More Essential and Helpful Resources for Online Instructors

This post features a collection of carefully selected resources specific to teaching online; geared to educators seeking skill development for creating meaningful online discussions, communicating effectively with students, and providing constructive feedback.

iStock_000018547848XSmallThis is the second article in a series featuring select instructional resources—I’m in the process of building a bank of resources accessible from this blog geared to educators seeking skill development in facilitating and designing online courses. Over time I’ll be adding to the Resources section with the goal of sharing high-quality, relevant and helpful resources. This post includes resources grouped by topic with a brief description of each, and an icon indicating its type. For the list of previously featured resources and/or for the icon legend please refer to the resources tab of this site.

IV. Personalized Instructor Feedback and Interactions with Online Students

The level of instructor involvement [or not] in online learning environments is a controversial topic in the education sector. With automated grading programs and LMS platforms that provide automated, yet ‘personalized’ feedback based on student response scores, log-on and key stroke patterns, a growing camp of educators are convinced that learning is not comprised in the absence of an instructor—and is even improved with programmed feedback. Intuitively, I disagree. I see the need for personal interaction and support from an experienced and interested educator. In this section I’ve included a collection of resources that support the premise that interaction and feedback are critical to student success.

pdf1. This literature review paper explores far more than instructor feedback and interaction in online learning spaces, yet it is worthy to include here given it addresses current research concerned with online learning effectiveness in terms of learners’ interactions with their instructors and classmates. The specifics can be found on pages five through eighteen: Learning Effectiveness Online: What the Research Tells Us, Swan, K (2003).

Videos2. Giving feedback and interacting with students in the online classroom is no less important in the virtual realm than in face-to-face; yet doing so requires instructors to be strategic and purposeful in their communication with students, and requires a different perspective. This three-minute clip, Interact with Students featuring the program chair from Penn State World Campus, summarizes how and why faculty involvement with students online differs from, and is just as crucial as in face-to-face classrooms.

blogicon3. I wrote a blog post, ‘Speaking’ to Students with Audio Feedback in Online Courses about providing feedback to online students using audio feedback for student assignments in place of written feedback. The idea came from a communications professor that I follow on Twitter who had great success with this method; her students loved it.  Apparently so do many other students [and instructors] based upon the feedback and reaction from readers. The post explains how-to give audio feedback and what tools to use. The comments within the post are also helpful.

Website Link4. This web article provides three solid strategies for communicating with online students, as a class and individually. Though not specific to skill development for educators, there is helpful information here including how to use a rubric for structuring feedback for students: How to Provide Fair and Effective Feedback in Asynchronous Courses, Gruenbaum, E. (2010).

V.  Fostering Asynchronous Student Discussions

pdf1. Asynchronous discussions that are incorporated into curriculum for online courses can build student engagement and support higher levels of achievement and learning. However in order that forum discussions are successful and not viewed as busy work by students, discussions must be thoughtfully planned before the course begins, and need to be facilitated and monitored once the course is underway. This peer-reviewed article provides the foundational knowledge that educators require to construct the conditions, parameters, and student guidelines for successful and meaningful synchronous discussions:  Essential Elements in Designing Online Discussions to Promote Cognitive Presence — A Practical Experience.

Videos2.  This six-minute video, Conducting effective online discussions from the COFA series Learning to Teaching Online, provides educators with skill development and strategies for managing and facilitating effective online discussions and how to engage students in the process. I can’t say enough about this series from COFA—skill development in a concise format, honed to specific topics, that can be accessed easily by educators for their own skill development when needed.

Website Link3. There are several essential elements inherent to successful asynchronous discussions, and this web article, 5 Tips for Hosting Online Class Discussions,  summarizes the five core elements, including the need to grade student contributions. From my experience, assigning a grade for discussion contributions is necessary to foster participation in for-credit classes, including using a rubric that outlines expectations which increases the chances for a higher quality level of contributions.

As mentioned previously, this is the second post where I’ve shared a set of resources, and I’ve been encouraged by the number of positive responses and excellent suggestions. Thank you! There’s more to come, and in my next post that features resources, I’ll share ones specific to instructional design and pedagogy.

Instructor Presence in the Online Class – Key to Learner Success

Part 1 in a 3 part series on the  concept of ‘Presence’ in the Online Classroom.

Instructor presence in the online environment can be elusive as a shadow – it’s one dimensional, monochromatic and takes on various forms depending upon the point of view. Yet, instructor presence in online learning communities is vital to ‘complete learning’ (by complete I mean student engages with content, applies higher order thinking skills, and produces tangible evidence that learning objectives are met). In the virtual environment the instructor needs to be ‘real’, 3 dimensional, have a personality, be the subject matter expert and as if this isn’t enough, help the student achieve the learning goals in this virtual space. A tall order. In this post I’ll share why and how instructor [virtual] presence is critical, essential instructional design components to facilitate presence, and strategies used by instructors that demonstrate presence.

Community of Learning (Garrison)What is Online presence?
The concept of ‘presence’ in the online environment is in itself complex, involving thought, emotion and behaviours (Lehman and Conceicao, 2011). Presence in this context can be divided into categories of social, cognitive and instructor presence as presented in the Community of Inquiry model, which provides a framework for  learning in the online environment (Garrison, 2003). An uncomplicated definition of online presence is, a sense of ‘being there’ or ‘being together with others’. For students to experience this sense of presence online, the technology must become transparent – the web enabled device, the platform, or site is invisible, in other words:

…the student becomes engaged by the content (whether people, text, images or other) and the technology disappears.

Why Instructor presence is Key to Learner Success
Of course there are theoretical reasons which describe why the role of the instructor is crucial to online learning, but this week as I reviewed student feedback from our most recent session of online courses at my workplace, it became apparent just how important the instructor’s role is, by the level of ‘presence’ as perceived by the student. Below is a selection of student comments which illustrate the value of the instructor. Responses are to this question – “What did you like best about the course”:

Dr. ___  insight and instruction is outstanding. As a student who already holds a Master’s degree in Science, I appreciate a good instructor …

…The best thing about the course was Dr. ___. He really made things so that you could understand them…

Dr. ___ was very helpful, but at this point (the middle of week 8), he still has not uploaded grades for any of the course discussion boards, some of which I submitted 7 weeks ago….[this comment reinforces the value of instructor feedback]

A research study in Journal of Interactive Online Learning supports this observation. The study found that the largest single instructor action that students attributed to their success in the online course was the feedback provided by instructors that helped them [students] understand their strengths and weaknesses. The second most important success factor identified was the “instructor’s ability to focus discussions on relevant issues” (Kupczynsk et al., 2010).

Course Design to Support Instructor Presence
Another concept which is interesting is how the instructional design of the course itself supports ‘presence’. Course design can be considered, the silent instructor. When strong design principles are in place, this frees up the online instructor to invest time in connecting with students in the online community and teaching.

“The need for presentation of clear, concise objectives, instructions and general participation guidelines should be a cornerstone of online course development. Both groups in this study expressed significant frustration when these elements were not present and believed that successful engagement with content and activities was dependent on sound instructional design and organization”. (Kupczynsk, 2010).

How the Instructor can establish presence

  1. The professor as a real person: Our instructors create a one to two minute welcome video. Students watch the clip during the first few days of the class. Instructors create a YouTube video clip (can be private), or create a .mov file on their laptop and upload the clip to our Learning Management platform. I love these clips – each are unique as the professor.  Some are filmed in the instructor’s office, outside, or even in a coffee shop. These clips make the professor ‘real’ and set the tone for an open and interactive learning community.
  2. Communicating regularly: Posting a weekly announcement with course updates, web resources, commenting on course discussion boards and/or upcoming assignments also seems to be an effective method by the instructor communicating ‘en masse’. Using humour strategically can also break the ice and make the class fun, with a humourous YouTube clip or comic.
  3. Feedback on assignments. My absolutely favorite method of feedback that I received as a student, was when my professor recorded feedback on an assignment using the  screen cast format, [Jing is one example]. The file was emailed (and posted in the gradebook). The instructor gave specific, personal commentary, and though it was only 3 or 4 minutes in length, it was effective. Another option is Audacity or
  4. Feedback/input on Class Discussions. [Not surprising] research also suggests that students respond positively when instructors are involved in class discussions, rating this as a strong indicator of presence.

It takes a completely different skill set to instruct online than in the face-to-face environment. Hopefully this post provided some insight and assistance for those instructors teaching online. I’ll be covering social presence and cognitive presence in part 2 and 3 respectively. Click here for part II, Do we need Social Butterflies in Online Learning Communities?

Lehman, R. & S.C.C. Conceicao. (2011). Creating a Sense of Presence in Online Teaching.
Jossy Bass Publishing. San Fransisco, CA.

Kupczynski, L., Ice, P., Wiesenmayer, R., & McCluskey, F. (2010). Student perceptions of the relationship between indicators of teaching presence and success in online courses. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 9 (1).

Photo Credit: Professor: University of Maryland, Flickr

Providing relevant learning online…outside the [LMS] Bubble

Let’s face it – the learning management platforms (i.e. Moodle, Blackboard) as they exist today, are restrictive, limiting for both the learner and online educator. The flexibility, value and learning potential available with Web 2.0 tools far exceed the teaching limitations that exist within the LMS platform. CT’s s recent article, Rebuilding the LMS for the 21st Century reaffirmed what I’ve written about before – working within an LMS platform feels as if I’m trying to communicate (from the student perspective) and teach (educators’ perspective) through a brick wall – I said A BRICK WALL – can you hear me? Sorry for the big caps, but that is how it one feels inside an LMS – the need to shout.

Now more than ever as LMS platforms merge into one (Blackboard recently acquired Moodlerooms)* educators need to be independent for lack of a better word, move beyond the walls of the LMS, explore and embrace the multiplicity of tools available to teach, instruct and foster learning online. The agility of  innovative software developers to provide new tools and  applications for collaboration far outpaces what traditional LMS providers can offer, in fact this says it better than I could,

 “Web 2.0 enables and accelerates the transition to a more connected world in which open, user-centered and self-organising networks create value, including public [educational] value. That’s the Web 2.0 proposition with which…people …around the world are experimenting to see ….eGovernment Resource Centre

Why use Web 2.0 tools in Online Teaching?
Just as in the classroom, utilizing a multiplicity of tools and methods is part of instruction though with online there are additional reasons, relevancy, and learning through collaboration with peers. A blog reader, a professor of communications class, shared her approach, “I believe they [students] should be using web applications and not be inside the LMS silos … learning how to make use of the possibilities offered on the Exactly – an illustration of relevant learning.

This clever illustration below uses Bloom’s Taxonomy with its levels of cognitive learning domains presented in the familiar pyramid image, but inserts applicable web 2.0 applications into each, which illustrates Web 2.0 tools that support instruction. I would like to reiterate here, that it is only through a sound instructional design strategy that instruction is effective, with appropriate tools chosen to support learning objectives (my model of choice: Dick, Carey and Carey).

Bloom's Taxonomy and Web 2.0 Applications, by Samantha Penney

The other reason, emerging research suggests students learn better when there is a visual representation of course content to work with, [beyond the text] either through knowledge maps, or graphs with text within boxes [used in context of the visual mapping] (Suthers et. al., 2006). Though the research focuses on collaborative learning and interactions with knowledge maps, this is an interesting concept to consider.  What it does suggest is that online learning needs to move beyond the threaded discussions in the LMS platform.

Where to start…
There are a plethora of tools available and I will admit it will take some legwork to find relevant and applicable tools to meet the needs of the course objectives – I will provide just a few examples below to get you started. Also consider revisiting the instructional strategy, reviewing the learning objectives, the course content, and select learning activities that will support student learning. Next, I like to identify the appropriate level within Bloom’s Taxonomy, which helps with my choice of appropriate tool. Using the verbs associated with the learning level are also helpful – for example, analyze, synthesize will require different learning activities than verbs such as identifying or describing.

  • A collaborative mapping tool, MindMesister
  • Mindamo, Online Mind Mapping Software, available in Google Apps
  • Collaborative Data spreadsheet tool (think Excel), EditGrid
  • 35 Best Web 2.0 tools for Teachers, Edudemic

Keep Learning 🙂

Related Post: The LMS Divide
* Correction to my original post which incorrectly stated that Blackboard had acquired Moodle, it should have read Moodlerooms.  Moodlerooms is a support provider to Moodle, an open source platform.

Suthers, D.D., Vatrapu , R., Medina, R., Joseph, S., & Nathan Dwyer. (2008, May). Beyond threaded discussion: Representational guidance in asynchronous collaborative learning environments. Computers & Education. Volume 50, Issue 4, pp 1103-1127