Gone Fishing…

This is my last post for this school year. Even though we are not going on vacation this year I decided to devote August to rest, relax and rejuvenate. As I have a feeling that this upcoming school year is not going to be a walk in the part. Usually, in August I spend all of my time with my family and feeding my brain by reading only things that make me grow. For me and my family, August is a big month as we have lots of celebrations. It is the month I got married to my wonderful husband and it is also the month our son was born as a result I always take this month off.

So, because of that, I make sure to finish everything I need to do for September. I start sending emails about all sorts of things so I can make sure that my prep for the fall is complete no later than July 31. From editing my syllabi, making sure that my courses are updated to reflect the changes I want to make, creating new e-lectures to completing my AFR’s (Annual Faculty Reports).  Besides needing a break so I can spend the majority of my time with my family the other reason I do it is because I actually need some time for my brain to relax and decompress.  It helps me go back to teaching ready for the new school year. I have learned from past experience that if I don’t take the time off, I am miserable all year. By May I feel extremely burnt out and I can’t be the best educator, wife, mother, and friend to anybody. I just don’t perform to full capacity and it shows in my work. I don’t do a good job teaching, writing, or anything else I do professionally. This then seeps into my personal life because I become stressed out, annoyed, and irritated causing my personal life to not be good either. As a result, I then tend to not have a lot of patience and tolerance. What is more, the people around me can tell. Thus, for my sanity and others who have to live, work, and have to listen to me teach for three hours a week  I spend as much time as possible throughout the year decompressing and August is one of those times.

The other thing I like to do during my time off is plan early and brainstorm on blog posts or e-lectures for example among other things because if don’t do that ahead of time I am constantly playing catch up and it is not my best writing if I don’t. Like I make sure that my courses are completed and uploaded long before the semester begins as there is not possible to teach and design/create a course while it’s running. It’s too stressful and mistakes are bound to happen, which is not how I want my students or anybody else to think of me. Also, I teach around 80 students a semester and there are some weeks I have so many papers to grade that it is impossible for me to write anything when my brain is completely fried. So I came to the conclusion that I work better when I take August and January off and take care of myself.

I hope everyone has the opportunity to take some time off even if he/she stays home this year. Enjoy the last month of the summer with your loved ones as this year is bound to be a tough one since COVID-19 is still raging. With any luck by the end of 2020, the hard-working scientists and doctors around the world might have some sort of solution for this pandemic so can stop feeling so stressed out and that we are out of control!

This is where I wish I was for August but maybe next year:

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See you all in September!

 

Katherine

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Blackboard Annotate is Updated!!!

Hooray!  Blackboard Annotate has finally been updated! You have no idea how long I have been waiting for this.

So, here is what are the changes:

Now in the assignment submission page Blackboard supports the following files:

  • Microsoft®Word (DOC, DOCX)
  • Microsoft®PowerPoint®(PPT, PPTX)
  • Microsoft®Excel®(XLS, XLSX)
  • OpenOffice®Documents (ODS, ODT, ODP)
  • Digital Images (JPEG, JPG, PNG, TIF, TIFF, TGA, BMP, HEIC)
  • Source code (Java, PY, C, CPP, etc)
  • Medical Images (DICOM, DICM, DCM)
  • PDF
  • PSD
  • RTF
  • TXT
  • WPD

Blackboard Annotate also supports the current versions of the following browsers:

  • Firefox
  • Chrome
  • Edge
  • Safari

The other interesting change is that the annotation session expires after an hour. Apparently, the user will receive a pop window with a warning message that the session is expiring. The cool thing about this is that whatever work that you had done on the assignment is saved so if you ran out of time and did not manage to finish reading the assignment your work is not lost and when you come back you continue where you left off.

Here is what the Annotations Tool Icon looks like:

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Document View Settings

  1. Sidebar: View Thumbnail, Outline, Annotation, or Bookmark views of the submission.
  2. Pages: Use the arrows to jump to different pages in the submission.
  3. Pan: Move the submission on the page.
  4. Zoom and Fit: Zoom in and out of the submission or adjust the view to fit the page, fit the width, or select the best fit.

Annotations Tools:

  • DrawingBrush, and Eraser: Draw freehand on the submission with various colors, thickness, and opacity. Select the eraser to remove annotations. You can erase parts of a freehand drawing with the eraser or select the Delete icon to delete the whole drawing.
  • Image or Stamp: Choose a preloaded stamp or create your own customized stamp or image to add to the submission.
  • Text: Add text directly on the submission. You can move, edit, and change the text and select the font, size, alignment, and color of the text.
  • Shapes: Choose Line, Arrow, Rectangle, Ellipse, Polygon, and Polyline. Each shape has its own settings to change the color, width, opacity, and more.
  1. Comment: Provide feedback in comments. Your comments appear in a panel next to the submission.
  2. Print or Download: Print or download the submission with the annotations.
  3. Search: Search the submission for specific text.
  4. Content Library: Create a bank of reusable comments. You can add, edit, delete, and search comments in the library. You can also add a comment directly to the submission page from the menu.

Note: The Content Library is only available in SaaS environments.

Highlighter: Select specific portions of the submission to highlight. As you highlight text on the submission, an additional menu opens. You can highlight, strikethrough, underline, squiggle, or comment on the highlighted section.

Click below to see a video created by Blackboard which guides you through the new updates:

Bb Annotate Overview in Blackboard Learn

I can wait to use these new features in the fall. Unfortunately, I am done with teaching for the year so I cannot try them out, but in the fall I will use Blackboard Annotate to grade student papers so I will let you know what I think of them and if it makes grading easier. If you had the opportunity to use these new features let me know what you think.

All of the information came from:  https://help.blackboard.com/Learn/Instructor/Assignments/Grade_Assignments/Bb_Annotate

Katherine

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Thinking, Reflecting…

This week has been super busy as I was trying to finish grading final exams, final papers on my summer courses, as well as posting grades. So, besides the actual reading and grading, I spent a couple of days just thinking and looking at students’ grades. When I am doing it, it makes sense, but I when tell someone that I actually take a couple of days to spend time just thinking about the students and their grades they look at me surprised. I guess in other professions this type of process does not occur.

It is also an activity that most in the education field don’t talk about. I am not sure why, but we don’t. During this time, for starters, I want to make sure that all of the grades are entered, and I have not missed anything. The other reason is that I look at how much a student has progressed in a few months or weeks and if that is reflected in his or her final grade. As I am looking at their grades I am wondering if what I set out to do during the semester or summer session, occurred. What I mean is, I always have a set of goals as I begin designing and then teaching a course. It becomes evident if those objectives were met when I look at my students’ grades.

This is the time that I take a lot of notes for myself so I can remind myself if what I used for the semester worked or not. By “worked” I mean, did online tools like VoiceThread, or a homework assignment fulfill its objective?  How did the students react? Did they do well? Did they have the knowledge I was hoping for? If not, why not? What can I change to make this so I can make their learning experience better? Or they can absorb the material better?

So, thinking about grades and performance objectives at the end of a course is extremely important in order to begin the process of redesigning an upcoming course. I see it as a way to measure if what I am doing in the classroom virtual or face-to-face is important. Of course, there are those students that register for my course that they are not ready for it or those that are taking, but have no interest in learning because they believe that the course is a waste of their time and they need to take it to graduate. I don’t usually take most of those into account because how can look at a student that doesn’t have the prerequisite knowledge in order to do well in my course. It is those students that I have a hard time failing because the majority of them work extremely hard to pass and even though they have progressed a lot it still isn’t enough. On the other hand, the students that think have nothing to learn are the ones I that I cannot be concerned about because there is always something to learn, and instead of approaching that way, they close themselves up to all sorts of opportunities.

These and many more thoughts go through my mind during this period of reflection. Of course, there is a lot more to it than just thinking and re-evaluating for a couple of days, but this is how I begin the process of working and thinking for the upcoming courses I will be teaching in the fall or spring semesters.

Do you think about how your students did while taking your course? How do you go about designing and then teaching a course?

 

Katherine

 

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Giving Grace…

Last week I was talking to one of my grad students on zoom because she had missed the deadline to submit a homework assignment. As I was listening without speaking the student proceeded to tell me everything that happened to her and the reasons behind this. I hadn’t had the opportunity to turn the video on and as I listened to the student I decided not to. The student was super nervous, and I did not want to add to it by showing up on her computer screen, but I could hear her voice. She was upset and worried. Not adding the video actually made me listen to the student more carefully because there was no video to distract me.

As I am sitting there, I am thinking why is the student so upset? I haven’t even spoken yet. Once the student finished explaining I asked so, “What can I do for you?” The student was so anxious she couldn’t bring herself to actually ask for permission to complete the work she had missed. So, I had to nudge her along. Finally, I decided to put her out of her misery and give her permission to submit the late homework. Now, this is not an undergrad that just forgot or procrastinated to do her work. This is a graduate student in the MBA program. The majority of these students are working professionals, type A with extremely driven and determined personalities.

While we are talking the stunned student kept thanking me for understanding and being flexible because her other professor had said no even though the student had a good reason for being late. I cannot of course the particulars of the student’s reasons because of FERPA laws and protecting my student’s privacy nor are they important.

Once the zoom call was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Not because this is my first time talking to a student who is asking for an extension for a homework assignment.  After 16 years of teaching at UMB, I have had numerous encounters with students, especially because I teach the dreaded business communications courses that all undergrads need to take in the College of Management in order to graduate.

I was thinking about how as educators we have a lot of power over our students. We teach them all of these courses and try to transfer our excitement and love for the topic we spent years learning about. I have spent about 8 years in higher ed just learning with multiple professors. They were all great and brought their experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm to the classroom, but the majority were distant and unapproachable. Of course, you don’t realize it until you meet the one professor that will change everything for you. For me it was, Pepi Leistyna he was everything a true educator should be passionate, kind-hearted, and welcoming. As a student, I never felt worried about going to his office. It always felt like chatting to a friend, not my professor.

So, as I kept thinking about my student and I was wondering about how we can positively and negatively impact a person’s life with one yes or one no. Then I was reflecting on all of the work we as educators put into a course. If we spend all this time envisioning, researching, designing, and teaching courses, why can’t we include compassion, kindness, and grace as part of our teaching practice as well? Who says we need to be distant, cold, and closed up in order to teach? Why do people need to be scared to ask for an extension to a homework assignment? That’s not how education should work. Students should not be scared to talk to me or any other professor. I am not saying that I am going to not have deadlines or have students follow them, but why is it so wrong to bend the rules once in a while? Why is frowned upon to give students grace?

At the end of the day, my course is going to be one of many that a student will take in their lifetime. I would consider myself blessed if they leave my class having learned the material that the course was designed for and think of me as a nice person, they got to spend some time with during a semester in their second or third year of college.

How would you like to be remembered by your students?

Katherine

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Home Office? Is it here to stay?

A while back I decided that Monday would be a good day to post my thoughts for the week because I had Friday and the weekend, but now that we are all still home, the weather is much warmer, and there are so many weekend activities from taking a bike ride, playing soccer with the boy or finishing up all of those little house improvement projects that usually gets pushed back because we are not home for a large part of the summer. In addition to our home projects, I am also teaching two summer courses which keep me busy during the week, as a result, I have no time or the energy to write on the weekends anymore.

I am not complaining I am actually excited to get some of these off my to-do list, it just does not leave a lot of room for writing, relaxing and doing fun activities. So, while doing these projects I thought it would be a great idea to clean and reorganize my study. In a way, I am planning ahead for the fall especially since I am still going to be teaching remotely for the upcoming semester and probably for spring 2021. This is a task I always use to do at the end of the spring semester before going completely digital. Usually, by the end of the year, I had so much paper from teaching that I to recycle it before it took over my home office.

I also wanted to make room for my son in my study as I am not sure how his school year is going to go. The state of Massachusetts has released all these guidelines, but our district needs to see how they can put them into effect. So, we have not heard what school will look like in September. Will the children go to school full-time, part-time/hybrid, or stay online? Therefore, organizing a workspace for both of us that actually works for two people is more important than ever. As I am cleaning, I am taking into account my child’s needs as well as decorating his side to fit his age and not mine without turning the room into a child’s study area. There is quite a bit to do besides buying an extra office chair. I am also adding storage solutions for the boy’s books, paper, folders as well as putting a map on the wall since he loves geography

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and creating a gallery wall to display his art.IMG_5946.jpg

In the back of my mind, I always hoped to share my workspace with my son as he grew older and this pandemic made me want to do it sooner rather than later. In the long run, I think that it will be good for both of us to have a space that is efficient and functional. Somewhere we can go work and then close the door when we are done just in case, we forgot to clean the space. 🤣

Are you making room in your home for a permanent home office? What kinds of changes are you making this summer as you prepare for the upcoming school year?

Katherine

 

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Weekly Reflections

To be honest not much was going on last week. It is mostly spent between homeschooling, teaching summer courses, and starting to prep for the fall semester. As the fourth week of summer courses comes to a close, I feel that things are going much better than I expected. In the beginning, I felt a bit overwhelmed especially since I only had a week between finishing grading final exams and the starting to teach for the summer. I have settled into the courses and so have the students. Things are humming along, and we are all doing our work, which in many ways is comforting especially since we are still up in the air as far as COVID-19 goes.

All of the students are submitting their work on time, which I hope I don’t jinx myself, hahaha. No, one is complaining about anything. It’s too quiet. What gives? Should I start to worry or consider this part of the new normal? Are students are appreciating the effort I am making and are happy that they are able to continue to take courses from the comfort of their homes? Who knows? But I am running with that assumption for now, as my graduate course has 30 students when the last two summers it was canceled because of low enrollment.  A pandemic can do a lot to a person’s perspective and appreciation of things they did not pay attention to before like going to the supermarket and not having to wait 30 minutes in a line outside the store and to find the good paper towels or toilet paper as well.

Speaking of new and old, I am curious to see how things will work themselves out this fall as we are gearing up for another difficult year full of uncertainty. Many of my colleagues are not taking the summer off to rest and rejuvenate from a long and difficult year they are opting to work all summer, so they don’t have a repeat of the spring 2020 semester. Personally, I am about halfway done with my fall course prep. How are you preparing for the fall?

Katherine

 

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Virtual Conferences

The past few years there are many organizations that have been putting some of their sessions online for those who for whatever reason cannot travel to participate at a conference. The first one that I participated in A few years ago was OLC or Online Learning Consortium. The first time it only offers a very small selection of presentations the second year there were more and it offers and allowed the participants to watch recorded session because it is not easy to participate live online sessions while at home because you are working it’s not like you are at a conference and you are taking time off to go listen to different sessions. As many of us know participating in a conference is hard work. So, I really enjoyed the option of being able to listen to the different sessions at a more convenient time for me.

This year because of the pandemic a lot more organizations instead of canceling their conferences for the year they are utilizing platforms like zoom and Webex to put their conferences completely online.

Here are some links:

OLC Innovate 2020: https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/attend-2020/innovate/

The Inside Higher ed has posted a lot of different conferences: https://www.insidehighered.com/events_people

Tesol: https://www.tesol.org/ has its virtual convention in July. That one I am planning on attending so I can see the difference between OLC  and will be reporting back.

 

Katherine

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Things I like and don’t like about Blackboard?

Let me start by saying that when I first started teaching online for the university, the only LMS they offered was Blackboard, I hated it because it wasn’t as intuitive or user-friendly as Moodle. I was exposed to Moodle when I was taking courses online for the Tesol Certificate on teaching online. That was in in 2005 fast forward 15 years later I have come to appreciate Blackboard as it has evolved as much as I have. The thing I like the most is the structure it offers because I have found that while teaching online, students need structure and predictability. They also don’t like spending too much time looking for things in different spots and in all sorts of different folders. If you send students on a treasure hunt looking for the homework, readings, and videos for the whole semester they because extremely frustrated and angry. It that was very stressful for me and my students, so I began experimenting with all sorts of different tool that were in Blackboard and outside of Blackboard. Today I will talk about the tools that I like and don’t like on Blackboard.

 

Tools I like:

  1. The “Lesson Plan” tool, as it helps create a structured course because I can keep all of the information the students need for the week in one folder. In this tool I am able to include links, assignment dropboxes, connect to a specific blog and/or discussion thread, etc.
  2. The “My Messages” is another good tool because it keeps all of the students’ messages in one place and nothing ever gets lost.
  3. The “Announcement” tool allows me to send one message to all of my students at once straight to their email which so convenient when I need to quickly respond to everyone or let them know about something that is going on without having to log out and log into another website.
  4. The “Blog”, this tool is great since it allows students to reflect on what is going on and they can also read and respond to each other.
  5. The Sign-up sheet, I use this tool to have students’ sign-up for their group assignment. The feature I like the most is that it allows students to choose the group they want to be in.
  6. The reports tool is amazing because it allows me to see where my students have gone in the course and if they did the work, they say they did. I know it sounds like big brother, but it comes in handy when you have a dispute with a student.
  7. “SafeAssign” is another great tool that Blackboard created to detect if a student has plagiarized or not. It takes out the guesswork. The other thing that is nice about this tool is that it so easy to add it to an assignment and it does the work for me.
  8. The “Survey” tool is one that I had not used a lot in the last, but it came handy this semester because my students were so used to seeing me in class and we were able to come to a decision quickly, but once we met remotely it was easier to use the survey to make decisions since it allowed students to think and vote. In many, they felt better because it gave them power in the decisions I made, and it helped them feel included like when we were in class.
  9. “Blackboard Collaborate Ultra” allows me to connect live with my students without making the student learn new anything new or login to anything to a new website. I especially like this tool because I can use it for my virtual office hours and my students can pop in and out to ask me questions.
  10. The “assignment dropbox” is another great tool because it allows me to see the student’s paper and even correct it without having to download it on my computer. I also get to see when the paper was submitted which also helps a lot when there is a dispute with a student.

 

Tools I don’t like:

  1. I don’t like the inline corrections of the written assignment. I love the idea of it, but it is very difficult to use. I tried it on my computer with my mouse and there is no way you can draw with it. So, then I tried using my iPad with an apple pencil and it worked but not as well as other software. It is very difficult to do inline correction on a paper with multiple errors like the writing of an ESL student.
  2. “Data Management” is a cool tool if you know how to use, but If you make a mistake with the dates, it will throw the whole course off as far as the dates go and then I will have to enter all of the dates and time manually.
  3. “Rubrics”, that tool is difficult to use well at least the way I want to use it. Personally, I like to use it so my students can peer review each other’s writing. From what my students told me they can’t access the rubric before I post their grade so I cannot use it the I want to.
  4. The “Test” tool that imports and exports a test is also a good tool but difficult and cumbersome to use.

So, there you have it. As you can see there are more things to love in Blackboard than not. What has your experience has been with Blackboard?

 

Katherine

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Can podcasting be used in online teaching?

The first week of the summer session is last tonight. There is so much to do during the first week, so many worried stressed-out students. Posting all sorts of questions. Such as: How do I upload my profile photo, to how is the participation grade counted, to but I don’t understand what a podcast is? Meanwhile, all of this information is in the syllabus.

Last night as I was reading their blog reflections for the week and listening to their podcast introductions I couldn’t help but think that it feels like any other summer session Trying to squeeze a 15-week course in a little over 6 weeks and the students realizing that taking a summer course might not have been such a great idea because although I will finish the course quicker it is going to kill me while I am doing this. Yet it isn’t the same summer course as last year because now the students are not just talking about just how worried they are about the amount of work they have to do they are talking about being worried of COVID-19 and how grateful they are having the opportunity to take the course online. As well as missing being on campus and interacting with their friends and classmates.

They were also super relieved that I wasn’t going to make them be on zoom for 3 hours every day for the next 6 weeks. When I teach my online courses, I don’t include zoom or Blackboard Collaborative Ultra. I actually use the tools that Blackboard offers me to a create a very active, but asynchronous course. The only time I use live video is for office hours. So, students feel like they can find me and pop in and out of the live meeting, and their questions answered.

Long ago when I began teaching online and before the era of Zoom and live video streaming that now is so easy to use, we used a program called Wimba that offered an asynchronous environment, but it was very problematic and super frustrating. It offered live video, but it did not work well most of the time it was super glitchy, so whenever I attempted to use it, I would use just the audio portion of it. In all fairness to the company that offered this software we were at the beginning stages and it was more than 10 years ago when online teaching was still in its infancy. I have no doubt that Wimba is currently offering a much better product than the one I used from 12 years ago. As I result of all of the technical problems, I gave up on it and began searching for solutions to my problem since my students were also supposed to practice their oral skills. How could I offer an online course and only teach them part of the material I would teach in class? At the time it was difficult to persuade the dean to approve online courses as people thought it was not possible to create a course online that was just as good if not better than the on-campus course equivalent.

After researching for weeks and looking at my options (the good old days when I did not have a child or homeschooling) I found the podcast. I tested all sorts of software and landed on a program called Audacity. The reason I chose Audacity was that it had a user-friendly interface and it was free so the students would not have to pay for the software or spend hours trying to learn something new. To my surprise, it worked the students were able to improve their oral skills and I got to listen to them without making all of them get online at the same time and place. I still remember my excitement because it was a time that I was new at teaching online and I had literally no idea if what I was doing was going to actually work. One reason for this was that at the time the university offered very few workshops for online teaching and I hadn’t gotten my Master’s degree in Instructional Design so I did not have a background on how to envision, design, create, or teach online. Sure, I had a certificate in Principles and Practices of Online Teaching from Tesol but as I found out that was not nearly enough knowledge to create an online course in anything.

So since I went with having students create podcasts I realized that not only did I alleviate my stress and frustration of trying to make software program work, but I also helped my students practice their oral skills by recording and rerecording their podcasts until they were happy with the results.  This worked well especially with ESL students who are hesitant to present in the classroom because it allowed them to do the work at home on their own time without being put on the spot. As a result, I get a lot of positive feedback from my student.

When teaching online what kinds of solutions have you come up with when trying to teach oral communication?

 

Katherine

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Time Management and Final Exams

I have to say that I missed writing a post last week. It was a long week full of grading final exams, making sure all of the grades were posted, and several zoom meetings. The end of semesters are a busy time of the year. So, as a result, my post got pushed back to this week. This time I also had a hard time thinking about what I wanted to talk about because of having to grade 80 final exams and committee work.

While I was grading, I was thinking about time management, and of all the years I have been teaching I have always had a hard time finish by the due date and getting ready for summer courses. It was either getting ready for my courses or grading the reason that keeps happening because the university usually gives us a week to grade final exams, post grades, and get ready for the summer session 1 but because of the quarantine I decided this semester to manage my time better and start prepping for my summer courses early.

For the first time in 14 years, I finished early and didn’t have to work during Memorial Day weekend, so I have time to write. It is amazing what can happen when you manage your time effectively. This is certainly a lesson that I am going to remember from now on. What have you learned this semester?

 

Katherine

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