Friday, August 30, 2013

Teaching Online (Part VI) - Get some Folgers in their Cup

     The irony here for those that know me, is that I do not even drink coffee, but I do like the smell early in the morning. Challenge: read the next sentence without singing it. The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup! Hard to read that without singing it huh, but consider the point. It is worthwhile to wake up your students well before they log-in to your course the first time.

     In a well designed course you want the students to hit the ground running. This has not always been typical of online courses in the past, so make them aware this is not going to be an old fashioned click, watch, submit type of course. Let them know right away that you have expectations which include involvement and abiding by deadlines. Not addressing this right away will lead you to ultimately having a few students who think because it is online, they can jam pack 15 weeks into one at the last minute. This has no benefit for them or their classmates, and will not even be possible to attempt if the course is designed with interaction in mind.

     In order to shoot across the bow (so to speak) to wake your students up, contact them two or three weeks before the semester or course begins. By being proactive you will set the tone that you are going to expect them to be involved and active in the course. The contact could be something as simple as a welcome message/video (if you can, make it personal, i.e. "Welcome to 101 Dave") via email. For some, that may have registered a month or two before, it will also serve as a reminder that they signed up for the course.

     A welcome email will also serve to make your online students feel invited and help jumpstart the online community you want built. Picture two scenes in your mind, June Cleaver (google her if your too young to remember) welcoming you into a house with fresh baked cookies and a warm smile, or walking into a house where the door mysteriously creaks open, it's dark, musty, and you are left asking an echoing call, "is anyone home?". Which of those two scenes would you prefer to enter in...which one will represent the start of your online course?

     Remember the student is the consumer, especially when it comes to online learning. Use the welcome to go over what the course is about and explain the course navigation so they are ready for day one. You may even want to go ahead and take time to layout the course schedule and/or go over the course syllabus. This simple step will get your course off to the right start before it even begins. It shows you are approachable and lays the foundation that you plan to be an active instructor, which we will talk more about in "Knock, Knock, who's there?" and the next blog post which will be about building a course community.

     Until then have a great weekend and don't forget, the best part of waking up is...waking up,  "This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it." ~ Psalm 118:24

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Teaching Online (Part V) - Syllabus

     Does online = more work? Well that depends on your definition of more work (sounds like a politician I know). The truth is online courses are very work intensive upfront, including the creation of your syllabus. Everything has to be laid out and instructions pre-developed either in video or written form. If you make a habit of going over your syllabus in a traditional face to face course you might be surprised how much you ad-lib. In an online course you have to be very detailed for your requirements & expectations. It even helps to give extra explanations especially if you know there are frequently asked questions about certain items.

     Compare it to making an announcement to your class or leaving a note for someone else to make an announcement. For yourself, you probably do not write it down word for word, in fact you may not write anything down at all. For someone else, you think it out and write it down word for word, just the way you want it announced. More work on the front end, but then again you do not have to be there when the announcement is taking place. In the same way, your syllabus for an online course may be a bit longer as they will be solely reading it and not going over it with you (the exception would be if you wanted to go over your syllabus in video form or live via Adobe Connect at the beginning of the course).

     That said, keep these points in mind, along side any school/university guidelines, as you create your syllabus for an online course. Oh...and don't forget to wear the T-shirt!

  • more detailed information
  • online office hours (specific times students can expect you to answer questions online, interact on discussion boards, or grade submitted work)
  • well written directions for course requirements
  • more detailed information
  • clear expectations & explanations for faq's
  • address honor code/cheating...make them aware you are aware (Cheating will be discussed in a later post)
  • other pertinent info & links to resources
  • did I mention more detailed information
Next blog post we will discuss the importance of contacting your students early or as I like to say, "Getting some Folgers in their cup".

Monday, August 26, 2013

Teaching Online (Part IV) - Navigation

     Online Course Navigation should not require a compass, involve a secret handshake combo, or require a Ph.D in "Think like You Doology".  Keep it simple, follow a pattern, be creative, but do not get too fancy.  Innovation is great (and too be encouraged), but do not out think yourself or your students when it comes to your course. If students have to register for a state hunting license just to find the latest assignment or discussion then frustration will outweigh any learning taking place...even worse it may prevent learning.

     Have you ever thought about how a fruit basket is put together?
The Bananas & Grapes are always on top. Why? because they would smoosh of course! There is no law or requirement, it just makes good sense. In the same way, make sure your course layout makes sense and is easily navigable to the most novice online student.

     Best Practices dictates that each institution have a few common layouts/templates for teachers/professors to choose from. Do not go so far as to say one and one only. There needs to be some flexibility based on subject/instructor.  For instance, some courses may be better suited for Unit separation, others may be suited or the instructor more comfortable with a weekly format. There are parts of the menu however that should be standard and in the same spot no matter the course or instructor. Doing this as an institution will make navigation easier for the students instead of every course being a new adventure.

     To reiterate, creativity is good (especially in delivering content) but structure should make sense and be consistent. Do not make students climb down rabbit holes (Note: Last weekend to see Rabbit Hole @ the Lipscomb Theater) to find the resources they need. The main point is to be consistent as a school/university and come to an agreement with a few basic types of layouts instructors have to choose from. Here are a few simple, but good examples.

Next blog post will discuss the importance of a detailed syllabus.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Teaching Online (Part III) - Course Design

     The meat and potatoes of any course (traditional, hybrid, or online) is the content, and as the instructor, you are the chef. For some students you may alter the recipe (less pepper, hold the gravy, well done) but in the end, the way you present your content is how it will be digested. Depending on your reflection from the previous post, you should already have some ideas on how you plan to present your content. In fact, you may simply click upload or be able to tweak/adjust what you already have as far as presentation material.
Let me stop for a moment here and have a brief sidebar. Many instructional designers will read the previous sentence and scoff at the idea of uploading what you do face to face and using the same format online. I acknowledge what they are saying and feel they have merit, I even somewhat agree, but here are my thoughts in that regard. As a first year teacher/professor you went with the resources, ideas, and techniques you had and have hopefully developed more with each passing year. In the same way with online teaching, I feel it is okay to start with what you have and adapt, increasing your ability as you go. We can agree to disagree, but my second thought is (despite how it is delivered) if the material is not good enough for online, why are we using it face to face. Yes, pedagogy is different as well as interaction, and different tools can be utilized (the point which continues below), but content is content. Some may think I am being to simplistic in this post, but the focus here is getting instructors started. As with anything in life, you dive deeper with experience and understanding. Okay, thanks for the brief detour now lets get back to the conversation.
      In other ways, teaching online might encourage you to try some new web 2.0 tools that enhance the presenting of content not only online, but in your face to face classes as well.  If you are willing to put in the work, teaching online can be seen as a fresh start, an opportunity, to see if there is another level to be reached. Teaching online really requires you to focus on how you want students to understand and comprehend the content. In return that can benefit all formats in which you are currently teaching.

     As you decide how you are going to present your course content, then the design of your course begins to take shape. I hold to the philosophy of allowing content to shape the course, and not the course structure dictating the content. In later posts we will discuss the ADDIE model of instructional design which supports this line of thought, but you can see the basic idea in the graphic below. In the diagram note the constant evaluation & revision. Teaching, whether traditional or online should always be a never ending process.  Hopefully if teaching is your chosen profession that excites you.  If not, see my earlier post titled "Once you stop learning, you start dying"

     In any case, here are some common ways to present your content online. Of course you are not limited to these as there our thousands of web 2.0 tools and programs you could potentially use. Likewise, do not forget that that students can return work to you through these same formats. In fact, if you are open to receiving work via different tools/formats you might even find some great new tools from creative or techy students.
     Again, these are but a few of the tools/ways content can be delivered, but enough to get someone started. If you have some that you enjoy using or are effective, please comment below and include links if they are web/cloud based.  Next blog we will discuss course navigation.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ignite: Get Switched On to Technology - an unconference

     If you have never participated in an unconference before this is your chance. 

     Be part of this FREE, fast-paced unconference showcasing some of the newest classroom-ready technology tools! 

     This unconference will focus on an unconventional and individualized schedule, allowing you to personalize the event.

Keynote speaker: Dr. Kecia Ray, ISTE President

You'll learn practical and current technologies taught by local and College of Education technology experts.
  • 20-minute sessions, keynote speaker, sharing "smack-down"
  • BYOD
  • Common Core aligned
  • Door Prizes
  • Light breakfast and lunch provided
Space is limited - Register now at:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Teaching Online (Part II) - In the Beginning...

...reflect  Pretty high-tech I know, but an overlooked aspect in the excitement (or forced drudgery for some) of going online.  

     Teaching online and teaching face to face are certainly different experiences. As you begin to ponder teaching online there are some things you can do in a face to face course that you cannot do online and vice versa. However, there are many aspects of your teaching style that can be utilized in both modes of teaching (albeit sometimes slightly altered). When designing an online course take it as an opportunity to reflect on your current courses and teaching style.
  • How do you interact with students, engage them, prompt them?
  • How do you serve up content or provide information?
  • How do you assess/evaluate: discussion, student work, group work, quizzes, tests?
  • What works really well, what doesn't? 
     These questions are good to ask anytime, but especially as you begin to design your course online. Being honest and knowing who you are as an instructor will help you design a course that engages students. A well designed course will help to highlight your strengths and mask your weaknesses in order to provide students with a quality online learning experience.

     Reflection is an important part of the process but one that is often overlooked because of time.  It takes time to reflect and be honest, it takes time to make adjustments that will come from true reflection, and it takes time to implement those new ideas. Add to the equation that it should be a never ending process and it is easy to see why we often find reflecting hard to fit into our schedules.

     The bottom line is that reflection yields higher quality in all aspects of life/work and teaching is no different. If you first take the time to reflect as you prepare to transition to the online world you, your course, and your students, will be better off.

     What are your thoughts or comments about the importance of reflection?  Feel free to share below in the comments section.  In the next post we will talk about course design.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Teaching Online...Where do I Start? (Part I)

   Often knowing where to start is the toughest part of most tasks in life.  From your first step as a baby, to riding a bike, writing a term paper, or starting a healthy lifestyle, the fact is, it is hard to get started.

     When it comes to designing & teaching your online course this is no different.  The key is not to get frustrated and remember it is okay to ask for help.  Limit your frustration and allow those in place to help you in order to get your hands out of your hair and back on the keyboard.  If your institution doesn't have Tech Integration Coaches or Online Instructional Designers, then don't forget to use places like twitter & linkedin to solicit help & advice.  Remember there are always people willing to share if you are willing to ask.

     This is the start of a 13 part fall semester blog series in which I'll be discussing things to think about when designing and teaching an online class. Consider these tips, ideas, & suggestions as you begin to build your online course or re-evaluate an existing one.  You can also check out the Prezi below which goes through each of these topics. As always please leave your own tips or ideas for myself and others to see in the comment section.

General topics covered over the next 12 blogs will include:
(These will become links as blogs are posted)
If you have questions or topics you would like to be discussed please leave them in the comment section below.  Who knows, I may even think up a few more entires before it is all said and done.  If your interested in the series make sure to subscribe via RSS or by email in the upper right hand menu to have the posts come directly to you.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Once you stop learning, you start dying

     After a two month vacation from blogging I am back albeit 400 miles further south and a little west.  My family has now relocated to Nashville and the kids start their first full week of school at (William) Lipscomb Elementary in Williamson County.  We have heard great things about the school and are looking forward to a great year.

     As for me, I have been working at Lipscomb University for a little over a month now and have really been enjoying the new position.  Freshman moved in yesterday so the feel on campus is a bit more lively today. Classes start a week from today and I am looking forward to experiencing my first semester from a non-student view.  It does not seem like it was too long ago that I was moving in, hanging my Ohio State flag (which later led to meeting my wife, GO BUCKS), and heading to classes. Of course at that time I knew a lot more than I do now...or at least I thought I did.  For one thing I knew that four years of school and I would be done learning.

   Done Learning, ha ha, stupid 18 year old me.  I do not know about you, but 16 years later I am learning more than ever. When I finished my M.Ed in Technology I again had that accomplished feeling, thinking I had reached the pinnacle.  No more classes, no more books, no more professors...well you know.  However, I quickly realized everyone has two choices when it comes to the road of life long learning.  One can be content with where they are, park the car, and ultimately be aggravated by those that zip by can DRIVE!

     Whether you are a 60 year old professor, a 22 year old first year teacher, or a mid 40's kindergarten teacher, I challenge you to DRIVE. Why do you think they have minimum speed limit signs on the freeway?  It simply would not work if some people decided to stop, that is called a traffic jam (or Los Angeles).  After all, can we really inspire learning if we have ceased to do it ourselves.  You might think I am just talking about technology, but I acknowledge that learning is more than tech. Certainly as an EdTech advocate I promote life long learning and adaptation to new technologies, but learning is learning.  As long as you are striving to better yourself by learning via pedagogy, technology, subject knowledge, classroom management, speaking ability, creative thinking, the list goes on, just be doing it!

     We can all name someone who has simply parked the car (hopefully it is not you), and we must ask, are they really having fun?  Do they enjoy their job, do they enjoy their students, do they enjoy not learning?  The answer is most certainly no.  Take advantage of professional development, trying new techniques, and using new tools.  When things get tough, don't be tempted to take the keys out of the ignition, because the alternative is not any better.

Have a great semester, impact your students, & don't fall asleep at the wheel...DRIVE!