eLearning Frenzy

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


Best Practices

#bestpracticemonday – Be Scripted When Recording Multimedia

Script GraphicUsing a script is one of the most underrated best practices when it comes to speaking to your students via a recording.  You may be very comfortable talking to your students in a live classroom environment, but may not be as accustomed to just you and a video camera.  Try writing up a script or at least an outline of what you want to say.

Graphic of Verbal DebrisIt can be more than a little embarrassing to have yourself repeating the verbal debris “um” over and over in a video you are planning to use in classes.  A script minimizes the chances that you will forget the point you were trying to get across to your students.

If you do your recording in a studio, you may have access to a teleprompter right in the camera.  That way the students don’t know you are reading your script while you look straight at them.  There are also great teleprompter apps for your iOS or Android device.

At the very least just writing yourself something up in word or on a note-card can go along way toward smoothing out your presentation.

How Teaching An Online Course is Like Running a Marathon

Jacob Finishing his First MarathonAdmittedly, the body of this post may or may not be heavily influenced by the fact that I just completed my first marathon, but I do believe that the comparison is a sound one.   No, running 26.2 miles hasn’t boiled my brains.  While training for this event I started thinking about these two as parallels and after finishing my run, I’m even more convinced.

So before I spend more time rejoicing in my accomplishment and/or my soreness here are the comparisons:

1.  Running A Marathon or Teaching an Online Course Requires Preparation

I didn’t just wake up Saturday morning and decide that I wanted to run a marathon that day.  Months ago, I began a scheduled series of runs to prepare me for the event.  My legs weren’t ready for a marathon back in April when I decided I wanted to this.  Three and a half months of preparation went into making sure I could complete my long distance run.

Successful online instructors begin planning for their online courses long before uploading the syllabus or posting their first announcement.   They start aligning curriculum to objectives before the first day of class.  They decide on a course plan, technologies and strategies for assessment, communication and collaboration if they are redesigning their own course, or they work with a colleague or instructional designer if they are teaching online for the first time or using canned content.

Start Slow2. Whether Teaching Online or Running a Marathon – Start Slow

Running 26.2 miles takes a lot out of you.  Beginning slowly helps you store up energy for when you need and it starts warming your body up for the long road ahead.  Usually you are in a crowd of people and confusion erupts if you start tripping over your own feet or someone else’s when trying to get out with a fast start.  Finally you just want to slowly adjust your body to the rigor of a marathon.

A measured start to an online course is also important for instructors.  Whether you are teaching for 4 weeks or 4 months a slow start benefits you and your students.  First, you cut down on the confusion and anxiety that can be experienced at the outset by helping your student to get their feet wet with some introductory activities.  Take the time let the students get to know each other and the course environment.  It may take a day or two or week depending on the length of the term, but it pays off in the end.

3.  In Online Courses just like Marathons – There WILL be Problems

Obstacles - Snake in RoadSo, on August 3rd I didn’t set out to have problems when I began my run.  It was 6 in the morning; temperature in the low 80s and a light breeze was blowing.  All in all, it looked like a good day for a run.  However, before I finished my race I ran into some issues.  A little over halfway through the race my feet started to develop blisters.   Let me tell you, there is nothing more fun than running on blisters. I had done enough research to know that this could happen and just put up with the pain knowing that I would finish and be able to get off of my feet.  However, a very unexpected obstacle was thrown in my path about ¾ of the way through the event.  I was on my way back during my 3rd circuit and saw a 6-foot long King snake slither across the trail.  I immediately stopped and warned the folks behind me that we had a cold-blooded obstacle in our path.  We didn’t have an immediate way to deal with the snake, so we just waited patiently for it to cross the trail and went on our way.

There is an old adage when it comes to working with technology.  It goes: “It is not a matter of IF technology will fail, it is a matter of WHEN technology will fail.” Online courses by their very nature are technology-rich environments.  Students (and you) use multiple types of technology to view, communicate and interact with course materials and each other.

Just like in a race obstacles can get in the way of you and your students participating in your online course.   You will experience issues that you are familiar with.  These issues revolve around things like power outages, Internet blips, browser issues and a few others.  They have happened before and you generally know how to deal with them.  Sometimes you will come across the unaccounted for “snake in your path” when teaching an online course.  When you encounter these issues, the most important thing to do is to keep the lines of communication open.  Let your students know that you know there is a problem.  Reassure them that it will pass and that things will continue once it is cleared up.  Reaching out to your students lowers anxiety and lets them know that you understand what they are going through.

Finish Strong4.  In a Long Distance Race or an Online Course – Finish Strong

When doing my last mile, I reminded myself of all the hard work I put into my training.  The hours of time I spent running, the different distances, the regularly scheduled workouts I committed to each week and the mental endurance to stay focused all came to a head in that mile as I kicked through to the finish.

Wrapping up an online course should pull everything together for your students.  They should be able to connect the dots of their learning and see the big picture of what they got out of their online course. You and they should feel a sense of accomplishment in finishing the course.

Participating in a marathon and teaching an online course are both “long distance” activities.  They both require a commitment of time, effort and energy from the participant.    If you prepare for your course before starting it, allow for an orientation period or “slow start”, be ready for obstacles and communicate through them and finish strong by connecting the dots for your students you will come out ahead with a “finished race” and a “good time”.

By Popular Demand – “Broken Links” that popular 80s Tribute (Lyrics)

So my #bestpracticemonday for this week had to do with prepping your course for the next semester in that you should always check links and embeds for all external content.  Part of my post had the humorous tribute to Mr. Mister’s Broken Wings (one of my personal favorite bands of that era).  So the Tweet actually read:

@jspradlin #bestpracticemonday “Take..these broken links and learn to browse again..” Check links & embeds for external content prior 2 semester start.

Broken LinksAfter posting that tweet, I received numerous requests to post the rest of the song. As luck would have it I rounded up the members of my 80’s eLearning cover band, “Best Practice” (which was funny as we never really seemed to have time to rehearse) and we (okay it was just me as the rest of the members kept talking about how they missed their swatch watches and parachute pants) put together the Pedagogical sounds of a tribute.

So without further ado, here is Broken Links:

Song: Broken Links
Artist: Best Practice
Label: eLearning Records
Year: 1980 something

Maybe, you’ll understand
why we can just click on the links that we planned.
This time wont’ be the last I fear
cause websites seem to disappear
Where do they go? Ohhh…

Take these broken links
and learn to browse again
learn to surf so free
And when we find the web content
the links will open up again and let us in..

Take these broken links….

Maybe, I think today
we can take that youtube mashup
and make it play.

Or Maybe, it’s all I know, that the Voki I created
Just won’t show
Where did it go?

Take these broken links
and learn to browse again
learn to surf so free
And when we find the web content
the links will open up again and let us in..

Maybe, where can it be, that prezi from last semester
I just can’t see.
yeah yeah yeah, yeah yeah.
Take these broken links
and learn to browse again
learn to surf so free
And when we find the web content
the links will open up again and let us in..

Take these broken links
and learn to browse again
learn to surf so free
And when we find the web content
the links will open up again and let us in..

Want to Improve your Online Course? Ask your students!

Keep Calm and Ask Your StudentsIn previous posts we have discussed the importance of feedback in your online course.  We’ve looked at how students obtain feedback from student/course, student/instructor and student/student interactions.  There is however another important type of feedback that can be gathered in your online course(s)…….Student Opinion!

We can all be a little touchy when it comes to something that we have put measurable effort into, but if something is worth your effort, it is also worth you finding ways to improve it.  Here are a few suggestions for getting feedback from your students:

Blog – Week in Review
Have your students do a reflective blog post each week that charts the highs, lows and in-betweens of their activity in your online course.  Start them off letting them know that you are looking for honest/candid observations of their experience that week.

Trying Something New? – Do a Post assignment Survey
Maybe you are using a wiki for the first time in class, or maybe you are trying out synchronous web meetings.  Whatever you are doing, ask your students how it went, how it could be better and what they got out of it.

Three Letter Acronym for Success – KWL
What do you know?  What do you want to know?  What have you learned?  These three questions are key to ensuring that your students know you are listening.  By asking the first two questions you can, with the help of your students’ answers, drive learning toward their needs.  By asking the last question you can be sure that any objectives you set are met by reading their answers.

Be Formative and Summative
It is nice to find out what your students think when they finish your course, but wouldn’t it be nicer to know if they are really enjoying a certain aspect of your course or have problems with another while they are doing it?

There are other ways to gauge your students’ feelings on your course through discussions, assignments, surveys and synchronous “touching base” online meetings, but hopefully these few can you get started and allow you to improve your course and your students’ online experience.

Infographic: 5 Strategies for Success when Teaching Online with an Example of Each


Note:  I actually posted this article on the SHSU Online Blog, but thought it worth while to share here as well.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks in online courses for students is having their expectations of the course meet reality.  There are two easy steps you can take to ensure your students know what to expect in your online course.

  • Place learning objectives throughout the course
  • Create an Expectations content item

Place Learning Objectives Throughout the Course

Due to accreditation requirements, your objectives will show up in your course’s syllabus so the students will be able to find them there.  However, you can really reinforce what the students will be getting out of course units and items by placing Unit and even Content Item level objectives.  Starting out each unit by letting students know what they can expect from it will remind them why they are involved in those activities and reinforce with you the desire to align your curriculum.  Putting an assignment level objective will go further to reinforce what they are learning and why.

Create an Expectations content Item

A great way to cut down on student confusion about course expectations and activities is to create an Expectations content item in your course.  This part of your course should contain 2 sets of expectations:  What you expect of your students and what your students should expect from you.  You can even have your students post that they have read and understood the course expectations as a gateway for your course content.

Examples of Course expectations:

Expectations of Students

  • Use the virtual office to ask general course questions
  • Check the course homepage, discussions and their e-mail several times a week
  • keep up with reading assignments, activities, assignments and quizzes
  • Participate actively in class discussions, responding to at least 2 colleagues for each forum
  • Practice Netiquette in the course.  No flaming (negative hurtful comments); use correct grammar and spelling; don’t yell (write in all caps)

Expectations of Instructor *These will vary depending upon your comfort level

  • I will read and respond to discussion posts directed at me, e-mails and other forms of communication daily (not on weekends)
  • I will post grades for your assignments and exams quizzes within a week of submission
  • I will have office hours at these days/times: (insert times here) via Skype (Skype address here) or via phone (phone number here)

Letting your students know what to expect from you and what you expect from them will go along way toward ensuring a successful experience for them and you in your online course(s).

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