Pronto. Is it a good idea?

A little over a month ago the university informed us that we will be piloting a new tool called Pronto, which is chat tool with an app that is fully integrated into my Blackboard courses and students can send me a message straight to my cell phone.

On their website the company is calling their app a “communication hub created for the everyday user. It connects people via chat and video, so they can learn faster, work smarter, and communicate seamlessly.” https://pronto.io/

So far, I have mostly used the chat portion of the app and I am really enjoying it because I don’t need to stay in front of my computer to communicate with my students. Nor do they need to wait for me to log in so I can respond.

I believe that apps like Pronto will assist in learning becoming more mobile. When I first heard about the pilot, I knew that my students would like this tool because they are always on their phones. If they can’t do something on their phones, they feel that it is too much of an inconvenience to have to log into their online/remote course on their computers.

I like that it is connected to my courses so students don’t need a separate login and that they can either log into our course or download the app on to their phones in order to send me a text.

To be honest, I thought that I would get inundated with a lot of text messages. Overall, I haven’t felt that I got so many that I am overwhelmed, and it actually reduced the number of student emails I receive every week. I am able to quickly and efficiently respond, solve and/or troubleshoot any problem or questions the students might be facing/having.  

Initially I found that the students didn’t expect me to text them back so quickly and were a bit surprised with the quick turnaround in my responses. I also really love being so accessible and more available without having to go to my email. This way of communicating seems to be making my students happy and it makes my job easier and less stressed as I can respond no matter if I am home working or as I am waiting for my son to finish his swim practice.

Besides the real time chat Pronto offers features like video chat for one-to-one meetings or meetings up to 20 participants and with 400 observing, as well as being able to send announcements. In addition, they also offer live translation which means I can be typing in English and students can be translating what I am writing in their native languages in real time. What cool feature for ESL or EFL students.

The other feature that I just started to use this week is the group tool. It was so easy to create groups in pronto. The way I am using this tool is for a group assignment that my students are currently working on. Many of them were reflecting last week in their blogs that they are having a hard time connecting with their group members or they playing email tag with each other. I am hoping that using Pronto will help alleviate the frustration students feel when their group members are not more available and/or do not respond faster. Of course it remains to be seen how it will work and if the students will use Pronto to its full potential, but it is definitely worth trying.

Overall, Pronto has been a wonderful addition to the arsenal of online tools that the university has decided to have us try out. We are so lucky to have such an amazing, forward thinking, and innovative IT department and e-learning team.

Katherine

Katherine

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Copyright © 2021 TheAdventuresofanOnlineInstructor.com

Can podcasting be used in online teaching?

The first week of the summer session ends 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,  I don’t understand what a podcast is? Meanwhile, all of this information is in the syllabus and in the week 1 overview.

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 almost 7 weeks and the students realizing that taking a summer course might not have been such a great idea because although they will finish the course quicker it is going to be a lot of work. 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 are called to do, they are talking about being worried of COVID-19 and how grateful they have the opportunity to take the course online. As well as miss being on campus and interacting with their friends and classmates.

They were also super relieved that I am not 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 have their questions answered like they would if they came to my office.

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 on campus? 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, sigh ) 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 a 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 since 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 students on podcasting.

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

Katherine

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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