Innovative Technology in Teaching 2013-09-22 03:45:00

   As a participant in the How to Teach Online MOOC, I have to say that that I am enjoying myself immensely.  As an experienced online instructor of almost 14 years, I know that technological innovation flows like a river.  It never stops, and in my experience, one can never completely master it. 
   Many seminars and training sessions tend to focus on the newest and greatest tools to come on the scene or the mechanics of this or that LMS with little regard to the big questions of why do we want to teach online and what learning objectives we hope to achieve with the coolest new toy being introduced.  The emphasis on thinking about these and other important questions in the activities within TOMOOC has been refreshing and invigorating.
   There certainly has been no shortage of discussions of new methodologies and technologies.  The use of Flipboard, Audacity, Pinterest, Powtoons, Jing, Wordle, and many others by my instructors, colleagues, and fellow participants has been inspiring and instructional.  But the discussions on Why We Teach Online, The Human Touch, Best Practices, and Building Rapport have been direct to the heart of the matters at hand in designing and implementing an online class.  Even after 38 years of teaching and several advanced degrees in education and psychology I am thinking in new ways about my teaching habits and how I help others learn more about online teaching and learning as an online learning coordinator.
  Happily the typical misguided emphasis on the need to address students' learning styles has been absent.  Instead, discussions such as Olliver Dreon's on The What, the How, and the Why Student's Learn address the need to thoughtfully plan what we want students to do with the material we are learning and to design modules to reflect this need for multiple modes of engagement.  
  Without these important reflections and the resulting understanding of the need to artfully blend robust learning activities while engaging students in meaningful ways, we not only run the risk of failing to successfully translate our message from the traditional classroom to the much different environment of the virtual classroom, but we may actually be putting our institutions at risk if this reflection does not result in the creation of  a course with truly interactive features that go beyond the mere use of periodic and student-initiated emails.  Although the concept of "substantive interaction" has not been adequately defined as yet, It is a one of the features that differentiates a distance learning class from a correspondence class as defined by the U.S. Department of Education.  Institutions have begun to see the importance of this element of online learning not only as an accreditation issue, but the true essence of what newer technologies can  do for remote learning.

Multi Access Learning Framework

I was really excited to see this article from Irvine et al. (2013) as it addresses some of the very thoughts that I've been having around how to pull together the best elements from learning theory - can't forget our foundations :0) -  along with what we have been learning about MOOCs and Online Learning into a model that makes sense for those of us in Higher Education. The article references the works of:
  • Brown & Campione's Fostering a Community of Learning [FCL] - research-share-perform; 
  • Bruner's 4 Aspects of FCL - agency, reflection, collaboration & culture; and 
  • Code's Agency Model - personal, proxy, and collective 
to establish a theoretical foundation for their Multi-Access Framework. They define Multi-Access Learning as a means of enabling students, in F2F and/or OL contexts, to personalize their learning experience while participating in a course.  The framework consists of 4 Tiers:

Tier 1 - F2F: traditional classroom teaching & learning
Tier 2 - Synchronous: both F2F & OL through web conferencing.
Tier 3 - Asynchronous: OL access to archives of F2F classes + collaborative activities that support co-construction of meaning
Tier 4 - Open Learning: following the xMOOc & cMOOC approach, non-credit students are able to access the course at no cost & the learning community has potential for global reach.

As I see it Tiers 1-3 describe Blended Learning. But the authors claim that this model is different
from BL as it places the student at the centre. Though this doesn't fit with a lot of the materials I have been reading, which advocate BL as an opportunity for focusing on the students through engaging them in active learning, I did see the authors' point that it is ultimately the instructor who controls what the blend looks like. Apparently, in this model, the student has full choice.

Aside from the theoretical underpinnings [which satisfy the academic world that I live in] what I like about the framework is that it attempts to find a cohesive model for bringing together the best of F2F & OL - including what xMOOCs [mastery learning] and cMOOCs [connectivist/constructivist] can bring to the learning experience when opened up beyond the university. As someone who loves visuals and frameworks to help organize my thinking and connect different concepts, this is the best representation I have found to date that encapsulates my current thinking on the future possibilities for online teaching and learning.

Reference: Irvine, V., Codes, J., & Richards, L. (2013). Realigning HIgher Education for the 21st Century Learner through Multi-Access Learning. JOLT Vol. 9 No. 2 June 2013


Sept 2013 Top 9 Coursera Courses by Enrollment

The top moocs, rated on active participation, learning and growth I have taken are: 

  1. #etmooc (Alec Couros)
  2. Designing a New Learning Environment (DNLE) - Stanford (Paul Kim)
  3. Learning Creative Learning - MIT (Mitch Resnick)
  4. #moocmooc (Jesse Stommel)
  5. Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success - Indiana (Curtis Bonk)
  6. Creating an Open Classroom - CEET (Verena Roberts)
  7. Design Thinking Action Lab - Stanford (Leticia Britos Cavagnaro)
  8. Social Media (Maria H. Andersen)
  9. Introduction to Openness in Education (David Wiley)
  10. A Beginner's Guide to Irrational Behavior - Duke (Dan Ariely)
  11. Think Again - Duke (Walter Sinnott-Armstrong & Ram Neta)
  12. Social Psychology - Wesleyan (Scott Plous)

10 popular MOOC instructors with brilliant Twitter accounts

What is Chamber Music?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Taken with edits from:

Special Issue on Massive Open Online Courses

The MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT) is a peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication that aims to promote scholarship in the use of the Internet and web-based multimedia resources in higher education. The first issue appeared online in July 2005 and included a number of invited papers from various disciplines.

Special Issue on Massive Open Online Courses published

The Human Element of Online Learning

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

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

E-Learning: Tips for Student Success

Week 2 Reflection Activity — WOW What a Week!!

This week was a hectic one both at work and at home.  There was so much going on in the MOOC this week I’m not sure I absorbed as much as I would have liked, thank goodness it’s all recorded and I can go back and review.  With this in mind, I’ll try to put everything into words, I just hope I can do it justice.


1.  As I said, this was a busy week.  I was able to take part in Dr. John Thompson’s live webinar which was very interesting.  I also “attended” the recorded versions of the webinars presented by Melissa Kaubach, Sue Waters and Dr. Larry Ragan.


2.  Like last week, I attended each of these presentations with hopes of gleaning something I could share with the instructors I work with.  I’m glad I did because I felt there were several things I could take away from what was covered this week.  From Dr. Thompson I gained assurance that some of my previous thoughts about group work and online office hours were in fact supported by others.  From the discussions I was involved in about the webinar, I learned that some had used group work and online office hours with success. Moreover, I learned some strategies for making each of these work.  Also during this session I learned how overcoming the lack of non-verbal communication adds to the success of online students.  That being said, I was able to take suggestions from Melissa Kaubach’s webinar and explore some new ways to overcome non-verbal challenges while at the same time adding the human touch to online classes.  With what Melissa Kaubach’s presentation in mind, I decided to accept her challenge of creating videos to reach out to online students and chosen to present the rest of my blog this week in the form of a video so that you can perhaps get to know me a little better.

Here’s a link to the video I created.  Sorry the sound is not the best, my computer mic is awful and I couldn’t find another one anywhere on campus — but at least I tried.  The link is:

Blog Entry Supplement

Week 2 reflections

What I did this week: I was really excited about being able to take part live in Monday’s webinar (10 pm local time/Austria) – so that was fun, as was the Thursday round up live – we were a very exclusive group with a high teacher to student ratio I watched recordings of the other [...]

Week 2 reflections

What I did this week:

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

Other things I’ve learnt/was reminded of:

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

What now?

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

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

 What do I still have to learn?

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

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

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

The Great Debate – Writing in CS Principles

I have been asked to share this - I usually do this during my second unit in APCS Principles - The Internet Unplugged.

Writing is a big part of doing well on the new Performance Task assessments for the course. I have found this activity to be a great way to get them writing. I do not grade for grammar or spelling at this point. I want them writing, we can work on mechanics later.

One activity that works really well to get students writing is an online debate using a discussion board. The point of this activity is to get them used to thinking and debating a topic and responding to other students. In the beginning students tend to take a very surface approach to topics. Debating lets them really delve in and explore the why behind the points they are making.

This activity works well in several areas of the APCS Principles curriculum. It is simple to grade and really gets the students engaged in writing.
To get them ready we play a game in class to get them used to pros and cons, then we debate a current event topic online. The in class debate topic does not necessarily need to relate to computer science. For the online topic I usually pull a current event that relates to something like privacy or online ethics.
The in Class Game:
Have the students line up into two equal lines. Make one like pro and one line con.
Then explain the rules:
  • the two lines take turns
  • after a student goes they move to the back of the line
  • if you are in the pro line you must be for the resolution, if you are in the con line you must be against it, no matter your own personal opinions
  • whoever is at the front of the line earns a point for every time they
    • add a new point or
    • rebut a point made by the other team
  • No points are awarded for repeated points or responses

Once they understand the rules reveal the topic reveal the topic. As they take turns keep score.
Topics that work well are things like:
  • Resolved: the minimum driving age should be raised to 18
  • Resolved: cell phones should not be allowed in schools
  • Resolved: social media sites should be limited to people over the age of 18

As you move to the online debate a similar format works. In addition students may earn points by by responding with a related fact as long as they provide a link to a reliable source.

I usually let the online debate go on for 3 - 5 days. In the end you can add up points and declare a winner. You can even post a daily point tally. I do usually try to keep the total points close to keep everyone interested.
For topics for the online debate try to pick something currently in the news. The first time I did this activity Congress was debating some Internet piracy legislation that was being heavily covered in the news.  Computer Science is constantly in the news there is almost something in the headlines related to the Learning Objectives.

Use human touch to engage online students As…

Use human touch to engage online students:

As teachers, we know that learning occurs differently from one individual to another, some are visual learners while others are tactile learners. For some, it’s memorization of information. For others, it’s acquiring knowledge from practical use.

Regardless of how our students learn, it’s a process that allows them to understand and apply their knowledge. We can learn from the moment of birth. We constantly make sense of our experiences and consistently search for meaning.

Though humans like the familiar and are often uncomfortable with change. The brain searches for, responds to novelty, and resists meaningless stimuli. This reconfirms Dr. John Thompson’s theory of using human touch to engage online students. Our brains build and strengthen neural pathways no matter where we are, no matter what the subject or the context. No matter how technology changes the delivery method of the course material, the key is to create a connection through enriching human experiences & challenges.

Building Rapport with Students

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

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

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

What Are Cultures of Learning?

Thank you Anne Hole for providing this resources for all that may be interested.

In the previous three days Alt-C members will have explored all aspects of cultures of learning, ranging from digital literacies to learning landscapes, classroom environments, VLEs and open courses. But beyond examining the leaves and the trees, what can we say of the forest? A culture of learning – and for that matter, a learning culture – is composed of more than classes and schools and subjects, it is composed of the attitudes and enquiries of a culture of experimentation, curiosity, and quirkiness. In this closing keynote presentation, Stephen Downes will outline the framework of a culture of learning, identifying from examples and experiences the fundamental values that must be modeled and demonstrated by society’s leaders, and will comment on implications to practice, research and policy.


Keynote Speech by Stephen Downes, Chaired by Haydn Blackey (104)


I’ve only parcially watched the videoconferences of this…

I’ve only parcially watched the videoconferences of this week, since they seemed too basic. I’ve read the introductory text of this week and downloaded the two articles «Rapport in Distance Education» (from IRRODL) and «What the best online teachers should do» (from Merlot journal).

From the summary of this week webpage I produced an animation with the main factors to take into account when starting an online course to build rapport with students – .

Teachers that have a psychology background are usually familiar with icebrakers, professional trainiers use them as well. In academic environments and more directive lectures this is not a major concern.

In online learning a «getting start» scene is useful, though with hundreds and thousands of participants it may be difficult to reach some level of personalization.

However, there are ways to keep the «approachability», the weekly newsletter we receive from this MOOC is a good idea. To have direct messages in one’s email is a good strategy.

I remember that in my 1st MOOC, the backup team used to send 2 email messages per week – one in the beginning of the week with a synthesis of the previous week activity and another one, at the end of the week, preparing for the following week. I was very impressed, because it worked, it helped to catch up with what was going on and makes one feel included.

To Produce Independent Learners, Schools Must Change

Greg Walker, 9/18/13: Stephen Downes in, Connectivism and the Primal Scream states, “At a certain point, we want people to stop being novices, and to start being self-motivated and self-managing learners. The idea that we are treating university students and adults as ‘novices’ is, to my mind, appalling. If a grown adult still requires a teacher to provide encouragement and support, positive role models, to select resources and scaffold learning experiences, then that speaks to the substantial failure of the traditional system of education. To my mind, it is as astonishing a failure as it would be if adults expected their teachers to read the lessons aloud to them.” Thoughts? Agree, why? Disagree, why?

Stephen Downes

Stephen Downes


This is a touchy subject, and Downes gets an A for courage.

If we begin with the outcome, independent learners, and reverse engineer the school system to produce students who are able to learn independently with educators as guides and facilitators rather than teachers, I think we’d end up with a completely different system.

A system that’s cultivating students who become increasingly responsible for their own learning from P-12 would gradually replace the lockstep age groupings, standardized curricula, and teacher-led classrooms in the lower grades with open learning environments in the upper grades. The educator’s role changes, too, gradually shifting from teacher to guide, advisor, facilitator, coach, etc.

The open environments would cover a wide range of options, including blended and online, but the primary change would be toward anytime-anywhere learning, with students becoming increasingly skillful in managing their own schedules to complete learning projects on and off campus.

Students would learn from peer tutors and also serve as tutors for other classmates. They would also incorporate MOOCs into their individualized programs. (Yes, MOOCs will become a huge part of secondary education.) School program advisors would play a critical role in the upper grades, guiding students toward objectives that would facilitate transfer to postsecondary programs.

Throughout the model, the focus is on the student, not the school or teacher. The question is always What’s best for the student? and the school’s resources are geared toward guiding her/him toward her goals.

The measure of success for the school and its staff is the percentage of students who enter postsecondary programs prepared to learn independently.

Reply to Dean/discussion forums/week 2

This was my reply to a great discussion which was initiated by Dean and to which Lori and Rachel added their thoughts too.

Great discussion so thank you for initiating it, Dean, and to Lori and Rachel for their thoughts. Here are my 2 cents!

1) Re promoting interaction in class forums – like you, Dean, I always set a follow-up task to get them reading each other’s posts, but I add what they should be looking for, e.g. “Read some of your peers’ postings and find a person you have something in common with. Reply to this person by … stating what it is that you both have in common”. OR “Read a few postings and select one which you can relate to”. So similar to what Rachel does though she goes a bit further by giving them some triggers to get them going. Rachel – I’m going to add some of yours to my list – thanks for sharing :-)

Rachel’s triggers: I usually provide more explanation of what is expected from a post and response. For the response I include something like this: Read your classmates’ posts throughout the week. Reply in at least two well-thought-out paragraphs, to two (2) classmates’ postings by . Go beyond a “yes” or “no” or “I agree”. Give them advice, ask them questions to clarify, suggest alternatives, extend on an idea, offer a resource link for more information, or otherwise engage with one another’s comments. E.g. I was intrigued…; When you mentioned that… it made me wonder….; Have you thought of…; What about…?

I also get students to make voice recordings which they link to a forum, rather than always setting written forum tasks. Since I teach EFL, this has the added value of giving them speaking practice. It also allows me to provide feedback on their pronunciation/intonation, adds variety/is more fun than always writing, and voices are personal – we’re back to the human touch!! Here’s an example of a forum task using voice recording: “Find an article/video/podcast on knowledge flow/communication in the supply chain. Identify 3 key points while reading/listening to it. Then prepare a short talk (max 5 min) using the presentation framework from F2F 2. Remember to think of a catchy opener, an effective ending and to structure/signpost your talk appropriately. After practising your talk a few times, record yourself on Vocaroo. Post your article/video/podcast title, the source and the Vocaroo URL on the SCM forum by… Enter the title of the article/video/podcast title in the subject line, and make sure that no one else has already chosen this source. Follow-up task: Listen to a peer’s recording and comment, either in writing or orally, on what you found particularly interesting about the talk as well as on how well the topic was presented i.e. how attention-grabbing the opener was, whether the main part was signposted appropriately and if the ending was memorable /effective. Pls do this by …”

2) Re assigning some of the course grades to participation – totally agree with Lori. My Master’s students all work full time, so they’ve got to prioritise when it comes to deciding what they do. No grade is unfortunately equivalent to not necessary/important – I’d probably do the same too. And as I mentioned in a previous posting, it’s then entirely the student’s decision as to what they do, which I respect.

Enough for now, and wonder if anyone else has a suggestions on how to get students interacting more naturally and purposefully in forums. And I hope that we get some input on this in week 3 or 4. But as you say in your posting, Dean, this is all VERY time consuming for us teachers :-(


coLAR Mix and International Dot Day

Just had to share about a great activity that happened during the Digital Storytelling ACE program.  After we read Ish by Peter Reynolds and talked about International Dot Day, the students partnered to decorate a dot provided by the coLAR Mix app.  They opened the app on the iPad and hovered over their dots.  The dots came to life!  Spiraling spheres of various sizes entertained the students with music coming on and off.  That app is enthralling!

I'm trying to print the bird coloring page for the app as that looks even cooler.  

Comment on Thompson Video: Human Touch

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Review: Sue Waters Webinar

I was really sorry to have missed the live session of Sue's webinar on "The Art of Blogging: How to connect, interact & build rapport with students" but really appreciated having access to the archive. For me it has been the most engaging session I've reviewed so far - as I watched I kept wishing that I had been there to engage in the conversation and ask questions.

Here's why it worked for me:

  1. Interactive Discussion vs. Presentation: Sue modeled good web conferencing practice. She asked questions, had attendees respond to a question by writing on the whiteboard, got us to think about our own personal experiences [to help us think about how best to get our students engaging in blogs], and encouraged us to think critically about different tools.
  2. Engaged in Some Good Focussed Distraction: The discussion went on an interesting detour that included topics/tools related to online teaching - e.g. how our MOOC facilitators are creating the newsletter using mailchimp, how to make good use of flipboard, pinterest - but then came back around to the main topic of blogging. 
  3. Practical Focus: Sue talked about how things work, and pointed to examples, to help us understand how we might use these tools in our own practice. 
  4. Excellent Resources: Some great resources and exemplars where shared throughout the discussion - see list below
This was the first presenter, that I really felt has taken the time to look at what we've been doing in the MOOC and, because of this, she was able to comment and engage discussion on how we have been experiencing the different tools that are being used in the MOOC - newsletter, flipboard, twitter, G+, blog/community wall, individual blogs.

Other themes with visuals in the session:
How Blogs are Used: Thought blogs are used for a variety of purposes, and are popular in the classroom, they are also a powerful tool for making global connections and engaging in personal reflection. 

Sue described the Blogging Stages: tears, anger, awe - that time when things click and you start to get it. I think I may be in the awe stage myself. After a few years of dabbling, I feel like I'm starting to finally see the point of why blogging can be a great tool [and enjoying it too!].

What Have I Struggled With in Blogging and Why? I wrote down: Purpose - is the blog for me,
my students, others? Time - never enough; and Awkwardness - about what I'm writing, the quality of my writing, etc.  I appreciated Sue's response that our blogs should just reflect things we are interested in, and be a means for processing our own personal learning.
I haven't used blogs enough with my students to note whether or not I've see the audience effect in my courses, but I think there is something to this.

As for the impact of blogs on learning, I do believe that if properly implemented they can have a positive effect. Sue gave some good tips: starting small, providing good guidelines for students, and thinking up front about structure. I liked the example of using a single blog and having students use specific tags - which then get fed to another 'group' page on the blog - vs. trying to manage multiple individual student blogs. Still trying to get my head around the mechanics of how that would work. 

How Would I Use Blogging in the Future? Aside from trying to keep my own blog, I am still pretty new at integrating this tool in my teaching. I did recently have moderate success using a blog for a course:  Though I liked using the pages, and the idea of a collaborative journal, I felt that the discussions were not as rich. In future I need to think about how to make the discussions more authentic and relevant to the students.

Webinar Session Resource Links
The State of Educational Blogging:

Sue Waters Blog

Eric example remixing:

Sue's Flipboard:
Flipboard guide to subscribing, curating & sharing:

Pinterest Boards on Tech Tools:

Brent's Course blog:

Edublogs in Action
- includes an example of good Blog Guideline Page:

English Teacher Blog- example of clear structure:

Stephen Downes in Connectivism and the Primal Scream…

Stephen Downes in, Connectivism and the Primal Scream states,

“At a certain point, we want people to stop being novices, and to start being self-motivated and self-managing learners.The idea that we are treating university students and adults as ‘novices’ is, to my mind, appalling. If a grown adult still requires a teacher to provide encouragement and support, positive role models, to select resources and scaffold learning experiences, then that speaks to the substantial failure of the traditional system of education. To my mind, it is as astonishing a failure as it would be if adults expected their teachers to read the lessons aloud to them.”

Thoughts? Agree, why? Disagree, why?

Discussion Questions (week 1)

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

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

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

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

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

WEBINAR TODAY (9/18) Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education

Wednesday, September 18th,  12 pm- 1 pm, Hawaii Standard Time (HST).  World Clock  Teaching online for the first time is a little like trying to drive a car in a foreign country. You know how to drive, just like you know how to teach, but it sure is hard to get the hang of driving on the left side of the road … you’re not quite sure how far a kilometer is … and darn it if those road signs aren’t all in Japanese


Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan has played a leadership role in the development of Penn State’s World Campus since the start of the initiative in 1998 serving as the Director of Instructional Design and Development, Director of Faculty Development, and most recently appointed as Co-Director of the Center for Online Innovation in Learning. Dr. Ragan presents internationally on the topics quality assurance online, instructional design, multimedia integration, faculty development programming, and instructional design for distance and blended education.

Information Overload

I began this MOOC with the greatest of intentions, to learn how to teach online.  I found so much information however, that I am lost in the information overload.  I think that I am posting in week three, but I am not sure.  I am also unsure what a sense making artifact is, even though I went to the suggested site and tried to digest that information too.  So I will settle for a simple reflection this week, and try again to digest what I am reading in the upcoming round of information.

I viewed the webinar with Tony Bates and found it to be quite interesting.  The focus was on the steps needed to design and implement an online course.  He discussed some of his 9 Steps that I also mentioned in my last blog. Mr. Bates also outlined the differences between open source learning and classes that are designed "for credit".  The main difference lies in the structure and evaluation that is inherent in courses designed for university credit.  I think I like structure.  I need to know what the ground rules are - specific examples of work that I need to produce to earn my credits.  Although courses for credit require a lot of reading and writing, the information is more contained.  Topics are specific, and discussion posts for the week usually center around one main issue.  If the class is divided into groups, then there is a specific purpose to the grouping, at least as far as I can tell.

In this MOOC, I am never sure if I am responding to one of the instructors, or if I am responding to a fellow student.  From the many blogs that I read, there are a number of people taking the course who are also instructors at a university.  I find that interesting.  Perhaps there is a real need among university professors to improve their online course structure, or to at least find out what all the hullabaloo is about - OR there are a lot of instructors for this course. 

One of my issues with online courses is the evaluation of work.  How is it done so that the student does not feel it is all automated?  It is one thing to turn in a test and know that the score is machine scored, but it is another thing to wonder if the professor actually read any comment or essay that you posted.  Is the entire grade made up of on-time postings, or do instructors at least read some of the comments some of the time?

Suggested Reflections (week 1)

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

Activity Reflection (Week 1)

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

Next MOOC: writing skills?

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

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

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

Webinars TODAY!

So how do teachers close the “distance” gap and build rapport?

Tuesday , September 17th,  2 pm- 3 pm, Hawaii Standard Time (HST). World Clock Discussion on

  •  the importance of intro videos (can be simple….recorded with an iPhone or iPad) and provide 10 tips to recording to set the students up for success
  • Importance of responding to emails within 24 hours and tips for managing emails and diminishing the amount of technical questions through a robust student orientation (that the students have access to until the completion of the program)
  • Ideas for humanizing the online classroom and building community

By Dr. Melissa Kaulbach Dr. Kaulbach is currently the Sr. Director of Academic Services for Academic Partnerships and also serves as faculty at Sarasota University. She conducts faculty workshops for professional development on topics ranging from effective online pedagogy, instructional design, how to increase student engagement through robust online course design, and teaching online with technology. Dr. Kaulbach has been in the education industry for twenty four years. She has presented at numerous conferences and has served on university-wide committees Dr, Kaulbach served as the Chair for the 2012 Academic Partnerships Online Research Grant program. She is also the co-host of the Ed Tech Du Jour web show, which focuses on improving online instruction. Dr, Kaulbach earned her B.A. In Elementary Education & Music, her MAED in Instructional Leadership, and her EdD is in Educational Leadership.

 The Art of Blogging: How to Connect, Interact, and Build Rapport with your Students

Tuesday September 17th, 3pm-4 pm  Hawaii Standard Time (HST). World Clock  Experience how to blog to build rapport by connecting and interacting with others. Participants will reflect on how they can blog to build rapport with their students. By Sue Waters Sue Waters an Australian based in Perth, is married with two kids. While her work as an aquaculture lecturer earned her the coolest job title, her passion is the use of technology to enhance student learning. Sue’s technology use has changed considerably since she was first introduced to it’s potential in 2000; from a LMS (WebCT) to Virtual Classrooms (Elluminate), mobile technologies (spyglasses, PDAs, iPods) and Web 2.0 (blogs, wikis etc). Her passion has led to a transition from aquaculture lecturer, to facilitating professional development workshops on elearning and web 2.0 technologies, to her current role writing on The Edublogger and as Edublogs‘ Support Manager. Sue’s personal blog is also well known and as a blogger she  stands for — practical application of technologies in education, and most importantly HELPING OTHERS learn how to use these technologies.

TIP For those of you with blogs be…

TIP: For those of you with blogs, be sure after you log in to check the “Dashboard” or backend of your blog for comments awaiting your moderation. If you use Edublogs or WordPress, you may see a bubble highlighted in the menu bar at the top or if you hover your mouse over your blog’s name in the menu bar at the top-left, you will see “Dashboard”. Click on “Dashboard” and then you will see a menu item, “Comments” with a number next to it if you have comments. Click on “Comments” to see a list of comments people posted to your blog. Review the comments there and click to “approve” valid comments so you and other readers can see them and comment.

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

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

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

Cranky and Sarcastic no longer?

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

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

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

Online Group Work

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

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

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

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

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

I do it in three parts:

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

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

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

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

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

---body of email message below---


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care


---copy from course website---

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

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

Ground Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again - Welcome Everyone to CCE106!



Reflection Activity — Breaking out the Black Hat

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

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

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

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

Sensemaking artifact Week 0

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

Question I am interested in the readings and…

Question: I am interested in the readings and webinars and I am enjoying blogging just as an exercise in self-reflection. I am also glad a couple of people have read one or two of my blog entries, but how do I know if my reflections are being noticed by the facilitators… at the very least to earn a badge or certif of completion? And, I’m struggling to see how student-to-student interaction is emerging. I see some classmates interacting, but at times, I go to respond to another’s blog posting and I’m told I can’t because the other student is using some blog tool for which I haven’t registered? And, just being told to post on the Wall here doesn’t seem to help since I find it really unwieldy to scroll through the endless excerpts here. I’m picking and choosing posts to read, but I’m not sure what to do next. Sorry… I feel like I’m missing something important and I’m starting to feel a bit alone, like I’m just writing in a private journal that is beneficial only to a degree. Any tips?! Thanks! –Tanya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Question to answer (Week 0)

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