Week 3 reflections

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

What I did this week:

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

What now? What do I still have to learn?

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

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

Week 3 reflections

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

Continuing the Discussion on "Creating Effective OL Discussions"

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

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

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

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

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

and in a follow up post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 4 (Sept. 30-Oct.6)

Objective: Decide how you create a “natural critical learning environment” in your online courses.

Aloha and welcome to Week 4- Create a natural critical learning environment. Please begin by reviewing the resources on how to create a natural critical learning environment.  Choose and explore topics that meet your needs and interests. Topics:

  • What is a “natural critical learning environment”?
  • Thinking is Driven by Questions
  • Questioning Strategies

Week 4 Activities & Webinars. Pick and choose what you will do this week.

Recorded webinars

  • How to Promote Critical Thinking in the Online Classroom By Debbie Morrison
  • Engaging Students in Taking Ownership of Content Through Thinking…By Dr. Linda Elder,
    • President of the Foundation for Critical Thinking and Executive Director of the Center for Critical Thinking
    • Full recording (opens in Blackboard Collaborate)
  • Weekly Roundup. Join our session of highlights from the week.

7 Strategies for Building Community in Online Courses

Loneliness and a feeling of working in isolation is one reason why some online students eventually choose to drop a course. You can combat this attrition by building community in your course. Building a learning community and a sense of social belonging doesn’t happen by accident, you as the designer, developer and instructor of your online courses have to plan to build a learning community. Here are some ways that I have found useful to accomplish this task:

1. Set some ground rules on day one of the course (see my previous post).

2. Provide two non-graded asynchronous discussion forum in the course.
Social Forum - actively encourage learners to introduce themselves and to perform a simple ice-breaker activity in the 1st week of class. Explain that this forum can be used to socialize and to post about current events during the semester. This forum should not be used to contact an instructor or a TA.; however, the instructor and the TA can participate informally in the social discussions.

General Q&A Forum - this forum should be monitored regularly by the Instructor and the TAs. It is a place for the learners to ask questions about course materials. Other learners should be encouraged to answers questions posed by their peers. Work to foster a dialogue around each question posed in this forum and take the time to post addition resources in the context of the questions being discussed.
3. Create a balance between individual and group work activities in the course. If learners will be working in groups, explain when/how the group rosters will be formed. Provide each group with its own private discussion forum. Provide some guidelines on effective virtual team-work. Include a confidential peer assessment of group work component, for all graded group-based assessment tools.

4. Design the course with the appropriate balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities that work for the learning outcomes in your course.

5. Provide netiquette and guidelines on how best to participate in the graded discussion forum, if applicable.

6. Post a weekly summary or weekly welcome message. Highlight aspects of the course that have just occurred or are about to be developed in the coming week.

7. Ask learners for feedback early in the course (about 25% of the way through). This early feedback can help inform minor course modifications that may have a high impact on learner satisfaction. It will show the learners that you care about the quality of their experience.

So there’s my list. Do you have any good points that can be added to this? Leave a comment below.

Certain contexts either F2F or online in spite…

Certain contexts either F2F or online, in spite of their differences, may favour connectedness or not.

When we think of democratic schools, we know that group deliberations are a common practice. As the decisions are in the hands of the whole school community, conflicts and rules are decided in general assemblies, discussions are held openly and decisions are taken by vote. Usually these schools are relatively small and everyone knows each other closely. In these schools respect for each other’s opinions and citizenship are in their core principles. So the sense of community and connectedness is very strong.
Summerhill – http://youtu.be/KIyaKWeFhDo

Regarding online learning, I suppose that courses that stimulate discussions, groupwork, peer-review, certainly favour that sense of community. Communities have many different levels of interaction, and an online course of 1 or 2 months, may generate a community that will end in a short time, eventually a few participants may extend their interaction for some common interest.

Another level of connectedness may be fulfilled with communities of practice, which extend collaboration for a long time and may have other longevity. Lave and Wenger developed the concept integrating the three dimensions:
1.Domain – A domain of knowledge creates common ground, inspires members to participate, guides their learning and gives meaning to their actions.
2.Community – The notion of a community creates the social fabric for that learning. A strong community fosters interactions and encourages a willingness to share ideas.
3.Practice – While the domain provides the general area of interest for the community, the practice is the specific focus around which the community develops, shares and maintains its core of knowledge.
Interview with Étiènne Wenger – http://youtu.be/63rQ3S8EHoA

Authenticity in Online Class Discussions: A Response to Rachael

In her 9/26/13 TOMOOC response to Munwah, Rachael I. said: “. . . To support the needs and aspirations of adult learners, we need to help our students engage in collaborative and authentic learning so that learning is meaningful and purposeful and utilizes their previous experiences. I’m interested in learning more about authentic learning activities instructors incorporate in their college courses. Do you do any in your classes?”


The focus in TOMOOC’s third week1 is interaction in online discussion forums, and Moore’s2 classification may be a good place to start. He identifies three types of interaction: learner-learner, learner-teacher, and learner-content. In my mind, learner-content is not a true interaction and should perhaps be lumped together with learner-teacher. Thus, the two main categories are learner-learner and learner- teacher.

In VCU’s3, Weaver’s4, and Ragan’s5 rubrics, the overwhelming pattern seems to be student-teacher, with student-student receiving little or no attention. And even when student-student is mentioned, the standards appear to be vague, almost an afterthought. Here’s an example from the VCU rubric: “The best discussion posts are made in time for others to read and respond.” In Weaver’s scheme, a successful student “constructively responds to classmates postings” and “participates in all module discussions.” Ragan’s list reads like a bunch of criteria for an essay test, with interaction limited to student-teacher.

Thus, the implication is that discussions are primarily “tests” to indirectly measure learning, an evaluation tool rather than a student-student medium for building a community of learners.

The heart of an authentic discussion activity is real-world outcomes — and I don’t mean grades. That is, students need to know that they’re not simply posting whatevers that will earn them a good score from the teacher. They need to know that their ideas will be useful to others in their learning community, that they’re not engaging in busy work just to make the teacher happy.

A simple way to do this is to design (1) writing assignments that require quotes from classmates as well as from published sources and (2) forums that generate postings that could be quoted by classmates. In short, the discussion activities need to be tied to the writing in such a way that they provide a source of content.

The most critical element in the design is the topic.  It must have a built-in potential to grab every student at an affective level, and it must be in the realm of knowledge that is both familiar and new at the same time. Furthermore, the familiar can’t be so overdone that it’s dead, and the new can’t be so unfamiliar that it would take weeks to grasp the bare essentials. (Hint: Incorporate YouTube videos!)

The interaction in this scenario is student-student, students writing for classmates and quoting them in return. The authenticity is in the real-world purpose and consequences. Ideas are quoted and argued in papers, and papers are published in blogs for all to read. The sense of community is in the common purpose and value of everyone’s words in the creation of artifacts for sharing within the community.

1Week 3: Create community: Connect learners with each other (Sept. 23-29).”
2 M. G. Moore, “Editorial: Three types of interaction” (The American Journal of Distance Education, 1989) in Steve Wheeler’s “Interactions of the fourth kind” (Learning with ‘e’s, 4/8/12).
3Using Discussion Boards in Online Classes” (Virginia Commonwealth University, 09/22/2009).
4 Chris Weaver, “The Discussion Board Book” (2005).
5 Larry Ragan, “Best Practices in Online Teaching – During Teaching – Assess Messages in Online Discussions” (Connexions, 8/21/07).

Veronica thank you for your detailed post on…

Veronica, thank you for your detailed post on how you use audio recordings to provide feedback on student papers. The entire process and apps are new to me so I’ll need to try it out to see how I might adapt/adopt some or all. You mention tutors in the process as agents for the recordings so I’m assuming that the teachers themselves don’t need to review every paper and create recordings for each. Am I correct?

I agree that the teacher’s voice is a warmer touch than text comments alone, but my concern is that audio may have some critical disadvantages (to text) in the review process, but this isn’t the place to get into that so I’ll end by saying that I applaud your innovative use of technology to add the human touch to the evaluation process.

Audio feedback and human touch?

This posting was triggered by Jim asking me how I use voice recording to provide audio rather than written feedback on student assignments (in week 2). I’ve been doing this for about 6 years now and the feedback from students is overwhelmingly positive – I’ll describe this in more detail later on. I think voice recording is particularly relevant in online teaching because it adds an element of presence – the so-called human touch, which is often lacking in an online environment. So here goes:

Voice recording tools: I use a digital recorder, an Olympus WS-311M, which has an in-built microphone and USB port for easy uploading to a PC/VLE); my colleague prefers her mobile phone. PCs/Macs with voice recording functionality can also be used for recording audio feedback; software and apps include Audacity, Vocaroo, Audioboo and Voxopop (just Google them).

  • How? The procedure we have found to be most practical is the following. After reading through the assignment, inappropriate parts are annotated with the corresponding correction symbol (for language problems), and numbers are added to help the student identify which part the tutor is later referring to in the audio feedback (AF). Each recording then starts by the tutor personally greeting the student, followed by a brief, task-related, encouraging comment. The tutor then outlines how the feedback is organized (depends on the marking rubric) and talks the student through the assignment i.e. tips as to how the he/she could improve content, language, and organization are given, referring to the symbols, numbered parts or paragraphs to help the student pinpoint the part being discussed. As in normal speech, incomplete sentences, repetitions, slips of tongue, fillers such as ehs & uhms and pauses occur and can be ignored. The intention is to be as spontaneous and natural as possible, simulating a face-to-face situation. A final, positive, constructive remark concludes the recording. Audio files (with the consent of the students) are then uploaded to the VLE together with the annotated assignments for students to access. After listening to the feedback, they edit their assignments accordingly and re-submit for final assessment, thus hopefully benefiting and learning from the feedback received.
  • Why? Compared to written feedback, students value the fact that audio feedback is more detailed, more personal and thus more helpful. Our other usages of audio feedback are to comment on tasks and reflections students submit in connection with their SDL, to provide pronunciation feedback on spoken tasks done during online phases, and to record our reflections on end-of-course evaluations.

Screencasting: The other audiovisual tool I use to provide feedback is Jing (http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html). Jing is free screencasting software which enables you to make a short video (maximum 5 mins/no editing whilst recording possible) of what is on your computer screen.

  • How? We have been using Jing to provide digitised group feedback to our students on language errors (documented in a Word file) from their online forum postings. This means that students are able to watch a video of the tutor talking them through and simultaneously onscreen correcting the errors in the opened Word document. The link to this screencast (saved on the Jing server) is embedded in the course outline on the VLE for the students to access whenever and as often as it suits them; it can also be mailed to them. We have also used screencasting to show students how to use technology and to virtually introduce an ESP course that started with an online rather than a F2F session.
  • Why? Our rationale for using screencasting is three-fold. Firstly, providing feedback in the form of a screencast that can be viewed during an online phase frees up valuable F2F time for other activities. Secondly, explaining while visually highlighting and correcting errors on-screen helps students to understand the feedback more easily than just posting a copy of the answers. Finally, screencasting allows students to watch the feedback again. Here’s a great video tutorial on how to use Jing: http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com/Jing/index.html

All in all, I feel that by using voice recording and screencasting tools, we can now provide more personal, more meaningful and more effective instruction in an acoustically and/or visually supported manner. Intonation and voice tone both help to convey feelings, which in turn really help to create tutor presence and build rapport (the human touch). Finally, since students can decide when, where and how often they listen/watch, an element of choice is added, an important step towards promoting learner autonomy.

What do you think? Would voice recording/screencasting be feasible in your teaching situation? I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has some experience of providing audio and/or video feedback.

Week 3 — Activity Reflection

1. What?

This week I was another crazy one in my life.  I had planned on doing much more, but I only was able to respond to a few blog posts and attend the one webinar, which I found to be quite informative. 

2.  So what?

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

As I previously stated I was able to respond to a couple of blog posts, although I didn’t get around to reading as many of your posts as I had hoped.  Also I participated in Dr. Heather Farmakis’s webinar about Creating Community.  I found this presentation to be quite helpful and I felt quite positive about approaching discussion boards differently after I sat through this session. 

2.  How will this help you?

I think what I learned I can easily implement into the trainings I design and hopefully the instructors in these trainings will take upon these cues and implement these ideas into their own classes. I think that by doing things such as presenting two discussion options will encourage and increase trainee participation because when presented with options, they students will be able to pick a topic they feel comfortable writing about.  Also I can see myself using more group projects after I heard suggestions about creating discussion boards for individual groups.  I think that this might be a way I could implement groups into an asynchronous class.

3.  What did you learn from this experience?

I learned that what works in one scenario doesn’t necessarily work in all scenarios. I’m not sure that matching protocols and aligning due dates among instructors such as was suggested in the webinar is something that will happen at my institution, it does occur loosely simply due to the way in which our online classes are designed.  At my school all of our online classes follow a basic course shell and are designed so that each class is presented in 8 modules.  We do this so that the material can easily be broken down into 8 week (1 module a week) or 16 week (1 module every two week) sessions.  With this in mind, many of our instructors have similar due dates, but if we were to align all the due date exactly as I understood Farmakis to propose, I think it would meet with a great deal of opposition from instructors who believe such an alignment would  infringe on their academic freedom. 

I also learned that giving the students options — such as having two discussion board forums for a student to choose from allows students freedom and encourages participation while at the same time meeting course objectives. 

3.  What now?

1.  What changes did you make?

2.  What will you do differently in the future?

I think that among the changes I will be making as I design future trainings will be to include multiple options when it comes to discussion board postings.  Students may not feel comfortable writing about a particular subject and having options allows them to feel that they can more freely express themselves.  I also am going to take something learned last week and change the introductory discussion post that I ask for in each training (and was discussed as a good practice in the webinar) and have the students present that in a video format to allow students/trainees to get to know each other a little better. 

3.  What do you still have to learn?

I feel fairly confident now when it comes to discussion boards.  I do, however, still need to learn more about using other collaboration tools such as wikis and blogs (especially wikis).  I’m anxious to hear how others use these newer communication tools in their online classes. 


Reflection The importance of online learning community This…

Reflection: The importance of online learning community

This week’s topic reminds me of what Will Richardson (Educational Leadership) once said about how, we as educators, must strive to give students ownership of learning.

More than ever before, students have the potential to own their own learning—and we have to help them seize that potential. We must help them learn how to identify their passions; build connections to others who share those passions; and communicate, collaborate, and work collectively with these networks. And we must do this not simply as a unit built around “Information and Web Literacy.” Instead, we must make these new ways of collaborating and connecting a transparent part of the way we deliver curriculum from kindergarten to graduation.

Younger students need to see their teachers engaging experts in online conversations about content, and they need to begin to practice intelligently and appropriately sharing work with global audiences. Middle school students should be engaged in the process of cooperating and collaborating with others outside the classroom around their shared passions, just as they have seen their teachers do. And college students should be engaging in “collective action,” sharing responsibility and outcomes in doing real work for real purposes for real audiences online.

Essential question (week 3)

Essential question: If vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change how can you teach your students to be more creative using the Internet?
I was struggling a little bit understanding the question. The reason being that I was taking on it on the technology side, that is, how can my students use the technology out there on the internet to come up with creative and innovative solutions? Then I realized that the point of the question is not to break fears that many of us have on fully using the technology that the internet offers. I think the point lays in the definition of vulnerability: to put yourself out there completely and honestly, with no regard for the judgement and criticism that your work will surely garner. A great way to help my students putting themselves out there and at the same time, help them generate creative and innovative solutions is by inviting them to create a blog where they can express their ideas and bounce around possible solutions and scenarios with others. The discussion forums I will create for the students to manage on their own while they work on their projects, will include directions on how to set up a blog and I will add that all of the participants interact with those blogs by visiting them and comment on the posts from the author. My hope is that some of them will eventually use the blog as a creative tool later on, on a permanent basis. I will also invite them to create a profile in systems similar to LinkedIn (professional associations) because this exposes you to others that can take a look at your work and provide feedback. Creating projects that can later be shared with others online is a great creative process, at least is working for me so far.

I work at a library that specializes in audio visual collections…

I work at a library that specializes in audio visual collections so for Banned Books Week we are playing the film adaptations of previously banned/challenged books. We’re popping popcorn to accompany the movie and Lord of the Rings has even drawn a small crowd. Of course none of this would be possible without the help from my library’s amazing staff and students. Heart. Swoon. 

Create Community and connect learners with each other

At first glance, when I read the blurb on the three types of learner interactions I thought, “Yes, that’s the same as in F2F!” I may be very new to online, but I am not new to teaching. The elusive target of having a beneficial, productive, and engaging learner-learner interaction is the goal of every teacher because it is the epitome of “teacher smarter, not harder.” To allow the students to take the lead saves us time, bring in new, fresh ideas and perspectives, and keeps it on a level of interest pertinent to the students. That said, as most know I think, it is very difficult to accomplish. Getting students to participate, equally (or close enough), and getting them to produce insightful ideas can be a battle. I love, as any teacher would, when the classroom is rife with electricity and we are on a roll and they are grasping the concept and throwing out real world examples or analogies and then someone brings up a point I never thought of. Some classes this happens often. Others it is a battle to the last day. So, when I read about goals for learner interactions with online classes, I figure the obstacles would be the same.

Here is the breakdown of the types of learner interactions from the MOOC website:
The first, is learner-teacher interaction. Social media, and other forms of digital communication, have opened new ways for the learner and teacher to connect through meaningful online interactions. The teacher (or subject-matter expert) stimulates learners interest/motivation, presents, demonstrates, guides learners’ application of what is being learned, evaluates learners’ progress, and supports/encourages the learners.
The second type of interaction is learner-content. Learner-content interaction is when the learner interacts with the contents of the course. The online learner is isolated and by him/herself and learning is mainly self-directed.
The third type of interaction is learner-learner. Learner-learner interaction is between the learner and other learners with or without the instructor present. This type of interaction encourages open thinking, deep critical engagement with the topic and with each other, debate, analyzation, collaborative learning, and much more.

THEN, I read on and considered the benefits of an online discussion. I figured it would lack that energy–that “in the moment” buzz of when a discussion is flying in the classroom. And it might. I don’t know; I am not teaching online yet. But the benefits to an online discussion do seem plentiful. To be able to let EVERY student have time to think of something to contribute is a HUGE plus. Obviously in the F2F class, shy students have trouble speaking up and are often “steamrolled” over by overzealous or simply confident ones. It is nice to know that every one has to participate, they can do so at their own (within reason) pace, and I have a definite record of it. This record is also a huge boon. To be able to go back and “keep” the really insightful ideas that came up or to allow students time to produce links that showcase what they are getting it is simply awesome. Now, following all those links sounds like it will take up a lot of time–way more than confining a discussion to class, so I need to think about how to balance encouraging sensemaking artifacts and bringing in ideas, exploration, and links of their own with the practical binds of time.

The level of engagement, or opportunity for it, does seem so much better though I do worry a bit about “misleading” comments. What I mean is–students get to comment, respond, and review straight to one another–great. EXCEPT, it reminds me of when we peer-edit papers in class. I usually collect the peer-edited papers and then write my comments and edits straight on that same copy. This allows me to 1) see how well the peer-editor did and 2) correct any mistakes they “corrected.” Many times students will suggest something or correct something and it is either (technically) wrong according to the rules of grammar or kind of misleading and just adding more confusion to a student who is trying to focus their paper. I have even (only twice) had to correct Brainfuse because they edited something wrong and the student blindly followed it (hard to blame them) and then they got those grammar mistakes marked off on their paper…and they even had it correct in THE FIRST PLACE and changed it due to Brainfuse’s suggestion before turning their final in. Now Brainfuse is just one entity and a professional one. But say you receive 10 comments/critiques/corrections from your peers. Sometimes, too many comments–too many ideas–can be overwhelming. If students are really responding and commenting and helping with ideas and suggestions, then the student receiving those will really need to know which ones are actually helpful and which to disregard. Is that a real-life skill? Yes! Does that mean it is easy to do? No. I was trying to buy baby bottles recently and there are five gajillion choices, each with their own little tweaks, and with all these choices I have no idea which way to go. I just want three to choose from. Three to really look at and figure out. But how do I get to those 3 out of 5 gajillion?

I hope this is making some sense.

Anyway, here are MOOC’s reasons why online discussion boards rock. I am mostly posting it for my own record so that I can just check my own blog when the MOOC is done for things I liked :)
extending the time allotted for discussions beyond regular class time to allow for in-depth reflection on comments
requiring students to move beyond listening to a lecture, stating their thoughts, engaging in well-articulated argumentation and critical reasoning
allowing each student to participate and join-in the conversation, rather than one or two outgoing communicators in the classroom
providing an outlet for students to pose their questions and receive feedback from not only the instructor, but also other discussion board participants
allowing students to reference and bring external sources of information into the conversation (e.g., “according to this web site…”)
storing a record or archive of conversations for use by future classes, researchers, others
allowing discussions to include perspectives from individuals outside of the original class (i.e., one engineering class at Virginia Tech, one at Purdue, and one at Georgia Tech, all discussing the same topic, perhaps including two or three professionals working in the field)

Discussion Questions (Week 2)

  1. What tools/techniques/strategies/approaches are you considering to connect with your learners? How will your choices impact student engagement, intellectual development, and develop personal connections?
    I am planning on using BigBlueButton for live interactions, since I will probably be running my course using a WordPress site, I will use the Disqus system for discussion forums. We will also exchange communication using e-mail. I will probably try to arrange a phone conversation with each student at some point during the course run. One of the things I want to implement is the class project. I am planning on asking the students to post, on a special forum I will create, on what is that excites them about this field of online teaching. Then I will probably try to get groups together with common ideas and preferences by introducing each student so that they can form groups or work alone, if preferred. I will arrange their work forum and let them work together without my constant monitoring, I will ask them to present me what they are doing in a live session later on. I will post once a week questions related to the material they will be reviewing for the week, but I will not be asking them to cover many topics since I am more interested in them spending time in their projects.
  2. Rapport is not something developed by announcement. Rapport is developed by actions—the results from things you do. How can you actively apply the following 5 factors to build rapport with your online students?
    1. Respect. Teachers and students must show respect for each other, for the learning process, and for the institution where it is occurring.
    2. Approachability. Students have to feel comfortable coming to faculty and faculty must be willing to speak with students, during office hours, via email, on campus.
    3. Open communication. Faculty must be honest. There needs to be consistency between what faculty say and what they do.
    4. Caring. Faculty must care about students; they must see and respond to them as individuals. They also need to care about learning and show that they want students to learn the material.
    5. Positive attitude. Faculty should have a sense of humor and be open to points of view other than their own.
    I am very curious about this rapport concept. What I have seen in the university setting is that students look up at these old professors because they are experts in their field, it seems to me that is the only respect they have earned from the students. In many cases, classes are so large that it is almost impossible the teacher will ever be able to see all the students one by one, and he has to rely on teaching assistants to run the course. This happens in the online setting as well. So, the students get to know the TAs (teaching assistants) most of the time and relate to them more than to the instructor, some may even never set foot on the instructor’s office. On the other hand, when classes are small (usually at higher level courses) the instructor does get to know the students, talk to them in an informal manner, conduct classes in a more participatory way. I think at this level the student is mature enough to understand why they respect their instructor in this class, they feel they can approach the instructor at any time, there is usually open discussions that lead to great interaction, and the students get to understand that their teacher actually cares that they leave the class knowing something else. I think the first action I will take when online course opens is to conduct a live session where the students can participate and ask questions about the course and about me. I will present for 15 minutes on my background, why I am teaching the course, why the subject fascinates me, why I expect from each students in the form of class participation, this first interaction will help to show the students information on how to contact me during the day. I will make it clear they can call me when I am in the office, or e-mail me at any time. I will make the point that I am interested in knowing each student and I will make an effort to memorize their names so I can address them by their first name. I will make the case that no question is unimportant and that they need to speak up when they have not understood something from the material or the instructions to the class. I will make it clear at that point and during the semester that I will following the progress of each student to pick up any problems when I see that they are lagging in the course. I tend to be something like the devil’s advocate in many situations, always trying to account for extreme possibilities, which usually tend to be negative. I am changing that for my online class, I will carefully craft my responses to students so as to not sound negative or gloomy on my assessment on their work, or when they present to me their current progress in their projects.
  3. Describe the challenges you have building rapport with online learners. Describe how you build rapport between yourself and your online students? Does it work? How do you know?
    I think my personality and the way I usually communicate might present a challenge to me but I am working on changing that for a more adequate style for the online environment. I am learning to be less judgmental when reading posting from students, I am always trying to read between the lines, maybe there is nothing there. I think the best way to build that rapport is by showing them that I respect their opinion and their ideas, I would express this in replies to their posts, after carefully reading their post I will try to ask some questions that will help me understand what they are trying to accomplish, but if it clear to me, I will praise their work, thank them for their effort and let them know I am looking forward to more postings from them. The best way to know if this is working is by monitoring the forums and see if the students respond to my comments, my questions, if the amount and depth of their posts is increasing and so on. I think I have to establish some kind of protocol to determine the success of my approach.
  4. Surprisingly, it’s often not the energy, the appearance, or the mannerisms of the teacher that make us want to listen and engage, it’s rather whether or not we felt connected. How do you invite learners to connect with you in a shared mental space in ways that stimulates them to learn?
    I think the best time to achieve this is during the introduction process when the course is starting. I have to reach to each student to understand what they are expecting from this course and me. I would like to address all their questions at the beginning, talk informally about what they expect from this course and from me, and reassure them that I am here to help them in any way possible. This is also the time when I would set the ground rules for discussion participation. I want to create an introductory video about myself and why I think this a great course to take. Again, showing past experiences and interesting cases would create at least some amount of curiosity in them, which hopefully will compel them to start working on the course activities and materials.

In last night’s webinar on How to Make…

In last night’s webinar on How to Make Discussion Boards Effective Tools, we learned about the importance of setting up protocols and expectations. Another key to having robust discussions was developing questions/topics that promote interaction and not just answers.
I start the semester with a statement in my syllabus that outlines my expectations:

Discussion Boards and Blogs Grading Criteria….

1. Demonstration of understanding of the issues involved in the posted question or material.

2. Response incorporates material and/or concepts from the course in a relevant way.

3. Response makes a meaningful contribution to the discussion.

4. Response takes a personal viewpoint that is supported by evidence, facts, and/or especially information from the course.

5. The quality of the writing of the response is appropriate for a 200-level college course. The response is written in complete sentences and paragraphs with correct spelling and punctuation.

I write discussion topics that promote reflection and opinion.

From Abnormal Psychology:
What is the purpose of Punishment for criminal behavior? The ultimate punishment is captal punishment. Is this really a punishment or is it something else?

Should we punish someone for criminal behavior if they lack the mental capacity to understand the fact that they are being punished? In the made-for-tv movie Dead Man Out, a psychiatrist, played by Danny Glover is hired to evaluate a deathrow inmate to help determine if he is faking “insanity.” This movie was based on a real-life article by a psychiatrist who was asked to do such an evaluation. The problem here is that the law prevents the execution of mentally ill, or at least “insane” individuals. What if the fact of being on deathrow for many years leads to such a condition? It is not unusual for people to be on deathrow for many years. The average is now almost 15 years. Should a mental health professional do such an evaluation? A psychiatrist is bound by oath to provide help to those in need of care. Should such a psychiatrist/psychologist treat a person in those conditions in order to help restore their mental health and “certify” them to be qualified to be executed? If so, does that break their oath to “do no harm” to their patients since doing so will result in their execution?
(The links to the movie information and statistics may not show in the blog)

My role in the Discussion Board has been to keep the discussion on topic and to bring in relevant information from the course material that students do not bring up.

I agree with the webinar presenter that the lifeblood of the online class is student interaction. From the time I began thinking about teaching online in 1999, my only hesitation was this issue. I was always confident in my ability to convey the content of the course via the web. My first experience with online learning was to take an Astronomy class online and it was a wonderful experience with a master instructor. I was convinced that the web and I could unite to provide the student with a wealth of content to provide a viable alternative to the traditional classroom. What I struggled with was how I would translate my own presence in the classroom into the virtual reality of the online environment. Otherwise, what was the point of having a live psychologist teaching the class? What I was struggling with was the question of how to provide “substantive interaction.” In the early days, I resolved this issue by requiring my students to participate in weekly live, online “chats” in which I discussed, gave examples, asked and answered questions, and got to know my students. When the first webinar and discussion board tools began to be available, I immediately became an avid proponent of these innovations. http://www.edmorris.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2007-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2008-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=1

Building rapport – when online can help face-to-face.

pile of stones This week I’ve been thinking about building rapport in the context of blended learning where the learning technology (a VLE) plays a supporting role to a predominantly classroom based course.

In hybrid learning the role of the VLE is often seen as being that of a repository for resources. When faculty start using a VLE they often begin by uploading course handbooks, lecture slides or recordings and reading lists. I can understand that – the physical space of face-to-face classes it’s supposed to provide human interaction, discussion and activity, which leaves the online space to act as an archive and source for further study.

But face-to-face classes are changing. Student numbers are growing and lecturers don’t necessarily have the opportunity to interact with all the students on their module. A convenor may be delivering the weekly lecture while associate tutors are teaching numerous seminar groups. The VLE provides a platform for the lecturer to develop a relationship and rapport with her students between and beyond the lectures.

With the weekly face-to-face contact in the lecture theatre as a basis for the relationship, a module convenor can use various features of a VLE (such as Moodle which we use at my institution) to develop rapport with individuals and the group as a whole. Here are a few examples:

Forum: where the lecturer can introduce herself and students can ask questions related to the lecture or the module as a whole to be answered by the lecturer in an informal, friendly tone. All the students will be able to see the answers and contribute to the discussion with follow-on questions of their own. This online learning space can also be used for questions that arise in the lecture or in seminars. The lecturer can also use this forum to suggest additional useful resources.

RSS Twitter feed: the lecturer could embed their Twitter feed in the VLE and share interesting tweets with students (this might necessitate a separate professional Twitter account).

Online quiz with lecturer feedback: A quick quiz either after each lecture or after a block of lectures letting students check their learning and get automated feedback from the lecturer. This also provides the lecturer/convenor with feedback to inform lecture planning (which topics are students comfortable with, which need revisiting).

Can you think of any other examples of a VLE or other online learning platform being used to build rapport in a classroom based course?

‘Lacking in Technical Details’ – A Response to Mshin

Mshin, in “Discussion Questions” (9/22/13): I haven’t taught online yet and don’t know yet if I want to. That’s the main reason I joined this MOOC. I knew absolutely nothing about teaching online before and now I feel I know a lot more about the philosophy and the type of student who signs up, but I feel very lacking in technical details: what are my resources? how do I use them? How do I grade? How do I manage the class? I have no idea!!!


Mshin, you’re asking good questions, which means you’re already identifying the critical issues for yourself. As it turns out, these are basic universal issues for anyone teaching or planning to teach online.

Mshin: [If I teach online,] what are my resources and how do I use them?

You’re already publishing in a blog, mshinblog. Consider what that means. By sending its URL (mshinblog.wordpress.com) to colleagues and friends, you can easily share your essays beyond the TOMOOC audience. And this is the cool part: You could easily create another blog for, say, an English 200 class and call it mshin200 with mshin200.wordpress.com as the URL.

The moment you send the URL to your students, you create a teaching platform. You could publish a syllabus, schedule, assignments, activities, resources, etc., and each of these posts would have a unique URL (or permalink). Thus, in an email announcement to the entire class (more on this below), you could ask students to read the syllabus and turn the word syllabus into a hyperlink. Students would open the email, read the announcement, click on syllabus, and be taken directly to your syllabus.

You could insert the syllabus reading exercise into the course schedule in your blog. Students would click on the word syllabus and find themselves on the syllabus page. Apply this hyperlink principle to readings, guidelines, assignment descriptions, and the universe of online resources and you begin to realize the power of a “simple” blog.

For an example of what’s possible with blogs, consider that our TOMOOC hub, How to Teach Online, is a blog. It’s a lot more complex than yours, but that’s only in degrees. You could easily learn how to post photos and videos on your blog, creating multimedia learning resources for your students. You could also learn how to use the sidebar (area on the right of the mainpage) to insert additional info links.

One of the organizers’ strategies is to ask participants to create personal blogs devoted to TOMOOC activities. As a teacher, you could do the same with your students, i.e., ask them to create their own blogs to share their papers, projects, etc. with their classmates and you.

You mention Laulima, the University of Hawaii’s LMS (learning management system), and this means that you have access to its features. The mailtool allows you to quickly send eblasts (email announcements) via UH Mail to an entire class. If you’re teaching multiple sections of the same course, you can easily combine them into one so that you set up only one Laulima learning platform instead of, say, three. This means one eblast goes to students in all three classes; this also means only one blog for all three classes.

The other great feature of Laulima is the discussion forums. Once you get comfortable with it, you’ll learn how to set up interactive discussion forums for different activities that inform, support, or serve the writing process. TOMOOC’s week 3 is devoted to the problem of creating dynamic and educative discussions.

You’re already using UH email, and all your students will have UH accounts. This means you have a uniform, standard, and secure means of communicating with them privately, 24/7. Think of email as your office and hallway chats with individual students.

Mshin: [If I teach online,] how do I grade?

In your blog schedule, you can post assignments. For example, you could ask students to post preliminary drafts of a paper in their course blogs and to log in to their classmates’ blogs to review their drafts and leave comments. (The blog URLs would be shared in a Laulima discussion forum.) You could then ask them to use the peer comments to publish revised drafts that serve as their final drafts. You would then log in to their blogs to read and evaluate their final drafts as well as the preliminary draft and comments. You could then email your comments and scores to each.

You could also require certain levels of participation in Laulima discussions, and simple rubrics could be used to evaluate and grade student performance.

Mshin: [If I teach online,] how do I manage the class?

You could use an Excel spreadsheet to keep records, and email to contact individuals to praise or encourage. The amazing advantage of online classes is the “paper” trail. Everything is archived: all drafts, comments, posts, email, etc. You could mine this data for instructional purposes. For example, when reviewing a student’s current paper, you have instant access to all her/his previous drafts as well as your and her classmates’ comments on those drafts.

More on resources and how to use them:

With a Twitter account devoted to your online classes, you could easily tweet reminders and tips to students. This is also a quick and effective way to share interesting comments from discussions or memorable lines from student papers.

With YouTube, you and your students have access to literally millions of videos, and you can easily share them with one another for various purposes.

Technically, the whole wide world of the web is the classroom for you and your students, 24/7, and it makes even the grandest MOOC look like an ant in comparison.

In time, I think you’ll find that you no longer need a required text for your course, saving students a bundle. It’d be easier and even better to pull together resources from the web to form your own course text, and you could even ask students to contribute useful links to it.

Thus, re feeling “lacking in technical details,” I think you’re actually not lacking at all. You’re already using the basic technology and simply need to figure out how to remix and repurpose what you already know to develop and deliver an online course.

At this juncture in deciding whether or not to take the plunge, perhaps the most important question is “Why?” Why do you want to teach online? The fact that you’re taking this MOOC and participating in a big way (you’ve written a LOT in your blog!) tells me that you have a why, that you think this may be an important step for you.

I don’t know what your reason is, but I’m guessing it’s a gut feeling that online may be a better way to learn or at least it may offer advantages to strictly F2F approaches. I’d suggest taking the plunge in going completely online with a course — rather than going blended. Blended is like slowly entering the ocean. First a toe, then a foot, ankle, etc. but stopping short of diving in and getting completely wet. You’ll never experience the joy of swimming and diving, the graceful feeling of flight, the sense of weightlessness.

No matter what they say, those standing knee- or waist-deep in water are not swimming. Those teaching blended classes will never know or experience the freedom of completely online courses — freedom from the time and space constraints that have kept us chained to brick ‘n’ mortar campuses for hundreds of years.

Okay, swimming and education are like apples and oranges, and the analogy can only go so far. By the same token, comparisons between online and blended, too, are like apples and oranges. They can only go so far. These are different modes of teaching and learning. To argue the merits of one over the other is pointless. Perhaps the only sensible view is to say that they both have their merits, and leave it at that.

Thus, the most important question for online teaching may be: What are the truly authentic strategies for teaching online? And I think this is the question that you, Mshin, are asking.

Mshin: Online Classrooms seems like a lot of juggling plates in the air and having to remember to toggle between all of them. That part kind of blows my mind. Right now I am only juggling between checking my email and doing this blog!

I like this analogy! Blows my mind, too, and I’m guessing that this comparison isn’t completely negative for both of us. Multitasking — good or bad? I think good, despite “research” that seems to show that performance suffers when we try to do more than one thing at once. In my mind, thinking itself is a multitasking phenomenon, remixing and repurposing continually across wide ranges of data and information. Thus, tools that help us to multitask are aids to thinking — not obstacles.

In the context of online education, we’ve taken teaching and learning out of the single-tasking teacher-centric mode into the multitasking student-centric mode. Students can read their email while pausing in a jog at the beach, complete a class reading at Starbuck’s during a lunch break at work, post a draft to their blog while watching a football game, and participate in a class discussion while traveling in China.

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.

Binary Flippy Do – How To

Today in AP Computer Science Principles we made the Analog Binary Calculator. We have been working up towards binary. I do not start them with the big explanation of This Is Binary.

Instead I do a series of puzzles as warm ups and exit tickets for the week or so before the actual lesson. That way by the time we get to full scale binary they have had some positive experiences and built their own understanding of how binary works.

(Why do I even do Binary? Here you go)

So for example I show them a picture of two light switches and point out they can either be on or off. Working with a partner they have to figure out how many numbers they can store using the light switches. What if we add a third switch, how many then? Without listing all the combinations can you predict how many numbers you could represent with 4 switches? This makes a great warm up activity.

The great thing about the flippy do is it is super easy to translate numbers back and forth. My stronger math kids pick up the number theory behind it quickly, while my weaker math students are successful so they will stick with it rather than tuning out.

If you also cover the full two's comp representation it is also an incredibly easy way to teach the steps.

  • Index cards - 4x6 or larger
  • Markers
  • Scissors 
  • Rulers - helpful, but not necessary


First you fold up the bottom 1/4, draw 8 columns, and cut the bottom flippy things like this:

Can you tell this is my white board?

Second, you label the powers of two. Then put 1's on the back of the flaps and zeros underneath as shown:

Then I have them do a few puzzles:
  • How may ways can you represent 13? 3? 15?
  • Count from 0 to 13. Any pattern with even/odd numbers?
  • What is the largest number this can store?
  • What is 01111111? 00111111? 00011111? - what is the pattern here?
The point here is, if I just tell them that there is only one way to make any base ten number in binary it goes in one ear and out the other. Snore.

If instead they are doing a puzzle, and after a few realize THEMSELVES that there is only one combo per number, they internalize that at a different level. They don't forget it.

After all this we do the algorithm to change from binary to base ten and back. The best part is when the kid in the back, the one that hates math, tells their neighbor "Hey, I actually get this".

New to Laulima and not technologically able…

New to Laulima and not technologically “able.”
1. Could someone inform this novice what “sticky” is on a discussion post?
2.What is that as compared to “normal?”
3.Does “announce” mean it will automatically email the students to notify them about the new discussion topic post?
4. Do their posts show up as their username?
5. And, lastly, do you suggest I scrap trying to use laulima’s discussion forum and just make a wordpress blog and have them comment to that?

Thanks for helping a novice!

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.

Webinar Today! How to make discussion boards effective learning tools

Monday, September 23rd,  2 pm- 3 pm, Hawaii Standard Time (HST). World Clock 

  • Examples of exemplary, mediocre, and poorly written post.
  • Tips for constructive guiding questions.
  • Tips for managing discussion board responses

By Dr. Heather Farmakis

The Art to being on the Online Yellow Brick Road

The 'Art' aspect of being an online facilitator is starting to take shape.  It has been an interesting week of readings, webinars and reflecting on what has been occurring in my online course.

I was outlining my post when I realized I had started the week reading about Ken Bain's book, "What the Best College Teachers Do" which I read a number of years ago.   How was it that all this common sense information didn't seem to translate for me into the online world.  I was so deeply entranced by how the webinars I had either participated in or watched discussed presence and being present. Lost to me was anything to do with Bain's book and the article, "What the Best Online Teachers Should Do", (2011).

Presence - John Thompson showed a slide on teaching presence, cognitive presence and social presence but really never went into any depth on any of these.  I wasn't there to ask why mention if you aren't going to discuss?

His discussion revolved around common sense that is people want to know  to know that you care so, for example, use their name in discussion postings or move deadlines if there are issues occurring in their lives.  He also threw out there www.voki.com and http://Present.me.com as two ways of creating an online presence.

Whereas when Larry Ragan from Penn State discuss presence I wrote down standards, frequency and classwork however his lead-in to this discussion was "Don't worry about me . . . (I'll check in once a week.).  So I guess I am taking away from this discussion is that an online facilitator needs to consider what their interpretation is to online presence and let your participants know.

Is online presence - 24/7 as John Thompson talks about or what Larry Ragan says, "Check in a minimum of once a day but more like 2 or 3 times a day."  Personally, I have been teaching for over 20 years in a traditional setting and I can understand why some people balk at the hand holding in online courses.  I do give my participants my contact numbers for weekends since most of them will be working on their course material on the weekend and encourage them to phone if they run into difficulty since I absolutely ban myself from looking at work email during the weekend (too much other stuff that can get into your head if you look at it). If I was going to sum this up - tell people what your expectations are and then make sure that you are modeling them.

I appreciated Larry Ragan's flooring analogy and the fact that on-learning is not like moving from carpet to hardwood but really a transitional shift more like teaching blindfolded: Here is the course go for it.  Considering the research shows that most instructors teach like they were taught (the model factor or like they like to learn) it is amazing that institutions put people on-line without any type of training (except perhaps on the LMS).  Perhaps even more amazing is that we muddle our way through trying to get a sense of what excellence works for.

Perhaps John Thompson's quote, "Students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." sums up this week in the sense that we are people and we want to know that we matter.

The one factor that never went far enough for me was the "excellence in 'online' teaching"  Bain talks about it in the classroom as "sustained and deep understanding, a fundament change in the student's world view and mental models, a desire to learn more, and effective communications."  If we were going to be pushed to be excellent "online instructors" is the human touch the only key?

Rapport is not a four letter word


Nothing much bothers me more as a student, parent, principal or fellow teacher, than an instructor who ‘allows’ you into their domain. Face to face or online. They feel that they must be totally ‘in control.’ Control is sometimes shown through the use of sarcasm, a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude, or concern may be seen as a sign of weakness.

Several years ago I was introduced to something called “Love and Logic.” Basically, it is a philosophy which helps a person gain control by giving it up. I noticed it uses many of the same ideas that are discussed this past week.

Week 3 (September 23 – 29)

Objective this week: Decide how you will “build community” in your online courses.

Aloha and welcome to Week 3– Create a Community: Connect learners with each other. Please begin by reviewing the resources on how to connect learners with each other.  Choose and explore topics that meet your needs and interests. Topics:

  • Interaction: the keystone of contemporary education.
  • Community of Inquiry
    • Building An Online Learning Community
    • The Community of Inquiry theoretical framework
    • Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education
  • Creating Interactive Discussions
    • Why should I use a discussion board?
    • The Discussion Board Book
  • Blogs
    • How to use blogs for learning and teaching
    • Using a blog to create and support a Community of Inquiry in Secondary Education

Week 3 Activities & Webinars. Pick and choose what you will do this week.

Webinar Sessions (all sessions will be recorded)

Discussion Questions:

Discussion Questions

1. You do not want to just move your face-to-face course to an online version. We suggest re-designing your course to meet the requirements of your online learners. How do you want to teach online? Describe your basic teaching philosophy and role as an instructor. Look deeply and share how you are willing to be open and doing things differently.
I answered some of these in previous blogs. I realized that I would need to be more open and accessible on a personal level due to the distance and purposely weave in some social interaction between the students–at the beginning is best–that allows them to work collaboratively and get to know one another. Right now I do incorporate group work, but I do not use any time for “get to know you” activities. I also liked all the comments I have read on how to do comments! It is important to stress the tone that comes through with writing and that it is just a short agreement or a “good job.” Something new must be added or a more in-depth addition to the idea or a constructive critique.

2. Knowledge is finite and defined. I am an expert in the subject matter who knows more than the students, and thus my job is to ensure that I transfer as effectively as possible that information or knowledge to the student?

It is great to be able to just put all the resources on laulima for them–so that at any point if they lost something or want to know more they can check our their resources and re-see their instruction sheets and rubrics or find the samples that I posted or the websites that I have posted as extra tutorials. Motivated students have a wealth of teacher-picked examples of additional tutorials they can use to get ahead or to help with understanding the current concept.

I liked reading in one of the MOOC’s posts about how we have to say things clearly and concisely. Now, I always tell me students that when they write–do not make it longer than it needs to be! Do not add in superfluous paragraphs! But, as an English teacher, it is easy for me to keep “elaborating” or explaining on and on until I have covered every possible way to define this concept….and lost my audience due to boredom. So pick one or two good procedures, go over them in clear, short steps, and keep the material so that someone sitting at a computer will read. I liked the idea of incorporating 5-10 min videos of me–I can see how that would help with getting to know your teacher and some concepts are best explained.

3. Focus is on developing 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?
Online I can see the teacher as both depending on the assignment. For discussions, I am hoping to facilitate and let the class take the lead. However when it comes to the actual MLA requirements on this paper and how to find evidence and synthesize it, I think I need to be more of a guide. What I would look forward to is asking students to contribute materials or “sensemaking artifacts” to the announcements or class “board.” I’d love to have a “student wall” where they can post any TIPS or additional materials on whatever we are focusing on that week. Oh, we are learning about comma splices? Cool, someone can post a link to a cool youtube video they found or create a short worksheet and post it. Oh, we are trying to find topics for our big position paper? Cool, someone can post a website of the best pro-con ideas or a website to a really cool magazine where they think students can find a jumping off point.

4.Taking into account the four factors below, decide and describe what ‘mix’ of face-to-face and online learning will be best for your course, and why your “mix” is best.
So, I haven’t taught online yet and don’t know yet if I want to. That’s the main reason I joined this MOOC. I knew absolutely nothing about teaching online before and know I feel I know a lot more about the philosophy and the type of student who signs up, but I feel very lacking in technical details: what are my resources? how do I use them? How do I grade? How do I manage the class? I have no idea!!! If I every do foray into the world of OL, I would like to try a hybrid class first with one day a week of F2F and the other OL. I don’t even know all the acronyms and short cuts–so that takes up a lot of my time. I just learned “F2F” and am just using OL for the online classroom, not sure what the acronym for that is. So, for me, I mix of both would be needed considering how far behind I am in the world of technology….baby steps!

5. I have not taught online yet, thus I can only speculate on how I will manage the class and all the technical details of who commented on what and who posted and what’s going on. Online Classrooms seems like a lot of juggling plates in the air and having to remember toggle between all of them. That part kind of blows my mind. Right now I am only juggling between checking my email and doing this blog!

Presence, ‘Mr. Miyagi Style’ (Artifact 2)

Jenny, in “Mr. Miyagi Style” (Working It Out in the Virtual World, 9/22/13), captures the art of teaching composition.

Ralph Macchio and Noriyuki "Pat" Morita in a scene from "The Karate Kid" (1984).

Ralph Macchio and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita in a scene from The Karate Kid (1984): “Wax on, wax off.”

She begins with an understanding that many teachers, even after many years, fail to grasp. Writing is a skill, a performance, an art — something that one does, not something that one knows. It’s more a running stream than a block of ice. Furthermore, it’s a communication skill, it’s interactive, it’s done with others. It’s rhetorical.

When we begin with this assumption, the implications re pedagogy become clear:

Students need a lot of practice learning how to write in a logical fashion. They need practice working with sources; they need practice presenting the works of others and practice responding to those ideas. They don’t show up with these skills, and why should I expect them to? (Jenny)

Jenny’s Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid, 1984) clip captures, in a fun and engaging way, the oneness of learning and teaching: practice, practice, practice; coaching, coaching, coaching. This is teaching as shaping rather than teaching as judging. Writing is a performing art, and through constant practice and feedback over a lifetime — not just a semester or even throughout college — one gradually grows.

In Asia, the arts are called “do” (pronounced dough) or “dao” (or “tao”) — the way. One can follow the way, but one can never own it or master it. Everyone is perpetually a student. But it doesn’t stop there. The path is defined by the travelers, the pilgrims. Those behind (kohai in Japanese) seek guidance from those ahead (senpai), and those ahead guide those behind. Thus, everyone is also perpetually a teacher, like yin and yang.

Like yin and yang, teaching is not separate from learning but an essential part. Teaching a skill reinforces, refines, and expands one’s learning. If a person doesn’t learn something new every time s/he teaches a skill, then he’s not growing as a teacher or a student.

In learning any art, failure and ignorance are givens. No one knows everything, and everyone fails at one point or another. The quest for perfection, not the perfection itself, is the way. From this perspective:

Confusion is okay. Students aren’t just allowed to get frustrated and confused- confusion is encouraged. As a matter of fact, I remind them repeatedly that when they get to a point when they’re about to pull out their hair and quit, they’re right where they’re supposed to be- this is where learning happens. Just as a body builder lifts weights to tear muscles apart to make them stronger, we too must tear our old ways of thinking apart so that we can learn, build empathy, and discover solutions to real world problems. (Jenny)

Ignorance, failure, confusion are the doors to learning, and as Jenny says, “When they get to a point when they’re about to pull out their hair and quit, they’re right where they’re supposed to be — this is where learning happens.” And this is the confluence of learning and teaching, the epiphanic moment when authentic question grasps meaningful answer.

The dao defines presence. As writing teachers, our students are fellow travelers. Thus:

Mutual respect is important. I call them by their first names, so I ask them to call me by mine. . . . I think that in today’s student/teacher climate, going out of my way to let students know it’s okay to call me by my first name will help them speak to me more easily. I hope it makes them more comfortable shooting me an email and asking questions. I think it’s working. (Jenny)

Teachers have to be accessible and respectful. In a word, they need “aloha.”

Teachers also have to love the dao. Jenny says, “I lucked out and get to teach composition.” This is a path she chose. Some of the writing teachers I know treat their courses as punishment to endure or hurdles to overcome to get to their first love, teaching Literature. The proof is in the doing. Jenny’s obviously a writer. She writes. And she loves doing it.

Students “get it” in her words — her enthusiasm for the way, the art of writing:

I want them to have communication skills. I want them to be able to listen to others closely, and I want them to have ways to respond. I want them to know that their ideas matter. I want them to have techniques for dealing with people they don’t necessarily agree with when they still have to find a solution to a problem. I want them to be eloquent, just as I want them to understand the beauty of clarity and brevity. (Jenny)

They also get it in her patience:

There’s a lot of repetition of skills on different topics. I have to repeat myself a lot. Some of them get it the first time, some of them might get it after 16 weeks. I hold on. I try not to get frustrated. We repeat. I think of it like building muscle memory so that when they go into other classes, or go to work, or even have to work out disagreements with their families, friends and neighbors . . . . So we repeat and wax on and wax off and wax on and wax off. (Jenny)

We can establish our presence in online classes with a photo or a video, but we can also do it with our words. Our words are who we are. They aren’t just words, but style, and, paraphrasing Buffon, style is the person. Katherine Anne Porter defines it this way: “You do not create a style. You work, and develop yourself; your style is an emanation from your own being.”

Students read our words, and through our words, they know who we are, they sense our presence. We and our words are one and the same, inseparable, and getting to know one means getting to know the other.

Am I a hybrid teacher?


My Hybrid Teacher self?

What did I do this week?

I was on holiday for most of this week so I didn’t do as much MOOC study as I could have. Notice I didn’t say should have. I try to remember that the relationships between the physical, emotional and professional / productive aspects of our lives are important and nurturing ourselves is an essential precursor to nurturing our students so I’m not going to beat myself up about neglecting the course.

I also have good authority for not getting too fixated on ‘completing’ all parts of this course. Stephen Downes who spoke at the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) Conference last week advocated viewing cMOOCs like this more as resources than courses as such. Thinking about this made me realise that my approach to this MOOC is one of selective learning and the things that I choose to focus on and what I get from them are unlikely to match exactly what anyone else gets from the ‘course’.

I did sit down on Thursday night and watch two catch-up videos of webinars I missed. (One of the aspects of this MOOC I would change if I could, would be the location – being the wrong side of the globe means that I don’t get to take part in person which is a shame.)

The aspect of Tony Bates’ talk that particularly interests me and relates most closely to my professional practice as an Education Developer / Learning Technologist working with staff teaching campus-based courses, is hybrid or blended learning. In particular, I’ve been thinking recently about the ways in which online components are becoming more integrated into campus courses. Bates referred to flipped classes but suggested that there were more possibilitie. This overlaps with some of the things I was hearing about at ALT-C last week (and blogging about in terms of  face-to-face using online tech and campus courses learning from online ones).

How might my own teaching be, or become, hybrid?

This brings me to reflect on the nature of my own teaching, which is not straightforward:

  • I run some face-to-face workshops for staff in which I try to take a student-centred approach and tailor the content to the learners’ needs. Although classroom based, these sessions are supported with online resources.
  • Far more of my work has been in one-to-one situations with staff taking a professional development course. This involved regular meetings, discussions, observations of their teaching, lots of informal feedback and ultimately assessment of their portfolios.
  • I also produce materials for a website, blog and paper newsletter and collect and curate a lot of resources that I hope lead to informal learning.

This all sounds pretty hybrid, right? But just because my practice is spread across a range of activities doesn’t mean that the learners I work with are experiencing hybrid learning.

Some clear examples of hybrid/blended learning innovations I’ve been involved in would be the use of online quizzes to provide feedback to students on a campus-based course, or the use of Student Response clickers to increase engagement in a large lecture classes. These are the sorts of innovations people like me support and disseminate, but the techniques rarely translate well to the sorts of teaching that we do ourselves, where numbers tend to be smaller and workshops are one-offs rather than part of sustained modules.

I have to reflect, then, how appropriate this MOOC is for me. I want to learn about teaching online because colleagues will increasingly need to think about how to do that, and will want advice and guidance, but I get very little opportunity to put that learning into practice myself. 

Am I already teaching online, albeit in an informal way?

I think that the answer has to be ‘no’. There may be some informal learning resulting from my activity, but can there be informal teaching? In the absence of ‘appropriate learning goals’ and designed ‘course structure and learning activities’ I don’t think that I can claim to be ‘teaching online’ as such. I do try to ‘communicate’ as much as possible and in as many ways as I can, but the possibilities for evaluation are limited so innovation is generally born out of curiosity.

I have written elsewhere about my efforts in Curating and Communicating as possible ‘e-routes to disseminating and sharing good practice among teaching staff’ but although these are intended to stimulate learning and in particular the sort of networked learning that we are experiencing in this MOOC they do not feel like ‘teaching’.

Would the things that I teach formally work online?

That is an interesting question. Many of the workshops I run are introducing staff to using learning technologies and trying to do that online would probably be unhelpful. Face to face and hand to hand interaction is really important when grappling with new equipment or software for the first time. Other teaching and learning topics could potentially be addressed through online modules, but feedback on staff development workshops over the years has consistently shown that the opportunity to meet other members of staff and share experiences has been one of the most valued aspects of the sessions. It seems unlikely that the same level of sharing and peer support could be achieved in an online context unless the topics were tackled as part of a more substantial course where a meaningful community could be established over time. 

So, is my teaching now, or could it become, hybrid or blended?

  • To the extent that the face-to-face workshops I run are supported with online resources they are minimally hybrid/blended.
  • The wealth of online and networked resources I curate and communicate to colleagues provide opportunities for them to get involved in informal online learning alongside / beyond any formal sessions they might attend, but these are not part of any structured hybrid/blended learning design.
  • Some topics that have been taught face-to-face could be taught online, but the benefits of this seem limited when staff are all based locally and sharing experiences with colleagues has been such a valued part of professional development workshops in the past.

But this doesn’t mean that I can’t understand hybrid pedagogy and the best ways to engage in hybrid / blended teaching so that students can get the best learning experience and outcomes. It does, however, mean that I can’t do a straightforward application of my learning on this MOOC and will have to think throughout about how the staff I work with can use the ideas that I encounter – nothing new there then :)

Mr. Myagi style

Okay, so I learned a lot from Mr. Myagi. When it comes to connecting with students, here are a few good ones I got from Sensei.

1- Confusion is okay. Students aren’t just allowed to get frustrated and confused- confusion is encouraged. As a matter of fact, I remind them repeatedly that when they get to a point when they’re about to pull out their hair and quit, they’re right where they’re supposed to be- this is where learning happens. Just as a body builders lifts weights to tear muscles apart to make them stronger, we too must tear our old ways of thinking apart so that we can learn, build empathy, and discover solutions to real world problems.

2- Mutual respect is important. I call them by their first names, so I ask them to call me by mine. Did Mr. Myagi do that? Not really, huhn. Well, calling the kid Danielle-san always sounded really familial to me, like Mr. Myagi was calling him “son”. I know that it’s really just my bad understanding of Japanese, but I think that in today’s student/teacher climate, going out of my way to let students know it’s okay to call me by my first name will help them speak to me more easily. I hope it makes them more comfortable shooting me an email and asking questions. I think it’s working.

3- Repetition is good. I lucked out and get to teach composition, and I know that students need a lot of practice learning how to write in a logical fashion. They need practice working with sources; they need practice presenting the works of others and practice responding to those ideas. They don’t show up with these skills, and why should I expect them to? So there’s a lot of repetition of skills on different topics. I have to repeat myself a lot. Some of them get it the first time, some of them might get it after 16 weeks. I hold on. I try not to get frustrated. We repeat. I think of it like building muscle memory so that when they go into other classes, or go to work, or even have to work out disagreements with their families, friends and neighbors, I want them to have communication skills. I want them to be able to listen to others closely, and I want them to have ways to respond. I want them to know that their ideas matter. I want them to have techniques for dealing with people they don’t necessarily agree with when they still have to find a solution to a problem. I want them to be eloquent, just as I want them to understand the beauty of clarity and brevity. So we repeat and wax on and wax off and wax on and wax off.