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by Karen Nichols

I'm back from Orlando and so excited to try, share and continue to learn about all of the presentation topics from the 21st Annual Online Learning Consortium International Conference 2015. There were hundreds of sessions so I couldn't attend all of the ones I would have liked, but I did my best to sample a bit of everything.

Congratulations to Xavier's own Richard Peters who received the award for best in track for: Going High-Tech in Higher Education: The HBCU Dilemma. (If the streamed session is no longer available when you read this, please reply to the blog post for more information.)

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Anil Kukreja and I co-presented on Taking Shape:  A Collaborative, Comprehensive Faculty Development Plan for Our Online/Hybrid Instructors. (If you're interested in a copy of the powerpoint and accompanying documents please reply to the blog post with your email address.)

MERLOT representatives were also present to talk about three new or updated features they're offering to educators:
  1. Content Builder actually hosted by MERLOT
  2. MERLOT Bookmark Collection
  3. Course ePortfolios (click this link to see sample course eportfolios)

The conference featured Discovery Sessions where you could browse an assortment of "how-to" type presentations as well as a Technology Test Kitchen where various gadgets were showcased along with educational uses.  Numerous opportunities to meet and connect with peers were also available.

The big news of the OLC conference was that they were awarded a 2.5 million dollar grant from the Gates Foundation.  Member institutions will be able to compete for grants in order to improve outcomes for underserved students.

As I was leaving Orlando, I took this photo and it really captures the soaring feeling I had concerning the future of online education, thanks in large part to the people I met from the conference and their dedication to continuous improvement and ultimately to the students we serve.

Hot Air Balloon Over Disney Springs
Hot Air Balloon Over Disney Springs

by Karen Nichols

A few interested instructors and I are experimenting with various video conferencing apps and software now like Google + Hangouts, Microsoft Skype, Apple Facetime and the fairly new Firefox Hello.  Firefox Hello has a very useful feature right off the bat.  It doesn't require you to install software nor set up an account with log in and password.  One person enters, gets a link, then sends it to the other person with whom s/he wishes to video chat.  You are required to use Mozilla Firefox as your browser, but it doesn't matter if you're used to skyping and your friend or colleague is used to Facetime.  You don't have to install then sign up for each other's videoconferencing service.

Screen-sharing is also an option with Firefox Hello.  You can share photos, discuss travel plans, collaborate on a project and myriad other activities.

Firefox Hello also boasts WebRTC-grade encryption to ensure your privacy.

I love the fact that a student and I wouldn't have to exchange personal information like phone numbers for Facetime, nor set up yet another account for another app, but I don't see a way to video conference with more than one person at a time and for a class, that can be a drawback.

Nonetheless, I'm happy to share with you this snappy little video from Mozilla Firefox about Firefox Hello and you can decide for yourself if this is a service that can meet your needs.


by Karen Nichols

We have been touting the importance of the presence of the instructor in an online class by using videos, audio files, photos, discussions, etc.  The students should feel the teacher's presence throughout the course.  Many instructors are including videos and while at the Institute for New Faculty Developers last week, one of the presenters shared that they encourage their instructors to post a weekly video of themselves explaining the upcoming week's activities and assignments.  They use their smartphones with the YouTube app to record the video and upload it, then they link to it inside Blackboard.  What a good idea!  But can you hold your phone vertically to record this video?  Well, there are two sides to this argument as I have discovered in my research.  Vertical video syndrome is defined by the Urban Dictionary as "an affliction of those that record video using an upright mobile phone - as if taking a portrait photograph. My left eye is not in the centre of my forehead, my right eye is not on the tip of my nose. " When these vertical videos are posted on such sites as YouTube, they are skewed and appear unattractive.  There are even mock PSAs posted against the dreaded vertical video.

But here's an article from the Washington Post which details apps to help users either avoid vertical videos or make the most use of them with Snapchat or Mindie:

Vertical videos, long scorned, find a niche on smartphones

A recent article published on Litmos, Effective Use of Vertical Video for Training, offers an even more positive view of the vertical video.  Brent Schlenker believes we'll be seeing more and more of vertical videos in the field of mlearning (mobile learning) and sooner rather than later since mobile devices are becoming so prevalently used in distance education.  Here's a discussion from April 2015's International Journalism Festival on vertical vs. horizontal video:

You’re invited to join ETC: Educational Technology Community

CAT is forming a Special Interest Group (SIG) for faculty interested in Educational Technology. The Educational Technology Community (ETC) is an interactive component of CAT’s Online Faculty Resource Center in Blackboard and will provide access to research and discussions on this topic. To join, simply email a request to Karen Nichols (

Once there, you’ll see resources not only for faculty who are designing and teaching online and hybrid courses, but information for adding content to Blackboard for your face to face courses, accessibility resources, etc. In addition, there will be a Discussion section for posting questions and comments as well as an Announcements area where you will receive information on the latest innovations in ed tech, recommendations by your colleagues and other items of interest.

In addition, virtual meetings will be set up using Blackboard Collaborate where we can meet to share and discuss any ideas or perhaps get advice on challenges.

So if you’re interested in Educational Technology, please feel free to join us. The first virtual meeting of ETC will take place on Thursday, February 6 from 2:30pm-3:30pm using Blackboard Collaborate. The link and instructions will be posted in the Announcements section of CAT’s Online Faculty Resource Center. To join ETC, simply email a request to Karen Nichols ( This will be a great opportunity for you to experience how Bb Collaborate works and to start sharing ideas!

Next week (Nov 11-15) is National Distance Learning Week.

What does that mean for us at XULA Online? Annual events afford us the opportunity to see how far we’ve come and make sure we’re on the right track to get where we want to go. On a national level, we are also part of a larger community of learners, all striving for similar goals.

So, let’s start by looking back. This time last year (November 2012) Xavier had just offered 8 online summer sections in the College of Arts and Sciences and we were gearing up to offer more for the following summer. The FaCTS topic of “Engaging Students in Online Courses” had just been announced and the E Learning Committee had been formed and was meeting to analyze what challenges must be overcome if Xavier were going to make a push to increase online/hybrid course offerings.

Now, in November 2013, Xavier has just offered 28 online/hybrid sections this past summer with an enrollment of over 450 students, and that from very minimal promotion of these courses. The students found the courses because the demand was there. This fall, our FaCTS panel discussed their online experiences to a filled seminar room. The E Learning Committee has been morphed into the XULA Online Advisory Board and tasked to work on Faculty and Student Handbooks among other things. In addition, a respectable number of online/hybrid courses is being offered this fall and in the spring plus plans are being made for an even larger selection of summer courses.

We’re making available to instructors the CAT Online Faculty Resource Center very shortly, have conducted several Blackboard Collaborate training sessions, and have met with individual faculty members and department representatives to discuss future offerings and how to prepare instructors. To celebrate National Distance Learning Week, Quality Matters is offering special workshops and if you’ve already taken the first Quality Matters course, you’re eligible for one of these workshops as well. (If you didn’t receive the email and may be interested, just contact me at x7692.)

Services are being considered for ensuring academic honesty in online test-taking (Respondus Monitor, student readiness to succeed in online classes (SmarterMeasure) and a much-needed 24/7 student technical support service (Blackboard Student Services).  In addition, XULA Online is now part of social media: is our email address; is our website, and we're on Facebook, Twitter and Linked In.

Quite important for me is that I was fortunate enough to have been chosen as the not so new now Distance Education Coordinator and I’m just thrilled to be learning so much from my CAT colleagues and meeting with faculty and student!. I am doing my best to listen and respond to your suggestions, needs and challenges.

Moving ahead amid the flurry of so much activity in so many different arenas, it’s important to always, always remember that STUDENT LEARNING is our goal for XULA Online. After all, it is called National Distance LEARNING Week! I’m looking forward to November 2014 and excited and curious to see what I’ll have to report then.

David Powell

David Powell explains his recipe for success in Spanish 1020 online.