Alex Joppie

The Year of Virtual Reality

If you haven’t ever had a virtual reality experience before, you probably will in the next twelve months.

Virtual reality is coming online in a big way. VR headsets for high-end gaming PCs started shipping this past spring. This fall, Sony is launching a VR headset for its PlayStation 4 game console. Beyond gaming, Google has been experimenting with VR for two years, using phones and a cardboard holder. The low-tech, low-cost solution was designed to get VR into the hands of as many people as possible, and Google has already managed to get many developers on board with cardboard, creating games, simulations, and more. Google has created K12-focused Expeditions, where users can get the full 3D and 360-degree experience of being somewhere very few could ever go–like the Great Wall of China, the Great Barrier Reef, and even the surface of Mars. YouTube is also filling up with 360-degree 3D videos that are meant to be consumed with virtual reality devices. But VR isn’t always just consumptive–apps like Tilt Brush allow users to create 3D paintings in midair. And Google is getting ready to launch a more sophisticated VR platform with its next Android release in a few months, to build on and enhance their Cardboard platform. 2016 is the year of virtual reality.

As an instructional technologist, my natural tendency is to get excited about new technology and its potential in higher education. My instinct is to imagine all the possibilities that the next big thing affords for our classes and to push for the rapid adoption of the latest and greatest tech. But in the case of virtual reality, I’m a little skeptical that it’s going to be a true transformative technology for a couple reasons.

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Lori Zalivansky

How to Give a Kahoot!

This year I decided to attend the OLC (Online Learning Consortium) Innovate conference in New Orleans. The conference was a great experience in part for getting to hear from others in the same field on what their doing to improve online learning and I also had the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture, music, and food of New Orleans; the chance ended up being very fulfilling.

Of the sessions I attended, two in particular really stuck with me. One session, as the title “Don’t Put Your Phone Away” suggests, demonstrated how instructors can incorporate students’ phones into their classrooms. One tool in particular that really intrigued me was Kahoot!. Kahoot! is free tool that allows you to create fun learning games made up of multiple choice questions. You can add images, videos, and diagrams to your questions to enhance them. Kahoot!s are meant for an in-class setting as they are not embeddable in web content. You’ll also want to make sure you are using a classroom that has a projector, as the answer choices will only appear on the screen with a corresponding symbol. This symbol is what students see on their devices. Once they see these symbols, they must select the symbol that corresponds with the answer they want to select.

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Ashanti Morgan

Vetting Project Management Resources: Finding the Right Fit

If you’re like the majority of the world, multitasking is part of your daily routine. From managing personal to professional tasks, keeping it all together in your brain can be a bit overwhelming.

Thankfully, there are a number of tools, from easy to use smartphone apps to more complex software, that exist to help manage it all.

Whether you’re looking for a tool to individually track tasks, or you work with one or more people and need to manage and track a series of tasks, choosing the right process and solution doesn’t have to stressful. The following are some general tips to consider as you broach the subject.

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Josh Lund

Instructional Design and Music: Can They Coexist?

When I began my classes for my M.S.Ed. in Instructional Technology (IT), I was often looked upon as an odd duck. Most of my classes were full of classroom teachers, school librarians, and administrators looking to be in charge of a different area. So here I was, a musician in their midst (and a jazz musician, no less), and when I would invariably be asked about what brought me to IT, I always answered, “I’m going to change the way we teach music.” I’ve widened the scope of my approach, and my research, to include everyone I serve at the University, but I still haven’t lost sight of that goal. But the problem isn’t in the discipline itself; rather, it’s in the materials and methodology.

In a previous life, I was a music professor, and tried as much as possible to leverage technology to improve my course materials and course delivery, and to facilitate better learning experiences for my students. However, these improvements tended to be hybrid instruction methods, such as online testing, audio or video lectures, online paper submission or discussion boards. They did make my course more efficient and created more hands-on class time for me, but did little to truly transform the learning experience in the classroom or outside of it. The students thought taking tests online, watching short video lectures, and doing lots of stuff online was “cool,” but as we all know, “cool” doesn’t really equate to a sea change in their learning. (This was over a decade ago, when doing anything online had way more sparkle than it does today.) Looking back on it after studying and practicing Instructional Design for several years, I see most of my former “innovations” are not really that groundbreaking, just repackaging of old lessons to take advantage of some tools I had available.

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Bridget Wagner

Agentic Engagement and Facilitating Discussions

My colleagues at FITS have already provided many helpful tips for developing and facilitating effective discussions in online courses. Josh cautions against teaching a correspondence course and explains, “the best discussion questions don’t have a clear answer, and sometimes they aren’t even clear questions.” He also encourages instructors to provoke debate and ask those pointed and room-dividing questions. And Ashanti provides strategies for generating discussions that matter, such as providing opportunities for student-led discussions and pushing students to draw real-world connections.

Still, even with these strategies and course design principles in mind, it can be hard to get every student involved and engaged. Julie Stella and Michael Corry recognize this, and engagement is a focus in “Intervention in Online Writing Instruction.” Stella and Corry argue for “an interwoven perspective of motivation, engagement, agency, and action in Online Writing Instruction,” and in the process provide some helpful tips for all online educators.

Stella and Corry begin with an overview of the current literature centered on engagement and agency, and specifically the ways these concepts are treated in Self-Determination Theory (SDT). As they explain, SDT is “a framework through which educators may be able to reliably predict the motivation a student feels toward academic tasks.” In other words, the good stuff instructors are always trying to tap into. In SDT, all students – and humans – are thought to be working towards satisfying three needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

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Sarah Brown

When “Do as I Say, Not as I Do” Comes Back to Haunt You

In the training sessions we provide for faculty who are going to teach online or hybrid courses for the first time, our facilitator, Daniel Stanford, often mentions how instructional technology consultants can serve as “course therapists.” We’re there to listen; to assure faculty that the anxiety they might feel around making such a dramatic change to their teaching is normal; and to help them move through the stages of grief they might experience as they negotiate the losses that result from change.

Given my understanding of this framing metaphor, and given the amount of advice I’ve doled out within this context, I thought I was fully prepared to undertake the process myself when I agreed to teach one of my courses online this past Winter. Surely I could coach myself through the process, right?

As the colleagues I turned to when I needed a therapy session will tell you, I was wrong. In two key ways, I didn’t follow the recommendations I usually give to others.

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Jan Costenbader

Face-to-Face, Blended or Online – No significant difference, but…

The growth of online and blended offerings, nationwide, continues at a steady pace. Although this data is several years old, the trend, especially at our institution, continues on the same path.


Source: Babson Survey Research Group, Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States ©, January 2014.

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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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