Reflections on “Quality” in an Online Course

I believe that a quality online course encompasses most if not all of the best practices identified by Boettcher & Conrad (2018, p. 44-60) in their book called The Online Teaching Survival Guide to be effective.  For a face to face teacher wanting to transition to online teaching environment, it is critical to pay special attention to incorporating synchronous and asynchronous learning activities (individual and group) that support active engagement with the content and encourages frequent and ongoing interaction with the teacher and other students.  In the EDUC 4150 course, I found the partner activity ‘wiki’ both stimulating and rewarding as it provided an excellent opportunity to engage with the content while working collaboratively with others in a social and intellectual learning environment.

In addition to this, I found that the following practices helped significantly in enhancing my learning experience in EDUC 4150:

  1. Welcome Material and Activities: The welcome email message, personal phone call from my instructor to get to know me and my expectations and to give me an overview of the course objectives, layout and important information on how to be successful in the course (both verbally and in writing on the course dashboard under ‘General’) gave me a sense of belonging and provided a great start to the course.
  2. Instructional Material and Resources: Clearly outlined Instructions on how to navigate the course, complete and submit assignments along with versatile reading documents and videos, links to peer reviewed articles and other scholarly resources for each module made for a motivating, rich and enjoyable learning experience.
  3. Self-assessment and Teacher Evaluation: Activities such as eLearning Crossword, Checking In, Mid-point Survey, Self-Reflective Journaling and in-depth evaluation of assignments by the teacher provided on-going encouragement, self-assurance and continuous support to keep moving forward.
  4. Teacher’s Presence: My teacher responded to questions/inquiries promptly, kept students informed of her schedule/availability, evaluated assignments with insightful comments and empowering feedback, and provided excellent mini instructional videos on various topics along with scholarly reading material for each topic.  Her social, cognitive and teaching presence significantly enriched my learning experiences.
  5. Meaningful Assignments: All assignments provided excellent opportunities for me to demonstrate my learning and probed me to reflect on applications of the course concepts to my online courses.

I believe that higher course completion rates and clear demonstration of new learning through active learner engagement with the course concepts are the ultimate indicators of a quality course and that all the above mentioned quality guidelines play vital role in the making of effective elearning.

RESOURCES

Canadian Recommended elearning Guidelines (as cited in EDUC 4150)

Western Carolina University (starts on page 2, as cited in EDUC 4150)

A Guide to Quality in Online Learning by Academic Partnership

Rubrics for Online Instruction by California State University Chico

References:

Boettcher, J.V. & Conrad, R.M. (2016). The online teaching survival guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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ePortfolios

Do you think there is a place in your teaching for eportfolios? Why or why not? ePortfolios are increasingly being used to illustrate personal/professional development and achievements in teaching. What value do you see in creating your own personal teaching eportfolio? What kind of artifacts would you think of including in this portfolio?

Paper based portfolios are common assessment tools for my face to face career development and job search skills courses.  In addition to active participation in class, students demonstrate their learning by creating portfolios that include their short and long term goals, action plans, occupational and labour market research summaries, targeted resumes, cover letters and other related documents neatly organized in presentation folders.  In an online learning environment, I wouldn’t be able to observe student’s active participation in class however, I would still be able to assess their learning through ePortfolios, so ‘yes’, ePortfolios definitely have a place in my teaching.

Before the module reading on ePortfolios, I hadn’t given much thought to using an ePortfolio to illustrate my personal/professional development and achievements, however, the numerous benefits attached to this form of professional presentation have certainly peeked my interest.  The documents, videos and articles listed in the module reading highlight the abundance of resources available on ePortfolios.  I especially found ePortfolio examples by Auburn University students at http://wp.auburn.edu/writing/eportfolio-project/eportfolio-examples/ and San Francisco State University students at http://eportfolio.sfsu.edu/content/eportgallery  very impressive and helpful.   Reviewing several ePortfolio examples made it clear that a good ePortfolio requires significant time investment, on-going maintenance, solid organizational, critical thinking and reflection skills, and access to technology and other supports.  The major value of developing my own ePortfolio would be to reflect on my personal and professional journey, and gain hands-on experience of developing an ePortfolio before expecting my learners to do so for their courses/programs.

At this point, I am not sure when I may create a professional ePortfolio, but when I do, I would like to include the followings with related artifacts; a short story about my life (including information about and images of my place of birth, emigration voyage and my life in Canada), my education excursion (from a learner in behaviourist culture of curriculum to an instructor and learner in constructivist learning/teaching environment), my professional achievements with pictures/images (my work story starting from an office assistant to faculty/management), my personal philosophy as a teacher, and my community engagement activities with pictures, news stories, videos etc.

I realize though that it would have been much better if I had started working on an ePortfolio earlier in my life and continuously updated and maintained it as finding related artifacts would have been a lot easier.  Starting an ePortfolio at this stage in my life would require a lot of digging through the past to find relevant artifacts.  This insight serves as a good reminder for me to start introducing ePortfolios to my learners as early as possible in the course/program.

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10 Best Practices of Teaching On-line

As outlined in the Online Teaching Survival Guide by Boettcher and Conrad (2016, p. 43-57)

It is overwhelming to think about on-line teaching for a novice like me especially when it involves developing an online course from scratch and not knowing where to start.  I am grateful for the Best Practices for Teaching Online: Ten Plus Four  by Boettcher & Conrad ( 2016, p. 43-60) as these practices lay a solid foundation and a step by step guide for developing and teaching an effective on-line course.  In this journal, I will reflect on the ten best practices and how each might relate to the on-line course(s) I plan to develop and teach.

  1. Be Present at the Course

Teacher’s presence in an on-line learning environment is just as important as it is in a face to face (F2F) classroom environment.  Learners want to know their teachers’ backgrounds, their subject matter expertize and how they demonstrate their passion for the subject matter and care for their students.  Having participated in a number of on-learning courses, I have noticed that teachers demonstrate their presence at the courses in a variety of ways.  For example, some instructors make it a point to meet their learners through skype meetings or phone calls to introduce themselves and to get to know more about their students and their course expectations.  Some stay connected through weekly announcements and by engaging in the discussion forums where learners share their thoughts, challenges and or dilemmas on various course topics.  Others start the course with a welcome note and meet every learner through a group Skype or ooVoo meeting.  While others showcase their presence through short videotaped lessons, assignment introductions and weekly topic reviews.

My plan to be present in an on-line course is to incorporate a mix of the above mentioned strategies while evaluating what is working and what I might need to do differently on a continuous basis.  This will allow me to ensure that my students feel connected with me throughout the course. I especially plan to use the group introduction method of using Skype or ooVoo during the 1st week of the course to make sure that my learners get to know me and their classmates, get their questions answered and are provided with the opportunity to express their anxieties or excitements in a supportive and safe environment before embarking on their learning.

2. Create a Supportive on-line community

This best practice is based on the premise that “social context strengthens connections and meanings” (as cited in Boettcher et al., 2016).  It refers to the fact that on-line learning requires more explicit nurturing and planning than the F2F classroom environment to ensure that there are equal opportunities for faculty to student interactions, student to student dialogue and student to resource interaction. This can be accomplished through weekly announcements or messages that coach, remind, suggest and inspire, and through email communications and live chats that address individual issues.  In addition, module introductions, mini video lectures, and discussions forums where learners have explicit guidelines for interaction and engagement can help establish a community of practice.  Other methods include reflective journaling on course topics, and resources, synchronous ‘meet the expert sessions’ where students can engage in a discourse with the expert and their peers and through brainstorming sessions to solve complex case studies.

As a learner, I enjoy watching mini videos prepared to help learners better understand course requirements and teacher expectations,  mini lecture series that learners can watch as many times as needed to grasp the topic concepts and student to student discussion forms that engage learners in critical thinking, reflective journaling and creative problem solving.  My plan is to incorporate all these best practices to help create a ‘community of practice’ of my learners.

3. Develop a set of explicit expectations for your learners and yourself as to how you will communicate and how much time students should be working on the course each week

Teachers and learners all have busy lives and can easily get side tracked without explicitly set deadlines and due dates especially for an on-line course.  To promote work/study and life balance, teachers must clearly state how often student will communicate on line with other students and for what purpose and how often and what times/days the teacher will be available on-line.  In addition, clearly state how long it will take the teacher to respond to students’ non-content related questions and when students can expect to have feedback on their assignments after submission.

For me, I really appreciate knowing when my eLearning instructor is available and when I can expect feedback on my projects and assignments.  For this reason, I will adopt the 48 hour response policy, set up time (virtual office hours) on the weekends to be available for a minimum of 4-6 hours for real time chats/conversations while reviewing discussion forum conversations and participating in the discussions as appropriate.  I will also encourage public space Q and A for content related queries,

4. Use a variety of large group, small group, and individual work experiences

This best practice is no different than what is ideal for a F2F classroom environment which also requires a variety of small, large and individual work experiences for learning to be meaningful for students with different learning styles.   “Variety gives students ways of tapping into their own varied skills and abilities” (Boettcher et al., 2016, p. 50) as it provides opportunities for social interaction and connections, creates supportive communities of practices and allows for quite reflection time for individual learners.

Examples include group project work, complex case studies, partner assignments and individual reflections through journaling.  It is also very important to align activities with the course phases as outlined by Boettcher et al.; Course Beginning, Early Middle, Late Middle and Closing Weeks (2016, p. 79-85).  For example, a group project during the course beginning may cause a lot of anxiety among learners but may be an ideal activity for the early and late middle phases of the course.  Course beginning calls for more individual activities including asking learners to post their personal profiles, introduce themselves to their peers, review course framework and requirements etc.  Early middle phase is more appropriate for engaging learners in collaborative activities such as discussion forums, sharing their views of specific course topic related dilemmas etc.  Late middle phase is ideal for activities that create a community of practice among learners such as group projects, complex case studies and synchronous brainstorming sessions or debates on controversial course topics.

When developing an on-line course, I plan to keep all the above listed in mind and use ‘Four Phases of a Course: Themes and Happenings’ by Boettcher et al. (2016, p. 79-85) as a guide to plan activities for all four phases of the course.

5. Use synchronous and asynchronous activities

In today’s digital age, it is easy to have a good blend of synchronous and asynchronous activities to provide a good balance of individual and interactive activities for learners and to help those of us “accustomed to doing in face-to-face classrooms, and discussions and events” (Boettcher et al., 2016, p. 52) feel comfortable and included in the eLearning environment.  This can be accomplished using tools provided by the educational institution, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and by utilizing social media tools such as Google Hangout, Skype, ooVoo and numerous other digital tools.

Being a “digital immigrant” teacher, I am currently in the process of learning how to use various Social Media tools so that I am able to incorporate a balance of synchronous and asynchronous activities in my on-line courses for my learners.

6. Ask for informal feedback early in the term

Formative evaluations are much more useful for both the teacher and the learners than the summative ones as they are likely to benefit the next group of learners not the current group.  Boettcher et al. recommends early surveys or informal feedback discussions to learn about what is working and what might help in providing learners with a better course experience. (2016, p. 52).  The recommended period for feedback a fifteen-week course is in week 2 and for a shorter course is midweek of the first week of course.

The first few courses I plan to offer online will be shorter in duration so my goal will be to get feedback as early as possible in order to make needed changes faster.  I would also like to conduct mid-course feedback surveys to ensure that my learners are still having positive experiences.

7. Prepare discussion posts that invite responses, questions, discussions, and reflections

Discussions among learners make for an interesting, stimulating and engaging learning experiences and are vital component of both F2F and eLearining environments with the key difference of on-line discussions being mostly asynchronous while F2F are synchronous.  Discussion boards in an eLearning environment therefore, are “the heart and soul of the online community” (Boettcher et al., 2016, p. 53).

There are a number of reasons to promote discussions among learners including creating a place for an open question-answer forum for learners,, encouraging critical thinking, using the discussion board to enforce domain or procedural processes, helping learners with their own reflections and inquiries and providing a place for socialization and community building (as cited in Boettcher et al., 2016).

Asking open ended questions in a discussion forum to encourage exploration and application of course concepts and following up with probing and thought provoking feedback or comments to promote self-reflections are a few good strategies for discussion postings (Boettcher et al., 2016, p. 53-54).

As a teacher, it is important for me to have clear guidelines around discussions postings to provide a safe and inclusive place for  expressing their thoughts and opinions in a respectful manner that promote team spirit and supportive community of practice.

8. Search out and use content resources that are available to digital format

In an on-learning course, thinking digitally for all course content is a must.  Learners should have no difficulty in accessing course content using their digital devices anywhere, anytime and as often as they would like.  This means 24/7 access to working links for must read articles, e-text books, audio/video lessons and other course resources.  In addition, including a step to step reference document on accessing organization’s library resources remotely will go a long way to help learners access needed resources in a timely fashion.

I also believe that enlisting learners help in finding and identifying relevant and engaging resources enriches the course’s resource library and motivates learners to explore tools that are more relevant to their personal preferences and learning styles.  A good example is to ask all learners to contribute at least one resource to the Course Glossary.

9.  Combine core concept learning with customized and personalized learning

During the course design phase, it is important for the teacher to clearly identify the core concepts, questions and performance goals of the course. During the teaching phase, teacher’s responsibility turns to mentoring learners and helping them apply their learning by providing them opportunities for explaining, elaborating, relating and sharing the knowledge with others to make learning meaningful and enjoyable.  This can be accomplished by “making students’ thinking visible” (as cited in Boettcher et al., 2016, p. 56).  In other words, creating opportunities that requires learners to talk, write, explain, analyze, judge, report and inquire.

Discussion forms, collaborative group projects, complex case studies, Wiki projects, reflective journaling are all good examples of activities that inspire learners to make their knowledge explicit.

10. Plan a good closing and wrap activity for the course

Last week of a course can be stressful and anxiety provoking for learners due to the remaining course work.  On the other hand, it is easy for the teacher to get side tracked by assessing and grading activities instead of being present in the course for a good course closing and wrap up.  Just like a good F2F course closing, it is important to celebrate student successes, acknowledge their achievements and allow them the opportunity to articulate their course takeaways. For faculty, it is an opportunity to reflect whether core course performance objectives have been met by conducting summative feedback.

References: 

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2016).  The online teaching survival guide: Best practices for teaching online: ten plus four. CA: Jossey-Bass.

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Back after 4 years:)

What took you so long, you say:)  Well, after graduating from PIDP in 2015, I applied to SFU’s M.Ed. program and was thrilled to get accepted!  You guessed it, I am now an M.Ed. grad and very proud to have completed one of the main items in my bucket list; getting a master’s degree before I die:).

After taking a year off from studies, I recently signed up for VCC’s Certificate in Online/eLearning Instruction.  As a result, I am now enrolled in the EDUC 4150 – Online/eLearning: Principles and Processes course which reminded me of the blog I had created while attending PIDP, so here I am.

Well, this is it for now.  I will be back with a little more interesting post soon.  Until then, be kind to yourself and others!

Pam

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A Beautiful Vancouver Sunset

A few weeks ago, I went for a walk around Queen Elizabeth Park and was mesmerized to see the spectacular sunset.  With my handy dandy smartphone, I immediately captured it and thought I share it with you today.

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How beautiful eh!  Enjoy.

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Understanding Creative Commons Licensing

I came across this video on Youtube that gives a very good overview of different Creative Common licensing options and talks about how to apply for a Creative Common License for your work.  I found it quite helpful, I am sure you will too:) Enjoy.

You may also want to visit http://creativecommons.ca/ for more information and to apply.

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Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation

Dan Pink’s Ted Talk on motivation.  This is  a fun presentation with a lot of really good examples.  Please watch!

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Brain Magic by Keith Barry

A fascinating video on Brain Magic!  I am still trying to figure out the hand trick—hopefully you’d have a better luck with it:)

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Eagle’s Bluff Hike

I recently went on a hike with my sons and a few of their friends and had an amazing time!  The day couldn’t have been any better; it was sunny with a perfect temperature for hiking!  In the beginning, hike was quite steep but around 1/2 way through it became a little more  balanced.

Along our way up, we came across a few lakes with beautiful flowers around the edges.  My son took a picture of me while I was just sitting on the edge and admiring the gorgeous view.

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About 45 minutes later, we arrived at the top.  The view there was beyond description!  I felt like I had died and gone to heaven:)  Here are some pics to prove it:)

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We stayed there for about an hour, had a great picnic, saw many squirrels looking for food; I even got to feed one with my hands!  It was all so surreal!

Climbing down was another awesome experience.  I really enjoyed being in the nature and the perfect company I had for this hike.  It truly was incredible and I can’t wait to go there again soon!

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Hybrid Education

Objective

“Our students want the convenience of some online courses, but a few prefer totally online courses” (Walker & Jorn, 2009b). Combination of the two is known as Hybrid education.  Some call it ‘Blended Education’ in which instructors employ a combination of face to face and on-line instructional methods to provide students with the best of both learning options.

According to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukie’s website, “a hybrid course is designed to integrate face to face and online activities so that they reinforce, complement, and elaborate one another, instead of treating the online component as an add on or duplicate or what is being taught in the classroom” (2014).

Alternative approaches to face to face education (namely hybrid and distance education) have been there since the late 1800 (Mclsaac & Gunawardena, 2001). Bowen believes that “most of our teaching is already blended or hybrid”.  He further elaborates that—–“for traditional courses, this means a regular class meeting three times a week, but with some content distributed  online, a learning management system (LMS) website, and perhaps a discussion board or some online feedback———-for hybrid courses , students may meet just once a week or month” (2013, p. 236)

While most students value the physical contact with teachers, they also want the potential learning and real convenience in online coursework.   “Weather in person or on line the emotional power of our subject and its human connection is an important part of what we teach.  This means that face to face instruction will always have deep value and that even in on-line classroom the art of teaching will still be at a premium (Bowen, 2013, p. 224)” Bowen further elaborates that, “most faculty have been performing only live, but they do not have to stop doing so to embrace online education”. In his opinion, “for more institutions, the primary questions will be one of balance between face to face interaction and online resources” (Bowen, 2013, p. 237).

Reflective

My immediate reaction to the notion of Hybrid education is a big fat YES.  I do believe that this is the future of our education and that it offers the best of both worlds to all the stakeholders.  This method of education allows students the autonomy they so crave for being self-directed learners, provides a safe environment to interact with fellow students and utilize available resources based on their preferred learning styles, promotes autonomy, leadership and responsibility and provides a platform for open discussions/debates to encourage higher order and critical thinking skills.  For faculty, this leads to innovating new methods of providing a meaningful learning experience for their students, flexibility around scheduling courses, better student interaction and the motivation to stay current with the technical advances for continued teaching excellence.

For the colleges/universities, this method creates a better use of the classroom space and equipment leading to efficient use of resources, enhances institutions’ brand name for potentially being leaders in innovative teaching methods, creates opportunities to offer focused programming for greater student access, enhances student learning and opens up international markets to increase revenue and boost sustainability.

Interpretive

Bowen writes, “The best education of the future will be a hybrid” (2013, p. 237).  Since hybrid courses require limited on-campus attendance, more people from more places can access courses/programs more easily leading to better access to education for those who otherwise may not be able to do so.  Going hybrid, however, means that instructors must embrace information technology as one of the key instructional methods and be open to adjusting the course content – in particular, their lecture materials into podcasts, videos etc.  A good example of this could by incorporating the ‘Flipping Classroom’ model into classroom teaching.  According to Te@chThought website, using the flipped classroom method” teachers and professors use online media to deliver notes, lectures and related course materials. Students review these materials at home and at their own pace. Classroom periods are then transformed into hands-on work periods where the teacher–who will have already delivered his or her lecture digitally–is free to field questions, engage class-wide discussions or offer other means of support” (http://www.teachthought.com).  This is just one of the many ways faculty can provide blended learning.  Since ‘one size doesn’t fit all’, I believe that faculty must be willing and able to create and customize the right balance of both in-class and on-line methods to construct an ideal learning environment for students.  In other words, “the best course of future will combine both online and physical instruction, but in different amounts” (Bowen, 2013, p. 241).

Decisional

In an article on the World Wide Learn website, Fanter calls hybrid as the “Future of Instructional Models” (http://www.worldwidelearn.com/education-articles/hybrid-education.html.  Bowen says that “higher education will need to morph from a locally delivered product to a hybrid model that includes both online resources and classroom interaction” (2013, p. 242).  As a student, I have been a part of three different types of learning methods; purely classroom focused, a combination of both and purely on-line. They each have their strengths and drawbacks but the ones that combined both classroom and on-line instructions turned out to be most effective for me especially for courses that were longer in duration.  As an instructor, I definitely see the need for me to become more proficient in the use of social media to be able to incorporate ‘hybrid’ methods of teaching in an efficient manner.  This course i.e. PIDP 3240 has been a tremendous step towards becoming comfortable with using social media as a teaching/learning tool but I do feel that I need to do more to strengthen my skills to incorporate hybrid methods in the future.  To achieve this, I have decided to pursue VCC’s certificate in Online Learning/eLearning Instruction upon completion of my PID.

Before wrapping up, I would like to acknowledge the powerful role our text book ‘Teaching Naked—-‘ has played in informing me of countless digital resources.  It has also provided me with excellent step by step approaches for incorporating these into everyday learning/teaching scenarios. I feel that this text book is one of the most valuable reference resources I currently possess in addition to the countless resources posted by my fellow students on the Assignment 2 Forum and of course the World Wide Web!  Even though I have a long way to go, I believe I am many steps closer to incorporating hybrid options into my future teaching strategies.

References

Bowen, J. A. (2013. Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Fanter, A. (2014). The future of instructional models. Retrieved from http://www.worldwidelearn.com/education-articles/hybrid-education.html

Mclsaac, M. & Gunawardena, C. (2001).  Distance education. In D.H. Jonassen, (Ed).  Handbook of research for educational communication & technology (pp. 403-437). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Te@chthought Website. The definition of blended learning. Retrieved from http://www.teachthought.com/blended-learning-2/the-definition-of-blended-learning/

Walker, J.D., & Jorn, L. (2009b). 21st century student: Technology survey. University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Office of Information Technology.  Retrieved from http://www.oit.umn.edu/

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