Friday, December 27, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013


My thoughts have been focused on connections a lot recently. And the more I think about them, the more I find. I feel that having a Connected Consciousness is going to be more and more crucial for educators. I see it in:

1. Connecting educators.  Our upcoming inaugural offering of a Certificate in eLearning Design and Development was initially created with community/technical educators in mind, but we were encouraged to offer clock hours for K-12 educators as well. We have, and they are signing up. The more I think about it, the more excited I become at how much sense it makes for us to be talking to each other, and how much we could benefit from sharing our experiences. 

2. Connecting elearning to our lives. It is not the "other" learning anymore. It is becoming what we do - even in our ground courses, it plays an important role. It is part of our everyday thinking, learning, and exploring, and we need to mentor our students as well as ourselves to eLearn eVeryday.   At zazzle (love that site!)  I created a poster to display at our school:
3. Connecting ideas. This is such a major force in eLearning - the ability to find inter-relatedness among subjects, specialties, and thoughts.  This is breaking apart our boxes and our thoughts are roaming the web free from many of the previous academic constraints of book bindings, budgets, and preconceived boundaries. Our twitters are intertwining in beautiful mosaics of inspiration and blog posts are creating little explosions of ah-hahs.  We can wander freely and pick a camping spot without worry - every spot is different, every spot has a great view, and they are all free.

eLearn eVeryday.  I think if I make that my 2014 resolution, it will be a great year.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Internet Sea of Serendipity

 I have recently been thinking a lot about online and hybrid teaching, and how the internet has changed the world and our access to every aspect of teaching and learning.  Really, what a thing to witness and be a part of!  I gave a presentation last week at the NW eLearn conference about teaching a MOOC, and talked about how teaching a course for the pleasure of teaching it (as opposed to a graded course as part of a school curriculum) is so joyful; as MOOC facilitator Maria Andersen has commented, "A more pure form of learning."  

Part of my presentation was about "What happens when the school bus stops, and you don't get on?" Being part of the MOOC adventure has stirred in my thoughts my experiences as a homeschool mom, when we decided to school our two adopted kids so that we could bond with them better, and in the process were unleashed to become "everyday experience" lifelong learners. 

Last weekend I visited my family in Portland.  My sister has several of my mom's fabric art quilts on her wall, and one of them is called "The Ocean's Edge."  I stared at it and thought about how important it is for educators to develop a personal and meaningful relationship with the  internet. Find what you need, be open to discoveries you didn't expect, and become part of some communities that will nourish you.
It's all about navigating that sea, isn't it?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

You can't see what they're wearing...

The first time I taught a Hybrid course (2009) I fell in love with the format. (I'm the kind of person who falls in love with things like formats.) It was an advanced writing course for ESL students, and I took full advantage of blogging. We met once a week for 4 hours on Friday mornings; went over some grammar points, often doing small group activities to reinforce them, did some sharing of our writing, and started discussing our next topic/writing style. Everyone left with a writing project for their blog; I went over these on Wednesdays and made comments and suggestions. They could easily re-publish their posts, and I encouraged the use of visuals to enhance their writings. I watched in fascination as the combination of blog ownership, the ease of corrections and the joy of sharing their writings (we sometimes went "Blog Hopping") empowered them to become much more confident and effective writers. From there I developed a hybrid reading course. That joy I felt with those classes was the main reasons I felt hesitation when I had a chance to shift to a new position related to faculty development. 

Little did I realize at that point that my new position would take me even further into the realm of online teaching. I was introduced to the Quality Matters rubric for online teacahing in my first month on the job and - you guessed it! - fell in love with the format. Coming quickly on the heels of my training was a deep need at our institution to develop excellent online teachers. I worked with one of our Deans to put together a month-long online in-service for online teachers that highlighted their best practices. The more I worked with community college teachers the more I felt the need for information on utilizing technology and creating inclusive online and hybrid courses. With the need was so obvious and the teachers so interested in learning, I put together a month-long course for educators called "Technology for Teaching and Learning". It immediately filled up; I just finished the second round. And I find that online teaching can indeed be effective and inspiring as classroom teaching. 

Online teaching has a quieter personality from hybrid teaching, but like a lot of people with quiet personalities that take a while to get to know, they end up being your best friend. With online teaching, you can't see what the student is wearing. But you can see what the student is wondering. The excellent online teacher pays attention to discussions, makers herself available to questions, and sets up a course that is easy to navigate with an atmosphere that welcomes (not threatens) students. There are so many ways to connect with students personally online; you can respond to their needs with explanations, links to websites, and images. I always hated trying to draw things on the whiteboard, and frankly my handwriting is atrocious; my online courses have wonderfully engaging images (I use my camera often) and a great selection of readable fonts. 

The more I work with course development the more ways I find to communicate and develop relationships with my students, and for them to learn from each other as well. I am finding that discoveries and sharing from my online courses - which I can revisit whenever I want - reverberate in my mind longer than a ground class. Teaching online means teaching with the world at your fingertips. This means state-of-the-art possibilities with tools and technology. It literally means the best minds in the world can be part of your class materials. It means your students can study anytime, anywhere, and can ask you any question they want without disrupting class. As I prepare to teach the second iteration of the Canvas course "Hybrid Courses: Best of Both Worlds" - a massive online course about hybrid teaching - I reflect daily on these two teaching formats, comparing them as well as reflecting on and building my own approach and philosophy. The thing I look forward to the most in facilitating the course again is the communication and idea exchange that will go on between the participants, as they learn from and inspire each other. We'll be using a variety of technology I'm incorporating into the course - and developing Hybrid Course Planners along the way. I am also excited because we will have a fantastic guest speaker; Jesse Stommel will join us in a google hangout! I can't wait for this next adventure. (Interested educators from any field are welcome! Enroll here.) I created this week's infographic, thinking about online teaching: 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hybrid Courses: Best of Both Worlds

Gearing up to facilitate this MOOC again...New ideas! Special Guest Speaker!I'm sooo looking forward to it!

Try our video maker at Animoto.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Care and Feeding of Online Students

A few weeks ago I attended a conference for Higher Education administrators from Community Colleges with a focus on Big Data. Big Data, we heard, is Huge. Massive. A Big Deal: We can now look at user behavior by counting  mouse clicks as people navigate a website, see how many page views and what time of the day a student is doing homework, and break that down even further; maybe we can even start to tell students what time of day they study best, by looking at their results.  We can see where online students get stuck, giving educators an idea of how to better explain things.  With Big Data, we don't ask questions and look for the answer; the "data-first philosophy" mashes together the information from social networks and everywhere else on the web and we gain insights from what it tells us.  And the cost is low; we can experiment often, looking for correlation rather than causation. It has turned analysis on its head, and everyone is bubbling with its potential.

The burning question among educators, as we shift our courses to various new models of blended and online learning, is: How can we make our students (especially those online students) more successful? (In other words, retention, retention, retention.) Obviously the online class has incredible potential; besides the time and money in transportation alone it frees up for the very busy community college student -  many of whom are studying in a second language, are single parents and working at least part time - the online environment offers pathways to information and tools that can enhance, supplement and support learning at every level.  The answer to that, from what I could gather from the Big Data experts, is to use the now-incredible power of data to analyze performance, use course analytics and hire very specialized experts in Big Data to glean how students are performing and how to make them perform better.   (The "low cost" part breaks down a bit here.)

I am happy for Big Data; what a wonderfully useful tool to come out of our computer lives!  But the whole time I listened to the presentations (many of which were coming from people involved with companies standing to benefit from Big Data users) I felt a nagging concern.

No one was talking about caring.  The way to make any student stay involved is to make a personal connection and recognize that student as an individual.  Even in my MOOC, even more than I expected, I was able to connect with my students by being a part of the discussions, responding as much as possible to as many as possible. ( I facilitated it along with doing my regular job, spending an hour in the morning and a few hours in the evenings checking in and answering questions.) I also structured the course so that the students had a chance to learn about themselves and each other as an integral part of the learning experience.  We had a Facebook page, used twitter (#CnHyBest) and I made frequent announcements and updates, sometimes incorporating student responses.   One of my early tweets was, "This MOOC classroom is so vibrant and international...can feel the energy pulsing from the computer!" Over a third of the active participants completed the final project for a certificate of completion...a very high rate for a MOOC course.

Caring doesn't sound very academic and it certainly isn't as new as Big Data. But I think any course that has a strong element of caring will retain more students than a course with low teacher-student interaction.  The key is having an involved teacher who is trained not just in the subject matter but also to listen, watch for falters, be ready to gently cajole,  try new things, and convey a sense of enthusiasm.  Online teaching allows us so much more than more data; it allows us to have personal conversations with many people, and for them to have conversations with each other.  We should be looking at it as a chance to get personally involved with our student success. MOOCs aside,  the online teacher can reach each and every student in a way that empowers and motivates them.  Each teacher needs to embrace the idea that we can have an effect on student lives beyond the subject matter. This is a skill that needs to be understood and talked about as much as anything else when it comes to student success.

This was on my mind when I saw a quote by the Dalai Lama on a friend's facebook page : "Open your arms to change, but never let go of your loving kindness."  I created the infographic below thinking that I want to get more of a conversation going about this aspect of online teaching among educators.   For increased student success, the answer is so clear.

(By the way I will be teaching the course again starting Oct. 21st; you can find it at The Canvas Network - Hybrid Courses: Best of Both Worlds.)