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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