Daniel Stanford

Building Community in Online Courses: Three Strategies

A professor told me recently that he’s taken nearly a dozen online courses (as a student) and has never felt a strong sense of community in any of those courses. He asked what practical suggestions I had for building community online, and I found myself struggling to offer him any tips that were truly revolutionary.

When I began my career in distance learning back in 2003, it was a given that every online course should begin with an ice-breaker activity. These ice-breakers typically consisted of a plain text discussion forum where students would answer questions like, “What do you hope to gain from this course?” and, “What hobbies or interests do you have outside of school?” Fast-forward to 2016 and we’re still approaching ice-breakers in much the same way, creating text-based discussion boards full of the same job-interview questions.

Community building is challenging enough when we have the luxury of frequent face-to-face meetings. With that in mind, is it realistic to believe we can foster meaningful connections in online courses? A friend who teaches in our Modern Languages department likes to answer this by saying, “People are falling in love online—or at least feeling enough of a connection online that they know they want to meet and invest more in the relationship.”

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Kevin Lyon

Course Spring Cleaning Checklists

Now that Spring Quarter is settled in and courses are all running and up to date (including the build-as-you-go courses) and I have a little bit of breathing room, it is time to switch focus to summer courses, and even autumn quarter courses and beyond. Essentially, what this means, is it is time for spring cleaning courses that were built over the past few years, and may not have been looked at much since then.

The focus for now is on master courses owned by the college. Many of these were designed in the early push to develop online courses, and many of them were designed by faculty members who are no longer at the university, or were designed on previous versions of the LMS and haven’t been updated to utilize newer features and services we now have available to us.

To ensure that I’m checking all the dusty corners of the courses during spring cleaning, the Director of Online Learning for the college I work with asked me to create a checklist of items to review for these redesign/update courses. The following areas are those that I see as crucial for an update cycle. Feel free to point out in the comments any areas I missed, or other helpful tricks or tips you have for updating older courses.

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Lori Zalivansky

Walking a Fine Line Between Support and Too Much Support

As an eLearning Content Developer (ECD) at DePaul University, one of my roles is to provide faculty support for all courses using Desire2Learn. Whether that is providing D2L training sessions, building content, or answering any D2L technical questions. One of the biggest challenges that I face as an ECD is figuring out when I might be providing “too much support.” I’m sure any faculty reading this at this point are thinking how could there ever be too much support? But I believe there needs to be a balance between providing the support faculty need and also giving them the right amount of encouragement to be able to eventually answer their own questions. Continue reading

Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Tipping the Balance Towards Scalability

I attended the Council on Global Affairs’ International Women’s Day Global Health Symposium. The focus of the day was on the health of the next generation for women and girls locally, nationally, and internationally. The keynote panel focused on new initiatives and challenges with implementation. Rebecca Winthrop, the Director for the Center of Universal Learning at the Brookings Institute, talked about the science of scalability and her project, Millions Learning, which “…explores specifically not just how to improve learning, but how to do so in a way that can be efficiently and effectively implemented at a large scale.” Her comments really resonated with me. Specifically, she emphasized that successfully scaling up means releasing the idea of having a “gold plated” model that can be replicated with fidelity. That model is too complex and requires finesse specific to a particular author. When scaling up, sustainability is the goal. To achieve this, the cookie cutter model will not work. Rather, it is best to identify the core “ingredients” and aim to replicate those and then allow the user to adapt to their particular context. This creates a partnership that allows the program to maintain its essential attributes, but allows the user to “make it into their own” and have some ownership. Continue reading

Sharon Guan

Beyond QualityMatters: Introducing the Pedagogically Distinctive Features (PDF) of DePaul Online Courses

In 2008, DePaul adopted QualityMatters (QM) as the quality standard for online and hybrid courses developed through the DePaul Online Teaching Series (DOTS) program. During the past eight years, nearly two hundred courses have been through the QM internal review process at DePaul.  Since 2011 when the first instructor was rewarded with a QM star for developing a course that met all of the QM standards, the number of QM star recipients has increased drastically.  These days, becoming a QM star has become a common expectation of all faculty participants of DOTS.

As designers, we are pleased by the numbers and the feeling of “getting a hang of QM”; on the other hand, we ask whether this is the place where we want to be – because that pounding question remains loud and sound: Does QM guarantee a successful learning experience for students?

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Ashanti Morgan

What to Expect When Syncing: Best Practices using Video Conferencing Tools

Technology is changing how we do everything. Gone are the days of classroom strategies that focus solely on using static content to engage students. Thanks to high-definition (HD) video ubiquity in mobile devices, tablets, laptops, etc., engaging in real-time (instantaneous) with folks across the globe without leaving home is feasible and affordable. To take it a step further, video conferencing, or as some may describe as web conferencing, webinars (web seminars), or webcasts, enables online collaboration with limitless implications for student engagement, in the US and abroad.

The formal definition of video conferencing, as defined by Merriam Webster, is:

  1. a method of holding meetings that allows people who are in different cities, countries, etc., to hear each other and see each other on computer or television screens.
  2. the holding of a conference among people at remote locations by means of transmitted audio and video signals

While there are a number of solutions that exist to host virtual meetings, it’s important that standard features embedded in these systems are easy to use and work seamlessly during an online session. Some of the more common features include the ability to stream HD video, instant chat, screen sharing, recording, and the use of a whiteboard to jot down important points during the meeting. While nothing compares to face-to-face interaction, these tools help connect users in ways that a teleconference (see definition) are incapable of doing.

Some of the usual suspects—Skype, Webex, Gotomeeting, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, Avaya Scopia, Blue Jeans, Polycom, etc.—have worked tirelessly to create user interfaces that are intuitive and function with minimal to no latency issues. In order to make an informed decision, it’s important to develop and prioritize the functionality that’s paramount to a successful implementation for “you.”

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Alex Joppie

Browser Tabs and Keyboard Shortcuts: My Secret Productivity Weapon for Batching Repetitive Tasks

Sometimes your learning management system just doesn’t provide the large-scale bulk editing or bulk creating options you need it to. So, when you need to make big changes to a course, it can seem like you’re going to be clicking away all day.

A few days ago, I had an instructor who wanted to convert all fifteen of his discussion assignments from whole-class discussions to group-based discussions, and the student worker I would normally delegate this task to was out of the office. I was faced with what would normally be a half day of tedium, creating the group-based discussions, copying the prompts from fifteen discussion assignments into seven group-restricted discussions per assignment, and re-linking the group forums in the modules.

Fortunately, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I got my start in instructional design as a student worker myself, and I found a massive time-saving technique that not only dramatically cuts down the time these things take, but also reduces the opportunity for errors. This project took me about 25 minutes.

I’m going to share the secret to my success–a way of batching these repetitive tasks together.

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Josh Lund

Instructional Designers: Preventative Care is for Us Too

I don’t often write directly to my instructional designer colleagues; usually I try to impart some of the occasional nuggets of wisdom I’ve gained from teaching, research or just plain trial and error to faculty, so they can avoid making the same mistakes I have. This time I’ve found a new way to stay inspired and reduce the burnout that can happen in this line of work, and I’m excited about how it has affected my approach to Instructional Design (ID) that it bears repeating.

Over the past decade or so, we have all witnessed a major change in health care. The medical profession has shifted focus from just treating the symptoms to preventative care—the idea that by changing life and health habits earlier on, it will reduce the amount of symptomatic care required for patients later in life. It does seem to be having a positive effect so far, as hospitals have more time to deal with emergencies, and their doctors and nurses spend less time in consultation over health conditions that are ultimately preventable. Continue reading

Sarah Brown

The Magic of Text Expansion: Type in a Code, A Paragraph Appears

At our recent DOTS Alumni event, a faculty member from the College of Education was going to present on his methodology for efficient and effective grading. He then had a conflict with the event, so I presented in his place – and, as per usual, a colleague’s good idea sparked an interesting research path.

Dr. Philip Gnilka introduced me to the idea of using an Excel spreadsheet with coded comments to give feedback to students. He was inspired by the process detailed in Andrew J. Czaplewski’s article, “Computer-Assisted Grading Rubrics: Automating the Process of Providing Comments and Student Feedback”.

The article details how to grade with an Excel spreadsheet, a self-contained document with an assignment rubric on one page and the codes for pre-drafted comments on a second page. For Philip, this works well. In the spreadsheet, he can fill out the rubric on the first page, type in the codes that refer to the comments he wants to give, and pull those comments into the page with the rubric. He then uses the Save As function to save a copy for the student and either upload (to D2L) or email the graded document for the student.

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