she mentions this disconnect between online and F2F orientations: “The question is whether faculty can change their teaching strategies to use online communication tools effectively to help every member in the class go beyond being exposed to content to the point of critically interacting with it” (Teaching Critical Thinking Through Online Discussions, Educause Quarterly, 2000). This article is thirteen years old, and many today may not have a clue what MacKnight means by “bulletin board” in the following statement: “The bulletin board offers the possibility for coaching discussions to take students ideas to the next level to deeper, more intellectual, and reflective learning.” They’re the forerunners of today’s web-based discussion forums, and in the days before the web, they were accessed via modems run on telephone lines.

I like MacKnight’s plain wording in the following list: “Going online, students must have a clear understanding of the goal of the activity and have the necessary social skills to:

• ask the right questions,
• listen to each other,
• take turns and share work,
• help each other learn,
• respect each other’s ideas,
• build on each other’s ideas,
• construct their own understanding, and
• think in new ways.”

Still, the information in the readings is excellent and underscores strategies for incorporating critical thinking into discussions, F2F and online. I’m surprised that the context for critical thinking is limited to discussion outcomes and ignores project outcomes since discussions aren’t usually ends in themselves but tools or means to generate deeper thinking that’s reflected in papers or reports. Bain, however, does allude to this procedural function of discussions: “Because the best teachers plan their courses backward, deciding what students should be able to do by the end of the semester, they map a series of intellectual developments through the course.”

The point is that we may not see the impact of critical thinking activities in the discussions themselves until the culminating project is completed. This final artifact, paper or presentation, is the summative outcome, and it should be factored into the equation (as an independent variable) for successful discussions.

Finally, I’m a writing teacher, and the philosophical background that I share with my colleagues is the classical field of rhetoric. In rhetoric, the study of logical fallacies is fundamental. These fallacies are a classification of the ways in which we, as human beings, fall short in critical thinking. In discussion forums, exercises in applying these fallacies to political arguments, TV commercials, or students’ own analyses could go a long way toward cultivating critical thinking.


Ken Bain

Ken Bain

Excerpts from Ken Bain’s “What Makes Great Teachers Great?” (Chronicle, 4/9/04):

[Main point:] Create a natural critical learning environment. “Natural” because what matters most is for students to tackle questions and tasks that they naturally find of interest, make decisions, defend their choices, sometimes come up short, receive feedback on their efforts, and try again. “Critical” because by thinking critically, students learn to reason from evidence and to examine the quality of their reasoning, to make improvements while thinking, and to ask probing and insightful questions.

Five essential elements that make up a good [natural] learning environment:

  1. An intriguing question or problem.
  2. Guidance in helping students understand the significance of the question…. The best teachers tend to embed the discipline’s issues in broader concerns, often taking an interdisciplinary approach…. Good teachers remind students how the current question relates to some larger issue that already interests them.
  3. Engages students in some higher-order intellectual activity: encouraging them to compare, apply, evaluate, analyze, and synthesize, but never only to listen and remember.
  4. Raise[s] important inquiries but challenge[s] students to develop their own explanations and defend them.
  5. Leaves students wondering: “What’s the next question?” and “What can we ask now?”

In all these examples [of optimal learning environments], students encounter safe yet challenging conditions in which they can try, fail, receive feedback, and try again without facing a summary evaluation. [emphasis added]

Teachers succeed in grabbing students’ attention by beginning a lecture with a provocative question or problem that raises issues in ways that students had never thought about before, or by using stimulating case studies or goal-based scenarios.

The best professors do in class what they think will best help their students to learn outside of class, between one meeting and the next.

Because the best teachers plan their courses backward, deciding what students should be able to do by the end of the semester, they map a series of intellectual developments through the course….

The professors we studied assume that learning facts can occur only when students are simultaneously engaged in reasoning about those facts.

The very best teachers offered a balance of the systematic and the messy.


Debbie A. Morrison

Debbie A. Morrison

Excerpts from Debbie Morrison’s “Critical Thinking in the Online Classroom” (Online Learning Insights, 5/24/12):

Community of Inquiry (CoI) model: instructor presence, social presence, cognitive presence

From the educators perspective -  we want the student to become interested, in the topic (trigger), and be motivated to explore, ask questions, discuss (exploration),  leading students to construct knowledge, learn and think by means of discourse and discussion (integration) and finally to think critically, apply the knowledge to other areas, draw conclusions and demonstrate knowledge (resolution).

Here are some examples of types of activities that support cognitive presence[:] discussion forums, small group activities, forum structured for a debate, reflection activities.

[Successful] cognitive building activities…. provoked the students to explicitly confront others’ opinions.


Excerpts from Greg Walker’s “Critical Thinking in Asynchronous Discussions” (International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, June 2005):

Strategies for using critical thinking in asynchronous discussions: writing activities, using subject matter experts, role playing , questioning (convergent, divergent, evaluative, Socratic).

Effective questioning strategies guide asynchronous discussions and promote critical interaction. Blanchette (2001) found that asynchronous discussions allow for a higher level of cognitive questions that encourage critical thinking. Learners have more time to process questions and develop responses, and the learner’s cognitive level of response often matches the cognitive level of the questions asked. Higher level cognitive and affective questions encourage learners to interpret, analyze, evaluate, infer, explain and self regulate. According to Wilson (2002) there are four types of questions that encourage learners to use higher levels of cognitive, or affective, processes for critical thinking. They are convergent, divergent, and evaluative questions. Blanchette (2001) found that evaluative questions were asked most often in asynchronous discussions. Divergent and evaluative questions generated the most interaction, and evaluative questions provided the greatest motivation for discussion. [Blanchette, J. (2001). Questions in the online learning environment. Journal of Distance Education, 16, 2. Retrieved June 11, 2005.]


Hua Bai

Hua Bai

Excerpts from Hua Bai’s “Facilitating Students’ Critical Thinking in Online Discussion: An Instructor’s Experience” (Journal of Interactive Online Learning, summer 2009):

This study intended to examine whether introducing this inquiry model [see below] to students as a guide of online postings can facilitate students’ critical thinking.

Garison, Anderson and Archer (2000, 2001) … practical inquiry model …. According to this model, critical inquiry is presented in a sequence of four phases, which are triggering event, exploration, integration and resolution. In the phase of triggering event, students communicate a dilemma or a problem from an experience. In exploration phase, students brainstorm, search for clarification and exchange information. Students’ inquiry in integration phase is characterized by integrating knowledge and information into a concept and creating meaning from the ideas generated in the phase of exploration. In the phase of resolution, students test and implement solution to the problem or issue through real world application. [Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 20 (2-3), 87-105.]

[Results:] In this study, no evidence of resolution was found in the two threads, which may be due to the question that initiated the discussion. The question asked students to talk about their arguments and grounds. It was not designed to engage students in applying and testing the ideas or solutions, which in turn, did not promote students’ thinking in resolution phase. This suggested that to help students’ cognitive activity progress to resolution stage, thought-provoking question needs to be generated to guide and facilitate the discourse toward higher order thinking that involves practical application and problem solving. As King (1995) said, “the level of thinking that occurs is influenced by the level of questions asked. We can use particular questions to induce in students whatever specific thinking processes we wish” (p. 13). [King, A. (1995). Designing the instructional process to enhance critical thinking across the curriculum. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 13-17.]

[Interesting quotes:]

Most important, text-based communication and asynchronous environment encourage reflective learning, in-depth thinking and meaningful processing of information.

McLoughlin and Luca (2000) found that most of the postings consisted of “comparing and sharing information”, with “little evidence of construction of new knowledge, critical analysis of peer ideas or instances of negotiation” [McLoughlin, C., & Luca, J. (2000). Cognitive engagement and higher order thinking through computer conferencing: We know why but do we know how? Teaching and Learning Forum 2000, Retrieved March 20, 2008.]

Angeli, Valanides and Bonk (2003) examined undergraduate student teachers’ communication in case-based instruction using asynchronous web-based conferencing tool. The results showed that students’ interactions primarily focused on sharing personal experiences and offering personal opinions without reasoning. Little evidence of in-depth discussion and critical thinking was found.[Angeli, C., Valanides, N., & Bonk, C. J. (2003). Communication in a web-based conferencing system: the quality of computer-mediated interactions. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34, 31-43.]

Swan, Schenker, Arnold and Kuo (2007) also found that students responded more often to others and discussed in greater depth after they were informed of evaluation criteria of online behaviors. [Swan, K., Schenker, J., Arnold, S., & Kuo, C. (2007). Shaping online discussion: Assessment matters. E-mentor, 1(18). Retrieved March 6, 2008.]

Ertmer et al. (2007) investigated the use of peer feedback in increasing the quality of students’ online discussion. They suggested that requiring students to provide feedback to one another may help to maintain the quality level of postings that has been reached. [Ertmer, P. A., Richardson, J. C., Belland, B., Camin, D., Connolly, P., Coulthard, et al. (2007). Using peer feedback to enhance the quality of student online postings: An exploratory study. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(2). Retrieved December 16, 2007.]

Debela & Fang

Nega Debela

Nega Debela

Excerpts from Nega Debela and Berlin Fang, “Using Discussions to Promote Critical Thinking in an Online Environment” (Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, 2008):

Roberson (2006) states that “the medieval sacredness of information clashes with the modern deluge of information.” This results in what Roberson calls the “Insanity of the modern university course” in which we “press harder and harder to teach more and more information, while students achieve less and less.” [Roberson, B. (2006, August). Subverting the academic model……so learning can finally take place. Workshop conducted at Marshall University, Huntington, WV.]

Berlin Fang

Berlin Fang

Critical thinking skills can be grounded in all real world situations such as political analysis judgment about television reporting (Brookfield, 1987). [Brookfield, Stephen. (1987) Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting. San Francisco: Jossey Bass]

However, “being critical” is only a small portion of what constitutes critical thinking. More importantly, it is a process to develop a rational position or attitude, to achieve a goal, or to solve a problem. Critical thinking helps us to become better problem solvers and more rational decision makers.

This study has very practical value for other teachers of the course because it explores what is critical thinking that is hailed to be of critical significance for educators, how it can be operationalized, and how it can be cultivated using tools that are already available to us.

[Conclusion:] Students in this qualitative research have liked the format currently being used to teach and enhance critical thinking. The respondents differ in their opinions about the level of the instructor involvement in the discussion. However, there seem to be a general consensus that faculty should be involved as long as they help students to develop skills in their higher-order thinking skills. This shows that faculty members can indeed play the role of helpers in the development of their cognitive skills.

Carmichael & Farrell

Excerpts from Erst Carmichael and Helen Farrell’s “Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Online Resources in Developing Student Critical Thinking: Review of Literature and Case Study of a Critical Thinking Online Site” (Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 2012):

Guided discovery supports users’ construction of knowledge and their ability to apply this new knowledge to other contexts, and is therefore the architecture most suited to the development of critical thinking. Ideally, Keats and Schmidt (2007) argue, the social interactivity of technology – especially in relation to sharing and discussion of ideas – has the potential to connect HE students to the international community to create a wider socio-political learning environment. This wider environment should provide additional opportunities to develop critical thinking. This categorisation is considered to be appropriate for the case study to be examined in this paper.

This paper reports on a case study of an online Blackboard site at the University of Western Sydney, where analysis of patterns of usage of the online site and qualitative analysis of student feedback provide evidence to support its effectiveness for encouraging students’ critical thinking.

[Conclusion:] This case study demonstrates that many students find online learning about critical thinking to be helpful, stimulating and engaging. It verifies that some students enjoy learning in their own space and time and that this site contained suitable content,
sample texts, practice examples and timely feedback…. Findings in this case study indicate that stand-alone resources can achieve perceived benefits for students…. There is also potential to expand the current site into a freely accessible website, with opportunity for greater national and international interaction together with interesting research opportunities.

Webinar Tuesday: Engaging Students in Taking Ownership of Content Through Thinking…

Tuesday , October 1st, 12 pm- 1 pm, Hawaii Standard Time (HST). World Clock 

A key insight into content (and into thinking) is that all content represents a distinctive mode of thinking. Math becomes intelligible as one learns to think mathematically. Biology becomes intelligible as one learns to think biologically. History becomes intelligible as one learns to think historically. This is true because all subjects are: generated by thinking, organized by thinking, analyzed by thinking, synthesized by thinking, expressed by thinking, evaluated by thinking, restructured by thinking, maintained by thinking, transformed by thinking, LEARNED by thinking, UNDERSTOOD by thinking, APPLIED by thinking. If you try to take the thinking out of content, you have nothing, literally nothing, remaining. Learning to think within a unique system of meanings is the key to learning any content whatsoever. This session, in other words, explores the intimate, indeed the inseparable relationship between content and thinking.

By Dr. Linda Elder

Dr. Linda Elder is an educational psychologist and a prominent authority on critical thinking. She is President of the Foundation for Critical Thinking and Executive Director of the Center for Critical Thinking. Dr. Elder has taught psychology and critical thinking at the college level and has given presentations to more than 20,000 educators at all levels. She has co-authored four books, including Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life and Twenty-Five Days to Better Thinking and Better Living. She has co-authored eighteen thinker’s guides on critical thinking and co-authors a quarterly column on critical thinking in the Journal of Developmental Education.

Dr. Elder has also developed an original stage theory of critical thinking development.  Concerned with understanding and illuminating the relationship between thinking and affect, and the barriers to critical thinking, Dr. Elder has placed these issues at the center of her thinking and her work.

With experience in both administration and the classroom, Dr. Elder understands firsthand the problems facing educators. She is a dynamic presenter who reaches her audience on a person-to person level.

Online learning 2013-09-30 21:56:00

Did we miss the point.  After watching Walker's recorded weekly wrap-up session - it floated into my mind.  Why are we talking about discussion forums and social presence/content presence when really we would probably all learn a lot more if this course about online learning was within a LMS and someone was modeling these techniques rather than hearing gurus talk about the "art" of online learning.

The part from this wrap-up that probably moved me onto this vein was  the statement of "modeling social context, interactivity and a sense of privacy".   After hearing this, I wrote the phrase down and put ???  in the margin and I am still pondering this. What does this look like - could someone show me it in an actual discussion forum?

"Teaching and social presence is basic learning but cognitive presence takes learning beyond the basic towards application and appreciation." This is another one that needed me to go back over the definitions. So here we want to find out whether the learners have had critical discourse reflected on what they were discussing in the forum and have they constructed personal meaning and confirmed our mutual understanding. Another aught moment.

The one thing that this week has done for me is underlined that teaching on-line and especially the discussion board/forums are an enigma.  Even after going through the course materials this week and participating in Dr. Healther Farmakis' Blackboard presentation and listening to the weekly wrap-up t I was still thinking I was a fish out of water. I reviewed some on-line learning articles I had found a couple of years ago when I was keen on improving my on-line discussions.  CREST+ Model: Writing Effective Online Discussion Questions, (2007) Akin & Neal this article talks about types of discussion questions from problem based to literature-based to an experiential element.  The thing that I still think is missing it is that it is fine to talk in the abstract but if you are new to on-line learning it would help if there were samples of these types of discussions and responses. I appreciate Vanessa Paz Dennen's articles in Distance Education, "From Message Posting to Learning Dialogues: Factors affecting learner participation in asynchronous discussion" (2005)as the article has specific examples of what is being discussed and how it was being used in the discussion forums.  What I gathered from analysis is that the more personal or relevant to the participants lives they more likely they are to expand in the discussion forum. The other article by her that I found very informative was "Lookinf for evidence of learning: Assessment and analysis methods for online discourse (2008).  In this article she makes the point that if participants are engaging in an activity it should "somehow enhance the learning experience" p 206 (2008)  The question then becomes how does this look or as an online facilitator how do you ensure that this experience happens? What I appreciated here was that she provided a couple of discussion board samples and then proceeded to analyze them.

Moving forward I think that without marks attached it is not likely you will have the entire class participate.  Lurking is not valued in the online environment whereas we appreciate students coming to class even if they do not actively participate in class discussion.  If your course lends itself to current events then capturing these events in the discussion forum will enhance the discussion. Another way to enhance the discussion is to create roles ex.) white hat, black hat, critic etc. The art of being online is to create a discussion forum that really is a discussion.

Akin, Lynn & Diane Neal CREST+ Model: Writing Effective Online Discussion Question, MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, Vol 3, No, 2, June 2007
Paz Dennen, Vanessa, Looking for evidence of learning: Assesment and anlaysis methods for online discourse,  Computers in Human Behavior 24 (2008) 205-219.
Paz Dennen, Vanessa, From Message Posting to Learning Dialogues: Factors affecting learner partiipation in asynchronous discussion, Distance Education, Vol 26, No 1, May 2005 pp127-148

Lilly Conference on College & University Teaching – California

For 33 years, Lilly Conferences on College and University Teaching and Learning have provided opportunities for the presentation of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. This interdisciplinary teaching conference includes faculty, administrators, and graduate students from across the United States and abroad. Participants are given the opportunity to exchange ideas, build a repertoire of skills that can be put to immediate use, and to network with colleagues.

Discussion Questions (week 3)

  1. How does teamwork in an online class change the course dynamics?
    The dynamics change because now the learning objectives become a common goal for the group as opposed to individually achieving the same goals. There is the added advantage that a group will pool the strengths of each individual member to make a more cohesive group, one individual would not have all the strengths that a group has. Plus the collaboration between individuals create a stronger bond that can last for a long time beyond the duration of the course.
  2. How do you prepare, help and facilitate learners to work in teams in an online course?
    What I have use in the past is an activity that the students complete at the beginning of the course. This can be in the form of answering some questions in the discussion forum or filling out a survey. The idea here is to collect data on why the students are taking the course, their motivation, which subjects they are interested in learning more, and maybe their backgrounds. Based on this, I created forums with subjects collected from this activity and the I invited students to join whichever they wanted. At this point I laid the rules for the forum and them let them work together on a project of their choosing. I would monitor the discussions to make sure they were making progress on their projects and would ask questions when necessary. I will try to use this same approach in my new course, but I will also add the progress presentation so that I can have a better idea of what they are doing.
  3. How do you move the community through the phases of learner engagement and evolving expectations?
    The first two weeks of the class are very crucial because this is the time when the student will decide that the class is worth the effort. How can we engage the student during this time? I think I can design a few activities such as posts answering questions about the material or questions from other students, or from the me, the instructor, that I would ask the students from time to time. Thus, it is very important that the activities in the beginning of the course are designed around interesting questions about the material and subjects being exposed in the lessons. One very useful tool is designing case scenarios where they can apply what they just learned. During this activities I expect the students will ask questions about the scenarios, which will add to the discussion. I think we can also add questions about some of the resources provided in the lesson, which hopefully will bring more questions from the students. At some point after the second week, it would be important to ask the students to start discussion sessions among them, I could be also monitor these sessions making sure they stay on topic.
  4. How do you use prompts to move discussion through the cognitive phases, of Triggering event > Exploration > Synthesis > Resolution?
    I think I would like my students to post initially what they are interested in the class, if I identify some that may not have a clear idea of what they would like to post, I will initiate the forum by explaining some of the key parts from the class structure. Then, for those who actually expressed an interest in some subject, I would provide another post with some key explanations and resources they could use to start exploring. Then I would start posting questions oriented towards applications of those subjects mentioned in the first postings and I will monitor the following week to assess the response from the students. I will try to keep the conversation towards the research they are doing at this point, I will post questions related to their findings to assess if they are actually doing research. Then in the following week I will post questions where they can apply what they have learned from the research process, case scenarios, examples, applications will help the students apply their new knowledge. Finally, I will ask them to propose new applications where they think their new knowledge would apply.
  5. How would you facilitate and guide students who are “lost or off track” to help them reach the stated course objectives and outcomes?
    The first thing I would do is arrange a one-on-one session with each student, either by webinar or by phone. I will ask them if they are aware that they have fallen behind the course, and then I will listen to the reasons they have fallen behind. Depending on the reasons for this, I will help them create a plan to move forward, they can start drafting a plan that suits them to catch up with the course. If they are not motivated by the course, I will ask them what was the reason that made them sign up in the first place, if they are finding the course not what they were expecting, I will write down their reasons and take note for future improvements, and then maybe leaving the course would be a better option for them. It might be that they are finding the material difficult to assimilate. In this case, I will develop supplemental material that will help them understand the material in the course.
  6. Discussion Forums
    1. What were the characteristics of online discussion posts that you thought were of exceptionally high quality?
      I think I can point out first to the characteristics around the format and layout areas. The best posts I have seen contain no grammatical errors (I wish I was that good), and you can tell that the author spent a deal of time going over different versions of the post until the right one finally came out (another thing I wish I could do better), also the post is easy to read because the author made sure the sentences were short and the paragraphs contain a few lines only. Regarding the layout, in the best posts there is always the issue being presented in the first lines, then come the supporting arguments and finally a way of conclusion showing why the author was either agreeing or disagreeing with the first post. Then finally, the best posts have the best content (references, supporting material like videos, links or images). The most important characteristic of them all is that the you can tell the author is not just vomiting words to fill out space, and I think anybody can tell a post with this issue, you can follow the author’s line of thought and understand instantly his/her position on the issue at hand.
    2. How would you create a discussion to elicit deep meaningful learning?
      The best way one can create such discussion (and I have seen it being used here) is to create a series of questions from the lesson content that the students may have not considered before. For example, we could look at a different point of view on the subject, other than the one presented in the material. Or we could pose a question in which we ask the students to think about a case in which the presented material would apply. Another type of question is to use a case that seems to contradict what was presented as the general case, we can ask what is wrong with the case and if it in fact derails all what was exposed in the lesson. My favorite one is when we can ask a question about what would happen if a rule, law, principle did not exist and how that would affect the presented cases or examples in the lessons.
    3. What criteria would you use in a rubric for assessing a discussion?
      I think the first one would be a minimum number of words, then I would add in the rubric an item for “were all the questions answered?”, if the post is related to an opinion I would add a criterion for the side of the issue they were on, especially if it was clear which side they were abrogating. Another criterion I would add is related to follow up to initial post so that a conversation is happening. Of course, another rubric would pertain to their attendance, if they just post once in awhile they should not be getting a grade for it.
  7. Live Interaction
    1. What are the benefits and limitations of emerging types of synchronous online learning?
      I think the best advantage of synchronous activities is that the instructor has close contact with the students, and if the instructor is willing to grant the microphone to the students, it add human touch to hear their voices. The students also get to know the instructor because he/she can make sure to use icebreaking introductions to ease the students in the session. The instructor also gets to present supplemental material not included in the lessons posted online. If the instructor also has a webcam, the students have the opportunity to meet the instructor in person, the same goes to the students who have a webcam. The limitations on the use of synchronous tools seem to fall on the technology side. If the student has bad internet connection, the experience can be frustrating. On the same topic, students that are not technology savvy will have difficulty using the technological tools used in synchronous learning. Another disadvantage of synchronous tools is that students may not have enough time to digest the material being conveyed, and collaboration from the will be limited because they have not had time to analyze the content.
    2. How can asynchronous and synchronous e-learning complement each other in learning online?
      In many cases it is related to how fast a response time the student needs while working on a class activity. Most of the lessons and content are posted for the student to review at their own pace, but then if they have questions or clarification in a particular subject, then the synchronous session will provide the opportunity to ask questions to the instructor. On the other hand, the student can send emails to the instructor, the instructor may decide that the answer will require a live explanation, in this case it makes sense to have a synchronous session to review the questions. In collaborative projects, the students may decide to use the discussion forum to keep updated on the progress, or they may decide to use a live session to have a more dynamic interaction. It seems to me that most of the activities in an online course can be made asynchronous one way or another, but the synchronous version may be adequate in some circumstances when the activity requires immediate feedback.

The Vulnerability Imperative in Online Learning: A Response to Julio

Julio C. Castro in “Essential question (week 3)” (Momenta Learning 9/24/13): “A great way to help my students [put] themselves out there and at the same time, help them generate creative and innovative solutions is by inviting them to create a blog where they can express their ideas and bounce around possible solutions and scenarios with others. The discussion forums I will create for the students to manage on their own while they work on their projects, will include directions on how to set up a blog and I will add that all of the participants interact with those blogs by visiting them and comment on the posts from the author. My hope is that some of them will eventually use the blog as a creative tool later on, on a permanent basis. I will also invite them to create a profile in systems similar to LinkedIn (professional associations) because this exposes you to others that can take a look at your work and provide feedback. Creating projects that can later be shared with others online is a great creative process, at least [it] is working for me so far”1 (emphasis added).


Greg and his staff posted a quote from Brené Brown in the activity description: “I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives. And I’ve come to the belief … that vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage — to be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen, to be honest. So let me go on the record and say, vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that.”

Courage, plain and simple, means risk taking. How do we teach courage? This is a tough question. Some would argue that it’s genetic — but I disagree. I think it’s teachable. It begins with parents, but if it’s neglected in the home, then schools and colleges have the responsibility.

When I say to my students, “Have the courage to risk new ideas and to question the status quo,” I’m also saying “Think!”

In my schooling, the best teachers encouraged and became excited by students who took risks in the world of ideas. For them, it wasn’t “my way or the highway” but “take us on the freeway for a ride in your car.” The goal in discussions wasn’t “how to figure out the answer in the teacher’s head” but “to share what’s new in all our heads.”

How do we teach courage? Perhaps the simplest answer is to model it. In an earlier post, I mentioned my freshman comp teacher, A. J. Alexander. He was my first encounter with an authentic teacher, and the impact on me was life changing. He didn’t say be courageous. He was courageous. (Some might even say he was crazy.) In our first session, he sat on the desk in front of the class. Behind him, above the chalkboard, was a “NO SMOKING” sign. He lit a cigarette, smoked it, killed it on the side of the desk, walked over to the waste basket and tossed it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget his “Miss May, will you please shut up.” She sat in the front row and was quietly talking to the person next to her while Alexander was lecturing.

Shocking behavior for a teacher. But for a 17-year-old straight out of high school, it was mindblowing. And he was like this, consistently, in all phases of the course. He turned a bunch of us into English majors that fall — students who would’ve said “no way” if you asked us a few months earlier. Literature and writing suddenly became real, pulsing with life and energy — like rock ‘n’ roll — far from the dull gray words stained on yellowed paper in the outdated textbooks we used in high school.

I later learned that courage didn’t always come in piss and fire but also came in subtler packages. But the common denominator was the eyes that lit up when they heard authentic thinking from a student. That connection between student, idea, and teacher is powerful stuff.

We all have built-in crap detectors, and in students they’re probably cranked all the way up. They know BS when they hear it, and for many BS is synonymous with getting good grades. So the first step in courage making may be to be honest. Sounds simple, but hard to do when reward lies in the opposite direction.

When we’re honest, we allow others into the secret places in our minds, and we feel vulnerable. But the alternative is . . .

Being honest, taking risks, having courage — it doesn’t mean posting a photo, video, or bio or being outrageous for its own sake; and it doesn’t mean pouring your heart out or being stupid and putting yourself or others in danger. I think we all recognize it when we see it. We’re engineered by nature to value it. It’s in our DNA. So the answer is within each of us, i.e., if we care to take a look.

1 Julio is responding to the question related to the “Video of the Week“: “If vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change how can you teach your students to be more creative using the Internet?” The video: “Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability,” TED, YouTube, 1/3/11.

Webinar Monday 9/30- How to Promote Critical Thinking in the Online Classroom

How to Promote Critical Thinking in the Online Classroom

Monday, September 30th, 12pm- 1pm, Hawaii Standard Time (HST). World Clock 

Overview:  The webinar will comprise a 15 to 20 minute presentation on the fundamentals of presence in the online classroom, with a focus on strategies that promote critical thinking. Power point slides will accompany the presentation, and can be made available to participants. Questions from participants will be encouraged.

Webinar Description:Strategies for promoting critical thinking among online students are shared and discussed in this Webinar. Participants will identify the three core principles needed to create an online presence—the foundation of promoting deep and meaningful learning for online students. This interactive session will provide opportunity for discussion, and participants will leave with ideas and tactics for creating a strategy that promotes critical thinking in their own online classroom.

By Debbie Morrison

‘Community’ As a Relative Structure: A Response to Rachael

Rachael in her reply (9/26) to Sarah’s “Week 3 – Activity Reflection“: “In another semester I used blogs instead of discussion boards. Students worked in teams to create an artifact (of individual artifacts) to answer an essential question that was general enough to allow them to choose how they wanted to approach it. They posted to their team blogs and commented on each other’s blogs. It worked out well because they were creating artifacts that were purposeful and contributing to the online community instead of it staying in a ‘closed garden’ in the LMS forums” (emphasis added).


I never actually thought about why I prefer to set up my courses in “public” WordPress blogs and ask my students to do the same for publishing and sharing their drafts. Thus, as I browsed the conversations in our TOMOOC community, Rachael’s comment above jumped out at me.

In a sense, communities are relative constructs without borders, at once a group of people sharing a single space and time as well as a network that’s linked to countless other networks that transcend space and time. It’s difficult to wrap our heads around the idea that the largest community of all is the web, which links billions of people throughout the world in a single Network that comprises all the networks on Earth.

The overwhelming image for me is the individual, via smartphones, tablets, and notebooks, connected to every one of the 2.5 billion people as well as the countless sources of information on the internet.

With this link to the world in our pockets and backpacks, I can’t help but feel that the “‘closed garden’ in the LMS forums” where we, as educators, construct our interactive sessions may be stifling for students and teachers. Why, I wonder, do we build walls around learning when the world’s resources are all around us.

Surely, to prepare our students for the 21st century, we need to make sure that they are capable of creating, sustaining, and leveraging their own presence in the worldwide online community. For them, to be is to be equally at home onground and online.

In a way, what we’re practicing in TOMOOC is a model for the power of learning when it’s open and connected to the internet. In the recent stats shared by the staff, we can see that our conversations are reaching a much wider audience from around the world. In last year’s MOOC, for example, I mentioned Dave Cormier1 in one of my posts and actually received a comment from Dave himself — who wasn’t directly connected to the MOOC.

In an earlier post, I responded to Rachael’s comment re authentic learning. The idea was that learning ought to be as “real” as possible for students, and Rachael’s comment here re “closed” versus “open” learning spaces is a another side of that same coin.

1 “The term MOOC was coined in 2008 by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island and Senior Research Fellow Bryan Alexander of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education in response to a course called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (also known as CCK08). CCK08 . . . was led by George Siemens of Athabasca University and Stephen Downes of the National Research Council” (Wikipedia).

Week 3 reflections

This was a very busy week for me at work – three blended learning courses started last weekend and one more started yesterday – and as usual there are always so many things to finalise, especially since I’ve been able to incorporate some of the things I’m learning on this MOOC into my course design. [...]

Week 3 reflections

This was a very busy week for me at work – three blended learning courses started last weekend and one more started yesterday – and as usual there are always so many things to finalise, especially since I’ve been able to incorporate some of the things I’m learning on this MOOC into my course design.

What I did this week:

I finally got round to watching the last part of Sue Water’s webinar from week 2 on blogging and to posting a description of how I provide audio feedback on my blog – was in response to Jim asking for more details. And thanks to all of you who wrote back – yes, it really is encouraging when you get a response J I also listened to a recording of Monday’s webinar given by Heather Farmakis, read lots of blog posts throughout the week and responded to some. In a way, I was relieved that Sue Water’s blogging webinar was cancelled (postponed?) – it meant I had less to do/catch up on! My reading was very selective due to lack of time, so I skimmed a few of the suggested resources and only read a couple in more depth (from Jim,  Jennifer,  Sara and Anita) – these were related to discussion boards & grading, something that particularly interests me.

So what?

  • All in all, I’m pleased that I was able to do so much despite having to do all the other things I had to do!. But I’m feeling pretty exhausted, in need of a break (the weekend is coming and I’m not going to do anything connected to work/this MOOC etc – but I think I’m not the only one who’s very busy at the moment!
  • It was reassuring to discover that what I’ve been doing till now to get my learners to connect was fine – some of these I did intuitively, some by trial & error and reflecting on what didn’t work and adapting. But it was always clear to me that to get students interacting on forums the tasks had to be relevant, meaningful and manageable.

What I’ve learnt/was reminded of this week:

  • I loved Heather’s idea of using her own online learning experience to introduce herself to her students – will definitely try this out with my next group of new students.
  • I’m now far more aware of how important it is to write and use rubrics to grade students’ contributions to discussion boards and of informing students in advance of what my grading rubrics are. I have a kind of system either in my head or written on a piece of paper in my file but till now I haven’t really informed the students about what this is, unless someone asks.
  • I think it’s a great idea to give student examples of exemplary, mediocre and poorly written posts.
  • Yes, give some marks for participating (always did this), but only full marks for a valuable forum contribution.

What now? Changes I’ve made/what I’ll do differently in the future:

  • I’ve put together some tips on communicating online (including some of Rachael’s discussion triggers to encourage more meaningful responses) and have posted these on the VLE – will be interesting to see what difference this makes!
  • I’ve been more specific about what students should include in their forum posts, e.g. 3 things you’ve learnt, one thing you agree/disagree with and why, 3 similarities and/or differences etc.

What now? What do I still have to learn?

  • I’m still very keen to learn more about setting up and grading forum posts, since like, Heather Farmakis mentioned in her webinar, I also believe that online discussion boards are “the heart of online courses”.

Enough for the moment and I’m now looking forward to the weekend and then to week 4!

Continuing the Discussion on "Creating Effective OL Discussions"

I finally got to review the Farmakis webinar (Prezi presentation, Video recording) and found these tips really helpful: providing clear protocols/guidelines; using subjective or opinion rich questions; and providing rubrics along with good examples.

As we come to the end of Wk 3: Create Community - Connect Learners with Each Other, I'd like to attempt to bring the topic of OL Discussions back up to the top of the Community Wall, because the general consensus seems to be that discussions are the heart of online teaching but yet quite possibly the most difficult element to implement effectively.

I'd like to start by referencing this discussion thread that Ed initiated a few days ago, first because I want to capture it in my blog, but also because I appreciate what he shared. I was hoping that others might consider contributing some practical examples of how they create, facilitate, and evaluate discussions in their courses.

I've just clipped a couple of the examples from Ed's posts. He mentioned that he likes to create discussion topics that promote reflection & opinion, and sees his role as keeping things on topic and connecting in relevant bits of information from the course material that are not coming up in the discussion. Without seeing the rubrics it is hard to get the full picture, but I was very interested in the criteria that he mentioned here:

"Discussion Boards and Blogs Grading Criteria….
1. Demonstration of understanding of the issues involved in the posted question or material.
2. Response incorporates material and/or concepts from the course in a relevant way.
3. Response makes a meaningful contribution to the discussion.
4. Response takes a personal viewpoint that is supported by evidence, facts, and/or especially information from the course.
5. The quality of the writing of the response is appropriate for a 200-level college course. The response is written in complete sentences and paragraphs with correct spelling and punctuation."

and in a follow up post:

"My plan, as a result of the discussion that came up during the webinar, is to use a rubric to give the students a rubric with the criteria for outstanding, mediocre, and poor discussion board postings.  I would also like to use a short assignment early in the course in which the student is asked to apply the rubric to one of their own postings to the discussion board. I think this assignment can increase the quality of the postings and:

1. Help to confirm their familiarity with the rubric.
2. Reduce the amount of intervention necessary to keep the discussion on topic and appropriate by including references to this in the rubric.
3. Allow me to focus my postings and replies on reinforcement, encouragement, scaffolding around the more difficult concepts and principles, and asking additional questions. "

I really like this idea of students self-evaluating their postings. Maybe as a precursor to this, as part of an orientation to the discussion boards, it might also help to demonstrate application of the rubric to some random posting example? This demonstration could even be created using screencasting and included in the reference materials?

Personally, I do not have a lot of experience with creating rich online interactions so Ed I hope you, and others, will continue to share your knowledge and insights. I am always looking for rich examples, and so in that spirit I'll end with a couple of resources I found:

A great example of a discussion assignment from from Garrison & Vaughn (2008) Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, & Guidelines

A resource from Edutopia Mastering Online Discussion Board Facilitation which I thought provided some good insights and tips, including this one here for icebreakers