Going Back to Campus!

So last spring the unexpected happened I was asked by my director to come back and teach one of my courses on campus. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure how to feel about that because after all I had been teaching online for last 7 years and my schedule, as well as the commute, were perfect. I started thinking and I realized that I hadn’t actually been in a classroom for 7 years and felt a bit overwhelmed as if I had never taught before. Strange right? Especially since I had been teaching in a classroom for almost 20 years before transitioning to online.

So, I got to thinking how did I teach 7 years ago? I decided that in order to redesign an on-campus course I would have to look at my material from the last semester I taught on campus Once I read through the materials i.e. syllabi, classroom notes, assignments, in-class activities etc. Then I thought the old material would not fit as my courses had evolved, but could the online material be used/transitioned into an on-campus course? Maybe.

Finally, to get my feet wet I decided to meet myself halfway and create a hybrid course for the Fall semester. The other thing I did to help me get comfortable with going back to campus and reconnect was to apply to the TEAL fellowship and the CIT forum for NTT faculty. Interesting enough I got accepted to both which made me happy and worried at the same time because it is now not only did I have to rework my syllabus, curriculum, activities, and assignments I also had to get to campus for meetings all year long! And just like that my perfect schedule and commute went out the window. What was I thinking?

However as the school year winds down I am so glad and grateful for the opportunities that I have been given to me this year from teaching on campus to learning new ways of thinking about teaching, and meeting as well as connecting to faculty from all of the university.


Can VoiceThread be ADA Compliant?

It sure can!  One of the things I have been working on this semester is making my VoiceThread videos ADA compliant. As I began exploring this topic I realized that there was no easy way to get it done. You would think that in this day and age including subtitles for the hearing impaired would be an automatic thing in e-learning software such as VoiceThread, Adobe Captivate or Techsmith’s Camtasia etc., and with the click of a mouse they would be included, but they are not…

One of the things I have been working on this semester is making my VoiceThread weekly overviews ADA compliant. As I began exploring this topic I realized that there was no easy way to get it done. You would think that in this day and age including subtitles for the hearing impaired would be an automatic thing in e-learning software such as VoiceThread, Adobe Captivate or Techsmith’s Camtasia etc., and with the click of a mouse they would be included, but they are not…

Don’t get me wrong they all include a way to do it, but it is not easy nor is it fast. As you need to watch how-to online videos created by the software company and go to different online forums to learn how to do it.

Recently, Voicethread began offering a way to this, but it is not as user-friendly as the VoiceThread Standard site. You need to go to a different area that VoiceThread has created called VoiceThead Universal.  Besides the very different look that this page has, it does not do what you think it should do or at least it did not fulfill my expectations of what subtitles should look like. Interestingly enough the subtitles are added to the side of the screen as side notes instead of as subtitles. When I tried it I didn’t like the subtitles were positioned to the left side of the screen because it looked like an afterthought.

Recently, Voicethread began offering a way to this, but it is not as user-friendly as the VoiceThread Standard site. You need to go to a different area that VoiceThread has created called VoiceThead Universal.  Besides the very different look that this page has, it does not do what you think it should do or at least it did not fulfill my expectations of what subtitles should look like. Interestingly enough the subtitles are added to the side of the screen as side notes instead of as subtitles. When I tried it I didn’t like the subtitles were positioned to the left side of the screen because it looked like an afterthought.

So I spent the better part of a week working on figuring out how to do it so the subtitles can be included in the video. The first video which was about 2 minutes long took me about two hours to complete because I wasn’t sure if what I was doing would work and there was a lot of trial and error. Once I figured out the process I was able to complete each video in about an hour.

To get it to work the way I wanted it to, I had to use MS PowerPoint, Camtasia, Youtube, and VoiceThread. Which means that not only is it time-consuming but it is also costly, as you need to buy Camtasia, learn how to use it, and then figure out the rest of the steps. For me, that was not a big deal as I have been using Camtasia for a long time thus I have access to the program and I know how to use it.

Having said that not all online instructors are also Instructional designers, like me, and have access to different e-learning software.  Online educators are there to teach their subject matter, not to create instructional videos let alone know how to make them ADA compliant.  Teaching online takes is a lot of work as the educator needs to do everything an on-campus instructor does and also learn how to use the course management system their institution is using as well as other technical skills that they need to acquire. That is a lot of work! So adding another hour to the workload every week, is in my opinion, a lot of time just to include subtitles to a VoiceThread video.

Despite the fact that it was a time-consuming process, for me learning how to do this was worth it in the end because I made my student feel included in my online course. That to me was more important than my time. After all helping my students learn in any way I can is the reason I became an educator.

If you want to see what one of my VoiceThread videos looks like with the subtitles, here is a link to one of them: https://youtu.be/5yXZiDW_N2I

Happy Teaching,


Spring is in the air…

It has been a few months since I wrote and published a blog post. There are several reasons for that. One was that I was buried under a lot of papers and final exams and it was Christmas.

Once the holidays over I decided to think about the purpose of the blog. I came to the conclusion that I just love to write about what is going on in my online courses. Then I looked at my blog and it looked extremely boring and stale like the month of January full of different shades of gray. So I decided to just take some time to think about it and my redesign sort of fell to the waste side because of everything that was going at the beginning of the spring semester, but as time passed I missed not writing about my courses, teaching, and students.

During this time I realized that these posts help me reflect and look back on what I do every day which in turn helps me be a better educator. It allows me to really think through the methods, tools, and approaches I use in my courses. The conversation I have every few weeks while blogging keeps me focused, thinking, and moving forward.

So, as this week marks the beginning of spring and as it is the reason were everything begins to come to life and bloom I thought it would be appropriate to re-launch my little blog site. So today I have finished recreating my blog and I am looking forward to start blogging!!!

Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!” -Robin Williams




What I wish I would have known…

In the past, I have talked about teaching online and the path I took to get here, but I had I known what I know now I am not sure I would have decided to teach online or maybe I would have, who knows. Things I found out on the way I wish I knew before I started teaching online:

  1. Workload-It takes a lot more time to teach an online course than it does a face-to-face one. From responding to emails, participating in class discussions, making comments on blogs to reading and commenting on students papers is extremely time-consuming.
  1. Course Design– Everything needs to be streamlined i.e. such as folders, discussion threads, and homework assignments are clear and organized, so students don’t spend a lot of time looking for information.
  1. Course Prep– takes a lot longer because everything has to be designed, created, and uploaded before the course begins. By doing that you eliminate the adding to you workload during the semester. The other thing I discovered is that the syllabus became a big deal because now it had to explain everything that was going to happen in the course before the course began.
  1. Engagement-Learning how to build a class community is a tough one to accomplish. In order to break the ice and make the students more comfortable I have them create a podcast introducing themselves to each other. I also use Voice Thread to lecture or respond to student questions as it seems to be easier for the students to understand what they need to do because they hear my voice. I think listening to me speak helps them realize that I am real. I also have them do peer reviews so they get to read their classmates writing and comment on it. This activity allows them to learn and support each other.
  1. Set up guidelines for students– Have clear deadlines for everything and return homework consistently. So for example, students know to expect their homework within five days not the day after they submitted it.
  1. Faculty Development– As far as faculty support goes I can’t complain my university ran a lot of different blackboard workshops, but they didn’t do the work for me like at other institutions. That is good and bad because I had to work a lot more that I did before but this also gave me the freedom to explore and create the course that I wanted.
  1. Faculty Mentoring/Support– The other thing that would have helped me at the beginning was being able to see how other faculty designed their online courses. As there would be less trial and error. Also, online teaching can be lonely as there is no faculty community that supports each other while working from home. I would have liked to bounce ideas back and forth with someone who was in the same boat as me.
  1. Tools & Technology– Having to spend a lot of my own money on buying software, laptops, tablets, books, and taking graduate courses. Also, devoting extra time especially during the summer and winter breaks to learn new software, read books, and take classes or workshops so I could design and develop better courses.


Should Conferences Go Online?


I love going to conferences as consider it the best way to find out what other people are working on in my field. Unfortunately most big organizations like Tesol(Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), CCCC(Conference on College Compositions and Communication), OLC(Online Learning Consortium) or ATD(Association for Talent Development) do not tend to come to the Boston Area.

So many times I have ended up traveling to great cities like San Francisco, New York, and Vancouver. I am not complaining because I love to travel, meet new people and learn new things, but lately due to family restrictions I have not been able to go to any outside Massachusetts.

In the past 3-4 years, several organizations have begun streaming some of their sessions online. To my delight these virtual conferences or live streamed sessions tend to be quite affordable, especially considering the amount of money it costs to attend a conference and also pay for the plane ticket, hotel and everything else that comes with going to such an event. A large part of going to a conference is also about meeting people in the field and interacting with them so that is not something you recreate when attending online. So, there are a lot of positives and negatives to watching streamed sessions.

In the last few years, I have virtually attended a few conferences. This time around I  watched the OLC conference that was taking place at Orlando Florida. They streamed live 110 sessions which was such an upgrade from the amount they streamed a couple of years ago. The topics ranged from MOOCs to tips and tricks on how to teach online to how to flip a classroom as well as how to how to design and online course and creating an effective online learning environment.

The other thing about attending a conference online is you are able to access the recorded sessions so you get to view all of them. In the case of the OLC they give you access to the videotaped sessions for up to a year so you actually get more out of the conference than going to the conference. I say this because most conferences have at least 50-100 concurrent sessions each day and there is no way you can get to listen to all of them. I remember one time I went with friends to a conference and we all went to different sessions and then got together and shared what we learned so we could get more out of the conference. So, having access to them for a year allows you can go a look at a presentation a few times something  you can’t do when you are physically attending a conference.

I marvel at how technology has changed our lives as it has transformed the way we work, learn, and play. I can’t wait to see what will happen next!


The Balancing Act…

The semester is more than half over and I find myself some days having a difficult time balancing work and home life. There is no real separation between work and personal life since I work from home. In the perfect world one would work all morning when the house is quiet, but then I remember that the dishwasher needs to be emptied or I have to cook dinner early because when my child comes home I have to rush out the door for soccer practice or a music lesson. Irrelevant of the reason the list of interruptions goes on and on…

Strategies for balancing my workload:

  • Stagger my due dates, especially after the middle of the semester as my courses are writing intensive. This strategy make sense for me  as I have about 70 students every semester and I assign about eight to nine assignments per student. So the amount of pages I have to read on my computer/tablet is enormous to say the least.
  • Not edit my students’ writing so much, but provide them feedback on the error patterns I see in their writing. Editing student writing can overwhelm students and it does not aid them in becoming better writers. Showing them a few of their errors actually, helps them improve their writing more.
  • Pace myself. I read student papers for an hour at a time as my eyes get more tired faster when I read a computer or tablet screen. I usually dedicate 2 hours of reading assignments in the morning, as I have to also respond to student discussions, read blog reflections, and respond to student emails and questions.
  • Work at different times of the day and night. So if I work on a set of papers in the morning and I haven’t finished that set of assignments, in order to finish I will end up reading in the evening.
  • Take it with me. Many times as I rush out of the house to take my son to the park, practice, or a playdate I bring student papers with me. I download them to my MS Surface and I read them wherever I am. Even if I read two more assignments it is more than I would have if I hadn’t brought my work with me which gets me closer to finishing my work.
  • Set due dates for when to return students their homework. It helps me stay organized and the students know when to expect the assignment feedback and their grades.
  • Use Tools that will help you stay on track. I like to use my MS Surface tablet as it helps read and comment on student papers like I am reading a piece of paper that a student handed me in class. Besides being able to write on the screen like I would on a hard copy, the other benefit this tablet has is that it is light and small enough for me to be able to take it anywhere.


I am sure that there are more strategies out there that other hard working educators are using, but these are the ones that work for me. They help me balance my personal and professional life because things happen to throw me off track all the time.



Voice Thread vs Camtasia

In my previous post, I talked about Voice Thread and a little bit about Camtasia, but I did not go into depth as to what I liked about both software and what I thought of them. Let me start by saying that on the surface they seem very similar but they are not. Sure they both can do screencasting, but how one can use them is different.

Voice Thread is a wonderful tool when you want to start a conversation with your students or get the course to be more interactive as online courses can seem static, cold, and impersonal. For the past few weeks, I have been using Voice Thread to talk about what we are doing for the week and my students have been responding in a very positive way to my Voice Threads so I am planning on using this tool to do class discussions and a couple of assignments. I think that when I think of Voice Thread the word personal comes to mind. In a way, it recreates the in-class room interaction between the instructor and the students, which is something that has been missing in an online classroom.

So here is an example of Voice Thread for ESL students discussing the infinitive and the gerund: https://voicethread.com/about/library/infinitive_or_gerund/

On the other hand, Camtasia which is created by TechSmith is an amazing software if you want to create professional screencasts or lessons. Unlike Voice Thread which is a tool that allows you to do more of in the moment type activities it does not allow you to edit and fine tune your work like Camtasia does. Camtasia is a lot more complex than Voice Thread but worth learning to use if you want to produce online lectures and quizzes.Here is a video of what Camtasia is all about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGzYeh5lp54&feature=youtu.be

Having said that, I think Camtasia and Voice Thread are both worth knowing how to use as they fulfill a different aspect of e-learning. I am planning on continuing to use both kinds of software in my courses in order to create a multidimensional experience in my online lessons in order to keep my students learning and moving forward with their education.


Voice Thread

I have begun using Voice Thread for my online courses as my university decided to incorporate it into Blackboard, Hurray for smart decisions!!! I say this because I have used everything under the sun from Adobe Presenter to Adobe Captivate to Camtasia to create video lectures, but somehow they seemed cumbersome because once I created the videos I had to upload them to YouTube or to Vimeo, then take the link and uploaded to Blackboard. It was too many steps and the students could only watch. My video lectures lacked interactivity, which is so important for an online class. If they had a question then they had to exit the video and go to the Q&A to post a question. With Voice Thread the students can view the lecture and then comment orally or via text on what I discussed. This function is such a great feature as it lends itself to so many interactive activities in an online course.

Once I just finished posting a response to students podcast reflections using Voice Thread this tool really showed me the possibilities it has, as a student within minutes of share the thread posted a response to tell me that he finally understood how the assignments work. It seems that because the student could hear me speak and explain the way the assignment structure work it really helped him understand what I was telling him via text. That is so powerful and amazing to me.

The other thing that I liked was that it took me only a few minutes to record and share an oral message with my students. I think that the only thing I didn’t like was that it did not allow me to edit my recording. This is such a small thing and I am sure as I get more familiar with it I will discover the rest of the features Voice Thread has to offer.


Office Hours???

When I taught on campus I always held office hours and yet no one came to visit me unless I asked them to or they thought that they were in some sort of trouble, i.e. too many absences, failed an exam, plagiarized on a paper etc. Since I have been teaching online I have not held traditional or regular office hours. Should I hold office hours online? Perhaps I should not have office hours at a specific day and time since being online offers me and the students the flexibility being on campus does not. Of course I am more available to my e-students more than my on-campus ones since we all email all the time as well as the questions and answers discussion thread on Blackboard, but I would like to chat with them once in a while and would also like to see them, so for I have used skype, but that also becomes a bit cumbersome as we all need to go outside of blackboard. Currently, I meet my students online via video chat whenever they need to speak to me. It is a more on-demand office hours. When students want to speak to me they ask me to meet them on campus instead of online. For some reason, they tend to avoid speaking to me online even though I try to schedule a time that is convenient for both of us.


I think that if there was a skype type tool students might find it easier At this point blackboard does not offer a tool I can use exclusively for office hours or private chatting. In an older version, they had a chat tool that I used to talk to my students in real time. I guess they feel that I and the other instructors don’t need that kind of a tool. The only thing that is available is Blackboard Collaborate I thought it could a great alternative for virtual office hours as I can actually use it to talk to my students without having to log into different software. From the video that watched this tool is meant to be used for holding synchronous lessons, but it is not so good for private one-to-one teacher-student discussions or private office hours as anybody can enter the virtual room and be part of the discussion. Below you will find a link that explains what Blackboard Collaborate is and what features it has: https://youtu.be/PvoNGOKHY80

I believe that meeting with students  face-to-face or online is important. It allows the e-students to feel more connected to their instructor. So what are my choices? Either go into campus to meet with students, which in my opinion is odd, as the whole course is held online. On the other hand, the online options are to use skype or Google hangouts, which for some reason the students don’t like to use when I suggest it. I wonder why is that? Is it more intimidating to walk into your professor’s office or video chatting online? I think the second!


When the emails start flying…


I don’t know why but I always loved the beginning of school year. As a child, I was always excited to get my new textbooks, notebooks, and pencils. The changing of the season signaled a new beginning…

As a teacher there is nothing like the first day of class during the fall semester as it is hectic and invigorating all at the same time. Now that I teach online I don’t have the same feeling as I did when I taught on campus because it takes my students a few days to get going, but even in an online course there is a flurry of activity. Students are still registering, adding and dropping courses. Logging in to their Blackboard courses, buying textbooks, notebooks, laptops, pens, pencils, etc. Updating their computer software and generally making sure that they are ready to go.

It is always such a fun week as the emails begin arriving filled with students’ messages they are full of questions about the course, the syllabus, assignments, how the course is set up on Blackboard, etc.

My favorite part of the first week is getting to know my students. Besides requesting that they upload their photo to Blackboard I also ask them to create a podcast and introduce themselves. The oral intros give me a better understanding of how they express themselves while speaking. I love listening to their podcasts as it helps me to learn more about them. You can hear their accent if they are ESL/international students, or the nervousness that comes through the audio because some students become extremely anxious as it is the first time they are creating a podcast and they don’t know how to feel about talking into a microphone. On the other hand, I am always impressed with the students as many make their podcasts sound so effortless even though when they blog about it creating the podcast they admit that they had to record their introduction ten to fifteen times before submitting it.

The other activity that I am always eager to do is read is their first written assignment as it provides me with a lot of information about how they express themselves. When I read their words I somehow can envision them in my mind even though I never meet them in person. I can hear their voice coming out. It is like one’s fingerprint, unique and distinct. Although they all write about the same topic not one paper is the same. The nuances in the writing from the choice of words, expressions, syntax to the tenses they decide to use makes each text different. As I read their papers I can hear their voices like I do when I listen to their podcasts. Some nervous, some not so sure, and some confident…

When teaching on campus a lot of the small details fall by the side because you get to see and talk to the students and the visual stimulations take over. On the other hand ,teaching online provides me with the luxury of actually listening to my students even when they are writing to me. Paying attention to the details makes me more aware of their who they are as people since they communicate predominately in writing with me. Not that I didn’t notice before, but because I don’t meet them now and talk to them in person I thought I would lose the connection I had with my students, but interestingly enough I have not. In fact, in many instances I feel I get to know them better than I ever knew many of my on-campus students. The reason is that e-learners are constantly talking to me and their classmates online something that does not always happen in an on-campus course. Remember that not all students talk in a face-to-face course, on the other hand, all of my e-students email me when they have a question as well as post their opinions every week in the blog and online class discussions. So they are constantly interacting, connecting, and collaborating with me and with their classmates throughout the semester. At this point when I don’t receive messages from my students I start to worry. So let the emails continue to fly…