It isn’t uncommon for a lot of time to pass between when you’re trained to teach online and when your online class is actually ready to run–after all, you have to develop the course, a process for which we at DePaul budget two academic quarters. That’s a lot of time thinking about building an online class that you’re not spending thinking about best practices for actually delivering the online class. Here are some tips and reminders for keeping your course running smoothly when you’re ready to deliver it.
Before the term starts—touching base with your students
You should send an email to your students two to three weeks before the start of the quarter. Here are some points to cover:
- Make sure students know they’re enrolled in an online class – This sounds silly, but some students miss that little piece of information in the enrollment system.
- Reenforce that online classes take work – Some students take online classes because they think it will be easy or in addition to a full schedule of face-to-face courses. Let them know that online classes take time and self-discipline.
- Inform them of technology requirements, textbooks, and other required materials – Give students ample time to make sure they meet the course technical requirements and purchase textbooks, etc. This will help them hit the ground running in the first week.
- Let them know when the course site will be available – Your students will worry that they’re missing something if they don’t see the course site in the learning management system. Let them know when it will be available.
Threaded discussions have been part of the online course framework for decades. There are a number of advantages to online discussions for students that differ from in-person. Unlike a face-to-face course, many faculty note that in an online discussion, each student is tasked with responding to a prompt thus providing more individualized instruction. It’s much easier for an introverted student to avoid raising his or her hand in class.
If the online modality creates opportunities to engage students that may not otherwise volunteer to talk in class, how can we capitalize on this?
I took my first hybrid course during graduate school in 2002 via Blackboard. I recall threaded discussions being a large component of the activities that we engaged in weekly. Fast forward present day, much of the pedagogy in terms of the structure of discussion guidelines, prompts, and rubrics have not changed significantly. What remains constant in many asynchronous discussions is the idea of a student posting a response to a discussion prompt, and then responding to 1-2 peers’ responses.
Don’t get me wrong, there can be a rich exchange between students with this type of discussion design, but I would argue that there are more effective strategies to facilitate and encourage critical thinking. Continue reading
Teaching online is always a moving target. If a particular technique or tool worked well in one class, it doesn’t mean it will work well in the next. Technology, student needs, and course materials change often, sometimes incrementally and other times in leaps and bounds. Also, it seems that the more technology evolves, the expectations of students grow as well. Oftentimes, we can get swept up in the magic of a new tech toy and forget to determine if and how it will actually benefit students.
Dr. Ruben Puentedura, former faculty at Harvard and Bennington College, and the founder of Hippasus, an educational consulting firm, introduced a model called SAMR to describe the path technology adopters often take as they develop their strategies in teaching and learning with technology over time. SAMR stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition. The model looks like this:
Which was worse: seeing the message above, informing you of your Oregon Trail traveling avatar’s imminent demise, or shooting a buffalo, only to realize you had no room for additional meat in your wagon?
The question might sound facetious, but I’m not asking it in a joking manner. When playing Oregon Trail, you had to make decisions with consequences: ford the river or pay for a ferry? Buy bullets and waste days hunting, or live more frugally? Go to the fort or to the Green River? Each time you played the game, you likely made different choices to evaluate the outcome, including a round where you set a grueling pace with no food and let the characters (who you may or may not have named after your siblings) die.
One of my favorite websites, Grantland.com, recently hipped me to a subgenre of video game writing: walkthrough/review hybrids of obscure DOS games. I spent many childhood hours playing the Hugo’s House of Horrors series, and reading these pieces prompted me to think about the term “gamification” differently. Continue reading
Before I enter the classroom each quarter (sometimes virtually), I always wonder about what my class looks like. Sometimes there are more women than men, sometimes it is a very diverse group, sometimes there are adult students, but one thing is certain, every year the incoming freshmen look younger and younger. Certainly, this is not because of my own advancing age, but seeing their youthful faces embarking on a new journey in today’s technological age, leaves me with the question, “what do they look like technically?” As more and more of our courses rely on online components, you have to ask yourself, “are our students prepared to deal with the challenges of D2L, online quizzes, and video captured lectures?”
Every year, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA conducts a nationwide study of incoming college freshmen. The study conducted by UCLA  includes survey responses from almost 166,000 freshmen representing 234 institutions. For the first time in 2013, the survey added two questions about the respondents’ use of Open Educational Resources (OER) such as Khan Academy, MIT’s OpenCourseware and other MOOC’s. These two questions were in addition to the recurring questions about using the Internet for research, social media use, video games. So, what does the incoming freshman class look like technically? How prepared are they to use the online tools? I found some of the results quite surprising. Continue reading
I took my first online course in 2004 while pursuing my MFA. It seemed like a novel idea at the time, and I had no clue I’d be spending the next ten years up to my eyeballs in online courses. Since then, I’ve helped faculty design dozens of online and hybrid courses, taught several of my own, and evaluated online courses and professional development programs from a variety institutions.
Over the years, I’ve seen certain design issues surface again and again. I had hoped to stockpile 95 of these “course design sins,” then nail them to a door in a Martin Luther-esque call for reform. That vision was later revised as I realized (A) 95 is a lot of sins to identify and (B) Martin Luther didn’t have to compete with the latest Buzzfeed list of 15 dogs wearing tiny hats.
In light of those realizations, I’d like to share with you my top seven course design sins, along with practical tips for atonement. Continue reading
The Computing and Digital Media (CDM) [School of Computing Research Colloquium] recently hosted Dr. James C. Lester of North Carolina State University, who spoke about what I believe will be the future of online learning, and probably learning in general: “Narrative-Centered Learning Environments.”
Here’s the abstract:
The long-term goal of the intelligent tutoring systems community is to create adaptive learning technologies that bring about fundamental improvements in education. For the past several years our lab has been investigating a family of intelligent tutoring systems that have a dual focus on learning effectiveness and student engagement: narrative-centered learning environments. Narrative-centered learning environments integrate the inferential capabilities of intelligent tutoring systems with the rich gameplay supported by commercial game engines. In this talk we will introduce the principles motivating the design of narrative-centered learning environments, describe their roots in interactive narrative, explore the role of computational models of affect recognition and affect expression in their interactions, and discuss their cognitive and affective impact on students through empirical studies conducted in public school systems.
The abstract sounds promising, and I can attest the presentation was truly stunning. Continue reading
Recently, I attended a workshop on assessing student readiness for online learning with some colleagues from other local colleges and universities. That morning, we spent two hours discussing how to assess student readiness for taking online and hybrid courses. This lively workshop included discussions about: face-to-face vs. online, self-paced tutorials; whether or not preparations should also be assessing students’ academic abilities; transfer and nontraditional students who don’t have the same support networks that traditional freshmen have; and which factors we should be assessing to determine “readiness.” Many of the workshop participants lamented about the amount of time they’ve had to spend on technology training because it has cut into the time they need to teach traditional analog skills like proper writing, citation, computation, etc. It seemed like a hard issue to solve, as student learning varies a great deal, and it’s very difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all solution for situations like this (and that, unfortunately, is what colleges and universities want from a management perspective).
Many of my colleagues felt they were not able to provide students with same sense of presence and engagement they had in a face-to-face class. Then it occurred to me that this conversation may need to be looked at from the a different perspective. I derailed the conversation for a few minutes by asking, “So, whose readiness are we really assessing?” In most developed countries, students expect that they will need a computer for college. The majority have cell phones as well as other electronic devices that permit them to be online all of the time. I’ve seen young people type with their thumbs faster than I can type with both hands. They are always connected to an online environment and always conversing with someone (or several people), even as they are in the classroom (unfortunately). Since they’re already so good at technology, the real question is: are we ready to meet them where they are? Continue reading
The concept of a “learning coach” was introduced by Dr. Jose Bowen during his keynote speech at the 2014 DePaul Annual Teaching and Learning Conference while discussing the new role of a college professor. When the knowledge held in the brain of a professor can no longer compete with the phone that is in the hand of a student, as he humorously pointed out, maybe it’s time to think about what makes a professor the most valuable. During his presentation, Dr. Bowen called everyone’s attention to a painful reality: the vastly available content delivered through the Internet free of charge is depriving the professor of the privilege of being the knowledge owner and resource! The value of a “residential” professor—verses the ones teaching to the world via the Internet—lies in the fact that s/he can be actively involved in the learning process with the students by monitoring and guiding them to the end result. That role, as Bowen put it, would be a “learning coach”. Continue reading
At the end of each term, as you pass your harried colleagues in the hall, there’s likely a common cause for your collectively frazzled state: the stack of papers (or digital file folder of papers) that awaits your grading. They loom there, at the corner of your desk, in the middle of your table at home, or in that desktop folder, and you can feel their mental baggage as you hustle through the rest of your end-of-the-quarter tasks.
Grading writing is hard. It takes time and thoughtfulness on your part, and even if you calculate how many hours of grading you have ahead of you (perhaps trying to limit yourself to 30 minutes per paper, knowing full well that your students [hopefully] spent far more time than that writing the paper), you’ll still be reading papers at all hours, struggling with eye strain and red ink visions and mental exhaustion because if you see ONE MORE comma splice…
All of this is what makes the concept of automated grading at least tempting. Continue reading