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Online Learning in West Virginia...Questions from a Budd...
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Thinking Back to my West Virginia Days...
A few weeks ago, one of my former students from my days at West Virginia University (WVU) over 2 decades wrote me (1989-1992). His name is Dr. Budd Sapp. Budd was in my class on critical and creative thinking one summer back in 1990 or 1991. It was the first time that I taught my instructional strategies course. Bud is now Professor at Fairmont State University in Fairmont, West Virginia.

Budd said, "I am part of a team who is teaching in a Certificate of Online Teaching (COT) professional development program – which is now being offered to professors throughout the state of WV. The Introduction to Online Learning class that we are teaching has an Online Course Management Module which features your YouTube Video related to “Managing an Online Class” – we also have an “Ask the Expert” Discussion in the Module as well - that is where the favor request comes in – We would like you to be the “Expert”"

I agreed to answer questions from Budd's class. I put some of their general questions (not the entire post) below with my quick responses.

Question #1.      Student #1 asked how to get students to take more personal responsibility for their own learning (especially, how to do this early in the course). Part of her question is below.

"Our readings suggest that it is important that we emphasize to students the level of personal responsibility that will be theirs for the work in an online class...What would you suggest that we could do, perhaps even at the registration stage? .....Do you know how many times students ask me for online classes because they are "easier?" Funny, right?"

My Answers:
a.  Have students post their commitments as well as their expectations in the opening week ice breakers. Respond to 2-3 peer posts. See chapter on tone or climate from my upcoming motivation and retention book. See activities #2 an #3.

b.  Gather testimonials from previous students and post them.

c.  Ask a few prior students to come back to comment on what they did.

d.  Include relevant and meaningful tasks like job application papers.

e.  Include rounds of debriefing and reflection.

f.   Post the course requirements and syllabus early. Perhaps have students do an assignment (ice breaker) or meet 3 weeks early online. It will send a signal.

Question #2.      She also asked how to have less drive by posts. Part of her question is below.

"One problem I have always had with online discussions is getting students to actually engage in meaningful discussion...What ideas do you have to encourage more thoughtful and continuous discussions?"

My Answers:
a.  Require them to include comments from 2 or more other peers in their posts.

b.  Require them to include 2-3 concepts from the book with pages numbers for each post.

c.  Have students take charge of 1 or 2 weeks of the semester discussion forums. They start and wrap discussion.

d.  Invite foreign peers or students in similar courses at other North American institutions into the course. Students do not want to look dumb to their foreign peers.

e.  Perhaps require a series of concept maps and reflections papers or 1 midterm reflection paper to summarize their postings.

f.   Perhaps require (or make optional if you worry about issues) them to blog their discussion forum posts. Now the world will be reading what they have written.

Question #3.      In her third and final question, she asked about getting students to ask big questions and keep the conversation going. Part of her question is below.

"Finally, I wonder how to get students to ask good questions, which I think is tied to being a good conversationalist on the discussion board and in the course, in general...While this is a great vehicle, this doesn't help them ask the questions or keep the conversations going so much. How would you suggest getting students to ask questions to keep discussions going, to learn more, etc.?"

My Answers:
a.  I saw a Website recently with Big Questions Online. Perhaps show this site to your students or use it. Or perhaps create a similar type of site for your class.

b.   Hand out a scaffold sheet with questions on different levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Count off 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc. and have the 1’s ask knowledge questions for the week and the 2’s comprehension ones and so on. I know you do not meet physically, so the counting off might be more like assigning numbers.

c.  Require/Ask students to label their thinking—this is inductive thinking, this is an opinion. This is a fact. Etc.

d.  Assign 4 students each week to post big questions online. 10 pts assigned.

e.  Model it as the teacher. Save examples from prior semesters.

f.  Create an activity called 20-20. They most post 20 comments and statements posts during the semester and 20 questions posts or 40 times minimal.

Question #4.      Student #2 asked about how to get students to read the feedback that I give or learn from it? Part of his question is below.

"On one hand, I generally get *slightly* better (i.e., more diverse) participation from students in the online setting; however, there still seems to be many students who refuse to participate even though the anxiety of public speaking is lessened in the online format.  Meanwhile, on the other hand, there seems to be little demonstrated growth in the quality of student comments over the duration of the class even though I tend to offer feedback (particularly early on). In other words, I feel as though I'm providing detailed, constructive feedback yet the student, in many cases, does not seem to be considering or even reading this feedback. As such, I appreciate any "feedback" you can give on these areas."

My Answers:
a.  Require that they do something with the feedback. e.g., Have them write at least one reflection paper on their growth in the course or the online forums wherein they must include at least 2 of the instructor comments.

b.  Assign critical friends for feedback. Then require a paper with 3-4 sections—self-reflection on progress or personal feedback; a reflection on peer feedback; a reflection on instructor feedback; and a reflection on any system or expert feedback, if applicable.

c.  Ask students to find the 4-5 best pieces of advice or feedback or bits of wisdom from the semester and either post them to a “bits of wisdom” discussion forum or write a paper on it.

d.  Read my chapter on feedback (see attached) from my upcoming motivation and retention book. See activities #11, 13, 17, and 20.

e.  Have students rate or evaluate their own posts (a small percent of their grade).

f.   I have my students write super summary papers of their posts in the course. They might include the feedbacks that they have received.

Question #5.      Student #2 also asked what goes in an FAQ page? His question is below.

"The other question I have is perhaps more common in online courses than in any classroom setting.  Many of the readings we've done for this unit stress a FAQ section or page on the LMS that can expedite feedback and mitigate confusion. Aside from course policies, due dates, 'Netiquette' practices, etc., what are some other important elements that a helpful FAQ page should have?"

My Answers:
a.  See one of my FAQ pages for a FTF course. (I use it to explain as well as market the course).

b.  You might include the course history.

c.  The purpose and scope of the course. The purpose of the assignments.

d.  The technical requirements. What do students need to survive?

e.  Perhaps there might be an online learning readiness checklist or one specific to the course.

f.   You might explain the unique aspects of the class; i.e., what differentiates it from others.

Question #6.      Student #3 asked about the creation of interactive checklists. Part of her question is below.

"I teach students how to use checklist and often give them one they can print and use...I have to print and use it and then scan it to put online. It would be great if I could figure out a way to make it interactive and still use the grading capabilities in Blackboard. If I could link to the course materials, have students register the check so it pushes them to review it and allow me to use in Blackboard's gradebook - sweet! Would love ideas."

My Answers:
a.  I am an educational psychologist by training. Programming is not my specialty. I have my tech people create for me. I tell them what I want and ask if it is possible. I recommend that you do that.

b.  Alternatively, you might do a Google search on interactive checklists or templates (I found these in a 30 second search).

           i.     See: Create interactive PDF checklists  

           ii.    How to create interactive PDF forms

           iii.     Interactive Checklists

c.  Or you might ask your Blackboard rep to see if he or she has heard of search. Doesn’t Blackboard have a building blocks section?

d.  You might post this question to the Instructional Technology Forum sponsored by the U of Georgia (I bet you get an answer).

e.  You might find a different forum in Facebook, Ning, or LinkedIn.

f.   You might ask at conferences or of colleagues.

Question #7.      Student #4 asked me how to provide feedback in online courses? Her question is below.

"One of the questions I have concerns how to provide appropriate feedback on written work in my online course. I feel like I am not providing the same depth and warmth of feedback in my online course that I do in my f2f ones. In a f2f, hard copy paper, I often write directly on the paper, can draw little emoticons or graphs, and can easily make suggestions and corrections. However, in an e-copy, I find track changes/annotations to be clunky for students using non-Microsoft word processing packages. I end up using the limited space on the rubric or text boxes in the LMS at the Assignment upload."

My Answers:
a.  I print out the papers and write on them. Then I made a PDF and send to them. It is more work but it does work just like a FTF class. I use the scanner at work. Sometimes I use my home printer. The biggest problem that I have is stuck pages. Pages after I write on them get crinkled. It is highly highly frustrating.

b.  You can annotate and comment in Word documents like you said.

c.  See article attached on feedback for my upcoming motivation and retention book.

d.  Read articles from people who do research on online moderation and feedback. See Gilly Salmon’s books e-Tivities and e-Moderating. Read from Dr. Vanessa Dennen at Florida State U.

e.  Eventually, we will be speaking our feedback. We can already in fact. See Vocaroo; the top voice feedback system. And it is free. Search for more.

f.   Ask the students what type of feedback that they experienced in the past or that they prefer.

Question #8.      Student #5 asked me how to design flexibility into an online course; especially in regards to the prior knowledge and skills of incoming students. Her question is below.

"My question is in reference to the course design elements of time management in the online courses.  Although I have taught two of the same courses for going on 5 years, I have been tentative to put them online because of the expectation of advanced development and somewhat of a static schedule.  I often find the scope of the course can often be expanded depending on the skill and ambition of the group. In a f2f course, I simply adjust the pacing as we proceed and distributed adjusted schedules at mid-term if necessary. So my question is if our readings recommend having the course at least half-way ready at the course start, how does one design for flexibility based on the prior knowledge/skills of the class?"

My Answers:
You can create a set of articles like 6-8 and have them pick 3. Alternatively, you can say to them, that they are allowed to substitute articles for any one week. Or you might say, during the semester many new ideas and readings will emerge—you can substitute up to 10 articles that you find during the semester. You might also have a shell of the course with your article selections and have students suggest 1-2 additions each week in a negotiated wiki in Wikispaces. My friend Ron Owston at York U experimented with that.

Question #9. Student #6 asked me how to deal with students who miss assignments but have some pretty significant personal issues happening in their lives. Part of his question is below.

"How do you handle missed assignments, discussions and exams when the excuse seems to be so genuine? I can’t bring myself to penalize a student who life flights her child to a children’s hospital and spends two weeks attending to her. Since I teach at a community college and most of my online classes are upper level presentations to nontraditional RBA students. I have a higher than usual number of interesting life situations. I’m sure I spend too much time responding to these problems and developing alternative assignments and assessments."

My Answers:
I sometimes have flexible assignment due dates. e.g., the midterm is due March 10th AND March 17th. That way, when we get to March 19th, it is really late since it was due March 10th. In addition, I usually have a 48 hour lateness policy with no penalty. I will consider some personal issues in addition. You have to be human after all. The goal is get through the assignments and complete one’s work.

Question #10.      Student #7 asked me the following question. She wanted to know how to set personal boundaries in terms of student expectations for when as well as how quickly the instructor will respond to student postings and questions. Her question is below. Here is her question:

"After watching the video: Australian Learning & Teaching Council for this course I really identified with the part about online instructors being a slave to the online environment. To translate: they cannot get away from the computer and are checking their class status 24/7. The video suggests setting boundaries so the students do not expect you to be waiting all of the time. I find this is easier said than done. My class usually has 25 people in it and at any given time 3 of them are having tech problems or personal problems at any given time. One day passes without me and its mass chaos trying to catch them up.

My question is this: How do you set your own boundaries? How do you keep away?"

My Answers:
I tell them to expect me in on Friday nights and Sunday mornings and 1 other day during the week. I also have a weekly sync session in Adobe Connect and/or Google Hangouts wherein they can meet me and ask questions about assignments and such. The weekly sync session in Adobe is recorded alternative/optional lecture from me and every other week or so we have a guest whose articles we are reading. In effect, they see me enough. So do set your parameters or norms and expectations ahead of time.

Question #11.      Student #8 asked me the final question. He wanted to know about how instructors can get discussion to flow among students on their own. He also inquired about instructor postings. His question is below.

"...Several readings for this week’s assignment reinforce the importance of faculty-student interaction and student-student interaction in online courses....Though I have a lot to learn about “best practices” of online teaching and learning, I find it difficult to incorporate student-faculty contact into my courses, particularly in the learning process. Most of the courses I have designed and taught online tend to lean more heavily toward self-paced asynchronous modes. I do frequently require discussion postings requiring students to comment on at least two of their peers’ posts in addition to their original post. I tend to grade these discussions after they are due without any input during the discussions. I also promptly respond to emails in a timely manner...However, I find some personal dissonance in how much I should engage in discussions before the grading phase. What is an appropriate balance between instructor-led discussions, or input, and allowing the students’ discussion to flow on their own?  In addition to discussion postings, what are some effective techniques or activities you have used, or would suggest to use, to foster more student-instructor interaction."

My Answers: 
Be near the first and last to post and the students will think that you are in all the time (which is good from a social presence pt of view). They will also get much freedom in between to post. If you are in more than 20 percent of the posts, you are in too much. You might read the attached old paper that I wrote.

Bonk, C. J., Wisher, R. A., & Lee, J. (2003). Moderating learner-centered e-learning: Problems and solutions, benefits and implications.  In T. S. Roberts (Ed.).  Online collaborative learning: Theory and practice (pp. 54-85). Idea Group Publishing.

The above article was later republished by the publisher in the following book:
Bonk, C. J., Wisher, R. A., & Lee, J. (2008). Chapter 1.47.  Moderating learner-centered e-learning: Problems and solutions, benefits and implications.  In L. Tomei (Ed.), Online and distance learning: Concepts, methodologies, tools, and applications (pp. 536-561). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

Hope the above was helpful. Budd liked em. Perhaps you will too.

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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