Activity Reflection (week 2)

I created one case study scenario for my online course. This case has questions aimed at gauging how much the student has learned the material related to connecting assessments to learning objectives. I am planning on having a whole lesson on how to build assessments and activities. We presented a model for learning objectives and assessments related to those objectives (supposedly) and we ask the students if the assessment actually supports the objectives and if not, what would they change? This case is from courses we have run here at UF, later on new improvements to the assessments were added based on reviews on the objectives, so they are real cases.
So what?
  1. Describe why you did what you did. What are your feelings about what you did?
    The best way I can describe it is by explaining that I got the idea from a couple of papers that studied online courses in the health sciences area. They definitely showed that case studies as activity materials were more effective than textbook exercises in supporting learning. I feel that this approach is very effective because you can model these case studies in a way like what Dan Pink showed with the candle problem: something that would encourage creativity and non-conventional solutions.
  2. How will this help you?
    This is going to help me design more activities that I can use in my discussion forums. I think meaningful questions that invite the student to conduct research, analyze the findings, and finally coming up with a new solution are more effective activities in this online course than any multiple choice assessment I could come up with.
  3. What did you learn from the experience?
    I learned from this activity that the best way to help students learn in the online environment is to provide the tools for them to go and create something freely, that I can trust that they will come up with something that is going to amaze me.
What now?
I will continue developing more case studies and then will dive into creating questions as discussion topics. I think the best way I can start this whole process is by developing this “rapport” this lesson talks about. If I cannot gain the trust and respect from my students through this type of communication, I really doubt I will succeed in the classroom if we were in a face-to-face setting.
  1. What changes did you make?
    One of the first things I will be changing in these activities is the way I will be giving feedback to the students. I tend to be critical and a bit negative when giving feedback. Now I understand that sometimes I will have to just thank them for the presentation on their projects and then give some feedback that asks meaningful questions about the project, but I will not suggest that they go another route that I believe would be more convenient. It is certainly important to let the student know that you respect the work they are developing.
  2. What will you do differently in the future?
    I will start by creating introductory material where they can see examples from previous classes (I will have to borrow that from somewhere during the first run of the course), they get to know who I am and what I have done as an online instructors. I think it is very important to lay out what is expected of them and how to conduct themselves in the forums, I want the students to understand that respect to one another is crucial to their success in the course.
  3. What do you still have to learn?
    I think I need to work more on my discussion questions, I want the students to analyze and respond to the class questions, but the actual mechanism to accomplish that is something I am still working on.

Essential question week 2

In the context of the online setting it is very important to find the “motivator” (like in that show “Wipeout”) that is going to set in motion the creativity and effort from the learners. That is why I believe that projects are very important in online classes. I also believe that working in groups or alone has to be an option. One important step the instructor has to complete is creating a setting around the course that empowers the students. The student needs to know at every time that they are in control of the project and that the instructor is in the sidelines ready to help but does intervene or interject, even if they know that the students are taking a difficult approach. In Daniel Pink’s video the premise of workers or anybody for that matter, achieving the level of motivation that leads to creative breakthroughs is apparently achieved by creating the right conditions described by those three steps of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I believe that one approach would be to start asking the students in an introductory presentation what makes them work to the late hour, what excites them, what compels them to do something beyond of what is expected from them. Then, after careful review of the answers, the instructor could facilitate the introduction of students with similar ideas, and maybe group them for a group project. The instructor could set up a discussion forum for each group so that they could come up with a project that would test their creative powers, and encourage them to follow their own ideas. I think that letting them know the project will carry a grade would cause the project to derail, since that could cause the students to believe that they just have to do enough to earn the grade to pass the course. As an encouragement I would present to them past examples of what it can be achieved by working this way, and that they can take this beyond the course setting, to their workplace, for example. As an instructor, I would have to pay attention all the time to their progress by checking on the discussion forums and probably weekly reports that they can send me. I could also arrange live meetings to hear from their project too, the point is then to keep in touch with the groups and students working alone every week.

What is Chamber Music?

“Chamber music” is a special category in the broad spectrum of classical music. Simply put, it is music designed to be performed in a chamber, such as a room in a house, rather than in a large concert hall. Consequently, there is a constraint on the number of instruments and performers that can be accommodated in the relatively small space in which the music is played. Usually this space limitation necessitates a group of three to eight musicians, although sometimes as few as two can be present. 

Chamber music is usually applied to instrumental music, although it can also apply to vocal. The mix of instruments can be almost anything, up to and including a piano, but there is no conductor to direct the proceedings.

In recent years, an increasing interest in “ancient music” and in works composed prior to 1600 has broadened the spectrum of chamber music. Additionally, the classical guitar also frequently appears on the contemporary chamber music scene.

Originally “invented” by Franz Joseph Haydn–who composed over 100 such works–the string quartet has dominated chamber music over the centuries, primarily because of the enormous body of works by Haydn, Beethoven, Shostakovic, and Bartok. Nearly all composers of significance have written works, and played them, in the string quartet idiom, as well as in the second most popular form, the piano trio.

Indeed, classical music lovers have long noted that many composers reserved their finest creative efforts for the chamber music format. Few would argue that among the greatest classical music of all time are the string quartets of Beethoven, the piano trios of Brams and Schubrt, and Mozart’s glorious quintet for piano and woodwinds.

Newcomers to chamber music may wonder how chamber musicians manage to stay together without a conductor. While it is difficult, the key to success in this endeavor is contained in the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice! Practice! Practice!” And remember, once upon a time, orchestras did not have conductors. Entrances are cued by one of the performers, commonly the first violin (though not always). The players don’t “follow” someone; they play together, and each has to anticipate when the next beat is coming and when his or her instrument is to join the flow. This requires careful and constant listening to what each of the others is doing.

It has been frequently remarked that chamber music audiences, other than those attending music-school concerts, are generally older than patrons at symphonies, band concerts, and other musical events. This may result from the generally lower decibel level of chamber music and the greater comfort such audiences have with the often quieter and more contemplative nature of these works.

Age aside, it is safe to say that all who come to know chamber music eventually grow to love it and long for more!


Taken with edits from:

The Human Element of Online Learning

Diane Johnson, assistant director of faculty services for the Center for Online Learning at Saint Leo University, offers these seven tips for creating an engaging online education offering:

  1. Remember that the human element is the most important tool to keeping online learners enrolled and engaged in your program.
  2. Before hiring any new faculty, make sure that person is caring and student-focused.
  3. Faculty members must build relationships with each student and let them know that they really care about the individual’s education and success.
  4. Students must know they are not just a name out in cyberspace, but that they are really human beings who are on the other side of the screen.
  5. Instructional immediacy is paramount. “We require faculty to respond to student inquiries in a maximum of 24-36 hours,” says Johnson.
  6. If a student misses a deadline, instead of blaming the student with an accusatory “Why didn’t you meet this assignment?” a much better approach is to ask, “Are you okay?”
  7. When you build a trusting relationship and invest in the student, he or she is more likely to invest more in the course.

E-Learning: Tips for Student Success

Week 2 reflections

What I did this week:

I was really excited about being able to take part live in Monday’s webinar (10 pm local time/Austria) – so that was fun, as was the Thursday round up live – we were a very exclusive group with a high teacher to student ratio :-) I watched recordings of the other webinars, and read/skimmed a lot of the articles listed, read numerous postings and responded – thank you to those of you who read/responded to mine. We had some fruitful discussions. And I also came across and can thoroughly recommend this article: Transition from tradition: 9 tips for successfully moving your F2F course online

So what?

All in all, I already knew a lot about this week’s focus – connecting with learners/building rapport – and this has never really been a problem for me: But it was good to be reminded again about the importance of rapport, but think this quote is interesting:

“Rapport does not result in learning, but it certainly helps to create conditions conducive to learning—things like higher motivation, increased comfort, and enhanced communication. Teaching doesn’t always result in learning either, but, like rapport, it is one of those factors that can contribute positively to learning.”

I totally agree that respect, approachability, open communication, caring and having a positive attitude apply in all environments. And as Greg said yesterday, it’s basically how we are in real life with people, family and friends! How do I do this? I teach blended learning courses, so get to see the students F2F approx. once a month anyway. I usually start with a  ’3 secrets about myself’ activity, where students have to find out why 3 facts – dates, names, numbers etc are important to me. They then do a similar getting-to-know each other activity. I demonstrate my teaching philosophy live, so in an online course would obviously have to explain this – which I also do briefly F2F. I instant message my students if I see them on the VLE – just a quick: Busy? How’s life? etc. They always respond.

I agree with what other participants have said about getting to know your online learners better than the full-time students. But this takes time! Time and workload management is an issue in online teaching (OT) so Larry Ragan’s slide with ‘Be aware of the “blurring of the lines” between work and life’ resonated with me. Interesting that work isn’t life or life work!!! Also that OT is 30% more time consuming than F2F, at least when you start – YES. And I think our institutions don’t realise this, maybe can’t unless they’ve actually done it. Finally, I think it’s SO important that you like what you’re doing, are hopefully even passionate about it – in this context, teaching and that you like people/your learners.

From Sue Water’s recording I heard that there’s research confirming that writing for a real audience and not just for the instructor results in better content, better organization, and longer texts (but not sure the latter is actually better!). So far I’ve not used blogging in my OT mainly because most of my students have ePortfolios where they document the self-directed part of their learning. But apart from me, I’m pretty sure no one else reads/comments. So, I’m now considering getting the students to peer review and comment on each other’s work on their ePortfolios – till now I’ve only done this F2F in a kind of “show & tell” session – provides authentic speaking practice.

Other things I’ve learnt/was reminded of:

  • “We suggest that teaching presence, social presence, and instructor response time appear to be important factors in the ratings attained by instructors under the very specific conditions described in this study.”  Online Teaching Effectiveness: A Tale of Two Instructors
  • “Students do not care how much instructors know until the students know how much their instructors care.” Using human touch to engage online students /John Thompson
  • “The majority of contemporary online classes focus on transmitting a knowledge base to the student rather than stimulating the process of learning.”  – from this source.
  • I learned from being live in a webinar how nice it is to see each other’s face, i.e. putting a face to a name/post/voice! I noticed I was hesitant about turning my video on – but I was in bed ( it was 1am!), and that it’s so much easier to speak and let/get participants speak when there are not too many taking part – something I’ll remember if I set up webinars.
  • In connection with making videos: I’ve learned to avoid dating intro videos i.e. not mentioning assignment dates etc, – means you can reuse them; to be casual i.e. not sitting behind a desk; to consider what’s showing up in the background and to have enough light shining on you from the front!
  • Something I already knew – that online teaching/learning is very time-consuming, which is why I’m NOT going to create an extra artefact this week – no time!

What now?

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

  • I’m starting 2 new blended courses tomorrow and have included a getting started slot with a wiki and forum activity that won’t be graded. And I’ll probably be a lot more understanding when they all looked shell-shocked on day 1 (I start with a F2F session), and will tell them about how I felt at the beginning of this MOOC!
  • I’m definitely going to use some of Rachael’s discussion triggers to encourage more meaningful responses on forums – see my previous post.
  • I’m going to remind my students that “…the skills and traits acquired during an online course (time management, critical thinking skills, self-discipline and collaboration) have shown to better prepare students for careers.”

 What do I still have to learn?

Some things that instantly come to mind are that I’d like to learn more about getting students to connect and about grading forum discussions. I still need to learn more about blogging – the technicalities of linking, adding media. And I hope I get to hear something really NEW next week. Two comments/thoughts to finish of with.

This week’s input started with the saying: ‘You don’t teach a class. You teach a student’, which reminded me of another saying: ‘You don’t correct a mistake. You correct a person.’

“Enjoy your teaching because if you don’t, who will!” (Ben Goldstein, I think).   What do you think?

Building Rapport with Students

This week, I learned about ways to build rapport with students online.
Frankly, I never realized how important it is to add a personal touch to the online course, until I read this week's articles and watched the webnars.  I tend to shy away from sharing personal information on line, and I would have never imagined to shoot an introduction video by my pool with my pet on my lap.  So, looks like I need to change my expectations slightly.  I liked the Prezi made by Heather Farmakis.  This presentation made me want to start using Prezi as a teaching tool.

So, here's the summary of what I learned about building rapport with students.

  • Before the course begins, create and share a short presentation about your course and who you are
  • During the 1st week, create activities to get to know each student, such as introductory survey and pretest.  
    • I suppose this is similar to an index card I used to have my students fill out on the 1st day of class.  In face-to-face class, I have my students write their course expectations, what they already know about the subject, etc on an index card.  I used this information during my course to address any question they may have during specific topic or try to tailer my lecture to some of the students interest.  
  • Blogging is a good tool for building global collaboration, and show case students' work.  Students will perform better for authentic audience.  Blogging can be used for introductory activity or classroom projects.
  • 5 factors for building rapport
    1. Respect for each other and to the institution.
      • Perhaps at the beginning of the course, have an honor code/ code of conduct posted and clearly stated about what the expectations are on posting comments.
    2. Approachability.
      • Every students have their preferred method of communication and the instructor should be able to accommodate that.  
      • Be flexible.
      • Instructor should log into the class at least once a day and respond to the students request within 12 hours (24 hours at least!)
      • Hold an office hour at least once a week for a few hours.  This is where the instructor is logged on and able to respond to the questions.
      • These information should be clearly stated and informed to the students.
      • Weekly (3 times a week) email updates from TOMOOC course has been great.
      • Define parameters and let them know.  Students do not expect you to be available 24/7, unless you give them that impression.
    3. Open communication. Honesty.
      • Be true to your words
      • Again, be true to your stated expectation
    4. Caring
      • If faculty cares about students, students will do better in class.
      • Refer to students by their name in discussions.
      • Make personal connections with students, especially those with extenuating circumstances, missing classes etc.
      • Let the students know that you believe they are capable of doing the work and you are available for help. 
      • Send encouraging or job well done emails, or just include a note at the beginning or end of an email.
      • Give feedback, individually or as a group
      • Have listening ears to student feedback and let them know you welcome them
    5. Positive attitude
      • Give positive enforcement to students
      • Be open to student comments
      • Make the course friendly- use of animation, emoticons, humor etc.

Comment on Thompson Video: Human Touch

I viewed the John Thompson webinar recording last night and really enjoyed it. Brent, Greg, and Rachael are masters at creating an environment that’s more like friends sitting around a table chatting over coffee, and Thompson has an easygoing style that’s more conversational than lecture. Lori, a participant, asked some great questions. The following are points that rang true for me. The graphics are from the talk.


Teaching online literally means communicating with students 24/7. Obviously not every minute of every day but logging on to review and respond in email, discussion forums, course sites, etc. throughout the day, everyday. Thompson apparently gives his cellphone number to students, but this is a practice that I wouldn’t adopt for myself.

When he sent an eblast to the class, a student responded, assuming that it was a private message to him alone. This happens often, even when the “to” line suggests otherwise. A purely online phenomenon. LOL!


Depth of comments varies, and Thompson found that, in grad courses, student responses were longer and more thoughtful than in undergrad courses. I also find variations in type of course and student class levels and age in a given cohort.

In response to a question about peer-to-peer learning, he said that in one of his classes, students said they learned just as much from peers as from the teacher. In my mind, this is one of the most important goals of online learning.


Re collaborative group work, he said that 90-95% of his students don’t want it. I’ve found exactly the same.

This quote is perhaps the most important in his presentation: “Anytime you go away from that 24/7 flexibility, you’re at odds with what the students really like to do.” I refer to this as the anytime-anywhere advantage of online learning. For him, this means that, for online courses, set office hours and F2F optional sessions don’t work. He had zero drop-ins with the former and only 25-50% participation with the latter.

Furthermore, his experience with hybrid (aka blended) teaching didn’t work out. He and his students decided that they “would never do that again.” The fact that it was an intense summer course might have been a critical factor. However, this was my experience, too, with full semester hybrid courses. Part way through, we decided to move all meetings online. I kept the F2F sessions going for drop-ins, but few if any showed up, and none hung around for the entire session. I never did hybrids after that.


Some students never read emails. I now use Twitter to signal important email, both eblasts and private mail. For example, “John, check your UH email for an urgent message from me.”

Thompson’s comments on “trickery” hit home. He inserted an offer of bonus points in some of his email and discussion posts for a rough gauge on whether his messages were getting through. All they had to do was email him back within a certain period of time. He says that he’s always surprised at how low the returns are. He mentions 50% as a general figure.

I, too, have been embedding “tests” in some of the readings, announcements, and guidelines, and the 50% result is generally true. Within the text, I embed a brief statement asking students to email me, within a specified period of time, a keyword in the subject header and leave the content blank. I record an “X” for each response. The number of Xs for a student is a pretty good indicator of how well s/he will do in an assignment and in the course. I also use these reading test scores to determine my response in student drafts and email requests for help. I know when to say “carefully review the guidelines” and when to provide additional explanations.

Thompson didn’t spend much time talking about course design as an indirect measure of human touch. For example, he said that when it comes to explanations, more is better than less. I disagree. All too often, more simply expands confusion, and even more will expand confusion exponentially. The key is simplicity and clarity, and posting key information in only one location and linking to it as often as necessary from varied pages, sites, and media. Students shouldn’t see variations of the same info in different places. This forces them to review it multiple times to discern the differences and leaves them confused about which is the most complete or up-to-date. A well-designed course (including writing style features such as voice) also communicates the human touch of caring.

Discussion Questions (week 1)

  1. How do you want to teach online?
    I believe a combination of both models is what I want to apply to my online course. I want to convey information and also design activities and materials that will help them use this knowledge to learn to do something. For example, I will add content in the lectures on how to create effective lecture videos for online setting, the theory and research behind the recommended practices, but I also want them to go ahead and develop a demo applying what they just learned. During the whole lesson, I will schedule live interactions where they can ask questions, I will elaborate more on some of the topics covered on the lessons, I will give also feedback on the demos they will be posting on the course site. In my case, I will be creating the content for a new online course, I will not be converting material from face-to-face setting to online, which means I am very open to new things and new technologies to achieve the learning goals.
  2. What ‘mix’ of face-to-face and online learning will be best for your course, and why your “mix” is best.
    My course is completely online, there will be no face-to-face contact, unless live webinar sessions count as that. I believe this course has to be online because it is directed towards professionals that are probably already working and have families. The convenience of an asynchronous course that can be taken online has many benefits to this particular audience. I will have many technology tools and human resources to create the content and applications for this course. I consider myself a good instructor in the classroom setting and now I want to prove myself that I can do the same thing in e-learning.
  3. Why do you need to focus just as much on student activities, what they need to do, as on creating original content for your courses? Describe the activities do you plan to focus on.
    Because we want the students not only to memorize material, so that they can face a final assessment but we also want them to learn how to do something. I believe that any subject can be adequately converted into an online course, the bottom line being what resources I am willing to put up in order to develop that course. When I am developing the content I have to see how I can create an activity that will make good use of the information being presented. The student activities are going to reinforce the knowledge they just reviewed in the lesson, and it has to be done immediately after the material in the lesson has been covered. I am planning on creating short multiple choice questions when there is material that requires to be learned by the student, such as concepts, rules, laws, processes, etc. Then, during the lecture material, I will add more multiple choice questions that will test what the student learned during the lecture. This will help the student assess how well they acquire the new information.
  4. Describe how you create a strong structure for you online course, so students are clear about what they are expected to do, when it has to be done. How do you ensure that students have adequate online activities? Describe the trade-offs you have to make between content and activities if the student workload is to be kept to manageable proportions?
    The first thing I would like to develop is some kind of syllabus that contains the rules of the game: policies, how to get help, and most important, the course structure. In my case, I like to develop courses that follow a rigid structure because I believe that in the online learning environment, since there is hardly any instant human contact, it is necessary to guide the students at any point in the course. I am planning on creating a course with ten lessons that will follow the next template: definition of lesson objectives, reading assignments, some kind of short lecture (audio or video), and activities. Until they are able to complete these activities then they should be able to move on to the next lesson. Since my course is oriented on how to develop online content, I am planning on creating activities that are more hands-on (around learning how to do something as opposed to did you memorize it?). I will set up the LMS system so that they cannot move to the next lesson until they submit their assignments and complete their activities. Before we launch the program we will use testing students that will provide feedback on the effectiveness of the activities laid out in the lessons, and I will adjust accordingly. Again, the activities will be centered around learning how to do something, there will be also questions that will invite critical thinking and analysis. This is supposed to be a short course (40 h max), which means we cannot introduce content that is not going to support learning. We will introduce meaningful resources that the students can use later on, but they will not be required to cover that material. Our lectures will be short (max 15 min), and most of the time the students will be working on their activities and assignments, there is reading but we will keep it at a minimum to cover important definitions, rules, suggestions, but we will no assign reading of whole book chapters.

Remixing and Repurposing: how am I going to put these ideas into practice?

Yesterday I was thinking about how to apply the concepts of this course to my real life. I am not a teacher so the ideas don’t directly relate to me - I work for an LMS provider and am taking this MOOC for a better understanding of the teacher (and student) experience in an online setting. So I’ve been struggling with trying to figure out how to use what we’ve learned in real-life situations because these new ideas will vanish in a poof! if they are not practiced.

Then I had a brainwave. It seems that there are parallels that can be drawn between the difficulties encountered with online teaching and those seen when managing (or working with) remote employees. In both groups, there is the risk that the students (co-workers) can feel isolated, have difficulties understanding the material needed to do the work, experience time and geographical issues, etc. So for me the question becomes: can I apply the concepts learned for successful online teaching to a geographically dispersed workforce?

Disclaimer: this still doesn’t directly relate to what I do in my daily life since I am neither a manager nor a remote employee, but I think I’m getting closer to seeing how to put these ideas into practice.
Next step: noodling on how these ideas can be applied in my specific workplace.

Suggested Reflections (week 1)

In week 1 I learned the steps on how to build an online course, some of them I have been doing for quite some time (although I did not know I was doing it that way). The first step is very important and one I did nor consider before. Do we really need to develop an online course? The teaching philosophies is a good point I have not thought about before. In some subjects the objectivistic approach is required (chemistry, for example) but other courses can be conducted using the individual development approach (I can think of a writing course, for example). But I think I am sold on the idea of combining both, the benefits are obvious. In my work setting we actually start at step 2 where we are deciding what kind of online course we want. This is the part where we decide the kind of content we need in the course. It is very important to determine this because then we have to look back and figure out if the resources to develop that kind of content are available. The final step is one of the parts I am trying to get involved with because evaluation and improvement are nowadays being driven by decisions based on data. Analysis of data from student activity and data collected from their own input has become a valuable tool to make decisions on the course offering, improvements, things that require change or plain eliminate other that did not work. I believe education will be driven by big data in the future as well.
This is a very different MOOC. It has allowed me to express my thoughts and what I have learned through the use of my own blog. This is a tools that I have helped set up before, but have not actually used extensively as an educational tool. Now I can see the potential in future course developments I happen to be involved in later on. I think this is one of the things I like best about this course.

Activity Reflection (Week 1)

This week I came back from a conference with the determination of completing this MOOC. I have been trolling around Coursera and Udacity, signing on for very interesting MOOCs that I never complete. But this MOOC is different. This one is actually giving me the freedom of developing content for what I hope to be my own online course on how to create content for online learning. Working on my posts has given me the opportunity to reflect on many topics related to online teaching, which I haven't done in quite a while. So, as soon as I came back to the office on Monday, I started working on my assignments for the past two weeks, and covering the material for both weeks as well. I have not been just skimming or going through the material with no analysis whatsoever. In fact, I have done quite the opposite. The content offered in this course actually has offered new ideas that I have not considered before.
This week I created my first artifact about blogs. In the materials for week 0 this topic was amply covered by both the instructor and the invited speakers in the webinars for that week. Even though most of the content related to blogging was directed towards developing a full blog system, I actually just skirted my artifact around the use of blogs for educational purposes. I have no intention in becoming a professional blogger, but the application of technology in developing this tool fascinates me. I also like to develop content for blogs which will serve as assignments or activities for an online course. The part of creating blogging activities that can be linked to a learning outcomes has a great appeal to me because it demands the use of my analytical and critical thinking skills in order to create an activity that both fulfills the learning outcome and conduces to learning.
Before I only consider blogging as another way to create a discussion forum, in fact, I was against the use of blogs a few months ago when we were developing a new project because the amount of work the instructor would face since it was required to produce a grade from the posts. But now I understand that blogging is a more personal issue that actually helps in developing critical and analytical thinking skills. A discussion forums is for very short responses on topics the instructor would like the students to weigh in.
One aspect of the whole blogging tool that I need to discover is how to use media to enhance the activity. I would like to encourage my students to not only develop a blog post, but support the post with media that they produce or that the could curate from other sources (for educational purposes). Does media actually help the blog post in conveying the information to the student, and what is required from them? Is media distracting in a blog post? Do I need to place restrictions on the type and quantity of media that students can use? These and other questions, that I think would like to ponder for a while, make blogging an attractive tool for education.

Next MOOC: writing skills?

Blogging seems to be a great way to connect with whatever online community you are part of. But I think that in order to communicate effectively, good writing skills are a "must". My writing skills are not well developed. I stink at it. I have 2 Math degrees and one of the reasons why Math appealed to me is because I wouldn't have to write essays! Equations are much more succinct. Easier. Direct and to the point.

And yet...... without good writing skills, a person loses the potential to communicate ideas with their comrades. Who knows how many great ideas withered into oblivion because they were not well expressed? I read others who have posted blogs for How to Teach Online MOOC and their words seem to flow like water. Or silk? I don't know, sometimes it seems that the perfect word is just out of grasp. Hidden somewhere in the mist.

I guess that I ought to consider taking a writing skills class as my next MOOC.

Cranky and Sarcastic no longer?

I’ve been reading week 2 resources on how to connect with your learner…and they all seem to follow a familiar theme of being friendly, open, accessible, and connecting on a personal level. Now, this is not revolutionary news as it is pretty much what I was taught while getting my teaching baccalaureate and what I have heard every year after while actually teaching. Get to know your students! Share something personal with them to help them relate to you! Lend a friendly ear! Etc. But that’s not who I am. I am cranky and sarcastic and that’s how I have been in the physical classroom for 10 years and it has worked very well for me. Students also appreciate honesty and don’t like a “fake” who is trying to win them over and that would be me if I adopted that approach. I strongly feel that my students still feel very comfortable and safe in my classroom and they still seem all-too-willing to tell me their problems or what’s going on in their lives even though I never ask, never share anything personal with them, and always say, “how does this relate to our work in class?” They seem to revel in my over all “grumpiness” and love the sarcasm–I mean, come on, sarcasm is awesome. And funny.

That being said, I can see how that would not translate over to the online forum where I have only my written word to rely on and they can’t see my expression or the reaction of other students who enjoy it as humor. I read that in one of this week’s posts and it made me think hard about it. Do I have to change my nature to be a good online teacher? Or just curb it in? Perhaps the online world is not for me. This blog is my first, and only, form of social media so that is telling about how comfortable I am with posting personal thoughts and letting it float in the internet stratosphere. Hopefully, through the rest of this MOOC, I can find ways to be a good, effective online teacher while not having to change my personality.

I also feel bad because many, many of the MOOC contributers are currently teaching online classes and therefore have way more insight and knowledge to share. I feel like I am just taking, taking, taking from their expertise and experience. I joined just to learn about it–haven’t tried teaching online yet so everything I say is pure opinion and theory….

Online Group Work

I read “Reflection Activity — Breaking out the Black Hat” on the Community Wall and definitely agree that there are huge problems. Education is filled with huge problems that always seem to boil down to the same issue: idealistic vs. realistic. In an ideal world, group work is awesome! Team work, collaboration, multiple brains and personalities coming together to create! In the real world, even in the traditional classroom, it can be a pain. Student schedules never match up, personalities can clash, someone always has trouble finding a group and feels like the odd one out, and then, within the group, someone always doesn’t do their “fair share” and discontentment stews.

Solution? My only solution so far is to either 1) have the group work be a very small project that is mostly just practice or just one small step of a bigger paper OR 2) make very clear, defined roles within the group project so that when someone doesn’t pull their weight or show up I know who it was. I always make students designate tasks beforehand, instead of doing a reflection afterwards, and if the group project has, say, 10 components to it I try and design it so that 8-9 of those components can be done by individuals on their own and they really only need to really on the group for the last 1-2. Is it even truly group work? Well, they need to meet up initially and assign tasks and roles and create (and turn in) a strategic plan. And then for the end they need to produce or present the project or paper together…though someone’s role could have been the “assembler.”

Online has even more, and bigger, problems when it comes to group work. I imagine they would have to start their own side forum/discussion and do something similar where they all chose different tasks and keep posting their progress and someone will have to piece it together…..

Week 1 Teaching Online is Critical – A Recipe for Making the Connection with your Learners

Connecting with Learners is the topic of Week 2 for the Teaching Online MOOC. It's a very important topic in technology-mediated distance education. Setting the tone from the beginning is an effective way to close the transactional distance between the instructor and the students, who many never meet each other physically during the semester. How do you do it effectively? Well - it's not an exact science and there is more than one way to accomplish this task. Do you want to see how I do it?

I do it in three parts:

Part 1. I write an email message to the students the week before class. The purpose is five-fold: 1) to confirm their email address on file is correct, 2) to share my contact information, 3) to share a link to a 10-minute video intro of the course, 4) to share some ground rules of the course, 5) to give them a task of preparing a personal bio/intro for themselves, and 6) to share the Course Outline.

Part 2. As I mentioned in Point 1 above, I make a 10-minute video intro for the course. It's purposefully and simply just a talking head on YouTube. I spend time giving them my perspective on the course and the online course delivery method. The goal is to convey that together we are a learning team and I try to break down some of the anxiety issues that they might be feeling about taking a course online.

Part 3. In the email message I send out before class, I ask them to prepare a personal bio/intro (and I give them specific criteria to include). The goal of the activity is to establish Social Presence in the course and I try to inject a somewhat humourous and casual aspect to the activity. Here's the key: I model the activity on the course website BEFORE students have access to the course website so that when they first logon and look around, they see my version of the activity laid out for them. Modelling has the result of encouraging the desired community-building behaviour. Then as the first few days of class unfold, I make it a point to reply to each intro to try to build connections. Again, I do this in hopes that other students follow suit, and invariably a sub-set do!

So in the spirit of sharing, below you will find a copy of an Introductory Email message I sent out this term to students in my Basic Chemistry course. Also, find my 10-minute video below too.

What tools/techniques/strategies/approaches do you use when connecting with learners in the first week of your online class? Share your comments below.

---body of email message below---


I confirm that as of today (Sunday August 25th) that you are one of the 22 students registered in CCE106: Basic Chemistry at RMCC. The course is web-enabled and in 6 or 7 days you will be able to access the class website at I am not 100% certain when students are given access to the class website - it could be as late as the first day of class: next Tuesday September 3rd. If by Tuesday you still do not have access to the class website, then please call the RMCC IT Help Desk: 1-866-677-2857 for assistance.

ACTION REQUIRED: I would ask that each of you please confirm receipt of this message so that I can be assured the correctness of your email address that is on file.

Let me give you several ways with which you can contact me during this term: Email:

Office Hours / Face-to-face or telephone: by appointment

Instant Messaging Services:
GTalk: (no email here please)
Facebook: Eric Tremblay in Kingston, Ontario (add me on LinkedIn too!)

In addition, I am required to remind you of the RMCC Academic Honesty Policy which reads:

"Academic misconduct, including plagiarism, cheating, and other violations of academic ethics, is a serious academic infraction for which penalties may range from a recorded caution to expulsion from the College. The RMCC Academic Regulations Section 23 defines plagiarism as: “Using the work of others and attempting to present it as original thought, prose or work. This includes failure to appropriately acknowledge a source, misrepresentation of cited work, and misuse of quotation marks or attribution.” It also includes “the failure to acknowledge that work has been submitted for credit elsewhere.” All students should consult the published statements on Academic Misconduct contained in the Royal Military College of Canada Undergraduate Calendar, Section 23."

When preparing assignments, if any questions arise about how to interpret this policy please ask me BEFORE you submit your assignment. In this case, asking for advice before submitting an assignment is far better than asking for forgiveness after the fact.

Please find attached the CCE106 Course Manual that will serve as the syllabus for the course. If you have not already done so, you should order the required textbook for the course. Details are found in the Course Manual. Also, I made a quick video Intro to the course. Check it out: (if that link doesn't work, try this one: ) Let me know what you think. I have also posted an Welcome Message on the class website. Because you don’t yet have access to the class website yet, I copied it below for you.

I'm looking forward to learning with you really soon.

Take care


---copy from course website---

Welcome Everyone to CCE106. I am Eric Tremblay and I will be your instructor this term. Feel free to read my bio or view the Intro Video post to the main page of this course.

I am really looking forward to a fun semester of learning. In order to kick it off on the right foot, I have a few ground rules to explain and requests to make.

Ground Rules

Rule #1. Learning is fun. If you don’t want to have fun, then drop this course right away. (*smile*) I’m a jovial person. I try to be positive-minded and I crack the odd joke here and there. Also, I’m the kind of person that loves learning – I have been doing it my entire life. I love it because I find it very enjoyable and challenging. And who doesn’t enjoy a good challenge anyway? So I hope you are prepared to mix a little fun in your learning this semester – even in an online course! I sure am.

Rule #2. Please leave your rank at the door. If your rank is General, then with all due respect, I will not call you ‘Sir’ during the offering of this course. I understand that rank has its place; however, in my classroom everyone is equal – including the instructor. So I would like everyone to simply call me ‘Eric’. Please, no emails calling me ‘Professor Tremblay’ or ‘Sir’ or anything like that. Just plain old ‘Eric’ works for me. In return, I will address you by your first name also.

Rule #3. What happens in the classroom stays in the classroom. This particular ground rule is better suited for a humanities course than a science course, but I am still going to state it here. I taught a Bioethics class in the past and some pretty personal and heart-felt comments were uttered by some members during class time. It’s important to always be aware that if someone shares with you a sensitive/personal anecdote during the course of this class, that that occurrence is not a license for you to broadcast this personal information across the CF or at your work. Let’s keep the classroom a safe place for us to share whatever we wish with each other in the context of the subject matter being studied.

Rule #4. Respect other people’s contribution to the class and do not fear mistakes. We are all responsible for collectively learning the material for CCE106 this semester. We are all here to help each other and invariably some of us are going to know more about the subject matter than others. Be mindful that everyone is a valuable member of this class and that we all have learning to do. In addition, remind yourself that we all make mistakes – and that’s ok, in fact, I encourage it! Myself included. Just because I am the instructor does not mean I am the ‘God of Chemistry’ (*grin*). I am far from that and I will make mistakes during the term. Remember that old John Powell quote: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” So when it comes to learning, mistakes are a necessary part of the equation. In the context of the lab experiments this term, you may end up making some mistakes while conducting the procedures – that’s ok. Take a deep breath, count to 10, check to make sure you have enough supplies to start again, re-read the instructions and then start again. It’s normal.

Rule #5: Extensions. From time to time our personal and professional lives infringe too greatly on our studies. In those cases you may need an extension on an assignment or a lab. I do grant them in some warranted cases. So if you request an extension please supply an excellent reason and propose a new due date for your assignment/lab. I carefully consider each request and I will get back to you quickly with my decision. If I decide not to grant your request, be advised that I do accept assignments and labs late. In the course material, a daily late penalty is defined for each assignment/lab which will allow you to submit things late if you wish. There are some types of extension requests which I never honour: 1) extension requests that come in on the actual due date of assignment/lab, and 2) extensions on extensions. In these cases, late penalties will begin to accrue. I hope you see the fairness in this system.

Rule #6. Know your netiquette. This course is not heavily rooted in weekly discussions but there may be times when we want to talk about a current event or something so be sure to understand the etiquette for online discussion. Sarcasm does not translate well in writing. So if you want to make a joke, then please give us a visual cue. Use things like emoticons, smilie faces, bracket comments like (*grin*) or (*smile*), or the abbreviations ‘j/k’ for ‘just kidding’ or ‘lol’ for ‘laugh out loud’.

Ok, those are my 6 ground rules, now it’s time for two requests.

Request #1: During the first week of class, I would like you to post a message in the main discussion forum introducing yourself. The message must cover the following topics: a) Your name
b) Your current occupation
c) Your geographic location
d) [Optional but highly encouraged] Basic information about your family status. For example, “I am single”, or “I have a wife and two boys, ages 3 and 7”, etc.
e) Why you are taking this course
f) One (or more) interesting ‘fun facts’ about yourself. Examples might include, “I have eleven iguanas”, “I once had beers with Tom Cruise”, "My hobby is playing World of Warcraft", or “I was the first Canadian to play drums on a tour with the band KISS”, etc. You get the idea. (*smile*)
g) Your favourite music band or singer.
h) Post a picture (or a link to a video!) of yourself as an attachment to your message.

Request #2: During the 15 weeks that we will be learning together, if you travel anywhere on vacation (or on Temporary Duty), you must then post a picture of yourself while on this trip in the discussion forum and you must tell us a little about it. I love to hear about people’s vacations/travel when I take an online course. It reaffirms to me that online learning is a great way to study because it still allows time for ‘real life’ and doesn't force you to be in one place all the time. (*smile*)

Ok, so, enough typing from me for the moment.

Again - Welcome Everyone to CCE106!



Reflection Activity — Breaking out the Black Hat

Ok, so I have been thinking about the various suggestions and it seems like again and again, we keep hearing about encouraging group work with online students.  The more I think about this, the more I am inclined to break out the black hat.  I just see too many problems associated with group activities with online students.  This may come from too many bad personal experiences in my own online undergraduate and graduate studies, but I really think many others also have the same opinion.

After watching Dr. Thompson’s webinar yesterday, I was almost relieved to hear one thing he said.  It was somewhat reassuring to hear that he had also noted that most online students don’t like group work.  I tend to believe what Dr. Thompson said in yesterday’s webinar.  I agreed with Dr. Thompson on two points. I felt like he made a valid argument when he said that most online students don’t like group work because of bad experiences.  It is probably my own personal bad experiences that have soured me most about group work in the online environment.  On several occasions as I completed my studies as an online student, I was assigned group work projects.  More often than not, these projects turned out to be a failure in my eyes, mainly because I felt like my grade was pulled down because some in the group didn’t live up to their responsibilities to the group.  I felt like I was taking online classes for a reason — to be independent in my learning.  I hated when my grade depended upon someone else.

Another point Dr. Thompson made which I strongly agreed with was that in many ways having online students do group work is at odds with the asynchronous nature of online courses.  For group work to be done right, students need to be able to collaborate and for students with varying schedules in multiple time zones, this is not always feasible. I cannot see how on one hand you can tell students that one of the advantages of online work is that you can work at your own time schedule and pace while at the same time expect them to be able to ”meet” classmates online to participate in a group assignment.

While I admit I’m very adamant in my feelings about  assigning group work to online students, I will also listen to other points of view.  I’m interested to hear what others have to say about group work for online students either in support or in opposition. Please respond and let me know about your feelings and even your own experiences whether those experiences be as an instructor or as a student.

Sensemaking artifact Week 0

Blogging as an educational tool is a new concept that has circulated the internet for some time. It is being used by colleges, universities, and educational organizations as another tool that aids and supports learning. It is true that blogging started as a communication medium for the masses. Now everybody can put forth their thoughts at any time and place, and millions of people will have access to that content. Unlike live interaction over the internet (webinars, chat, etc.) this can be used as an asynchronous interactive tools, since communication does not happen immediately, the receiver of the message will not read it until later on. There is also a period of time while the message is being elaborated. This is a very important and crucial step in the whole process. This is the part where the blogger lays out the ideas that will be sent, reworks the structure of the message and finally makes sure that the message is clear and free of typos and errors. One can tell when a blog message was made on the fly, with no final review whatsoever. While the blogger thinks about on how to structure the message, critical thinking and analysis is happening, and learning is happening. The blogger will consult other resources and do research before or while elaborating the blog content. All these activities are done by students in a classroom setting when they are asked to work on a project. Blogging can also be conducted individually or in groups, just like classroom projects.
So, nowadays the question is not if you can blog, it is why are you not? The technology is here to do it for free (although it was not the case some time ago), the second question is how can I make my blog visible to others? Social media is an answer but word of mouth still works, networking is the most effective way of growing your audience these days. It is no secret that a successful blog is not the one with more content, but the one with meaningful and valuable content. Building a reputable blog still takes time and effort, blogging is a work of its own. The most important part of building a blog still involves some cosmetics; I also believe that making the navigation in a blog easier is as valuable as the content it contains. I cannot tell you how many times I have left a blog because the internal navigation is so confusing, I get frustrated and quit.
Image source:
But blogs started as a way to communicate your own ideas. How about we use it to prod ideas out of people who would not use blogs regularly? I am guessing somebody actually had that idea at some college or university when pondering what tools to use to make student interaction easier. A blog requires analysis and critical thinking, if done properly. If you ask the right questions to students, or suggest the best way to express an idea, then blogging becomes a powerful learning experience. Many students on their own will not be able to come up with the ideas themselves, they are not used to employing the tool. That is why the involvement of the instructor is very important in this setting. In a MOOC that can be a nightmare because the enrollments in these types of online courses are in the thousands. But in many cases the use of supporting staff ameliorates the problem, but even in this setting instructor involvement is very important.
Image Source:
Most interesting of all is when blogging is utilized as an educational device in hard sciences and mathematics. I am currently actively involved in utilizing blogging for learning activities in engineering, physics, mathematics, and chemistry online classes. I believe that learning can be facilitated if the student is allowed to express concepts in these subjects through the use of blogging tools. By expressing their ideas on a particular subject, critical thinking is allowed to happen, and the instructor can assess what the students actually understand from the subject. The hardest part though, is creating the right questions and subjects to discuss in a blog. Yes and no questions do not help the process; you need to create prompts that can be expanded in a blog after some analysis from the student.
I believe the future of blogging lies ahead in educational settings, but there is still room to amplify its use for communication of ideas over the internet. Blogging is not a tool that everybody can use with no previous knowledge or practice. Students enrolled in online classes will learn how to use this tool and will gain a skill that can use in their future workplace. More instructors will start using this tool to communicate with students and gage their understanding of the subject being taught. They need to be more involved in the process to fully take advantage of this device that supports learning in the online environment.

Essential Question to answer (Week 0)

Question: Creativity comes through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things. How can you help your online students to be more creative?
I think one of the first things I would do is to ask them to describe a situation in which they believed they were being creative. Asking questions as to what kind of environment they were in, what resources they had at hand, what mood they were in, if they were alone or in a group. Then I would ask them for another example in which they were faced with a problem that required a creative solution, but they failed to come up with something novel. Again, I would ask what state of mind they were in when that happened, if they were alone, in a group, outdoors, indoors, etc. I think by comparing both situations they will understand the ideal situation they have to be in that will foster creativity.

What I have learned this week (week 0)

I think the most important thing I have learned this week is that a blog can be a powerful educational tool. Collaboration among peers through blogs is a medium to share ideas, thoughts, insights, and pass on information that can help our personal growth. I have also learned that building a community in an online class is dependent on the instructor's ability and will to participate at all times in the process. The instructor needs to be engaged, which in turn will make students engage.
I will participate by attending as many webinars as I can, share my thoughts through the blog, and participate in discussions with other learners. I will try to complete the assigned materials on time every week.

Building Rapport with the Distance Learner

Building rapport in distance education sounds a lot like building a physical classroom community and atmosphere, just with technology.  This reminds me of the SAMR model with the substitution enhancement.

Instead of sitting on the floor together in community circle, we could either type an introduction, share through a Google hangout or post an avatar with description.  

In watching my son take distance classes years ago in high school, this community building was not done.  It was very difficult to communicate with the teacher, so I also know how important viewing the teacher as approachable is.

Timely feedback, encouraging words, an understanding online countenance, and willingness to bend for emergencies are all vital in running a distance course.

Assignment for week 2 of How To Teach Online

Standard Conventions of writing too out-dated for modern forms or still a “must?”

I was reading a post that brought up an interesting conundrum about what is acceptable in terms of writing and standards on an online class. If you are “tweeting” or posting something on facebook should it be held up to the same standard as a “formal” paper turned in for a “grade?”

This paragraph gave me pause:
“In this scenario, the teacher as sole evaluator is replaced by the concept of real world audience, and the ultimate test of correctness may be reader response. But this may create disconnects. For example, a work receives a top grade from a teacher, but no one or only a handful view it. Another work receives a mediocre grade but goes viral online as much for the content as the style. Which is the more effective? Or, more important, How should we define effectiveness?”

This is a tough situation. I totally get what they are saying and could argue for either side right now. However, the teacher might be the sole evaluator but she or he “represents” the academic world and, probably, the standards of most bosses in the job market in terms of what they would want to see on a job application, proposal, or report. Lots of pieces with so-called terrible-writing go viral and get many views–but how long does that impact last? It might have had a bigger impact than the teacher, but it often seems to be fleeting and is quickly forgotten and replaced. Plus, even in the world of viral videos, memes, and social media, I feel being able to clearly and accurately express yourself is still incredibly important. Magazines may be on tablets now and they may be about pop culture, but the pieces are still well-written. Youtube clips from shows (like SNL), that pay professionals and give them the “big bucks,” are well-written and a lot of thought goes into the dialogue and “sound bites.” Most of the popular web-tv shows are well-written, like Lisa Kudrow’s web therapy that got picked up recently. Yes, some people get paid for tweeting, but that is not a majority of the population and those who do can’t usually live off of it. The ones creating a career off of this digital age are doing so by incorporating smart writing into this new form. Right now, at least, social media is mostly a form of just that–social connection. If students want to think money and career, they still need to think about their writing skills. Blogs are huge and many people get paid to blog–several have managed to secure lucrative book deals. These were not terrible writers with no grammar and who used immersive “text-slang” while doing so. They were all writers who wrote well thought-out blogs with complete sentences and punctuation (for the most part.) Anyway, this argument could go on forever, but it is one that we probably should have an answer to, in our own opinion, for when our students want to know “why” they have to still check grammar….

“High tech, high touch”

Had a bit of a frustrating time attending John Thompson’s webinar on using human touch to engage online students because my (hotel room) wifi connection kept on breaking up – technology – grr!  Not to worry – I got most of it and it was the first time I was able to participate live so that was fun. A lot of what John talked about wasn’t new to me, but there’s no harm in being reminded. The three things I found most memorable are connected to caring and presence:

I think our facilitators are doing a pretty good job as far as caring and presence are concerned – thank you!

(By the way, “High tech, high touch” is from John Naisbitt, Megatrends,1982.)

Value of TOMOOC Webinars?

Anonymous 9/13/13: Another perspective on the webinars is that they have been largely informal and questions are welcomed at any time. Similar to live class, the presentation is only as good as the questions asked. It is one step better than watching a recorded session or TED video because it is a chance for participants to engage each other.


Hi, and thanks for your thoughtful comment on Responses to Veronica, Ida, Sara: 9/13/13. I agree with you re the potential for webinars to be very effective. The better ones are, as you say, less formal and focused on questions from the audience rather than on straight delivery — the idea of flipped classroom transferred to a live web platform (btw, Bates had originally planned his seminar as a flip).

My concern is neither antithetical to nor critical of webinars. It’s more a question.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of online learning is the anytime-anywhere factor. This elimination of time and space barriers to learning is, in my mind, the greatest invention since schools and the printing press.

At once, online classes even the playing field for those who can’t and can afford to be in a classroom or hall located at a specific place at a specific time. And with MOOCs, the gap between the have-nots and haves is also eliminated.

This is the online advantage, and I’m reluctant to give it up. It’s disruptive, opening the doors of higher ed to a whole new population of learners. However, when we insert time-bound activities into the online learning environment, we automatically lose the anytime advantage and eliminate all those who can’t be there. The medium is the message, and when a MOOC devoted to How to Teach Online, such as this, emphasizes live webinars, then the message seems to be that webinars are best practice.

I guess I’d like to see the delivery emphasis shift, even a little, to using asynchronous methods to create engaging learning experiences.

I think the planners of this MOOC are moving in this direction by archiving recordings of sessions. Perhaps another kind of “flip” might be to ask the presenters to, first, post their presentations in TOMOOC and, second, to participate in a week-long asynch forum on their topic. All of this would be asynch. Would this non-live version be less dynamic than a live webinar? My guess is it would be just as if not more dynamic — but in a different way that doesn’t disparage synch modes.

The point is that each approach, synch and asynch, has its strengths. The asynch forum I’m suggesting may be better for online learners with varying schedule demands, but it also changes the burden on the presenter, requiring a week-long commitment to participating in a forum with course participants. An interesting variation may the posting of video responses by the presenter to questions and comments in the forum. The short videos could be posted once a day, covering posts up to a certain date and time.

In the interest of more dynamic asynch MOOC learning activities, perhaps the planners could add a new dimension of forums, a discussion board with different forums, some ongoing and others for specific periods of time. Each forum could be devoted to important topics aligned with each week’s objectives. Other forums could be devoted to special interest groups. Some webinars could be presented as forums or both. Just a thought . . .

By exploring and experimenting with asynch strategies for online learning, we increase the range and value of common tools that are available to all online teachers.

Best teacher and worst teacher (week 0)

I guess I will have to talk about my graduate work experience. My best teacher in graduate school was on a class called colloidal science. My worst teacher in the same setting was my instructor on a class called Separation processes in chemical engineering.
I think the most memorable moments in that colloidal science class was the fact that the class was conducted in a very informal matter. By informal I mean that the subject of the day was mostly presented by the instructor but he will devote the rest of the class asking us questions about the material and how to apply what we just learned. The course did have a structure and we were handed out a syllabus at the beginning of the semester. He always started the class with a picture or video that would convey the subject of the day. This facilitated the learning process because we saw a real world application of what we learned today.
Based on this, I have elaborated a list for four DOs:
  1. Use external resources that help students understand the subject being exposed,
  2. Ask questions to students, call on them and ask for their opinion so that you can assess how much they know,
  3. Conduct the class in a way that students feel relaxed in your class,
  4. Prepare a final project that requires student collaboration and encourages discussion.
What I think are four DON'Ts
  1. Be too rigid in class just because you have a Ph.D. and you look down on your students,
  2. You talk must of the time, make students participate,
  3. Present only text material with no media that helps understand concepts,
  4. Rely too much on an assistant to keep in touch with students.
I am planning on using these two lists when I design online courses by developing material that is engaging by adding activities where the students are asked to comment on something or make an analysis on the subject being presented. I also plan on treating students as colleagues and not as pupils, conveying that respect during the live interactions planned for these courses. Even though it is difficult to create that "human touch" in an online environment, something that is easy to accomplish in a classroom, I will set up discussion forums, chat sessions, and live video sessions that include personalized messages so that the student would not feel as another number in the enrollment.

About myself (Week 0)

My name is Julio Castro and I am an instructional designer at the University of Florida. I learned about this course from one of those alerts that I have set up in Google Alerts. I am ready to start developing an online class on how to teach online, and I want to see how this one has been set up. Although this is not the approach I will be using in my course, I found the method very interesting. It also happens to be that I have never taken an online class (I am a Gen X guy, all my formation happened in the classroom), and I thought this one would be the one I would choose to be the first one.
To me, the most important issue in teaching online is how to create engaging content that can keep the students interested in your course. I think another issue is the technology we want to use in our courses. How much is too much? Creating games is still expensive and time consuming, but there must other ways to design games that teach something and would not require that much money and time. Another issue I find fascinating, the fact the nowadays anybody can publish an online course. The technology is already here and it can be done cheaply and fast. I think online or e-learning will eventually go through the same process that books and music (and movies) went through: the self-publishing movement.
I think I can contribute from my experience designing online courses. But I also need to take the next step to becoming and online teacher or instructor. I love developing content for online courses, I have done that in the past when I taught courses at UF in a classroom setting. I also have a technology background since I have used web programming and computer programming for a long time. I am also trained in the use of development tools (software) extensively used in instructional design.
I think I would like to develop strong relationships with others in this course, learn more about them and maybe continue the chat and sharing of information beyond this class, maybe through other social media tools. I see this community morphing into a collaborative group in the future.
I don't consider this fear but mostly a lack of grit on my side. I am intended on overcoming this by catching up with the class and keeping up by taking small steps everyday to complete the activities and attend the live or recorded sessions when I can't attend. The feedback from others once my content is out there is what is going to be a challenge to me since I will not have the chance of meeting my fellow classmates personally, but I plan on following on any feedback received, make an analysis and identify the merits to the suggestions provided.

My presentation at the FDLA Annual Conference 2013

I am again at the office and I have decided to share with you what I learned at this conference. I found great interest on the subject I presented. I was dreading the moment when I was finally going to face my public because to tell you the truth, I though I was going to preach to the room walls. I saw some presentations that had only one person present, that was not a good sign. The attrition rate was high in this conference. A lot of people showed up the first day but by the third day there were only a handful of people around, but the last presentations did have great attendance (even though there were a few around only). I was ecstatic that people were genuinely interested in what I have to say. I received lost of questions and I even received a couple of requests for my information for later contact. If you have the interest of seeing the slides from my presentation, please send me a message through this blog.

Week 1

As a social worker, I was taught to use reflective practice as part of my regular routine.  I’ve enjoyed that this community has been about sharing and reflecting.  Making sense of material and trying to see how it relates to us educators.  The “What? So What? and What Now?” and reflections and sensemaking activities that have been presented as part of this MOOC has impacted so much, that I’ve adapted it for my class.

I struggle with my role as an educator.  I am caught between the paradigm that was my experience and that which I am told is best practice. In social work (and other helping professions) our roles are often that of guide.  I use this idea of being a guide in my role as an educator as well.  My students are at various points in their learning process.  I know and appreciate that I only have a brief amount of time to help them acquire the knowledge and skills that are set for the course, knowing that mastery of the material will be a long-term goal they achieve well after the conclusion of the semester.

This approach of being a guide is different then my academic experience.  In trying to move myself towards this new way of educating, I have no model of comparison.  So as I spend a class period doing activities, I think back to the lectures that I was exposed to and wonder if I am doing everything wrong.  The responsibility of preparing these learners to be the leaders of my profession is daunting.  I worry that I do not do enough to prepare them to be successful.  I wonder how much I must do to create a experience that will motivate them to do more and to do better.

Perhaps is the best thing that I am always questioning if I am doing things right, it keeps me thinking of how to improve myself and my class.

This semester I started a few new things in class.  I end each class with a closing protocol where I ask my students to provide feedback on: what they learned; what they would change; what went well; and what they dislike.  They can also provide a “Tweet” of the class or use 6 words to describe what they learned.  I am hoping that by doing this, I can adapt to their needs and that I can tackle any issues or concerns before they become a problem at the end of the semester.  By collecting the feedback, I am able to gauge what is working and where I may be missing the point  I also started a new “living” assignments and readings document.  This is a Google Document that I update ever week.  Based on class each week, I add new content for them to read in future weeks.  My goal is that they see how fluid a class must be for me to guide them on this journey.

The funny thing is that in doing this Blog, I am gaining an appreciation for the work that I ask of my students.  Here I am, trying my hardest to complete an assignment and turn it in before it is due.

A hui hou!


Week 1 of How To Teach Online MOOC – Everyone’s a Teacher…

It’s a tenuous time at work as we await the announcement of repoints to roles so the MOOC work outside of work hours has been providing me with the mental stimulation I need.

This week marked the end of the first week of the How To Teach Online cMOOC.  Reading some of the blog posts, many of the MOOC participants come from an education or academic background and have written their posts to the exact requirements of the activities.  Me, my mind doesn’t work that way.  It wanders.  Meanders. Goes on tangents.  It links to  other posts, articles, videos that I have seen on the web that week and then I try to make sense of it using my own workplace situation by asking the following questions:

  • How is this relevant to me?
  • How can I apply this to my workplace?
  • Is this something my clients would be open to? Why? Why not?
  • How will this solve business performance problems in our workplace?

We were asked to view this excellent Australian video called “How To Teach Online“ on how universities are dealing with the move towards blended learning.   They are seeing that the way we learn is changing in society and this impacts the way they have taught for years.

Some of the concerns they voice are similar concerns of many Learning and Development professionals.

However blended learning is not new to our organisation.  70-20-10 is integrated and part of the vernacular and all of our courses in our curricula have been redesigned to reflect the blend of education, coaching and on-the-job experience.   Many of these courses are owned by Learning and Development and indeed, we still have facilitators running some face-to-face workshops but who are also dual specialised to run them as live online learning events too.  The challenge is not the facilitators (who coincidentally love the live online environment) but it is soon to be something else.

I’m now seeing the increasing trend of business subject matter experts becoming the teachers. 

And that’s a good thing (I think so anyway) but this is now changing the control outside of L&D hands and into the business.  They are taking charge of their own teaching/coaching/learning in the business but not overtly calling it “training” or “learning” or “courses” or “training events” like L&D do.  Instead, they are integrating it with their own work and using the technology such as Webex, Sharepoint and Yammer to connect with others within and external to their business to do business.

The mere fact that they’re talking to each other about work and collaborating on their projects is learning.

Therefore it’s becoming apparently clear to me that in open, shared and collaborative workplaces, coaching, feedback and inquiry skills are becoming critical – as is the need to be savvy with technology.  So subject matter experts need to have ‘e-facilitation’ skills so that they can seamlessly share their knowledge and expertise to teach others within the contexts of their work.

I’ve now been in this role for a few months and I’ve been reflecting on the question, “What Have I Taught?” (and not the ‘how have I taught‘ as the MOOC activities asked for).  Apart from teaching these subject matter experts to use Webex, podcasting and using Sharepoint and Yammer, much of what I have taught is outside of work hours.  I have openly shared my work through my blog, Twitter, Yammer and learning events. Through this sharing, I have met some wonderful people both within  (who share my passion for learning) and external to the organisation.

Over the weekend I stumbled upon this gem promoted by a tweet from David Hopkins   It’s Kid Presidents message to teachers on “What are you teaching the world?”.  He’s adorable but his message goes to a wider audience than just school teachers.  It can be applied to anyone as he says, “everybody’s a student and everybody’s a teacher” and it’s what resonated with me this week with my work with my business subject matter experts and this MOOC.

What do you think?

Filed under: Development, TOMOOC Tagged: 2013, development, September, September 2013, TOMOOC

Week 2 in Review

My Reflections from Week 2
I am finding that while I can easily get lost looking at every post, video and artifact, it is all very interesting. It is easy to wander off on a tangent, but it is worth it if something is learned. This week I was lost understanding the difference between a cMOOC and an xMOOC. A couple of searches and web pages later, and I had learned the difference. I can see the benefits and difference of both.
One thing I learned for sure, you can get lost following a thread in an xMOOC.

Discussion Question
1. When I first created an online course it was not much more than shortened lectures, and questions that I asked in my f2f class, pasted onto a web page. Well, it was online. It was also boring. What I wasn’t able to paste onto the page was the interaction I had with my classes that made things interesting.
Later versions of the same class were much better when I learned to remix and re-purpose my f2f class into a different class. I went back to some of the better online courses I had taken. They included information from the instructor, the SME, and then helped me to find new information for myself. When I thought about it, creating my online class used many of the same concepts as my better f2f classes. It was always better when I acted as facilitator rather than “knowledge giver.”

Week 2 (September 16 – 22)

Objective: Decide how you will “build rapport” with your distance learners.

Aloha and welcome to Week 2- Connect with your learnersPlease begin by reviewing the resources on how to connect with your learners.  Choose and explore topics that meet your needs and interests. Topics:

  • What the Best College Teachers Do.
  • Close the “distance” gap and build rapport.
  • What the Best Online Teachers Should Do
  • Five factors for building rapport.

Activities & WebinarPick and choose what you will do this week.

Webinar Sessions (all sessions will be recorded)

  1. Use Human Touch to Engage Online Students. By Dr. John Thompson. Full recording (opens in Blackboard Collaborate). Video recording
  2. So how do teachers close the “distance” gap and build rapport? By Dr. Melissa Kaulbach. Prezi PresentationFull recording (opens in Blackboard Collaborate). Video recording
  3. The Art of Blogging: How to Connect, Interact, and Build Rapport with your StudentsFull recording (opens in Blackboard Collaborate)
  4. Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education. By Dr. Larry Ragan.Full recording (opens in Blackboard Collaborate). Video recording.
  5. Weekly RoundupPresentation slides (PDF)Full recording (opens in Blackboard Collaborate). Video recording

How to Teach Online Flipboard Magazine

Here is a magazine view the blog posts for How to Teach online. Flipboard works great on iPad’s and android devices. You’ll need to install the app first.

First 2nd Saturday Showcase

Today I attended a great professional development led by my friends Annie and Jeanette!

 They started with talking about the SAMR model with this video:

 We considered how to redefine, modify, augment or substitute stations with technology for the tradition pen and paper stations. Here are some suggestions.

 Encourage students to write and submit reviews and poetry to

 Have a website that is easily found outside of school. Annie uses the NHE campus website and her page is easily found by searching for Ms. Mitchell's website NHE

Sign up the class for SumDog
In playing the games I've discovered some of it will be over the 2nd grader's math levels.  Sometimes I clicked on games and got the message that I didn't have access.  I am not very sure on this one.

For student created books, try
This looked very exciting for publishing and consuming ebooks!

For allowing students to show what they know:


And my new friend, Sydnie, at Valley Oaks, suggested this for Singapore Math practice:
While there is no Primary 2, there is Primary 3. 

So, thanks for a fun Saturday morning!

Artifact: Life Is Making Sense

Video, Quick Clip – Sunrise from Outer Space, YouTube, 11/10/11.
Audio, 2001 A Space Odyssey Opening in 1080 HD, YouTube, 9/22/10.
Video, Memory – Okuribito (Departures) Soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi, YouTube, 2/9/10.
Graphic of Big Bang, Paul Laurendeau, “De Nihilo Nihil…… (nothing comes out of nothing),” Nothing Out of Nothing, May 2010.
Photo of lightbulb, “Improving Light Bulb Energy Efficiency,” NHPR, 9/4/11.
Video, Infant in Garden
Video, The Living Art of Ikebana, YouTube, 4/10/08.
Video, Picasso Painting Live, YouTube, 7/19/08.
Video, Shodo Japanese Calligraphy Demonstration – Senri no Doumo Ippokara, YouTube, 12/22/12.
Photo of Fallingwater in Western Pennsylvania, “Featured Artist: Frank Lloyd Wright—American Architect,” Arizona Experience, n.d.
Video, Sunset from space, YouTube, 12/12/10.

Responses to Veronica, Ida, Sara: 9/13/13

Veronica, “My week 1 journey of discovery” (9/13/13).

My issue/question: One thing I’ve always had a problem with is whether I should really be marking their English in the report – is this really part of their SDL [self-directed learning]. Part of me says yes – they should learn/be able to express their reflections in decent English (the report constitutes 15% max. of the final SDL grade). But part of me says no – the language in the report (as long as I can understand what they’re trying to convey) has nothing to do with their SDL. I’d be really interested to hear your views on this bearing in mind that this is an EFL/ESP class.

Response: I like the way you’ve set off your key points in red. I also really like your question about what to mark up and what not to (and to what extent) — a constant issue with English and perhaps other teachers. My rough rule of thumb is to mark up when the goal is publication — in the student’s blog and possibly in course or campus journals. When the goal is interaction or communication related to the writing process, I don’t mark up. That is, I treat writing related to but outside the perimeters of the actual paper as “talk” about or for the paper and not the paper itself.

Refering to the article we should have read before this webinar – TB [Tony Bates]: Don’t take for granted that students have actually read through assigned materials or done tasks! Question: Should we then spend/waste time on going over it again? Will this not just encourage students NOT to prepare? Or is it a good revision activity?

Response: Good question! I’ve recorded the Bates webinar with plans to extract clips for a brief video of highlights for TOMOOC sharing, but it’s still sitting on my desktop. I’ve already published my take on the 9-steps article and am wondering if I should devote any more time to the video. The issue, for me, is information. What’s new? In her 9/13/13 blog post, “Week 1 Activity Reflection –,” Sara wrote, “While I didn’t necessarily find anything new in much of the information [in the various activities], I did discover that there was more research out there that I thought to back up what I already knew.” I feel the same way about the Bates info. Not enough that’s “new,” at least for me. I’ve also observed Bates at a recent (June 2013) conference

Ida Brandao, “MOOC How to Teach Online” (9/12/13).

I hope next webinars will be more interesting than those of this week. I think that they are too extensive and boring (my black hat). What was told in this first presentation could be reduced to a max. 15min long screencast. As for the blogging tools you get short tutorials in Youtube that are much more efficient to get you to the objective than a webinar of over 1 hour.

Response: I agree. As far as content delivery, these could have been remixed and repurposed for more efficient learning. However, my guess is that, for the MOOC planning team, these webinars are for more than just content. I think they want to create a “live” and more engaging learning environment, and by that they probably mean one that is as close to F2F seminars as possible. Thus, they’re placing a high premium on synchronous and real-time lectures and discussions.

The issue, as far as I’m concerned, is whether or not these “just like F2F” efforts are worthwhile in online courses. On the one hand, it may be necessary for those new to online learning who may need a familiar analog bridge from the old to the new. On the other, it seems to run counter to the anytime-anywhere digital world of virtual learning.

On yet another level, the issue is one of best practice. Are live webinars best practice for online learning? Put another way, is technical sophistication the end all? In other words, would a course (including MOOCs) be less without live webinars? From a purely technical perspective, the technology behind live webinars is complicated and not widely used by or accessible to classroom teachers. Thus, it’s cutting edge for those whose domain is technology. They see their task as demonstrating to the mass of teachers the technology that is still out of reach for most teachers. I’d probably feel as they do if I were an IT specialist.

This technology imperative is understandable, but it may sometimes be in conflict with what’s really best practice for online learning.

Sdreisbach (Sara) “Week 1 Activity Reflection –” (9/13/13).

I’m not sure I will make any changes.  At the school where I currently work we have a very strong online program that provides blank course shells to instructors.  This ensures that all students are getting the same information.  Because of this though, the instructor is actually more of a facilitator and many times is just grading assignments that have already been created for them.  The main thing I can do is present what I’ve learned to our designers and hope that they will incorporate some of these skills into the courses that they are designing.

Response: “Blank course shells” to ensure “that all students are getting the same information” and teachers “just grading assignments that have already been created for them” seems like a nightmare scenario for online teaching — at least to me. I wouldn’t want to, couldn’t, teach in an environment such as this. But then I realize that, perhaps for some teachers, this rote, linear, and formulaic approach to teaching is comforting and maybe even effective. Still, I really don’t think cookie-cutter course designing will work. This is just another version of teacher-proofing as so-called best practice, replacing variation with uniformity and reducing teacher to technician.

The problem centers on the nature of the course designing process. Maslow’s law of instrument seems applicable. If all the designer has is a one-size-fits-all solution, then every pedagogical problem will receive the same fix. In a word (and repeating what Bates says in his 9 steps), the design process must be flexible. Or put another way, the designer must be flexible — and the teacher, too.

About sensemaking and artifacts

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

Use Human Touch to Engage Online Students

By Dr. John Thompson.TODAY- 10 am- 11 am, Hawaii Standard Time (HST). World Clock 

Online instructors first need to be engaged if they want their students engaged. Learn how “human touch” serves to get everyone engaged. Human touch is really all about creating and maintaining relationships. When students sense a trusting, caring relationship on the part of their instructor, students begin to perceive that their online experience is as much about them, or even more so, than the curriculum, projects, and test results. Students feel that their instructor is trying to establish a warm, supportive relationship, their sense of belonging and engagement increases. That’s just human nature.

Week 1 Activity Reflection –

1.  What?

   A.  Briefly describe what you did?

This week I attended all three webinar sessions as well as read several of the posted documents. 

2. So what?

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

            I attended the Tony Bates session because I’m new to the world of MOOCs.  I had hopes of learning more about MOOCs and what makes them different than a Credit Online Class.  While this was a good presentation, I felt like it and the discussion drifted from the differences between the two items into something that more resembled “What is a good MOOC?” 

I attended the Dr. Dreon session hoping to gain additional understanding about the reasons we teach online. I thought that maybe there were motivations other than those I was already aware of such as distance, flexibility, etc. 

I attended the wrap-up session because I thought maybe this might give me an opportunity to catch any information I missed during the week.  This was a good summary and it provided a nice overview of the webinars that were presented.  Additionally it pulled in some of the reading information which I think is helpful to some. 

When it comes to reading the posted documents, the ones I focused on were:  22 Secrets from the Most Successful Online Educators, Implementing the Seven Principals: Technology as Lever, Applying the Seven Principals for Good Practic to the Online Classroom.  Exploring Online Teaching, and Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online.  In regards to these readings, I found that I was already familiar with much of the information contained within them.  Also I felt that each document presented pretty much the same material just using different terminology.  With that in mind, looking back on it, I think I could’ve gotten by with just reading one or two of the documents rather than the whole pile.

B. How will this help you?

            All of these exercises added to my knowledge level about MOOCs in general and teaching specifically.  While I didn’t necessarily find anything new in much of the information, I did discover that there was more research out there that I thought to back up what I already knew.  I did learn how to find some of the articles so that I can provide them to the instructors I work with so that they can see that there is support for what I’m trying to show them. 

C.  What did you learn from the experience?

             I learned more about MOOCs and how they work.  I also learned that a lack of structure causes many learners to become frustrated with using MOOCS. After coming to this realization I am left to wonder if  the lack of structure and the frustration it produces are part of the reason so many students that enroll in a MOOC don’t complete it.  It seems that a defined structure with at the very least defining learning outcomes such as those found in most credit online courses is desirable in a MOOC. 

             Another thought that I didn’t really learn but actually had reinforced was the importance of communication.  Until it was mentioned here, I didn’t realize (or at least never had given much thought to) what the differences were between distance education and correspondence education and that the major difference between the two was the communication level.  However, I still wonder if a student taking an independent study through distance education doesn’t actually fall within the definition of correspondence education since the communication is basically between just the student and the instructor. 

3.  What now?

A.  What changes did you make?

I’m not sure I will make any changes.  At the school where I currently work we have a very strong online program that provides blank course shells to instructors.  This ensures that all students are getting the same information.  Because of this though, the instructor is actually more of a facilitator and many times is just grading assignments that have already been created for them.  The main thing I can do is present what I’ve learned to our designers and hope that they will incorporate some of these skills into the courses that they are designing. 

      B. What will you do differently in the future?

Again, I think that the main thing I can do is to present the information to our designers and encourage them to increase the amount of communication in the courses that they create.

C. What do you still have to learn?

               I believe I have a pretty sure foothold on the fundamentals.  I would like to learn more about things such as how to get students to participate. Also I want to learn more about teaching techniques such as how others reach out to various learning styles using the online environment.


I feel like I’ve come a long way this week.  My understanding of MOOCs has improved to the point where I’m experiencing much less frustration.  I’ve participated with some blog responses that have led to some interesting discussions which got me to thinking about how I do things. I think it’s been a good week and an I look forward to seeing what next week brings.





Response to Jennyrw2013′s ‘How Do I Facilitate Students…’

Update 9/13/13: Replaced “First Syndication Post” with “Jennyrw2013″.

Jennyrw2013, “How Do I Facilitate Students Trying to Create Their Own Learning Experience?” (9/11/13).

Jennyrw2013, nicely put. My perception, too, re focus on skills:

I’m an English comp instructor.  I see my class as a space where students learn new skills rather than absorb content.  I feel like a coach, and I want to create an atmosphere where we think of writing as practice.  I want my students to try new things, make mistakes, wrestle with their gators, open their minds to new ways of thinking, and then walk away with skills they can apply in their other classes and in the outside world.  Thus, I’ve always thought of composition as a skills-based class rather than a content-based course.

Good question re discussion forums:

Because my online students don’t get the benefit of class discussion, I have to find a way to create a forum online.  I’ve used Laulima for blog posts, but I haven’t required students to respond to each other yet.  I just couldn’t figure out how to organize it.  Do I have them make an original post by one date and then have them make one of more responses to classmates by another?  ( I think I just answered my question.)

Yes, you’ve answered your own question. As a follow-up to posting, I ask students to comment on at least three classmates’ posts. (I created a simple and brief [3:30] video tutorial to introduce students to Laulima forums.) Also, the “conversation” doesn’t have to stop at the borders of the forum. I ask students to include quotes from classmates’ forum posts in their papers, with all the necessary documentation. Thus, students see peers as sources of quotable opinions and observations, and the discussion takes on an authentic dimension — what they say matters since they may be quoted by classmates in their papers. 

Responding to student drafts is a critical issue for all online comp teachers:

This idea about letting students go at their own pace scares me some.  I need papers in by certain dates; otherwise, my work load becomes impossible.  How can I be more flexible for online students? Ugh. I have to give them feedback on their papers, so if they turn in assignments at different times, I’ll lose my marbles.

It’s taken me years to figure out a way to technically manage this, and I’m still working on it. I think the key is to minimize the number of steps or conversions in the process. My students publish their drafts in their personal WordPress blogs. They follow up by posting the title and URL in Laulima forums devoted to submitting drafts. In this setup, the teacher’s tasks are:

  • Link to the student’s draft.
  • Review it.
  • Comment on it.
  • Send a report to the student.

In the past, to evaluate each draft, I worked with four windows (Laulima, MSWord, Excel, Gmail) over two monitors. I

  1. Logged in to the Laulima forum for submitting the draft.
  2. Clicked on the student’s thread and clicked on the link to her/his draft.
  3. Copied the draft to memory.
  4. Opened a blank MSWord file and pasted the draft.
  5. Inserted comments in the paper as I reviewed, using a macro app. (One or two keystrokes inserts boilerplate comments.)
  6. Opened the class spreadsheet to record the score.
  7. Copied the draft to memory and saved it in a folder on my desktop.
  8. Opened an email compose window, pasted the draft, inserted the student’s email address on the message, and sent it.

A lot of little steps. Time consuming. Now, I still use multiple windows, but I’ve eliminated the steps associated with MSWord. I

  1. Take the same steps as 1 and 2 above.
  2. Review the draft in the student’s blog.
  3. Open a Gmail compose window and post macro comments in it.
  4. Open the class spreadsheet to record the score.
  5. Insert the student’s email address on the message and click on send.

The key is Gmail. It now serves as my commenting platform and “cloud” archive for all student drafts. I can quickly record comments on current drafts and retrieve/view my comments from past drafts. Also, the Gmail composer automatically renders URLs hot, so I include URLs to course resources in my macroed comments. (My macro app doesn’t allow hot URLs.) When recording comments on a student’s draft, I can open a second Gmail window to view my comments on previous drafts. This way, I quickly see if students are addressing issues flagged in earlier drafts. I use the difference as a measure of learning.

Eliminating MSWord file juggling from the process and shifting the tasks to Gmail saves a lot of time and, thus, facilitates the review.

Good question re timing:

Also, if the class discussions are to help them brainstorm and pre-write, how can they work ahead?  Being more flexible on timing sounds a little impossible right now.

In my classes, the students have the paper requirements from day one of a given assignment. Thus, they’re already planning their papers, often subconsciously, before the main corridor of writing process activities. The activities help to solidify critical parts of the plan as they go. Thus, even before they sit down to write preliminary drafts, the plan has been incubating in their mind. I guess the point is that, even though the process appears to be linear in the schedule, there’s a lot of recursion going on in the student’s head.

Good question re flexibility in assignments:

This idea about letting students create their own learning experience is throwing me a little. too.  Can I create a course where students get to pick and choose which assignments they want to do?  Is that possible?  Perhaps I can create multiple assignments that would satisfy the learning outcomes.  Then, students could pick which assignments to complete.  Is that what it means to let them create their own learning experience?

One option is to design assignments that are flexible vertically rather than horizontally. Thus, instead of two or more different assignments, you’d have one assignment that’s designed to be flexible or more open. The idea is to offer a topic that’s broad enough to allow students to select subjects that appeal to their individual interests. For example, if the topic is “beauty,” you could ask them to explore different categories: people, activities, natural phenomena or artifacts, places, etc. To encourage remixing and repurposing, you could ask them to create a thesis that’s surprising or controversial.

How Do I Facilitate Students Trying to Create Their Own Learning Experience?


I’m an English comp instructor.  I see my class as a space where students learn new skills rather than absorb content.  I feel like a coach, and I want to create an atmosphere where we think of writing as practice.  I want my students to try new things, make mistakes, wrestle with their gators, open their minds to new ways of thinking, and then walk away with skills they can apply in their other classes and in the outside world.  Thus, I’ve always thought of composition as a skills-based class rather than a content-based course.  Nevertheless, we study the art of writing and, in that, I’m definitely the expert in the room.  Ha!  Room.  Online everything is different.  

Because my online students don’t get the benefit of class discussion, I have to find a way to create a forum online.  I’ve used Laulima for blog posts, but I haven’t required students to respond to each other yet.  I just couldn’t figure out how to organize it.  Do I have them make an original post by one date and then have them make one of more responses to classmates by another?  ( I think I just answered my question.)

This idea about letting students go at their own pace scares me some.  I need papers in by certain dates; otherwise, my work load becomes impossible.  How can I be more flexible for online students? Ugh. I have to give them feedback on their papers, so if they turn in assignments at different times, I’ll lose my marbles.  Also, if the class discussions are to help them brainstorm and pre-write, how can they work ahead?  Being more flexible on timing sounds a little impossible right now.   

This idea about letting students create their own learning experience is throwing me a little. too.  Can I create a course where students get to pick and choose which assignments they want to do?  Is that possible?  Perhaps I can create multiple assignments that would satisfy the learning outcomes.  Then, students could pick which assignments to complete.  Is that what it means to let them create their own learning experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More later…

My favourite teacher… Scary Calculus Guy!

My favourite teacher was my first year calculus professor. He was vibrant and active - sometimes running up the lecture hall stairs into the audience with excitement over the topic that he was presenting. He knew his stuff inside and out. He called on his students to answer questions, even when they were clearly trying to avoid his gaze, no hiding in that class! He made us stand on our feet and get our brains in gear. His assignments made me think about calculus in a different way - not just in the form of equations but also graphs and real-world applications. Who knew that physical phenomena could be described by mathematical models! He dealt with performance problems proactively, meeting with students who were struggling to find a way to help them be successful.

If I could be half as impressive in my online presence, that would be an accomplishment.