Online Learning, Teaching

Advice for Teaching at Scale Online

There are a growing number of learners online. The recent report, The Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) from Quality Matters, shared that “more than 2.1 million fully distance undergraduates (12% of total) and 770,000 fully distance graduate students (26% of total) are online learners.” Over the last three years, I have been working completely online as a faculty member and with a distributed research group. I am also fortunate to collaborate remotely with scholars and practitioners to study talent development in higher ed (e.g. mentoring). Much of my work centers around how we support working and learning online in higher ed. Besides investigating how learners persist in open online environments (Veletsianos, Reich, & Pasquini, 2016) I am also concerned with how networked experiences impact/influence our higher education practice. Previously I shared how I support online learners, but many of you might not realize I instruct A LOT of students each academic term. So this post dedicated to the behind the scenes way to scaffold the LOGISTICS of teaching a LARGE ONLINE COURSE and how to support MANY DISTRIBUTED LEARNERS. This post comes with a strong caveat: I am still learning. Always.

First, identify your instructional NEEDS as you organize your large online course. You will need to establish a team of support, that might include: instructional designers, instructional technologist, graders, industry mentors, and/or teaching assistants (TA’s). Do you need help grading assignments? Is there one project you want external reviewers/peers to support, evaluate, or be a part of your lesson? Will you need aid in encouraging social learning through discussion forums, team wikis, or other group activities? Are you looking to redesign a section or project in your course? Try to set this up before the term (if available/teaching assignments are set early enough) and continue to assess the pulse of my teaching team support. I am grateful for colleagues who have joined my class to present, speak, mentor, or offer peer review of final projects. I have also been quite fortunate in working with some amazing teaching assistants/graders (repeatedly) from our doctoral program over the last few semesters. Now that these folks have to focus on their own research scholarship to Ph-inishe-D their dissertation, I am currently thinking about how I manage remote workers for distributed instructional support. Here are my “notes” for training/onboarding new online learning TA’s & graders:

  • Setting Expectations: Establish standards and norms within the instructional support team – including orientation to the course site, review of learning modules, a copy of syllabus with key points highlighted, learning outcomes, and course schedule.
  • Grading Tools & Resources: Identify the means and methods for grading and learning support — this includes division of labor into cohorts/sections, grading rubrics for all assignments, and sample feedback to give for each course activity/assignment.
  • Communication: Organize time and/or spaces to “talk.” This could be a regular meeting schedule to host a synchronous web conference/phone/Skype chat, open/online office hours on-demand for 1:1 meetings, backchannel conversation (e.g. Slack, Yammer, Google chat), and send regular reminders to the group by email for longer instructions/information.
  • Shared Digital Work Spaces: Outline virtual spaces to support the instructional team. Virtual teaming can help with grading, e.g. shared Gooogle Docs for feedback/comments/suggestions for assignments, shared file system for saving assignments/projects, and other spreadsheets/collaborative tools or platforms you might use to “work” beyond the learning management system(LMS) or course site.
  • Learner Support: Create common communication practices among the team (group email) and expectations for responding to learner messages/email is critical. To be firm and fair, we must be consistent with assignment deadlines (I hold a no late work policy, outside of health/emergency situations) and we do our best to answer messages from learners in 24-48 hours and TA’s/graders copy (“cc”) the lead instructor on email conversations with learners.  Each course has a “Peer-to-Peer Support” discussion forum where learners can ask questions, get advice, post articles or resources, work out issues from a module, etc. with their classmates. The TA’s and I will “check-in” on these to see if all questions have been answered with the correct information. Finally, we identify when and how synchronous online meetings (group advising, mini-lessons, or office hours) should occur — based on the section of the course and/or inquiries for assignments.

Second, organize your online course WITH your learners in mind, that is your direct instruction, learning objects, and engagement activities. Similar to the planning notes I shared about the instructional team management, offering similar strategies for support are key for working with my online learners (listed above).  Here are my notes for what my regular

  • Start with Orientation: Think about both pedagogical design and delivery as you structure a large online course. Consider how will orient, support, and communicate with your learners over the semester. Introduce them to sections of your syllabus, key areas to move through the course, and where to get access to help on campus and online. Also, be sure to identify the learning spaces,  support resources, and design components required to be an effective learner within your course.
  • Get to Know Your Learners: Assess who is in your class. Do you know who is in your class? Why are they taking this course? Is it required, an elective, or other?  I often have my students complete a Google form to share information about themselves and experiences with online learning, the subject matter, and to identify their own learning goals at the beginning of the term (e.g. from Spring 2017: http://bit.ly/ltec3010sp17). Understand where and how your learners are approaching this course and their motivation/goals for the semester. Keep their goals and backgrounds in mind with your learning content.
  • Share Valuable & Timely Information: Produce weekly reminders of readings, activities, and assignments help to provide multiple insights and ideas around the topic of the module or week’s lesson. Often I collect (and tweet) multiple resources on a class hashtag ( e.g. my instructional design/facilitation course hashtag #LTEC4440) and I will highlight a couple of key readings/articles/videos/podcasts in the regular weekly course announcement/email that is pushed out to my students. that might be relevant for my students.
  • Build a Community of Support: In a scaled online course, you need to set your learners up to interact with peers online to enhance their social interaction and offer assistance. If you do not set these up, then you are setting up yourself for multiple messages, open boundaries, and unrealistic expectations for all in a large, distributed course. Consider looking at your learning activities and curriculum design to see if you currently support the followings types of interactions to offer more engagement in your course (Sheridan & Kelly, 2010):
  1. Learning–content interaction: Do your students engage and interact with your course content to make dig deeper into the subject? How are you helping learners make meaning with learning objects they interact with online? Are they reflecting, curating, discussing, applying, or analyzing your course materials and not just consuming information? Learners who interact with learning content tend to get a higher grade (Zimmerman, 2012).
  2. Learner–learner interaction:. Peer support is everything in online learning. I leverage the Peer-to-Peer Support for discussion forums, team projects, research proposals on wikis, feedback on video presentations, and more! Your learners often like to collaborate and share ideas on challenging concepts with multiple platforms. How will you support this type of virtual teaming?
  3. Learner–instructor interaction: How are you “present” in your online class at the instructor? Being visible online is critical for your students learning outcomes. Learners often are motivated and enthusiastic about your course, if they see you are present online. This might be participating in discussion forums, offering video or audio feedback to assignments, summarizing modules in advance, and perhaps offering synchronous (+recorded/archived) online class meetings for feedback, questions, and more. I keep track of announcements and media files that I can utilize in the future with very little edits and related transcripts for accessibility needs.
Rhizo15, Teaching

Being Content Without Content {#Rhizo15 Week 3 Catch Up}

The irony from my last #Rhizo15 post = having to grade multiple assignments for the end of the semester. I should have seen that one coming. I set it up that way. Lesson learned. That being said, I have put a great more thought on my curriculum, with regards to evaluation, assessment, and, #Rhizo15 week three’s topic, CONTENT.

Dave’s prompt for Week 3: The Myth of Content and “Content is People” first made me think of Soylent Green is People, and then how most educators (myself included) tend to drive our students to learn based on the content over any other approach.

infographic_content_with_content

We create learning modules, assign specific readings, designate topics for lectures, and require discussion posts with specific content in mind. If a course was just a textbook or a course pack to read, then why teach? What would it be like to focus a class on a general topic? How can you offer a structure of learning for participation, inclusion, and knowledge sharing?

“We are all so much bigger than the content we teach. Perhaps that would go on our subjective portfolios and resumes – the place where all the really important things are listed and never realized.”  {Well said, Ron!}

It’s great to see how content can come “from the people” and present itself in a democratic way. I like the resources, references, and ideas shared from the #rhizo15 community. This is how we are modeling content by the learners. I suppose #Rhizo15 is a solid example of this, but can we do this within our disciplines and for our own courses? I would like to think so… and this summer, I might just have to test out the #rhizo15 waters with a new course I am picking up to teach:

LTEC 4000: Principles of Training and Development:. This course investigates the design, delivery and evaluation of training and development programs, specifically with regards to the relationship of modern technology and training theories.

In considering this strategy, I know I’ll need to create a framework for sharing, outline the purpose of the course, consider effective evaluation strategies, and offer a type of learning structure for my online students. My program typically has a wide-range of adult learners who share fantastic experiences and get to apply strategies from class to the workplace. Every semester, I learn a great deal when my learners to talk in discussion threads, blog posts, journal entries and on Twitter. I really am looking for my learners to embrace continuous learning in the workforce through discovery, curiosity, and inquiry.

I do have the same sentiments/questions shared by Mr. Misterovich:

  • Is critical thinking truly cognitive development or is it more socially guided?
  • In other words, should we not expect certain age groups to easily think critically because their brain development is not ready for it?
  • Or is critical thinking more of a cultural/social development?
  • If we choose to do so, could we introduce critical thinking earlier and start students stepping up the developmental stages earlier?

I look forward to the contributions my students will provide for training and development, and my own challenges/developments as I work on a “content-less” course. To be blogged about…

Learning, Reflections, Rhizo15, Teaching

Measure This, #Rhizo15!

If you are teaching a course or conducting a training, those providing and taking ALWAYS want to know how you will measure success, learning, and performance. ALWAYS. What’s the bottom line? What’s the ROI? What’s the learning outcome? How will we know our learners have learned or our training participants “get it”? GRADES. SCORES. NUMBERS. STATISTICS.

This week Dave reminds #Rhizo15: “Learning is a not a counting noun.”

I am tardy in this post for a number of reasons (#et4online and #Fiachra40Fest, I’m looking at you). Without even knowing it, we actually had a late night discussion post-fire pit sing-song at the #et4online conference. {How did you get in our heads, Dave? Well done, sir.} Let me share a bit of that post-ukulele, harmonizing chat for you here.

FireSide

If you think about it, our learners are programmed to believe a grade informs their knowledge but is this actually the case? Grades evaluate an outcome; however it might not really mean learning. Do you know if your learners make meaning, identify value, or apply their knowledge beyond the assignment or specific course requirement? Grades have been there to offer benchmarks, set standards of evaluation, and help instructors measure FOREVER.

“You actually believe in grades?” asked Pete (a.k.a. @allistelling)

Great question. I thought about it. My response: Not really. As a faculty member, I have to provide an outcome or a grade for my students – but that is the university requirement and standard for our department. Our academic institutions require a numbered measurement to move forward in degree programs; however it is really the process of development, fine-tuning, and involvement where I see my students “learn” the most. For our students, a number is easy. It places them in a particular level or understanding of “how am I doing in the course?” Often they look at their learning in comparison to one another, and to figure out if they are “measuring” up to the learning standards. We could do better to “show you know” in other ways beyond a numbered evaluation. Really.

I am thinking more about the grades or non-grades in a couple of my courses. Two of my online courses are very much project/portfolio based, where the final product is built throughout the whole semester. My presentation class #LTEC4121 has a “TED” talk and short demonstration video, and my instructional design/facilitation #LTEC4440 class is building a 5-week online training proposal. Both of these assignments are very applied and relevant for my students; however a number of my learners are being pushed outside the comfort zone for their projects. Although most of the course evaluation (the numbers) are weighted towards the final projects, a few students will leave this course or give up based on early grade assignments. They are concerned about their GPA in this course, their cumulative GPA, etc. Those who stick past the first few weeks actually stop asking me about the numbers. Which is great! They want to know more about shooting film and editing, or considerations for putting media into their training course program. At the end of the course, I am impressed by their projects and final videos they deliver, here are a few examples of technical demonstration created last Fall 2014 :

In our fireside conversation, we talked about the value of developing artifacts, engaging in the peer-review process, how collaborative input matters, and working through revisions leads to understanding. With grades or marks (I’ll be inclusive to my Canadian & US colleagues), educators (myself included) often forget to model learning as a process. Learning should be developmental. As instructors, we need to remember to have our learners build upon previous knowledge and apply their learning beyond our course. There should be an opportunity for our learners to take risks, make mistakes, and pick up the pieces for the course and beyond. Making learning as not a number is not easy – for both the instructor and the students. There will be confusion and possibly frustration; however you have to be willing to work through the learning process with your students. I am thinking of just grading early items as complete or not, and providing feedback for their final projects. I am also considering what really needs to be accounted for in a letter or percentage grade, with regards to their final project developments. Finally, I do want to give credit for my students who have collaborated and learned on a local level. I have witnessed a number of connections thrive beyond a semester or course, as they support one another in work, life, and then some. Perhaps it is time to get rid of a few numbers to meaure what matters for learning for my next term… it would help with all the grading that I am now going to work on now.

p.s. If you are into learning about learning, it’s not too late to join the #Rhizo15 conversation… better late than never.

Higher Education, Reflections, Teaching

Rethinking Office Hours

Office hours were designed to offer a space and place for learners to meet with their faculty. The practice of holding a “office hours” at every higher education campus, and even within a single department, varies drastically. Some institutions/departments set guidelines, whereas others see this as a service expectation that will automatically be assumed by the faculty member.

silly questions

Image c/o Flame @ KZK

The basic idea of faculty office hours was to carve out time to be available for your students. This set time each was is designated for the instructor to be in a physical, set space to offer support and assistance for courses, research, etc. In reality we know that only “a small number of students take advantage of office hours, [and] typically those who show up are not those who most need to be there (Weimer, 2015a). With increased use of technological communications, our students prefer to send a quick electronic message [email, learning management system (LMS) message, discussion board, text, tweet, etc.], to ask a question, seek advice, or get help.  So how do we “meet and reach” our students who are often juggling more than just school and cannot make the typical “office hour” on campus?  How do we make getting support more convenient for both the instructor and the student?

As an online instructor, I have experimented with a few approaches  the last couple of semesters. Although I work with online, adult learners – I think these strategies could also be useful for other faculty who instruct face-to-face (F2F) or blended learning environments.

A Few Ideas to Rethink Office Hours:

  1. Offer a standard “Office Hour” time slot at least 1-2x per week. This might be the day before assignments are due, or perhaps an evening hour after the typical 9-5 work day. You can indicate availability in your own office, by Skype/phone, IM, or via a web conferencing platform. You decide!
  2. Identify YOUR preferred mode of contact/communication. Let them know HOW and WHEN you will be checking and responding to their messages. Be sure to consider your own communication workflow – then share these expectations for your learners about your preferred protocol for related course communications.  Here are the best ways (in order) for students to contact me:
    • EMAIL: This is BY FAR the recommended method. My students know they will get a response from me within 24-48 hours by e-mail, and they are to include their course name, section, and ID in messages. This also allows me to track and keep a record of our conversations in a student file I save in Outlook.
    • Skype/Google Chat: A few of them have also utilized Skype/Google Chat for a quick instant message (IM) if I am Available (“green”) online.
    • Bb Learn Messaging/Email: I have decided to close the LMS messages on Bb Learn this term, to organize all incoming inquiries from students into my institutional email account.
    • Google Voice: I use a number set up here as my primary office number. Students have used it to leave web voicemails and/or text messages every now and then.
    • Twitter: I have also welcomed the odd Tweet here and there – but often these get tossed into another space for more than 140-characters. More so this is used to share news, information & articles via the course hashtags e.g. #LTEC4440, #LTEC4121, #LTEC4070 and #LTEC3010
  3. Require 1:1 meetings early in the semester (Weimer, 2015b). If possible, have a 1:1 meeting planning in your course schedule to discuss a final project/assignment. You can use this time to check in and allow your students to ask question. This introduces students to your “space” and often encourages them to follow up. Pro Tip: This takes time and organization for your own schedule. Only consider 1:1’s if you can manage it (30 students or less recommended), and if there is a specific purpose within your course design and learning objectives.
  4. Offer class meetings for group advising and support. Provide semi-regular meetings for your students. Ask your learners when a good class meeting time is via Doodle poll to help establish most available times during the semester to host these meetings. My courses often met in the evenings between 6-8 pm and online in a web conference platform (e.g. GoToMeeting, Zoom, etc.) room. These meetings were designed to offer information, updates, and a bite-sized instructional piece for my learners. In previous F2F courses, I had offered this sort of “meet up” after a campus event, in a seminar room, or even an off-campus coffee shop. For my graduate students in smaller classes, we would even conduct peer-review sessions in Google+ hangouts. Include an agenda for the meeting with the topics that will be covered and open discussion. Always solicit questions from your students in advance & leave time for Q & A at the end.
    • Pro Tip: Take questions you received from emails and include them into the class meeting advising sessions. Often learners might be afraid to ask during an open Q & A time, so “plant the question seed.” Students learn from other learner’s questions.
    • My incentives to attend our online (non-required) course meetings = advice on projects/assignments, helpful “how to” or demonstrations, and guest speakers (A BIG thanks goes out to Jess, Josie & Paul this term!).
    • Offer a recording and class notes for those who cannot attend, but want the supplemental information and resources.
  5. Try offering “on demand” office hours. I use helpful scheduling websites with my Google Calendar to set up student meetings. Both youcanbook.me and calendly offer easy ways for learners to schedule 15-, 30- or 60-minute meetings, depending on my own personal work/travel schedule. Example of the calendly appointment scheduler below:

Step ONE

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 6.26.18 PM

 

Step TWOsched

 

Step THREE

book
 Step FOUR

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 6.51.51 PM

  • ProTip: Be sure have your students identify the purpose of the meeting. E.g. I ask, “What specific issue you would YOU like to resolve at our meeting?
  • Dedicated meeting location: Since I lecture online, I decided to keep all my office hour meetings in a set GoToMeeting space that is standard for all my courses. This is included on the course syllabus, class announcements, and, most importantly, it is an accessible location – students can use their web or phone:

LTEC Virtual Office Hours with Dr. Pasquini” Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone. https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/981968477

  • You can also dial in using your phone.United States (Long distance): +1 (213) 289-0012
    Access Code: 981-968-477 

I am still evaluating my own office hour approaches for my distance learners, so please feel free to share your strategies with me. How do you support your learners? What ways have you encouraged your students to connect with you for office hours? Do you have suggestions that I might want to consider for online office hours? Post your suggestions below!

References

Weimer, M. (2015a, February 17). Office hours alternative resonates with students. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/office-hours-alternative-resonates-students/

Weimer, M. (2015b, February 18). Office hours redux. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/office-hours-redux/