Monday, September 30, 2013

Improving Teacher to Student Interaction in Online Courses

Feedback and interaction with students in the online classroom is just as important as it is in the face-to-face classroom but more difficult to facilitate. Teacher to student interaction in online courses requires instructors to be strategic and purposeful in their communication with students. Below are some suggestions to improve the teacher to student communication and interaction in online courses:

  • Announcements: Just as the instructor would make announcements about due dates and upcoming events in the face-to-face class, this type of communication is also important for the online environment. The announcement tool provides a podium for the instructor to dispense information to the entire class. Moodle provides the "News Forum" tool in each online course which enables the instructor to easily post an announcement to all students. The instructor's message is emailed to each student's ISU address and is also posted in the "Latest News" block of the course. You may want to change the name of the "News Forum" to something like "Announcements" and check the settings for the forum to ensure that it is set to "Forced subscription". Suggestions for announcements:
    • Messages at the start of each new week to give students a summary of what will be covered, what the expectations are for participation, and perhaps point them to an item of special interest posted within that week. This will remind students to log in after the weekend and will get them motivated to start working on the assignments.
    • Reminders or clarification on frequently asked questions or areas that the class as a whole seems to be struggling with. For example, if APA style is expected across all assignments, but several students are not using it, you could post something like: "Remember to use APA style in all written assignments. For more information about APA style refer to the following website." Using an announcement for this purpose ensures that all students are given the same important information.
  • Question and Answer Area: This area has been given many different names: Conference Area; Muddiest Point; Water Cooler; or simply Q&A. The Q&A provides a place for students to raise their questions or concerns about the course as a whole or about a specific topic such a where to find a certain resource or for clarification on an assignment. Encourage students to ask questions here instead of emailing them directly to the instructor because the answers may be beneficial to not only themselves but their classmates as well. Having a Q&A area also prevents the same questions from being asked many times and promotes consistent and fair feedback because it ensures that the instructor gives exactly the same answer to all students. To set up the Q&A area, add a simple forum to the main block of the course (the block that contains the course syllabus and News Forum) and in the description explain to the students what this forum will be used for. The instructor may also want to choose "forced subscription" to this forum.
  • Feedback/Comments on Assignments: Students need personal interaction and input from their instructor. A marked grade often does not give enough direction to students to improve their work. Feedback may come in the form of a returned document that the instructor has opened and made annotations on, or it could simply be a typed comment in the feedback box of the graded assignment. To provide an area for feedback and/or comments, when setting up the assignment in Moodle choose the type of instructor feedback under the "Feedback Type" section.
  • Rubrics: To ease student anxiety about how they will be graded on their discussion posts and assignments, use a rubric to list the expectations for a specific grade or point allotment. The implementation of a rubric will assist the instructor with providing fair, consistent, specific, and effective feedback within the course. When grading a long assignment, the instructor can include references to a specific area of the rubric to explain the mark that the student received. The Assignment Activity in Moodle allows the instructor to create and use a rubric as an advanced grading method. The students can have access to the rubric so that they know what the grading criteria will be. For more information access the Handout on using a Rubric Grading Method in Moodle.

More information on improving teacher to student interaction:

A three-minute clip, Interact with Students featuring the program chair from Penn State World Campus, that summarizes how and why faculty involvement with students online differs from, and is just as crucial as in face-to-face classrooms.

How to Provide Fair and Effective Feedback in Asynchronous Courses, provides three solid strategies for communicating with online students, as a class and individually.

Speaking’ to Students with Audio Feedback in Online Courses is about providing feedback to online students using audio feedback for student assignments in place of written feedback.

More Essential and Helpful Resources for Online Instructors - online learning insights blog.

Slideshare presentation, Rubrics for College – The Easy Steps Way,  provides a good overview of rubrics that instructors can create for students—tools that provide clarity and guidelines for student assignments and assessments. The presentation covers the why, and the how of rubric implementation applicable to face-to-face and online environments.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Improving Online Class Discussions

Anyone who has taught an online class knows that one of the biggest challenges is providing tools for student-to-student interaction. Asynchronous class discussions can be a great tool for promoting class participation. However, it can be difficult to get students to participate in the discussions if they don't see a value in it or perceive it as "busy work" instead of a learning tool. Rizopoulos and McCarthy said that "threaded discussions provide virtual learning connections which transcend class hours and provide a dynamic, dialogic learning environment where students reflect, collaborate and discuss real world issues" (2009, p. 373).

Tips for Effective Class Discussions

  • Topic: The instructor needs to incorporate thought provoking discussion topics from the curriculum into the course that will promote interaction and the sharing of thoughts, ideas, and opinions.
  • Rules: To ensure that students stay involved with the discussion throughout the week, set specific guidelines for participation. For example, if the week starts on Sunday, require that the students make their initial post by Wednesday and respond to at least two other people's posts by Saturday. The instructor may also have the ability to prevent students from reading other posts until they have made their initial post (such as the Q&A forum in Moodle).
  • Facilitation: Students can get off topic, so it is the job of the instructor to act as a facilitator within the discussion. This is a delicate balance for the instructor - too much intervention and the students may become intimidated and the discussion will shut down. The instructor should set an example for the students with a few thoughtful posts to redirect the conversation to the topic at hand.
  • Grading: There will be better participation if students receive a grade for their contributions (think of it as a substitution for an in-class participation grade). Generally, discussions are not graded for grammar or other technical parts but instead the grader is looking for the quality of the thought behind the posts. A grading rubric is useful for communicating to students how their posts will be graded. Below is an example from Rizopoulos and McCarthy (2009):
    • 5 Points - Excellent. Insightful and reflective discussion contributions; made an initial post and expanded upon at least two other ideas presented in discussion.
    • 3 Points - Acceptable. Elaboration and contribution to one or two ideas within the discussion.
    • 1 Point - Marginal. Simple insight or contribution to the topic.
  • Group Size: If the class is larger than 20 students it might be beneficial to divide the class into smaller sub-groups for the purposes of discussion. The smaller group sizes (5-7 students per group) will facilitate more robust discussions because it takes less time to read and respond to posts and students can get to know each other better in the small group setting.

More resources on improving your online class discussions:

Lee, C. (2013). 5 tips for hosting online class discussions.

Online Learning Insights - a Blog about Open and Online Education. More essential and helpful resources for online instructors.

Rizopoulos, L.A., & McCarthy, P. (2009). Using online threaded discussions: best practices for the digital learner. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 37(4), 373-383.

Wang, Y., & Chen, V. (2008). Essential elements in designing online discussions to promote cognitive presence - A practical experience. The Sloan Consortium, 12(3-4).

Six-minute video, Conducting effective online discussions from the COFA series Learning to Teaching Online, provides educators with skill development and strategies for managing and facilitating effective online discussions and how to engage students in the process.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Handy Google Search Tools

Google isn't the only search engine available, but over the years Google has developed a search engine designed to make our lives easier when it comes to finding the information we are looking for. Google uses a combination of the OneBox module which directly answers many queries without the user ever needing to click away to an external website, and the Knowledge Graph results that add extra layers of information to each search.

Below is a list of just a few of the Google Search tricks that may save you time in the future:

  • Clock: This Google Search shortcut allows you to see what time it is in any major city around the world without ever having to leave the comfort of the Google homepage.
    • Type: "time [location]". Example: time France
  • Sunset and Sunrise: These Google Search shortcuts allow you to find out what time the sun is due to rise and set on any given day in any given location.
    • Type: "sunrise [location]". Example: sunrise France
    • Type: "sunset [location]". Example: sunset France
  • Demographics: If you need to quickly know how many people live in a particular city, country, or even continent the first search shortcut will be useful for you. You can also look up the unemployment rate in any given location.
    • Type: "population [location]". Example: population France
    • Type: "unemployment rate [location]". Example: unemployment rate France
  • Translation: There is a whole section of Google dedicated to translating one language to another - the Google Translate tool. But you can also use a Search shortcut for single words or short phrases.
    • Type: "translate [words] [language]". Example: translate read carefully french
  •  Timer: You can use Google as a timer if you don't have a stopwatch handy. You can set the timer either for a set amount of time or for a set time in the future.
    • Type: "set timer to [time]". Example: set timer to 5 minutes
    • Type: "set timer for [time]". Example: set timer for 19:00
  • Weather:  To obtain the basic weather forecast for a location without having to leave Google for another website, this shortcut should provide all of the necessary information.
    • Type: "weather [location]". Example: weather Paris
  •  Define: For a quick dictionary look-up of a word, its pronunciation, etc. You can even click the speaker to hear an audio clip on the pronunciation.
    • Type: "define [word]". Example: define pedagogy
  •  Conversion: You can translate various units of measurement.
    • Type: "conversion [1] to [2]". Example: conversion yen to pound
For more tricks for Google Search shortcuts, visit the following articles:
Google Search tips cheat sheet
"Are you SURE you know how to use Google?"
8 Google Search Tips to Keep Handy at all Times