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BbWorld Session Blog: Growing Enrollments: Implementing Online Programs with Learners in Mind

Lido 3104
Leslie Buckalew | Vice President Student Learning | Columbia College

This session will focus on helping educational administrators grow enrollments using Online Programs that improve student retention and timely degree completion.  Proven pedagogy that focuses on learner needs will be reviewed.  Use of the Blackboard Learn and Collaborate will be highlighted. Program evaluation will be discussed in the context of a larger campus strategic plan.

Online Education Initiative – Environment to get student in virtual courses in a seamless fashion.

*Students will be successful if faculty are supported.

Online Learner: Characteristics and Course Development with their needs in Mind:

Self-Directed: Metacognitively aware (know how to learn)

Value Collaboration technology/social learning

Need to be Connected

Part of a community of Practice

Title II Grant: Money to expand distance learning (2 million for 5 years) – equip faculty to teach online using cohort training (flexible, collaborative and accountable training program)  Online and face-to-face learning community setting.

  • Teaching and learning Communities
  • Blackboard 9.1 Training
  • Collaborative Development
  • Technology Training & workshops
  • Peer Mentors
  • Incentives and Software

Designed a three unit course called (Online Course Development as a supplement as grant has run out.  Also provided other instructional technology training (smaller groups – Variety is the spice of life).  Encouraged everyone of their faculty to use Blackboard as an enhancement in their class.

Best Practices (Principles of Good Practice)

  • Good practice encourages contact between students and faculty
  • Good practice develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
  • Good practice encourages active learning
  • Good practice gives prompt feedback
  • Good practice emphasizes time on task
  • Good practice communicates high expectations
  • Good practice respects diverse talents and ways of learning

Faculty Training Offers

  • Web Resources (JIT)
  • Peer Mentoring
  • Online Development Cohort & Classes
  • Ongoing Support
  • Pre & Post Surveys for Program Assessment
  • Instructional Technology Training – ties into having students feel supported as well.

Pre & Post Faculty Training Survey*

Equipping Faculty to Provide:

  • Start Here Modules (safety Net activities)
  • Safety Nets (Practice Assignments)
  • Universal Designed & Accessible Learning Materials and Modules
  • Need to Know student service information
  • Authentic Assessment
  • Embedded Instructional Video Clips – welcome video required
  • Asynchronous and Synchronous Communication Tools
  • Rubrics, Models & Guidelines
  • Community Building Activities

Training Topics & Activities

  • Create Accessible Syllabus and Materials
  • Develop Rubrics
  • Embed Instructional Videos
  • Set-Up Anti-plagiarism assignments (safe assign, turnitin)
  • Provide Different Learning Style Activities
  • Design learning modules
  • Participate in Communication Tools
  • Embed the Human Presence Aspect – sprinkles and icing

Need to Know video clips –

  • Where to find a tutor
  • Technical Support
  • etc..

Virtual Conferencing Tools for Office Hours, Lectures, Counseling, and Meetings (Bb Collaborate, Google Hangouts)

Student Success Factors Proven Effective

  • Blackboard Help Desk
  • Instructional Technology Center
  • F2f and Virtual Orientations
  • Video tours of Online Class
  • Embedded Instructional Videos
  • Online Student Resources
  • Blackboard Quick Guide
  • Email Blasts
  • Faculty Directory Page

Take Aways

  • Student Confidence is up
  • 21st Century Skills
  • Strong Online Community
  • Higher Retention Rates
  • Student Satisfaction
  • Educational Opportunities

 

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Want to take your Blackboard Course to Next Level? Be Graphic!

bestpracSo, you’ve been at this Blackboard thing for a couple of semesters and you are starting to feel comfortable with the learning management system.  You’ve mastered the art of uploading and attaching files to content.  The discussion board is your boon companion and you are collecting assignments digitally from your students via the assignment tool.  Navigating the grade center is like riding a bike and you feel good about it!

What now?  Learn a new tool or technology? Live inside your course for the next 6 months?  Well, you could do those things, but let me suggest a slightly different approach.  Have you considered adding an important layer to your Blackboard course by inserting images?

Importance of Images

  • Convey course information in an alternate method.
  • Students pay more attention to articles/readings with graphic content.
  • Breaks up monotony of “text-only” Blackboard pages.
  • Increases student engagement by making them use a different part of their brain.
  • It just looks better!

Below are examples of a Blackboard content area without graphics and a content area with graphics.  Which one looks better?  Which one would you rather read?

Blackboard Course Content Area Examples
In this example the graphics are more of the decorating variety, but they do add color and continuity to your course.  Imagine having your course banner at the top of every major content area in your course.  In this case there are examples of images in a content item, learning module and content folder descriptions. Almost anywhere you use the content editor in Blackboard, you can place an image.

Inserting an Image

  1. Click the Insert/Edit Image button on your content editor.
  2. Browse to where your image is saved and attach it.
  3. Type an Image Description (for screen readers).
  4. Click the Insert button.Insert Image dialogue

Editing an Image (Alignment, Spacing and Size)

  1. Click on the image you have placed in the Content Editor.
  2. Click the Insert/Edit Image button.
  3. Click the Appearance tab.
  4. Adjust your Alignment, Spacing and Size.
    Insert - Edit Image - Appearance Tab

With a few clicks of your mouse, your Blackboard course can go from black and white text to a colorful tapestry of text and images that convey meaning to students in a number of different ways!

Resources – Free Images For Your Courses

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 – 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.

Have Students Invest in Academic Integrity in Your Online Course

Academic Integrity WorldeOne of the biggest challenges facing distance learning today is ensuring academic integrity. There are an overwhelming amount of blog posts, scholarly articles and stories in the Chronicle covering this topic. Let’s clear the air now and state that there is no absolute, sure-fire way to eliminate cheating in your online courses, just as there is no way to do it in your face-to-face courses. However, you can educate your students about academic integrity as part of their course activities, thereby ensuring that they understand what expectations you have of them in regards to academic integrity in your online course.

Here are some examples:

  • Have students submit an assignment, blog post or journal entry on how they would define academic integrity.
  • Have students use their own words when describing the course’s academic integrity policy.
  • Provide a discussion assignment where students can discuss the importance of academic integrity in online courses.
  • Have students “sign-off” on the course’s academic integrity policy stating that they understand what the policy means and how it pertains to them.
  • Utilize a course wiki and have students create the academic integrity policy (have specific requirements).

Having students invest in the academic integrity of your course will go along way towards having them make good choices when it comes to academic decisions in the online environment.

#bestpracticemonday 5 “Resolutions” for Online Instructors in the New Year

New Years ResolutionsEach new year brings new growth, new ideas and new commitments for us to do things to make ourselves better personally and professionally.  Whether we are inspired by too much turkey over the holidays or an urge to start with a clean slate, no other time of the year seems more appropriate for these determinations. Perhaps this year, we may consider some New Year’s Resolutions for our online courses!

Let’s face it, online teaching, like too much turkey, can really weigh you down. During a long semester, we can get buried in grading assignments and responding to discussion posts, and the lofty goals we started off with for engaging our students can seem dimly out of reach.

With a holiday break and a start to the new year/semester fast approaching, now is a great time to resolve to adopt a few pedagogically sound teaching and learning best practices for our online courses. While there may be several measures we can adopt to improve the overall quality of our online teaching environments, here are five easy to follow, easy to apply techniques that will make our online courses that much more engaging. Remember you don’t have to do all 5!

1.  Model How the Course will go for Students with a “Getting Started” Unit

Getting StartedA smart move for any online instructor is to implement some kind of ‘orientation unit’ for the online student.  This unit can serve the purpose of introducing the student to his or her online course environment, as well as other important course information.  Expectations, rules of the road, and an operator’s manual are usually communicated within this unit.

It is important to set this unit up just like every other unit in the course.  Model orientation content and activities in such a way as to reflect how the rest of the units will be structured.  The student will not only gain the benefit of understanding how the online course operates, they will get the added practice of going through course units as they would normally throughout the course.

2.  2-4-6-8 it’s Time to Differentiate

Differentiated Instruction GraphicWe would be hard-pressed to negate the notion that are our students are not identical. Each of our learners comes to us with varying degrees of abilities, aptitude levels, interests, learning experiences and needs. While it may not be feasible to get to know each of our students on a personal basis, we can make some general deductions about the learning diversity that is present in every course we teach.

This is where Differentiated Instruction comes in. For those of us in the field, the term refers to the theory that since no two students will learn exactly the same way, instructors have the opportunity to structure and design their teaching environments using a variety of instructional methods that may reach a broader swath of the student body. The online environment really lends itself to this approach. With the advent of various technology tools, we can now choose to diversify our approach to lectures, activities and assessments and more.

If you are wondering how to add more diversity of instruction to your course, start with the following. It’s as easy as A-B-C!

a.      Realize your students are unique, and discover ways to get to know them.

Realistically speaking, we may not get to know our students as well as we would like. But we can implement an activity or two to catch a glimpse into who they are and what their learning approach may be. For instance, at the beginning of your course, introduce an ice-breaker discussion forum and ask your learners what they do in their free time. You will be surprised by what you can learn!

b.      Look critically at your course, and identify a few areas where you can introduce diversity of instructional methodology.

Sit back and consider your students’ learning objectives. Take a look at how you are introducing and enforcing these key concepts at the moment and select an area or two where you may introduce a different approach. Perhaps an audio lecture may be a welcomed alternative to the text-based reading. Or, perhaps you may want to spice up your course with content from the Khan Academy, Ted Talks, or NBC Learn. Often regarded as “mashups” the introduction of external collective knowledge in an online course adds variety, and piques students’ interests.

c.       Consider the Context and Role of the Online Instructor.

The online environment can present us with options we may not have readily used in our face-to-face courses…so make the most it! While having lots of choices may seem daunting, starting with one or two will help keep them manageable. Online Instructors should think differently about their teaching, because in the online environment where rich, educational online resources abound, we become more of a guide on the side, than a sage on the stage.

3.  Set Due Dates to Coincide with Support Desk Hours

This resolution is an easy one to keep!  First, learn your Technology Support Desk hours (SHSU Online is 7am – Midnight, Mon-Sat).  Once familiar with Support’s hours of operation, make sure any due dates, tests or technology oriented activities fall when the Support Desk team is available.  This is important because the students will have someone to call when the technology doesn’t work or their interpretation of how the technology should work is different from actually happened.

4.  Set a Schedule for Course Interactions, Be Consistent

SchedulePart of being available in a course, and establishing ever-important instructor presence, is letting your students know when you are available.  A great way to do this is to establish a routine for your course interactions.

  • For starters, you can let them know that you will get back to them on questions posted in your Virtual Office discussion forum a time period you establish at the beginning of the term (usually within 24 – 36 hours)
  • Hold regular “office hours” with the asynchronous chat tool (Skype, Bb Chat or Collaborate, Google Hangout) where you will be available in real-time to answer your students questions if need be.
  • Post an announcement and send it out via e-mail once a week summing up the previous week’s events and highlighting the important aspects of the next week.

By establishing a routine, you form a habit of being available in your course that your students can count on.

5. Have fun!

Remember the excitement of teaching? The opportunities to lead, change, inspire, and innovate? Perhaps you connect with the intrinsic motivation of knowing you are making a real and tangible difference in many impressionable minds. Whatever that original point of motivation is for you, we can all connect with what originally prompted us to teach.

Being an online instructor is the perfect chance to express your teaching philosophies in a number of diverse and effective ways. Make your course as exciting as your teaching. Personalize it. Make it your very own. Let it show your unique teaching style and at the end of the day, resolve to have fun doing what you do best…teach!

#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 – 4 Ways to Save Time When Teaching Online

clockOne of the concerns I hear from faculty who teach online is that there seems to be a fair amount more work that goes into teaching an online course. Most of the work comes on the front end. Putting into written/audio/video format all of the things you might say in class, and planning and developing your course does take extra time. However, there are things you can do to save time elsewhere that can help even this out.

Here are 4 ways you can save time when Teaching an Online Course:

  1. Work in Groups
  2. Have  a Virtual Office
  3. Select/Limit Assignments
  4. Connect Your Course

WORK IN GROUPS

Group PuzzleGroup work in your online course is important for multiple reasons.  We’ve already touched on the importance of making your students take an active part in their learning experience and how course participation can be increased via group work.  Another benefit of course groups is that they can help you save time.

With a class full of 30 people you may find yourself grading 30 individual assignments multiple times.  Instead, try making some of those assignments group oriented and dividing your course into 5 groups.  You can reduce the amount of things you need to read as well as recruit your students to take part in the group assessment.


Virtual OfficeHAVE A VIRTUAL OFFICE

The name doesn’t matter, but a Virtual Office course Q&A forum services 4 purposes:

  1. Cuts down on the amount of e-mail in your inbox
  2. Gets your students in the habit of checking and using the LMS
  3. Keeps a record of questions and answers.
  4. Keeps you from having to answer a question more than once.

Let’s face it, we all “misplace” e-mail.  For some of us our inbox receives a hundred new messages or more each day.  Why not make life easier on you and your students by reserving course e-mails for those things of a personal or private nature.  You may have to use the first week of the course as a “training week” where you ensure you point your students to the Virtual Office for answers to course questions.  Make it a requirement in your syllabus, an expectation on your course expectations page and a question on your Syllabus quiz to ensure students know where to go.

When your students establish the habit of checking the course regularly, they will be more engaged and more successful.  When you answer questions via e-mail the only people that see that correspondence are you and the student.  Utilizing a discussion forum makes course Q&A visible to everyone in your course, saving you hours of time answering e-mails.


SELECT/LIMIT ASSIGNMENTS

Select your Assignment GraphicRemember the first time you taught?  Many of us when we first teach want to take on the world and show the students all the great things that they can do in the course.  Mid-way through the semester did you find yourself thinking that you committed to do too much?  Working with your online course can provide the same kind of feeling.

My suggestion is to carefully select your assignments so you are not weighing yourself down with extra grading, proofing and other activities.  Your students will appreciate 5 -10 well thought out assignments as opposed the 20 “let’s do everything!” activities in their course.  By being particular in what assignments you add to your course you save yourself on grading time, cut down on questions and answers and give your students a more focused learning experience.


CONNECT YOUR COURSE

Connect PuzzleWhen 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”?

Connecting your course by organizing and clearly naming your navigation elements 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 menu.
  • Append the text (Click to Open) on titles for content folders, learning modules, lesson plans, web and course links.
  • Put directions in the content description that direct students to “click” the title to access the content.
  • 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.
  • Place a Course Link at the bottom of a unit a study so that the student can navigate back to where they were before easily.

#bestpracticemonday – How to Choose Technology-Based Tools for an Online Course

Teaching online can seem like wading through a super store of technological innovation when it comes to the amount of technological aids available. There are a bevy of tools that can brought to bear when enhancing and equipping student learning.  The challenge comes in deciding which of these tools to use when putting together a course plan.  It is very easy to be mesmerized by the shiny object with all the bells and whistles when browing through available tech tools. The instructor is immediately assailed with questions.  Which tool works best? Which tool will the students like?  Is it too new?  Is it too old?

Making ChoicesWhen picking technologies to use in an online course, keep these four things in mind:

  1. Learning Objectives
  2. Know The Audience
  3. Logistical Considerations
  4. Instructor Comfort Level

Learning Objectives

Learning ObjectivesOnline instructors seem to have more options than ever when it comes to technology choices for their courses.  Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are inundated by technology products that claim to work with big ideas and catchy concepts like gamification of learning and the ability to disrupt the status quo.  The pressure of keeping up with the Dr. Joneses alone can make a teacher’s technology tool belt feel more like a burden than an aid.

It is during this maelstrom of keywords and catchphrases that it is important to ask if the chosen tool will assist in completing learning objectives.  Hold firm to the mantra that it’s the method, not the medium. If the tool assists in completing learning objectives, then it is the right tool for the job.

Know The Audience

Know the AudienceWalking into a situation already knowing how the audience will react is a tremendous benefit for anyone and even more so for an online instructor.  Knowing the student audience in an online course greatly influences the technology choices that are made.

Knowing the audience isn’t some innate psychic power that online instructors are born with.  Some of this knowledge comes from past teaching experience and some comes from working through activities as a course progresses.  One of the best ways to know the audience of an online course is to take a technology literacy survey early on in the course.  This helps to establish a basic comfort level for participants and helps the instructor know which tools fill a learning need without raising anxiety levels.

Logistical Considerations

Logistical ConsiderationsChoosing the right technology can be seriously impacted by logistical considerations.  These considerations can be student-centric like a lack of high-speed Internet or a total lack of technology all together at certain periods of time.  Military service members in particular may have stretches of time where they do not have access to high-def technology, so scheduling a web conference may not be a good idea.

There is another side of logistics that must also be thought about.  The support structure for online instructors is a huge logistical consideration when choosing technology.    If a technology in use by instructors and students stops working during the course of a term, who is responsible for fixing it?  If students need help getting the technology to work, is there a support number, web or e-mail address that they can use? Do the online instructor and students have access to a help desk?  Do the help desk hours coincide with times that the technology will be used? All of these logistical considerations need to be taken into account when picking technology to use in an online course.

Instructor Comfort Level

This last part was almost not included in that it should be an understood value when it comes to tech tool selection.  The online instructor needs to be comfortable with the technology tools they choose.  It does the online students no good if the instructor’s anxiety level is up.  Students take their behavioral queues from the teacher.  If the instructor seems like they have a firm grasp of the technology and can calmly relate appropriate usage, then the student will feel the same way.  Conversely, if the instructor is flustered and communicates stress when trying to use the tool, the students will reflect that stress and frustration right back.

Comfort with technology is gained by practice.  Before introducing a tool to students, the online instructor should work with the tool on and off line to ensure that it works and that he or she is familiar with all of the technological “bumps in the road” that may arise.   Where possible the instructor should use the tool in a current class where the students can passively view the results before trying it themselves.  For example, he or she can use a presentation software like Prezi for lecture materials BEFORE asking the students to create a presentation of their own.

Choosing Technology

These 4 items can be of assistance when deciding which technologies to use. Working through them will save time and frustration before the online course begins.

Remember, the technologies out there might seem like the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if they don’t help meet learning objectives, if the audience isn’t taken into account, if logistical considerations aren’t thought about and if the instructor isn’t comfortable with the technologies then they are much like the bard wrote, “full of sound and fury and signifying nothing”.

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