Thursday, March 03, 2016

New degrees? Are they worth it?

I recently got this question:
I would agree degrees, courses and the focus of education should evolve with time... but just because a new degree program is created, doesn't mean the courses created/offered may do the goals of the degree justice. Who decides on the curriculum and what assurances do new students have that they'll get something meaningful from it? Also, if profs that taught existing courses were now told to teach new curriculum, would they do a good enough job at it? Or would new teachers with those backgrounds be required to effectively teach and go beyond the textbooks to be able to inspire and really prepare the students for this new world, new degree? Making a course on paper is one thing. Accomplishing the goal of teaching something new is another. Thoughts?
Great questions! These days, the best schools focus A LOT of energy on these types of questions. Specialized staff (like Educational Developers, Instructional Designers and Business Development staff) are brought in at the earliest stages to contribute to the program development such that it aligns with data obtained from industry advisory panels and student focus groups. Then once that's all done, a different group of people sit down to actually design and build each individual course such that they each align with the program curriculum. Again, for the best schools, that course development activity is a multi-disciplinary team effort where the professor is not a "Team of One". Often instructional designers, multimedia support analysts, graduate students and other university staff contribute to that Course Development Team. It's only with a group of talented individuals that the best programs can be developed from solidly built courses. It's a long and difficult process, but in the end, the students are the real winners! I'm an Educational Developer, and I love it.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

MUST READ: Teaching in a Digital Age

Ok - full disclosure. I'm a big fan of Dr. Tony Bates. I won't go into the details why except to say, you'll be a fan of his soon. (Check out his bio if you want to know more).
Dr. Tony Bates - Teaching in a Digital Age

The reason you will be a fan of his is because you are going to read his book Teaching in a Digital Age. WAIT! Don't go to Amazon, Chapters, Barns & Noble, or Walmart to find the book. The book is free. He's giving it to you for free. (See why I am a fan of his?) Just swing over to this website and grab it. It's available in a bunch of formats like ePub, PDF, MOBI, XHTML, WXR, etc. So pick the one that works best on your device. Then read it.

It's chock full of great stuff from the new skills needed in a digital age, to an updated primer on learning theories, to demystifying technology types in education, to underlying effective practices around multimedia, to emerging trends in open education, to ensuring quality in technology-media teaching, to supporting teachers, instructors and institutions in evolving to meet the needs of the diverse set of students present at most institutions of higher learning. The book is almost a one-stop-shop for a 360o perspective about blended and online teaching. Put this high on your to-do list. Check it out. It'll make you a BIG fan on Tony Bates... for the right reasons.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Active Learning in the Online Classroom: Examples and Ideas

Someone recently told me that they heard of an approach where all the boring content delivery lecture material is put online so that more active learning can take place in the classroom. They then asked me if this was the best approach for online learning? What they were describing is blended learning or the “flipped” classroom approach. Good blended classrooms have a significant amount of active learning. The active learning philosophies need not only occur in the classroom however. There are ways to leverage the online space to include active learning. Active learning is basically any part of the course that involves active “interaction” instead of just passive tasks. It engages learners into activities that help them clarify, investigate, apply, create and integrate knowledge. Consider the human-factor: any types of human interactions such as Learner-to-Learner or Learner-to-TeachingTeam qualify. However, learners can also interact with their physical or virtual environment and that can be active. Just because you have an online course, it doesn’t mean you have to design learning activities that only involve reading web-pages or textbooks all day. Here’s a list of ideas, across four categories, for active learning online:

Learner-to-Learner Interactions
Creativity in active learning
  • Group brainstorming 
  • Group role-playing 
  • Study/support groups
  • Peer feedback on student work 
  • Exploring a Virtual World as a team
  • Creating visual posters to share with the class
  • Creation of video presentations to share with the class 
  • Asynchronous individual or collaborative learning activities (i.e. Projects) 
  • Creative writing (in groups or individually) that is shared with peers 
  • Problem-based learning Learning activities which encourage critical thinking
  • Cooperative learning group discussions (real time video chat or via asynchronous discussion forum) 

  • Tutorials 
  • Reflective questioning 
  • Relating learning to relevant current events and personal life 
  • Problem-based learning Learning activities which encourage critical thinking 
  • Cooperative learning group discussions (real time video chat or via asynchronous discussion forum)

Learner-To-Virtual Environment
  • Interviewing people
  • Exploring a Virtual World individually
  • Learning activities which encourage critical thinking 
  • Online quizzes (graded and non-graded) that provide immediate feedback 
  • Advanced adaptive technologies like simulations and sensitivity analyses 

Learner-To-Physical Environment 
  • Interviewing people
  • Home-based laboratories
  • Real-life data collection and analysis 
  • Learning activities which encourage critical thinking 
  • Learning activities with hand-on experiences and tasks
  • Learning activities which apply the content of the lesson in real-life situations 
This list is not exhaustive.  Do you have something to add? If so, leave a comment below. Which ever active learning activity you choose for your online course, remember to keep the purpose in mind. Ask yourself, what Learning Outcome will this learning activity serve and does this activity align well with it? If you can answer that question clearly, then you’re on the right track.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Key Trends, Challenges, and Developments in EdTech - 15 years into this century

Wow. 2015. 1999 seems so far away. I remember we were so scared about the Y2K problem and how it might impact our educational systems. Those 1999 problems are long gone. There are new challenges now.

The EDUCAUSE Horizon 2015 report on Higher Education is out now. The project assembled a panel of experts from countries like Canada, Italy, India, Japan, Germany, Turkey, Spain, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, China, Denmark, the UK, New Zealand, and the United States to discuss the salient issues and whittle them down to tight lists. The Report is a very valuable read because it not only provides a summary of each issue but also provides further reading resources for each. These focused resources get you information fast. Specifically, the report describes the following:
  1. Key Trends Accelerating Ed Tech Adoption in Higher Education. It selects 6 of them and breaks them down into 3 categories: Fast Trends (next 1-2 years), Mid-Range Trends (next 3-5 years), Long-Range trends (5+ years).

  2. Challenges Impeding Ed Tech Adoption in Higher Education. It selects 6 of them and breaks them down into 3 categories: Solvable challenges, Difficult Challenges, and Wicked Challenges!

  3. Important Developments in Ed Tech in Higher Education. Again it selects 6 of them and groups them based on time horizon: less than one year, 2-3 years and 4-5 years.
The report comes in two flavours: the Preview (short 8-page version) and the full 56 page report. I definitely recommend the full report. Read it from cover-to-cover. If you are interested in knowing more about how the Horizon Report is built, the team of experts worked using a Wiki and you can view all the details here. If you have any specific reaction about the report that you would like to share, please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How to deal with the overloaded SME

We are all busy. It’s the new normal. When I work on Course Development Teams that develop online learning, I often work with high calibre colleagues. I’ve noticed that high calibre colleagues are even MORE busy. They get stuff done, they work evenings and weekends. They are the “go-to” people when the organization or the department needs resources.
When one of these people is a Subject Matter Expert (SME) on a Course Development Team, sometimes it can be challenging. The time required for a SME to do their job well is almost universally underestimated. So now put an overloaded SME into a situation where they are required to invest a significantly greater amount of time and you may get some unexpected results. The most common result that I have experienced is “slippage”. Slippage in the sense that milestones come and go, that deliverables are chronically late and that emails sometimes go un-answered for days. It’s not the typical behaviour exhibited by this high calibre SME.

So as an Instructional Designer, what can you do to help? I have a few tips:
  1. Schedule a regular meeting on a consistent day/time. Depending on your project, it can be weekly or bi-weekly. A one hour meeting to touch base, to breakdown big milestone deliverables into smaller pieces, to identify difficulties and offer resources as the course development progresses, will be very valuable. You will find that hour to be a good investment of your time.
  2. Be organized. Anticipate the needs of the SME. Be prepared with document templates, with learning management system tools, and with performance support tools (such as handouts about how to write effective learning outcomes, etc.) Have these handouts available BEFORE your meetings and distribute them to the SME for consideration early in your project.
  3. Be sympathetic and offer your help. Challenge the SME to give you tasks that you can help with. One of those tasks is likely to simply give feedback on course content. Try your best to give rapid feedback. Be balanced, sensitive and succinct in your feedback. The overloaded SME doesn’t want to feel threatened nor do they want to read 17 pages of feedback (they just don’t have time).
Have you worked with an overloaded SME in the past? What advice would you give to Team Members who work with this individual.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Do you answer email? Student academic question in online courses

I often get new online instructors who tell me that the amount of email questions they had to answer during the semester was debilitatingly high. Some get discouraged by this mountain of email and they often say teaching an online course takes more time that teaching a face-to-face course. Well, don't despair.

If students send you academic questions via email then you have an opportunity! The current student culture has as a default to ask academic questions via email. However, I think everyone can benefit if Teaching Teams actively try to resist this practice. For every question raised by one student we know that are others that have the same question (especially when the class is large). So I like the practice of reinforcing, whenever possible, that academic questions are to be asked in the discussion forums on the class website (i.e. on the Learning Management System).

In addition to writing it in the syllabus, I have used several tactics over the years, such as:
  1. If you send out a regular weekly News item to students, mention there that academic questions should be placed in the discussion forums on the class website and openly encourage students to answer questions from their peers.
  2. I model the behaviour in the discussion forum early and I pose academic questions in the forum myself (usually I try to link it to a current event, an interesting academic resource, or I try to use the opportunity to discuss a particularly difficult question on a recent assignment, etc).
  3. When I get an academic question from a student via email, I answer the question and then I strongly encourage that the student communicate the question and the answer to the class in the discussion forum (for everyone's benefit)
  4. I also include in the email reply that in the future, academic questions should go into the discussion forum because peers may be able to provide feedback quicker than I can as the instructor, and that open discussion of these issues can benefit many students.
  5. I gently praise those students that answer questions posed by their peers in the class discussion forums, and I very gently correct or add to the discussion, if required.
Every instructor is different in how they strategically guide the ship when they are teaching online; however, with some effort, one can foster a greater sense of group community in online classes with these types of approaches and students can benefit from this. Secretly, the instructor benefits as well.

Do you have any tips or tricks on how to keep you student generated email under control? Share it with us in a comment below.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Help your students before they are your students: Math Diagnostic Quiz

If you have been to university or college recently in a science-related discipline then you may have encountered a mathematics diagnostic quiz. Some institutions use them to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their incoming students. Most institutions keep the results internal and some locations use the results to triage the students into different math course sections. You know - put the best students together to accelerate their learning and assemble the weakest students together to provide them the help they need to catch up. However, if your institution chooses not to adopt this approach then you can use the mathematics diagnostic quiz to enable students to help themselves.

The idea is to choose the Top 10 Competencies that students should be comfortable with in order to be successful in the first 6 weeks of the first semester math course. Then to squarely align the mathematics diagnostic quiz on these Top 10 Competencies. After students take the quiz, you can report the results not only as their overall score, but you can also report which of the Top 10 Competencies they have demonstrated and which they have not yet demonstrated. Armed with this information, students can take matters into their own hands and brush-up on the competencies they have not demonstrated.

The online product can go one step further and provide 10 different short tutorials that align directly with the Top 10 Competencies. Students who wish remedial information can refer directly to the short tutorial elements that match their individual performance. Furthermore, it would be good practice to embed small self-assessment quizzes in each of the 10 Tutorial elements to allow students to self-assess their knowledge and skills after they complete the tutorial. Then it is up to them to decide when to be satisfied with their personal performance.

All this to enable students to help themselves BEFORE they become your students in the Fall semester. What do you think of this strategy? Have you seen similar ones employed? Do you think there are other useful ways to help students academically before the first day of class? Let us know with a comment.

Friday, April 25, 2014

One of the secret ingredients in online courses: TAs!

I’ve just spent the morning thinking about Teaching Assistant (TA) roles for a large online course that I am designing and I thought I would take a moment to share.  It's a second year university course and I have a vision to dseign it such that it can be effective with large enrollment numbers between 200 and 1000 learners.  It's not a MOOC per se, it's just a large online course.

One of the secret ingredients that I will design into the mix is specialized TA roles so I am trying to develop a useful models for segmenting the TA cadre into different roles to provide a range of learner supports that complements the role of the senior instructor.  This will also be a customized model that is tailored to this particular course's subject matter as well.

If we think of student-to-(instructor/TA) interaction from a service perspective, these are some of the the tasks that TAs can contribute to:
  1. TAs can mark student deliverables and provide written feedback on deliverables to students
  2. TAs can monitor the Q&A discussion forum, and be active by asking and answering questions (this can help promote student engagement)
  3. TAs can conduct optional Q&A sessions in a synchronous web-mediated fashion (like online office hours - this can help promote student engagement with students who have a preference for synchronous interaction)
  4. TAs can contribute to a social media stream for the online course. The course can have a twitter account, announcements and motivating tweets (such as announcing a cool solution to a particular problem that has been just posted on the discussion forum, or a current event in the field, etc) could be made by TAs.
  5. TAs could perform other tasks that are specific to the particular course design? (to be determined?)
The pool of available TAs can be ‘triaged’, depending on their skills and experience, into the role that best fits them.  Also, some TAs can be assigned more than one role as long as the work balance falls into the allotted number of hours for their effort over the term.  Naturally, TAs will require a solid training experience before the course starts so all the concurrent activities can be synchronized and all the expectations can be aligned.

Do you have any useful models for various role definitions for TAs in Online Courses?  Also, do you have any training guides developed specifically for TAs in online courses?   Leave a comment below and let's help each other out.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Are you new to social media curation in online learning? [VIDEO]

When you think about the word "curation", what comes to mind?  Well for me, I think about museums right away.  I think about the museum curators that work in museums going through collections of resources and making decision about which artifacts to collect together and how to organize them to tell a story, to emphasize a concept, or to serve a learning outcome.  And it's just not about placing the chosen artifacts together in the museum and then walking away.  These museum curators describe the salient features of the artifacts and organize them in such a way that new visitors can glean the required information and discover for themselves the intended (or novel) themes and the stories.  It's an important job to be a museum curator because their bias about the artifacts invariably will make its way into the finish product on display.  I don't really think that's a bad thing, because museum curators are experts in their field and they can identify the most compelling themes and stories, and expertly organize artifacts in museums for people to interact with so they can learn.

So what does this have to do with online learning?  Well, re-read the entire paragraph above, but substitute the words "museum curator" for "teacher", and where you see "museums" put "online courses".  Go ahead re-read it.

Wonderful isn't it?  So if you are thinking of becoming an expert online teacher, take a moment to improve your skills in curation, especially social media curation.

This great video produced by Vanessa Dennen (Florida State University) for the Social Media for Active Learning MOOC (#SMOOC2014), will give you a quick overview of social media curation. It's a great topic that all online instructors will love exploring.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Engage! Top 6 Best Practices that Foster Learner Engagement with Online Instructional Video

Image Source:
I've been watching Philip Guo at the University of Rochester closely since I stumbled across his great research on instructional video usage in MOOCs. This month, he is publishing a paper for the Association for Computing Machinery Conference on Learning at Scale that has very useful recommendation on ways to foster learner engagement with online instructional video. I love this paper and you should take the time to read it in detail because it contains more than 6 recommendations. However, for those in a rush, here's my interpretation of the Top 6 of his recommendations that resonated most with me:
  1. Video length can significantly affect engagement. Shorter videos are much more engaging to learners. Invest in pre-production lesson planning to segment videos into chunks that are no longer than 6-7 minutes in length, if possible. 
  2. Videos that intersperse an instructor’s talking head (where the instructor looks directly into the camera) with slides are more engaging than slides alone. Invest in post-production editing to display the instructor’s head at opportune times in the video. Avoid displaying the instructor’s head for the entire video unless there are no slides that accompany the presentation. 
  3. Videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than studio recordings. In videos where there are few slides and more video of the instructor’s talking head, try filming in an informal setting related to the subject matter of the video (i.e. office, lab, in the field, etc.) instead of a formal production studio. 
  4. For step-by-step problem solving walkthroughs, Khan Academy-style tablet drawing tutorials are more engaging than slides alone. 
  5. Videos where instructors speak fairly fast and with high enthusiasm are more engaging (especially for instructors who's native language is the same as the language of the course). The pace can be accelerated compared to conventional face-to-face lectures. This also has the indirect positive effect of keeping video length shorter (see point 1 above). During post production, consider removing some speech pauses including “umms” and “ahhs” if they are present too frequently. 
  6. Learners engage differently with lecture-style conceptual videos compared to step-by-step walkthrough procedural tutorial videos. For lectures-style, focus more on the providing a good first-watch experience from beginning to end. For step-by-step walkthrough tutorials, make it easy to rewatch and/or skim the video. For example, clearly number the “step” in the process as the process develops so that students can easily orient themselves in the tutorial video when they re-watch relevant parts. 
What do you think of these 6 best practices?  Do you have experience with any of them?  Would you add any others to this list?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The magic bullet? Reducing costs with online courses in Canada

There’s no magic bullet. Nope. None. Stop looking for one. The simple fact that a course is offered online, or at a distance, does not equate with automatic cost savings when compared to the cost of developing and delivering a traditional onsite course in a higher education setting. Being an online course is not a magic bullet to cost reduction.

In Canada, several reports have been issued in the last decade which examine this subject. The fine folks at Contact North / Contact Nord recently released a interesting survey of the existing literature in Canada. It’s a very useful annotated bibliography-style of presentation that walks you through the salient pieces of literature and supplies some useful quotes. Read it in detail here.

I have never done research on this subject, but I have been closely related to the development and delivery of online courses in Canada for a long time. My feeling is largely in agreement with what you’ll read in the Contact North report. I feel that costs savings are not directly associated with the simple existence of online courses per se. Instead, offering a mixture of online and classroom-based courses offers choices for students, enhances student flexibility and enriches the suite of products that an institution can offer to learners. There can be some indirect cost reduction. For example, colleges and universities that are space constrained may find that offering online courses alleviates scheduling conflict nightmares, the need to find large classrooms for growing class sizes, and/or the need to build new campus buildings.

Lastly, I believe online courses can increase a revenue stream by providing access to learners that might otherwise not be able to come to your school. This factor could be very important to those schools offering niche programming - especially those with a solid marketing plan (Hint: one that involves intelligent social media strategies!)

Do you have any ideas on this subject? Share them with a comment below.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Quality Matters is Cool

The university that I work at just purchased an institutional membership to the Quality Matters (QM) Program.  If you are not familiar with QM, it's basically a quality assurance program for online courses that is faculty-centered, grounded in research and rubric-based.

As someone who has been working in online education for a dozen years, I am excited!  I quickly registered for and completed their first foundational workshop called: Applying the QM Rubric (APPQMR).  It was a great.  It is a 2-week asynchronous workshop that is very task oriented.  The eight modules walk participants through using the QM Rubric by assigning a variety of tasks including giving feedback on an actual online course that went through the QM Review process.  It was a very nice learning opportunity because some activities centered around examining the sample online course before it went to review, while other activities asked participants to comment on improvements that were found in the same sample course after it was reviewed, etc.  The workshop is discounted from $300 to $200/person since my university is an institutional member.  However, it's well worth the $300 even if your university doesn't participate.  As advertised, I can confirm that it takes about 8-10hrs/week to completed so make sure you block time in your schedule if you choose to do this workshop. I enjoyed the training so much, I’ll be moving to the next level and completing the training to become a Certified QM Peer Reviewer.

If you need more information on the Higher Education Professional Development Opportunities for QM, you can find it here.

If you have any questions, let me know with a comment below.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

CHANGE is the Future of Higher Education? Tony Bates' Vision.

Question: What can a person who is in their mid-seventies and 3 months from retirement offer the field of education as a whole?

Answer: A lot; especially if that person is Tony Bates.

Source: years he has been actively trying to apply his well-documented wisdom to predict the future of higher education in the developing world, and this month he publishes a vision for the 5- to 10-year time horizon that may cause some interesting reactions from a variety of higher education people including administrators, instructors, researchers, students and leaders alike! Entitled 2020 Vision: Outlook for online learning in 2014 and way beyond, it highlights several key aspects that are being considered at this moment:
  • how online learning and onsite learning are being blended, and how physical barriers to student access to courses are being removed
  • how some higher education institutions might grow their enrollments by being market leaders in mainstream programs while smaller institutions may have to seek out niche marketing strategies
  • how tuition fees in the future may be dependent on the level of service and support that a student wants instead of fixed prices determined by the nature of the program or course in question. 
  • the trend to decrease the time spent delivering conventional face-to-face lectures 
  • how many institutions may begin to eliminate the concept of final exams in favour of outcome-based assessment involving a student's ability to work collaboratively, to exercise skills and to show progression of their competence in the domain 
  • how students will have increasing choice in when, what, where and how they obtain their various educational credentials 
  • how the demand for access to lifelong learning opportunities will continue to grow 
Lots of fundamental and profound ideas are found in Tony's full article. Read it - don't skim it. After you read it, how does it make you feel? Did he miss anything? Is he off-base with one of his ideas? Leave a comment below if you like.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Find and use 1 Million MORE images in the public domain on Flickr

If you are an Instructional Designer, Instructor, or Educational Developer, then you have a keen eye open for excellent free image repositories. The reason for this is because you know that a significant proportion of your students are visual learners. So you structure some of your content each week around some visual elements such as images and/or videos. However, you don’t fall into the classic pitfall:

Inserting images into a lesson just because they look nice.

Instead you choose images that directly facilitate achievement of the learning outcome you are striving towards. Perfect! For those fans of images from the 17th, 18th and 19th century, I have good news. The British Library has released over 1 million illustrations into the public domain using the world’s largest image repository, Flickr. All clearly tagged on Flickr as public domain with no known copyright restrictions, you are free to download, use, modify, re-mix and re-purpose any of these images for whatever reason you see fit – including education of course. Have a look by heading over the British Library's photostream and searching it for your favourite keyword. A quick search on “Advertisement” yielded this beauty!
From page 703 of the 1885 book entitled “History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario; containing an outline of the history of the Dominion of Canada ... biographical sketches, etc., etc. [By C. P. Mulvany, G. M. Adam and others.] Illustrated”

Cool. So if you are doing a course on Canadian History, maybe this type of image can fall into a particular lesson. Maybe a scavenger hunt is in order. One that gives a bonus mark to the student who can obtain a picture of this building as it is today - over 125 years in the future - if it still exists! There are so many possibilities in a teaching setting.

Bonus Tip: if you find an interesting image in this collection, be sure to add more relevant tags to it to make it more easily searchable by others. Share the wealth!

If you have any tips for using images in relevant ways in your courses, please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

6 to 7 minutes of instructional video - that's the sweet spot!

I have sat through many 50 minute lectures in my life.  Notice how I wrote that sentence "sat through"... was I always engaged?  Probably not.  Is it realistic to be engaged for a full 50 minute block?  Probably not.  So how does one go about maximizing engagement in a distance course with video.  Well, is the best strategy to record a 50 minute lecture video?  Probably not.

First, let's consider how people typically "consume" video online on a daily basis.  Most of us watch trailers for new movies, we watch our favourite sitcom the day after the live broadcast, we watch funny videos that we see posted on Facebook, we watch sports highlights from last night's hockey game, we watch music videos, we watch news segments that include interviews, we watch Ted Talks, we watch some movies on Netflix, we watch some commercials (mainly because we are forced to!), we watch a how-to video on YouTube, we watch a funny segment from a late night talk show comedy, etc.  If you assembled all this video consumption together to try to describe the average length of the videos that we watch online, then I think you would agree that the length of the average video that most of us watch online is short.  The nice people at One Productions have built this infographic that illustrates this point.  Short is the average.  So we are most accustomed to short videos when we are consuming videos online.

Second, let's consider video in education.  Learning a concept is a much different business than watching a talking dog video or being Rick Rolled.  So what would the ideal video length be for the educational context?   Philip Guo at the University of Rochester has shared his recent findings regarding a preliminary analysis of videos used in edX math and science courses.  His take home message is that "the average engagement time of any video maxes out at 6 minutes, regardless of its length." Also, his findings showed that the longer the video, the less engagement students had with it, on average. So if you want to create instructional videos for learning then don't go much more than 6-7 minutes, if possible.  Consider adopting the strategy of breaking your long videos into short segments and you'll likely be doing the students a service.

What do you think about Philip Guo's findings?  Will it change how you create instructional video for your course?

Friday, November 01, 2013

Your Online Teaching Dream Team - Pick their brains HERE!

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could meet with an online distance teacher “dream-team” and pick their brains about the broad topic of interpersonal interaction in online learning? Well – your wish has come true! With a combined 68+ years of experience teaching online, please allow me to present your dream-team:
SuperheroesCindy York and Jennifer Richardson had the brilliant idea of interviewing these master online teachers to try to find the common threads and the differences in how they try to achieve the optimal balance of student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction. In June 2012, the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks published their findings. The paper is worth the detailed read as they identify a series of useful factors that contribute towards interpersonal interaction in online courses. Factors such as group work, discussion question type and assessment, feedback type, immediacy behaviors and instructor participation – just to name a few.

Are you an experienced online teacher? If so, what factors do you feel are most important when trying to achieve the optimal level of interaction that promotes learning in your course?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Undergraduate Students and Technology 2013 [INFOGRAPHIC]

The Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) have released their Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology for 2013. They surveyed over 100,000 undergraduate students at more than 250 college/university sites in 14 countries. The full text of the 49 page report can be found here. However, if you only have a few minutes, then this infographic does a good job at giving you the high points. What do you think about this information? Does it resonate with you in your profession?

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Authentic Learning in Online Courses

The library at my school has a book entitled A Guide to Authentic e-Learning by Jan Herrington. Unfortunately, it is currently signed out.
A guide to Authentic e-Learning
However, Jan had a brilliant idea! She made a series of short videos that describe each of the steps in her authentic learning model: Authentic context, Authentic task, Expert perspectives, Collaboration, Articulation, Reflection, Coaching & Scaffolding and Authentic assessment. The videos are all accessible from the website devoted to the book so even without access to the book at this moment, in about 30 minutes time, I have gleaned a reasonable amount of comprehension about her process. The website contains more than just videos. One very interesting item is a link to a shared Diigo group on Authentic Learning where people can share resources on the topic together using social bookmarking. Great idea. Another very useful document on Jan’s website is an evaluation matrix so that you can evaluate your course activities in the continuum from non-authentic to authentic. I like it a lot. Do you have experience conducting authentic tasks in e-Learning contexts? If so, tell us about them in a comment below. What are your favourite tips, tricks and strategies?

Friday, September 27, 2013

7 Strategies for Building Community in Online Courses

Loneliness and a feeling of working in isolation is one reason why some online students eventually choose to drop a course. You can combat this attrition by building community in your course. Building a learning community and a sense of social belonging doesn’t happen by accident, you as the designer, developer and instructor of your online courses have to plan to build a learning community. Here are some ways that I have found useful to accomplish this task:

1. Set some ground rules on day one of the course (see my previous post).

2. Provide two non-graded asynchronous discussion forum in the course.
Social Forum - actively encourage learners to introduce themselves and to perform a simple ice-breaker activity in the 1st week of class. Explain that this forum can be used to socialize and to post about current events during the semester. This forum should not be used to contact an instructor or a TA.; however, the instructor and the TA can participate informally in the social discussions.

General Q&A Forum - this forum should be monitored regularly by the Instructor and the TAs. It is a place for the learners to ask questions about course materials. Other learners should be encouraged to answers questions posed by their peers. Work to foster a dialogue around each question posed in this forum and take the time to post addition resources in the context of the questions being discussed.
3. Create a balance between individual and group work activities in the course. If learners will be working in groups, explain when/how the group rosters will be formed. Provide each group with its own private discussion forum. Provide some guidelines on effective virtual team-work. Include a confidential peer assessment of group work component, for all graded group-based assessment tools.

4. Design the course with the appropriate balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities that work for the learning outcomes in your course.

5. Provide netiquette and guidelines on how best to participate in the graded discussion forum, if applicable.

6. Post a weekly summary or weekly welcome message. Highlight aspects of the course that have just occurred or are about to be developed in the coming week.

7. Ask learners for feedback early in the course (about 25% of the way through). This early feedback can help inform minor course modifications that may have a high impact on learner satisfaction. It will show the learners that you care about the quality of their experience.

So there’s my list. Do you have any good points that can be added to this? Leave a comment below.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Week 1 Teaching Online is Critical - A Recipe for Making the Connection with your Learners

Connecting with Learners is the topic of Week 2 for the Teaching Online MOOC. It's a very important topic in technology-mediated distance education. Setting the tone from the beginning is an effective way to close the transactional distance between the instructor and the students, who many never meet each other physically during the semester. How do you do it effectively? Well - it's not an exact science and there is more than one way to accomplish this task. Do you want to see how I do it?

I do it in three parts:

Part 1. I write an email message to the students the week before class. The purpose is five-fold: 1) to confirm their email address on file is correct, 2) to share my contact information, 3) to share a link to a 10-minute video intro of the course, 4) to share some ground rules of the course, 5) to give them a task of preparing a personal bio/intro for themselves, and 6) to share the Course Outline.

Part 2. As I mentioned in Point 1 above, I make a 10-minute video intro for the course. It's purposefully and simply just a talking head on YouTube. I spend time giving them my perspective on the course and the online course delivery method. The goal is to convey that together we are a learning team and I try to break down some of the anxiety issues that they might be feeling about taking a course online.

Part 3. In the email message I send out before class, I ask them to prepare a personal bio/intro (and I give them specific criteria to include). The goal of the activity is to establish Social Presence in the course and I try to inject a somewhat humourous and casual aspect to the activity. Here's the key: I model the activity on the course website BEFORE students have access to the course website so that when they first logon and look around, they see my version of the activity laid out for them. Modelling has the result of encouraging the desired community-building behaviour. Then as the first few days of class unfold, I make it a point to reply to each intro to try to build connections. Again, I do this in hopes that other students follow suit, and invariably a sub-set do!

So in the spirit of sharing, below you will find a copy of an Introductory Email message I sent out this term to students in my Basic Chemistry course. Also, find my 10-minute video below too.

What tools/techniques/strategies/approaches do you use when connecting with learners in the first week of your online class? Share your comments below.

---body of email message below---


I confirm that as of today (Sunday August 25th) that you are one of the 22 students registered in CCE106: Basic Chemistry at RMCC. The course is web-enabled and in 6 or 7 days you will be able to access the class website at I am not 100% certain when students are given access to the class website - it could be as late as the first day of class: next Tuesday September 3rd. If by Tuesday you still do not have access to the class website, then please call the RMCC IT Help Desk: 1-866-677-2857 for assistance.

ACTION REQUIRED: I would ask that each of you please confirm receipt of this message so that I can be assured the correctness of your email address that is on file.

Let me give you several ways with which you can contact me during this term: Email:

Office Hours / Face-to-face or telephone: by appointment

Instant Messaging Services:
GTalk: (no email here please)
Facebook: Eric Tremblay in Kingston, Ontario (add me on LinkedIn too!)

In addition, I am required to remind you of the RMCC Academic Honesty Policy which reads:

"Academic misconduct, including plagiarism, cheating, and other violations of academic ethics, is a serious academic infraction for which penalties may range from a recorded caution to expulsion from the College. The RMCC Academic Regulations Section 23 defines plagiarism as: “Using the work of others and attempting to present it as original thought, prose or work. This includes failure to appropriately acknowledge a source, misrepresentation of cited work, and misuse of quotation marks or attribution.” It also includes “the failure to acknowledge that work has been submitted for credit elsewhere.” All students should consult the published statements on Academic Misconduct contained in the Royal Military College of Canada Undergraduate Calendar, Section 23."

When preparing assignments, if any questions arise about how to interpret this policy please ask me BEFORE you submit your assignment. In this case, asking for advice before submitting an assignment is far better than asking for forgiveness after the fact.

Please find attached the CCE106 Course Manual that will serve as the syllabus for the course. If you have not already done so, you should order the required textbook for the course. Details are found in the Course Manual. Also, I made a quick video Intro to the course. Check it out: (if that link doesn't work, try this one: ) Let me know what you think. I have also posted an Welcome Message on the class website. Because you don’t yet have access to the class website yet, I copied it below for you.

I'm looking forward to learning with you really soon.

Take care


---copy from course website---

Welcome Everyone to CCE106. I am Eric Tremblay and I will be your instructor this term. Feel free to read my bio or view the Intro Video post to the main page of this course.

I am really looking forward to a fun semester of learning. In order to kick it off on the right foot, I have a few ground rules to explain and requests to make.

Ground Rules

Rule #1. Learning is fun. If you don’t want to have fun, then drop this course right away. (*smile*) I’m a jovial person. I try to be positive-minded and I crack the odd joke here and there. Also, I’m the kind of person that loves learning – I have been doing it my entire life. I love it because I find it very enjoyable and challenging. And who doesn’t enjoy a good challenge anyway? So I hope you are prepared to mix a little fun in your learning this semester – even in an online course! I sure am.

Rule #2. Please leave your rank at the door. If your rank is General, then with all due respect, I will not call you ‘Sir’ during the offering of this course. I understand that rank has its place; however, in my classroom everyone is equal – including the instructor. So I would like everyone to simply call me ‘Eric’. Please, no emails calling me ‘Professor Tremblay’ or ‘Sir’ or anything like that. Just plain old ‘Eric’ works for me. In return, I will address you by your first name also.

Rule #3. What happens in the classroom stays in the classroom. This particular ground rule is better suited for a humanities course than a science course, but I am still going to state it here. I taught a Bioethics class in the past and some pretty personal and heart-felt comments were uttered by some members during class time. It’s important to always be aware that if someone shares with you a sensitive/personal anecdote during the course of this class, that that occurrence is not a license for you to broadcast this personal information across the CF or at your work. Let’s keep the classroom a safe place for us to share whatever we wish with each other in the context of the subject matter being studied.

Rule #4. Respect other people’s contribution to the class and do not fear mistakes. We are all responsible for collectively learning the material for CCE106 this semester. We are all here to help each other and invariably some of us are going to know more about the subject matter than others. Be mindful that everyone is a valuable member of this class and that we all have learning to do. In addition, remind yourself that we all make mistakes – and that’s ok, in fact, I encourage it! Myself included. Just because I am the instructor does not mean I am the ‘God of Chemistry’ (*grin*). I am far from that and I will make mistakes during the term. Remember that old John Powell quote: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” So when it comes to learning, mistakes are a necessary part of the equation. In the context of the lab experiments this term, you may end up making some mistakes while conducting the procedures – that’s ok. Take a deep breath, count to 10, check to make sure you have enough supplies to start again, re-read the instructions and then start again. It’s normal.

Rule #5: Extensions. From time to time our personal and professional lives infringe too greatly on our studies. In those cases you may need an extension on an assignment or a lab. I do grant them in some warranted cases. So if you request an extension please supply an excellent reason and propose a new due date for your assignment/lab. I carefully consider each request and I will get back to you quickly with my decision. If I decide not to grant your request, be advised that I do accept assignments and labs late. In the course material, a daily late penalty is defined for each assignment/lab which will allow you to submit things late if you wish. There are some types of extension requests which I never honour: 1) extension requests that come in on the actual due date of assignment/lab, and 2) extensions on extensions. In these cases, late penalties will begin to accrue. I hope you see the fairness in this system.

Rule #6. Know your netiquette. This course is not heavily rooted in weekly discussions but there may be times when we want to talk about a current event or something so be sure to understand the etiquette for online discussion. Sarcasm does not translate well in writing. So if you want to make a joke, then please give us a visual cue. Use things like emoticons, smilie faces, bracket comments like (*grin*) or (*smile*), or the abbreviations ‘j/k’ for ‘just kidding’ or ‘lol’ for ‘laugh out loud’.

Ok, those are my 6 ground rules, now it’s time for two requests.

Request #1: During the first week of class, I would like you to post a message in the main discussion forum introducing yourself. The message must cover the following topics: a) Your name
b) Your current occupation
c) Your geographic location
d) [Optional but highly encouraged] Basic information about your family status. For example, “I am single”, or “I have a wife and two boys, ages 3 and 7”, etc.
e) Why you are taking this course
f) One (or more) interesting ‘fun facts’ about yourself. Examples might include, “I have eleven iguanas”, “I once had beers with Tom Cruise”, "My hobby is playing World of Warcraft", or “I was the first Canadian to play drums on a tour with the band KISS”, etc. You get the idea. (*smile*)
g) Your favourite music band or singer.
h) Post a picture (or a link to a video!) of yourself as an attachment to your message.

Request #2: During the 15 weeks that we will be learning together, if you travel anywhere on vacation (or on Temporary Duty), you must then post a picture of yourself while on this trip in the discussion forum and you must tell us a little about it. I love to hear about people’s vacations/travel when I take an online course. It reaffirms to me that online learning is a great way to study because it still allows time for ‘real life’ and doesn't force you to be in one place all the time. (*smile*)

Ok, so, enough typing from me for the moment.

Again - Welcome Everyone to CCE106!