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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

young woman staring at a computer screen with a look of frustration on her face

In an Edsurge article by Jenny Abamu, she notes that one of the biggest misconceptions following Millennials is that they are digital natives. Students at a New Media Consortium Summer Conference (NMC) pushed back on the generational generalizations, noting that assumptions regarding their attitudes, hobbies, and abilities are hurting them academically.

I did not know how to use headers, footers or page number in Microsoft Word, so I got five points off every essay for an entire semester. - Alyssa Foley, Student

Jenny goes on to say that Alexandra Pickett, the Director of New York State University’s Center for Online Teaching Excellence, noted that many of her students know how to use online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook for fun, but have no idea how to leverage them for academic and professional use. This is a point the students at NMC echoed.

The students said that in order for their educational institutions to better serve them, it is important to challenge the assumption that students are digital natives.

While the EdSurge article's results were from surveying Millenials, anecdotal evidence shows that the same holds true for Gen Z students. That is, Gen Z is savvy about using social media personally. However, they are not as savvy about how to use tech tools academically or professionally.

Instructors can help students learn the basics for the tools that will be used in their course by providing them links to how-to resources.

Did you know that we have a list of Brightspace how-to resources for students on our CAT FooD blog? You can find the Brightspace how-to’s and other help resources at the following links:

Brightspace help for students
Brightspace video tutorials for students
Help students get started with Google Docs (video)
How to add headers and footers in Microsoft Word (video)
Using Google Drive Video Playlist
Using Google Docs Video Playlist
Using Gmail Video Playlist

Here's an example of how you might include how-to instructions for a discussion forum in your Brightspace course:

example of a Q&A discussion forum
Example of Q&A discussion forum with instructions on how to post to the forum

In this example, instructions for the Q&A forum are provided along with instructions on how to post to the forum as well as a link to a how-to video.

Including information on how to use course tools will go a long way to helping students to be successful in your course.

Image credit: image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

syllabus graphic

In an Inside Higher Ed blog post, Travis Grandy, PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, writes,

Do you ever feel like you want to get more out of your syllabus? Sure, it plays center-stage during the first day of class, but does it really have to end there? Perhaps it’s a matter of presentation.

He goes on to express his frustration of writing a carefully detailed syllabus only to see his students tuck it away never to be seen again; assuming they read the syllabus in the first place.

After seeing an article on creative approaches to the syllabus, Travis felt his syllabus had a design problem as his syllabus had over the years ballooned to over two thousand words, single-spaced, with a few bullet points.

Travis redesigned his syllabus to not only make the content more useful for his style of teaching, but also easier to use and visually engaging. His revised syllabus ended up being full-color, using illustrations and visual metaphors to convey content, and was intentionally designed help students more easily find the information and get excited about the core purposes of the class. It is important to note that to make his syllabus accessible, Travis made his syllabus available in other formats as well.

Travis’ strategies for a syllabus redesign and ways to better integrate the syllabus into teaching and learning are:

Have Your Syllabus Reflect What You Value Most

Design elements to draw attention to the things about your course that you most want to stick with students. This should not come at the expense of being detailed about your classroom policies or meeting institutional requirements for what should be listed on a syllabus.

Tips for the Design Process

  1. Start from a Template: Templates can include great options like two-column newsletter style or a table of contents to make your syllabus easier to reference. MS Word and Google Docs are easy to intermediate skill level tools you can use to create your redesigned syllabus. A few intermediate to advanced skill level tools you can try are Smore and Populr.me.
  2. Get Visual: A visual doesn’t have to be elaborate, but strategically using images, shapes, or flow-charts can be an equally effective way of drawing attention to the most important parts of your syllabus.
  3. Design with Accessibility in Mind: You want to make sure your syllabus is accessible for all students. This should include providing your syllabus in multiple formats and also using easy to read fonts and high contrast colors.
  4. Build Your Design Knowledge: Educate yourself on effective design practices and visual rhetoric.

Beyond the First Day of Class

Use the syllabus at key moments: A great time to ask students to look at the syllabus is when you transition between major units or assignments of the course. You can turn this into a class activity such as having students write a short reflection about how their work in the previous unit helped them develop competencies or achieve course outcomes.

Reinforce concepts from your syllabus in assignments and grading: Use concepts from your syllabus consistently in other course documents including assignment prompts and grading rubrics.

If you do decide to redesign your syllabus keep in mind that accessibility is very important. Don’t assume that a full-color syllabus is accessible to all students. For accessibility, provide multiple options for students to access the content so they can choose what works best for them. This can include printing in color or black and white, sharing the syllabus as a PDF (with character recognition), and using alt-text and captions for images and diagrams.

For more information read the Inside Higher Ed blog post, Give Your Syllabus an Extreme Redesign for the New Year.

Other great articles on syllbus redesign are Writing Syllabi Worth Reading and the Chronicle of Higher Educations's How to Create a Syllabus: Advice Guide.

Additional resources you may find helpful:

Interactive syllabus examples:

Image credit: "27Apr09 ~ Planning" by grace_kat is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

keyboard with an accessibility key

Although there are legal mandates requiring institutions of higher education to make educational materials accessible (e.g., the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act), accessibility is fundamentally just good design. Content that is accessible is better organized and therefore more usable by all. Accessible content renders properly on a wide variety of devices, it is easier to navigate, and it conveys information in a consistent, logical manner. Moreover, changes in how we view the content are occurring. More and more content is being displayed on mobile devices. For content to appear properly on all devices, it must be well designed.

In my recent series of accessibility tips, I identified some things you can do now to design with accessibility in mind as you are creating content and setting up your courses. Designing with accessibility in mind will save you some time in the event you do have a student with a disability. Remember accessible content is not only for the impaired.

Just in case you missed my accessibility series of blog posts, I provided links to them here:

Image credit: "Accessibility First" by Poakpong is licensed under CC-BY 2.0


The good people at D2L Brightspace are offering a webinar on the use of contemplative pedagogy in an online course. No cost. Details below.

From Mitchell Deleplanque of D2L Brightspace:

According to the Contemplative Pedagogy Network, students can form deeper relationships with their peers, their communities, and the world around them when they are encouraged to connect learning to their own values and sense of meaning.

Don’t miss out! Join us on December 10, 2019, for a webinar featuring Karen Nichols and Bart Everson from Xavier University of Louisiana. Our presenters will share how they are integrating contemplative exercises in their mentor-training program.

Participants will receive a link to exercises, resources, and a bibliography.

Registration Link

Individuals lined up to form the letters NDLW

November 4-8, 2019 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 2019.