Tag Archives: online ed

Supporting Learning – Student Outreach

Fall 2018 my department will launch a 100% online Graduate Certificate in Writing. This certificate program has been approved on campus for a number of years, but there has been no advertising, no support, no enrollment. To launch this program officially, it needed an overhaul, it needed curriculum to meet the needs of 21st century learners. So my recommendation to the committee was to streamline the courses to be completed, and deliver them 100% online in a year time frame.

In shifting to the online platform, many of the faculty in my department are nervous about teaching graduate courses (especially never before taught graduate courses) through the online platform. So I asked to lead a faculty reading group to support faculty in discussing teaching composition online – or Online Writing Instruction (OWI). We’re reading Applied Pedagogies: Strategies for Online Writing Instruction edited by Daniel Ruefman and Abigail G Scheg.

So far (I’m reading chapter 6 of 11) a question/concern regularly raised is “how to succeed in an online course”. Some chapters raise approaches to support student learning in online courses while others focus on instructor success (yes, teaching an online class SHOULD be different than teaching a face-to-face!). What’s important about these conversations is the student-centered focus on success in an online platform BOTH success with the online delivery (finding things) and with learning (content).

One of the automated ways of refocusing students in the digital classroom (even in f2f delivery) is student outreach. When students don’t submit assignments, when students don’t access pages, have the system automatically email.

CAVEAT: some students print everything! There are ways in some LMS systems to automatically print files in a module folder that don’t register a student having accessed specific pages. Setting up automatic student outreach may be overkill for EVERY page because there is no guarantee students haven’t accessed in print.

I’m also reading through The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating your course which emphasizes showing students the larger structures of organizing content knowledge so they know how to model the background knowledge you’ve created, where individual module pieces fit in, etc.

So, I want to combine these two ideas – to support a learner-centered classroom, how can I use automated messaging to support student content learning so they know how to make sense of their learning AND recognize learning? Instead of using Student Outreach messages as “hey, I see you didn’t submit the thing, how can I help” what if they focused back on learning “this assignment fits here on the learning map” (I default to pirate themed designs as we’re marauders – aka land pirates). The message could be tailored then to students who submitted and students who didn’t. If all students realize they are being direct messages in support of their learning, will they be more active agents in their own learning?

At this point – while still reading both books and prepping Spring 2018 syllabi – i’m still considering how these ideas come together to support students learning. But, I think it’s important to note – OWI offers new ways to be teachers, new ways to be students, we should consider how these new ways shift our questions and our focus. We should keep addressing questions like “how to succeed in the online classroom” but I think the focus should be more positive, even more positive learner-focused (growth mindset and/or mindfulness ideas would help me flesh this out here, but I’m trying to keep my findings more brief than that). How can these new tools, seemingly designed to track student submissions and engage students with things in the course, be used to teach students how to learn in was that positively effect learning AND engagement?


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Discussion Boards and Online Teaching

I was reading a thread in an online teaching forum about late discussion board posts. Many of the educators were willing to allow some points beyond their syllabus stated policy for comprehension, but not engagement. However, one poster equated the discussion board to the classroom essentially stating educators don’t hold make-up classes for students so why award points for late work.

I should also frame this with the fact that I have a fairly loose late policy – each student has one free late assignment – no questions asked (I don’t want to know about the vomit, or the grandma, or the dog, etc.) AS LONG AS THEY NOTIFY ME IN ADVANCE. They only need to notify me a few minutes in advance – the policy is an automatic yes if you’ve asked – I see this as a way to get better papers and slightly less stressed students.

So with the understanding that late policies are set by instructors and institutions, and vary greatly, I want to focus on the idea that the discussion board = class.

When I wrote my dissertation, Scott Warnocks Teaching Writing Online: How and Why was one of the most comprehensive texts about online composition courses. It still holds a high place on mosts lists (include this one). Warnock recommends instructors translate their face-to-face curriculum online, emphasizing the writing possibilities in digital spaces. In many ways, this reliance on translate or migrate is similar to the discussion board I’m following – instructors make a direct one to one connection between what happens in face-to-face class and what therefore must happen online. However, this overvalues the face-to-face classroom model.

Not all classrooms look the same. I need to say this again, Instructors choose to teach their classes in ways that meet curricular goals effectively for them. Not all classrooms look the same. So, why do online courses needs to look just the face-to-face course?

I understand and agree that many students are new to online learning – reinventing the wheel with design and learning decisions students don’t understand in the online classroom space can be problematic – instead of learning content students focus on understanding navigation, design, and basic instructions. I don’t want to purposely confuse students, but I also think if we continue to tell them that discussion boards = class they will continue to phone-in their discussion posts. Not all students thrive on active participation in face-to-face classrooms, but discussion boards don’t offer the type of flexibility that classrooms do (it’s harder to notice if a student is struggling and/or disliking the forced conversation in posts the way instructors can notice in the classroom).

In the Spring semester I’m leading a small departmental reading group about teaching online composition. I’m really hoping to develop conversations like this – how does design influence how students learn, and how can online composition courses use that to facilitate better learning? Let’s move away from an online needs to resemble a face-to-face and begin the questioning and the inquiry from the point of learning in digital space. Since learning is the goal, let’s reimagine ourselves as less point calculators for discussions that should resemble a classroom, and consider where we can design moments of learning about writing, where meaningful feedback can be returned for student learning and writing improvement. I hope I can quickly shift everyone away from using a tool because it ‘mimics’ the classroom, and focus on using tools that support good learning about writing.

This ended up being a rather hopeful – my year ahead post. Well, tis the season and all 🙂

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online courses and twitter

when I initially began requiring twitter use in an online graduate class, the goal was to understand note taking behavior to attempt to help future students as textbooks for purchase phase out of the lower division undergraduate curriculum. Graduate students and upper division students continue to purchase textbooks for a variety of reasons, so their note taking could be similar to mine with underlining physical pages. There is the possibility in all cases that students simply purchase the electronic book for cost or preference reasons. All together, the goal is to find alternative ways of taking, tracking and keeping notes.

During the first semester I saw bonds begin to form with groups of students, who then used twitter to maintain and continue class connections. Students began directing tweets at each other as part of their normal course tweeting. In this way, the course twitter feed began to resemble a class discussion more than a forum based discussion board does. yes, there are character limits, but the overall feel of the space became conversational and bonding.

So this semester I began requiring twitter use in 1 face-to-face senior-level undergrad course and 1 online graduate course. I also offered the option to online grads in a second course – although as expected the use has been extremely limited here, mostly my previous twitter students posting messages and directly contacting me for immediate feedback.

In my online graduate course, now in week 4 i’m finding an amazing amount of engagement, interaction and discussion through twitter. Observations:

  1. Twitter engagement and interaction improved after I posted grades
  2. Twitter engagement and interaction improved after students began conversing more and note taking less, but the conversations are still mostly focused on the readings and highly engaged
  3. Not all students read and post at the same time, so groupings of high conversation activity form around people reading and posting together – which adds to engagement and conversation
  4. Students (online AND f2f) enjoy the direct contact to me – they run ideas by me, let me know when assignments will be late and generally keep me updated.

Potential updates in future use

  1. I’m intending to implement Twitter in the other online course. I really think the combination of twitter engagement and DB forum engagement is adding to learning – i have no data for this, it’s all observational based on conversation. The conversation in the twitter class is amazing
  2. I’m intending to build twitter into the questing in my upper division undergrad course. I have blog posting, as blogs are a requirement, but I think there are ways twitter can develop as professional a connection
  3. I still have students not filling out profile entirely who don’t appear in the class hashtag list – I need to play with settings more to ensure everyone has equal opportunity to share in the conversation

Overall, while Twitter sets a character limit for messages, when used appropriately, it can provide space for conversation and engagement with course readings that compliments the DB forums provided in an LMS. I feel online students can learn more from the combination of interaction types.

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Twitter in online grad class

I attended too many conferences this past Spring. I attended/ presented at CCCC’s, hosted/ran/presented at the Undergraduate Videogame Symposium at NAU, and attended/presented/mentored undergrads at NCUR. My topics and research interests for each conference overlap, but were still very different. I worried about tracking my own notes, my own conference learning, my own new ideas. As a seasoned notetaker (anyone who makes it through the PhD ha taken plenty of notes in their academic career!), I wondered how I could also represent these ideas and notes, how could a conference capitalize on this creative energy as data visualization?

What I considered as we planned for the UVS was how to track notes and the brilliant ideas being discussed. Data visualization to show the non-believers the intellectual work taking place at the undergrad symposium. I saw CCCC attemptthis with a compter lab of sorts, while the idea and theory was there, it was missing participant buy-in, understanding and support, so it became a quiet room for faculty and grad students to work.

The UVS utilized post-it notes and a board to track this. I assigned volunteers the task of taking notes, posting post-its, wandering around and asking participants questions. While this overcame the buy-in problem, the notes were not always helpful, they lacked uniformity, structure. Some simply wrote “fun” while others engaged with complex ideas related to cultural critique of videogames. I still feel this approach was successful, but the un-portability of the post-it note board makes this a stationary, difficult to share example of group notes, unless I transcribe everything.

NCUR was a jumbled mess of undergrads and faculty using the spaces they feel comfortable with in the ways they feel comfortable. While notes were taken, and hashtags used, there is significant sorting through peer to peer interactions to find notes.

At all the events I live tweeted.

From this was born the idea to use Twitter in my online classes for reading notes. I’ve read articles on using Twitter in class, for live tweeting during class, back channel conversation monitoring, and a more indirect method of raising questions in class, but so far not for reading notes.  Between CCCCs and UVS I scoured the internet looking for easy to use hashtag sorters. At NCUR I found a few, and found them to be too expensive. In any case, I had a plan, with a slid pedagogical foundation, integration of technology to support pedagogical practices, not technology for the sake of technology. Timelines and deadlines to consider with pedagogy to support, and yet I struggled with the assignment. this is twitter after all, the space gamergaters feel no one should care about, the space Sarkeesian (of Feminist Frequency fame) regularly receives death threats and levies critiques against pop culture, the space everyone who is anyone in the tech world and ed tech world claims is dying (they said Facebook was dying too, so take all that with a grain of salt). Today, I read this article on Chronicle Vitae – my Twitter struggles discussed by another faculty member. Marshall’s conclusion was to introduce the assignment differently, at this point, with the course starting today so the syllabus and assignment already posted, I can only hope it makes sense to my students. So begins the grand experiment of group notes for an online course using twitter…….

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I recently read this article about grading. Aragon specifically speaks to students about how grades reflect points earned within the course, they do not reflect personal feelings about a student. I would add nor do they necessarily reflect learning, participation, ability to use this information to work toward the job/career students want. I have students who work hard in class, clearly arrive prepared having read the material, participate in discussion, and can’t turn in a paper on time to save their lives. They may write solid A and B papers, but the late submission drops their grades. It could be argued that in the work world submitting reports late, etc could result in loss of job – but is that really what due dates train students for?

Anyway, the discussion I want to have is in relation to grades, feelings and online courses. After reading Aragon’s article I was particularly interested in courses where interactions with the course differ – so large courses and online courses. Do personal feelings become attached to behaviors, interactions, comments and critiques differently, which may influence sense-making surrounding grades differently. My sister is currently completing a master’s program in London. She continues to receive feedback from her advisor on approval paperwork for her thesis project. The feedback is electronic – although my sister meets with this advisor face-to-face as well. In her case, and I don’t consider her overly sensitive, she feels the feedback is harsh, the critiques overly critical, and the rewriting difficult because the standards based on feedback are so high. In this case, yes, stakes are high it’s a master’s project – but the online feedback is influencing her sense-making. I always grade online – and unless I’m teaching an online course I rarely use rubrics so I include extensive feedback discussing the grade and the good and bad of a paper/assignment/essay/etc. Now i’m wondering if even this online feedback is too critical. In cases where I never meet the students, so online courses, do they see the feedback as excessively critical because they don’t know me? In this case I’m more prone to provide too much information to assist the student in future exercises since I can’t provide the same feedback face-to-face.

I haven’t researched extensively in the field of feedback research, but now i’m personally curious – as a grad online professor this summer and next semester – how do grades and comments influence how a student feels within a course? do these feelings influence subsequent assignments positively and negatively depending on the understanding and feelings about previous feedback? i think I’ll just add this to the list of future research project for now, and see what I can do to understand perceptions of feedback in my courses.

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