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

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#bestpracticemonday – 5 Ways to “Engagify” Your Online Course

If you are reading any commentary on online learning these days, you cannot read two sentences without bumping into the phrase student engagementStudent engagement happens when students take an active, purposeful step towards their own learning.  The challenge for online instructors is to find ways to make their courses promote student engagement.  There are many strategies, practices and tools that can help!  Here are 5 ways to engagify your online course:

1. Put yourself in the course.

Put yourself in the courseThis blog has covered the need to personalize the online experience for students.  One great way to promote engagement and get the students to know you is to make sure that “you” are in your course.  This can be done in a number of ways. Uploading a digital photo, providing a Welcome to the Course video, using audio & video to introduce assignments or give feedback and just finding ways to add your personality to the course are just a few examples.

2. Invite students to be the co-pilot on their learning journey.

Student Into CourseIn much the same way you can personalize the course for your students, your students can establish a social presence and take ownership of their learning journey.  They do so by uploading their photo, using audio/video tools and building a network of learning within your online course. They can also be content builders when it comes to providing useful content in the online course with wikis, discussions and other interactive tools.

3. Have your students get “pushy” because there’s an app for that.

Push NotificationsPush notifications are everywhere these days.  In many ways they prompt your students to interact with their work, friends and world around them.  Any major LMS like Blackboard allows students/instructors to enable push notifications to mobile devices to offer reminders about due dates, added content and to interact with each other and the course.

Push notifications are little engagifiers that prompt you and your students to interact with the course and to become engaged with the learning process.

4. Provide academic and technical instructions.

InstructionsWhen you set up your course it is easy to remember to give your students the academic logistics around their course work.  They are provided with assignment length, citation criteria and even word count to help them figure out assignment parameters.  In many cases, a major disconnect develops for students who don’t know how to use the software tool to submit the assignment.  So, remember to provide students with a one or two sentence “how-to” for instructions on uploading or participating in the course activity.  If the activity is complex a link to a full set of instructions may be needed.

5. Broaden your portfolio when it comes to course activities.

Diverse PortfolioImagine having to eat the same meal 3 times a day 5 days a week.  Not very appetizing is it?  Now, take those thoughts and apply them to your course.  Does your weekly activity look suspiciously like reading, discussion, assignment & quiz?  Mashed potatoes again?  Try to liven up your course by adding new/different tools.  Instead of a reflection paper, have your students do a blog posts instead.  Changing up the order of the routine alone can also be a primer for student engagement.

#bestpracticemonday – Be Present in Your Course by Establishing a Routine

Routine GraphicPart of being available in a course 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/Q&A discussion forum within a set amount of time (within 24 hours on a weekday for example)*
  • Hold regular “office hours” with the Blackboard Chat or Blackboard Collaborate tool 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 weeks 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.

#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”.

Feedback Strategies for your Online Course

Feedback Strategies in your Online Course

I originally posted this over at the SHSU Online blog in March.

Engagement in online courses is key for student success, teacher evaluation and the overall course experience.  A great way to promote student engagement in your online course is to work on feedback. Students that receive regular feedback tend to perform better and as a result have good opinions of their time in the course.  There are many sound strategies for providing feedback in an online course.  For our purposes, we will focus on four of them: Audio Feedback on assignments, Summing up Student Discussions, Peer Feedback and Feedback from the Future.

Audio FeedbackAudio feedback on assignments:
Adding your voice to feedback on assignments can be very beneficial for you and your students.  Giving voice to your thoughts cuts down on misconstruing the intent of the message and allows for emphasis to be easily related.  The students also feel more connected with you and will be more likely to become engaged in the course.  Having different types of feedback helps with content retention so more of what point you were trying to get across is retained.  Finally your students will feel like you take a more personal interest in their learning in that you are leaving audio feedback that is specifically for them.

Summing up discussion – providing kudos and challenges
Discussion SUmWe all know that asynchronous discussions are powerful tools in any online course.  What is also known is that they can be a lot of work for any online instructor.  Trying to post replies for all students in a larger class, across multiple boards throughout a semester can be a daunting task under the best of circumstances.

A great way to provide feedback for classes with a large amount of discussion board traffic is to provide a weekly summation post/e-mail/announcement.  This summation not only allows you to wrap up the topic and direct further research and review, it also allows you to give out kudos for well thought out posts (by name) and challenge postings that may have fallen short for one reason or another.  The kudos and challenges promote engagement by letting the students know you are reading and letting you know that they are thinking critically about the topic.

Peer FeedbackPeer Feedback
Peer feedback in online courses serves the wonderful purpose of reinforcing concepts the student is learning, but it also promotes accountability and engagement in the course.  In order to comment intelligently on each other’s work the students must have at least a basic understanding of the concepts they are discussing.  Not only do they have to think critically about the content they are posting, but they also must put thought into how to respond to the ideas of others.

Making peer feedback part of your course structure promotes accountability.  For example if group members know that part of their grade will take into account member feedback about their performance in the group they will be more apt recognize that they will be held accountable in terms of group work.

Feedback from the FutureFeedback from the future!
Another title that might more aptly describe this concept is “preventative feedback”.    This could be something as simple as popping an e-mail to a student who hasn’t checked into the course in the past couple of days, or looking at how the student is trending in your course gradebook to come up with a roadmap for their success.

Be giving preventative feedback, you might reconnect with a student lost in the jumble of ones and  zeros or help the student who is struggling with a particular part of your course, thereby avoiding the ultimate in bad feedback: the failing grade.

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