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…



Before the Semester Begins…

Most people think that educators sit around and enjoy the last few weeks before the school year begins, but we don’t…

A few weeks before the semester begins and I like most of my colleagues sit in front of my computer working on my courses and getting ready to teach. Reading student evaluations, student blogs from the last two semesters and looking at notes I made throughout the year of what worked and what didn’t, to help me revise my courses. If it sounds like a quick process it isn’t really because I plan my courses for the whole semester, which is 14 weeks times 3 courses and that translates to a lot of prep work. Besides updating my syllabus I plan each week to include an overview, which discusses everything that the students will be required to do for the week. Along with redesigning the overviews I also take a look at the assignments, discussion threads, blogs, video lectures and tests and decide if I need to update them or not.

For some teacchers might prefer to design, create videos, upload files, and teach simultaneously, but I like to have everything planned, created and uploaded to the course before I login on the first day of the semester. Doing this allows me to spend the semester teaching and guiding my students instead of designing and developing different aspects of the course. It also gives me the time I need to provide students with feedback a lot faster that I wouldn’t have if I was simultaneously building and teaching my courses.

To get ready I also like to read textbooks and make sure that I am using the best ones for the students that register for my courses. Which means that I spend a lot of time in one of my favorite stores, the BOOKSTORE!!!! This time around I found a really cool grammar book called the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students by Mignon Fogarty. You are probably wondering what is so special about this book? Grammar is grammar. Well, that is not true. All grammar books are not the same. What I liked about this specific book is the way it was written. The language she uses to explain really “boring” concepts interesting and dare I say it “FUN.” I can really see me using this book in my lower level writing course as it can give international and ESL students a hand in figuring out how to become better writers which is the object of my courses.

The other thing I like to do since I teach online is to update my video lectures so I look at different screen capture software like Adobe Captivate, Camtasia, or Screen-o-matic because they are updated yearly and their developers like to add new features that might work better for me and what I use them for.

I am sure that at this point you are wondering if I spent all of August inside. Granted I do work a lot especially when I have to get ready for the beginning of the semester, but the answer is no. I still got to enjoy the beautiful weather, because one of the benefits of being an educator is having a lot of flexibility, especially as an online instructor I have learned to work from anywhere so I spent a lot of time preparing my courses outside of my office during the summer.




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!!!








On the Road…

At this point, I have been teaching online for over 6 years now and ever since I began working online many of my colleagues kept saying that since I teach online I can teach from anywhere in the worlde-learning image and how cool that would be.  Although I thought about it I never actually did it until this summer because I felt extremely nervous and worried that many things could go wrong, especially the internet connection.

Six years later as a more seasoned and confident online instructor, I decided to take my laptop and go to Greece to visit my family instead of waiting for my courses to end. So I am sure you are wondering what happened…

My trip was not without its challenges such as the time change, figuring out a different work schedule, being blocked by my Norton firewall, to catching a computer virus, etc but to my surprise it went a lot better and smoother than I thought it would. It was a lot of fun being able to work from a relative’s home in Athens or from my parents’ dining room in the southern part of the Peloponnese while spending time with them and being able to continue working.

For me, the hardest part was when I was traveling to and from Greece because I could not log in from the plane. Throughout my flight, I was wondering if any of my students are panicking female cartoon Panic attackas students tend to do while taking online courses especially if I do not respond to them quickly enough. I say this because students are so use to getting a fast response when they are taking an on-campus course that if they do not hear from me as quickly as they think they should they get upset, panicked, angry and frustrated. Which is quite understandable since many students have not taken an online course before and are not use to waiting for their instructor to respond a few hours or a day later. Many students assume that I am logged in all day and night so I can respond to them at 2 am.

As a result I kept thinking if they are fine or are they were having a technical issue or something went wrong when they submitted their homework assignment etc. while I was traveling and the students were posting questions in the Q&A forum or even emailing me to let me know and ask me for advice and I was not able to respond to them for over 12 hours.

Therefore the first thing I did when I first arrived in Athens Greece was to connect to the internet in order to log into my course because I had been offline for 15 hours and had not checked in with my students. Thankfully none of my students had needed my assistance or had posted a question so no one realized that I had travelled half way across the world. To my surprise and despite some small challenges mostly router issues I was able to maintain my regular working schedule so students did not notice any changes in the way the course was facilitated.


Things to Consider when deciding to travel while teaching online:

  1. Time Difference: Greece has a 7-hour time difference to the US so it takes a while to adjust to it. Thus making one’s work schedule a bit of a challenge.
  1. Find space to work: Carving out a quiet space to work in someone else’s home is tricky because not only are you changing the way you work, but you are also changing the way the people you are visiting live. As you are taking up space in their kitchen or dining room to work you want to be considerate of their feelings and respect they way they live. So clean up after yourself when you have finished working. Also, think about what time would be less intrusive. I mostly worked during the midday siesta or late at night.
  1. Internet Connection: For example, at my parents home the internet connection was not working well or fast enough. One reason was that they had a thunderstorm with a lot of lightening which caused the router to malfunction. So I spent the first three days trying to figure out what is going on and I ended up replacing their router.
  1. Internet Security: Beware of computer viruses!! I cannot stress that enough. Almost every time I visit Greece my computer catches a virus this time is was an OSX.Trojan.Gen, but thankfully I have Norton installed on my laptop so it took care of it. Make sure to install some software like Norton Norton logoor MacAfee MacAfee logoso your computer is always protected no matter where you to travel to.
  1. Have different logging in options: When you travel your computer’s IP address will change because you are accessing the internet with a different router so you might have trouble as I did viewing different sites with extra security like I did when trying to access my work email. It took me a couple of days to figure out that my Norton firewall did not like my new IP address and it was not letting me log into my email. Till I figured out what was going on I was able to use my cell phone to access my email address, but it can be quite nerve-racking because I kept thinking what else I am going to lose access to. So have several options i.e. devices such as a smartphone and/or tablet to use just in case this happens to you.
  1. Different working pace: Remember that although you are working you are also on vacation and you should enjoy going out and having fun. If you are stuck in the house working all day what is the point of traveling so consider changing the way you work. I found that I was able to work and play while traveling because I took advantage of their midday siesta. While everybody napped I worked on my courses so when they were ready to go I was too. If I ran out of time and had a lot to do I also worked late at night. The bonus of working around their sleep schedule was that the Internet was faster. Staying positive and being flexible while traveling is key because the benefits of traveling and visiting family outweighs any small challenges that you might be faced with while on the road.