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gears with silhouette of two heads facing each other

A common assignment given in an online class is for students to participate in a discussion forum. Many online discussions forums are setup so that students are asked to respond to a prompt and reply to posts from their classmates. The discussions are likely to be underwhelming if the discussion forum is not setup to encourage substantive discussions.

When planning and facilitating quality online discussions, you should provide:

  • Discussion prompts that encourage student engagement
  • Clear/specific instructions and expectations
  • Specific/descriptive grading criteria
  • Strategic feedback

The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) developed a set of resources to help instructors teach effectively, whether in an on-campus classroom or in a virtual learning environment. Online Teaching Toolkit has resources and recommendations that can be immediately put to use by instructors, to benefit both faculty and their students. ACUE’s Plan and Facilitate Effective Discussions resource, which is a part of the toolkit, has recommendations for a general rubric for discussion forums, reflection activity, and discussion feedback that you may find helpful.

In a recent Quality Matters (QM) Success Story Webinar, Lisa Kidder and Mark Cooper shared a resource that has suggestions for Alternative Discussion Structures. The resource includes specific learner instructions and grading criteria for each alternative discussion format. Some of the alternative discussion formats in the resource are reflections, case studies, timeline collaborations, student facilitation, small group/share, video analysis, in the news, and debates. The resource explains where the connection to QM Specific Review Standards and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines for the discussion formats are.

If you are new to using discussions in Brightspace, you can find how-to resources for discussion forums on our blog.

Image credit: image by geralt from Pixabay

laptop screen with image of Zoom window with camera screen on

Many faculty find themselves teaching remotely because of the pandemic. One topic related to remote teaching that comes up often is student engagement during Zoom class meetings. Instructors who meet their students synchronously through Zoom want to know that the students are paying attention and are engaged during the class session. Some instructors feel that for student engagement in a synchronous class they should force the students to turn their cameras on during the class meetings. This article by Karen Costa, a Faculty Development Facilitator, explains why it is a really bad idea to force students to turn their cameras on from a trauma-awareness and equity perspective.

Are you looking for ideas for student engagement in Zoom sessions that do not require you to force your students to turn their cameras on? In an article posted on LinkedIn, Karen Costa provides some practical strategies that can help you to engage your students in a Zoom session. A few of her strategies are:

  • Encourage students to use non-verbal feedback including raise/lower virtual hand, answer yes/no to questions, speed up/slow down, and emoji reactions (clapping hands, thumbs up).
  • Ask informal questions throughout the session and encourage students to use the chat to engage with you and their peers.
  • Use formal and/or informal polls.
  • Embrace the pause. Pause during the class session to give students time to think and answer.
  • Invite students to share out via audio and or audio/video in addition to answering in the chat.
  • Teach students how to be on-camera in a Zoom session (e.g., lighting, background, virtual background, mute/unmute microphone).
  • Normalize the fear of being on-camera.
  • Try using breakout rooms.
  • Make the chat the heart of your session.
  • Set the tone for engagement from moment one.

If this has piqued your interest, you can read more about these strategies in Karen’s Making Shapes in Zoom article.

Also, we have Zoom how-to resources on our CAT FooD blog. You can find links for the Zoom how-to resources here:

Photo credit: “Zoom call with coffee” by Chris Montgomery from Unsplash

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

Two sites I use often that didn't make Curt's list are Creative Commons (CC) Search and the Noun Project.

Are you looking for images of diverse people? This curated list of image collections featuring diverse people by Online Network of Educators may be of interest to you.

black students working on laptop computer

Images have the power to enhance your message or story, they can also become a big distraction when used improperly. Check out this Mistakes to Avoid When Using Photos in eLearning blog post for some common mistakes.

Additionally, you may find an image you want to use, but you would like to make changes to it. You can find free photo and image editing tools in this eLearning Industry blog post by Christopher Pappas. Just make sure the image copyright gives you permission to modify the image.

If you are looking for information on copyright and Creative Commons, our Creative Commons (CC) Wiki Resource has information about CC licenses and CC licensed works that may help.

Image credits:
Image by Eric Curts is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0
Photo by Nappy Studio from nappy.co

backgammon game board

Gamification is making a boring process interesting by using fun elements from games. Gamification is not the same as playing a game. Educators have been using gamification even before there was an official term for it.

Yu-kai Chou (2015) defines gamification as:

The craft of deriving fun and engaging elements found typically in games and thoughtfully applying them to real-world or productive activities.

Why Use Gamification?

Clearly gamification is a motivation tool. So why would you take the time to set-up a gamification component to your courses? In an LearnDash blog post Justin Ferriman lists some benefits of gamification to consider. Those benefits are:

  • Provides Instant Feedback – Learners receive instant feedback on their understanding of the course content. This instant feedback highlights what they need to spend more time reviewing.
  • Prompts Change in Behavior – The ability to earn points and badges reinforces certain behaviors. Cashing in the points and badges for something tangible or real makes this even more true.
  • Better Learning Experience – Gamifiying a course offers the opportunity for learners to engage with the content in various ways.
  • Safe To Fail – Gamification can incorporate the “loss” of a reward instead of earning a reward. Making it safe for learners to fail and to learn from their mistakes.

What is considered as fun in games?

Winning or beating an opponent is an obvious answer. However, pleasure is also derived from activities such as:

  • problem-solving
  • exploring
  • creating
  • imagining
  • collecting
  • role-playing
  • collaborating
  • simply chilling out

What gaming elements can be used in the learning process?

Gamification strategies include elements such as gamifying grading, incentivizing students with rewards and adding competitive elements such as leaderboards. From the non-exhaustive list of gaming components and mechanics, here are a few from a Bright Classroom Ideas blog post by Savas Savides, which can be particularly useful to educators:

  • Narrative - Nothing can beat a well-told captivating story, whether you are a child or an adult. Text, audio, video, cartoon, they all have the same denominator: a storyline.
  • Progression - Learners need to know they are acquiring skills and getting better. Student portfolios and ‘can-do’ statements help them reflect on their own learning.
  • Challenges - Tasks should be easy enough to tackle, but hard enough to challenge and motivate. And, following the previous point on progression, they should have a gradually rising level of difficulty.
  • Competition - Motivates students to perform better. Through competition, students not only do what is required to accomplish the required goals, but also do the best they can do. Competition allows the students to come forward with better ideas and clearly highlight their skills in front of their teacher and classmates. Competition is closely linked to rewards.
  • Cooperation - Apart from competing against each other, students also like working together. Never miss an opportunity to form pairs or groups to work on a project. It is more fun than working alone.
  • Rewards - With tangible rewards there is always the danger that they may substitute for the intrinsic motivation. It is better to use intangible rewards (e.g. points). Remember that the game is ultimately its own reward.
  • Win States - When the outcome is a winner.
  • Achievements - Create tangible things that serve as proof of student achievement. They can be certificates, posters, photos, videos etc.
  • Badges - Another tangible proof of individual achievement. They can be stickers, stamps, even your own drawings on the board.
  • Leaderboards - A classification of all learners-participants according to their performance. A really powerful motivational tool.
  • Points - Instant intangible rewards that help create leaderboards.
  • Teams - Either working with each other in a team or cooperating to beat another team, students can overcome shyness and benefit immensely.

A well-designed gamified course can grab and keep students’ attention, improve students’ knowledge retention, and improve students’ overall success in the course. Gamification may not suit everyone. But for those who use it, the benefits of gamification can be substantial.

For more information on gamification, check out these resources:

Image credit: image by Al Buettner from Pixabay

Let's say that you used to begin class with a moment of silence. Or perhaps you incorporated some other elements of mindfulness or contemplative pedagogy into your teaching.

Did those practices survive the transition to remote teaching this semester? Perhaps they fell by the wayside in the rush to get "up to speed" with unfamiliar technology.

It takes a special effort to bring mindfulness to the classroom when the classroom is a virtual construct. However, in this unsettled and uncertain time, the lessons of mindfulness would seem to be more important than ever. Furthermore, the online environment can often add an extra layer that separates the student from learning even more than in a traditional classroom. Practices that connect to our basic humanity are arguably even more important when teaching in a context mediated entirely by electronic technology.

Aurora D. Bonner offers some guidance in her new article for Faculty Focus, "Mindfulness in the (Online) Classroom."

  • Be present
  • Take time to check in
  • Believe your students
  • Don’t be afraid to share

Read the full article for details. It's brief and worth your time.

This might be a good time to check out the webinar by Karen Nichols and yours truly (Bart Everson) sponsored by D2L, "Present, Calm, and Ready to Learn – The Value of Contemplative Practices in an Online Course."

Bonus: You may also be interested in next week's online practice, "Exploring Uncertainty, Finding Possibility Through Contemplative Art," facilitated by Beth Berila throught the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.

Karen NicholsToday's guest post is from Karen Nichols, Distance Education Coordinator in Xavier's Center for Continuing Studies & Distance Education

In 2015, I gave a presentation in CAT which included Netiquette Rules for faculty to apply in their discussion board posts and email correspondence with their students.  The suggestions were fairly common sense:

  • Be polite, respect others’ opinions
  • Don’t use slang or vulgar or texting language
  • Be careful using humor and sarcasm as they don’t always come across correctly in written form
  • DON’T USE ALL CAPS—IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING

Fast forward five years later and we have a whole new layer of Netiquette Rules for live video conferencing.  Meredith Hart just posted a blog last week sharing video conferencing etiquette.  Here are her tips:

Video Conferencing Etiquette

  1. Mute yourself when not speaking.
  2. Be on time.
  3. Ensure your technology works correctly.
  4. Use technology to fully engage remote participants.
  5. Choose the proper software and hardware.
  6. Wear work-appropriate clothing.
  7. Frame the camera correctly.
  8. Have the right light.
  9. Look into the camera.
  10. Pay attention.

Let’s discuss a few of the tips.  

  1. Wear work-appropriate clothing.  I’ve taught online for over 25 years and even now, when I have virtual office hours, I put on make-up, wrap a scarf around my neck (I am a French instructor after all), and put on a pair of earrings for my students.  They don’t have to know that I’m still wearing my slippers, but I want them to know I made the effort for them, even if they are online in their pajamas and wrapped in a blanket.
  2. Frame the camera correctly.  This pertains to both you and your surroundings.  Zoom allows you to check what others will see before you join the meeting.  How do you look? Is the camera pointing up your nostrils or at your left ear?  What do you see in the background? Everyone has been commenting on me in my big easy chair (with a floral curtain pattern behind it).  I don’t have zoom meetings against my huge bookshelf with my artwork and urns of my deceased pets lined up. While comforting for me, they may not be to everyone else’s taste.
  3. Have the right light.  This is something I struggle with.  I wear eyeglasses and too much light causes reflections in the lenses and it’s hard to see my eyes.  Too little and you can’t see my face well. That’s a work in progress for me.
  4. Look into the camera.  This can be tricky if people are sharing screens but try not to be looking off in the distance at your television or out your window at the squirrels playing.
  5. Pay attention.  Yes, it’s so easy to be distracted while at home.  How many of us have had to quiet barking dogs or children coming in to ask questions while we are on a zoom conference?  But do your best to stay focused on the meeting at hand and to stay in the present moment and try not to multi-task too much—stay engaged, especially if you’re online with the students.
  6. This one is most important and not on the list but should be.  Be forgiving of yourself and each other when mistakes are made.  We have all been asked to accomplish a great deal in a short space of time, and no one can be expected to be an expert immediately.

Continue to take care of yourselves and your families. #KeepTeachingXULA

This is a guest post from Dr. Renée Akbar.

Dr. Renée Akbar
Dr. Renée Akbar is an associate professor in Educational Leadership at Xavier University of Louisiana, in the Division of Education and Counseling.

When the university was closed for Katrina, many of us continued, online. For the Division of Education and Counseling (DOEC), this is what kept our Division alive. We were forced to connect with and teach the graduate students, who were displaced to every corner of the Unites States. We maintained our graduate program online and not one of us had online teaching experience; so, we improvised. The online platform was suspended when the university returned to campus.

Fast forward to 2016. DOEC faculty designed an online Ed. D. program, but could not fully adopt the “online philosophy” of do-it-yourself learning. Instead, we preferred to stay connected with our students as you do in a face-to-face environment. Sometimes the Ed. D. faculty hold a 3-hour lecture for a class, via Zoom. Sometimes we have virtual discussions where we view and discuss projects or work in small groups. We call this virtual teaching or teaching online. And, that is different than online teaching.

Currently we are all called to virtual teachers. So I am sharing some of my Lessons Learned:

  • Time has to be spent orienting the students to the online format and your style of virtual teaching.
  • Be specific as to where you post what is needed for class on Brightspace.
    Know that the students will actually use Brightspace.
  • Just like a face-to-face lecture, a virtual lecture can also be non-engaging.
  • You can be just as engaging, virtually, as you are face-to-face.
  • Don’t use a large (e.g., three-hour) block just for lecture.
  • To cover a large block of class time (e.g., three-hour), combine different modes of learning available in Brightspace and/or Zoom—Discussion Board; Quizzes; Videos; Breakrooms for small group instruction, to name a few.
  • Expectations should be clear and nonconfusing.

As we prepare to teach remotely, please know that CAT+FD is here for you. We have compiled suggestions, tips, best practices, and resources in one handy place, on our wiki at: catwiki.xula.edu/KeepTeachingXULA

laptop computer

A common assignment given in an online class is for students to participate in a discussion forum. Most discussion forums are setup so that students are asked to respond to a prompt and reply to posts from their classmates. Do you want to setup your online discussion forums to encourage substantive discussions among your students?

In a recent Inside Higher Ed blog post, Dr. Steven Mintz (Senior Adviser to the President of Hunter College for Student Success and Strategic Initiatives) writes,

We don’t simply want our students to respond to a question, but, rather to engage with the course material and take part in a genuine dialogue.

In his blog post, he goes on to give strategies for better ways to embed dialogue and interaction into asynchronous online classes. The strategies he suggests are:

Provide Better Prompts – Prompts that involve higher-order thinking skills and require the students to apply, analyze, compare and contrast, critique, evaluate, explain, infer, predict, propose, solve, and synthesize.

Ask Students to Do Something – Ask students to solve a problem, analyze a case study, take part in a debate, adopt a role or relate the topic to a current event.

Raise the Stakes – Ask students to rate individual posts. Nothing focuses the online student’s mind better than a sense that their writing is being evaluated anonymously by their classmates. You can also raise the stakes by limiting the number of students who participate in each discussion and asking the rest of the class to provide feedback on the discussion as a whole (not on individual postings).

Reimagine How Online Conversations Are Displayed – Help students better visualize the discussion by displaying networks of comments or use word clouds to underscore the key issues that have arisen.

Adopt a Different Model – Perhaps it’s a mistake to transpose a mode of communication that works well in face-to-face, synchronous or one-on-one contexts into the asynchronous realm. There are other ways to create a sense of community, promote collaboration and elicit meaningful ideas and debate.

If this has piqued your interest, you should read Dr. Mintz's, Beyond the Discussion Board, blog post.

ICYMI, read my Improve Online Discussions Using ABCs blog post for suggestions on giving feedback that impacts student performance.

If you are new to using discussions in Brightspace, you can find how-to resources for discussion forums on our blog.

Image credit: image by Juraj Varga from Pixabay

CC icons and share your ideas

I have written a few blog posts about the importance of using appropriately licensed materials in your courses and for your digital projects. Finding quality images, audio, video, etc. can be daunting. When you find something that you want to use, you must make sure the license allows you to do so.

I recently completed the Creative Commons (CC) Certificate course. The Certificate is an in-depth course about CC licenses, open practices and the ethos of the Commons. I was excited when the opportunity to take this 10-week Certificate course came about. I felt knowing more about Creative Commons would help me to better understand and use CC licensed works appropriately. Also, I wanted to be able to apply CC licenses to my own work. While I knew some things about Creative Commons before starting the course, I realized as I got into the course that there was a lot I didn’t know about CC licenses.

I’m writing this blog post to share information and resources that may help you understand more about CC licenses.

What is a Creative Commons (CC) license? A CC license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted "work". A CC license is used when an author wants to give other people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that they (the author) have created.

copyright spectrum

All rights are reserved with copyright. Re-use requires permission from the copyright owner. Whereas, some rights are reserved with CC licenses. Re-use is permitted under the specification shared in the Creative Commons license. The image above describes how CC licenses relate to traditional copyright and the public domain.

If this has this piqued your interest, check out our Creative Commons (CC) Wiki Resource for additional information about CC licenses and CC licensed works.

Image credits:
"Share your ideas" by Nassim Tiachachat is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
"the spectrum of rights" by Michelle Pacansky-Brock is licensed under CC-BY

A discussion forum is an excellent tool for student engagement. However, you don’t always have to use the question and answer format to engage students in a discussion forum.

comment bubbles outlined in orange

In the Faculty Focus article, “Discussion Board Assignments: Alternatives to the Question-and-Answer Format,” professor Chris Laney gives his take on alternatives for Q&A discussions. Laney, who is professor of history and geography at Berkshire Community College, was having trouble engaging students in discussion forums in his online class and decided to rethink his use of online discussions. Professor Laney thinks of the discussion forum as a place to foster interaction between the students through a variety of means rather than just asking them questions. Specifically, he uses role-playing, debates, and WebQuest to foster interaction between his students.

Role-play

One example of how Professor Laney used role-play is a discussion forum activity that asks students to do some research on a person living in an urban Roman city in the first century CE. Each student creates a character and writes a diary entry or letter recording what he or she did in the course of a day or a series of days. To perform well in this activity the students need to research a few things about the professions and classes that would have existed during that time. The students end up talking back and forth in character and at no point does Professor Laney actually ask a question.

Debate

One example of how Professor Laney uses debates is he had students debate whether democracy in the Middle East would result in better or worse relations with nations in the region. It’s a pretty straightforward assignment; however, when having students debate it’s important to set clear ground rules to keep things cordial and to avoid simplistic arguments.

WebQuest

Professor Laney gives students a less intense discussion forum assignment in weeks when a major assignment is due. Rather than carrying on a discussion over the usual two-week period, he has students do a simple WebQuest and post their findings without having to respond to each other. For example, he may ask students to post an image, video, or music clip from the Romantic Period of art in the 19th century and write a brief description about why it’s considered an example of Romanticism.

Grading

In a class of 25 people there may be 75 messages in a week to grade. To keep the discussion forum assignments manageable, Professor Laney asks students to post their messages in a single thread. Having all the messages in a single thread makes it relatively easy to grade. When a discussion forum activity is over, Professor Laney can click on an individual student’s name and at a glance assign a grade.

Are you using an alternative to the Q&A format for discussion forums? If so, we would like to hear about it. Please leave a comment to share your alternative to the Q&A format.

If you are new to using discussions in Brightspace, you can find how-to resources for discussion forums on our blog.

Image credit: Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay