Category Archives: connected

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…

Join OLE!

You are invited to join the group of people collaborating openly about ways to learn together in our ALT Lab faculty course, Online Learning Experience. Share with them what you know and what you are researching. Learn with them the value of collaboration and co-learning so you include these Connected Learning principles in your own course design.

“We live in a world in which you can get the answer to any question within seconds,” Rheingold told us over Skype, “but it’s up to you to determine the validity of the information you receive. It’s so important for learners to understand that critical thinking is not just a tool in the toolkit that you can pull out on occasion, but an attitude towards seeing information that you swim in.” In other words, a digital literacy can be seen as a mental framework one develops through practice—a simultaneously personal and collaborative skill that one must constantly hone in the midst of our computer-mediated lives. Practicing Web Wisdom: Mindfully Incorporating Digital Literacies

An Invitation to Twitter

Use Twitter

We’ve had a great beginning to the VCU Interdisciplinary Social Research Methods course. Everyone is now established in a research proposal group and has an idea of a focused research topic to pursue. Everyone is blogging about the topics at hand. Now it’s time for everyone to connect to the networked world of people thinking about and doing research — using Twitter.

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Create a Twitter account if you don’t have one. If Twitter is a foreign concept here’s some additional help:

Please post a tweet to me @JoyceKincannon when you’ve setup your account. I’ve created a twitter list for those people interested in the VCU Interdisciplinary Social Research Methods course that would like to use twitter as a tool to do engaged research.

The Power of Many to Many

I recently traveled to Dallas for the OLC Emerging Technologies Conference. Dr. Bonnie Stewart, @bonstewart talked about her research within twitter, a network of people who connect using unique usernames and #hashtags for topics. I’ve been using twitter sporadically for a couple of years, but her presentation about “many to many”, helped me to finally understand the real value of this social media as more than a broadcast technology.

Twitter forms many-to-many communication webs of visible connections, a social network with a different currency of reputation. Anyone can join the conversation, no matter degree or status. What counts as influence online in these formats? — the number of tweets one person posts to the network creates influence and audience, and the number of followers indicates their current audience, but often the information included in the individual’s profile is more important than numbers when determining if you will follow that person’s comments in twitter, follow their links, and read their blog.

   To become openly networked means to connect classroom learning with other aspects of living, working, or “doing” across space, time, and multiple spheres of influence or community. It also means to actively participate. People in a networked world receive, relay, and create information, acting on and reacting to people and situations in their chosen “participatory culture.” Henry Jenkins

How might we help colleagues and students develop productive participatory identities? First, create your own practice. Start here.

You’re invited! to a Learning Festival

Imagine. Create, and Share.

We’ve invited everyone we know (and those we’re hoping to meet) to stop in, share ideas and listen to stories about what’s become possible when developing quality learning experiences. Engage your curiosity, imagination, and willingness to learn. Spend each day asking questions and talking with others about shared experience. Visit the MakerSpace and the Gaming Lounge. Chat over lunch. Learn to make a video; Edit Wikipedia; Set up an account for an amazing communication tool; Recreate your syllabus. Join a workshop. 

Register here. For free!     


Why Online? “Access Trumps Knowledge”

I’m writing in response to Harold Jarche’s post, moving to social learning, where he describes a decentralized social learning approach to change in our organizations. Since we are now so technologically connected with communication networks worldwide, access to a trusted network of people to guide our change in work practices makes sense. By engaging with our networks to cooperate, share knowledge and collaborate, learning online gives us the ability to do complex work more readily. We must create the structures necessary to support it.

Research shows that an effective knowledge network is open, transparent, and diverse. Social networks are by nature open; they can enable knowledge-sharing; which in turn fosters a diversity of ideas and opinions necessary for innovation.

If this adaptive social learning is happening in our workplace, helping students learn “how to search, find and make the connections”  is essential. We’ve labeled these principles connected learning in a networked world – access to information and a trusted network of people in order to collaborate and learn.

Knowledge workers – that’s us – also need to develop emergent practices through social relationships outside the workplace – and classroom. This keeps learning connected to the changing external environment, through human relationships and social networks. As educators, we help our students and colleagues connect the ideas worth exploring.

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.