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by Karen Nichols

Actually, the above chart is an indirect find while researching, on my own, an item that came up during a few of the conference presentations I've attended virtually from the Online Learning Consortium's Emerging Technologies Conference. I hadn't thought about Personal Learning Networks (PLN's) as such but am now realizing just how much our learning landscape (Personal Learning Environment) has changed due to technology and social media. We're now learning from myriad sources that didn't exist when I was a child.

Just think of all of the interactions users of social media have with each other on a daily basis and all of the information that is shared.  Of course we can classify what we've "learned" into several different categories.  I place what my Facebook friend Marie had for lunch (fried shrimp, complete with photo) on a very low level, but found it very interesting and useful to learn what my Facebook friend who is a horticulturalist had to say about gerber daisies. (They release their oxygen at night unlike most plants so having gerber daisies in your bedroom may help you sleep better.)

In conjunction with creating your own PLN which will probably include various social networks, here are a few key points from conference sessions attended that I would like to share with you.

Bonnie Stewart (University of Prince Edward Island, CA) explained and explored the concept of many-to-many communication.  To visually illustrate the impact of using social media like Twitter to share information, she first asked us to think of our favorite color.  She then had each of us speaking to different people and those people would pass on what we shared.  While doing this, she asked us to imagine our flow of conversation as our favorite color and then to imagine all of the flows of conversation using everyone's favorite color.  She contrasted this form of learning with the old "sage on the stage" model still being used by some professors in academe.

Heutagogy or self-determined learning was the topic presented by Vickie Cook (University of Illinois Springfield, USA).  She discussed the increase in student use of mobile devices for learning and how we as educators can adapt.  In fact, here is a test sponsored by Google to determine if your website is responsive or mobile-friendly.

Much work has been done using Bloom's Digital Taxonomy.  Keeping this in mind, Ghania Zgheib (George Mason University, USA) shared with us several social media learning activities as well as the results of the student feedback.  She made extensive use of Facebook and Twitter and actually encouraged students to interact with people outside of their class.  A few audience members expressed concern about using such open social media and said they preferred more closed opportunities for sharing such as discussion boards.

So now I'm more aware of the Personal Learning Environment and the Personal Learning Network I've created for myself.  I'm paying more attention to the original source of a piece of information and the people who passed it on and on until it arrived on my desktop.  Since I'll be teaching online French again this summer, I'm thinking about my students' PLN's and hoping the social media activities I'm planning for their learning will be well-received.  I'm not quite sure if they are aware of the power they have over their own learning.  I believe we should each assess our PLN and see if there's room for improvement!


by Janice Florent

student sitting and typing on laptop computer that is in her lap

Many online courses still rely heavily on text-based information and lack the rich visual context and warm human interactions that the social web offers.

In a Faculty Focus article, Rob Kelly states,

Taking an online course can be an isolating experience, but it doesn’t have to be. There are several key techniques you can employ to humanize your online courses and thus improve the learning experience as well as success and retention rates.

Rob suggests the following as ways to humanize your online courses:

  • Create an inviting space
  • Include your personality
  • Personalize the discussion forum
  • Provide ways for students to make the course their own

You can read more in his “Tips for Humanizing Your Online Course” article. Also, checkout this excellent infographic on How to Humanize Your Online Class.

Image credit: image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

by Janice Florent

image of keyboard with teach online key

Are you thinking about moving a face-to-face course to online? A recent Faculty Focus article suggests five steps to quickly transition your in-person curriculum into a creative and successful online course. Those steps are:

Start by Chunking: Simplify your content by breaking it up into smaller, more manageable pieces.
Decide on Overall Structure: Course design is a critical element to any course. A consistent and clear structure allows students to successfully engage with the material and meet expectations.
Select your tools: Face-to-face content can easily transition to the online classroom if you select the right tools.
Trades and Edits: Another colleague may have developed content that they are willing to share with you. Additionally, have another pair of eyes look at your online course. Feedback about your online course can prove to be invaluable.
Stay Current and Journal: Keep a journal as the class progresses. Journaling can help you to see where changes need to be made. For example, if there are a lot of student questions on the same topic or assignment, your directions probably need to be expanded or redefined.

An online course with clear structure and considered content will go a long way to support your students.

You can read more on these suggestions for moving your courses from face-to-face to online in the article, “Taking the Leap: Moving from In-Person to Online Courses.”

by Karen Nichols

Did you experiment with avatars when they were the latest craze some years ago? Maybe you created one (or more) to enjoy gaming experiences such as Second Life. Mardi Gras is a great time to re-visit the use of avatars in education because, like masking for carnival, avatars can provide you and your students with opportunities for role-playing as well as creating conversations and presentations as well as providing information. Anecdotally, my students used to tell me that if I send them a message in the form of an avatar, they'll actually open it and listen to it because they're fun and different and not boring like words on a page. As a French instructor, I would ask the students to create an avatar that speaks French or have them use the avatar to explain a cultural event we were learning.

Voki is the most popular free site for education, although there is a paid version of it too. It belongs to the company that offers a premium range of services for monthly fees called Site Pal.

If you would like to use simple avatars to dress up an email or announcement to your students or have the students create an avatar for a particular assignment, then you can start with the free site, Voki. Voki will allow you to create one-time avatars and messages without signing up for an account. Here are the directions:

1. Once on, click on the Create tab, top left of the page.

2. Choose Customize your Character and then play around a bit to check out the facial features, clothing, etc.  When finished, click the small green Done tab at the bottom right corner.

3. Next choose Give it a Voice.  You'll see a variety of options from calling in or recording your text so that the voki will have your voice, to typing a message and choosing one of the voices already programmed.  Note that if you type the text and choose a voice, there will be no emotion and some of the words may not be pronounced as you wish.  This is the choice I made for the little voki below so that you could hear what I'm explaining.  I also had to spell phonetically, Happy Mardi Grah, so that the US voice would not pronounce the "s".  Remember to click the green Done tab at the bottom right corner.

4. Choose a background next.

5.  Choose a player, the frame for the voki with the buttons the receivers will click on.

6.  Happy with your voki?  Click publish and name it.  When you click "publish" you receive the option to email a friend, link to it via the website, or copy the code to embed the voki as I did below.

Site Pal, the premium site intended for the corporate world, is much more robust and not only offers simple avatars like Voki, but other ways to use them. My colleague who teaches Spanish and I have experimented with Artificial Intelligence in the form of a Graduate Assistant avatar. You may have seen something similar if you shop online catalogs. Our Grad Assistant was available with a click on any page in the language course. She popped up and asked how she could help. The student would type in a question, and if we had programmed in an answer for it, she would explain it to them. We used the idea of a Graduate Assistant, but you could design an avatar that's YOU answering their questions, and thus be available for your students 24/7! Instead of masking as someone or something different for Mardi Gras, here you would be creating a "virtual you" who can keep working as you try to sleep or grade or research. Sound intriguing? If so, contact me and let's talk avatars!

Katie Lepi, who writes regularly for Edudemic, wrote an article listing 10 tips for effective eLearning. She writes:

Teaching online involves all the difficulties of teaching in person, with a few extra wrenches thrown in. Navigating the path of online learning can sometimes be rough, so the makers of the handy infographic below put together ten ‘links’ that make the ‘chain of e-Learning’ to help guide you on the online teaching path.


Want to read more? Read the entire article, "10 Tips for Effective eLearning," which is posted on the Edudemic website.

This past Monday, my friend, colleague and full-time online instructor, Dr. Teresa Canganelli, came to CAT to present 3 mobile apps. For anyone who was unable to attend, I thought I would share them with you.

Tellagami is a free app that allows you to create avatars and record a message for your students up to 30 seconds in length. What a fun and engaging way to reach your students to remind them of an upcoming test or answer a question many of them were asking.

Audioboo is not only an easy and free way to record a message up to 3 minutes long, but it houses a vast library of recordings from around the world on myriad topics.  The site has been flooded with comments and recordings concerning yesterday's passing of Nelson Mandela.  Here is one from the Nelson Mandela Institution.

Evernote is a wonderful way to manage files, lecture notes, documents , share them, store them and edit them. In addition, Evernote has numerous add-ons, some of which are free as well.  Teresa highly recommended Evernote Clipper which allows you to clip and save web pages.  This feature is great since websites may change or pages may be removed.

If you decide to look into any of these apps and have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll be happy to assist. x7692 Karen Nichols

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.


Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could take our students on a world-wide tour of the greatest museums or laboratories so that they can see original artwork or DNA research being carried out firsthand? With the latest technological advances in 3-D and other apps now so readily available, these same museums and labs have developed and posted online, virtual tours of their treasures. Including these in your online classes or even as a project or enrichment assignment in your face to face classes, can greatly enhance the students' learning experience and have them googling for more.

ABPI (The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry) has actually developed an entire site of tours and activities designed specifically for schools and the virtual tours are user-friendly.

For museums, one of my favorite series of interactive tours is on the site of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. It doesn't hurt that the tour allows you to choose a painting or other piece of art and email it as an ecard to someone. I love to send ecards and what better choice than a specially-chosen work of art for the recipient?

So if you'd like to share with your students a best-loved museum (for me, Musée PIcasso, Antibes) or give them a new and different experience (Alpine Astrovillage AAV Lue-Stailas), spend a few minutes searching the internet and you'll soon find numerous virtual tours that, for a moment, will make your students feel they're on the Riviera or looking up at the stars in the Swiss Alps.