Pulling It All Together: EADM 820 Module

I am so glad that I got the chance to take EC&I 834 while developing EADM 820 online. It was the perfect opportunity to have support while working on another side of the online course development process. I am used to being the one on the outside, looking in, and making suggestions about content that isn’t particularly personal to me. This time, it was personal. This time, it was my content. This time, I will be co-teaching the course. So while I do have someone to talk with and bounce ideas around with, it has been good to be challenged in what I have accepted as best practices and pushed to continually re-evaluate the course as I am designing it.


progress flickr photo by Todd Austin (Designer) shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Progress
Over the semester I have blogged about the process of putting the course online. Steve Wihak (my co-developer and colleague at Flexible Learning Division) and I are both the types of people who mull things over and let our brains do a lot of the work in the background, so this course has been in progress for about a year. Only my module was shared for review but we have spent a lot of time considering how everything will intertwine. We had meetings with Larry Steeves and Pamela Osmond-Johnson from Educational Administration at U of R to ensure our course would fit with the program and to see what concepts they had in mind. Many of our decisions were made already because of that, like using UR Courses. Others we adjusted based on the timing of the course. After Alec shared a hand-drawn animation sample and a how to, I decided that was going to be my option. I tested out iMovie to see if I wanted to put my animation together using that (preferably on my iPad) but ended up deciding to go with Windows Movie Maker instead because 1) the iPad version of iMovie is pretty limited and 2) I wanted to be able to work in the privacy of my own home or office and not work in the more public Mac lab in the Education building on campus. (No, I don’t own a Macbook. I used to. I have since developed an aversion for various reasons.) Movie Maker was a pain and certainly took longer than iMovie probably would, bu it worked. I wanted something quite simple anyway, without green screens or playing with audio filters, so it did what I needed. Here are the additional posts I wrote about my process:


profile flickr photo by Dylanfm shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Course Profile
My course profile contains additional explanations about design decisions that Steve Wihak and I made about the course. Here is a slightly edited version for public viewing (the original version is posted in my couse):

Catalogue description:

The course will examine planning and administration for technology based learning and teaching. Emphasis will be on planning, organizational and social issues rather than technical implementation.

Background:

This course is part of the Education Administration program at the University of Regina. Although the course previously existed, the issues in the field have changed fairly drastically since it was last taught online and, as such, it needed to be redone from scratch. The focus now is much more on be prepared to adapt to issues as things continue to change rather than developing a more static technology plan. As both Steve and I come from a critical theory background, and we know that at least some of the focus in EADM is moving in that direction, we wanted to lay that as part of the foundation for students to use in evaluating the intersection of technology and leadership. Together, Steve and I are able to provide an interesting and hopefully balanced approach to the issues, coming at edtech from differing perspectives: I am a tech lover who is happy to play with things and try new things with a background in critical theory especially as it applies to technology although I have no background in the K-12 system; Steve has a background in critical theory, administration and leadership in K-12 and is an intentional late adopter of technology for specific reasons which will come out in the course. It allows us to try to balance the views we present and play to our strengths. We were hired by Educational Administration to develop the course fully online with the expectation that it would be part of that program and, as such, needed to fit with both the expectations of the program and with other existing online courses within the program.

The Students:

Although the course is part of the EADM program, we anticipate our students will range in focus from any of the graduate Education programs. As such, our students will already have a degree, most likely in education, and the majority of the students will be working in the K-12 system. We were directed to point our focus there although having a background in taking a Masters in Education while working in higher education, I have tried to keep the possibilities open enough that anyone could benefit from the course. Having taken classes with these students, I know they have busy lives, many have families and additional commitments. One of the goals we have is to keep the course flexible to allow both for student lives and student interests. Some students may have an interest in administration in the K-12 system, others may be looking for an available and relevant course, and some may take it because it is online and allows them to take a class while having other commitments.

The majority of the students will be white, middle class, and may come from rural backgrounds. A distinct percentage will come from Regina but there will likely be students from across the southern half of the province and could also be students from the north or even external to Saskatchewan. There may be some indigenous students and some international students. There will likely be a balance of men and women in the course given the higher numbers of men taking EADM courses than some other fields in Education or the undergraduate student demographics.

Course Format:

As noted, this course is intentionally being developed for fully online. This enables students from outside Regina and the immediate surrounding area to take this course as well as making it possible for students to take the course if they are travelling during the course offering. This fits with the work that EADM and other graduate programs in Education are doing to make graduate degrees available to students in their communities, as they continue to serve those places across our province and beyond.

Steve and I have been faced with the challenges that come with teaching a three-week intensive course (July 4-25). The time frame was out of our hands and, as such, we have made quite a few decisions based on that restriction. Although synchronous activities would be good, and we still plan to offer a few times to meet online synchronously in an optional way, we have decided to make the course asynchronous. There is not much flexibility we can offer in three weeks but we can allow students to choose when they want to do the work each day. If the morning works better, they can work in the morning. If 11:00pm works better, they can work then. We have already heard from a number of students interested in the course and looking to see if they would be able to take it given various time restrictions they will be under during the offering which has reinforced our decision to keep it as flexible as possible.

Assessment:

For assessment, we are doing everything we can to give the students the freedom to do work that is authentic and meaningful.

The major project which will encompass two assignments will be quite wide open for students. The intent is that they should adapt it to their own setting and also their own interests and skills. It can be done individually or can be done in a small group of 2-3 students at most. Again, the intent is to allow students some freedom in how best to accomplish their goals and to mimic the reality in which they work. Sometimes it works best to work as a team to accomplish something and other times it is easier to do some work yourself. Many students my unit hears from hate groupwork, especially online, and we prefer to give choice. This is also an acknowledgement of the timing of the course. Some students just may not be able to meet with a group while others may find that far more convenient. The scope of the finished project will depend upon the number of students involved.

While we might try to encourage or require the use of more technologies if the course were over a longer period of time, for this first offering we are leaving the options open. Support will be limited to Steve and myself for any technologies beyond UR Courses and after having watched students new to various social media platforms and other technologies deal with the learning curve, we are cautious about losing too much of the three weeks to developing comfort with the mode of delivery as opposed to dealing with the content. Students who have comfort with technology or who want to try technologies are encouraged to do so for their project but not required. The final product has to include certain areas of content but the type of product is up to students. Again, the intent is to take the pressure off of how to produce to give students energy to deal with content, to think things through, to gather information.

With that in mind, students will be responsible for designing their own assessment rubric that needs to take into account the required content but also the type of product they chose. They will be required to use that rubric to evaluate their output. Students will also be expected to share at least some of their product with other students (depending on format) although again time does not easily allow for peer feedback.

The rest of the assessment will be broken between discussion forums and an analysis of their own changes in terms of leadership. The discussion forums will allow students to share ideas, interact with other students, and benefit from the diversity and experience of others in the class. The choice of discussion forums is again, partly to keep the technical requirements fairly easy while giving a chance to explore issues together. We may use the internal blog tool for some pieces, if there are questions that would work better that way. To keep the management of such things minimal in a short course, we would encourage students to post to a blog on UR Courses but they are welcome to also post the content to a personal blog. In a future offering if the course was not limited to three weeks, we might look at opening that. The other reason for using forums is that the other online EADM courses all use forums and solely use UR Courses. We have been asked to keep our course at least somewhat consistent with those courses so a change to another format would be a future project. The assessment of that piece will be on the quality of the participation much more than the quantity. Some students may choose to be very active, some may choose to say less, but either option is fine if they are contributing to the conversation and thinking about the questions we offer as prompts. The prompts themselves will be fairly open and should lead into the larger projects. The analysis of changes in leadership is a chance for self-reflection. This will not be shared with others as the hope is for introspection rather than a focus on the way the reflection is presented.

Concerns:

For our course, given our students, we anticipate that language will not be a huge concern. Our content will be presented in a mix of videos and text and we will have transcripts for at least some of the videos available upon request. The videos will be rewatchable. They will also be of relatively short length (hopefully 5-10 minutes). The majority of the content will be text discussions with other students which does give some time to consider responses, read over translations, or use any useful assistive technology.

Bandwith concerns are going to primarily be dealt with by using shorter videos with more responsive quality. The videos will be posted to YouTube which responds to bandwith concerns by lowering the quality of the stream. It is also available through mobile devices which means that most of the content will be accessible on a computer or a mobile device.

For cultural considerations, part of the course is to push students to think about such issues so we are trying to use different ways to approach thinking about issues and also leave room for a variety of approaches. The hope is to include an interview from an indigenous perspective if not this offering, then in another offering. The intent is to avoid providing all the information but give direction for areas in which to think or investigate and have students bring the perspectives that are useful, giving us the space to challenge those perspectives or help suggest alternate ways to think about things as needed.

Although my unit will have a hand-drawn animation, other units will have video interviews and there will be some text to make certain pieces of content easier to change for future offerings like discussion questions and particular examples. The intent is to use a variety of multimedia modes of sharing information and presenting frameworks for thinking. We will be using different metaphors intentionally throughout the course and so changing up the style of multimedia presentation will fit with the metaphors we use. This is also to take advantage of the graphics and multimedia support we will have for the remainder of the units. Because this course was a funded development, we have access to graphics and multimedia specialists who can assist us in developing some of the pieces that we need for the remainder of the course.

The articles we are using will all be available through Fair Dealing or with minimal cost to students. The intent is to find a variety of sources and give students exposure to different types of writing as well as different perspectives on the topics. Again, the condensed nature of the course and restrictions we were provided by the program have had some impact on our decisions when we keep in mind the reality of doing all the reading and work for a full course in three weeks.


Edited English Paper flickr photo by Wesley Fryer shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Feedback
I really have to thank the other students who were assigned to review my module. All the feedback I received was thoughtful and incredibly useful. It is especially useful as I know quite a few of the students in EC&I 834 will be taking EADM 820 so it was a perfect chance to pilot the course while it was still in development, something that is ideal for online courses but that often doesn’t happen in my unit due to time constraints. So thank you, whoever you are!

One of the major concerns was with the requirement that students design their own rubric for the major assignment. Steve and I discussed the issue and we agreed that it is important to us to keep that aspect. For us, the point is to have students set out what they intend to accomplish, what they think the best version of their project should look like, still being realistic. A video project would have different elements and concerns, like more time spent on video editing and visual presentation, than an essay, which might have a heavier focus on research, for example. For us to design a rubric that would properly cover the different types of projects we hope to receive would be incredibly difficult. More importantly, when it comes to leadership and technology, it is incredibly important to have a way to measure success. You can’t wait for someone to come along and decide to do a study on the use of iPads in your school, or banning devices. A leader needs to be able to evaluate what criteria are going to be involved, what the process is, and how success will be measured. With that in mind, we have revised the assessment structure slightly and included a little more explanation. We are still working on possible formats and wording as we know “rubric” has a very specific meaning but again, we are interested in how the students would set out assessment for their project. But we will be providing some examples of possible ways to lay that out.

We also really appreciated the feedback about whether the metaphors would be problematic for EAL learners. It was a completely accurate critique, that all the metaphors we chose were very Western. For a bit of background, we were directed to focus on students currently teaching or planning to be administrators in Saskatchewan, primarily in the southern half of the province. That was what we had in the back of our minds as we were planning the course although we certainly would like it to still feel relevant to students who are outside that category. We have decided to remove the metaphor for the Provincial level and are still in the process of determining if there is something we could replace it with, while remaining culturally sensitive, or if it is a chance for students to consider their own metaphors. I admit that the focus we have will, however, make this course less relevant for someone from another province or elsewhere in the world. We are anticipating that the content will serve the majority of the students we have but in a longer course we would be structuring in more freedom to read on other topics or share alternate focuses.

For my module specifically, there will be a transcript for the video. I have the file but was thinking through providing it in the course. The one concern with providing a text transcript is that there are students, like me, who might gravitate toward the text first and skip the video if possible. In the case of the video I made, I tried to make the visuals relevant and useful and I do think that it is worth watching the video. If I had been creating the unit as text-only, I would have designed it differently and probably written it somewhat differently also. Given the intensive nature of the course, however, I will try providing the transcript from the beginning and see what students think.

I am still debating a couple things regarding my video. The first is splitting my video at the example. I need to go back through it to see if it would still flow well enough if it was split at that point or if it would require additional changes. I generally recommend to instructors that 7-10 minutes is a good length so I had intended to keep it a little shorter. I do, however, still like to recommend reading the background readings before viewing the video. It is generally standard practice in many university courses that students are expected to do some reading to prepare for class so they are prepared to participate. I actually did debate switching the order, but felt that reading the article about banning devices before watching the video would be more useful and the other articles would give context to the video. I will keep mulling this over. For one thing, this unit will not be the first unit so students will have had some exposure to these types of readings in previous units. So there will be some context already for the readings.

There seemed to be a little concern about the workload for a three week course. When it comes right down to it, Steve and I did make a number of changes to what we would have done in a longer semester, but we strongly feel that a student choosing to take a three week course should be exposed to the same rigor and technically should be taking exactly the same course as someone taking that course in 13 weeks. The reality can’t quite match that, because there just aren’t enough hours in a day to allow the flexibility that students would have in a full semester. That being said, however, we needed to balance the content and assessment we would use in a six- or 13-week course with the time realities of a three-week intensive. Intensives are, well, intense. We are working hard to make the work and the learning worthwhile so students will want to stick with us, but we will try to keep re-evaluating to ensure we aren’t asking too much in a tight timeline. We did do the math for our timing expectations, based on the expectation of “contact hours” (hours in a classroom for face-to-face) and work outside of class time, and at 6 hours 4-6 days a week, that seemed acceptable to us. I have certainly had similar expectations in a six-week class at the graduate level.


THANK YOU !!! flickr photo by W i l l a r d shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

My work isn’t done, as this course is still a work in progress (and always will be, I hope!), but his is where my journey heads back to my office for a while to get everything else sorted and uploaded and polished and framed, all ready or July. But thank you for all the great sharing! It’s been fantastic seeing everyone’s work and having a community of creators to talk with! I look forward to learning with some of you in July and beyond! (For those in EC&I 834, access to the course will be removed by the end of this week except for Alec and Katia, so if anyone wants a last peek, have fun!)

Forum Time CAN Work… I hope

Well, I was apparently psychically linked with Alec last week because I did a bit of background on the type of student/student, student/instructor interactions that will be part of my course – discussion forums. During the weekly class of EC&I 834 there was a lot of criticism of discussion forums. I get it. I’ve seen them go poorly many times. I know many students dislike them. Let’s be honest, a lot of students dislike forced questioning or discussions in the classroom too. It is obvious when an instructor is asking questions just to ask rather than inviting an actual discussion. Nobody enjoys those times particularly so why should an online forum be any different?


Amazon Discussion flickr photo by TadDonaghe shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

So for the course I’m developing, Steve Wihak and I will be using discussion forums in Moodle. There are a few reasons for this.

  1. This course is part of the EADM graduate degree and, as such, we want to keep some similarities to the other online courses in the program and this expectation also comes from the administration of the program as well
  2. The course is a three-week intensive which means there is very little time for learning new technology. Students will have to get right into course work so we don’t have much time for them to get set up in an unfamiliar technology or deal with technical glitches. The forums in Moodle might be fairly boring but they are reliable and fairly straightforward to use.
  3. Because of the condensed time frame, we still want to offer a little flexibility. We did discuss giving students the option of joining synchronous discussion groups (and we are still toying with it) but I also want there to be full course discussions in some way. At least with a discussion forum, students have some choice about when in the day they do their class work (as will I).


Time flickr photo by Cea. shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This doesn’t preclude us from using Google Docs occasionally or offering times we will be available to chat for students who are also available to join zoom and who want to do so.

I think I have a different relationship to forums than a lot of people in our class. I was pretty socially active on the internet since the late 90s. I participated in chat rooms that scrolled by so fast you could barely read them when it was busy but I also spent a lot of time in forums of various types, mostly online role playing forums that were all about writing stories as a character, interacting with other “characters.” I had a lot of fun doing that and spent hours refreshing and scrolling and typing. Text has been my most common mode of communication at various points in my life. I’ve seen all sorts of very active forums on the internet and there is a place for asynchronous communication. There is still a place for it. The archive of responses but also the potential to join in, to participate, to connect. For those who think connection requires visuals and audio, I give you Facebook. I am part of one community with over 4,000 members, a huge proportion of whom are active. And it is amazing. Regularly, someone posts saying that they feel like it’s full of friends. I recognize people by avatar if not by name. There have been singing challenges, people reading pages of Harry Potter, a whole separate emotional support group spawned… And it came from being commentors on and fans of a particular blog. Text has power. Yes, it has limitations, but it has a lot of power too. Anyone else have that sort of experience? Just me?

And technology is letting us bring more and more things together. It’s just nice to have things all in the same place. So students can share images or videos to a forum and not have to go 6 different places for different types of interaction. As much as I love social media and love interactions of various forms, I have times of being overwhelmed by the number of places and things I need to check on and participate in sometimes for this course. Anyone else feeling that way? This is the only real benefit I see to the LMS. At least there is a central point to the class. (Okay, the assignment submission is nice to keep that grouped too, but still.) And that is possible using WordPress but last time I was involved in BuddyPress and bbpress they were still having some major growing pains and required a developer on staff to help fix things and adjust code. I know people were using those plugins to build their own course hubs but you had to be tech savvy and code savvy to do it well. CUNY put out Commons in a Box, built on BuddyPress and bbpress but geared to higher education, and there were daydreams of getting it at U of R but needless to say, that hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons.

So the main interactions in the course are going to be forums. They allow asynchronous communication, they allow editing of responses and avoid the fast scrolling which can happen in active chat rooms. When used in more informal ways they can encourage community. We were asked to read Mastering Online Discussion Board Facilitation but I am really feeling like it is somewhat outdated. It presents very structured options, which are good, but leaves very little space for actual community which is made of all sorts of levels of communication. Schwier makes a good point, that communities aren’t created, especially in virtual learning environments, nor are they a given. (I disagree that “community” is a metaphor, necessarily, but I guess it is a metaphor until it becomes a reality. I think many learning spaces do become communities but this is an older paper of Schwier’s and I bet he would write it differently today.) The invitation is sent out in some way to the learners.


Invitations flickr photo by Kelly Sue shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

So yes, some depends on the invitation. We all know that. If we are hosting a party and send a last minute, crappy invitation that isn’t clear about the intent or the details, few people will come. If we send an invitation that is appealing, that connects with the desires of the invitees, that works for them, then they are much more likely to come. The invitation in this metaphor is both the format provided (forum, Zoom, collaborative software, etc) AND the actual prompt (question, purpose, instructions). If the format doesn’t work but the prompt is appealing, some learners will struggle through because they really want to communicate. If the format works but the prompt is unappealing, the interactions can easily form a community but without the desired intent. Schwier references elements, emphases, and catalysts. The role of the instructor, in this case is this:

What we are attempting to do as educators is promote the development of
virtual learning communities by nurturing the conditions under which they can arise.

There are no guarantees with any type of potential community. The instructor can only control the conditions. Am I doomed for choosing forums?

And the invitees make the party. I think we’ve all been to a party that didn’t work well because of the guests. And to others where the guests made something that we expected to be awkward turn out to be awesome. Different groups have different outcomes. The students decide how much of the invitation to take up. They determine the interactions that will take place. And some groups of students will form instant communities, others won’t. Some will be involved, others won’t. I’ve been in a course where the forums got 170+ posts and replies in two weeks which had previously not been the case. I have seen others with the bare minimum. Even with other forms of community building, like EC&I 834’s blog hub, Twitter hashtag, and Google+ community, each course I’ve taken has been different in the type and size of the community. Logan offered some great thoughts on how he can prepare for this but, in the end, preparation only gets you so far.


KM bloggers community flickr photo by Lilia Efimova shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

So in my case, there will be a grade for participating in the activities. It won’t be about checking off boxes and commenting X number of times, although we do have some minimums since we want to stress that it is important to consider the questions and engage in the activities. (For any teacher who has ever called on particular students or used the Wheel of Terror, you do this in face to face, so it is important to recognize your practices for what they are.) We want to emphasize that quality matters as well. So meeting the minimums with high quality participation is worth as much as more frequent posting with perhaps less substance. Does that seem reasonable?

The prompts are also being carefully planned. The intent is for the prompts to be activities that bring engagement with the material but also leave room for creativity and discussion. There will be no right or wrong questions, and if facts are required, they will be applied. The intent, however, is not to have super formal writing. We want discussion, not exam answers. So our prompts will be a little less formal, as will our posts. And we will have a space for group chatter, questions, randomness.

I’m hoping like Sarah W. that I’m being thorough in prepping for success in community building!

All we can do is test it out. We are going to put our theory to the test, after years of encouraging instructors to build in interaction. Can we get the forums to work with graduate students (I’ve seen it, so I know it’s possible)? We know there will be adjustments for the next offering, and we hope we can make adjustments as we go, but it will depend in great part on our students.

Discussion Forums Review


Abstract big speech bubble flickr photo by DigitalRalph shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

One aspect of online courses that can be the most challenging but also the most rewarding is the discussion forum. There are so many resources about doing this well (that is just a small sampling).


Yes, poorly done message boards and forums can feel a bit like this. It involves some planning and thought!
message board flickr photo by Hungarian Snow shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Although my current online class, EC&I 834, uses synchronous sessions in Zoom and student blogs rather than discussion forums, the format of a discussion board has been a staple of digital interaction for most of the life of the public internet. Message boards were the early form, dialing up to that address and posting your message, checking back later to see if anyone has replied. Email listservs also can have a similar function (or rather, variety of functions). When you get right down to it, a discussion forum is a way to have an asynchronous interaction around a topic. (Although you can schedule something synchronously, there are better mediums in most cases.) This means that students and instructor(s) can have flexible schedules and check in when it is convenient for them. It also means that anyone posting has a chance to read what they are posting, everyone gets a chance to speak, you can go back to something someone said earlier if you want to reply to it (these are often bonuses for introverts).

Since the online class I am working on will require some definite forum interactions, I really wanted to think this through and make sure I had a good grasp of the options to help keep the forums as an integral and useful part of the course.

So in my experience with instructors as well as my research, I’ve found there are some big issues that need to be highlighted when discussion forums come up:

  1. What is the purpose?
  2. How much should the instructor be involved?
  3. How do I get students to participate?


Sincere Purpose flickr photo by John Drake Flickr shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

1. The Purpose

This might seem obvious but honestly, it isn’t always as clear as instructors think. It is always assumed that the purpose is discussion. So it is a replacement for face-to-face in-class discussion. Right? Well, that depends. The purpose needs to be clear before a question or prompt is formulated. Here are some of the purposes I see:

  • Check student comprehension. The questions are usually fact-based and require reading the content but often don’t require a significant amount of thought or additional work. The exact same question could be handed into the instructor privately and have the same learning outcomes. The only outcome is to confirm that students have read/watched/heard/seen specific content. E.g., “What are four uses of discussion forums? Choose your favourite and explain why.” As a student, I don’t get much benefit from reading the responses of others. This is not going to encourage much discussion (and no one would expect it to in a classroom).
  • Debate a topic. Although this requires careful preparation including appropriate behaviour (or netiquette), it can be a good chance to have students come in on various sides of a controversial topic. This is going to get participation from students who have strong feelings. This is precisely the sort of thing that happens in classrooms and can easily eat up much more class time than expected when it goes well. E.g., “Are discussion forums the best format for discussion in online learning and why?” Someone will, invariably, disagree with my answer or I will disagree with someone else because there is not a single right answer.
  • Resource sharing. This can be an easy way for everyone to post articles they find, images, websites, etc. It isn’t as searchable as other tools, and you can’t reuse it in a later semester, but it is a great option for quick posting. E.g., “Post any news articles you come across that relate to cats.” This can work well if you are getting students to share resources for research projects or if you are covering a topic that will be in the news often. Discussions can easily spring up around certain shared items and it keeps that all in a single place. It even works well for sharing experiences or anything like that in a less formal way (it needs to be less formal if you are sharing something like that to have students get invested).
  • Groupwork. I am not a fan of forums for this as I tend to prefer other forms of communication, but it can facilitate groups discussing projects. Just be prepared for some groups to ask to use other resources unless you mandate using the forum, which could aggravate students.
  • Ask a question. Forums are perfect for having students ask public questions that other students may also have. It can also result in students helping students. It provides the sort of “ask your neighbour” opportunity that classrooms and hallways facilitate. It also means that a single answer can reach most students without clogging up the email of students who are not interested.
  • Interactive creation. This one might not jump out, but it can work to have students write something asynchronously, as a group. It requires some prepping to ensure that multiple students don’t post at the same time and all reply to the same thing, taking the project in multiple directions, unless that is intended. Preparation also can prevent long pauses in which no one is sure who should post or long waits for someone to start the idea. E.g., “The zombie apocalypse has begun. What is Amy going to do?” It could be a story but it could also become a case study response. The instructor could interject at various points with more information, or to answer questions, or to keep things moving along.

Getting creative can have some interesting impacts on forums and tend to make them much more interesting.


Don’t be Mr. Burns, lurking in the background and judging the forums.
Mr Burns flickr photo by fabbriciuse shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

2. Instructor Involvement

This isn’t easy and I will say right now it can depend a lot on the group of students you have. Sometimes the students need little prompting and will be vocal by nature, online or face-to-face. Other times they are much more reluctant, or there are a number of silent wallflowers (or “lurkers” as they are called online). Instructors need to decide if that is acceptable or not ahead of time and structure that into how forums are discussed and/or graded. But here are some basic tips I would recommend:

  • Model what you want. Be more engaged in the first and even second forum to show students what you are looking for, to prove to them that you are reading what they write, and to keep things going.
  • Do not pose a question and never respond to responses that involve questions. If you want to poke at a discussion, make sure you check back in as students will respond directly to you.
  • Make sure you continue to engage. It could be posting after a few days and some posts to encourage or fill in some more ideas. It could be sharing an interesting and relevant article. It could be redirecting the discussion. Students need proof that you have not checked out and in many cases they assume you have something to contribute. You shouldn’t respond to everyone every forum but you should be seen. Since they can’t rely on your body language, they need you to post.
  • Avoid “posting from on high.” Unless there is an inappropriate post or comment that needs to be stopped immediately, remember that you are there to facilitate discussion, not provide the be all and end all. If you do that, students will either not have anything more to add or will be reluctant to engage for fear of being called out on being wrong.
  • Be less formal. This can be a tricky one for a lot of people. It is easy to get into the habit of typing more formally and less conversationally but if you type like you are writing an academic paper, so will your students, and that can really limit conversation. The forums can be part of building a community but to do that, you have to be part of that. Open up a little, relax, and let students relax. That means not writing in a style that sounds like an exam question (unless you really want that type of response).
  • Consider the time commitment. In a face-to-face discussion, the timing is fairly limited. Students say what they have to say and you may cut them off if they talk too long. Online, they can think about things more and may end up taking far longer to write their post than you anticipated, especially if you assigned additional work to do the forum. So if you want more time for discussion, ensure that you aren’t loading them up with a bunch of prep work BEFORE they can post (e.g. reading multiple articles or difficult articles, watching a long video, doing research, or formulating the perfect response for an exam). The more time they put in before they post, the less time they will have for discussion.
  • Give some marks. Although face-to-face you may not need to give marks for participation, online you may. They don’t have you staring at them or calling on them to ensure they say something. You may have to show that you value the time and effort the discussion requires by assigning it marks. If you prefer unmarked, you need to make it engaging and something students would want to do and can do easily. For example, sharing something they already know o do or think like introducing themselves or sharing a cultural quirk can get participation easily. If you want more work, however, you need to demonstrate that it matters. You also need to ensure they learn from it. So asking students to regurgitate information is not going to garner much participation.


If your students feel like this, they aren’t going to want to participate and forums will feel like pulling teeth.
Boredom flickr photo by QuinnDombrowski shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

3. Student Participation

Forums should really be about the students (unless the point is just to push information out, which can be done but isn’t too exciting). If you want them engaged, they need to have a reason. Discussions that get students invested face-to-face are exactly the kinds of things that get students engaged online too. They even have more time to do it, theoretically. But you have to plan it. You need to think about the time investment required and be thoughtful. Also, remember this is happening over a wider period of time usually. So some students will work more on class things on the weekend. Some will try to power through and have everything done right away. Some want to read what others are up to first. If any of those are an issue, you need to structure your assignments and instructions accordingly. But most of all, give them sometime they will care about and have something to say about. Regurgitating the textbook is boring. It’s boring for you to read it from every student. It’s boring for them to write it, let alone read it from someone else. If that is the purpose of the forum, be prepared for minimal discussion (I personally think that kind of assignment is not helpful unless it serves another purpose, like having them write or practice citation, etc, but at the very least, just make them hand it in to you and not pretend they want to respond). If you want conversation, have them talk about something meaningful. Make it relatable to their life, to the real world. Give it a purpose.


troll flickr photo by vikapproved shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

It is worth noting that not everyone wants to be the centre of attention. Some students will be leery of posting their thoughts publicly. Moreover, some topics are way more sensitive. Some topics require eye contact. Heard of trolls? It is so, so much easier to be a jerk on the internet because you don’t have to look most people in the eye. So be aware that a) you need to prepare for that potential and be preventative and b) you need to be thoughtful about what you ask. Come up with agreed rules for behaviour. If the students help with that, it is easier to get buy-in and they better understand why it matters. But be prepared for what you will do if something does happen. For example, if a student posts an inappropriate response, know how to delete or hide it, consider whether you might use that as a learning opportunity or deal with it privately, know how to document issues in case that is needed. Do not ask students to out themselves about sensitive issues, or at least don’t require it. or example, if you are talking about mental illness, don’t ask students to share mental illnesses they experience. Some may want to share but some may not. Do not treat students as representative of particular identities. For example, if you have one student from a particular region of the world, don’t use that student as the example of that or as your token student. Prepare students for difficult discussions. For example, if you will be talking about a sensitive subject, let them know ahead of time. Give them a chance to talk to you if there is a concern about public participation.

And, in all honesty, you might have to offer marks. The learning should be the focus, I agree, but right now we are stuck in a system that demonstrates value through grades. So show that you value their work. If the forums are worth 1 point per post, skipping a point isn’t a big deal and students will figure that out. Marks are a way to get them to come to the forums but good questions and discussion make them want to stay.


Diversity flickr photo by shadowtech shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Tony Bates discusses forums although his coverage is just brushing the surface as it fits into his focus on collaborative learning (there are numerous other forms of collaborative learning like Google Docs, wikis, blogs, Prezi, online chats, etc that have nothing to do with discussion forums despite his narrow discussion). I wanted to highlight something that he briefly touches on that is very important:

Thus teachers need to be aware that there are likely to be students in any class who may be struggling with language, cultural or epistemological issues, but in online classes, where students can come from anywhere, this is a particularly important issue.

If your class is going to have cultural variation, be prepared. Be clear about your expectations but also decide how you want to deal with students who do not feel comfortable or who have different expectations. This is something I definitely want to consider, so I don’t plan to grade on grammar or anything like that. I also think that students should have the option to be silent or quieter. I find forums comfortable so I can be guilty of talking too much but others should have the right to not post as much if they can demonstrate learning in what they do post. But that expectation has to be laid out. What will I do if someone DOESN’T post? I have seen “choose 4 of 8 forums” go very poorly and that requires a fair bit of double checking on my end. But I also want to allow students to participate at a level that works for them. To a point.

Obviously I’m still thinking that part through.

So if you’ve participated in forums, what advice would you give me? I give advice to instructors all the time but I could always use more from students. I’m the type who talks a lot in text so I’m not always a good example to use.

Getting on the iMovie Train

logo for imovie

Our assignment this week for EC&I 834 is to test out a tool for content creation/sharing, especially of media. Since this is my last course, I decided it was time to tackle iMovie. It helped that Alec shared a post from John Spencer on doing sketchnote style animation. Admittedly, my little video isn’t quite sketchnotes but it’s a step in that direction. I actually started out in visual arts many, many years ago and my husband is an artist so I tend to pull out a pencil or a pen every so often to sketch something so it seemed like a good fit to do some cute little drawings and turn it into something.

I really appreciated how Graham did his breakdown this week so I’m going to try to do a bit of plus/minus sharing my experience.

Plus: I don’t have to have a Mac computer to use iMovie! It is available on both my iPhone and my iPad. I used my iPad so I could have a bigger screen to manipulate things.

Minus: While I’m working, all the files need to be on the device I’m using if I want to add photos and videos. So I had to do all my photo editing and saving on my computer first, then get them onto my iPad. I just saved them to Dropbox and then saved them to my phone from there. But it would be nice to work in the cloud. Maybe this is an option for newer features. Definitely not collaborative in the app though.

Plus: It was easy to import into the app from my device. Once I got everything into the app, I was ready to get creating.

Minus (minor): I should have reread the tutorial to check his file naming. If I had named all my files with the same beginning and just changed the numbering, they would have imported in the right order. Alphabetical order is the default sort for imported images.

Minus: There is no labelling of any of the icons or features so if it isn’t a familiar word or icon, I had to look it up. This included not being sure how to drag around the order of my images.

Plus: The help files were very helpful! The answer was easy to find and it was super easy to do (hold down my finger on the picture until it “pops out of the timeline” and then drag. Somewhat similar to reordering apps on my screens so yay for Apple with the keeping actions standard and straightforward.)

Minus: I created my images in the wrong aspect ratio so they were taller than wide and it meant I couldn’t actually resize them to fit in the screen. A bit of researching first would have helped but in the app your screen size assumes a landscape orientation and your pictures will be cropped based on that (again, it could be in the settings to adjust this or to give a background if I want smaller pictures, but I was doing the quick and dirty creation).

Minus: The “Ken Burns effect” is applied by default. If you don’t want your images sliding around your screen, you probably want to disable that, but it’s done picture by picture if you have them all imported already. So that took a little longer than I feel like it should. Not a fan of that as a default.

Plus: It was easy to readjust my audio after I accidentally started the recording partway into my first image. Again, hold down and drag. That felt more intuitive once I got that figured out for the images.

Plus: Deleting my first try of the audio and recording a second was easy.

Plus: Readjusting the timing of each image is very, VERY easy.

Minus: It is not quite as easy to listen to the audio and time the images because I have to listen, pause, then readjust. And if I move the first image, any adjustment I did at the end is changed too. I couldn’t see how to easily pin one image to a particular time. So definitely start doing your timing editing at the beginning of your movie, not the end. Oops. I did both.

Plus: Easy integration with YouTube and Vimeo as well as some other storage options online. I posted my video to YouTube really quickly.

Minus: It posted my video as private, which I didn’t see, so I had to log into YouTube to change that. Yes, it’s minor, but irritating when I sent it to a coworker and it wasn’t visible to him.

In the end, I am glad I listened to Angus last semester when he said how easy it was to use. Jennifer agreed clearly from her review! I was in a stable wifi zone so I didn’t think much about that issue but it would be an issue when getting the movie OFF the device, for sure.

I also really enjoy this style. I would definitely want to ink my images before scanning though. Pencil didn’t quite cut it. Then again, I am used to doing realistic drawing so my lines weren’t always as dark and clear as they should have been. The drawings and editing of those definitely took the longest. I am used to photo manipulation so I had some interesting images pre-edit.

full cat image prior to edit
full computer image prior to edit

I edited the cat’s pupils in one shot, and I drew the paw up AND down on the original image. And on the computer image, I drew the hand over the mouse and just erased different parts for different stages.
all images for my video on one paper

This is definitely pretty doable for an instructor or students, if they have the incination. BUT it takes time. And it takes a learning curve. Mostly, it takes planning. You need to know what images you want to use. For me, I did it backwards from the tutorial. I drew my images before I had a script, and then adjusted my script to the images. But that really wouldn’t be the best way to do a longer one. You need to know what you want to say and what is needed to illustrate it. So it’s a good longer-term project but it isn’t something to have finished in an hour. My 54 second video still took me 45 mins or more to draw the images, edit them, get all the versions saved that I needed, then an hour or so playing around to get it all set. I could get a bit quicker at it but to do 5 minutes will be a time investment for sure. An instructor would have to really want to do this for it to be worthwhile as opposed to a screencast or using a pre-done whiteboard style like Videoscribe (which you have to pay for) or Powtoon (which does have a free option although the themes are more limited and I didn’t see a ton that looked right).

And my usual thing, it is only once the file is done that it can be accessed and edited out of the Apple software. And it does require the Apple software which is not free. It’s $6.99 US (I believe) to buy the app if you don’t have it.

But without further ado, here is my little test video!

Online Learning Grew on Me

(I’m a little late with this one. It has been a crazy but good week so if you bear with me, at the end of this post I’ll share a bit of what’s been going on!)


flickr photo shared by shareski under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

My first experience with online learning was pretty horrible. I had moved across the country for a graduate program and had been offered a teaching assistant job for a new online class. The class was full of pre-recorded interviews between the head TA and the instructor, students had a coursepack, a weekly reading response assignment, exams, and a weekly question on the forum that was not for marks. There were 7 TAs and 800 students to begin with. By the end, some of us had 60 students, some still had closer to 100, but the course had dropped around 200+ students. The instructor did not participate at all (in fact, if he received student email, he notified them to contact their TA). We were told to spend less time marking and providing feedback. There was no real interaction with students as most of them opted out of the weekly forum time and had no interest in posting questions to the forum during “office hour.” I was overworked, under-appreciated, underpaid, and pretty skeptical that anyone was learning anything.

As you can guess, I was pretty sure online classes were horrible and just a way for universities to do a money grab.

Now I work with online courses daily and I have been taking online courses for my MEd. The EC&I 833 course is different than most of the courses I work on. For the most part I work with asynchronous courses – there is no requirement that students be doing something at the same time. I do see benefit from the synchronous sessions, getting to talk to other people in a more conversational format. It gives you the feeling of actually being in a class with real people. Heidi mentioned how much this is worth the frustration of the scheduling for her. In general, however, we instructional designers tend to recommend mandatory sessions, suggesting recommended sessions that are recorded and posted. Why? Well because scheduling conflicts can prevent students from taking a course which is not what we want. My unit is, after all, called Flexible Learning. Also, the Registrar’s Office has mandated that mandatory sessions be pre-scheduled in the system before students register. It’s a pain to do for our admin people and the goal is to have a course available to as many students as possible when it is offered online. So we tend to suggest instructors make the sessions worth attending rather than using the “show up or you could fail” approach. Nothing against Alec for making his sessions mandatory. Considering that we are having weekly presentations, we definitely need to show up since this is the content delivery model and I bet almost all of us would show up regardless. But not all instructors actually make those times useful.

From taking online courses, I can definitely say that I love them when they are done well. The technology definitely does play a part in that. Zoom, as Jennifer notes, is really easy. I’m with you, Jennifer! I bring up Zoom to instructors regularly because it is user-friendly (except if you are trying to advance slides and type in the chat at the same time, that just gets a bit more complicated). When the technology is comfortable, it lets everyone focus on the learning. And sometimes the technology has to become part of the learning but that time isn’t factored in which can be discouraging.

I am working with a colleague to develop an online class now and it is nice to put into practice things that I have learned or experienced so clearly, I’m a convert. I love being able to attend class in my pyjamas, eat my supper, and hang out with my classmates from the comfort of my own home. I just hope that I can continue to find good ways to practice positive and empowering pedagogy in the online environment!

(So, now on to why I’ve been so busy! I was in Saskatoon twice last week, first day for my husband to get a tattoo, second day for me to get one!

And then I was swamped being awesome on Halloween as I helped some ladies in my unit do some marketing. Four of us made our costumes and went around campus dressed up, giving out candy to promote courses with flexible deliveries

Ghostbusters!
Ghostbusters! One of our Graphics and Multimedia Specialists was so excited he made us trading cards

So my apologies for being late with this post but I’m hoping those make up for it.)

Has Conversation Died… or Just Changed?


flickr photo shared by Marc Wathieu under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Sherry Turkle has come up a number of times in EC&I 832 already. With her latest book coming out on Oct. 6, 2015, she’s getting publicity by writing posts about her concerns with conversation. The newest one I encountered was specific to the classroom in higher education, the title implying the article would be a “how to” on teaching in an age of digital distraction. After offering a description of students struggling to pay attention and the anecdote of students actually coming forward, admitting to texting during class and regretting it, Turkle begins to talk about ways instructors and theorists have dealt with digital distraction. She sets hyper attention against deeper thinking, suggesting that being too caught up in being focused on something all the time keeps students (and the rest of us?) from insights they (or we?) might otherwise have.

Turkle’s concern, a clear tie-in with her book about to come out (and the cynic in me sat up and took notice of how often she has been published online lately with this book nearing release), is that students are missing out on conversations. To her a conversation happens only face-to-face and a true CONVERSATION (as she has raised the concept up to an ideal) is a deep and intimate experience. It involves wandering through ideas. It can take a number of conversations to arrive at the one spark that might generate something. To Turkle, we have lost this because of devices. Allowing technology in the classroom precludes this kind of engagement. For example, she bemoans students using Google Docs for projects, giving up “long tables, cold coffee, and late nights.”


Is this the way group work should look? flickr photo shared by Kathleen Tyler Conklin under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

I admit, I feel the need to be an apologist for online education at this point. Reading her article was reading a dismissal of the work I do, of my understanding of the possibilities of online classes. Actually, it is a dismissal of my experience of online classes too.

But, to an extent, she is right. It is easy to lose those types of conversations these days.

I think more than technology has driven this push for hyper attention but also hyper focus. As students get older, they are taught that when it comes to education, the grades matter. Actually, grades are the only things that matter. Standardized testing, pressures of employment, the need to get good grades to succeed, get scholarships, go on to additional schooling. Failure is the end of everything. Even the classes that do encourage conversation tend to time it, put boundaries on it, because it is time to move on so everything that is on the syllabus can get covered because this course is a prerequisite for that course and the “learning” must meet the objectives. In reality, I mean the teaching must meet the objectives. There is not always time for everyone to learn.

Eventually we get told we need a paper trail. Did we take notes? Do we remember what was said? We are taught that the only things that tend to matter (i.e. be given a numerical value that impacts so much of our education) are those that are written. We need to get it in writing. We need to write that paper, show our work, detail the calculation, write the lab report. All of these things come into play when we start to talk about the end of conversations.

But where do we learn about conversation? Turkle’s despair at university students avoiding conversations assumes that they should know how to do this but don’t. Or that university is the place to learn how to have conversations. Are conversations truly dead in K-12? And what about the role of families? I admit, I learned conversation in my family setting, with parents’ friends or sitting quietly with my mom and talking through deep things. The latch-key generation didn’t end conversations where families rarely had time to sit down, so where else did kids learn this? As I got older and the internet came into my home, I found conversations there. I have had all sorts of deep conversations on the internet, including in chat rooms where the text flew by at the speed of light. Instant messaging didn’t kill deep conversation. Voice chat makes it so easy now. A friend tells me about her daughter always being connected to her friends, always on a Skype call with girls all over North America.

Maybe the issue is that there is a difficulty in conversing with adults, in bridging the generation gap? Is that what Turkle’s students are really feeling? Dismissed by her assumptions and unsure of how to communicate with her?

To be fair, in 2012 MIT made some headlines for teaching courses on being social. Apparently their students were entering the work force without any concept of how to behave in an office. But that suggests that face-to-face courses did not help these students develop the art of deep conversation either, not without a focus on conversational skills. Maybe this is something that we need to introduce back into the curriculum? This is leaving aside the fact that different forms of communication use different languages. So is there a space where conversation and deep conversation is happening that Turkle isn’t seeing because of her biases?


flickr photo shared by Nguyen Vu Hung (vuhung) under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

And, reading her piece, I also assume she is very much an extrovert. I can feel myself cringing when she critiques a student for wanting to email an instructor rather than meet face-to-face. I am uncomfortable meeting with new authority figures (and let’s face it, instructors are presented as such as much as she wants them to be sympathetic adults). I can engage in conversations and seem fairly extroverted but there are different forms of conversations. We won’t discuss how often I run over things to say in my head. I might think well out loud but when I am not put on the spot, I tend to think through possible conversations. A lot is going on in my head as I let ideas settle and mull while I’m working on other things (like checking Facebook). That is the world of the introvert. (Check out this adorable guide to introverts if you are needing a refresher.)

So who exactly is losing conversation? Are extroverts more impacted? Are introverts finding a voice in a different mode of communication?

Genna talked about another side of this issue on her recent blog about digital distraction and engagement. Maybe being engaged and having conversations looks different for different people. (And maybe apps can’t replace an instructor’s role in that.)

What do you think? Are younger people losing the art of conversation? What about the rest of us? Do you still have deep conversations?