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 if 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 should 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 because 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 them 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?

Katherine

 

Cc-by-nc-sa_icon.svg.png

Copyright © 2020 TheAdventuresofanOnlineInstructor.com

New Normal? What has my life become?

I know that you might think that my title sounds a little dramatic, but our lives have changed to such a degree that I am not sure if we could ever go back to where we were before the quarantine. So, everyone is talking about a new normal without actually defining what that means for us.

Workwise for educators especially those teaching at the university level our working hours have increased dramatically. For one thing, we were asked to transfer our courses online within 10 days. The other issue that came up was that the majority of instructors and professors besides transferring their courses online had to learn all these new tools while teaching in a new environment. In addition to trying to calm down their students who are having an ever-harder time going online to finish up the semester.

The other issue is the endless zoom meetings. Studies and many news articles claim that it is good for us to meet online with colleagues as it makes us feel more connected. At this point, I am so zoomed out that I would like to disconnect, and the majority of my students feel the same way.

To add insult to injury many of us have to homeschool our children while working. You would think that as college professors we would know how to do that, but we don’t, not because we can’t teach but because the curricula and tools, we use in our courses are different from what K-12 teachers use in their classrooms with our children. Which in my book means more work for me because now I need to figure out what and how to teach my child ELA and Math while he would rather be online talking and playing Fortnite with his friends.

Is that our new normal? For me yes, because even if the state reopens for business, my child will be home until September since schools in Massachusetts closed for the rest of the year. Our district says that the buildings are closed not the school and this is a great motto, but the reality is that 1 hour a day for a morning meeting does not keep schools open. This means that if I want the school to be open, I need to do the work.

How do I adapt to this new normal?

For one thing, I rearranged my study to allow my child room to work with me. So, while I am grading student papers, responding to questions, emails, and so on, he has to log into his iPad and work on his homework. This set up helps with me being able to keep track of what he is doing as well as being available to answer any questions he might have.

The other thing I am trying to negotiate is time for myself and away from work, so I don’t burn out. This has happened to me in the past because as a professor I work a lot from home, and I have a hard time separating work and home life. So, I am making a conscious effort to do that. Which for me means that I need to wake up at 6 am to work out. Take time to make and have lunch with my child. Go for a walk or a bike ride with my child, whenever the weather permits, because he is also going stir crazy from being home all the time.  Writing my blog every week. Which I am currently doing wearing my headphones and listening to ocean sounds on my Alexa device to block out the noise my family is making so I can be able to concentrate. I also take breaks throughout the day to talk to my friends and family on the phone or to do a quick chat on facetime.

What is your new normal?

Katherine

 

Cc-by-nc-sa_icon.svg.png

Copyright © 2020 TheAdventuresofanOnlineInstructor.com

Teaching Online… our new reality

This week has been so surreal as I watched the world come to a screeching halt in order to control this virus as my UMass Boston colleagues raced to get ready during our spring break to put their material online.

Luckily all institutions and school districts have great e-learning teams that are helping. Those people are also working hard and a lot of hours to help educators upload their material and are getting slammed because there more teachers than instructional designers.

So, since I have been teaching online for over 10 years at this point and feel at home on Blackboard, I am ready to transition to online teaching and had very little to do this week to get ready for when our courses start up again. As a result, I offered my assistance to colleagues and my son’s teachers in case they needed anything. Such as talk through their ideas and answer any questions they might have as teaching online can be overwhelming and a huge amount of working when you have never taken on such an endeavor before. Also, having someone to talk to when trying to change the way you work can be comforting and as well as a lot of help when brainstorming ideas.

Then I was thinking what advice can I give people I can’t talk to via zoom, skype, and facetime? So here are my suggestions:

For starters, educators that are new to online teaching, please know that there is no way you can upload all of your material for the rest of the semester or year online within one week. At least not the correct way. The reason I say this is because uploading the material you were supposed to use on campus or in a classroom will not necessarily be the best way to teach online. Teaching online is a whole different animal and it is taught very differently. A lot of planning and thought goes into designing an online course and one week is not enough time to do everything.

Second, the other reason you should not upload all of your material at once is you need to wait to see how students are going to react to the way you designed the course. You don’t want to have done all of this work only to have to rearrange or delete materials as you begin to receive angry and frustrated emails from your students.

Third, work in chucks: Put up material for a few days. Then upload material for the whole week and so on.

Fourth, make it user or student-friendly i.e. listen to your students and their needs. I say this because students of all ages get easily frustrated and upset, then they shut down and don’t want to do the work.

Fifth, use interactive material to keep students engaged you can’t have them read a chapter from the textbook or a long article at home and expect them to feel engaged. Remember you are not with them in the classroom so there is no in-class or small group discussion.

Sixth, use as much material as you can that someone else has created because at this point there is no time to learn new software on how to create e-learning videos or interactive exercises.

Sixth, include material that will keep your students engaged. Such as videos, interactive exercises, podcasts, audiobooks, interactive books especially for younger children as well as utilizing the discussion threads, blogs that are available in LMS’s such as Blackboard, Moodle, and, google classroom.

Seventh, make sure to start the week on the same day and all of the homework must be due on the same day every week as it is difficult for students that are taking multiple classes/courses to keep track of constantly changing deadlines. For example, my students know that all homework is due on Friday and it will not for the whole semester, so they never forget to submit their homework.

Eight, remember to be patient and that almost all of the students especially K-12 are not used to being online taking classes so they will also be having a difficult time adjusting to not going to school having to go to an iPad or a computer to keep up with their classwork.

I will also create a page on my blog with resources with links and books I think can be helpful as we move forward.

If you do have questions for me feel free to post them here.

 

Katherine

Cc-by-nc-sa_icon.svg.png

Copyright © 2020 TheAdventuresofanOnlineInstructor.com

Becoming an Online Instructor

Everybody’s path towards achieving a goal is different, but in order to give you an example of what it takes to become an online instructor, I will share what I did to become an e-instructor and the steps I took to get there. My journey started in the fall of 2004 when I began to notice that there was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm around this new way of teaching i.e. online teaching. So I began trying to find out what it means to create and use the internet to teach. At the time the only certificate I found that catered to ESL teachers was “Principles and Practices of Online Teaching.” and Tesol.org offered it.

As an English teacher, it made sense for me to complete that certificate, as I had no idea what it meant to take an online course let alone design and/or teach one. What that program did for me was open my eyes to the possibilities. Once I completed that certificate I began to look around and discovered that the UMass Boston was in the initial stages of offering Blackboard workshops for their faculty.

So as I began taking workshops and learning more I experimented with using Blackboard to create hybrid courses I discovered the Instructional Design program at UMass Boston and started taking courses. One reason I liked the program was that many of its courses were online which worked for me as I had a 6-month-old baby at home. The other reason was that the instructors were amazing as the majority of them were working instructional designers and brought real life experience to their courses, which makes a world of difference when you are an older working learner. This was a great program and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I learned a lot about how adults learn, how to design an online course as well as the different types of tools and software I can use to make my courses more interesting.

To be honest most people do not need to earn a degree in instructional design to be able to teach online. In my opinion, you only need a couple of courses. One should be on how to design an online course and maybe a course on what different tools exist on the market and how to use them. Such as:

  1. Audacity for podcastingAudacity logo
  2. Del.icio.usDelicious logo is a social bookmarking service
  3. Blogs are a good way to have your students reflect on how they feel about the course. I get a lot of information from my students via blogging about my courses. There are many different blogging platforms you can use besides Blackboard or whatever blog tool your learning management system offers. The most popular ones are: Blogger.comBlogger logo, wordpress.com or wordpress.org, Wordpress logoand tumbler.com Tumbler logo.jpeg
  4. Google docs Google docsI use this tool in my online courses when the students are working on group assignments. It provides them with an easy platform to collaborate and it allows me to follow the work that they are doing.
  5. Screencast-o-matic Screencast-o-matic logo is a computer screen capture software that can be used to create video from your computer screen. This is a great tool as you can do mini video lectures and demonstrations for your students or learners.
  6. Twittertwitter logo is another useful tool for an online course. I have used this platform to remind students about homework due dates, assignment changes etc.

Obviously, the tools I am talking about are only a small sample of what is out there. So go online and look at what is available and then try them out. Narrowing down on what works best for you and your courses takes time and a lot of trial and error, but it well worth the effort.

After you are done with the learning, the reading, the workshops, and the degrees, you have to try things out, hold your breath, and listen to your students so you can understand how they learn and works for them. You need to be patient and flexible as well as be willing to change your syllabus, your homework assignments, books, and pretty much everything every semester until you feel that the course design is working. Do not forget to be kind and caring towards the students, even when they are not towards you, as they are not only trying to learn the course material but also figure out how the course is organized and how Blackboard works.That is a lot for a student who has never taken an online course before.

In the beginning, I was nervous so I was constantly logged into my courses making sure everything was working and no student was having a panic attack. Give yourself time and ask your friends, colleagues, and people you know who are teaching online lots and lots of questions. Having support makes things go smoother. Use all of the resources your institution is offering like instructional design support. Having said that even if you have an instructional designer holding your hand, ultimately it is your course, it is your responsibility, and it is your name the students see.

Happy Teaching!!!

Katherine

 

 

 

 

 

 

Online Group Work

collaborating image2

One of the biggest challenges I have faced when teaching online is getting students to work collaboratively and successfully to complete a group assignment online. Over the years I have discovered that it takes a lot of planning and thought to make sure that the students will have a positive experience. However despite all of the effort put in designing a group assignment if the students are not willing to collaborate and work together. It seems that their biggest issue is responding to each other in a timely manner. Some things I have discovered in order to make the process smoother are:

 

  1. Have clear guidelines on about the group assignment. I create assignments that are straightforward with as much information about my expectations as possible.

 

  1. Offer different types of online collaborative tools such as Google docsor Evernote Evernote
  1. Resolve any issues quickly. I let the students know that if there are any issues they need to email me or post a question in the Q&A and I try to resolve any issues within 24 hours.
  1. Keep groups small. No more than 3 students per group because if it is more or less then it can become complicated. When there are only 2 students in the group I have found that many times 1 of the student does not communicate quickly enough with their group member to complete their work and either end up doing the work at the last minute or the other student is left to write the whole assignment on his/her own which is not what I want. On the other hand, if there are 4 students in a group it is harder for the students to coordinate and collaborate with each other because there are too many emails and texts occurring to keep track. cell phone imageOn the other hand, if there are 3 students in a group things seem to work better because they are able to work better with each other. Even if one of the students does not end up participating during the group assignment there are still 2 students that can successfully complete the assignment.

 

Katherine

Beyond the One-Dimensional Page

During the summer I always reflect on the year that just ended in order to begin working on my courses for the fall and spring semester. As a result, I decided that it would fun to add audio to my weekly overviews. The thought behind it was that audio would add more depth to a one-dimensional page. When you add audio or video to a piece of writing it makes it more interesting and grabs people’s attention. It makes the experience be more like that of an in-class course. I know what you are going to say. Hold on! I thought the whole point was for people taking a course online is to have a different learning experience. Although that is true for many people I have also found that the reason many students in my college register for online courses is the convenience that an online course has to offer. Such as not having to go to class, adapting the course to a work schedule etc.  So they want to take a course that is flexible and easier on their professional, and family life.

However since the majority of the students doesn’t know what an online course is all about they think that it is going to be similar to an on-campus course. Hence they don’t know how to navigate in an online course so they get lost and lose interest. On the other hand, I want to make sure that I teach my students the information that I have set out. So if I don’t create material that will motivate my students to log in then I won’t achieve what I have set out to do.

To add audio to my weekly overviews so they I can provide students with the types comments I would make if I was in class with them.

I began by experimenting with iannotate iannotate logo small because it is a wonderful app that I have used in the past. Unfortunately, what I found out was unless my students have an Ipad or a tablet and purchase the app then they cannot listen to my audio feedback. As the university doesn’t give them a tablet when they are accepted, it would kind of unfair of me to ask my students to buy an Ipad just for my course so they can listen to my comments.

Then I went on to use Growly Notes Growly Notes logoand AudionoteAudioNote logo because you use them on a computer. So I thought it would be easier for my students to use. Both are great note taking apps for the mac, but the audio did not work when I uploaded it to Blackboard Learn.

So then I decided to use MS Word and then convert it to an Adobe pdf file. I thought that since these are such ubiquitous programs that all of my students can open them from any computer or mobile device. The pdf with audio worked well when I emailed it,  but when I uploaded the file to Blackboard the audio would not work. At this point, I am assuming that it is a Blackboard problem. My next step would be to call Blackboard and ask them if there is any way I can make this work. If I manage to solve the audio I will report back, so stayed tuned…

 

Katherine

Is Anybody Out There?

Students that take online courses often talk about how lonely and isolated they feel because they do not experience the community feeling they have when they are in a classroom. Many times it is true and that is why I strive to create an online community for my students in my online courses so they do not feel secluded. However, no one really talks about the isolation that an online instructor feels when s/he does not have colleagues around. You are all excited about not having to drive to work and after a couple of weeks, you realize that something is missing in this whole set up. Uh oh, there are no people around to talk to!

monkey-scratching-head

When I began my journey as an online instructor I did not realize how lonely it would be for me and how disconnected I would feel at home. Teaching online has its benefits for sure. For starters, I do not have to deal with commuting back and forth or the weather here in the northeast.

snow and traffic

Although teaching online keeps me busy I can’t help but wonder is there anybody out there and what are they up to. By that I mean what do other online instructors do besides work from home? Do they raise a family like me? Do they do research? Write? Travel?

 

Katherine

Cc-by-nc-sa_icon.svg.png

Copyright © 2016 TheAdventuresofanOnlineInstructor.com