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The more I learn about eportfolios in theory, the more I think that's not the right attitude to take.

Having an integrated eportfolio platform has become a pretty standard option for learning management systems (LMS) in recent years. At Xavier, we adopted D2L's Brightspace last year, and with it, we gained D2L's rather blandly named ePortfolio system. So when we started discussing the use of eportfolios in the classroom and for other purposes, we focused much of our attention on the system we're already paying for. But the more I learn about eportfolios in theory, the more I think that's not the right attitude to take.

The main thing to realize is that an eportfolio is really just a focused and purposeful web site; therefore, in reality, any system you can use to create a web site, you can use to create an eportfolio. A system like Brightspace ePortfolio has some advantages because it's so integrated into the LMS, but as is so often the case, it also has plenty of disadvantages. In another blog post, we'll take a look at the pros and cons of Brightspace Portfolio.

The better practice I often hear from people who are heavily involved in eportfolios at their schools is that when requiring someone to create an eportfolio, you shouldn't require them to use a specific platform. It's sort of like word processing programs. We don't require student a to use Microsoft Word when writing a paper; rather, we give them the specific requirements they need to meet and tell them to use whatever tool they're moat comfortable with that can meet those requirements. Portfolios are even easier in this regard, as they don't require a specific program to access them -- any web browser should do the trick.

Here are a few of the many options available to someone wanting to create an eportfolio outside of their LMS. All offer free access, although most require a subscription for full features:

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film strip, film reel, and clap board

Traditional writing assignments are appropriate for many types of assessments, but there is no law that says traditional writing assignments are required for all.

In a Faculty Focus article, Dr. John Orlando explains how student videos can be used to demonstrate learning. He writes,

A good video assignment is to put students into small groups with instructions to make a video that teaches a key concept related to class. If done well, the video not only demonstrates students’ understanding of the concept, but also serves as a resource that can be used by others.

Recent technologies have made video creation remarkably easy and video assignments can be shared in Brightspace. However, you should opt to have the students upload their video files to a video sharing site like YouTube and just provide a link to the video inside Brightspace.

If you are interested in video assignments, you can read more in Dr. Orlando’s “Ask Your Students to Create Videos to Demonstrate Learning” article.

Additionally, I prepared some instructions for recording, uploading, and sharing video on YouTube that you should provide to your students to help them post a link to their video in Brightspace.

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Being prepared is a must for teaching online. In addition to using better practices for online teaching you should be thinking about how to deliver your online course for maximum success while avoiding the 7 deadly sins of online course design.

globe with a computer mouse and teaching online text

In an IDDblog blog post, Alex Joppie listed a few tips for keeping your online course running smoothly. I’ve combined his tips with a few of my own to provide you with suggestions to help your online course run smoothly. Those suggestions are as follows:

Before the semester starts—touch base with your students

Send an email to your students before the first day of class. In your email,

  • Make sure students know they’re enrolled in an online class. Some students take online classes because they think it will be easy. When in fact, some students struggle in online courses because they do not have the skills to be self-directed learners. You should let the students know that online classes take time and self-discipline.
  • Inform them of technology requirements, textbooks, and other required materials. This will help them hit the ground running.
  • Let the students know when your Brightspace course will be available.
  • Let the students know you’re there. This email can also serve to ensure to students that even though the entire course is going to facilitated by computers and networks, that there is a human being involved who cares about their success.
  • Make sure they got the email (and read it). Ask students to respond to the email. You may need to pursue other means of communication if a student doesn’t seem to be getting your email.

Additionally, take advantage of intelligent agents to automate sending email.

The first week—setting the tone

Follow these steps to set a healthy culture for the course and make sure everyone gets off to a good start.

  • Make sure students log in to your course. Use the Class Progress Tool to check to make sure everyone has logged in sometime within the first few days of class.
  • Create a welcome video for your course. Using a short video clip of yourself helps the students to have a picture of you in their mind. This video will help you to become a “real” person to your students.
  • Add a profile picture to humanize your course. Humanized learning increases the relevance of course content and improves students’ motivation to log-in to your course week-after-week. Your profile picture will create an inviting space for your students.
  • Create a more personalized learning environment in your course by using Replace Strings. Replace Strings allow you to create personalized messages for your students. A personalized welcome message, for example, will make your course feel more inviting to your students.
  • Be active in introductory discussions. Your introductory discussions will set the tone for the entire course. Make sure there’s a positive culture in your discussions by being engaging in the first one.
  • Encourage students to select their Brightspace personal preferences by configuring their account settings and notifications. Also encourage students to use the Brightspace Pulse app to keep up with critical and timely course related information and assignments.
  • Utilize the Brightspace Class Progress, Completion Tracking, and Checklists tools to help students stay on track. Students are more likely to be successful in an online course when they check-in regularly and keep up with their coursework. If a student falls behind early, they may never catch up.

Mid-course—checking in

  • Give your students an anonymous survey to get feedback from them on how the course is going. Do this sometime after you feel your students should have gotten a sense of the rhythm of the course but you still have time to make meaningful course corrections based on the feedback. This is especially important the first time you teach a new course.

Every week—the routine

Provide students with weekly communications that recap the previous week’s activities and prime students for the following week:

  • Highlight insightful discussion posts – Draw students’ attention to important points made by their classmates. It’s positive reinforcement for students and shows that you’re engaged.
  • Respond to gaps in student learning – Did everyone miss a question on the quiz, or skip over an important point in a discussion? If so, address it.
  • Contextualize the week’s main topics – Tie the week’s activities back to the learning goals of the course. Why is what we did this week important?
  • Prime the students for the next week’s main topic – Give some context about why they should care about what’s coming up next.

Consider presenting your weekly communications in the form of video announcements. Doing so will give your students more exposure to you as a "real" person speaking to them while giving them a presentation of material or virtual tour of the week's lesson.

Here are a few more ideas to keep your online course interesting.

End-of-semester evaluation—develop your teaching persona

  • An end-of-semester evaluation is a good opportunity to get feedback from your students to help you develop your teaching persona. Getting a “learner-sighted” view of the course-experience can add to your understanding of the learning environment, including aspects of your teaching persona that have framed it.

Studies show that students withdraw from online courses at a higher rate than in face-to-face courses. There are many reasons for students withdrawing from an online course. Some reasons are beyond the instructor’s control. Educators do not like to see students withdraw from courses for the wrong reasons. The suggestions in this blog post will help you to improve retention and reduce attrition by making sure that your students are prepared, that they get off to a good start, and that they’re engaged.

CAT+FD Online Teaching Resources logo

In a US News and World Report article, Ian Quillen identified six signs of a bad online instructor. The list included things like a syllabus that is unclear, no set timetable for responding to emails, and simply converting print resources used in the face-to-face class. Ian’s article was intended to help students access the quality of an online class and be able to withdraw if necessary. However, this list can also be used to help online/hybrid instructors recognize where their course may be in need of improvement.

Additionally, we developed an online teaching resource to help faculty develop or improve their online and hybrid courses. Check out our updated CAT+FD Online/Hybrid Teaching Resources and let us know what you think.

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:

female staring at sheet of paper she is holding in one hand while holding pencil in the other hand

In a Faculty Focus article, Dr. Linda Shadiow and Dr. Maryellen Weimer suggested using end-of-semester evaluations to get information from your students that can help you develop your teaching persona (the slice of your identity that constitutes the “public teaching self.”)

Your teaching persona should be created from a series of choices made with the aim of enhancing student learning. In the article Drs. Shadiow and Weimer write,

By the end of a semester, we have a sense of how a course went and what activities and actions supported student learning. But through some painful experiences we’ve learned that sometimes what we thought happened was contradicted by what students experienced.

Getting a “learner-sighted” view of the course-experience can add to your understanding of the learning environment, including aspects of your teaching persona that have framed it.

The authors suggest you begin by telling students that you’re asking questions only they can answer. Explain that this is feedback that can help you become a teacher who helps students learn more effectively. Here is their sample note that introduces students to the concept of evaluating the course experience and some examples of sentence stems that can yield useful information:

Your insights into your learning in this course can help me see our course from your side of the desk. Please respond to any three of the statements below (more if you’d like). Submit these anonymously; I will use them as I plan for my courses next semester.

In this course …

it most helped my learning of the content when…because…
it would have helped my learning of the content if…because…
the assignment that contributed the most to my learning was… because…
the reading that contributed the most to my learning was… because…
the kinds of homework problems that contributed most to my learning were…because…
the approach I took to my own learning that contributed the most for me was…because…
the biggest obstacle for me in my learning the material was… because…
a resource I know about that you might consider using is…because…
I was most willing to take risks with learning new material when… because…
during the first day, I remember thinking…because…
what I think I will remember five years from now is…because…

What are good ways to gain insights from student feedback? Put some distance between the course and the feedback. It’s particularly beneficial to review the feedback when selecting course materials, developing assignments, and constructing the syllabus for the next semester. Another option is to have a colleague compile the results and return them to you prior to planning for the next semester.

For more information read the Faculty Focus article, A New Twist on End-of-Semester Evaluations.

Additionally, Brightspace has a survey tool that allows you to get anonymous feedback from your students. You can get more information about using Brightspace surveys in my Get Feedback from your Students tip.

Active learning is "anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing" (Bonwell & Eison, 1991, p. 2). Research suggests attention wanes after 15-20 minutes of a lecture. Active learning techniques can be used to re-energize and refocus a class.

In an active learning classroom, students must think, create and solve problems rather than passively listen to lecture. Active learning techniques and strategies can be used to develop quick activities that punctuate lectures. They can also be used to completely fill the class time.

During the break between semesters, our classrooms (Library rooms 501 and 502) were redesigned to support an active learning environment. An active learning environment is a flexible space that can be reconfigured quickly for a wide variety of teaching methods. An active learning environment supports student-centered learning and works best when you have furniture that allows students to easily shift from independent work to group work to class discussions and back again—without wasting valuable class time.

Active Learning Room 501 can accommodate a class-sized audience of 36. Active Learning Room 502 can accommodate a class-sized audience of 28.

active learning classroom
Active Learning Classroom (Library room 501)
active learning classroom
Active Learning Classroom (Library room 502)

students working in an active learning classroom
Active Learning in Action

Our classrooms are primarily used by faculty teaching regularly-scheduled university courses which make extensive regular use of multimedia materials, network communications, and/or active learning. Information about our approval process is available in our approval and assignment of Active Learning Classrooms and Teaching Lab document. Fill out our Classroom Request Form to request one of our classrooms.

Are you interested in incorporating active learning techniques in your classes? Here are a few resources to get you started:

We invite you to visit us if you are interested in taking a tour of our active learning classrooms.

One of my favorite things about being in academics is that we have two “new years.” The beginning of the academic year and the beginning of the calendar year provide two opportunities to make resolutions, set intentions, start over, try again, or start anew. This month, as you are thinking about your own 2019 resolutions to establish an exercise routine, eat healthier, or write more regularly, I encourage you to consider a pedagogical intention.

Perhaps you want to have a more engaging first day of class. Lang (2019) offers some great, practical suggestions.

Perhaps you’d like to energize your class discussions. Gooblar (2018) provides some excellent advice.

Maybe, if you have procrastinated like me, you might want to revamp your approach to your syllabi. If so, check out Gannon (2018).

And the list of potential pedagogical intentions goes on…

Me? In addition to attending yoga class, I intend to (try to) make learning more meaningful for my XCOR 1011 students. What’s your pedagogical intention?

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Active learning is "anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing" (Bonwell & Eison, 1991, p. 2). Research suggests attention wanes after 15-20 minutes of a lecture. Active learning techniques can be used to re-energize and refocus a class.

In an active learning classroom, students must think, create and solve problems rather than passively listen to lecture. Active learning techniques and strategies can be used to develop quick activities that punctuate lectures. They can also be used to completely fill the class time.

During the break between semesters, our electronic classrooms (Library rooms 501 and 502) were redesigned to support an active learning environment. An active learning environment is a flexible space that can be reconfigured quickly for a wide variety of teaching methods. An active learning environment supports student-centered learning and works best when you have furniture that allows students to easily shift from independent work to group work to class discussions and back again—without wasting valuable class time.

active learning classroom
Active Learning Classroom (Library room 501)
active learning classroom
Active Learning Classroom (Library room 501)
active learning classroom
Active Learning Classroom (Library room 502)
active learning classroom
Active Learning Classroom (Library room 502)

Our electronic classrooms are primarily used by faculty teaching regularly-scheduled university courses which make extensive regular use of multimedia materials and/or network communications. Information about our approval process is available in our approval and assignment of Electronic Classrooms and Teaching Lab document.

Are you interested in incorporating active learning techniques in your classes? Here are a few resources to get you started:

We invite you to visit us if you are interested in taking a tour of our active learning classrooms.

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music notes

Do you use music in your teaching and learning? If not, maybe you should consider using music.

Research has shown that music can:

  • Set a positive mood
  • Raise energy levels
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Calm your students
  • Motivate and inspire your students
  • Keep students focused and attentive

Whether you need to calm your students down, or get them up and moving, music is just the thing to try out.

Additional information can be found in this Music and Learning: Integrating Music in the Classroom article by Chris Brewer.

royalty free music

Also, it may not be a simple task to find suitable free music to use in your classroom or for your videos and presentations. Here are a few websites with affordable royalty-free audio clips that you can try:

Is there a website that you use to find royalty-free music? If so, let us know in the comments.

Photo Credit: Duet for Violin and Piano by Dennis Wilkinson | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0