Monday, July 09, 2007

This Blog Has Moved!

I've consolidated all my old blogs into a new one, which hopefully I'll be able to keep up with more regularly! Please visit Jim Woodell's Knowledge Common. See you there!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Make Your Online Classroom a "Hybrid Place"

Here's an idea I had while reading a great article (Cats in the classroom: Online learning in hybrid space by Michelle Kazmer) in First Monday.

Read the article to get more info on why I think this might be a good idea, but I was thinking that maybe having students post pictures of the workspaces they're in while participating in your course might help build a sense of community. I've long thought that having students post pictures of themselves helps everyone build a little bit of a connection to one another.

I've been thinking about how awareness of one another helps online students create connections and feel more a part of a community. In my previous post, I noted that online instructors should talk about the more quotidian aspects of their lives to help students know that they are "real." Sharing with one another what the space they're in while connecting in the online classroom might help to create such awareness.

I know that many online students like the anonymity of online courses, but instead of posting picutres of themselves, you can also have students post pictures of things that they feel represent themselves--a favorite image, a picture of their pet... If you try having students post pictures of their workspaces, you might give them the option of posting a picture of just one thing on their desk, or the view out the window.

Give it a try, anyway. I'm going to the next time I teach online. If you do try it out, please post a comment here and let us know how it went.

Technorati tags: ,

Friday, August 26, 2005

Remind Your Students That You're Human

This one might seem a little silly, but it's amazing how important it can be, especially when your students are new to online learning.

I worked with a good friend and colleague a few years ago on some online courses--I'd hired her to facilitate the courses. She told me how she'd always begin her posts to the discussion boards with a weather report or a note about how she'd just finished the laundry and boy, was she tired. This initially felt to me like just so much clutter getting in the way of students connecting to the content. I wasn't against the idea of being warm and friendly, but talking about doing laundry?

My friend explained that she was trying to remind her students that she really was a human being. Not that her students might have believed otherwise, but because there were a couple of computers and potentially thousands of miles of fiber optic cable between her and each of her students, it was important to show students that the someone on the other end was a living, breathing person.

Later, I was taking an online course and discovered exactly why my friend did this. Everything posted by the instructor in that course felt as though it was either automatically generated by some piece of software or had been written well in advance and just copied and pasted at the appropriate point in the course. I'm not against online instructors using some time-saving techniques, but if everything is pre-written, I can see how easy it is for a student to begin to think that they're connected only to a machine...

So tell your students about your laundry. Or your pets. Or what the weather is like in your corner of the world today. Tell them what you did for fun over the weekend. Unless, of course, you just assigned them a lot of work that they had to spend their weekend doing--you don't want them to resent your humanness. ;-)

Of course, lots of one-on-one contact with students will help, too. But in the group discussions it's important to show how human you are. Your students will respond in-kind, to be sure.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Connect Before the Class Begins

I'm getting ready to take an online course. It's the first online course I'll be participating in at the college where I now work, and I'm really looking forward to getting a glimpse of the experience our online students have when taking courses in our distance learning programs.

I've already gotten a taste of the experience, and I have to pat ourselves on the back for setting up a great way to engage students even before classes begin--making a strong connection to the students a couple of weeks before class starts. With most traditional courses, you show up on the first day and get the syllabus and find out what you're going to have to do to succeed in the course.

Online learners, if they're going to hit the ground running, need to be thinking and preparing even before the first day that the course is available in your course management system. Find ways to reach out and connect to them even before the semester starts.

I got an email from my instructor the other day, and here's what was included in it--all ideas for you to consider for early outreach:

  • a hearty "Welcome!"
  • information about pre-course on-campus orientation sessions
  • links to online orientation tools
  • a draft of the course syllabus (of course you like to make changes to your syllabus right up until the time the course begins--just mark your early syllabus "DRAFT")
  • deadlines for graded materials (a big help to non-traditional students who are fitting learning in with work and family and need to plan ahead)
  • a document containing tips and advice from successful online students
  • a document comparing online learning to traditional classroom learning
  • an invitation to feel free to contact the instructor with any questions or concerns, starting now--even before class begins

I've been an online learner before, and still this advance package from my instructor helps me feel at ease about the course. I imagine that for those new to online learning this kind of contact has been critical to their getting acclimated.

I'm even getting excited about the course--and wouldn't it be great if all your students showed up to class eager to learn? Make contact with them early and you might just inspire some of that eagerness.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Create a rubric.

It's a simple thing to do, and can go a long way toward helping your students understand how best to engage in online interaction. It will help you, too--you'll have a tool that helps you evaluate the discussion component of an online course and will help you feel less subjective in your approach.

It doesn't have to be complex, but it should be clear. Consider defining words that might be subjective or potentially mis-interpreted. For example, here's a rubric I found from Northeastern University Educational Technology Center. The first line contains two words that I think could be better defined--"insightful" and "on-topic". A simple footnote to the rubric could do the trick.

Make quantity count, too. Here's a rubric format designed by someone at George Mason University. Notice that the rubric contains information about how many times someon should post and when they should do it ("spread out over the week"). Students will complain that they shouldn't have to post just for the sake of posting, and will be incredulous that they're being graded based on how many times they post. If you've created a rubric that includes qualitative criteria as well as quantitative you can tell them that they're mostly being graded on how well they post, but frequent posting is necessary to create a basis for evaluating the quality.

Push for complex, deep, critical thinking. Even with most rubrics encouraging students to post "thoughtful" responses, and to "synthesize" others' posts, the bottom line is that most online discussions remain at a surface level and little critical thinking gets done. Instructors sometimes feel like they can't analyze critical thinking in discussion posts anyway and will leave that for papers or essay questions on exams. Try learning more about how to evaluate critical thinking in online discussions and replace one of your papers with a really deep discussion online. Here's a very good article to get you started. Don't try using the tables in this article as rubrics, though--these are tools for you to begin learning about the complexity and layers of critical thinking in an online discussion. The article does link to a couple more good examples, though.

It's okay to start simple, but one of the best ways to get students--and yourself--thinking about improving the quality and depth of online discussions is to create a rubric that defines what "quality" and "depth" look like.

Do you happen to know of other good examples of online discussion rubrics? Please click "comments" below and share!

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Listen to your coach.

If you're just learning to teach online, or even if you've been doing it for a while, it's wise to take advice from someone. Whether you're reading this blog for advice, or you're reading a book about teaching online, or you're working with an instructional designer, or you're simply listening to you're own personal muse--the listening you're doing is important.

As teachers, we get very caught up in the way we like to do things, or the way we've been doing them all along. And for good reason--we are getting caught up in what we know works. We're following our instincts.

But moving to online teaching might mean that our instincts about what works in the classroom don't work as well. Of course, many fundamental teaching instincts do in fact apply to online learning environments. There are new instincts to develop, though.

That's where the listening comes in. You may have been asked to work with an instructional designer to get your course or your teaching techniques ready for online delivery. It may frustrate you to have to work with an instructional designer, given that you've been teaching for a while. Just remember that they're not here to tell you what you don't know--they're here to give you ideas. Listen to those ideas, and seek out others--in books, in professional development opportunities, in blogs like this--wherever!

And just listen for a little while.