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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Email Nazi's Favorite Article of the Year

Those of you who know me from my earlier days at CCCOnline know that I tend to be a bit of a fanatic about email. . .particularly what I consider poor use of email. Many of us get hundreds of emails a day, requiring a great deal of time to process.

The ProfHacker column in today's Chronicle references an Email Charter created by Chris Anderson of TED. This charter presents 10 rules designed to reduce the time we spend dealing with email. I'm making an end-of-year resolution to adopt these rules!

Some of these rules are simply a condensed version of business writing 101. . .be clear, be concise, make it easy for your recipient to respond. Others are geared specifically toward email communication, such as avoiding logos or signatures in your emails that appear as attachments to your recipients, or using the subject line for your entire message.

Rule #9 is probably my biggest failing. I always feel like I need to send that response that simply says, "Thanks!" So from this point forward, please understand that I DO thank you for whatever it is you did for me or responded to in a previous message, so I'm not going to clutter up your inbox with an email that says so!

Happy holidays to you all.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Face to Face is For Special Occasions

My thoughts exactly!

There was a time when the only way you could listen to music, watch a play or a sporting event, or attend a class was live and face-to-face, because there were no ways to transmit or record these events electronically. Quite clearly those days are gone and we are the richer for it.
Read the whole post.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Just got back from the ACTE (Association of Career and Technical Educators) conference in St. Louis. Have you ever had butter cake? It's my new favorite dessert. And maybe my new favorite meal!

That aside, however, what I really wanted to share with you today was some insight from Sir Ken Robinson. He is the author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, as well as Out of Our Minds, a book on creativity and innovation. Sir Robinson spoke at our opening general session. He was very funny, but he also made a number of sobering points about education.

His general theme is that our schools fail to recognize anything beyond society's standard definition of intelligence or learning. (His talk reminded me of the concept of multiple intelligences, to a degree). He laments that we continue to try to teach the same way today that we taught hundreds of years ago--and that in the process, we are alienating millions of students and convincing them that education is boring, old-fashioned, and unnecessary to anything of interest or use to them.

You Tube has an animated video of a presentation given by Sir Ken. It's fun to watch, and contains much of the information he shared with us at ACTE. Check it out at (The animation also made me want to revise every online lecture note I ever created and build them like this animation is built!)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A National Digital Public Library

An article in the Chronicle last week notes that plans have been underway for some time to develop a national digital public library. The goal of the project is to, "assemble the collections of archives, museums, and universities across the country."

In the last year, planning has apparently become more serious, with a target date of April 2013 to have it "up and running." It appears that there is cooperation among a number of organizations to provide funding AND to provide access to a variety of digital collections, with Sloan and Arcadia currently serving as the primary funding sources.

It's an intriguing idea, and of course, entirely possible technologically. Many challenges exist, however, as shared by Doron Weber, vice president for programs at the Sloan foundation:

"There's a massive amount of physical, logistical meetings that have to take place in the next 18 months," he said. It will be essential to get firm commitments from institutions about what they're willing to make part of the library. "Right now we have phenomenal support from most of the institutions in the country," he said. "I think it's always hard when you have to get very specific about what collections are in and what collections are out."

While the Chronicle article is password protected, there are several articles online about the concept, as well as a Wiki that houses planning information ( and the DPLA page (

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blackboard "Share" Feature

Loved today's announcement that Blackboard with incorporate a "share" button into the system, allowing faculty to choose to openly share course content. It will be interesting to see how and when this is implemented and what kind of control faculty will have over what exactly they wish to release. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Teaching Without 18 Graduate Hours in a Subject? GASP!

"But here, it's O.K. that I don't know something. I can figure it out, and my job is to help the students do the same thing. It's very collaborative." This quote from Sarah Benson, an art history and comparative literature professor at St. John's College, refers to her experience teaching geometry at the request of her college. She begins by noting that, "There is bit if imposter syndrome." Ms. Benson was asked to teach geometry precisely because she knew very little about it. Now THAT'S placing trust in your faculty!

"As much of academia fractures into ever more specific disciplines, this tiny college still expects--in fact, requires--its professors to teach almost every subject, leveraging ignorance as much as expertise."

This article, "Seeing Value in Ignorance, College Expects Its Physicists to Teach Poetry," from the October 16 edition of The New York Times Education Edition,  truly fascinated me, particularly with the current emphasis not only in Colorado but around the county on the requirement that faculty have multiple hours or even an advanced degree in any area in which they wish to teach.

St. John's president and board apparently believe that we learn (and teach) best those things of which we are ignorant. The degree to which this college has eschewed what most of us see as the "norm" in higher education (far beyond even the concept of teaching something in which the faculty member is not degreed) is fascinating , and this article makes me wonder if these folks might have at least part of the solution to our concerns about teaching students to think critically.

Monday, October 10, 2011

David Wiley on what's missing from OER

From Iterating Toward Openness, The Primary Challenge of the OER Movement:

1. The Complete and Utter Lack of Assessment in the OER Space. Humans are famously terrible at judging whether they’re “getting it” or not during learning. One of the primary reasons the CMU OLI courses are (and have been shown to be) so incredibly effective in supporting learning is because they include frequent formative assessments that help learners check their own understanding. These assessments provide immediate feedback, allowing informal learners to determine with greater confidence whether or not they’re “getting it.”
The vast majority of OER in the world do not include any assessments.
I think there is more agreement of what is good content than there is on what is good assessment, so perhaps assessment is more difficult.  If content is used for multiple reasons does that change what should be assessed or how it should be assessed?


Monday, September 26, 2011

Lunch and Learn

Thinking about 30 minute lunch and learn topics.  I have three to come up with for the fall.....

Discussions - this one would run over the different types of discussions, why and when to use them, how to grade them, etc.  Needs a catchy title.

Orientations - CMC requires online faculty to do an orientation of some sort.  Here I'd talk about the different ways faculty orient students to their courses, from elluminate, to Voice Thread, phone, etc.

What's up in Online Learning:  the new LMS, new online course standards, new online course observation form.  Really just an opportunity to ask questions and make comments.

That leaves all of the fun stuff for the spring.  I need some new technology topics, course design topics.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What to do with Lectures?

You spend a lot of time perfecting the lectures you give in face-to-face classes... that should mean you need something similar in the online classroom.  Why do you include lectures in your teaching repertoire though?  What is the purpose exactly?  
  1. Clarify the sticky parts of the course.
  2. Add material that is not included in the text.
  3. Emphasize the material that is most important.
  4. Keep momentum going in the course.
  5. Add applications and current events.
I am sure there are other reasons for lecture as well, plus you use class time to go over exams and homework, have students do group work, etc.  

There are several places to put lectures in an online course.  First, you could develop a set of taped or written lectures (say Powerpoint with voice-over) and put them in an specific content place.  Clearly this is a good way to handle anything that can be developed once and used for several semesters.  It is a good way to add any material missing from the textbook and to clarify sticky spots in the course.  On the other hand it doesn't do anything for momentum and current events.

You can develop a weekly (or twice or thrice weekly) announcement - again either written or recorded - that discusses current material.  In Blackboard this can work particularly well because you can automatically email each announcement to students.  This reminds them they are in a class and that they need to stay abreast of requirements.  The drawbacks are that email doesn't handle video well and that the announcements are also a good place to handle the housekeeping details -- due date reminders and such.

Last is the discussion option.  You can break your lectures up into sections and use them as discussion starters.  To do this start a discussion thread with the first part of a lecture, ending with a question or two that you commonly ask students.  Discuss that for a day or two, then post the next lecture section, again ending with a question or two.  This can be very labor intensive, but is fairly effective.  

The other option is to break the lecture into sections and post each as an individual discussion thread.  For some reason though the multiple discussion threads seem to be off-putting or frightening to students.  It also eliminates some of the conversational aspects of the single thread as too many student respond in the same way to each question instead of moving on.

Personally I use all of the above, depending on the type of material.  What's your favorite place for lectures?


Monday, September 19, 2011

Gamers solve medical problem

"Online gamers have achieved a feat beyond the realm of Second Life or Dungeons and Dragons: they have deciphered the structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus that had thwarted scientists for a decade."


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Student Engagement and Student Achievement

I've read a couple of articles lately about student engagement versus student achievement.  Clearly they aren't the same thing, but for years we've worked on adding student engagement to our online classes (usually through the latest cool Web 2.0 tool) on the theory that student engagement leads to student achievement.  A recent article in Faculty Focus written by Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti asked the question "Is there too much interaction in your online courses?"  The research she quoted panned learner to learner interaction.  I was left with a couple of questions though - I wanted to see what learner to learner interaction was expected of students.  

For years we've all added discussion areas to our courses on the theory that building a community of learners will increase course completion rates.  And I think they probably do increase success rates, if they are carefully designed.  On the other hand there are a lot of discussions in courses that really aren't discussions -- they are a lot more like busy work.  Particularly in first year community college courses it is unrealistic to expect learners to manage a good discussion of the course material on their own.  Valuable discussion happens in the online world the same way it happens in the classroom -- under the guiding influence of the course instructor.  An instructor can help learners apply content to their own lives and can help them move through the content in a timely manner, without wasting everyone's time.  Expecting new learners to do that by themselves is a lot like leaving the classroom for an hour every week and expecting your students to focus on the content in a productive way.  And good luck with that. :^)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Can Students Learn to Learn?

Several articles I've read lately note that we sometimes focus on teaching/learning content to the exclusion of teaching students how to learn the content. Colleges have long recognized that some students need help in learning how to learn, but often the tools provided have been segregated from the "actual" coursework that students complete.

All this makes me wonder if I'm doing enough in my classes to help students learn? Add to that the plethora of teaching tools and techniques I read or hear about daily, and I sometimes feel completely overwhelmed by the possibilities! So many methods for improving learning are available, and it seems that I just don't have the time to do justice to it all! Then I wake from my nightmare and realize that we are all constrained by time and resources, and that even just a little step in class can do a lot to help students learn to learn.

I've blogged here before about an extra-credit project in my accounting classes. I don't typically provide extra credit for a variety of reasons, but this activity is sort of like disguising those yucky vegetables in fruit juice. You don't know how good it is for you when you drink it! I allow students to earn back a maximum of 15 points, 1 out of 2 points missed on each exam question, by demonstrating to me through calculations, examples, or description, that they do indeed understand the question they missed. They like it because it's extra credit, I like it because it encourages students to do something they should be doing to learn anyway.

This link leads to a recent article from Inside Higher Ed that outlines strategies for helping students. "News: Can Students Learn to Learn?" Some great ideas appear here!

Monday, August 15, 2011

End of the Semester

Here we are again--the end of another semester. Last spring I had a remarkable group of students. A few of them had some issues and asked to submit work late, but overall they met the due dates scheduled. This summer, I had many students who wanted to submit work late, and several who are as we speak quite upset with me that I wouldn't "give" them a C, even though they quite obviously didn't demonstrate mastery of the course competencies. I try ever-so-gently to remind them that I don't give grades; they earn them, but some still don't quite get it.

Is it the 10-week term? Maybe I just forget from one short term to another how much more difficult it is for students to stay on schedule. Is it summer? Do students have too many other activities going on? I know in general I would much rather be doing something outside than doing homework.

Whatever it is, I count my blessings for those students who take their education and courses seriously enough to not tell me, "I had four other classes I was working on, so I need to turn my homework for your class in late."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Voice Thread - Demonstrating Online Presence

This is a dry run of a presentation I'm giving tomorrow.  It's rushed because I was worried about time limits on Voice Thread -- I am still using the free account.

Here's the animoto:


Friday, August 5, 2011

Teaching College Math Online

I listened to a fascinating interview with Dr. Maria Anderson of Muskegen Community College on teaching calculus online.  Maria uses Twitter to form a community both for its immediacy and its ease of use.  She comments that it can be easy to get a little detached from exactly what the students are working on at any one time.  To combat this she asks them to tweet a minimum of ten times a week with what they are learning. 

The class uses Jing to post their work, so they can show work without fussing with math and the keyboard.

The interview includes a discussion of how Dr. Anderson uses the discussion boards and why she uses old-fashioned paper and pencil proctored exams.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Massive Open Online Course

 A MOOC is a "Massive Open Online Course." The object of a MOOC is to provide an open, collaborative, self-directed learning experience. It is a "peer-to-peer" exchange of knowledge and information. Inge de Waard, in Learning Solutions Magazine, provides a look at MOOCs and shares some benefits and challenges associated with this learning format in an article titled "Explore a New Learning Frontier: MOOCs."

A June, 2011 article in The Chronicle's "Wired Campus" notes that the University of Springfield hosted a MOOC on the topic of online education and the future of e-learning. Content and discussions appear here:

A site called lists a variety of upcoming MOOCs (, including an upcoming MOOC called "Change: Education, Learning, and Technology.

I don't know that I see MOOCs as an alternative to our current efforts in credit-based elearning, but I did see a note about individuals perhaps strengthening their knowledge of a certain topic through a MOOC and then applying that knowledge to earn credit at a "traditional" university.

I believe I will have to explore an upcoming MOOC and see what it's like. Ms. Ward warns that MOOCs can feel chaotic and that digital literacy is a must. I guess I'm used to chaos, so we'll see! More later as I experience one of these.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Nothing to do with education or e-learning, really. . .

. . .but you've got to check out this video!

These folks have developed a "copy" machine that will replicate 3D objects with moving parts. In the video, they actually copy a crescent wrench that works. I'll have a Dodge Ram 2500, please! :)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cheating Again

The original blog post on cheating has helped generate quite a lot of discussion in the blogosphere on how to design assignments to make plagiarism difficult.  Here's a link to a post with several good ideas:

My favorite:  Presentations. Or maybe Projects. (Discussions are a no-brainer. Of course I think you need to include discussions in your online course.  Where else are you going to discuss the content with your students.  In my mind that is still where a lot of the actual teaching occurs.)  

Today I listened to a presentation on student retention given by Kae Novak of Front Range Community College.  They are using software like Animoto ( and Prezi ( to enliven courses, but are also seeing students begin to use there tools.  How about asking students to use Glogster to develop a poster (  Or discuss connections with Popplet ( Any of these would be difficult to plagiarize. 


Thursday, July 21, 2011


I made a Wordle from my Delicious tags.  Looks like I tag work and knitting, not horses or family things.

Wordle: LisaCS



What to do about student cheating?  It's a challenge for everyone teaching everywhere -- face-to-face and online.  This morning Stephen Downes linked to an article written by a computer scientist teaching in a business school,

He had many comments, but what I found the most useful were his suggestions for assignments that limit plagiarism:
Instead, I plan to use assignments that are inherently not amenable to cheating:

  • Public projects: The database projects that use the NYC Data Mine data (see the projects from 2009 and 2010) is one type of an approach: the projects are public and it would be meaningless to copy a project from a past semester. The risk of public embarrassment is a significant deterrent.
  • Peer reviewing: The other successful project is one in which students research a new technology, and present their findings in class; the only grade they receive is from their peers in the class. The social pressure is so high that most of the presentations are of excellent quality. This year, the student presentation on augmented reality was so amazing that for an MBA class we decided to simply show to the MBA students the recorded presentation.
  • Competitions: In order to teach students how the web works, I ask them to create a web site and get at least 100 unique visitors. The student with the most visitors at the end of the semester gets an award (most often an iPod). I had some great results with this project (e.g., one student created a web site on "How to Kill Nefarian" and got 150,000 visitors over 8 weeks) and some highly entertaining incidents.
I also use standard scaffolding techniques for research papers and other written assignments.  It's still possible to plagiarize, but that makes it a little more difficult.  Requiring current (very current) events topics and data sources also helps.  I'd like to hear from anyone using software such as Voice Thread for online presentations.  My gut says that will help reduce plagiarism and other cheating also, but I don't have any data. 

What do you do to reduce cheating in your classes?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

APUS Webinar Series on Teaching Online in Community Colleges

Mary Dereshiwsky on Keys to Becoming an Effective Online Instructor: Dealing with Challenging Students... and More

Seven Keys to Success
Key 1:  You shouldn't have to be a techie -- find some support.

Key 2:  It's all about continual engagement.  Review the post from her last presentation.

Key 3:  Let them see you mess up -- humanizes you, lessens student fear.

Key 4:  New can be better -- this one might resonate with everyone looking at a change in LMS.  It's a chance to review your course, make some of the changes you have been thinking about.  Stretch is good.

Key 5:  Empathy - walk a mile in their shoes.  Keep being a student, keep taking seminars, keep taking classes.  Be very visible to your students, especially at the beginning of the term.  Respond promptly, post a FAQ, login frequently.  Use a lot of "I" statements.

Key 6:    Be yourself and convey your own personality in your classes.

Key 7:  Get a life!  You need to take one day off each week.  Don't stay online 24/7

Challenging Students

Mary Bart: Dealing with Difficult Online Students,
Trigger #1: Start-up jitters

Your course is different from the last one they took.  Can generate an avalanche of email. Consider reaching out via phone.  Work on humanizing yourself.  Be sure you field questions as quickly as possible - move email to discussion area so everyone can see answers.

If they are "lost" ask them to tell you one thing that is confusing, so you can untangle that one thing. 

Trigger #2: Technology

Ask students to make a back-up plan for getting to class if their computer breaks down (car analogy).  Give them locations of labs, but also help them come up with other alternatives - library, friend, work, etc.  

Make sure students know about extra software early.
Be careful of timezones.

Trigger #3:  Communication Related

Text only causes issues.  Remember you are dealing with a real person.  Bring up hot-buttons early - include a plagiarism discussion.  Share netiquette links.  Walk away if a student slams you and think about it.  Stay polite!  Reach out to the student, use the phone.  Post a reminder to all students. "It's okay to disagree with an idea, but it's not okay to attack a person."

Call on students in the discussion area.  Help them stay active.

Alicia Shepard "A's for Everyone"  at the Washington Post,
Trigger #4:  Challenges of Group Work

Use a group contract. (Developed by the groups.)  It should include an initial plan for conflict resolution.

Trigger #5: PTSD

As many of 31% of the military population who has been deployed my have PTSD.  Many of the 400,000 military students taking classes are taking online classes.  These students may have trouble staying on topic and may have high anxiety.  Habitual flaming may be a signal.  Reach out to them and ask what is bothering them.  Be able to recommend your school's support center.  Call the support center yourself and find out what they recommend.  VA also has resources available online. (APUS is 70% military students, so this is an important topic for them.)


It's not about you.  Keep problems in perspective.  Don't make them personal.  Do some reading and investigation.  Most of the triggers are not about you, they are a part of the student's situation.  Reach out to difficult students in a positive way. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Late Work

The Chronicle has an interesting article on late work, "What it her Grandmother Really DID Die?" by Christopher Hirschler,

The comments are interesting as well.

His solution was to adopt one of the insights of distance learning:  
Rather than saying it is OK to miss a class, for example, professors can adopt strategies of distance learning and independent study to provide alternative assignments that are rigorous and enable students to acquire the requisite knowledge. Such options might be more challenging than the missed class or assignment, thus providing a disincentive to miss class without legitimate, if unexplained, reasons.
Dropped assignments, projects with multiple due dates, built-in "extra" assignments...  all of these strategies enable you to maximize student learning while minimizing the need to assess the relative validity of the variety of student excuses.  This can be critical because sometimes the issue causing a student to be late with an assignment isn't something we would deem important or life-threatening.  It's just the last in a long list of problems and happened to be the one that caused their house of cards to collapse.  Tonight the student skipped your class because their child had a soccer game.  But they didn't get the assignment completed early because their mother was having cancer treatments.  You might have no sympathy for the soccer game, but that might be the excuse you hear.  

Flexible assignments mean the more private students don't have to talk to you about the challenges in their lives.  Online we do hear a lot about our students' lives, but that doesn't mean some of them still aren't living their lives outside of class.  Privacy is a gift we can give to our students.

Here's an interesting attendance policy from an anonymous poster in the comments area:  
Students who are regular attendees 'earn' one 'sick' day per month which they can accumulate and use any way they see fit, including for funerals, though not for cutting out at the last minute on presentations and exams. They simply let me know before class starts (however they can leave a message) that they are taking their 'sick' day. I promise that I will never ask them why they will be absent because, as I say on the first day of class, I want to support their thoughtful making of prudential judgments about multiple goods, i.e., being in class or doing something else. This is a sobering thought for many of them. Treating them as responsible adult decision-makers makes a big difference in attendance rates.
I wish my daughter's high school teachers would try that one!

Life happens -- consider building flexibility into your courses in areas where that is possible.  And where you can't....   well, that is similar to real life also.  Sometimes the deadline is hard.  Sometimes there are multiple ways to meet a learning outcome.


Rules for Photography

From a presentation at D2L's Unconference:

1.  Choose a subject
2.  Get closer
3.  Share

Short, to the point, and very helpful. 

From Steve Feldstein maybe?

Listened to an IT person talk about problem solving -- one comment, "Put critical information in high traffic areas".  That is so obvious and so frequently forgotten.  I think it's why I like the schedule page on the main left hand navigation bar and also why I like to post due date reminders in the announcements.  If you don't then it must not be critical information. 

Barry Dahl's "If I had a beer" presentation used software similar to Prezi.  Interesting, but I'm still not sold - it's pretty rate to see Prezi used in a way that is truly better than ppt. (Other than folks with great graphic designers behind them.)

Kyle set up a PiratePad for discussion -- Still really cool software.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Andragogy versus Pedagogy

Read this interesting post from Donald Clark today on Andragogy versus Pedagogy:  He differentiates the two similarly to the way I do -- under pedagogy the teacher makes all of the learning decisions, under andragogy the student is allowed to make at least some of the decisions.  

Have you done anything in your classes to move them along the spectrum towards andragogy?  Do your students get to make any choices about projects, time lines, readings, etc?  If not, why not?  Is there a way to give them some control and thus responsibility over their learning?


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Schedule Page

Most faculty include a course schedule in their syllabus, so why post it as a separate page? The number 1 reason is syllabus length.  Your syllabus for your online course is probably pages (and pages) long.  Students may read it in its entirety once at the beginning of classes and they may refer to it now and then for answers to specific questions, but if it's a 10 or 15 page document they may miss or forget important details.

It's also a very good idea to keep due dates and assignments in front of students as much as possible. Adding a Schedule page and linking it to the main/primary navigation bar helps you do that.  It also helps to keep yourself organized.  I print out the course schedule as well and make sure I refer to it regularly so I know what I am supposed to be doing in each course throughout the semester.  I am busy, students are busy.  It's very easy to forget something important when it isn't right in front of your face shrieking at you. 

A schedule page helps students keep their lives organized.  Go back to that students are busy comment.  Students have lives outside of class that they have to organize around.  If they know up front everything that is due in a course and when it is due they have a better chance of succeeding in managing their time.  I also recommend that as many assignments as possible be made available when the course begins.  Then you won't have to go in and reset due dates for the student who has to complete assignments early.  I know this isn't possible with all assignments, exams in particular, but the more you can make available for the entire semester the better. (I really liked the old interactive schedule pages of 10 years ago where all of the assignments were linked from the schedule page, but you can't do that in BB 8 unless you only want to link from here.)

Last, a schedule page helps you, the instructor, think through the rhythm of the course.  When are major assignments due?  When are minor assignments due?  When are students doing the reading and when are they discussing it?  When can you add flexibility and when is it imperative that students complete a task?

A schedule page helps everyone involved in the class stay organized an be more successful.


Course Schedule and Due Dates

  • This page summarizes all of the graded assignments, exams, and reading assignments for the course. I suggest that you print it out and post it at a location that is easily available.
  • Also available See the Colorado Mountain College Website for the important academic dates for the semester. This includes the current Acadmic Schedule for Add, Drop and Withdraw dates.
  • All assignments are described in detail in the course syllabus or on the unit assignments pages. If you have questions check there and/or send me an email.
  • It is your responsibility to read and study the required chapters at least once during the assigned dates
NOTE: All assignments and discussions are to be completed by 11:59PM on the due date.

Assignments and Activities
Unit Dates


Chapters 1 - 4
  1. Unit 1 Threaded Discussion Opens Feb. 28
  2. Unit 1 Web Report Due (Mar. 10)
  3. Threaded Discussion Responses Due (Mar. 12)
  4. Exam 1 due (Mar. 13)

Feb. 28 - Mar. 13


Chapters 5-9
  1. Unit 2 Threaded Discussion Opens Mar. 14
  2. Unit 2 Web Assignment due (Mar. 31)
  3. Threaded Discussion Responses due (Apr. 2)
  4. Exam 2 due (Apr. 3)

Mar. 14 - April 3


Chapters 10-14
  1. Unit 3 Threaded Discussion Opens Apr. 4.
  2. Unit 3 Web Assignment (Apr. 14)
  3. Threaded Discussion Responses due (Apr. 16)
  4. Exam 3 due (Apr. 17)

Apr. 4 - Apr. 17


Chapters 15-17
  1. Unit 4 Threaded Discussion Opens (Apr. 18)
  2. Unit 4 Web Report avail. as a replacement for Units 1-3 Web Reports due (Apr. 21)
  3. Threaded Discussion Responses due (Apr. 23)
  4. Exam 4 due (Apr. 24)

Apr. 18 - Apr. 24


Chapters 18 & 19, 33 & 34
  1. Unit 5 Threaded Discussion Opens Apr. 25
  2. Unit 5 Web Report Due (May 5)
  3. Threaded Discussion Responses due (May 7)
  4. Exam 5 due (May 8)

Apr. 25 - May 8
NOTE: All assignments and discussions are to be completed by 11:55 PM on the due date.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thinking Outside the Box

I often have discussions about how to convert paper-based or face-to-face instruction to an online medium. Generally these conversations revolve, at least somewhat, around the known (or perceived) limitations of the online environment. This June 17, 2011, blog post entitled "Dream eLearning: No Constraints," (from "Penny For Your Thoughts"), reminded me to try to think outside the box when designing eLearning. The author was asked how she would design eLearning if there were no constraints. After musing that there are always constraints, she developed a list of five things she would like to be able include in her eLearning activities. The techniques she listed aren't necessarily new, but they are a strong reminder that with a little bit of creativity, we can indeed develop eLearning activities that engage our students. In a nutshell, she reminds us to make it real, make it active, make it a fun, and make it flexible. It was a great reminder to me that a slight twist on an old assignment can make it much more engaging and stimulating for my students.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Do Personalized Videos Enhance Retention?

An article in today's Chronicle notes that one department at Syracuse University is experimenting with sending a "personalized" video link to each of approximately 300 students who enroll for the summer term. The 30-second video incorporates the student's name into a generalized "we're glad you're here" message recorded by one of two celebrity Syracuse alums. There is no data yet to indicate whether or not the videos will increase retention, but it's an interesting concept!

Here is the link to the article if you care to read more: "Syracuse Sends Personalized Video Message to Admitted Students to Stop 'Summer Melt'."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More Thoughts on Student Ratings

Earlier this week I read over all of the IDEA evaluations for the online courses.  Coincidentally I am also reading Inspired College Teaching by Maryellen Weimer.  Chapter 3, which I just finished, is Rewriting the End of Course Survey.  It’s all about what you can and can’t learn from the end of course surveys and actually mentions IDEA by name.  Following is a summary and interpretation of Weimar’s thoughts on evaluations.

What the ratings are:  They are summative feedback about an educational experience relative to the many other educational experiences the students have had. Trends in the ratings can be more useful than a specific rating of a specific class, particularly in online courses where response rates tend to be very low.  If 5 years of classes have spoken positively about your grading style and one class dislikes it you can and should reflect on that, but it may not be a change in your grading style at all.  They provide a summary of student opinions regarding your teaching behaviors over the years.

What they are not:  They do not provide a specific call to action.  Ratings give you information for reflection.  They typically do not give you specific changes to teaching behaviors.  For example, students may decry your lack of communication.  There are many ways to change your communication style.  Deciding what specifically to change requires careful thought and reflection as well as discussion with peers.

So what should you do with your ratings?  First, pull out the last five or six years of ratings.  Look at them as a group.  Do you see any trends?  Are the trends going in the direction you want them to go in?  Most of us think about our courses at the end of each semester and make changes to them.  Can a student response to those changes be seen in the ratings?  If it can’t, what other data could you find that would tell you if your changes are impacting student learning positively?   Ratings are a jumping off point for general reflection about your teaching.

Next pick out one rating that you would like to see improve, say, “stimulated students to learn more about the content.”  What specific teaching behaviors impact that?  Choose 2 or 3 things you could do differently that would help you generate excitement about your content.  How would you implement them?  Can you implement them this summer?  Give it a try!

If you are having trouble choosing one thing to change my advice for many faculty teaching online is to consider how you demonstrate instructor presence.  Students in online courses frequently do not believe the instructor is really invested in their course.  To convince them you are present and invested in the class and in their learning they need to see you in the course on a regular basis.  There are clearly many ways to demonstrate instructor presence – email, discussions, announcements, grading/feedback, response time in general to name the obvious.  Consider your teaching behaviors around these tools and choose one or two specific behaviors to modify for the summer.  Be sure to decide how to evaluate the efficacy of your changes so you can decide in August if the new behaviors should be continued or if you need to try something else.

Student evaluations are one good source of feedback from students.  They can help you decide how to change your courses and teaching.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reflecting on Teaching Presence

Signifying Presence
Today I finished reading through all of the IDEA ratings for CMC's online faculty this past spring.  IDEA is the student evaluation method used by CMC.  (More information here:  The survey was developed for F2F teaching, so could stand to be adapted for online, but it's still useful.  

At the same time I made it all the way to chapter 2 of "Inspired College Teaching" by Maryellen Weimer.  That's the chapter where she discusses the importance of reflection, of thinking about what you do in the classroom and then moving beyond that to why you do it?  A straightforward place to start is on policies.  Do you have an attendance policy?  Why?  What is the goal/objective of your policy on attendance?  Is it meeting that goal? We too often don't take the time to think about the ramifications of each policy or teaching behavior, especially when it is to be transported to the online world.

The class evaluation forms ought to be a good moment to stop and do some reflection about your teaching and the IDEA format does facilitate this.   What did students say about your course?  Do they like the organization? Do the assessments you've chosen help students meet the learning outcomes?  Are students able to negotiate the content easily? Do they feel that you, the instructor, are present in the course? 

Clearly the top faculty were very present in their courses.  They provided prompt, extensive, and useful feedback on assessments.  They responded to student questions quickly via email and discussion post.  They developed a class atmosphere which encouraged students to talk with each other and work with each other.  

The content was important also -- in courses taught be exceptional faculty students were stimulated to look beyond the material in the textbook and the course shell.  They learned how to apply the material to their lives and concerns, not just for exams and assessments.  They were enthusiastic about continuing studies in that content area.  It was exciting to read the student comments in those courses.

The surveys emphasized the continuing importance of faculty presence.  Be there (promptly and frequently) for your students in email, in discussion, in grading.  Ensure they know they have a guide through the content.  They will reward you with enthusiasm and excitement about your field.


(Photo credit:  Timothy Greig, Signifying Presence,

Sunday, June 12, 2011

APUS Webinar Series on Teaching Online in Community Colleges - Tammy Herdner

Best Practices for Online Learning, Part 1 (May Webinar), Tammy Herdner, APUS Legal Studies Faculty
  • Lead
  • Timeliness
  • Stick to a Schedule
  • Don't get behind the email 8 ball
  • No Surprises!
Lead:  Stay in front, build rapport, lead your student's educational experience.  Manage is not the same as leading.  Leaning is an opportunity to touch people, a platform that allows us to share our ideas with a lot of people.  Be remarkable and leave a mark.  Be very intentional and proactive about your class.  

Consider going through your class as a student, so you see exactly what they see.  Think about the class from beginning to end and be intentional about the entire experience from the student perspective.

Timeliness:  Is critical to prevent isolation.  When in doubt, communicate.  Consistent, adequate, timely feedback is a key way to prevent student's from feeling isolated.  Consider a weekly announcement on a regular date and time.

Stick to a Schedule:  This ensures good classroom management.  Tell students when you are going to have something done and then stick to it.  (This is a schedule for the instructor).  Sets a good pace for the instructor and helps you set expectations for students.

Don't get behind on email:  student panic = student email = overwhelming for the instructor.

No Surprises!: Students, especially in the online environment, don't like surprises. Plan the entire course before the semester begins.  Let students know exactly what will happen when, when due dates are, what the assignments are, etc.  Publish entire course before term begins.  Then don't change unless you have a very, very good reason.  Students are adults, they have full lives with families, jobs, community responsibilities.  They need to know ahead of time what they will need to do for your course and when they need to do things. (Lisa would add that it's a good idea to build some flexibility into your class.  Students also have crises.  It's nice to allow them the flexibility to manage those crises or other responsibilities without impacting the course.)

This was a very basic webinar, but had a lot of good ideas re organization and planning -- and I agree with the presenter that those are the keys to success in online teaching.  Following her ideas allows you to have the time to be a real person to students, to be present in the teaching space, and to lead your students to successful learning outcomes.


(Photo credit:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tony Bates comments on Instructional Design

Interesting summary of a workshop in instructional design at University of British Columbia from Tony Bates:

There is a lot to think about in the article.  I came away considering one of his last points:
Lastly, I was interested in what was not discussed. For me the elephant in the room is the design of campus-based learning experiences when much can now be done online. For what kinds of students, and for what areas of a subject domain, is online learning appropriate or when would it be best to use the campus, and for what? Are we really fully exploiting the campus experience in a world of online learning? What theoretical frameworks or design models do instructional designers have that will help with such decisions?
 CMC is both a residential college and a commuter college.  The goal of the Online Learning campus is not to bring in a "super-commuter", students from far far away, but rather to support and enable the students we already have.  Given that, how should online learning practices inform classroom practices?  How do we design online learning to help students get the most from their campus experience?  Interesting to think about as the relationship between face-to-face learning and online learning continues to evolve.

I also thought about his comments on mobile learning.  Perhaps mobile learning is not a significant part of formal learning experiences, but rather a method of increasing informal learning and the kind of continuing education that needs to spring up to fill the gaps in time and space with the information and analysis people need to continue to grow and innovate throughout their lives.

Does mobile learning have to be about sound bites?  Small bits of information that students can digest in a few moments between other parts of their lives?  Is it limited to reminders and notices?  Should it perhaps include answers to small questions?  What about larger questions and critical analysis? Is it always to be in response to a questions, never proactive?  I think of phones as something that you look at briefly, then move on with life.  How does that affect educational practices?


Thursday, June 9, 2011

APUS Webinar Series on Teaching Online in Community Colleges

American Public University System is running a monthly webinar series on teaching online in comunity colleges.  More information and links to past webinars is available at  Also a link straight to the slides.  (APUS as a side note, is doing a lot of research on teaching online right not.  This is a way they have for sharing back to the teaching community.  APUS has approximately 90,000 students, many military.)

This month's webinar was "Continuous Engagement:  Why it is Important to Effective Online Education" by Mary Dershiwsky.  Mary teaches for APUS and Norther Arizona University, Statistics and Teaching Research.  She had many great ideas for continuous engagement which I tweeted as I listened, but will also summarize here.

First Week:  login several times a day so there is minimal time lapse between student posts and questions and your replies and answers.  Set up an introduction area and personalize your replies to each individual student.  Work on humanizing yourself and on creating connections between yourself and your students. Post an affirming announcement two or three days into the first week. Lots of focus on the positive.

As the term progresses:  Consider a "Winner's Circle" area where you comment on student achievements.  Mary also uses a "Words to Lead By" discussion area which sounds like it is for encouragement and positive thinking.  Mark up assignments with what students did right.  -- Again, lots of focus on the positive. --

Keeping everyone moving:  Use a weekly assignment to ensure everyone logs in.  This can be a very short quiz, a discussion, a "minute paper" (recall and apply).  Consider hiding "Easter eggs" in your announcements or discussion posts with extra credit.  Students who find the Easter Egg can email you to let you know they found it.  Post a weekly wrap up which also sets the stage for the next week.

A goal is to humanize yourself and your students.  Respond to them by name so they know you are talking to them and so they are personally asked to re-engage with the material and the course.  Humanizing yourself and the course also helps reduce student test anxiety.

From short discussion after end of presentation:

Students didn't particularly like talking head videos.  They preferred narrated power point slides.  Voice Thread is a good tool to use for developing those.  It is good to have an photo of yourself, so they know who is talking. For talking head video consider Jing or Viddler.

Mary is speaking next month also - highly recommended!


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

After First Impressions: Should they come to class?

Olympiastadion Seats
I've been thinking about attendance and it's effect on grades and then the online corollary - frequency of access to the course shell and participation in discussions.  Today @Busynessgirl tweeted a Chronicle article: on the same topic.  

The majority of my teaching career has been with adult students - not the 18 to 19 year old crowd, but the 28-34 year old crowd.  In my mind they are all adult enough to decide for themselves whether or not they are coming to class.  And yet.....  I don't have a formal study across many classes regarding participation and login frequency and their relationship to class success, but just in my own classes the students who login 3 to 4 times a week and are active on the discussion board do complete successfully at a higher rate than those who do not login. 

That means I require participation on the discussion boards and I tie that participation to course grades.  lately it hasn't been a lot of points, not even the difference between and A and a B, but still, there are points involved.

As a side note:  attendance and participation aren't quite the same thing.  Attendance in a F2F course means seat time and seat time is a proxy for things like learning outcomes, knowledge, etc.  Participation is probably a better proxy for learning outcomes and knowledge attained.  Clearly you can have attendance without much participation (especially in 8:00 am classes).  But participation requires attendance.

Also relevant:  The Two Lies of Teaching from Dy/Dan,


(Photo credit: From Hey Mr Glen,

Friday, June 3, 2011

First Impressions. . .

I just read a short article called, "Overcoming a 'Mullet' View of Faculty" in The Chronicle. It notes that we tend to form opinions of co-workers and students at the very first contact, which isn't a surprise to any of us. However, it made me think about what students might do early in a course to make a good or a bad "first impression" on me--and how that might color my reaction to or behavior with students throughout the entire course.

What do students do that makes a good, or a bad, first impression on you?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Online Course Development

Here's a straight-forward blog on how to develop an online course from the British Columbia Institute of Technology:


Monday, May 23, 2011

What are the right questions

I've read a couple of math blogs (here's one:, look for "The Wembly Problem") on generating student interest through pictures.  Hand students a picture and ask them what mathematical questions come to mind?  What questions do they think about when they see a certain picture?  Then, of course, how do they find the answer to their question(s).  If you are teaching a specific mathematical concept this year the pictures you use might have to be more than pictures -- you want to generate a specific question or set of questions. So the pictures have to be designed to generate the "right" question.

This is math through application though and is really wonderful from that aspect.

And here's interesting support for math and story-telling:
Science News Online just published a fascinating article: Good Stories, Good Math. The article is subtitled: “Preschoolers who can tell good stories develop good mathematical skills by the first grade.” Writer Julie Rehmeyer reports on a new study which reveals that there’s apparently a very strong connection between mathematical ability and the ability to tell stories from different perspectives.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Top 100 Tools for Learning

Tools In The Studio

I'll have to comment on this list eventually -- but at the very least it has a lot of names and links to interesting online tools!


Photo Credit: Vinicius,

Failure Is An Option

We've all had at least one of THOSE students. You know, the ones for whom anything less than an "A" is simply unacceptable. The ones who feel that because they have always been an "A" student, it is just not possible that they are doing "B" or "C" work in a class. It must be the fault of the _________ (book, teacher, course management system, the alignment of the planets, etc.). These students find it difficult to accept what they deem as "failure."

We've also all likely had many students who earned a failing grade on an assignment or in a course. In fact, I imagine we've all had our own turn at failing something!

A recent article in Faculty Focus entitled "Failure Is An Option: Helping Students Learn From Mistakes" made me reflect on what I do to help students learn from mistakes, whether that mistake is failing an assignment, missing a due date, or buying the wrong book.

One of the most successful strategies that I've implemented in my Principles of Accounting classes is to allow students to earn back partial points on missed exam questions. They must carefully and fully demonstrate to me that they do indeed understand missed questions. This not only is a strong incentive for students to learn from the mistakes they made on the exam, but it is also an opportunity to earn that "extra credit" that they often ask for. . .while, unbeknownst to them, they are doing something they should do anyway!

The article noted above provides a great example of an instructor who is considered by students and colleagues to be very "tough" and how that reputation "squares with" the fact that every one of his students receives earns an "A." There are also interesting comments here about gaming in education, and the article closes with this very intriguing suggestion: "Consider how to incorporate failure into your teaching in order to generate success."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mobile Learning

The old phone box
Interesting post from Clark Quinn today on Mobile Learning -

Have to admit I liked the comment on slow learning that comes at the very end of the post:
Question 10:  What do you see as the future for mobile learning? 
I naturally mentioned my interest in slow learning, beginning to move away from the event model and start thinking about a more mentor-like relationship in developing individuals over time, in ways that more naturally mimic the way our brains learn.  Also, of course, I think alternate reality games will combine the best of simulation game learning and mobile learning, making learning closer to the real task, more engaging, more distributed, and consequently more effective.
Online learning in general is a natural fit for a mentoring/tutoring relationship between faculty and learner.  I hadn't heard that called slow learning before and I am not sure I like the terminology, but the concept - yes.

CMC will need a mobile initiative eventually, but right now I think I am defining that initiative as the ability to access the LMS communication tools from a mobile device.  As soon as we figure out how to grow beyond the LMS we will need a true mobile learning initiative.


Photo credit:  Jon Burnell,

Monday, May 16, 2011

Job Applications

I've spent the past week reviewing job applications for a full-time history position at CMC.  This position is split 50-50 between on-campus and online.  The job was open for approximately 2.5 weeks and we received 163 applications.  (An English one posted at the same time received over 100 more than that.)  So how do you distinguish yourself from the crowd?
  1. Fill out the application correctly and send in all of the requested material. Just over 1/2 of the applications were eliminated by human resources because they didn't have all of the requested material or didn't meet the minimum requirements.  Several people uploaded the wrong file - an extra letter of interest instead of a CV for example.
  2. Be timely.  Once the review of applications begins we really aren't going to look at applications that come in after that unless the pool is shallow.  A shallow pool isn't a strong likelihood in these economic times.
  3. Tailor your cover letter to the position.  
    1. Specifically mention both the minimum and preferred requirements and show us how you meet them.  Many applicants for this position didn't mention the words "online" or "technology".  That's a mistake when applying for a position that requires online teaching. It's great that you love teaching in a F2F classroom, but I need to now you are also excited about teaching in the online environment.
    2. Mention something that shows us you looked at the college website and researched the position.
    3. Mention something about the geographic area in which the position is located.  
    4. Tell us why you are excited about the position and why we should be excited about you.  What makes you special?  We know you meet the minimum qualifications, so what sets you apart? 
    5. Think about the buzz words people reading a lot of applications might be looking for:  1st gen college students, working with diversity, languages, technology, online, pedagogy.  (Community colleges, for example, are teaching institutions.  What extra training do you have in F2F and online teaching pedagogies?  How about andragogies?  No one mentioned that word at all.)
  4. If you have a good teaching philosophy (that includes online and technology) include it in the same document as your letter of interest.  That's a good place to ensure it's read. A teaching philosophy is a good place to include more personal information (and pictures) without extending the letter of interest.
  5. The C.V.:  I have to admit I didn't spend as much time on the CV as I did on the letter of interest.  Almost everyone has taught the history courses from the first two years of college. What stood out here was mistakes - people who told us which courses they wanted to teach for us and obviously hadn't looked at the spring or fall schedule first.  I did look through presentations and highlighted those in teaching theory, technology, American history and Western Civ.  I looked for community college teaching experience, although that should have been high-lighted in the letter of interest also.  And I noted when applicants explicitly stated which courses were developed and taught in the online format.  After a few dozen CV's I really appreciated those that grouped and summarized information and tailored the CV to the position.  A 5 or 6 page CV is too long. 
Sound excited, sound friendly, and sound fun to work with.  Consider using multimedia (a picture) or providing a link to a website with more information or some content you have developed or maybe a lesson plan.  This position involves technology, show us you can use it and that you are excited about using it.   No one gave us a website, a twitter ID, a blog URL.  I would have loved to see any of those.

More Advice from Inside Higher Ed:

Good Luck!


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Scaffolding Papers

Research Paper on Microsoft
Still thinking of the best way to scaffold a research paper or even critical analysis.  I like the pro/con grid from Angelo and Cross to begin with.  Followed by the Paper Prospectus from their book (CATs).  Then fold in the 5 paragraph essay material from high school (Paul Mole has the best I've seen).  Or maybe ask for a complete outline with the supporting quotes.  By the time I get to the final draft it should be pretty good.  As soon as I get this all drafted, with directions for students, I will post it here.

I do still worry though that research papers aren't particularly useful for students moving into the work world -- I like the analytic memo better.

Also read another paper on future work skills.  Online collaboration is on the list again, so do we all need to figure out how to include that in our classes? (


Sunday, May 1, 2011

CATs from Angela and Cross

Spent part of this weekend reading Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross's classic "Classroom Assessment Techniques".   I want to redesign my course to get rid of the essay/MC Exam every unit rut I am in.  I still like that the focus of the essay assignments is data gathering from the web and application, but they are ultimately boring and only the best students do well on them. 

Students always have trouble reading the economics textbooks, so I am going to try to use the discussions and the idea of punctuated lectures (CAT 38)  and student generated test questions (CAT 25) to get them to stop reading periodically and figure out what they do and do not understand.  For the first couple of units I can ask each student to post one or two questions from each chapter in the text to the discussion board.  They then will be required to answer 1 or two of another student's questions.

That would take care of the majority of the discussions for the first two units, although I still want to include my own questions to help them move through the material.  Unit 1's "Where's the Data" assignment can turn into a scavenger hunt.  That will make it fast to grade and still support the outcome -- ability to locate economic data online.

I like the idea of an analysis and application paper in the form of a policy recommendation letter to a member of Congress (CAT 12)  And I think I can use the pro and con grid (CAT 10) first to make that a scaffolded assignment. (Unit 3 I think).

This gets me to Units 4 and 5.  I like the ideas behind CAT 27, Paper or Presentation Prospectus.  I also like the idea of asking students to do a very short 5 or 6 slide presentation, the Pecha Kucha format to some extent, 5  minute time limit.  In Unit 4 they could turn in the presentation prospectus (includes topic, title, sources, outline, grading rubric, abstract).  Then in Unit 5 they could turn in the presentation via Voice Thread, with the transcript for back up. This is essentially the idea Karen Kaemmerling had for the GEO 105 course, but more detail in the prospectus.

And of course I still have discussions in Units 3-5.  And some sort of quick MC/short answer exam in each unit. (Might skip that in Unit 4 because it's so short.)  If I were inspired I would choose the short answer questions from the discussions, but that requires me to be pretty nimble.  Not sure I can really guarantee that.

Is this adding up to too much work for students?

Also reading "Inspired College Teaching" by Maryellen Weimer, so we'll see what that brings.  I need some choice for students in this course - she is very good at that.