Monday, September 23, 2013

Teaching Online (Part-XIV) - Conclusion: Feed the Beast

   Often knowing where to start is the toughest part of most tasks in life, but once you get started do not allow bumps, detours, or the occasional porcupine get in your way.

     If you currently teach online hopefully this series caused you to think, evaluate, and reflect on your current courses. If you are brand new or getting ready to test the online waters hopefully it gave you some food for thought. Wherever you are in your online journey it is important to note that learning never stops. The online space/world is always changing, often challenging, but ultimately improving our ability to teach effectively online. The that we continue to evolve and improve with the technology. Always adapting to change because after all, change is the only constant.

     One of the newer football celebrations has caught my eye, and I love the premise. When you see a football player get a sack or score a touchdown they sometimes pretend to spoon feed themselves. The idea of wanting more, never being satisfied, feeding the beast within. When it comes to technology we can choose to hang out on the bench being content to watch the action on the field...(knowing what eventually happens to those who ride the bench), or we can have an insatiable appetite to always want more, always improve, and never be content with the fact that we "know enough".

Find the hunger, find the passion, and feed the beast!

Did you miss one of the topics, or need to go back and reflect on one? Click whichever one you need below:
For a presentation view of the series, check out the Prezi below.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Teaching Online (Part XIII) - If a little is good, than a lot must be...


     This was one of the favorite sarcastic sayings of my 8th grade Health teacher Mr. Anderson. As most of us know from experience, it is certainly not always true. The same point can be applied when it comes to technology. That may be odd to mention in a blog about online course design, but an important point to take a final moment to consider as we close this series.

     As with any teaching tool or method you should always ask, why am I using it? Remember, you are the ultimate teaching tool and have to make the decision on which secondary tools make sense and are effective. Have a good balance between using what you know works and trying new tools when the opportunity avails itself. Too much old and you get stagnate with tools of yesterday (which doesn't help students preparing for tomorrow), but too many new and you open yourself up to numerous issues and headaches if things don't work as you planned.

Here are some questions/points to consider:

  • What is the purpose? Don't let whiz, bang, boom, be the driving factor.
  • Is it easy to use or do you need to include a tutorial link/video
  • Will students need to download software?
  • What is the download time/ease of installation?
  • Take suggestions/learn from students, do they know a similar tool, allow them to use it and you might find you like it better.
  • Identify the need and then find the tool, not the opposite
  • Be willing to try new things, expand your comfort zone/knowledge base
  • Don't get frustrated by the fact that what is new today will be old tomorrow, embrace it, continue to learn and adapt. 
  • Wow students with quality over quantity. It doesn't matter that you know how to use five presentation tools if you cannot use one really well.
     Balancing new and old is a fine line, but one that must be accomplished if you want to offer the best learning experience possible for your students. That means we are not always comfortable, it means that things do not always work, but it means we are always looking for new ideas and searching for knowledge. After all isn't that what Higher Ed is all about? Keep searching and always share what you find!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Where there is no vision, the people perish

New  Browns Helmets
     Yesterday after being in a Lipscomb Connect session all day with no access to the sports world I got in my van to enjoy some sports talk radio and the pleasant commute home in Nashville traffic. As I turned on WNSR 560 Sports Radio I almost wrecked the van turning onto Belmont. TRENT RICHARDSON had been what??? Traded, why do you trade your former first round stud 20-25 carry a game workhorse franchise running back a year into his new contract? The answer is pure stupidity coupled by lack of clear direction! Now I do not throw around the word stupidity lightly, but to quote a great philosopher "Stupid is as Stupid does".

     In light of this news I have officially decided to rescind my dedicated allegiance to the Browns and change the course of my families fan history. Being new to the Nashville area my family is now all in on the Titans. Now I realize this may not be much of a step up, but last weekend I heard Dave Ramsey on the radio say if you wouldn't buy the stock at what you could sell it for currently then sell. When it comes to the Browns I think I speak for most when I yell, SELL, SELL, SELL. I am tired of being a part of a fan base that is always proved wrong when we say "it can't get any worse". The Titans stock is low at the moment, so I will buy low and hey, "it can't get any worse" right?
I don't want to end up like the man who requested Cleveland Browns pallbearers in his will so they could "let him down one more time". True Story
How does this apply to educational technology? Well I could go on ranting for awhile, but let me make a loose connection since this is an educational technology blog.

With my kids in our new Titan garb!
     Change is something that is often feared, but often necessary. Change can be viewed as bad or good and sometimes both depending on your perspective. The key is making the right changes to move yourself, your students, your department, your institution, and your community forward. Having the insight to see what is on the horizon, what tools are at your disposal, and what changes will lead to where you want to go is critical. There are those who inspire change, but never do because they don't know where they are going. They provide life lessons of doing it wrong but never seem to "get it". There are others who inspire change because they have a clear vision of where they are going and how to get there. People try to follow their patterns because they prove them to be a success time and again.

     Inspire Change because you have the vision to lead. Don't inspire change because you are misguided and doomed to FAIL. Leaders are needed in the realm of Educational Technology. There are many options, many pathways, many tools, tricks, and tips. Jumping to the latest and greatest is not always wise. Giving up on decisions you researched and planned too soon can lead to a pattern of indecisiveness if you are not careful. (Browns take note) If you always think the next option will be better, than you never take the time to develop what you currently have and that can be dangerous. If you jump ship too many times you forget which direction you are going and your passengers end up lost and confused. Having a solid vision and knowledge base to lead yourself, your classroom, your department, your institution, and your community in the right direction is critical.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish" ~Proverbs 29:18

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Teaching Online (Part XII) - Cheating me Cheats you!

     A security officer once said to me, "There is not a car in this parking lot that I can't open...with a brick". He was of course making the point that the actions of the owners, not leaving valuables in the car or at least in view, were as important or even more important than the actions of the would be thief choosing to commit the crime. It could also be pointed out that if the thief knew the owner of the car they might think twice before breaking in and stealing. It is why in every movie where an officer is taken hostage they immediately try to start introducing themselves to their abductor. In general, if you know someone, it is harder to steal from, murder, or cheat them. That is not to say exceptions don't abound, but in general it is harder for most the more they know someone.

     To be blunt, no online course will ever be "cheat proof", and one can argue that traditional courses are hardly "cheat proof" either, but just like when you park your car, there are ways to lower the risk of issues occurring. When contemplating this issue do not get stuck merely focusing on the actions you want to prevent, but also how you can inspire actions to be encouraged.

     Possibly the greatest challenge/fear of online courses is cheating, so how should the issue be handled? As instructors, you can be proactive and "limit" cheating in an online environment based on a few of the tips below, but the most important factor is a relationship with your students. Just like a thief, students are much less likely to break the rules if they know/respect and have a relationship with the professor. Getting to know your students and establishing a  relationship is much more important than any timing or lockdown device. This is true in an online or a traditional face to face course. When you go from being just a name to being an instructor who cares and mentors you just made the decision to cheat that much harder for your students.

     Make that decision even harder by having a frank discussion about cheating and acknowledging it takes place. As a part of your intro early on before testing and assignments come due, it is good to make sure and cover the topic. Ignoring the topic or pretending cheating does not exist is not the answer. Just like a parent sitting down with their child to discuss drugs or alcohol, acknowledge and discuss the issue with students and make your expectations clear. Mention the honor code, and how in reality one who cheats, cheats themselves in class and in life. This takes away justifications that seem to weasel into students heads as they try to rationalize certain types of cheating or even ranking some forms more acceptable than others. When the ground rules are laid and discussed, the lines are drawn and choices are made before crunch/temptation time arise. Which side of the line they are on is the student's choice, but at least you have made the line clearer in their minds.

Here are a few other tips as you design your course that will help to limit cheating.

  • Use webcams during testing
  • Limit times when testing is available
  • Timed quizzes/exams
  • Using the Respondus Lockdown Browser or something similar
  • Randomize Questions/use pools of questions
  • Higher Order Thinking Questions
  • Turn in sections/chunks/rough drafts of large projects or papers
  • Make note that you randomly "Google" paper titles & excerpts
  • Require the honor code to be checked before they can submit tests or assignments
"Cheating me only cheats you", for some that means nothing, but for others it is the subtle reminder to do the right thing. In our thirteenth and final blog post in this series we will discuss the statement "If a little is good, than a lot must be..."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Teaching Online (Part XI) - What could possibly go wrong?

     It is said that one who lives without expectation has no frustration. If your course goes perfect without a hitch then great, good for you, just do not expect it. Be ready for challenges that come and be flexible enough to deal with them. This is key for any instructor working with technology whether online or in a traditional face to face course. Communicate, be flexible, utilize students & resources, and do not get burned out.

     Students of all technical abilities take online classes, and if, when, something goes wrong they do not always know how to fix it...or may be the problem themselves. Then again, perhaps you have made a mistake that needs fixed. For instance, forgetting to unhide a link or resource on your course homepage (The most common thing to check when a student says "I don't see anything"). Important to note the difference between one or two students having an issue and every student having an issue. If some students are accessing and completing the work it is a "student" issue, if no one can access the info it is a "you" issue. Whatever the case, do not get burned out or frustrated trying to answer everything yourself. Be flexible and expect your students to be flexible. Things will go wrong, but how you deal with issues will determine the stress level of both you and your students.

What could possibly go wrong?
     Be proactive by having a help thread in the student lounge/discussion board where students can post technical or general questions that other students might be able to answer. Advertise the Help thread in your welcome message as the go to place for Q&A, and encourage students to be active in helping each other. If you feel the need you might even offer some incentives for those students who do help. Leveraging students knowledge to help each other can be extremely beneficial to both you and the student they are helping. It is one less thing to frustrate you/take up your time, and students often have a quicker response time which helps limit the frustration of the student in need.

     If students do ask you (and you do not know off the top of your head) have them try to search google first for the answer. Especially if the question is about something other than the actual course (ie. internet/wifi problems, personal computer error or issue, etc.).  As the instructor you should be as helpful as you can, but ultimately it is not your responsibility to fix personal computer or software issues. Over time you may find it helpful to begin a course FAQ section and as you or other students answer questions copy and paste the question and the solution over to a FAQ module for future use. Then if you have a semester with a student who provides great answers not only do they help students in that course, but students in future courses as well.

     It is also important to note that most institutions have some type of a help line/tech support which you and your students can access when needed. As a part of your welcome message/introduction to the course you should mention this and include a link to the institutions help/support desk from your course. At Lipscomb University the faculty/staff/&students can get technical support by going to the Computer Center Help Desk. Faculty can also get instructional support by contacting myself or Al Austelle in the Center for Teaching and Learning in Beaman 100. Don't be afraid to ask for help, the purpose of any Universities CTL is to help and support faculty.

     In addition to institution help/support most Learning Management Systems have their own help websites which you should include as a link in your course resources. If it is a widely used LMS such as Moodle or BlackBoard don't underestimate the power of YouTube. You will be able to find some great instructional videos covering topics such as discussion boards, uploading assignments, checking grades, and more. Refer students to YouTube to find answers or even include video links in your course to help students who need them. For institutions specifically using BlackBoard check out the BlackBoardTV channel on YouTube for great resources.

     Finally, make sure and schedule time for class work/office hours, even in an online course. Students emailing/messaging at all hours is nothing new, but this is especially true of online students who may even be in different time zones. If you have clearly stated hours it will limit their frustrations of wondering when you will reply, and keep you from burning out because you feel the constant need to stop and deal with each question as it comes in.

     Of course if none of these suggestions work you could always pass out these Stress Reduction kits to your students. Just make sure you keep one for yourself as well.

     Communicate, be flexible, utilize students & resources, and do not get burned out. All keys to successfully teaching an online course. Enjoy a few more "What could possibly go wrong" pics below. Next blog post we will discuss cheating and the importance of the idea that cheating me cheats you.

Note, always sit on the tree side of the limb when cutting down a branch!!!

Motorcycles save on fuel, but you certainly give up cargo space.

Pickup + Boredom always = What could possibly go wrong?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Teaching Online (Part X) - A Christian Influence Online

     Glad you have started to read Part X in this blog series, some will automatically skip this one without giving it a chance to see the dramatic difference it can make. It is important to note that an instructor does not have to teach at a religious affiliated school in order to teach with a Christian influence in mind. Whether you teach at a large state school, a prestigious ivy league school, or even a well known party school, allowing your teaching to be influenced by christian attributes can revolutionize how you impact your students.
     Christlikeness, Truth, Excellence, and Service are the core values that we here at Lipscomb University strive to promote. This is no different online, although it is an unique challenge and must be thoughtfully promoted in order to take place. As an instructor of online students you may be the sole contact as far as Christian example and activities go. Online students are not necessarily participating in chapel or Christian organizations and activities on campus. Focusing on ways to promote a Christian influence through your welcome message, introduction, discussion posts, and all around interaction with your students will help. Spend some time thinking on how this can be accomplished in your course, but here are some ideas to get you started.
  • Daily/weekly scripture on your news/bulletin board area with or without a few of your thoughts.
  • Ask each student to volunteer for a week to post devotional thoughts in the Student Lounge (social discussion board)
  • Start off Adobe Connect or Tegrity sessions with a prayer
  • Keep a running prayer request list on your course home page for needs/requests of students and their families/friends
  • Be involved and care
     If you are a professor at a state school you may be the sole Christian example even in your
traditional face to face classes and not as free to include things like prayer, scripture, and devotional thoughts. However, you can still teach both traditional and online courses with christian attributes. In an upcoming blog post we will discuss cheating and the difference teaching with christian principles can make, but that is one example of how you can affect your students. Now will you eliminate cheating, of course not, but a student is less likely to cheat in a class where they have a relationship with the professor or at least knows the professor cares. Which leads us into one last point. 

     Back to the idea in Teaching Online (Part VII) - Building a Course Community, teaching is caring and so is ministry. The very root of being Christlike is showing that you care and being willing to be involved is someone else's life through prayer, service, & mentoring. Imagine if all professors taught with ministry and mentoring in mind. If you don't currently teach that way than I challenge you try it, and see the difference in your students as well as the difference that results in you.

     If you would like to know more about what it means to be a "Distinctly Christian University", check out the Prezi below that we use as a part of our Integrating Faith & Learning workshop here at Lipscomb University. Next blog we will discuss the importance of being flexible when it come to online learning. If you have any other ideas for maintaining a Christian influence online please make sure to post them in the comments below. Have a great weekend!

Monday, September 9, 2013

September 11th - Never Forget

     Wednesday is a day of remembrance in our nation, and every year students know less and less about that day. This year the average college Freshman was only 6 years old in 2001. How quickly time passes without us realizing it.

     On 9-11 I myself was a student at Lipscomb University where, now 12 years later, I find myself working.  I had class with Dr. Hooper that morning and found myself in the basement of Burton when the secretary came in and told us to turn in the TV.  The first plane had just hit and they were speculating as to what had happened. I'll never forget as they were discussing seeing the second plane fly in live on TV and crash, then news of the third plane at the Pentagon, and word of the 4th in Pennsylvania. Would there be a 5th, a 6th? Everyone was waiting, but what we did know was that life had changed. 

     After 9-11 I began the process of collecting pictures & newspaper headlines from that day. In 2003, my first year teaching, I created the following video below to make sure that I did and continue to do my part to never forget the loss, sacrifice, and heartache of September 11, 2001.

     As Educators, we have a special opportunity to remember that day with our students both young and old to share with them what it was like. Few K-12 students have memories other than what they have learned in school and HigherEd students barely remember the events. Are you doing your part to continue that learning, remembering, and reflection? Please join me by taking 20 min. out of your day to remember 9/11 on Wednesday and watch this video. Better yet, watch it with and talk to your students, share what that day was like for you, possibly even assign for them to find out from relatives what that day was like. For those students that do not have memories, give them memories. Continue to remember, Never Forget!

Please share this with someone special, let them know they are special, and tell them thank you. We are blessed with the moments we get and too often take them for granted. Make sure those around you NEVER FORGET!

Teaching Online (Part IX) - Knock, Knock, who's there?

     Picture the opening scene of a Western with Tumbleweeds blowing down the main street, creaking saloon doors rocking in the wind, and not a soul in sight. Certainly not an inviting place to be, in fact the opposite. You find yourself uncomfortably nervous, tense, perhaps even scarred and wondering who is going to get shot and when? Now compare that to any film that opens in New York City, the hustle, the bustle, the constant activity. Things are happening, work is going on all around at all hours, buckle up for a fast paced engaging ride. As the instructor you will create the scene for your course...which one will it be?

     As mentioned in other posts, your presence is important to the overall success of your course. Online courses in 2013 are not the average online course of 2000, they are not even the online course of 2007, 2009, or least they shouldn't be. Technology is progressing, options are multiplying, and the consumer demand for online flexibility only highlights the importance of offering high quality. Higher Education is taking note, and all across the landscape as Online Programs, Degrees, and Courses are gaining popularity, they are also gaining credibility.

     The increased demand of online learning today is mainly attributed to flexibility. Contrary to those who still think the demand is because of the past perception "online is easier". Though some would not say it out loud, many used to think online courses for both students and professors were viewed as the easy, or may I even say, lazy substitute for traditional learning. Those that would still argue this have not realized how online learning has (should be) changed. Is there still some of that out there, sure, but online students more and more are working professionals. Those that do not mind, in fact they expect, a rigorous course, but need the flexibility online learning provides. As an instructor you should not be teaching an online course if you think online means less work and more play. It does mean more flexibility in your schedule, but one could easily argue that to design and effectively teach an online course it takes as much or more time than a traditional one. For those work-a-holic professors (and you know who you are) it is important to set boundaries (in the form of online office hours) in order not to get burnt out.

     The fact is, that although it is true that online courses are work intensive up front a continued instructor presence throughout the life of the course is vital. When the students Knock, someone must be there. For those that neglect this important fact your course will go down down down into a burning ring of fire. As mentioned above, setting online office hours can really help you to not over stress/work, but also as a reminder to continue to work. Updates in your news/bulletin board area, feedback on student work, comments on the discussion board, all show your students that you have not abandoned them. Keep up with these and exceed whatever expectations students may have for instructor involvement. Students appreciate you being involved as much or more than you appreciate them being involved. Remember that teaching is caring.

     Next blog post we will talk about how to maintain a distinctly Christian influence online. An important challenge for faith based institutions, but one that can strengthen the overall quality of online course offerings.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Teaching Online (Part VIII) - Engaging Students...never stops

     It's a dark cold night and you are out camping with friends. Together you have built a fire to keep you warm, roast a few dogs, and provide a little light for a late night card game.  It took some work to get it going, but the flame has served you well...until you wake up, cold, dark, and your pretty sure something is crawling in your sleeping bag.

What happened? 
Where did the fire go? 

All the work that went in to getting it going and now nothing! We all know that a fire eventually dies out if not stoked and maintained. Occasionally throwing some more wood on the pile to ensure the flame does not die is a necessity. However, a fire is not alone in that regard, your online course can often be very similar.

     You have worked to build a course community, now you must continue to stoke the fire and keep the flame lit. Work to facilitate student groups and discussions. Have them evaluate one another's work thereby taking ownership of not only their own, but each other's learning. Your presence of course is important, as will be mentioned in Part IX "Knock Knock who's there?", but continuing to design ways for students to be involved and interact with each other is an integral part of fighting the sometimes solitary feeling online learning can present.

     Hopefully students are using the student (discussion) lounge, as outlined in "Building a Course Community", but don't wait around for them if not. Actively utilize the class discussion boards to promote interaction among your students. Be creative with the board encouraging video posts, playing discussion tag, or other creative activities (Google "discussion board ideas"). Never miss an opportunity whether a video, reading, or lecture to have students post on the discussion board.

     Two quick points to remember though about discussion boards.

  • Resist the urge to always respond or answer questions, just like in a traditional face to face course sometimes a pause or a little silence is powerful. Allow students a chance to answer each other and think for themselves, with you as the instructor commenting more approval, confirmation, or posing questions/thoughts rather than actual answers.
  • Not all discussion needs to be evaluated and graded. Don't kill yourself trying to score every comment according to your discussion rubric. Think about your traditional classes, do you score every comment in class? Is every class discussion officially graded or evaluated and feedback given. Perhaps you are a "professtar"(new word), but I highly doubt you do.  Likewise, it is okay for online discussions to be the same way. Just make sure it clear in your detailed syllabus. You can either denote which discussions are scored, or simply mention that discussions will be scored randomly throughout the course for an overall discussion grade.

     Of course there are other ways to engage students besides just discussion boards. Here are a few creative ideas, please add by posting your own in the comments below.
  • Have students collaborate on a short story or book of poems using google docs or twitter
  • Create a twitter# for your course and have students tweet thoughts, resources, or articles dealing with course content or discussion.
  • Does your course deal with a topic that can be connected to something common in the real world, for example banking, Zoo animals, or Battlefields? Consider a history course about the Civil War. Not everyone lives near a Civil War battlefield as we do in Nashville, but most students probably could take a day trip to a battlefield of some kind (even if it is the hallway leading to a teenage daughters bedroom). Out west there are Indian battlefields, southwest Mexican War battlefields, northeast Revolutionary War. If your class is global, its okay, unfortunately everywhere you go there are battlefields of some sort. Engage students offline and have them come back together to interact with one another online. Think of it as the opposite of a traditional class taking a virtual field trip, the virtual class takes a real field trip...just to different places. That will lead to great sharing and discussion opportunities.
Be creative, engage students, and watch them learn. Next blog post we will talk about the importance of you, as the instructor, having an online presence. Until then have a great weekend and enjoy some football!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Teaching Online (Part VII) - Building a Course Community

     For a quality online course that has been designed to be interactive, one cannot understate the importance of introductions. Face to Face or Online, it doesn't matter, the truth is the more an instructor prompts/expects interaction, the more it will happen.

     Develop a sense of course community by providing opportunities for team building and getting to know one another. Start by introducing yourself and then have students follow your lead. This goes beyond the welcome message and will continue to set the tone of what you expect students to reveal about themselves. A well thought out introduction helps you go from being just an instructor (name on the page) to a human being...perhaps a mentor...possibly a Christian example...hopefully someone they respect and don't want to disappoint. These qualities lead into later blog posts on "Christian Influence Online" and "Cheating me Cheats you".

     For the best results create a "Student Lounge" discussion board for introductions and all other types of social interactions between classmates. This allows for similar before or after class discussions that takes place in a traditional face to face classroom. Depending on class chemistry this may be seldom used or be the most visited page of your course, but the point is you have provided the space for non-academic interaction to take place. The payoff being that the more open your students are with each other socially, the deeper potential they have to dive into meaningful academic discussion and learning.

     Do not forget to continue to use this space yourself to spark conversation and build relationships with your students. As with any part of your course if you do not occasionally prompt (advertise) for students to use it, the area can become a ghost town. That will be the topic of the next blog post "Engaging Students...never stops".

     In closing, one could argue that the more they learn about you, the person (not just the professor), the more they can learn from you.  There is no denying the more they realize you care and are interested in them the more attention they will pay to what you have to present. This is true in the classroom and still true online if you give yourself the opportunity.

     Not a coincidence that the conceptual framework of the Lipscomb University College of Education (ranked top 4 in the nation) is instructing and guiding teachers of tomorrow with... C.A.R.E. Simply put, Teaching is Caring! That is true for K-12 and it still rings true with Higher Ed. When you do your best to create a sense of community among your students online, you are showing that you care.