Thoughts on Teaching, Taking Stock…

Since my last post I have been thinking a lot about my students that are finishing up the semester and  how I taught them, or should I say facilitated their learning because I really don’t think of myself as a teacher in a traditional way. You know, the kind that sits in front of a classroom and lectures. I actually abhor that kind of teaching because it makes students lazy and comatose. Most of the time they are so bored that they end up looking at more interesting things on their laptops, tablets, or phones. The way I like to teach is when I am off-center i.e. when I make the students take center stage. As a dear friend and colleague used to say when I was a new professor, the lazier the instructor the more active the students. At the time I didn’t understand what she meant, but almost 20 years later I do because with teaching and experience comes understanding.

Of course, she didn’t mean that I shouldn’t work, what she meant is that I shouldn’t lecture so much and let them do active work. When I say I don’t lecture I mean I don’t sit in front of a group of students and explain how prepositions work in a sentence (although in some instances I have been known to do that as well). Because part of teaching business communications includes quite a bit of grammar instruction since many of my students are ESL and International students that many have a hard time writing a cohesive sentence.

When I teach on campus I begin the week by laying out what the week is going to be about as well as the type of work they are required to do, but I don’t lecture in the traditional sense and that is why I like hybrid courses because they allow me and my students the flexibility to expand the number of activities and learning since there is so much information that you can squeeze into a 50 minute class period. So, a lot of my lecturing happens online via e-lectures for it allows the students to view it as many times as they like or practice with the interactive grammar exercises that I have created.

The other thing that I do during this time of the semester especially after I have posted final grades is trying to see if my students have been able to meet the goals, I set out for them. To that end, I use the backward design model by Wiggins & McTighe which believes that learning experiences should be planned with the final assessment in mind. One starts with the end i.e. the desired results or goals and then designs the curriculum from the evidence of learning called for by the standard and the teaching as well as the material needed to equip students to perform’ (Wiggins and McTighe, 2000, page 8)

So finally, as the semester winds down I take time to think about everything that happened and look at my notes and see what worked and didn’t work this time around. How do you end the semester or year?



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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:

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:

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.


Are you Moving Online??

Did you finally decide to teach your course online? That’s great news!! Transferring your on-campus course to an online course takes a lot of planning and up front work especially in the beginning. Having said that I have had a lot of fun learning  how to design and teach e-courses.  This adventure has made me a better educator and has changed the way I view teaching. So, before you even begin designing a course and putting a course online you need to:

  1. Learn which management system your university uses and take all of the workshops they offer.
  2. Learn all about learning theories and which ones work best in an online environment.
  3. Learn about different types of software that can help you make your course more interesting.

The learning portion will take you at least a couple of semesters to learn and then there is the actual designing and teaching/facilitating part.  So once I learned the how to manage an online course by taking several workshops and a few graduate courses in the Instructional Design department, from which I eventually received my MEd in Instructional Design, I naively set up a course on Blackboard and thought I could teach online… hahaha. Teaching an e-course is a lot different from teaching a face-to-face class. So be prepared, because there is also a lot of trial and error until you find your online teaching style, which let me tell you is quite different from your in-class teaching style. The primary reason being that the dynamics of an on-campus classroom are very different from that of an online one because the students can’t see the instructor and many times they feel all alone as they stare at a computer screen wondering: WHAT DO I DO NOW? or WHAT I AM I SUPPOSE TO DO FOR THE WEEK? etc. Priority number one is to keep the course flowing like you would in a face-to-face class which will in turn keep the students calm and relaxed because once something goes wrong the students will get upset and you will get buried under a pile of emails. In order to alleviate  the anxiety, insecurity, and frustration there are several things an e-learning instructor can do:

  1. Keep the course organized. That can mean something different to each instructor. For instance, I like to have my courses organized by weeks and each week has a dedicated folder that has all of the information students need to know what they have to do for a specific week. This alleviates a lot of the stress students feel trying to find where everything is and what they need to accomplish for the week.
  2. Be consistent. For example, my week begins always on a Tuesday and ends on a Monday. Having the same beginning and ending to the week throughout the semester provides students with the structure they need and that makes them feel more in control, as confidence is key for them to keep doing well in an online course. The other thing that helps is that I have one due date for everything, which in my case is a Monday, the end of our week, so students know when all of their work must be completed and submitted thus allowing them to balance their work week better.
  3. Communicate with students. During the semester I log in at least couple of times a day even on a Sunday since all of their homework is due on Monday night. There is nothing worse than a student asking for help because they are having a technical issue or question on a homework assignment and not being able to find their instructor. Even if I don’t have an immediate solution to a technical problem they always feel better if I respond to them quickly.
  4. Create E-Lectures. In order to guide my students, I design and build my own video lectures. I accomplish that by using Adobe Captivate Captivate 9 logo or Camtasia Camtasia. This type of software allows me to give my students the same kind of lecture without being in class. It also makes the students feel more connected to the course and to me as they hear me speak and explain for example that week’s topic.
  5. Create relevant assignments. As I teach Business Communications I select assignments that have to do with business, but I also like to use themes such as advertising or social corporate responsibility. This makes the students more interested in the course as I keep them wondering what we will be talking about the following week thus making them want to log into the course more often.
  6. Return homework in a timely manner. There is nothing worse than a student waiting too long for their homework assignment to come back with feedback and a grade. I have found that if I don’t return them quickly the students have moved on and even if they receive a low grade they will not revise their assignment. As this is a writing course the objective is to keep students writing and revising their work as much as possible as that is how one improves. Also, not returning the homework within 10 days or so causes the students stress out about their grades. As a result, they start sending emails complaining that they have not received their assignment and that they are worried about their grades which in turn I have to respond to which adds to my workload so I might as well just return their papers sooner rather than later.