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eLearning Frenzy

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

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online courses

Online Course Weight Loss Plan

Online Course Weight Loss Plan Banner

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

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

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

Step 1: Keep your course organized.

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

Course Bucket Organization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture of a Graphic Icon on Treadmill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Course Banners are NOT just for Course Landing Pages

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

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

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

How do you do it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

World’s First eLearning Best Practice Music Video

A few weeks back, I did a post about an elearning best practice that turned into a song.  Well that song has finally been turned into a music video.  If this doesn’t help you to remember to check the links and embeds to external content in your online course, I don’t know what will!

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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