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.
Learning, Learning Community, Rhizo15

Time to Drop the Mic Instructors: Learning Gone Wild {#Rhizo15 Week 4}

Thanks for your#Rhizo15 hack in week 4, Viplav. Your questions really got me thinking:

  • How do we really learn online?
  • How much of control and direction do we need?
  • How much of control do we want when we teach?
  • How do we expect others to learn in such environments?
  • What do we expect of them as co-learners?

For #Rhizo15, a strong and involved learning community, the answers are easier to navigate when we remove the instructor or when “DAVE’S NOT HERE.” With a number of educators who are passionate about learning and entrenched in thinking in #rhizo15, you are bound to keep the conversation going and the learners engaged. For most of us, we have experienced traditional pedagogical models and like the ideas of this sort of free-form learning and ability to dip into the curriculum as we like. Also, it won’t take much for someone to create a video, post a cartoon, record a sound cloud, or throw up a blog post on the topic of getting rid of the instructor. As co-learners, we thrive among the course banter and expect one another to contribute. So getting rid of Dave (metaphorically, of course) in #rhizo15, would not impact this course as much as we think (no offense, Dave).

Now, what would happen if we removed an instructor from a course? This could be online or face-to-face class. How would the learners react? When control is given to the course participants, will it be “Learners Gone Wild” or will our students take up the charge to contribute? My thought: it really depends on the course design.

drop-the-mic

These questions made me think back to my undergraduate days at the University of Guelph (Go Gryphons!), where most of my 4th-year history seminar courses were just that. As per the typical course syllabi, we were assigned weekly readings; however instead of coming to a “sage on a stage” lecture we were required to do the teaching. Each week 1-2 students volunteered  to offer a micro lesson, develop questions, and  facilitate the discussion on a topic. The professor often sat back in the class, and let us drive the critical analysis, synthesize the material, and debate about issues. It was GREAT! I thought – THIS is what learning is all about at university. I want more!

StudentCenteredTheories

Student-centered learning theories & methods for flipped learning (Bishop & Verleger, 2013).

Student-centered learning is the key to deep learning, and although not described as “flipped learning” (Bishop & Verleger, 2013) back then, this is what most of my history faculty did at U of G. If you set up your curriculum to purposefully ALLOW for peer-to-peer learning, then removing the facilitator/instructor from the course may be just what you need. By creating intentional spaces (online or in-class) and opportunities for your students to co-learn, you might just be surprised on how they can bring more life to the course subject. During the course, instructors become facilitators of learning to support students with active learning strategies, such as individual problem-solving and team-based projects.Empowering your learners to take the reigns requires them to be embedded in the discipline of study. When you teach someone else about a concept, it requires a deep understanding of the material before you have to explain or critique it.

This does take some intention and planning in how you set up your course structure. It will be important for you to think about where, how, and when you want to infuse peer instruction and the support required for your learners. Think about how you want learners to contribute, lead, evaluate, and understand. When done well, this type of learning has huge benefits for both the instructor and leaders. There are so many possibilities to create dynamic interactions, meaningful conversations and critical thinking about your subject without your lead. Embrace the idea of “letting go of teaching” to see what might happen in part or all of your class. You might be pleasantly surprised at what YOU will learn from your students. Be sure to answer the following questions before you “drop the mic” as an instructor (adopted from Hoffman, 2014):

  • What positive opportunities can student-lead instruction offer your students?
  • How can instructors benefit from creating a cooperative learning experience?
  • What are the possible challenges students and instructors might with peer-assisted learning, and how might they be avoided?
  • What are evidence-based practices for learning environment without an instructor?

Interested in joining the #Rhizo15 world late or want to be part of the conversation and not just a lurker? Dave’s got a guide for that:

  1. This is a list of all rhizo15 blog posts
  2. Pick a title that resonates – click on it.
  3. Leave a comment
  4. Approach mirror, give the person in the mirror a high five
  5. Return contentedly to previous activity
Check out the course website http://rhizomatic.net or go to the hashtag on twitter #rhizo15
Also, you can write late blog posts (like me!) on any of the weekly topics.

For those #Rhizo15 slackers like Kevin & me (well, myself more so), we’re working on said things. The Slackers #Rhizo15 Guide will be available… when we get around to it. 🙂

Slacker's #Rhizo15 Guide... to comeCartoon via @dogtrax (Thanks, Kevin!)

 References:

Bishop, J. L., & Verleger, M. A. (2013). The flipped classroom: A survey of the research. In Proceedings from the 120th ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, GA.

Hoffman, J. G. (2014). The functionality and feasibility of flipping. Proceedings from the 25th International Conference on College Teaching and Learning, (pp. 112-126). Jacksonville, FL

Learning Community, Professional Development, Social Media

Open Learning Courses: EC&I 831 and CCK09

Summer always leads to much needed time outdoors and away from the computer. It’s nice to be off the grid, but also good to plug in and reconnect with friends and learning ideas online.

To kick off the new academic year, online education, and career development I have signed up for a couple of online, open education courses to compliment the grad program I start this fall.

open

Here are the two courses that I am connecting with mid-September:

1. Connectivism & Connective Knowledge 2009 (CCK09)

This course is led by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. The CCK08 Syllabus and supporting content can be found on the CCK09 Wiki.

You can register to receive course information here. Learners can also get formal credit as part of the Certificate in Emerging Technologies for Learning can enroll through University of Manitoba’s Extended Education Faculty. The course will begin on September 14, 2009.

2. EC & I 831: Social Media & Open Education

This is an open access graduate course from the Faculty of Education, University of Regina by Dr. Alec Couros. Although this courses is for credit, there is also an opportunity for participation from non-credit students. All lectures in this course, from September 15/09 to December 8/09 will be publicly available. To access the lectures, look for the appropriate date under “Synchronous Sessions“, then look for the weekly Elluminate link. I will also offer the appropriate Elluminate link via tweet via @courosa.

If you’re looking to learn from interesting and experienced educators, while connecting to peers and resources online, than one or both of these courses may be of interest to you. Sign up & join in the fun. Although I’ll be busy with work & school, I’ll be sure to continue to share my thoughts, ideas and resources that I learn here.

If you are currently interacting and learning from another open course… please share. Happy open learning!

Learning Community, Learning Technologies, Professional Development

Exploring the Future of Courses

Exploring the Future of Courses: From Course to Dis/Course is a short, online (FREE) conference May 14 & 15, 2009. Anyone is able to join in the session presentations & discussions that delve into the topic of online learning and course content that is shared in Elluminate & in Moodle.

Current course models of development, creation and sharing is in question for our learners. Many challenges and changes to digital technologies will impact how to best design course content.

Today’s presentations included:

Most of the sessions discussed how educators are managing the challenges new technology presents and its effect on current course models, data-driven material and learner needs in a digital.

For those of you who could not attend today, be sure to join in online tomorrow OR catch up with the conversation online. If are not able to tune in live, be sure to follow along in Twitter, Delicious or blogs with the hash tag – #disc09

[The sessions in Elluminate will be recorded and archived shortly.]

Great question posed by George Siemens, towards the end of his presentation, to further ponder:

“What is the vital currency of education in a world where the information cycle is no longer controllable?”