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eLearning Frenzy

eLearning is like a sewer, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

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Best Practices

Online Course Weight Loss Plan

Online Course Weight Loss Plan Banner

There are many good reasons to keep your course from growing too big for its own britches. A large course could impact your student’s learning experience because:

  • The size of course intimidates your students.
  • The same document in multiple places takes up space and clutters the course.
  • Large images take forever to load and..
  • Take up valuable visual real estate on handheld devices.
  • The more items in your course and LMS, the slower it operates.

Keeping these things in mind there are steps you can take to manage your online courses so they don’t become overwhelming, unnavigable, burdensome and out of control.

Step 1: Keep your course organized.

One of the easiest ways to think about your online course’s health and well being is to keep it organized. Traditionally when we think about our courses being held in an LMS, we think of our course as having large containers that hold different types of content like assignments, tests and course materials.

Course Bucket Organization

This can be an easy way to think about organizing at the beginning, but the end result is that over time, these buckets become catchalls or laundry lists of everything you’ve ever added to your course. This causes your students to suffer from over scrolling and to constantly search for important information and activities. Another side effect of this particular organizational method is that it causes the instructor to have trouble determining whether or not they put “that file” in the course.

Instead of large “buckets of information”, why not think of chunking them across topics, or by time. That way, all of the information and activities that a student will need to interact with during a specific week or around a particular topic is located in the same space.

Course Organization Example - By WeekBy organizing your content, you make it easier for you and your students to find what you are looking for and reduce the ‘laundry list’ effect.

Step 2: Use Course Links to cut down on content cloning.

linkThe next step in our online course weight loss plan covers the use of one particular document in different places throughout your course. Whether it is a special rubric, a project guideline or just something you want available easily for your students, it is natural to just want to add the document where you need it. Over time, you create multiple versions of the same document that just adds extra weight to your course and makes your list of course files hard to deal with from a file management perspective.

Most learning management systems provide a way for you the instructor to “link” to the document in question wherever they are in the course. Here at Sam Houston State University, we use Blackboard and it provides this ability via the Course Links content item. Course Links allows instructors to link to files, content items and course activities anywhere in their course.

This way, an instructor only has to add 1 instance of whatever it is they want to use throughout the course and link to it from other course areas.

Step 3: Reduce the size of images BEFORE placing them in your course.

By now, we are all familiar with the fact that adding contextually relevant images to your course is a best practice. Course images engage your students, stimulate different parts of the brain and break up what would otherwise be an ocean of Times New Roman or Arial text.

Picture of a Graphic Icon on Treadmill

The issue for instructors is that the learning management system does not provide a way to reduce the size and weight of the image prior to placing it in a course. It does not allow you to change the “visual appearance” of an image by resizing how the image looks, but this DOES NOT reduce how much space the image takes up in your course or how long it takes a student on their computer or mobile device to see the image.

The good news is that almost every computer comes with a software that will help you change the size and weight of images before you place them in the course. In most cases, once you are in the software reducing the size of the images automatically reduces how much drive space they takes up. Below we will provide a few links to helpful how-tos on the Internet, but you can always google the topic and find what works for you.

Step 4: Use streaming services and Internet links for videos rather than uploading them directly to your course.

streamingOne of the most effective ways to engage your students online is to employ videos along with learning activities throughout your course. Videos add another dimension to your course that connects with your students and can be viewed on whatever device they may be utilizing.

The best practice for how to leverage videos in your online course is to host them with a streaming service or link to videos already hosted elsewhere. Burdening your LMS with Gigs of video files will have a direct impact on your students, because the way they are hosted/loaded is not ideal for streaming on mobile devices or even computers. Also the more large files you add to your learning management system the more you can affect its performance.

Fortunately, there is a great way for you to utilize video in your online courses while following the best practice. Just use other video hosts and provide links and embeds in your online course. Here at SHSU, Blackboard has the ability to directly embed YouTube videos in your course while leaving them hosted in YouTube. It does this via the YouTube mash-up and the Video Everywhere tool. We also utilize Kaltura for video/lecture capture and screen recording. Blackboard employs a Kaltura mash-up and content building tool to place these videos/screen recordings directly in your course content.

Teaching an online course can be intimidating in its own right. Make it easy on yourself. Keep your course in “eLearning shape” by ensuring your course is properly organized, providing links to course documents you want to use in multiple places, reducing the size of graphics and pictures before you insert them in course content, and using streaming services and internet links rather than uploading heavy video files directly to your course.  These aren’t the only steps you can take, but they are a great place to start.

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Best Practices For Utilizing TA’s In Your Online Course

Having an Effective TA for Your Online Course

We all know that teaching online requires instructors to think differently about how their course is delivered. While the methodologies of learning are still in play, the online medium requires you to proactively account for multiple learning strategies when putting together, delivering and interacting with your course and students.

Online instructors fortunate enough to work in departments who provide Teaching Assistants, feel like they have a lifeline in this strange “new” online world. However, the fact that you have a Teaching Assistant does not make the stars align, world peace occur and automatically make everyone fall in love with your course. There are some things to consider about utilizing TA’s in your online course that can make the overall experience more successful.

Combat Inferred Digital Nativity – #providehowtosforTAs

Digital Native PhotoWe like to think that the next generation is more “plugged in” and that they “get it” (whatever “it” may be) when it comes to technology. While this may be true for their smart phone (Let’s take a selfie!), it does not guarantee immediate understanding of your institution’s Learning Management System.

This is why it is important to put your TAs/Doctoral Fellows through the same kind of technology “how-to” sessions that are available to you as a faculty member. At Sam Houston State University, TAs/Doctoral Fellows have the option of participating in any of the teaching online certification programs, which provide a strong base for starting out on the right foot, particularly for those who will teach online courses in the future. These technology development efforts help increase course interaction, engagement and ultimately satisfaction for both instructor and student.

Use your TA to Increase Student Engagement – #notjustforgrading

Increase Online Student EngagmentThere are three types of interaction in any good online course:

  • Student/Content
  • Student/Instructor
  • Student/Student

Each one of these plays an important role in student satisfaction as well as student success. With online class size growing, it does become more challenging to engage every learner in the student/instructor interaction more than a few times during the course. TAs can play a very important role in helping to increase student/instructor interaction, as they fall under the “instructor” umbrella in this equation.

You can assign your TA to work on specific discussion forums within the course to provide feedback, answer questions, or to gently nudge students in a particular direction to ensure objectives are met. This ability to flex your teaching assistant is not limited to discussions. They can help out with blogs, wikis, web conferences and more. This can help increase the one-on-one interaction time you provider learners throughout the duration of the course.

Use your TA to Increase Instructor Presence – #untilwefindacloningmachine

Instructor PresenceThere are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week and honestly, there is such a thing as a work/life balance. Leverage your TA to help with office hours, web meetings and other times where you may be spread too thin to be in two places at once. They can also help with answering “virtual office” or “general questions” discussion forums if you are at a conference, out of town or fulfilling research requirements.

Put a Face to your TAs Name – #gettingtoknowsue #orstew

More than likely, you have a place in your course where you introduce yourself to the class. It may be in your Virtual Office area or in some other spot. It probably has a picture, some contact info and a brief bio. This would be a great place to add a second item that introduces your TA to the online students. That way when students see discussion replies, grade book feedback and more, they will know who it is from.

Making the course more personal for your students is always a best practice. Connecting your students to you and your TA will allow the students to feel like that they “know” you and this is especially important when it comes to online feedback.

Use your TA to Unleash your Online Grade Book – #feedbackmachine

Online GradingOnce a course is developed, where is the one place where you may spend most of your time in? The answer is overwhelmingly, the grade book. A well-used grade book or grade center can make the difference for you, as well as for student success and satisfaction.

Gone are the days where students would check the door to the classroom twice a semester (midterms and finals) to figure out how they were doing. Nowadays, students receive updates on their phones when an assignment in their course has been graded, when an exam grade has been posted, or when their group projects have been evaluated.

Leveraging your TA to help with the grade center can help decrease grading turnaround time and increase the amount of times a student receives personal feedback on graded items in the course. Any LMS worth its salt has a Rubric tool that faculty can employ to ensure grading guidelines are followed down to the individual criterion by the teaching assistant. Even if you limit your TAs to a particular number of assignments to grade, it will help with the amount of grading you have to do and the amount of time it takes to get that grade to the students.

TAs add value to what you are already doing in the online course. They are an important supplement and providing them with technology skills, leveraging them to increase student engagement, introducing them to your students, using them to increase instructor presence and empowering them to enhance feedback with your grade book are best practices that can contribute to success and satisfaction for you, your students, and your online course.

BbWorld15: Blackboard Learn Top 10 for Faculty – Things You Can Use Today and What’s Coming Down the Road – Session Blog

Speakers
Wade WeichelSenior Product Manager
Blackboard INC.


11. Tool Integrations LTI – (Learning Tool Inneroperability) at course level

10. Date Management – the ability to manage due/availability dates across your Bb course on from one page.

9. Student Preview – ability to view your course as student, all the way down to My Grades

8. Bb Grader – iPad app that allows an instructor or evaluator to review submitted assignments.

7. Retention Center – allows faculty to track student risk indicators without difficult setup/configuration.

6. Grade Center – Grade History – track grade center interactions over time

5. Test Power Features (significant digits, test exceptions, Access Log [lets you see in timestamped way that student’s interaction with a test], IP Address Filters (assures integrity in high-stakes testing environment]

4. Authentic Assessment (Large projects, capstone portfolio – complex set of work, direct assessment, generally not an exam.  (extensive feedback)  [Assignment Tool, Portfolio assignments, Wikis, use of Rubrics, SafeAssign, non-electronic observations…]

3. Delegated & Anonymous Grading – good for high-stakes testing for anonymity for delegated graders as well as students, large course section grading of assignments can be distributed.

2. Goal Alignments to Question Items and Individual Rubric Criteria

1. Goals Manager – Mapping Tool – ability to update content alignments

What is Bb Working on?

  • New Student Dashboards (Competency Based Education)
  • Workflow Improvements & Usability (thread navigation in discussion board grading)
  • Simpler posting of grades to the SIS
  • BbGrader grows to BbIsntructor fully fleshed out.
  • Bb Ultra improvements including calculated column formula builder

BbWorld15: Drop-In Trainings – A Buffet Approach to Technology Training – Session Blog

Speakers
Christala Smith
Director, Center for Instructional Development & Technology
Southeastern Oklahoma State University


Problem with scheduled training classes is low attendance.

Problem solving:

  • have to attend hour long training for 5 minutes of what they need
  • low attendance at scheduled training classes
  • different expectations
  • Quality delivery mechanisms

Educause Article on Drop-In Training

Wall of different software with handouts for each at the lab.  Go and get the exactly the information you want, right then.  Find experts in tech that wouldn’t mind being available to answer questions for the buffet-style training.

Goals

– Have a Variety of Tools – they come for what they need  (they come wanting to learn thing but end up learning two or more)
– Start: Targeted Training
– Networking Opportunities
– Personalized Hands-on Training
– All Inclusive Technology
– Have food (buffet of tech and buffet of food)

Have floater walking around touching base and asking “Did You Know” questions to direct faculty to appropriate drop-in group.

Have different units there to help with area of expertise:  Trainers, Instructional Designers, Support Desk, Video Team, Web Content specialists, Library etc..)

Send images of software offered in press release and let faculty know that they can think of questions before hand.

Getting the word out:  E-mail, Flyers, Word-of-Mouth

Success:  More served immediately, increased exposure, improve meetings, creating unique solutions, bridge of creativity, positive feedback!

Future:  In Conjunction with faculty symposium, include other trainers/topics, additional space.

BbWorld15: Best Practices for Implementing Blackboard Communities – Session Blog

Speaker
Adam Voyton
Wilmington University

Once you get the license, what do you do with it?  Customize interface to engage students and faculty across your institution.

Customization:

  • Create tabs, sub-tabs, and modules
  • each tab, sub-tab can be configured to appear to users that are assigned to a particular role
  • A module is bascialy a box that can contain: text, video etc..

Primary Roles are Students, faculty, staff.

For tabs or modules that have information relevant to students and or faculty in certain department, we set up college-specific institutional roles.

Student/faculty login has generic content and customized content.  Advertising, Marketing, Student Life

Students: Top layer tab has student services tab – links to student service pages, Jobs for Kats as Top Layer Tab
Faculty: (Faculty services tab – centralizes info that was scattered across website)  My media module (Kaltura)

Subtabs – Tech Support/Resources (support desk hours) (clean up My courses video), Kaltura subtab, My media and faculty repository on it along with self-help for Kaltura.  Blackboard Collaborate  subtab(embed the webpage), Blackboard subtab for IM.

Wilmington uses colleges on Top lvl tabs that contain info that they may want behind a login.  Each of these tabs have subtabs with more info   (question, how do you envision having 6 tabs one for each college).  Tabs to other systems

Things to Keep in mind:

*Tabs don’t open up in new browser tab.
*when embedding content use HTTPS*Have rules and policies for what content can go where (Governance)
*Set up a calendar to manage/schedule the content
*keep MY Courses at top right and announcements at top center

Blackboard Organizations

Bulk of orgs are Academic in nature, a fair amount of student orgs, smaller honor societies and departments.

Come up with and keep up with a naming convention.

Implementing Communities  (Organizations Subtab with “My Organizations” module)  Contains video explaining what orgs are and how they work. Including support documentation.  (Have an org catalog), link to a request form.

3 ways to enroll users into orgs: 

  • Self Enrollment – No level of privacy
  • Manual Enrollment – Leader has complete control, but has to do it all themselves.
  • Automatically adding someone who meets a certain criteria (SIS Based), some people may not want to be enrolled. (come up with un-enrollment process – place a default link in orgs with instructions to e-mail leader etc..) come up with code of conduct link for orgs as well.

Tips to Increase Students Use of Organizations (Require leaders to go to training)

– Make registration process simple
– Put out a press release on ORGS (get the word out)
– Videotaping campus events or use collaborate
– have student representatives talk for them

Online Student Association – Blackboard Org  (Engaging Online Students) – automatically add every student taking an online course.

  • Discussion board of the month – “What can we do to engage our online students at homecoming?”  small giftcard or prize of randomly selected participant
  • Online Student of the Semester – (we can use our ads)  Short little bios, students can apply we can focus on them.
  • Introductions Discussion Board (Networking)
  • Have video and webpage about this organization

Remind your constituencies what Blackboard Communities does for them. Press Releases, videos etc…  Target program chairs about Bb Orgs.

Lessons Learned:

– Get Departmental Involvement
– Dedicate a staff member to serve as community admin- Audit content every year
– People that do not have a Bb Login will not be able to access any content in Orgs

BbWorld15: Leveraging Blackboard to Introduce New Faculty to Essential Technologies – Session Blog

Speakers
Kimberly Evans
Joey Robinson
Reynolds Community College

TTS 101 Orientation to Essential Tech is an online orientation designed to streamline the on-boarding process and acclimate newly hired faculty to various technologies and services.  A collection of modules are housed within Blackboard introducing faculty to the wide range of tech resources they will be expected to use.

Upon hire faculty are automatically enrolled and through Blackboard complete each module.  They will remain enrolled for 1 year.  Once completed, deans and chairs are notified and they receive 1.5 hours of professional development.

Information is distributed at faculty orientations, convocation.

Orientation contains:

  • brief video of objectives
  • self-guided activities
  • self-assessment
  • resources

Each of the modules use adaptive release to move faculty on to the next module when they complete the previous one.

Menu: Possibilities: (Start Here, E-mail, Computer account, SIS, LMS etc..)

Exit survey posted at the end of session to measure effectiveness of orientation.  (It is not mandatory to complete training)

Reynolds looked at helpdesk tickets (Logon Concerns, Email, Software) they all decreased over time with implementation of orientation.

Don’t ask, just congratulate when welcoming.  Not “Would you like to participate?”, but “Congratulations, you’ve been enrolled..”

‘Twas the Week Before Blackboard World’

‘Twas the week before Blackboard World,
not much longer will we wait.

Thinking about multi-booked sessions

for which we’ll be late.

 

Meeting with vendors, colleagues and more,

Technology experts and topics to explore.

Pre-conference workshops to jumpstart our brains

learning best practices on which we will train.

 

I’m interested in training, f2f and online,

so many sessions, so little time!

T-Bug, best practice, pedagogy first,

networking with colleagues, you work up a thirst!

 

Vendor exhibits, giveaways galore,

Or maybe a door prize of which we will score!

We will listen, we will talk, we will soak up the knowledge,

and share our experiences with private sector, k-12, or college.

 

We look to return come Friday next week,

loaded with the knowledge we strove to seek.

So I say to you all, let’s learn without fear,

for if we want more, we wait ‘till next year!

Course Banners are NOT just for Course Landing Pages

Since the early days of Blackboard and other Learning Management Systems in the field, Course Banners have been a great way to personalize the online or web-enhanced learning environment. Instructors could differentiate any course by starting it out with a graphic or photo of their own choice/making. Course Banners have been used far and wide since then to add flare and personalize the online and blended environment.

Course with Banner ScreenshotFor years, instructors who used Blackboard have been operating under the assumption that a Course Banner could only be used on the landing page of a Blackboard course.  Well guess what?  Course Banners can be placed almost anywhere in an online/web-enhanced course. Check out this before and after photo of a Blackboard content area, in this case Lesson 1:

Before and After - Adding BannersWith just the addition of a few graphics, a theme change and a Banner image, we can add continuity to the course as well as make it more engaging.

How do you do it?

Show Text OnlyFirst, you will want to give yourself more real estate in the Content Area where you will be placing the Course Banner.  You do this by changing your page options to show text only.

  • Ensure your Edit Mode is on.
  • Click the contextual menu next to your page title and select Page Options.
  • Click Show Text Only.

This gives you more space for your graphic to live in the content area where you place it, by removing the icon that shows up next to your content title.

Note: It is also a good idea to make your Course Banners in the subsequent course content areas a little bit smaller. This cuts down on load time as well as screen resolution issues.

Add ImageNext, add/edit a Content Item on your page and add an image to the top.

  • Add/Edit a Content Item.
  • Click the Add Image button.
  • Browse and Attach your Banner.
  • Click Submit.

You will now have a content item with a banner graphic that is placed at the beginning of the content area, folder or module of your choice:

Adjusted Content Item ExampleThis practice will add a layer of continuity and engagement to your course. If your students feel like they are in a familiar place and are engaged while browsing, their satisfaction levels will increase. Consider adding more Course Banners to your online/web-enhanced courses today!

When you Pack your Bags for Blackboard World 2015

bbworld15When we think of thought leading eLearning conferences that we attend like Blackboard World, we often think of them in terms of things we will come back with. There is good reason for this, as there are so many takeaways that a conference like Blackboard World provides. For the purposes of this blog post however, we will be focusing on what we should bring with us to Blackboard World 2015.

So when you pack your bags for BbWorld….

…..Pack a way to share what you learn:

For every oSharing Gadgetsne of us who are fortunate enough to attend this tremendous eLearning event, there are many, many more of us who cannot be at BbWorld. Since we all know that “sharing is caring,” bring a way to share what you’ve learned with your coworkers back home and your colleagues across the world. Whether you are live tweeting by phone or mobile device, live-blogging from your tablet or laptop, or maybe just taking notes to present, blog, or post later, you will be helping your coworkers at home and your peers across academia benefit from what you are picking up from colleagues, professionals and thought leaders.

…..Pack a charger (Mobile or otherwise):

Portable ChargerIf indeed you are sharing your experience, or just trying to stay in touch with events back at home, you will definitely need a charger. I would suggest bringing one of the mobile chargers that you can keep in your pocket/purse/backpack. During the hectic schedule, you may not get a chance to go back to your room, and you may not find an open plug where you can “juice-up”. *As an addendum to this packing tip, bringing a small power strip is also beneficial as you can share one plug with a number of your peers.

…..Pack a desire to meet people and make connections:

Make ConnectionsPossibly the biggest benefit to being at Blackboard World is the ability to meet your peers and form connections that you will maintain and use throughout your professional career. At your home institution you may be the only person who does what you do, but at Blackboard World you are a small fish in a big pond. There will literally be hundreds of people with your same type of job. What better way to pick up best practices and learn what is working and not working for your colleagues, so that you aren’t stumbling around on your own when it comes to your learning management system or eLearning in general.

…..Pack some tennis shoes or at least comfy dress shoes:

ShoesBbWorld has possibly the largest population of slacks/skirts and Nikes in the eLearning universe. For a conference this large, you may be walking a quarter of a mile just to get to your next session. You also have vendors to see and colleagues to touch base with, so comfortable footwear is a must. Some of you may spend the evening at the Washington Mall area. Let me speak from experience, walking the Mall in DC can cause blisters in the wrong shoes!

…..Pack a Presentation!

PresentationBe a Blackboard World Presenter! The Call for Proposals is open until April 15. Share your successes, obstacles and experiences on a multitude of topics. The backbone of BbWorld are presentations by those of us in the trenches who work with faculty, students, deans, directors and Blackboard to make eLearning possible. Take the plunge and submit your proposal to present today!

There are probably many other things you can think of packing, so don’t limit yourself to just this list (checked bag fees not-withstanding). I know I look forward to seeing what my colleagues are bringing to BbWorld15 this summer!

 

 

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