Aside: This blog entry started out as a blend of old and new ideas for facilitating online learning–building on an article I wrote in 2009, but has been fun to write as an exploration of neat tools (mostly, Google) that have emerged since then. The end result is an “updated” article. What would you include that I’ve left out?



Learning should be social…and in today’s world being social means being connected while you learn. Do we help create these social connections or are we to worried about the time students might waste being social and being connected?
 

Source: The Thinking Stick Blog

Easy access to course management systems (also labelled “learning management systems”) like Google Classroom, Haiku LMS, GoogleApps as an LMS, Moodle, Sakai, among others, make online learning possible for K-16 educational institutions. This article encapsulates 8 tips that flow from experiences as an online learning facilitator and through the constant reading and reflection.

This online learning experience kept my interest and provided me with learning that I know will benefit me as an educator and, thus, will positively impact student learning. I especially enjoyed being able to login at my convenience and from multiple portals (home and work). The content was challenging and interesting and I found that the activities/projects were relevant and, thus, met my needs as an adult learner. 

Source: Texas public school district Online Course Participant


LEARNING IS SOCIAL
Learning IS social…and online learning environments engage students in that way. But we have to be careful to avoid trying to engage students in online learning environments with face to face approaches. . .the effects of F2F engagement methods may be different than what we expect. We have discovered this through our own professional learning experiences online as students and facilitators. Here are 8 tips that may be helpful to you:

Tip #1 – Address the logistics of the course in your course materials and make sure they are obvious and easily accessible rather than buried in a syllabus or other document. Logistics can include how often students should login and participate in the course, assessment rubrics, etc. 

  • Craft a syllabus
  • Develop an assignment checklist
  • Streamline organization of the course by chunking or “modularizing” content. This makes it easy for learners to break off and then dive back into the content that comes in bite-sized pieces (e.g. 5 minutes).
  • Blend text, audio and video into the content. 

These tips, that are perhaps obvious now in light of blended learning information shared, enables your virtual students to work their way through the content for a specific topic within the overall course of study. 

I too am a Middle School Math teacher. I teach 7th grade. What grade do you teach?Is this your first technology course? I just finished the [online] course and it was an awesome experience.  . .It’s nice to meet you and I look forward to working with you this week.Source: Introduce Yourself Forum, Online Course

Organizing a course using Google Sites, as you can see from these examples, is a matter of organization and fun:

One of the challenges for any online course is keeping content up to date. Not having to deal with arcane systems makes it easier to accomplish! 

Tip #2 – Personalize your online learning environment with multimedia. 

These videos and articles put so much more into place and answered many of my questions that I had,” shared one online course participant. You can accomplish this by including audio+picture or video testimonials from former students and course introductions by district facilitators. One of my favorite examples of this approach was, when designing a course for librarians being introduced to Web 2.0, to request audio introductions to the topics from well-known library advocates such as Doug “Blue Skunk” Johnson and Joyce Valenza. The expectation was that they would provide a brief introduction from their “library” perspective for each topic. This kind of personalization helps build a real connection with course participants.

In one online class, participants had the opportunity to view videos that illustrated how to accomplish something relevant to the class. Some of the positive feedback from using the videos:

Before I took this class, I had no idea how blogging could be so helpful to myself and my class. I had wanted to create a classroom web page; however I see that a blogging site would be so much better. I think it will really help my class communicate with other classes and to gather ideas from other children their age. I can use it to reflect on lessons and classroom management. I can also use it to post special projects, lessons, homework as well as showcase their work. Subscribing to RSS feeds has made it easier to obtain information.  

Source: Participant, Blogging Online Course

Some screencast and video recording tools you can advantage of include the following:

  1. Screencast Creation Tools – 
    1. Computer and Web:
      1. Use either Vocaroo.com (web) or Audacity (computer) to record audio narrations. Both are free, works on all computer types. 
      2. Screencast-o-Matic is a web-based screen-recording tool that allows you to record your computer’s screen. 
      3. TechSmith’s SnagIt – This is the premiere $20 program to record screencasts on your computer.
    2. Chromebook:
      1. Screencastify – Absolutely my favorite for easy to use, allowing you to save videos for hosting at YouTube or GoogleDrive. For GoogleApps users, this is phenomenal since you have unlimited storage and GoogleDrive makes it easy to share the video, including with embed code. There is a slight delay while Drive converts Screencastify’s webm video format to a more compatible one with most web users.
      2. TechSmith’s Snagit app and extension combo – A solid choice that combines image and screencasting.
      3. ClipChamp – A very easy to use tool that works in tandem with a web site to facilitate the entire process.
      4. MediaCore Capture – Another easy tool to use to record your screen, as well as yourself (picture in a picture).
    3. iPad:
      1. Touchcast (Free) – This is a tool to flip communications,create videos while reading a script right on the screen. Read this blog post to see examples.
      2. Explain Everything ($2.99) – This is the must-have, go-to tool for creating screencasts on iPad and Android tablets. Let’s you create and share content via GoogleDrive, Dropbox, etc. Watch this video highlighting its features.
      3. Knowmia (free) – It’s a versatile tool like Explain Everything, although it does not allow you save your content as a video file, only host it on theknowmia.com web site. This is used by Domingo Martinez at ECHS!
      4. EduCreations (free) – Try EduCreations. Works great, is free, and easy to share online through their web site. Drawbacks: Can’t export video and their web site is slow to load.

Tip #3 – Develop and share materials with potential participants. Making course materials available online–including organizing your class calendar and gradebook–is important, but it’s also necessary to share the print resources you are using to advertise the class online. Often, course participants request access to the flyer that enticed them to sign-up for the online course. By revisiting the flyer, they can visually remember what their purpose for registering for the course was.

If you want someone to learn something online, “old-timers” may want to print and read content rather than view it all online. That’s why making content print-friendly can help bridge their movement from 100% face to face and print to blended learning environments.


It’s now much easier, especially with GoogleSheets and Gmail, to stay in contact with folks via email. Here are some helpful add-ons that can streamline communications:


  • Ultradox – Karen Harris shares the following: “I am using Ultradox to automatically email Certificates of Completion. I am using a Google Form to generate a personalized email message with a PDF of the Certificate attached.  This add-on can do more, but this is a very nice start.”
  • Yet Another Mail Merge – This is a simple add-on that empowers you to use GoogleSheets and Gmail to send out information. From their web site: “This mail merge script will let you select a draft written in Gmail, replace template keys with names and other information from the spreadsheet and automatically send the email. Also, users can configure the add-on to notify one or more email addresses whenever a form is submitted. Another option will send an email to an address submitted by the form.”

Another neat tool is one that allows for students to submit content via a GoogleForm, allowing you to respond and then have your response sent back to students through the magic of Flubaroo, as explained in their blog (#3)

When emailing grades, you can optionally send each student individualized feedback. The message will be delivered to the student in the email with their grades, along with any message you may have also supplied for the entire class

This can be used to heighten teacher-student reciprocal dialogue. If you are using rubrics (and you should be), consider these suggestions on how to use Google Sheets for Automated Feedback Using Rubrics:


A common concern is that anyone can submit an online form, unless you’ve specifically shared it with students. Another approach is this one via GLearning Blog, Using Google Forms with Secure Verification Numbers:

One quick solution for making a Google Form more secure is to create a dropdown list with your students names, as you can spot duplicates immediately. This works fairly well if you use the form only with one class and if the poll doesn’t have to be anonymous, like in the case of student – teacher feedback. Imagine, however, 500 students voting for their representative in school. In such a case a nice and easy solution would be to use verification numbers (or TAN/transaction numbers). Each students gets assigned (preferably emailed) a number which can be used to submit a form only once.

Find out more at that blog.


Tip #4 – Set up forums that address the “social dimension” of introducing people and getting to know each other, as well as forums for dealing with technical aspects. If someone hasn’t logged in, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call them or send an email a day until they respond. In one instance, technical issues at the District level interfered with the class, resulting in this question from a participant in the Technical Support Forum:

Question from Learner #1: I just received and email saying that our district server was going to be down Friday through Saturday. Does this affect our internet course? Also I wanted to follow up on the blog request form. Is there still a problem with the setting up of our blogs? I submitted the request and still haven’t heard anything. I’m just concerned about completing the assigments on time. I know that something was mentioned about an extension, but I wanted to know if that still applied and also how much longer we had. Thank you
Response from Learner #2: Yes, will we be allowed extra time to complete our assignments? With the blog site down and then the entire network down it will be hard to complete assignments on time.

The power of Support Forums is that when your online learners start to come together as a community of learners, they start to help each other out and respond. As facilitator, I did not get a chance to respond quickly enough but another participant stepped up…and stepping up to help others learn fundamentally changes–in a positive way–the teaching and learning dynamic.

Even if you’re not using a traditional LMS, you can quickly facilitate online conversations–and presentations, like this one about MOOCs, using tools like WizIQ–using social media, from Google+ Communities which can be open or closed. Nellie Deutsch does just that for Moodle session participants:


Check it out online at https://plus.google.com/communities/113606017575012750254

In all honesty, I prefer the “bounded” nature of Google+ Community–readily available to school districts using GoogleApps for Education–to the openness of Twitter chats managed via hashtags, subject to easy hijacking by vendors or Internet trolls.

Tip #5 – Remember to scaffold and support learning conversations rather than dominate them. Part of your scaffolding and support is providing regular feedback and interacting with participants online. This is especially important up front since your level of activity serves as a model for the level of interaction students will exhibit when you are present but not as active.

This initial high interactivity sloping down to omni-presence enables participants to learn to rely on each other for answers, rather than you. Consider this exchange between participants in their first attempts to create a podcast using a free online service that, unfortunately, was blocked within the District (unblocked later):

Learner #1: After trying repeatedly at school to create a podcast without success I was very determined to accomplish this task. Finally, at home I had success.I find it very rewarding to achieve this. It was actually very simple once I was blocked by school servers. The possibilities are endless for this. I can envision student comments as they work on a project or go on a field trip as Ms Farias suggested. If I was undertaking a project on butterflies I would have my students comment on each life stage we observe. Once it was uploaded onto a blog it would be there for review. Pictures could be added to go with the dialogue. 

Learner #2: Great to hear of your success – I listened to your podcast and was inspired to give it a try – I too was successful and you’re correct – despite the multi-steps, not too difficult. 

Learner #3: I like your idea about the butterfly, Jenny! As you already know since we work at the same school next year our campus will incorporate a gallery walk. The purpose of the gallery walk is to showcase student learning. Podcasting would be a great way to showcase a theme while incorporating technology. The students would showcase their expertise on the life cycles of the butterfly. Maybe each student could comment on a different stage of the butterfly and so forth. You could also discuss habitat and food. Great ideas, Thanks


Tip #6 – Don’t be afraid to pull in guest speakers. It has gotten very easy to include people using a variety of technologies like Google Hangouts, Skype, Adobe Connect, and many others. While you can rely on Speakers like these, if you know someone’s Twitter address, you can definitely invite them to share 5-10 minutes of their time illustrating a point. I’m grateful for some of the work speakers did in elaborating on Writing and Technology. Diana Benner and I contacted these folks online and they were kind enough to do 20-30 minute presentations sharing their wisdom. These “talks” remain archived and can be re-used from time to time as part of courses, such as in the Writing Digitally series:

Of course, it’s even more exciting to pull in folks in your own organization (e.g. school district, university) who have wisdom to share that reflects the context and culture of your school.


Tip #7 – Avoid long discussion posts, as well as posts that feature a lot of questions. Focus discussions around ONE central question that resembles an ill-structured problem. For example, consider how many questions are introduced in this discussion prompt. Each question achieves equal status for the participant; how could one question or scenario help participants focus?

Discuss the solutions to the following questions:

  1. A teacher entered a “T” for tardy in the gradebook for the wrong student How can this be corrected?
  2. Who marks attendance when the teacher is absent and there is a substitute in the classroom?
  3. What happens when a student is withdrawn from Teacher A and moved to Teacher B? Why does their name no longer show on the attendance report?
  4. Can teachers change/edit attendance in the electronic gradebook once it is entered?
  5. What are the steps for running an Attendance Totals Report?


A possible alternative way to introduce these topics for discussion:

“Ms. Jones,” began Teri the new assistant principal in conversation with the principal, “Mr. Cervantez was absent from work yesterday and the substitute teacher marked attendance wrong in the electronic gradebook. What we think happened is that the substitute marked Ramon Johnson tardy, but it was really Ramon Jimenez that was absent. Ramon Johnson actually transferred from Mr. Cervantez’ class to Ms. Derrick’s class. What should I tell Mr. Cervantez about changing his gradebook? And, is there any way we can run a report on attendance totals to see what other issues there may be?”

While this is one attempt to weave in various questions and issues into a real life scenario, it’s critical to engage course participants with ill-structured problems. Ill-structured problems can be an effective way of engaging students with experiences that scaffold higher order thinking. Such problems need to achieve curriculum objectives, be engaging but not frustrating, and be developmentally appropriate for the learner.

Tip #8 – Encourage people to discover each other’s strengths and what they each have to bring to the table. One of the most rewarding aspects of online learning conversations is that people discover each other–and themselves–online. Some of the feedback that can result includes the following:

I have found that this course has made sharing information with my students and their families. Online professional learning/development for work-related purposes is a great experience. It allows for you to learn at your own pace and still offers support for those who need support. I enjoy trying to solve each task set forth independently and only seek assistance when needed…I got many ideas and helpful suggestions from the other participants.

Online courses make it easy to obtain professional development in different areas of need…This online learning experience kept my interest and provided me with learning that I know will benefit me as an educator and, thus, will positively impact student learning. I especially enjoyed being able to login at my convenience and from multiple portals (home and work). The content was challenging and interesting and I found that the activities/projects were relevant and, thus, met my needs as an adult learner.

Finally, as online learners discover the benefits of learning online for themselves–especially when they work with other people–that positive reaction will encompass your online professional learning program. I encourage you to employ these 8 tips for successful online course facilitation. Be sure to share back other tips you learn along the way!


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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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