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The underlying theme for the Sloan Consortium International Symposium on Emerging Technologies for Online Learning (ET4Online) was on how instructors can refresh their online course to keep it interesting for students.

In an Online Colleges blog post about the symposium, Dr. Melissa Venable writes,

The primary goal of keeping an online course current or fresh is improving the experience and environment for all involved. This effort can include content and assignments, as well as social interaction and technology upgrades, and it doesn’t have to mean a large-scale initiative. Small changes and modifications can make a positive difference for both students and instructors.

Dr. Venable posted a few ideas from the symposium to help instructors refresh their online course. Those ideas are:

Threaded Discussions

  • Include student generated discussion questions.
  • Vary your comments and replies.
  • Use the HTML Editor to format a text-based response (e.g., bold and italics, bullets) and add embedded links, images, and multimedia.

Multimedia Options

  • Build a community with audio.
  • Increase your presence with video.
  • Use the HTML Editor…MORE! Audio and video options are integrated into the Content Editor, allowing you and your students to record from within the course.

Assignments and Activities

  • Consider assignments that foster student interaction with each other.
  • Give students choices for assignment completion (i.e., choosing between writing a paper and creating a video.)
  • Integrate “active learning" breaks.

For suggestions on setting up a successful online course, read the “Strategies for Creating a Successful Online Classroom” article.

Photo Credit: work found at Christophe / CC BY SA 2.0

image showing unhappy team member

Most students have mixed feelings about group work and usually moan and groan when they find out they are required to work on a group assignment. This is also true for students taking online classes. Group work is more challenging for online students because they may have to work with peers in different time zones, use different technologies for online collaboration, and communicate in ways that can make it difficult to understand someone’s personality or tone.

Many students cite lack of cooperation, work equity and dependency on others as major factors in disliking group work. Ironically, this is precisely why group work is essential for learning.

Online Group Projects — Yikes! You can hear the moans and groans of students echoing through your computer monitors as you start the first week of your online course. The reasons for requiring a group project vary from one discipline to another, but there are educational and career motives for requiring group projects.

Steven Johnson’s "Where good ideas come from" video gives an excellent explanation as to why group work is important.

Successful online group collaborative assignments can be a challenge in an online course. In a Faculty Focus article, Gregory Wells, instructional designer at Colorado State University, provided a few suggestions for improving online group work assignments. Those suggestions are:

Define the Project - the project should be integrated into the course objectives and not be viewed as an extra assignment or busy work. The project should allow students to practice specific skills based on the objectives of the course and demonstrate the ability to apply learning to a specific project.
Establish Milestones - the project should include specific milestones during the course. For example, require an outline, a project scope, a requirements document, and other pertinent deliverables.
Use the Learning Management System (Brightspace) - offer private group discussion areas and other collaboration tools that will encourage both communication and participation.
Simplify and Clarify Grading - it is imperative that you establish clear grading expectations for the group project.
Provide Encouragement - it is important to encourage and communicate the specific details of the project. Instructors can not assume students have the knowledge, competencies and skills necessary to engage in group work. They must prepare students for the obstacles they may face.

Following Gregory’s suggestions will not eliminate all of the potential issues that come into play with online group work, but these suggestions will certainly minimize the issues and can turn those moans and groans into excited and energized students that understand the importance of group work.

For more information on Gregory’s suggestions, read his article, “Five Steps to Improving Online Group Work Assignments.”

teamwork word cloud

Additionally, you may find helpful information in the following resources:

Individuals lined up to form the letters NDLW

November 5-9, 2018 is National Distance Learning Week (NDLW). In association with NDLW, the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) is offering free webinars on a variety of topics related to online teaching and learning. A few other organizations are offering free webinars during NDLW as well.

For more information on the activities and to register for the webinars visit NDLW 2018.

This year's theme is Designing Equitable Foundations for Open Knowledge. Xavier has events for faculty, staff and students all week. Please refer to the schedule for more information.  RSVP for Wednesday's Faculty Lecture:  knichola@xula.edu.

Open Access Week Schedule

hourglass in the foreground and a clock in the background

Managing your time when teaching an online class can be a bit of a challenge. How do you manage time when there are no set course hours and when the classroom is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week? Online instructors need to develop effective time management behaviors to be efficient and not just busy.

In a Faculty Focus article, Dr. Deborah A. Raines shared ten strategies she uses to manage her time. Those strategies are:

  1. Roll call – Take attendance on the first day. A simple discussion board with a response of “I’m here” alerts you to who has not found the classroom site.
  2. Syllabus quiz – Give a syllabus quiz during the first week. This quiz provides an opportunity for students to experience the online testing environment and provides an incentive for students to read the syllabus and other important information.
  3. Ask the class – Create an “ask the class” discussion area where students can ask general questions and encourages students to respond to each other.
  4. To-do list – Create a to-do list as the first item in each module. This item provides an introduction to and guidelines on how to approach the material in the module.
  5. Establish rules and expectations – Disseminate clear and consistent rules and expectations such as when to turn in assignments, the beginning and ending date of units, turn-around time for responses to questions or feedback on assignments.
  6. Private office – Create a dropbox or private journal function for students to communicate with you on confidential matters.
  7. Roadmap to success – Write a clear and concise document of student expectations, responsibilities and accountability for learning.
  8. Take advantage of tools and technology – Use online tools within the learning management system such as student tracking, testing automation, self-grading or rubrics added to assignment dropboxes, to increase your efficiency. In general, handle each item only once—if you open an item, do something with it, don’t just peek and plan to come back later.
  9. Establish a routine – Set your schedule. Get in the habit of going to your online courses at consistent times and know what you are going to do while at the course site.
  10. Don’t re-invent – Use existing resources. There are a number of quality learning activities available on the web. Using existing resources can reduce the time needed to develop similar materials.

For more information you can read Dr. Raines’ blog post Be Efficient, Not Busy: Time Management Strategies for Online Teaching.

Photo credit: time is money by ewvasquez2001 | CC BY 2.0

online classroom management

One key to a successful online course is instructors’ ability to manage their online classroom. Yet many online instructors don’t realize that the best practices in traditional environments should not be discarded simply because the participants are interacting online. The students still need to be managed as a cohesive group of learners.

In an Edutopia article, Heather Wolpert-Gawron provided suggestions for successfully managing online classes. The article was written with a K12 audience in mind. However, her suggestions can be used in a higher education environment as well. Heather’s suggestions for successfully managing your online class are:

  1. Build an engaging online environment. Build an online environment where students want to come back week-after-week.
  2. Build community. By building community right from the get-go and encouraging it throughout the course of the class, you’ll save yourself from some issues later on.
  3. Curate answers in an organized way. Find ways to curate resources and responses to questions so that participants can find them easily. Consider a Q&A discussion forum or develop FAQs.
  4. Be present. Make sure students know you are present in the course.
  5. Establish norms for office hours and video conferencing. Have a dress code when meeting virtually (e.g., no pajamas if you are participating via webcam). How should students ask questions without interrupting the current speaker?
  6. Don’t group randomly. Create group assignments where students can self-enroll and other assignments where students are randomly assigned to groups.
  7. Teach about plagiarism. Use strategies to ensure the student’s work is original or cited.
  8. Don’t shy away from difficult conversations. Stay on top of issues as they arise.
  9. Use various means to contact participants. Contact small groups of students and also the whole class routinely, but know when it’s time to do a behind-the-scenes intervention and email a participant directly.

For more details on Heather's suggestions for online classroom management, you should read this Extending Classroom Management Online article.

Additionally, check out these CAT FooD blog posts related to online teaching:

each of the seven deadly sins depicted by an eye that has makeup in a different color to reflect the deadly sin

In an Edvocate article, Daniel Stanford listed his seven deadly sins of online course design from a faculty developer’s perspective. These resonated with me; and I thought I would share Daniel's seven deadly online course design sins with you.

#1. Overwhelming Discussions

“Post to the discussion board, and then respond to three classmates’ posts.” Sound familiar? These are often the instructions for online discussions even though it would be impossible to replicate this level of participation in a face-to-face class. The result is a massive number of posts that instructors and students dread sorting through.

#2. Lack of Scannable Text

Staring at a computer screen trying to read the information is tiring enough as it is. Don’t make it worse by writing long paragraphs that lack visual interruptions and organizational cues. “Chunk” the content to make it easier to scan through.

#3. No Progress Indicators

Within seconds of entering a course or a specific unit of content, students should know what they’ve completed, what is incomplete, and when the incomplete items are due. The worst nightmare of any online student is to think he or she has met all the course requirements for a given day or week, only to stumble upon additional ones after a critical deadline has passed.

#4. Bad Narration

There are two reasons most instructors create narrated PowerPoints.

  1. They believe it will be faster to deliver a lecture verbally than write it out.
  2. They believe it will be more engaging for students than reading.

Both of these motivations have their pitfalls. First, faculty are often surprised how long it takes to produce an effective narrated presentation. Second, delivering information via audio with no text alternative makes it difficult for students to control the pace of their learning. Also, audio-only approaches to instruction can be challenging for ESL learners (English as a second language) and a deal breaker for students with disabilities.

#5. Buried Leads

Don’t make students read through or listen to several minutes of non-essential fluff before you get to the good stuff. Burying the lead wastes students’ time and hurts your credibility as a curator. As a result, students will struggle to find the part where you finally say something important. Worse yet, they might begin to ignore your emails, readings, or videos altogether.

#6. Digital Hoarding

Face-to-face courses come with limitations that encourage instructors to prioritize what they share with students. Examples include the number of hours in each class meeting and the number of photocopies the instructor has time to print. In online courses, these limitations are removed or relaxed, which makes it tempting to share every interesting reading, video, and website you’ve ever encountered. All too often, the result is a course site that feels like one of the homes on Hoarding: Buried Alive, but with more scholarly journals and fewer cats.

#7. Faceless Professor Syndrome

Online courses provide limited natural opportunities to reinforce that you’re a real human being and help students put a face with your name. Don’t squander these opportunities by obscuring your identity and increasing your anonymity on the discussion board and in your self-introduction. Humanizing your online courses improves the learning experience as well as student success and retention rates. This Humanizing Tool Buffet developed by Teaching and Learning Innovations at CSU Channel Islands has a collection of emerging tools just right for humanizing your online course.

If you are interested in knowing how Daniel Stanford suggests you atone for these deadly online course design sins, read his Edvocate article “Seven Deadly Sins of Online Course Design.”

Taking an online course can be an isolating experience for students, but it doesn’t have to be. Humanized learning increases the relevance of the course content and improves students' motivation to log-in to the course week-after-week.

buffet

Are you looking for ways to humanize your online course? Check out this Humanizing Tool Buffet developed by Teaching and Learning Innovations at CSU Channel Islands. In the buffet, you will find a collection of emerging tools just right for humanizing your online course. Peruse the buffet, click on the links, and sample what looks intriguing and helpful to you!

Often instructors are looking for images to use in their courses because images can liven up the course and help students understand the course material.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but it might also be worth a thousand dollars if your school gets hit with a copyright violation claim. —Eric Curts

There are many high quality pictures that can be used without any licensing concerns. These can include images that are released under creative commons, or are in the public domain, or simply are copyright-free.

Eric Curts compiled a list of free image sites and tools for schools that you may find helpful in your search for free images.

free image sites for schools

Additionally, you may find an image you want to use, but you would like to make changes to it. You can find image editing software suggestions in the Xavier University Library Digital Humanities Toolbox. Just make sure the image copyright gives you permission to modify the image.

ICYMI, read my blog post on Digital Copyrights for copyright information.

Link

I recently fielded a question that seemed so basic, so fundamental, that I thought it deserved a blog post.

Many faculty today are cognizant of licensing restrictions. They diligently hunt for content published under Creative Commons, or in the public domain, to use in their courses. That's a good thing: they don't want to infringe anyone's copyright.

Sometimes, though, that perfect piece of content is out there on the open internet, tantalizingly available, but published under plain old-fashioned copyright with all the encumbrances and restrictions that implies.

You don't want to embed a copyrighted video (for example) in your online course materials. But is there a workaround? Can you, perhaps, just share the link, send your students over to YouTube, let them watch the video over there, instead of on your course website or in your LMS?

In a word:

YES

But don't take my word for it. Here's what the "boutique law firm" InfoLawGroup LLP has to say about it.

A recent federal court decision confirms that, without more, merely providing a link to copyrighted content is not direct infringement of the copyright in that content.

For more details, read the full article, "Does Linking to Content Infringe Copyright?"

The distinction, as I understand it, is that embedding a video is like republishing it. You wouldn't republish a copyrighted book without permission, right? But sharing a link is like sending your students to the library to check the book out on their own.

Happy linking!

Photo credit: "Link" by Aarthi Ramamurthy. Licensed under Creative Commons, of course!