Skill number 2 of the top 5 essential computers skills for the non-tech savvy professor is (drum roll please) ... screenshots and annotations. Working with both online students and instructors has given me multiple opportunities to hone my verbal description communication skills. Through all of my experience in explaining computer use via email or phone, I've discovered the time-saving power of taking and annotating on a clear screenshot.
The ability to take a picture of your screen and add annotations makes any digital communication become instantly clear. Instructors are able to show, not just tell their students about a website, online tool, and digital steps for instructions, for crystal communication. As instructors, this is skill we all need since we want our students' brain power to be used in critical thinking about the concepts, not deciphering our text instructions.
Ok, now that I've put taking screenshots on the online instruction pedal stool it belongs on, let's talk about the basic features found in this tool.
2 Common Tools
The following 2 tools allow you to take screenshot on an Apple or PC computer without downloading any software at all. I am a big advocate of self-education and support the use of YouTube as a means of learning what you need, right when you need it. Click on the links below to watch a quick (2 mins. or less) video of exactly how to take a screenshot on the computer operating system (OS) of your choosing.
1. Screenshot (Apple Computers - iOS)
2. Snipping Tool (PC Computers - Windows OS)
Using this Skill in Higher Education
As you read this post, I know you already have that one assignment in your head that would really benefit from adding screenshots to the instructions. You know, that one assignment that you get a load of student questions on each term. Yep, that's the one. Use screenshots to provide crystal clear communication to your students.
Students Submission Type
Reverse the situation. What screenshot can your students provide you as a submission to an assignment? For example, in the computer applications course I teach, I utilize a free training module provided by Microsoft as an interactive formative assessment. This training tool is on a website outside of our learning management system (LMS), so how do students submit this to me in the LMS, you might ask. My students take screenshot of the completion portion which shows their name and total score. They save the screenshot image and upload the image file to the LMS assignment, just as any other file submission.
Everyday Digital Communications
What will you do with all your free time you gained from inserting an annotated screenshot to clearly explain/answer a student or colleague question? Since taking a screenshot is a 5-10 second process, you can image the amount of time saved by showing your answer vs. using words/text to fully explain it. Just try it out. I promise you'll never go back to just plain text answers.
Relying on Face to Face Communications Too Much
In my years as an instructional designer and educational technology trainer, I've come to realize the extreme importance of providing clear digital communication. When I can't meet with any instructor due to geography or scheduling I have to think of the best way to communicate my training or support in order to truly help the instructor.
During this time, I have also experienced those instructors who rely on face-to-face communication too much. Whether it's an instructor who feels that teaching online will be too difficult because she needs to explain material or assignments in-class, or an instructor who refuses to learn something new on the computer without a support person physically standing next to them, relying on face-to-face communication too much can be extremely limiting.
Here's the thing...the world we live in can't always wait for face-to-face interactions. You'll miss the train if you insist on waiting to have a person in front of you. Our students are communicating digitally multiple times a day. It's not new for them to engage in an online space where video, images, and text come together to create a space of learning.
If this still feels pretty foreign to you, start small. Take screenshot of an image of something you're passionate about and share if with your students as a means for them to get to know you more as their instructor, a real person. Then, observe the reaction you get from this visual means of digital communication and connection.
We'll tackle this world of online learning together.
Make sure you didn't miss skill #1 - Web conferences. This one skill alone can make your online course feel not so distant after all. Watch for the next post in this 5 part series, skill #3 - Screen Capture.
This is part 1 of a 5 part series focused on the top 5 essential computer skills for the non-tech. savvy professor. Each post in this series explains the skill in English, not computer gibberish, and provides 2 easy to use tools. First up, using web conferences to have a virtual face-to-face meeting.
Last week a professor requested a training on the Canvas LMS. When I wasn't able to make it to campus, I proposed a one-on-one training via a web conferencing tool, Zoom. This instructor was already nervous about having to learn a new platform, so the thought of learning a new platform in an online communication tool seem a little overwhelming, understandably so. After an encouraging email, I confirmed that I would set up the details and send him just one link to click on to access our scheduled meeting in Zoom.
Long story short, this virtual training went over swimmingly. Using this tool, I was able to talk to the instructor just a like a phone call with the added visual benefits: video (face-to-face) and sharing my screen. Not only did this instructor get every question answered in an individualized training session, but he found a new tool to utilize as an online educator. Oh, and did I mention that I recorded the web conference session so that he could replay any part of the training at his convenience!
Let's look at the basics of a web conferencing tool.
2 Common Tools
- Create a free account with all the basics described above.
- Unlimited 1-on-1 meetings with a 40 minute limit
- Personal and secure meeting room for every meeting
- Send the meeting link to participants to access with one click
- Online support available
- Create a free account with all the basics described above.
- Unlimited meetings with up to 4 participants at once.
- Create one meeting room with a customized URL to use over and over. (ex: appear.in/BIO101)
- Participants can use the same link to get back to the meeting room at any time.
Bonus! Web Conferences IN your Canvas Course
The Canvas LMS has a video conference tool built right in. Canvas has partnered with Big Blue Button to provide video conferencing in the course for the instructor and/or students to use for ease of live communication. Check out the video below to get a full overview of this tool in a Canvas course.
Using this Skill in Higher Education
Courses that include capstone projects or term-long assignments require personalized feedback more than once. Talking through achievements and points of improvement gives the student and instructor the space to have a conversation about the learning goal and work in progress. An instructor can schedule appointment slots for students to select. The instructor can then sent out the meeting link to the student for easy access to the online conference.
*Canvas Bonus - See how to schedule appointment groups for students to select on the Canvas calendar here.
Small Group Interaction
Students can utilize this tool when collaborating with peers. Location is no longer an issue in an online classroom. Students can schedule a time and send a link to meet with each other using live audio, visual, and screen sharing in order to work on a project together.
I've also seen this skill used for instructors to meet with a small group as a learning activity, instructor feedback, or small group live presentations.
From my example at the beginning at this post, you can see that a web conference is a great skill for one-on-one or small group learning in real time on any subject.
It's my experience working in higher education the move from the classroom to the distance education is done in one quick decision by administration. Faculty members who have been teaching a course for years in a physical classroom are asked (and in some cases, told) to teach their course online to reach more students and increase enrollment. Most of the time, no basic computer skills are required, no training is provide for online tools, no professional development is given for online pedagogy, and in the end, both the students and the instructors are frustrated.
It's my ultimate goal with each post, created resources, and training, to provide instructors this missing piece of online education, real support in what actually matters. The next post in this series focuses on the power of screenshots explained in plain English along with two free tools to make it happen.
A picture is worth one thousand words, especially to a student learning a new concept. Visualization is an important cognitive connector. Knowing this to be true, we look to add “content rich” images to our online instruction. Images in an online course can increase understanding for our mainstream students, as well as better support our English language learners, our visual processing students, and create better foundations for our students with less subject scheme (background information). According to a Social Science Research Network, Reaching the Visual Learner, 65% of people are visual learners. This means most people have the need to see what they are learning for complete cognitive processing.
Now that we agree on the importance of using images in our online course, let’s talk about how to get the most learning out of those images. Inserting an image near corresponding text is our first step, but what if students could do more than just view that image? In this post, I’ll introduce you to nine free online tools for students to interact with any image you choose. These tools provide student engagement, practice of knowledge application, and checking for understanding... All within your online course.
All of these tools are created by H5P, an MIT project and licence. Learn more about their multimedia tools here. H5P accounts are complete free to create and build.
If you are new to building and using online interactive tools in your online course, my advice is just look for one tool that you think would help your students better comprehend their learning or help them check their own understanding. Just start with one and go from there.
1. Drag & Drop
This tool is as simple as it sounds. Learners can drag and drop word labels to identify parts of an image. This tool can also be used for learners to drag and drop smaller images onto a larger, main image. Enable your students to associate words to images in order to check their understanding.
2. Hot Spots
In this tool, instructors can identify specific spots on an image and add text. Then the instructor can state a specific task, such as find the mitochondria in the cell diagram. Students select the spot on the image and check their understanding with text revealed for immediate feedback.
3. Question & Answer
Instructors provide an image and a question. Then students answer based on the image. Instructors can also insert text for specific and immediate feedback.
Are your students learning the order of a process? This tool provides an opportunity to order images based on the sequence the instructor creates. The leaner is timed and the number of moves the student uses to complete the sequence are both recorded within the tool.
Create an easy to use image display presentation with responsive image sliders and a full-screen option. This presentation pre-loads the next image for snappy image switching. Instructors can also insert alternative (alt.) text for screen-readers and accessibility.
Use this interactive tool to show change through layering images. For example, show the growth of a city through a layered map. Instructors can even add a short explanation for each layer or image. Students can move back and forth through each layer.
Don't let the elementary icon fool you. Remember you select the images to use from your own content images. Learners check their understanding by pairing images. Once all images have been paired, learners can check their answers and receive immediate feedback.
Learners use an interactive slider to view and compare two images. Sliders can be used both vertically and horizontally. Instructors can set the starting slider position and label images for more meaning.
Do you have multiple images to show students? Instructors can use this tool to customize a layout with 11 different settings. For example, some of the options include: pan and zoom, spacing, outer frame size, and height of collage. Create an organized image layout for students to view without scrolling forever.
Images can be incredibly powerful. These free interactive tools assist in getting the most learning out of your content images. You can create the opportunity for your students to apply, discover, and check their understanding using images, without a direct grade penalty. Also, each tool can be completely embedded into your online course to keep your students in their learning environment. Ultimately, you are creating an engaging and interactive learning experience. Want assistance in building your engaging online learning environment? I can help you with that! Check out my customizable instructional design services to see what package would help you meet your goals.
Don’t forget to download the free one-page (2-sided) guide created to accompany this post. If you’ve already registered, then you can sign-in to access and download the guide. If you are new to this site, welcome! You’ll need to create a simple, free account to access and download this guide plus many more.
H5P: 9 Image Interactive Free Tools
*All tools and examples were created by H5P.
The evolution of distance learning can be described as slow and then fast. Let me explain. Mass distance learning was originally created by the US military during WWII as a way to train large numbers of new soldiers in short amount of time to perform specific tasks using specific procedures. Booklets of text with some images were produced along with educational videos, and thus creating distance learning curriculum. For decades following, distance learning was far and few between and resembled the same style of curriculum. Fast forward to the 2000’s where personal computers and internet access became household items. Distance learning still resembled previous curriculum, where information was “dumped” and students were tested on said dumped information.
The Guide to Interactives Series was created with the purpose to show instructors just how to created a more interactive and engaging distance learning experience. Where students have multiple chances for checking their understanding with no penalty, where immediate feedback can be given, and where students feel the connection between the online course and the 21st century world they live in daily. For best comprehension, and ease of use, this entire series uses one set of tools from collection called H5P. H5P tools are completely free and open technology licensed with the MIT license. Instructors can create a free account, build interactives with their course content, and then embed those interactives into their learning management system (LMS) course using the given embed code.
In part 1 of this 4 part series, 5 multimedia tools are noted and explained. Multimedia tools provide an alternate way for content to be represented to students other than text and images. These particular H5P tools can help your audio and kinesthetic students learn and interact with new content.
1. Interactive Video
What instructor does love a quality educational video to help explain a complex concept? The problem is did the student really understand everything that was presented in the video. Did the student pause and rewind the video when something was confusing? Could the student recall important details from the video? Could the student apply what they’ve just learned from the video? This tool can help you answer “yes” to all of these questions.
The interactive video tool uses pre-created videos from YouTube or your own and inserts interactions within the video. Instructors can insert multiple different types of questions throughout the video. As students watch this interactive video, the video pauses and a question appears for students to select an answer. The correct answer continues the video. An incorrect answer can replay a certain part of the video, or provide text feedback for clarification. The video can even be set to only continue when the student answers correctly.
List of question types that can be added to any video:
2. Speak the Words
The majority of our online students express their understanding of concepts in the from of text: quizzes, discussions, essays, reflections, etc. However, we know preparing our students for future careers includes more than writing skills. This next tool brings a new interactive to the online learning environment. Speak the Words tool uses voice recognition to answer questions. Instructors create a set of questions and students speak the answer. The tool recognizes a correct or incorrect answer and provides immediate feedback. Based on the setting options selected by the instructor, student can see the solution, and try it again. Remember, the purpose of these tools are for student engagement with content, practice of skills, and checking for understanding.
Note: Currently, due to the voice recognition tool, this interactive only functions in the Chrome browser.
3. Twitter User Feed
Academically intriguing conversations are happening all the time. Luckily for us, most of these conversations are happening digitally in real time. How exciting... and relevant... and engaging! The Twitter User Feed tool allows instructors to embed a live twitter feed into their online course. The many options that accompany this tools provide instructors with ultimate control to ensure the twitter feeds coming into their class are on topic, current, and non-disruptive. Instructors are able to select which user feeds are displayed, many tweets are shown at once, and if replies should be hidden.
My teacher heart goes pitter-patter just thinking about the powerful and relevant dialog this content tool can provide in your online course.
4. Audio Recorder
Voices are powerful. They can convey emotions and personality that contribute in creating a well-rounded message. Something that can be lost in writing at times. Your auditory learners may have been looking for a way to express their level of understanding in a way that works best for them. Lucky for them, they have you as an instructor and they have this tool to let them shine. The Audio Recorder tool allows students to record their voice to provide a response. Students can even listen to their recording immediately, then re-record it if needed. Lastly, students can download this audio (.wav) file and save and submit it. This a great tool for open-ended questions or language acquisition.
Note: At this time, this tool works in Edge, Chrome, and Firefox internet browsers.
5. Dialog Cards
The last multimedia tool continues this auditory learning trend. This tool is very similar to digital flashcards, which is a regular study aid of students. However, these digital flashcards can include more than text. These digital flashcards can include images, and audio recordings. Just as regular flashcards, side one has the learning material and side to the answer.
This tool is a great option for students to have all three learning styles (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) in one study aid. Students learning terms in any subject benefit for this low-risk practice with immediate feedback.
When developing or preparing your next online course consider trying out one of these tools to promote student engagement, low-risk practice, and instant feedback for your students. If building these tools and embedding them into your own online course seems like a cumbersome task, I’m here to tell you that’s what instructional designers are for! If you don’t have an instructional designer at your school, no need to fear. I provided individually customized instructional designer services that can fit the comfortability level of any instructor.
Get the free 1-page guide: 5 Multimedia Tools (H5P Guide)
Step one in creating a successful online learning environment: build a learning community. How can instructors start this process? Just as a face-to-face class may spend the first class session getting to know one another, the online class must do the same, maybe even more so. Since online learners start out with a cyber-separation, course designers or instructors need to make an extra effort to create social connection in a nonthreatening manner. Think about a traditional in-person class. Students gather at the classroom door prior to the start of class. Conversations arise about the course, similar interests, and life outside the classroom. When the class ends, students gather in the halls and/or common areas on campus in order to create personal connections and friendships. This socialization is priceless in building a safe environment for learning. So, start this process by breaking the ice.
Here are six engaging icebreaker activities that all use a discussion board and are easy to implement. This coming term, update the usual introductions forum by trying out one of these instead.
1. In Line
This activity uses two discussion forums. In the first discussion forum, students score themselves on five given statements to indicate a level of knowledge or interest. The top score of 10 signifies a high interest or ability to teach. A score of 1 indicates minimal knowledge and/or interest. Once students have entered their scores on the given statements in their initial post, peers look for classmates with the score closest to their own on each statement. Next, using the learning management system (LMS) messaging tool, students introduce themselves to this classmate. Through messaging, students find other common interesting of one another. Ideally, students have found a partner. If the a student already has a partner, then he or she can reply to say so. The student returns to the forum to find another similar score. Lastly, it is now the student’s job to introduce his or her partner to the class in the introductions forum.
1st forum: Score Yourself
Example statements (provided by the instructor)
2nd forum: Introductions
Hello all, I’m introducing my new friend Sandy Smith. She loves to read mystery novels and watches more cooking shows than actual cooking…
2. Lost in Space
Instructions are not the only way we learn more about people. Sometimes we learn more about people through seeing their priorities. In this imaginative icebreaker, students pretend they are living on a space station for a year. Suddenly, the station is malfunctioning and they have fifteen minutes to gather only five items to take with them on the evacuating space shuttle. This is not a time for deep thought. Students are instructed to quickly type out the five items they are taking with them. Once all participants have enter their items on their initial posts, peers read through the entries to find similarities and/or curiosities. Students post replies to comment and ask questions about the reasoning behind choosing the items. Give students categories of technology, personal, and survival to start their explanation.
3. One Word
This activity is one of my favorites. I’ve used this icebreaker in both in-person and online learning environments, as well as with eighth graders and college students. Students think of one word that best describes them or their life. They start their initial discussion post by stating this word in bold, then describes why they chose that word. Students review peers’ posts and finds someone whose word resonates with them. Replying to that post with the connection and tries to find two other nouns that the two classmates have in common. Note: Students always do better with this activity when a strong example is provided after the instructions.
I’ve chosen this word because I feel like my life constantly has challenges that I overcome in order to achievement my goals. For example…
Change up the text by starting student introductions with an image. Students find an image of an object that represents them or why are are taking the course. (Canvas Hack: Students can select the image icon in the rich text editor toolbar and select Flickr to search for images and add them easily.) Students add the image and an explanation of why they chose that particular object. Start this activity by posting your object and explanation. Once students have completed their initial post, their job is to respond to interesting images and reply with a question. Original students reply to the question with an answer.
I simply love history. It’s the story that no fiction could rival…
5. 2 Truths + 1 False
An oldie, but a goodie. Students post two truthful statements and 1 false, without labeling. Peers review and reply with their guesses on which statement is false and explain the reasons behind their guess. After a given date, students return to their original post to reveal the actual false statement in a reply. Also, within this revealing reply, students list the names of the peers who guessed correctly as a little applaud in this friendly game.
A simple activity kicked up a notch. Students use their own first name to create a short poem. Writing their name vertically, students use each letter to start a line, or be the main word in a line, that describes something about themselves. Peers review all poems and try to remember details about each classmate. The instructor then creates a short quiz using the statements posted in different poems. Classmates take this fun quiz to show their knowledge of their peers.
Example of Acrostic Poem
N - Not a fan of pie.
I - I love cookie dough Ice cream.
C - I prefer Cooking over eating out.
O - My family has an Olive Oil ranch.
L - Learning is fun for me.
E - I’ve ridden an Elephant in Thailand.
Remember to grab the free 1-page guide to assist you in preparing for your next online course.
Free Guide: 6 Engaging IceBreakers
Select the link then login or register to access and download.
Let me reassure you that technology is not replacing the teacher. Nothing can replace the presence of an educator in any learning environment. Online learning just provides another avenue to meet our students, educate them, guide them, and support them. So, how can we, instructors, reach into the learning management system and let our online students know we are just as dedicated to them as our in-person students? This question has been a trending topic in distance education in recent years due to results of research on the impact of instructor presence.
The online environment initially separates the instructor and students, which starts them at a disadvantage. Overcoming this disadvantage takes some extra effort, planning, and dedication. Nothing new to “rock-star” instructors. Here are five ways to enhance instructor presence, your presence, in your online class. And… of course, I added technology tools and Canvas hacks to help you implement each strategy.
1. Regular Interactions
Regular interactions are instructor to student interactions that students can count on throughout the course. These can include scheduled announcements (where students can reply with questions or comments), due date reminder messages, and prompt replies to student messages. Each interaction is an example that you are there. You are interested in their personal success, as well as interested in each of their questions. They can count on your continuous attentiveness.
Utilize Canvas tools in order to help you implement each of these strategies as follows:
2. Discussion Engagement
Next, let’s address the age-old debate of instructor engagement within student discussion forums. Yes, these forums are meant for student conversations about new concepts and student-to-student connection is a pillar of student engagement. Still, instructor presence, or guidance rather, is essential to promote critical thinking, correct misunderstandings, and encourage connections. Beyond academic discussions, create a space for more informal interactions. A discussion forum titled, “The Cafe”, can be used to engage with students outside the parameters of academia, student performance, and learning objectives.
3. Prompt Feedback
In one study, for example, “investigators found that prompt feedback was a significant predictor of student perceived learning and satisfaction” (Ladyshewsky, 2013). With best intentions, we all know that grading can pile up quickly. Research on learning cycles suggest evaluation and adjustments, the last part of the cycle, can only occur if feedback is give promptly within 48 hours. “Nicole, I teach four courses with over one hundred students, 48 hours is just not possible most of the time.” As a fellow college instructor, I couldn’t agree more. The goal is to provide students with meaningful and prompt feedback in order for the student to not lose context for the valued learning of the work and have a chance to adjust prior to the next similar assignment. Strategy: make 48 hours a goal and 7 days a policy. Returning grading within 7 days still gives time for students to review and reflect on given feedback and adjust understanding of concepts and expectations of the assignment.
4. Real World Connections
The ultimate answer to the “why is this important” motivational barrier can be found out there… in the real world. We’re finally in an age where the classroom and the real world can be easily connected. Creating this connection provides purpose, real world application, and engaging content into the online learning environment. Theme related current events are useful when an instructor would like to adjust instructional material without changing the curriculum and learning objectives. Scouring news outlets for relevant articles can take hours of your time that is just not there. So, why not have technology do that work for you?
5. Visual and Audio Communications
Online courses have come so far from their text-heavy correspondence beginnings. Just as in-person courses give the instructor a chance to express insights and connections in the concepts, technology tools have made it possible for online students to share the same experience. I recently took an online course from Univ. of Wisconsin-Stout, on instructional design, where the instructor showed continuous presence. One tool she used was Zoom for web conferences. At the beginning of the course, the students answered what the best day and time would be for a live web-conference chat. Then once a week, on the elected day and time, the instructor would send a link for her student to join her for questions, challenges, tools, and more. The live conferences were also recorded and added to the week’s content for any student who could not make the meeting time. I was surprised just how useful this weekly conference really was. Students flocked to this meeting to ask specific questions, get immediate feedback on ideas, and listen to peers thought processes. Your students could benefit from live-time communication and connection too.
A strong instructor presence in online learning is directly related to decreasing the gradual loss of student enrollment, and an increase in student engagement through communication exchanges that can somewhat resemble that of an in-person course. Remember, technology will never replace a great instructor. Oh, and this just in from online students everywhere, “thanks for being there”.
Grab this one page guide on 5 ways to enhance instructor presence including all the strategies and tools mentioned in this post.
Free Guide: 5 Ways to Enhance Instructor Presence
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Community College Research Center (CCRC) and Teachers College, Columbia University. (2013). Creating an Effective Online Instructor Presence. Retrieved November 4, 2015, from http://www.achievingthedream.org/sites/default/files/resources/Online-Learning-Practitioner-Packet.pdf
Ladyshewsky, R. K. (2013, 01). Instructor Presence in Online Courses and Student Satisfaction. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 7(1). doi:10.20429/ijsotl.2013.070113
The ways in which we serve our students has changed over recent years. Distance education has become a pillar in most public higher education institutions and a staple in most college students’ academic path. According to the 2015 Survey of Online Learning, conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group in partnership with the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), there has been a year-to-year increase of 3.9% in the number of distance education students. Now, more than one in four students take at least one distance education course in the pathway to graduation. Public institutions have the largest portion of distance education students. Online education is now a critical part of most colleges and universities’ long term strategy. If more students are choosing to take online courses than ever before, why are we losing 10% - 20% more per term than traditional classes?
Student retention is a long standing and complex issue. My research on college retention brought me to core theories regarding student departure, from experts such as Braxton, Sullivan, and Tinto. Most of the research explained student retention at the institutional level as it all starts with student entry. There are a total of 6 main factors that influence student retention. Those we’ll save for another post. However, from those 6 factors there have been retention program evaluations created based on 3 principles:
The measurement of these 3 principles indicate effective retention programs and policies. My ending research question was if retention is an institution-wide initiative with multiple factors, what can an individual instructor do to combat the low retention rate in her own online class?
I’ve created 4 practical components instructions can routinely add to their own online courses that directly aligned with the stated effective retention evaluation principles. Then included practical strategies for each component.
1. Clear Communication
As most retention research states, it all starts with student entry characteristics. First impressions count. Every college course begins with the course syllabus. Your clear course communication starts here. This document holds course information, policies, expectations, and student outcomes. In order to reach all of your students at their learning style, create a visual and/or auditory representation of the syllabus content, especially your course policies. For example consider creating an infographic that can be used in more than one course to express clear policies.
Just as every student’s raised hand in a traditional class is valued, every student message should be valued the same in an online class. Through social and connective learning theories, we know that students can’t just learn in vacuum. Consider every student message/e-mail a connection opportunity. Connection to the course content, learning concepts, or just to you, the instructor. Make a commitment to your students that you’ll reply to their messages with a 24 hour period. This creates a sense of real support and builds trust between the student and his instructor.
2. Instructor Presence
The difference between a correspondence course and an online learning course - instructor presence. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, a welcome video allows your students to see their instructor and connect a name to a real face. Start your course by adding this human factor to your online learning environment.
Basic online learning course design starts the first week with an introduction forum. Often times, students report a lack of connection to their reason of departure. So, this staple assignment is the perfect opportunity to connect with each one of your students. Your response does not have to be long, just personal. Not only can you connect with each of your students, but you can also take this opportunity to create connections between classmates… creating the start of a learning community. Student-to-instructor and student-to-student engagement are 2 of the 3 pillars of online learning domains of engagement. Students are people who need connection and to feel that there is someone caring about them and their success.
Weekly announcements are not anything new to online instructors. However, after many conversations with my fellow colleagues, I understand the frustration they face of students not reading announcements. Some suggestions: consider what content you are adding in these announcements. Use these weekly announcements to spark interest, make connections between previous and new concepts, address new assignments and student expectations. End the announcement with an open-ended question. Most learning management systems (LMS) have a function for students to reply to an announcement. Use the open-ended question to have students connect a new concept to real-life and/or their own experience. Their response is also an indication of their comprehension of the announcement.
Think about the end of each traditional class session when the instructor reminds students of upcoming due dates. This next task has the same feel, but in an online environment. Using the amazing tools available in most LMSs, message a reminder to students who have yet to submit an upcoming assignment. This personal communication is indication that the instructor cares about each student and his/her progress in the class. “A personal message for every student, for every assignment… you’ve got to be kidding me, Nicole.” I know that sounds crazy, and I wouldn’t suggest something so time consuming without a shortcut! Find the tool in your LMS gradebook that sorts students by who has not submitted yet, then compose a single message for all in this list and make sure to BCC students for a personal message.
This task is something I can not stress enough… the power of timely feedback. My M.Ed. in EdTech and teaching online included an entire course on assessment and feedback. Although I gained high understanding in theories, methods, and strategies, my number one takeaway from this course was that academic feedback is literally pointless if not provided within a timely manner. Students move-on, and the feedback loses relevance with each day. What a missed learning opportunity. Providing guiding feedback is one of our main responsibilities as online instructors. My suggestion is to commit to providing feedback for every assignment within a 7- day window. Making this commitment to your students at the beginning of the term keeps your accountable and let’s students know that you are serious about their learning and value their time and work. This will also help you gauge their workload if yours is reflected in your grading time.
The effectiveness of online class discussions has been debated for years. Most dread the “then reply to two peers” assignment. Can an online discussion really mirror the gold found in traditional class discussions? This is a topic that I could spend an entire series on describing strategies, do’s and don’ts, and best practices. So, here, I’ll just suggest that instructors can further instill their commitment to student learning by engaging in these discussion forums. Be the facilitator of deeper discussion by replying to a couple of student’s post each week. Show that you care about their thought process in the development of their own understandings.
3. Student Voice
Here’s a two for one task, a student cafe. This “cafe” is in the form of a discussion board that is open to student to student conversations, questions, and chats. The first benefit is the peer-to-peer connection and engagement. Another piece of the retention pie. The second benefit is the instructor insight gathered from this student discussion. What concepts are they struggling with? What assignment types most challenging? What topics are the most engaging? Through this strategy students are connecting with one another, as well as giving you high value information for reflection and instructional adjustments.
Canvas Hack: You don’t need to create a different cafe/discussion forum for each week. Just click, drag, and drop the existing forum into the new week.
Midterms are synonymous with a large test or assignment to gauge learning outcomes at the middle of the term. Nothing new, right? Use this halfway point for students to give you feedback too. An anonymous online survey can provide you critical information on how your course is going thus far. Students can tell you what assignments are helping them understand the concepts, what supports are most useful, self-assess their own ability to complete a course learning outcome, as well as give helpful suggestions for their success. This is my 5th term using a midterm student survey, and I’m so happy to read the results each term because I actually have time to adjust for student success before the end of the term. I’ve also experienced student appreciation of my interest in their voice and experience.
4. Student Supports
It takes a village. You, as the instructor, are not the only support your students have. Many colleges have both academic and personal support departments available. Your job is to connect the students and departments when you see the need. The college I currently teach for has a retention system is called Early Alerts. This system ultimately allows the instructor to flag a student who is in need of extra support. Lucky for me, the retention specialist then contacts the student to offer multiple academic and personal supports depending on the information I’ve stated and their own conversation. Submitting these Early Alerts pays a two part role, as it also provides a system for me to track my tried interventions and communications with each struggling student throughout the term. My most important suggestion is for instructions to do this (retention system or tracking interventions) multiple times throughout the term, not just at the end of the first week for financial aid information.
Nicole, how am I suppose to remember all of these retential tasks, let alone complete all of them?! Not to worry friends. I’ve created a detailed one-pager that includes the 4 retention components with each of the strategies described here for efficient reference. Select two strategies to start with and add one each term. Take note of your DFW, or retention rate, as well as your end of course evaluations. Please share your success or challenges below. Remember, this is a community where we learn, support, and grow together.
Routine Retention Tasks Freebie
To access, select the link above. Register, or login to download.
Akanegbu, Anuli, et al. “50 Striking Statistics About Distance Learning in Higher Education.” Technology Solutions That Drive Education, 12 July 2012, edtechmagazine.com/higher/article/2012/07/50-striking-statistics-about-distance-learning-higher-education.
Babson College. “2015 Survey of Online Learning | News & Events.” Babson College, www.babson.edu/news-events/babson-news/Pages/2016-babson-releases-2015-survey-of-online-learning.aspx .
Braxton, John M. Understanding and Reducing College Student Departure: ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report. 2004.
“Student Engagement Strategies for the Online Learning Environment.” Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning, 16 May 2017, www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/student-engagement-how-to-help-students-succeed-in-the-online-environment/.
It’s a week before the start of term and you’ve been assigned to teach an online course. Maybe it’s your first online course or maybe it’s your tenth, but regardless, you know there is a lot to be done. Where do you begin? I suggest you build a plan with retention in mind. Generally, the retention rate for online courses is calculated to be 10%-20% lower than in-person (traditional) courses. Online retention strategies can be implemented by including clear course design, student connections to the instructor and peers, and a welcoming learning environment. The start of the term is arguably the most important for an online course. I know, that's like a lot of pressure to get it right the first time. Not to worry, fellow online instructors! I’ve broken down the 3 major areas of course preparation with students retention at the center of design.
Welcome Your Students
Your goal for this step is to create more than one way to welcome your students. We want our students to start feel: 1) connected to a real/human instructor, 2) a clear understanding of what is expected of them to start, and 3) the course instructor is organized and already cares about the success of his/her students. To achieve this goal, create the following 3 welcome items: a welcome screencast video, a welcome e-mail, and a welcome announcement. Why so many welcome items for one class?. Each item has its very own purpose.
A welcome video allows your students to see you! The video is a chance for your students to see a face with the name; to know there is a real human instructor on the other side of the computer screen. The welcome e-mail is composed to reach your students prior to the start of term. Many Learning Management Systems (LMS) don’t allow messaging to begin until the term starts. Send out the welcome e-mail one week prior to the first day. Compose the email to introduce yourself (add link to the welcome video), list the course materials, and the LMS student login information with IT support contacts. The welcome announcement provides instructor presence in the online learning environment from day one. The announcement should be "short and sweet" with the purpose of welcoming your students and how to get started (with one next step listed). For example, “Your next step is to read our course syllabus. Select the Syllabus tab on the left side panel”.
Canvas Hack: Time Delay Announcements - You can write your welcome announcement days before the first day of term and set the "delay post" option. The option allows you to set the day and time you want the announcement to publish for student viewing. Find this option checkbox below the text box.
Now that you’ve prepared your course for your students to feel welcomed and connected to their instructor, it’s time to prepare your learning content.
Prepare Your Content
From my own experience as an online college instructor, if you’re responsible for your own course content, it’s best to have at least the first two weeks finalized and ready for student viewing. Even if you are not planning on changing content from a previous term, each week you’ll want to take time to review a future week’s content including links and assignments for adjustments and fine-tuning. Once reviewed, then you can publish for student viewing or set the module to unlock on a certain date. So let’s start with the beginning course content modules: Start Here (Welcome), Week 1, and Week 2.
Start Here Module
First up, the welcome page. The welcome page serves as the first content page students can visit in order to view the welcome video, the list of course materials, students expectations, and steps on how to get started (essentially, the content of the welcome video in short text form). Next, students can read the syllabus (course and institutional if separate) and prove their comprehension by taking a quick syllabus quiz. The quiz should be comprised of the key components you want your students to know about the course structure and policies. Lastly, think about other set-up tasks that students need to complete at the start of the course. Creating assignments for each set-up task provides students with a due date and points awarded. To show completion of the task, have students take a screenshot and submit the image file to the assignment. Now your students are ready to dive into the learning.
Canvas Hack: Setting Module Requirements - Use the settings option (triple dots button) in the module to set the syllabus quiz as a requirement to “complete” the module and unlock the following module. Here’s a video show you exactly how to do this: Modules Creation Video (start at 2:40 - 3:45)
Week 1 Module
Start each week with an agenda that outlines the key concepts for the week, the learning objectives, and the assignments. Next, organize the learning content page. This page can include videos, text, images, links, and files. Always use text headers to organize information for readability on every page. The next preparation tip is one that has helped at least one of my students every term. Due to financial aid processing, students may not have their funds available to purchase the textbooks prior to the first week of term. To remedy this, instructors can scan in the first chapter of the textbook or material into a PDF format and upload the PDF file to the week 1 module. Copyright law states that an excerpt can be copied, as long as it is 10% or less of the total material. More than likely, one chapter of the text fits this criteria and all students will have access to the first chapter needed regardless of their finances.
Next, you'll want to address learning application activities. Prior to publishing an assignment for student viewing, remember to check for the following: clear/simple instructions, type of submission (file upload, text response, etc.), and due date. My last tip for preparing the week 1 module is to set a reminder in your own calendar to complete retention alerts for students who do not participate by the end of week one.
Canvas Hack: Content Page Features - Content pages are versatile. In order to create a concise module, use the features on the content page to add and organize multiple resources (files, links, etc.) on one page. Reminder: It’s important to address a purpose for each resource listed. A content page with a list of information with no purpose or connection stated lacks purpose. The following video shows all of the features available on a Canvas Content Page.
Week 2 Module
The week 2 module should be consistent with week 1 module in structure, order, and appearance. Start the module with the weekly agenda. Next, review and organize learning content. Then, review the assignments for clear instructions, submission type, and due date. Remember, consistency in module layout reduces student frustration. Cognitive strain should be used learning concepts, not navigation.
Publish Your Course
Before you hit the BIG publish button, you’ll need to review the course contents. If you’ve only prepared the first 2 weeks of content, you’ll want to only publish that content for student view. First, publish the entire module. Each module item (pages and assignments) in that module should also display the publish icon. Next, check that there are not other modules or content items published that are not prepared for student viewing. Use the "Student View" tool to review your course with a student lens. Check that readied content is viewable. Once your content is ready, don’t forget to push the BIG course publish button.
Canvas Hack: Hidden Published Content Items - Pages and assignments can be published and not listed in the modules. So, check the “pages” and “assignments” link in the course navigation for published content items not ready for student viewing.
Canvas Hack: Open the Course Early - Want to open your course earlier than the start of term? Once all content and the course is published, use the Settings link in the course navigation to access course settings page. Next, locate the term, start, and end date section. Select the new start date and don’t forget to then select the checkbox under the end date stating that students can only participate in the course between these dates.
Start of Term Checklist (Freebie)
Get your one-page detailed checklist with the retention strategies mentioned in this post just for you. Click the title and join (register/login) our Leveraging eLearning tribe to download for free.
Ok, here we go. The purpose of this blog is to serve as a platform for me to share everything I've learned about distance education with you. The world is changing and distance education is only going to grow and become more prevalent in our society. I know there are books, conferences, associations, and gurus available to help instructors rock the online world. However, they all just felt a little stuffy and disconnected from what would really help the instructors on the front lines. I want to put our truly valuable, easy to use resources for instructors to use now. The type of content that I wish I had when I first started teaching online 3 years ago.
I'm one of the lucky ones. My education career started in a 6th grade classroom. I had just finished my college courses on pedagogy theory and I was ready to put it all into practice. From classroom management to English language learner teaching strategies to lesson objectives and assessments, I used every opportunity to hone my educator skills. After a couple of grade changes and a couple of country changes, I was ready to share my knowledge with future teachers. I started my college instructor career. Only after 3 terms teaching college students, I took the opportunity to become the instructional designer for the college's growing distance education program.
Sitting in my new office with instructional designer on my door, I felt proud as I had finally reached an ultimate position to assist college instructors implement their knowledge of online pedagogy in their courses. I learned a few key points in the first 3 months on the job:
1) College instructors have hearts of pure gold. Every instructor is there for the success of their students and their of love of the discipline.
2) College instructors have a lot on their plate at any given point of the year.
3) College instructors are not required to have any training in pedagogy.
As a previous K-12 teacher, the first 2 points where not a huge surprise, but that last one...
Luckily, I worked at a college who was open to any trainings, resources, and developments I could create. It became my mission to give those college educators truly helpful tools for them to lessen their work load so they could provide quality instruction that is focused on their students.
So...Leveraging eLearning (LeL) Blog
So, here we are. A blog dedicated to supporting faculty in a couple of ways:
1) Blog posts with value - I love solving problems and boy don't we understand that the newness of distance education contains many mysterys. Through these blog posts, I'll provide answers to common and uncommon issues in online education.
2) Freebies - Resources I'm creating with real instructors in mind (myself included). Theories and methods are great, but putting them into practice with step-by-step guides is my specialty.
3) Instructional Design (ID) Services - Hands on help is sometimes the only way to go. I can help you elevate your online instruction in a one-on-one training and design package. Most instructional designers obtain the content, assess the needs, design the course, and hand it back. I love efficiency, but this seems like a missed golden opportunity for course design training. I've designed ID services packages focused instructor values for course design and training.
Taking the Risk
Here I am taking the risk of putting myself, my knowledge, and my heart out there. Scary, right?! Here's the thing...it's totally worth it. If I can help one online instructor feel less stressed, connect with a student, proud of their course design, feel confident in a new skill, then it is all worth it because I know those changes ultimately reach a student. And that my friends is how we change the world.
Nicole Mace believes that distance education is a true game changer. She has spent close to a decade in education and spends her free time reading anything she can get her hands on about online learning.
Nicole's Guest Posts