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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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personalization

Connect With Online Students – Make Feedback Personal

banner-people-connectedOne of the challenges for any online instructor is making students feel a sense of community or connectedness in their online course.  There are multiple strategies that can be put into place to meet this challenge head-on.  Today’s blog post will focus on the feedback the instructor gives in an online course and how it can connect the student more personally with the instructor.

The type of feedback an instructor provides can have a tremendous affect upon the student/instructor dynamic in an online course.  Students who feel like they know their instructor report higher satisfaction levels and tend to be more engaged with the courses they are taking. Conversely, students that don’t sense instructor presence in the course tend to feel less satisfaction and engagement, and that can be reflected in course evaluations.

The following are steps an instructor can take to connect with online students via course feedback:

1. Leave specific feedback.

Be purposeful about leaving feedback that deals specifically with aspects of a student’s submitted work. A side-effect of a good best practice to save time for online instructors is that sometimes generic feedback can be used to a fault. The online instructor can counteract this by leaving specific feedback about the students’ attempt every few assignments.

2.  Use student names when leaving feedback.

Starting assignment feedback with a student’s name immediately personalizes the interaction.  Placing emphasis on the personal before leaving the feedback of the assignment, points to interest on the part of the instructor in the student’s individual attempt. The idea that an instructor cares about student success is vitally important in any course, online or otherwise.

3. Use multimedia to personalize the interaction.

To a student sitting at their workstation/laptop/tablet, a grade or text-based feedback in an online course can seem almost sterile and devoid of the human touch that comes from the professor handing back grades in a face-to-face course.  Luckily, most LMS’s these days come with tools that can make the feedback interaction more personal.  Just the sound of the instructor’s voice will add a personal dimension to the feedback experience.  The addition of video to assignment feedback kicks it up a notch!

Audio Feedback with Blackboard Collaborate Voice AuthoringAt SHSU, Blackboard is the Learning Management System for online, hybrid and web-enhanced course offerings, and it comes equipped with tools that can enhance the feedback experience.  It also interacts well with third party tools and other types of files that can fulfill the same type of need for students.  For example faculty can use the Blackboard Collaborate Voice Authoring Mashup to leave audio feedback directly in the feedback of the assignment.

As a bonus a student is not just limited to hearing the disembodied voice of the online instructor for feedback.  Faculty members can also use the Video Everywhere tool to drop a recorded video into the feedback shown to the student.  The Video Everywhere tool utilizes YouTube to either link to a video uploaded to the instructors YouTube account or record a video at the point of feedback and place it directly.

Using Video Everywhere for FeedbackIf the instructor does not have ready access to a webcam or microphone on their computer, he or she can record a video with their smartphone and upload it to YouTube as an unlisted video, then link to the video with the Video Everywhere tool.  Instructors can also use voice recording apps to attach audio files to feedback for online students.

Personalizing feedback for an online course is an important best practice for any instructor. However, personalizing every feedback entry for every student would take too much time away from grading and other important interactions.  As with all things, moderation is key.  Try provide a few personal interactions for each student, each semester, letting them know that the instructor is committed to their success and is willing to connect with students on a more personal level.

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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 – 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.

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