Search

eLearning Frenzy

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

Tag

bestpracticemonday

Connect your Online Course – Give Students a GPS for Course Content

Connect Your CourseWhen you travel somewhere for the first time, doesn’t it seem to take a little bit longer to get there than it does to return home? Whether it is unfamiliar surroundings, difficulty reading the map or the GPS isn’t up to date, it can be frustratingly slow to travel to new places.

Think of your online course as that new destination for your students. How would they describe their navigation experience? Would they say that once they travel into your course that it is difficult to find their way back? Would they say that the course links were easy to find and use? Would they be frustrated trying to make it to their “destination”?

Even when we try to organize the course so it is organized into more digestible “chunks” for the students, we can make it hard to maneuver. Imagine a student lost in a Escher print of folders within folders within folders.

Connecting your course by organizing, clearly naming your navigation elements and providing an “escape route” will save your students and ultimately you time when putting together your online course.

Below are steps you can take to connect your course and save time for you and your students:

  • Use Dividers and Subheaders to visually organize your course’s navigation menuCourse Menu
  • Append the text (Click the title above to Open) on descriptions for folders, learning modules, lesson plans, web and course links.
    Click to Access text
  • Make the content item Blue if you want your students to click it
  • Chunk your course content as you would teach it in your face-to-face course.  For example: Put all Chapter content in chapter folder with different sub-folders for each chapter.
  • Provide an Escape Route by placing a Course Link at the bottom of a unit of study so that the student can navigate back to where they were before easily.Course Link

Promote Student Engagement by ‘Personalizing’ Your Online Course

Personalized Learning

The Glossary of Education Reform defines student engagement as:

the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their learning

Personalized LearningIf the above is true, then there are many ways an online instructor can impact the attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion of students.  This particular blog post deals with how personalizing an online course can increase student engagement.  When an online instructor and students can invest more of themselves in on online course, the satisfaction levels reported by those same students will go up.

This particular view of online course personalization will be broken into 5 areas:


Placing Yourself in the Course

Place Yourself in the CoursePrevious posts on this blog have focused on instructor presence in the online course.  We’ve talked about establishing routines to ensure prompt feedback and instructor availability.  This particular practice revolves around something a little more superficial, but important nonetheless.

Students in an online course like to feel that they know who you are.  A text-based introductory paragraph or post in a “getting to know you” discussion forum may not fully encompass who you are to the student.  Why not take one small step and add a picture of yourself to the course.   You may already be familiar with the best practice of establishing a Virtual Office in your course where you can answer student questions.  Why not add your photo and contact information in this same area and personalize your office.

Here at SHSU, Blackboard allows you to set up a Social Profile that places your picture wherever you interact in a course (discussions, blog & wiki posts, grade center etc..). If your students feel like they “know” you, they are more likely to reach out to you and less likely to drift off into obscurity.

The logical next step in this progression is for you to utilize video to connect yourself to your course and your students, but that is a post for another time.


Allowing Students to Place Themselves in the Course

Online StudentsIn online courses it is easy for students to believe that they operate in a vacuum.  They punch their ticket fulfill obligations, and never get a good look at who is on this learning journey with them.  Allowing students to place themselves in your online course begins to build that learning community that encourages students to be successfully engaged.

Why not have your student find a way to place their image in your course.  Have them attach/upload/insert their picture as part of an introductory activity.  Some Learning Management Systems like Blackboard, allow students to create their own Social Profile that includes an image and biography.  After the profile is created the student’s face appears in the course roster, grade center and course activities (blogs, wikis, discussions, group activities etc..).

Having student/faculty images in your online course allows a more cohesive integration of group activity and shared learning.


Allowing Students to Personalize Their Learning

Personalize We know that student satisfaction goes up when they feel like they have some “skin in the game” when it comes to their learning experience.  The challenge for many online instructors is figuring out how to incorporate student content-building or contributions to the online environment.

A good first step is to find out what they know and what they want to know more about.  You as the instructor will define the boundaries from which they will pick, but a survey or KWL* assignment is a great way to start out a course.

*KWL – What do you know?  What do you want to know?  What have you learned?

You can also provide an element of continuous improvement in your courses by having your students journal each week or at an interval of your choosing.  The journal entry could serve 2 purposes:

  1. Provide a graded assignment where the student reflects upon what they learned during the week.
  2. Allow the student to tell you what the high points and low points were of the previous unit of study.

The journaling activity will allow you to make course corrections (pun intended) during the course rather than finding out where you might have some issues when the course is finished and evaluations are in.

There are other methods for involving your students in this process. The scenarios are numerous, but here are a few ideas:

  • Have your students come up with the academic integrity policy for the course to increase buy-in.  They can use a wiki or discussion board to share ideas around defining plagiarism and academic honesty.
  • Create an assignment dealing with constructing a study guide for the final and allow your students to contribute questions.
  • Use peer evaluation as a method for grading discussions and other assignments.


Feedback Early, Feedback Often

FeedbackProbably the most important way to ensure your students believe that you are personally involved in their learning is to provide prompt and frequent feedback.  Think about how you feel when someone gives you kudos on a job well done or even coaching on a subject where you might need assistance.  You feel like someone took a personal interest in something that you were doing, right?  Students feel the same way about the feedback you provide via the course.

Here are some options:

  • Make feedback part of your daily routine as an online instructor
  • Change up how you provide feedback (text/audio/video)
  • Post a weekly announcement recapping the last week’s activities and previewing the current week.
  • Too many students to reply to discussion posts?  Provide 1 summary post per discussion giving kudos and challenges when needed.
  • Schedule “office hours” where you can provide synchronous feedback a ’la chat or webinar when needed.


Personalization without Confusion

Sometimes in our desire to create a learning environment that is personal and engaging for the learner, we can add a layer of confusion that can separate the student from the learning experience we are trying to create.

So before we go tech-crazy or jump into a fun idea feeding frenzy take the following into account:

  • The Main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.  If the personalization/engagement does not comport to the learning objective, then don’t do it!
  • Keep it simply single. Add one new wrinkle to your experience at a time. Don’t heighten student anxiety by adding lots of tools/tech that they’ve never seen before.
  • Don’t play Hide & Seek with course content and activities.  If you started out putting content and activities in a certain order, stick with it!

Here are some quick and easy ways to provide personalization without confusing the issue:

  • Use images to introduce content/topics and break the monotony of the text monopoly!
  • While keeping the same routine/order of a unit of study, utilize different activities to differentiate the way students interact with the course.
  • Change up how you deliver content to students.  Introduce a discussion activity a ‘la webcam recording or provide an audio introduction with assignment instructions that contain bonus points for those who listen.

These five methods of personalizing the online learning environment don’t have to all be done at once. As with most of the best practices on this blog, we encourage you to take it one step at a time.  Remember if you feel overwhelmed, then odds are your students will too!  Hopefully you will find your students paying more attention, being more curious, showing more interest, bubbling over with optimism and being passionate about their learning.

#bestpracticemonday – Netiquette for the Online Course

NetiquettePart of setting your students up for success in any course is to create a culture of success.  We create a culture of success by ensuring students know what is expected of them and in some cases involving them in coming up with some of those expectations.  Online students come into a course with their own thoughts and musings how about the course should operate and how they should interact with others.

Being proactive in establishing a positive culture of communication can mean the difference between student satisfaction and student frustration.  A great way to encourage positive interactions in your course is to establish Netiquette or Internet Etiquette expectations for your online course.

This blog post will cover four different types of Netiquette for the online course.  It is not an exhaustive list, but a great starting point or template from which to work.  We will look at the following four areas:

  1. Netiquette – General Guidelines
  2. Netiquette for Discussion Forums
  3. Netiquette for E-mail
  4. Netiquette for Chats/Webinars

GuidelinesNetiquette – General Guidelines

  • Keep caps lock at a minimum for emphasis: IT MAKES YOU LOOK LIKE YOU ARE YELLING
  • Be careful when using humor or sarcasm as much can be lost in translation and give offense in the online environment
  • All communication should be at a college level and include correct spelling and grammar
  • Treat fellow students and instructor with respect in all types of online-communication (e-mail/chat/discussions/web meetings)
  • Use clear and concise language (e-mail does not easily reflect your implied meaning)
  • Avoid text speak and slang (sorry, no LOL, ROFL, LMBO or IMHO)
  • Use standard fonts and font size: Arial/Times New Roman, 11-12 pt font
  • Only use emoticons when appropriate ☺

Discussion Forums GraphicNetiquette for Discussion Forums

  • Review and edit post BEFORE posting
  • Spell-check, Spell-check, Spell-check
  • Stay on Topic
  • Cite any sources you reference in your post
  • No flaming or personal/insulting remarks
  • Provide well thought out replies to thread postings, “I agree” and “Great Post” are unacceptable
  • Be respectful of others’ opinions
  • Read previous messages in a thread BEFORE replying
  • Don’t regurgitate someone else’s post, make your own

E-mailNetiquette for E-mail

  • Include your name and return address in the e-mail signature
  • Be brief: Don’t try and write the sequel to War & Peace
  • Make your subject line descriptive
  • Limit the use of Reply All, does everyone need to see your response?
  • Be forewarned about “forward”:  Be sure the original author is okay with you passing his/her e-mail on

WebinarNetiquette for Chats/Webinars

  • Don’t play with the whiteboard tools unless directed to do so by your instructor
  • If you are sharing your desktop be sure only topic appropriate windows are open
  • Use a headset/microphone combo, online meeting attendees don’t want to hear themselves through your speakers
  • Do not talk over others
  • Wait your turn to speak/use web cam
  • Make sure everything works BEFORE the session begins don’t try and get technical support in the middle of a lecture
  • If using a webcam be sure you have appropriate lighting, appropriate attire and limit distractions (pets, spouses, roommates, children)

#bestpracticemonday – Increase Student Engagment by Encouraging Interactions in Online Discussions

Encouraging InteractionsHave you ever felt left out of a discussion? When you are contributing to an effort, how does it feel to not be recognized for that contribution? Recognizing the contributions of the students in your online classes is key to increasing their participation. Here are some strategies for success:

  • Reply to a handful of discussion posts for each forum picking different students each time
  • Give Kudos and Challenges (recognize the contributions and offer challenges to encourage your students to reach beyond)
  • For larger classes do one summary post for each discussion mentioning students by name

If students believe you are actually reading their contributions they will work harder to ensure quality and quantity of their efforts.

#bestpracticemonday: Teaching Online – “Running” into Problems

Running Technical GlitchSo I run 3 – 4 times each week.   This past week on my shorter run, I was studiously trying to avoid being run over by less-than-aware drivers when I stepped into a bad spot in the road.  Before I knew it, I rolled my ankle and scraped my hands on the pavement as I went down.   Because I was close to traffic I immediately got my bearings and took some deep breaths.  I was only about a quarter of the way into my run and I wanted to finish so I begin what I can only describe as a hop-limp running style as I continued on my way.  After about 30 yards I was approaching normal, but running carefully just to be sure.  Eventually I was back at my normal pace and finished my run somewhat later than normal and a little scraped up.

So now you know more than you ever wanted to know about my exercise habits.  The funny thing about my adventure is that it is analogous to how online instructors should handle technical problems when they arise. When you “run” into problems while teaching an online course, follow these steps:

Get Your Bearings

Get your BearingsWhether it was a technical glitch or one of your activities/assessments didn’t work as expected, it is important to get your bearings.  Whatever the problem take a deep breath and realize that it will be okay.  Reflect that same thought to your students by posting an announcement about the issue and/or communicating with them via e-mail or other method.  Reach out to your support network to find out what happened so that you can answer questions posed by your students.  If you don’t know, it’s okay to let your students know that you don’t know, but that you are in the process of finding out what happened.  Figure out where your students were when the event happened so that you can move onto the next step…

Keep on Moving (the limp-hop)

The Limp Hop - Walking wiht a bootIn most cases you are under a time constraint when teaching online just as you are in a face-to-face course. You have a set amount of work to do in a limited amount of time.  So even if you have a partial work stoppage due to a technology glitch or outage, it is important to keep moving forward.  How can you do this?  Try using another tool to finish the activity that the students were working on when everything hit the fan.  *Best Practice Alert:  If you are using a technology intensive tool for a course activity/assessment, it is always a good idea to have an alternate activity planned in case something goes wrong.  Think of it as like having printed slides of your presentation just in case the projector doesn’t work in your face-to-face course.  Find another way to continue the activity so that your students won’t miss out on the the learning experience.  For example, if you were using a blog, try switching to a discussion forum.

What really goes without saying here is that you keep the lines of communication flowing.  During downtimes and technical glitches of tools, the students just want to know that they won’t be penalized and that the world is still turning.  Even if the course seems to be inching along, a follow-up e-mail letting them know that you are still with them does much to lessen anxieties.   It may seem like a glacial pace compared to what you were doing when the problem occurred, but continuing to move forward at any pace will give your students a sense of comfort that you are still in control of the course and they are still in control of their learning.

Getting Back in the Groove

Get Back in the GrooveOnce the problem has passed it is important to ensure that you and your students are back in the normal rhythm of your course.  Communicate with your students and let them know that all systems are “go” and that they should return to normal course interaction practices.  If the tool that had the problem is to be used in an assignment let the students know that you will watching for any issues that may arise.  You will notice a familiar refrain when it comes to doing these things.  Each step in the disaster recovery process involves communicating with your students!  It may take some encouragement on your part, but your students should slip back into the familiar course interactions that they are used to.

As with most situations when you deal with technology, it is not a matter of if it will fail you, but when it will fail you.  Keep in mind, how you respond to these problems and glitches often has more of an effect on your students than the problems themselves.   Make sure to get your bearings, keep on moving, and get back in the groove and everything will be all right.  You may have a few scrapes and soreness, but you and your students will come through it and finish strong!

#bestpracticemonday – The Importance of Rubrics in Blackboard Courses

Rbrics CubeThis blog has covered the importance of communication strategies when leading an online course. Students who feel like they have effective lines of communication during an online course tend to have a higher opinion of the course’s quality. Part of effective communication lies in the explanation of  assessment and evaluation of student work. The Blackboard learning management system has a tool that can assist faculty when communicating around grading and assessment. This tool is called the Blackboard Rubric.

Rubric (Definition)
A rubric is a way to communicate expectations of quality about an assignment or activity.

The Blackboard Rubric is an assessment tool that lists evaluation criteria for an assignment, and provides a means to convey to students your expectations for the quality of completed assignments.  This tool is an effective means to enhance an online instructor’s communication strategy.  The Blackboard Rubric tool is important for three reasons.

  1. Using a Blackboard Rubric Clears up any Grading Ambiguity for Students
  2. Using a Blackboard Rubric Makes Grading Easier and Consistent
  3. Using a Blackboard Rubric Lets Students Know What they Need to Succeed

Using a Blackboard Rubric Clears up any Grading Ambiguity for Students

Students in online courses can feel like they have multiple reasons to be anxious about their experience.  Technology glitches, digital proficiencies, and communication snafus are all obstacles that can present a problem for online students.    This does not even take into account how students interpret results from assignments and activities they have turned in.  In a face-to-face environment, students have the luxury of talking to the professor during class or stopping by the office to talk about their grade. Online students who want to know why they received the grade they did have to jump through hoops at times to determine where they went wrong.  For a student, just seeing a number in their My Grades area of Blackboard doesn’t give them the full picture.

Rubric Criterion with Feedback BoxThe Blackboard Rubric tool provides an easy method for communicating about student performance. How a student performed is not only detailed by the indicated criterion and level of achievement, but the instructor has the ability to provide further individual feedback at the individual criterion level.    If one specific criterion has three levels of possible achievement, then Blackboard instructor will have the ability to leave feedback right where the student landed for their assignment/activity.

Giving students the tools to understand how they performed, will equip them with the ability to not only understand why they performed the way they did, it can also enable them to improve upon their performance.

Using a Blackboard Rubric Makes Grading Easier and Consistent

Grading assignments/activities in Blackboard can take a fair amount of an online instructor’s time.  One way to simplify the process and give both the instructor and the students a detailed explanation of the evaluation is to grade with the Rubric Tool.  Blackboard Rubrics can be associated with:

  • Assignments
  • Essay, Short Answer and File Response test questions
  • Blogs and Journals
  • Wikis
  • Discussion board forums and threads

This means that each of these activities can be graded using the Rubric tool.   Once a rubric is associated with a Blackboard activity, the instructor can access the gradable item via the Grade Center, on the Needs Grading page, or directly from the tool.  Once in the in-line grading or grading view the View Rubric (button or link) is clicked and the instructor can select the level of achievement for each criterion and the points are automatically tabulated!

Using a Blackboard Rubric Lets Students Know What they Needs to Succeed

SuccessIf a student knows what it takes to succeed at a particular assignment, they are far more likely to be successful themselves.  The Blackboard Rubric tool has the ability to allow the students to see the Rubric BEFORE they complete the assignment.

When viewing a Blackboard activity a link is provided to your students to View the Rubric.  They then see the activity levels of achievement and criterion.  The rubric gives them visibility into what it takes to not meet requirements, meet the requirements, and exceed the requirements for the activity. The rubric then becomes the book-ends for the assignment:  a guide for what they need to be successful and a tool for letting them know how they performed.

At the very least, the use of Blackboard Rubrics can help students organize their efforts to meet the requirements of an assignment, and you can use them to explain evaluations to students. Rubrics can help ensure consistent and impartial grading.  They are important because they clear up grading ambiguity, make grading easier, and provide a pathway to success.

For more on the Blackboard Rubric tool, check out the Blackboard Help pages.

Where to Start – Example Rubrics

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.

Check Your Course Before they Wreck Your Course!

Before You BeginBefore you give your students access to your course, go through it with Edit Mode off and/or use the Student View button to make sure all your content and tools are accessible and easy to find.

Note: Use your course’s navigation menu because students can’t navigate via the Control Panel.

A few things you should be looking for are:

  • When a student enters the course do they know where to go and what to do?
  • Are the items in the Nav Menu clear? For instance, ‘Content’ means anything to a new student. It would make more sense to them if it was more specific, like ‘Course Materials’ or ‘Modules’
  • Are all the tools you want the students to use linked from the Nav Menu or a Content Area? An easy way to check is by looking at the Nav Menu in Edit View.
  • Can all the Tests and Assignments be taken and submitted?
  • Do links to other places on the web work?  (YouTube videos can be pulled down in a blink of an eye and web content can disappear at any time).

Other things to check while in Edit Mode:

  • Links to hidden tests and assignments are not broken. Its good practice to re-deploy all your tests (if you’ve copied the course) to ensure that the links are correctly attached to the Grade Center.
  • The Grade Center columns are correctly displayed to students (hidden or revealed) and the weighting and points possible are correct.
  • Be sure due dates on items in your course are correct (these can now be changed easily by dragging and dropping with the Calendar feature in My Blackboard.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑