Category Archives: 3rdspace

Teaching a Connected Course

I’m teaching again – a f2f graduate course, Design Challenges in e-Learning for Adults. The students are doing an amazing job of writing about their learning in their syndicated blogs. Their projects are for VCU people wanting insights into ways to create connections for their students using online solutions. I’m finding the shortened 6 weeks makes me pressed to comment, give feedback, write about design, and find good resources to support their work — but thoroughly enjoying the discussions.

Stay tuned for some great design ideas…

Reflective Practice

Impact of Reflective Practice on Online Teaching Performance in Higher Education, MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. Vol. 10, No. 4, December 2014 629

As this article states, there is a growing interest in reflective practice as a strategy to improve reflect-teacher-featuredthe “art of teaching”.  John Dewey and others encourage systematic reflection about teaching as “the process of thinking about what one has taught and using that data to inform the planning of the future lessons.” In this study, specific areas of self-reflection were identified in order to focus on the quality of interaction and instruction that takes place in an online classroom: communication, engagement, expertise, and the use of quality instructional techniques.

Use this set of criteria for self-reflection to help you think about your own teaching. Does it ask the right questions? Is it helpful? Do you already use this practice to engage with students? Should you add it to your practice?

The study itself uses very specific tools available in their specific LMS to create the interaction. You might use email rather than the discussion forum, for example, to create the same interaction with your students. I’ve added alternative examples in parentheses. As you review these points, focus on the practice rather than the tool used to support it. Does having focused points make a difference in your ability to assess and change your online teaching?

Use of Announcements (reminders, emails):  course due dates, assignments, and general overall guidance regarding course events.

  • Uses course announcements to inform, motivate and engage the entire class.
  • Provides announcements (or emails, blog posts) that summarize the past learning outcomes.
  • Provides announcements, … to facilitate learning and promote student success.
  • Builds positive relationships.
  • Builds a positive learning community.

Use of a “Questions for Instructor” Discussion Forum: This represents a dedicated online course discussion forum where students can post questions to the instructor. You might use student blog posts, emails, or other tools for students to ask you direct questions.

  • Uses an established practice of answering student questions to build course community.
  • Directs responses to questions to the entire class.
  • Provides responses that are knowledgeable and instructive in nature.
  • Responds to student questions in a timely and supportive manner.

Use of General Discussion Forums (syndicated blogs, twitter):

  • Stimulate conversation with the students regarding course content.
  • Ask higher-order critical thinking questions or blog prompts that elicit a critical response.
  • Ask follow-up questions that are varied, yet specific to the unit objectives.
  • Actively engage in the discussion and participates in scholarly conversations.

Assignment Feedback: This area represents the instructional feedback provided to the students in response to submitted assignments.

  • Uses the assignment grading rubric to evaluate assignments.
  • Provides quality feedback on assignments that is content-related.
  • Provides quality feedback that is APA and writing-specific.
  • Provides timely feedback and evaluation information.
  • Holds learners accountable for meeting performance criteria.

Quality Instructional Techniques:

  • Uses personal expertise and experience to enhance the content learning.
  • Provides additional material to augment and enhance course content.
  • Provides an end-of-module summary of the week’s learning.
  • “Sets up” the upcoming module by linking new learning to past modules.
  • Engages in the dialogue and conversation with and between students.


Class Size in Online Courses

We often talk of class size and how it affects student learning and instructor performance. I’ve just read a study, published by Merlot in the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, that discusses this question, Classrooms Without Walls: A Comparison of Instructor Performance in Online Courses Differing in Class Size. by Chris Sorensen, Ph.D.

The results of this study suggest that there may be some negative consequences in terms of instructor performance and the quality of instruction in online course with larger class sizes…. Typically, the thought is that smaller class sizes allow for more meaningful student-to-instructor interaction and a higher quality of instruction.

Surprise. Teaching Presence matters.

The optimal class size they found was 15.9 students when 10 or less is small, 11-19 is medium, and 20-30 is large. I agree. 15 to 16 students in an online discussion creates enough varied perspectives on a question to make an interesting conversation. Less than 10 doesn’t provided enough variation. Close to 30 can be difficult to navigate. But realistically, especially for introductory undergraduate courses, the numbers are sometimes 200, seldom 10 to 20.

What was more interesting to me to share are the definitions and rubric used to measure “Distinguished Teaching Performance.” Keep these in mind as you design your next course.

Fostering Critical Thinking Challenging students to elaborate on their thoughts, question their assumptions, examine biases, communicate in a clear and concise manner, and defend their positions throughout the course

Instructive Feedback Providing feedback that challenges and inspires students, while providing specific suggestions to improve the quality of their work and thinking.

High Expectations Demonstrating high expectations throughout the course, while holding students accountable for insightful exchanges and high quality performance on assignments, and promoting active engagement in their own learning.

Establishing Relationships Creatively uses available tools (Announcements, Instructor Guidance, Faculty Expectations, Ask Your Instructor, Emails, Discussion Forum) and strategies to enhance relationships, creating a community of learners willing to take risks and actively engage with one another.

Instructor Expertise Effectively and consistently utilizes expertise in subject matter by providing personal experiences, connecting course knowledge to real-world examples. Enhances course content and resources to encourage student comprehension and application of course learning outcomes.

Many faculty I’ve spoken with recognize that online teaching allows you to personalize the instruction and establish relationships with students, often more than in a f2f class. It is true “that as class size increases, instructors provide less quality feedback because they may not have the time to provide quality instruction to a large number of students.” But course design and instructional strategies can help faculty give feedback and examples of expertise to a larger group of students: group collaboration, discussion groups of 15, learning modules that embed good questions, peer and self assessments, recorded videos of faculty sharing expert examples and demonstrations, one summary post responding to student posts rather than individual response to each post, … are some examples of providing engagement and feedback more efficiently.

How do you engage with your students, especially if you have a large enrollment course of 50 or more?? Please share!!



One thing your instructor can do

Communicate_by_Fenx07While reviewing ECAR survey data related to technology use, I’ve found student comments from the survey prompt “One thing your instructor can do” provide valuable insight.

Most of the student comments requested that faculty use technology to communicate more  — announcements, due dates, detailed information for assignments, grade updates, recorded lectures, simulations, practice cases and, most important, feedback. Examples are:

Communicate often, whether via email, Blackboard, group texting or other similar modes of digital communications.
Some professors could help more if they were more available online when we have questions or concerns.
Connect us to collaboration tools like shared spaces Google docs, drive,
Post lectures for review
Curate materials, especially videos, interactive case studies, or simulations, for students to use to “accompany what we are learning”.

Other research about teaching tells us the same. Community of Inquiry  research defines teaching presence.

your communication with your students is the most important part of the course. Facilitating discourse and sharing personal meaning creates presence. As you help your students stay on task, nudge those who are not as active as needed, answer questions so students don’t get stuck while attempting to do assignments, and ensure the comments in discussions are accurate and on the right track, you create presence.

Connected Learning principles also focus on the communication among learners provided by networked technologies to be essential in establishing shared purpose in a community of people who work together to achieve a shared goal.

Communicating regularly matters, especially to the students themselves.

Do you know about Feedly?

When asked by a colleague, “How do I keep up with the blogs I hope to read?” I showed her Feedly,  a Web-based aggregator, used to help manage your personal list of blogs and websites. It’s certainly not the only RSS reader. You can find other examples:

But what IS? an aggregator? an RSS reader?

The purpose of the Feedly reader is to create one place to collect your favorite sites for reading when you have time. It’s easy way to get started and you can add more sites at any time.

I’ll show you an example, my feedly site and how I use it

Divided Attention

9780674368248I’m reading Minds online: teaching effectively with technology by Michelle Miller, recommended by several colleagues and reviewed here by Harvard Press.

I’ve read as far as the chapter on Attention – the capacity to pick out and maintain task-relevant information while holding irrelevant information at bay. We know human perception and attention is highly intertwined with visual processing. Looking and seeing are not the same! Our attention capacity is limited, probably more than we recognize. We have surprisingly little intuitive awareness of when our limitations are exceeded, which is why we still talk on the phone and drive.

We remember very little in the absence of focused attention. Since focused attention directs what is to be kept in our working memory, it heavily influences what we remember, and without it, we remember precious little.  We do process material at some level even when ignoring it but little or none of it makes it to memory.

This YouTube video is an example of how she demonstrates change blindness and inattentional blindness to show students how much attention matters.

Michelle Miller gives several strategies that may help online learners.  I’ve summarized several of them here:

  1. Keep them engaged by asking questions. Ask students to respond as often as possible to the material they’re reading/viewing to keep attention. Intersperse questions within reading material that require an answer, opinion, or example. Do the same with narrated slides or a video lecture.
  2. Practice for Automaticity. Provide unlimited practice that gives automatic feedback for the kind of lower level problems experts solve quickly. Both time and accuracy count with grade incentives.
  3. Lessen Cognitive Load. Put instructions in the same place as the activity. Don’t make them switch back and forth between instructions, illustrations, and text. Use diagrams with labels in place. Teach software skills before using it to do an assignment. For example, have students practice using a wiki before a major assignment using this shared space is due.
  4. Discourage divided attention. Remind students that divided attention by dysfunctional multitasking costs them time and deep learning. Let them know that the distractions of a quick email or message chat changes their focus from the learning activity.
  5. A short walk in nature restores the ability to focus nature walk'sattentions. Even pictures of nature can sometimes improve attention…

In an online environment, it’s easy for students to be distracted so help them focus by using some of these strategies.

The following is an interview with the author, from Teaching in Higher Ed

Habit Formation

January brings to mind goal setting and, with the new semester, new beginnings and approaches.  What might make creating a healthy, ahabitt least more playful lifestyle an easier journey with a bit less guilt? As I wandered in the shelves of the Richmond Airport shops, waiting for my flight to Tucson for my family New Year’s celebration, I found an intriguing book. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. Being optimistic, I thought it would be at least a good read about psychology, and perhaps it could set me up for establishing those “January” goals. It became my travel book.

On my return, I was reminded by feedly to read a Medium article, Could this be the secret to long-term habit formation? which reiterated what I’d been reading. I’d been to the gym once since reading the book, so reading about habit formation is not the same as implementation – obviously disappointing.

The third sign was an email for presenting 117 apps to help you create good habits. How can I not be successful??habitsApps

“To commit to the habits that will help us achieve our goals this year, we need to introduce variable rewards for doing them.”

An especially important goal for my 2015 is to become more “of the web.” This is about aligning my personal perspective about making connections with an extended network of learners using blogging. I have just spent a week with an extraordinary set of faculty who have agreed to take this journey, this change in perspective, with me.

I don’t see it as much as establishing a habit than beginning an adventure, one of those risks we’re always invited to try. What are the best rewards for narrating for others my own work? The connection and the learning.



Being Vulnerable to Open

I found myself engaged in a live recorded hangout with Connected Courses today… I had expected to do my usual lurking but instead became a co-learner. I was surprised as the leaders of the conversation discussed their own vulnerability when putting their work “out there” for public consumption and critique. The connected experience of circulating your ideas can be unnerving.

Why do this? Why convince the faculty I work with that this connected experience is that valuable? What is the gain for students? The people who have been teaching in an openly networked vulnerable learning space tell me it’s fascinating, amazing, rewarding and certainly worth the possibility of failing in public. Their message is that our students deserve having professors willing to be co-learners in this open conversation. They convinced me.

Lean into the discomfort… Connection is why we’re here…  Allow yourself to be seen.” Brene’ Brown


Network a Shared Experience of Creating Together

…the importance of doing things together, the lip-dub project. It’s one thing to have all the tweeting and commenting, but quite another to have this shared experience of creating together.
It’s pretty simple. And yet so rarely done.  Reply to a post by Alan Levine (@cogdog)


Waag Society Do it together bio. Home grown bio paper and ink.

Waag Society Do it together bio. Home grown bio paper and ink.

And not a new concept. We know shared creating establishes learning more deeply.

Community-centered: Community-centered environments foster norms for people learning from one another, and continually attempting to improve. In such a community, students are encouraged to be active, constructive participants. Further, they are encouraged to make—and then learn from—mistakes. Intellectual camaraderie fosters support, challenge and collaboration. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School  John D. Bransford, Ann L. Brown and Rodney R. Cocking, editors. National Academies Press; 1st edition (September 15, 2000)

So what’s different with the Connected Learning Principles we’ve been sharing, learning, discussing? How can they make community building in our (online and f2f) classrooms a reality? Shared Purpose. Interest Powered. Production Centered. Peer supported. = DO TOGETHER.

Openly Networked Community of learners connected to Open Educational Resources is the new possibility communication technologies and multimedia brings us. Students reflecting about their intriguing questions with those researchers who are developing the related knowledge, facilitated by teachers who make the connections. How do we “make together” in an online connected network of people not in the same physical place?

Pretty simple. ??

Certainly worth doing… We have some examples of students writing magazines together in a syndicated site; diagramming blood paths within biological systems on a digital whiteboard; researchers building shared databases of data; …

What can you imagine being openly networked will do for your students?

Setting Climate Matters

Lately I’ve been thinking about how Connected Learning principles and the Community of Inquiry framework intersect when designing a connected course.

cc-header1This morning I spent time listening to the group of people discussing connected courses , describing their experience in the #etmooc.  What struck me about the conversation was that they were describing how important it was that they had “set climate” first. They understood that tools can mediate the connections but people using the tools are the most important. They talked about their personal connection with the real humans also in the course around playfulness, but more important, kindness, openness and the knowledge that mistakes will be helped but not judged. The relationships among co-learners endure because there were one-to-one connections made that became part of their personal learning network.

They recognized that playfulness is often difficult in a serious academic course, but orienting students first to being learners together makes the difference for becoming co-learners. Let them adjust to the open, connected communication. “It’s different. Self-directed is new.” Howard Rheingold admits “This model takes more time” for faculty but makes a difference for learners developing trust… “Checking each other out…”  Allow personal pace. Let them watch for a time, becoming comfortable in the connections. It can be “a transformative experience.” How do we make our courses more inclusive, engaging, accessible to all levels of learning and skill? Pre-course orientation to being connected in this way might be helpful…”more of an onramp.” Allow students to decide the way in which they communicate and interact.

I’m taking the liberty of naming their description of what made a difference to them personally in the etmooc as “teaching presence and setting climate,” defined in Community of Inquiry. Teaching presence becomes a way to develop trust among learners. The panel suggested: Model ways to present yourself to your co-learners. Call people by name. Recognize when someone joins the conversation. Be kind to the people in your learning community. Welcome engagement and comment thoughtfully on posts. When people are generous, so much can happen. A community can build in this emerging medium.

Another way to “Set climate.” is to begin with a learning project, as described by Professor Alec Couros in The Connected Teacher. Have students begin by seeking the answer to a real question they are intrigued by. First, they find and consume lots of media with information about the topic. “At some point, they make a connection with a person. The internet can mediate that connection.” They learn something and then share what they’ve learned, how they learned, and what mattered. They answer “How are you making learning visible? How are you contributing to the learning of others?” It begins the development of a community of learners. They begin to commit to teaching others what they know.

Teaching presence takes a leadership role in setting the climate and appears to precede both social and cognitive presence in the community of inquiry.