Thank you, Jim, for revisiting so many interesting posts in your blog: http://jimifac.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/tomooc-fishing-in-week-4/

I was especially interested your review of Julio‘s posts.  Thanks, Julio, for such thoughtful posts! :

1) I, too, worry about the audio file/voice message not leaving a paper/typed trail.  In fact, that’s my biggest concern.  However, the way I use the audio files just sort of complements or emphasizes the written feedback the students receive on their essays.  If I were a student, I would definitely need the written feedback trail.   And, I agree with you that discussion forums with audio files would leave me feeling at loose ends.  After Heather’s (?) presentation about allowing students to use a variety of tools (audio, visual, etc.) to introduce themselves, I thought maybe audio would a great option. But now, I definitely pull back from that idea.

2) I’m trying to wrap my mind around your really insightful comment, Julio:

I can’t help but feel that teamwork, like some other strategies (such as webinars), are carryovers from F2F learning contexts. In other words, in classrooms with 20-50 students, small groups or teams are a practical alternative to everyone shouting all at once. Online, the conditions are different, and the purposes for certain strategies that are useful in onground classes may not be as relevant online. Perhaps we ought to reverse engineer the practice of teams: begin with the purposes of teamwork then explore purely online strategies for achieving them. In this way, form follows function.

I was really struck by that last line.  I often feel like something genuine is missing in a lot of the group work.  Like the tail is wagging the dog.  This comment struck me fully this week because, in my f2f developmental writing class, I decided to try something new.

In the past, the course has been designed because of dept guidelines in way that created this pattern:  Assign an essay.  Teach a mode (eg., compare/contrast) and read sample essays. Give students a few sample topics and let them explore their own (eg., two bosses you can contrast, two social media tools, two places, (yawn!)etc.)  Put them into random groups (some ability based, some content/topic based, etc.) to prewrite and peer review.  It has always seemed so flat to me.  Where ‘s the true motivation to share, inquire, explore, and write vigorously?

Yesterday,   I flung open the doors at the beginning of the process, telling them they would have to discover any common interests or experiences they have, group themselves, and then talk about various “ways in” to discovering their specific topics within that group and, ultimately, get around to figuring out how to use compare/contrast as a mode to further their thinking and their writing.  So, I asked: Anyone interested in traveling? Anyone have a regret they could write about? Anybody a driven athlete?  Anybody think about technology a lot?

Then, I left them to discover each other, to discover what they would possibly want to work on as a group that could generate different perspectives and interesting dialogue.

I hope to see individual essays emerge in each group under the umbrella of one common broad interest and the essays will sort of end up being anthologies that can then be shared with the other groups. But, who knows what they’ll do.  They may actually start writing in reaction to each other.  That would be great!  I always talk to my students about the need to see their college writing as additions to the academic conversation that exists around them (rather than as downloading and regurgitating information), so that’s my hope here — for them to start  senses what it feels like to be in an academic community and  conversation.

Anyway, the essays may end up looking the same as they always look from semester to semester, but these students need a chance to take control of their group-making and discussion and become more “alive.”  So, there you have it:  That’s why Julio’s comment about the form following function really struck me.  I hope that makes some sort of sense! 😉  Hard to describe, but it feels like a significant shift in empowering the students to create group work — rather than be assigned to groups — and to see it as theirs and as meaningful exchange.

Now, I have to think about what this means for my online writing classes!  Hmmm…

Mahalo! -Tanya

For Those of Us Who Beg Students to Use E-mail

I thought I’d share this NY Times article about how and why college students do not use e-mail: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/29/fashion/technology-and-the-college-generation.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Interesting — they feel it’s antiquated!  Aaagh! I AM old! 😉  I take to heart the additional comment in the article that some students who might consider using e-mail shy away from it because they worry about the etiquette (eg., what do I put in the subject line? how do I address my instructor? etc.) .  This made me think I’ll add a little lesson about that at the beginning of each semester.  The authors go on to say how many of us veteran e-mail users do not composing effective  messages, so how can we expect our students to use this tool effectively?

–Tanya

Week 3: A Late Wrap Up

  1. First, I want to thank the facilitators for a great Week 3. I found all of the materials really thought-provoking and informative.  I will have to revisit them after this busy semester!  I am inspired to share key ideas with my online colleagues here at the college.
  2. Discussion Questions:

What?

  1. I thought a lot about the social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence concepts.    I really like the idea of exploring how students are present in these three ways.  How can I encourage more student-student teaching and problem-solving.   I also appreciated the reminder that the social presence is critical.  I am very aware of needing to create a safe place for my students and now I also want to encourage the interpersonal connections between students more.   Simple things like having them post their questions to the class  can help. I do want them to become greater resources for each other.

I also liked Heather Farmakis’s take on introducing herself to her classes. http://facultyecommons.org/building-rapport-establishing-relationships-in-online-courses/   I’d love to do something like this online, and I like the idea of telling students about our own educational journeys.  When I share parts of my experience as a student, they are all ears.

I reflected on the “sense of puzzlement> info exchange> through “applying new ideas” quite a bit and realized that sense of puzzlement is so quickly passed over at times.  Students need to puzzle, resist puzzling, and don’t really realize that’s what’s happening.  Instead they just feel uncomfortable and fearful.  I’d like to highlight this sequence for them and help them understand, “It’s all good!, ” but if they get stuck there in the puzzlement and it’s not generating the next steps of learning, they have to reach out for help.

Greg, thank you for this reminder on the effectiveness of questioning. http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/tomorrows-college/lectures/rethinking-teaching.html
It reminded me of a time when another mom turned to me and said, “You ask your son (5 at the time) a lot of questions! I love that.  How do you know to do that?”  I was really taken aback.  I guess I just found it so fascinating to engage him and hear from him.  I have to keep that alive with my students!
And, lastly, I bookmarked rubrics for discussion posts to adopt/adapt later.
So what? and What changes did you make?
  1. As students posted their first round of responses to a reading this week in a discussion forum, I went in and highlighted their salient points and I commented on each with a greater focus on asking them follow-up questions and directing them to other students’ posts (eg., “Oh, that sounds a lot like what Jenny said.  Is it?” or “This goes along with what Mitchell wrote in a way? What do you think?”  I noticed several student went back in and responded to each other this time… It’s building!  Also, on the announcements home page of the course, I wrote a little blurb with bullets like:  “Please go back to the Discussion forum where : ~  Jenny asked for help with her thesis. ~ Mitchell made a really interesting point about xyz ~ Pam gave Alice a great pat on the back. etc.   Gee, it’d be fun to move over to students doing this sort prompting!

And, I added a thought-provoking image to my home page with some questions to prompt their thinking.  I change it up weekly or every other week, but now, I just have to figure out if it’s too much to ask them to respond to such images as well or to give them a place where they can voluntarily discuss it.  I’m finding anything voluntary doesn’t get attention.   Sometimes, enough is enough.  Students are so busy!  Just putting the image and question up there for now may be just fine.

In my f2f readingn class, I introduced a blogging assignment — “A Reading Together Ritual” based off of these two touching NY Times articles that promote the idea of reading as a social act.

We talked about how can you really begin to id yourself as a reader?  Make it part of your social identity.    They’re responding to it well.  The students are sharing all sorts of interests and reading experiences.  This week I threw it out to them: “How do you want to continue with this blogging experiment? How can we sustain your interest and expand your interactions?”   This is new to me… I want this to become their baby; we’ll see if we can make it happen.

Enough for now!
Tanya

Week 3 catch-up/ thank you’s & Techie Questions about Voice Messages

I was hit by a nasty, nasty cold this week, so I’m a bit behind, but I want to thank Rachel, Greg, Veronica, Sara D., Dawn and others for responding to my blog and offering tips on discussion forums,etc.  As a new blogger,I have yet to figure out how to respond directly to your comments without e-mailing you. (I don’t want to set up an edublog account just to be able to respond to those of you using edublog.) Two of my to-do’s take-aways is to add a rubric for discussion posts and more clearly define my expectations for their responses to each other.  I do provide exemplars and I chime in to applaud students’ worthwhile posts and to ask more questions to prompt further thinking.  And, I do grade their posts, but these two additions may help. Mahalo!

Veronica, thank you as well for your post on using audio recordings to add the “human touch.”  This became my focus this week.  It raised a lot of questions and some techie frustration.  Here, I’ll launch into a how-to discussion that may not interest most folks (especially since you’re all on Week 4!, but I thought I’d put it out here:

I find my online writing students love my audio comments. Ones that had been lurking also seemed to become more engaged. I started using them when TurnItIn.com offered a new voice message tool last year.  It gives an instructor 3 minutes of recording time, so I had to get used to being concise. I also liked it because I found myself focusing on positive feedback more and I felt more personally connected to my students.  In addition, I found it saved me from additional wrist and back aches because I wasn’t typing as much.  (Ahhh!  The hazards of this kind of work! 😉

This week, however, I returned to experimenting with other voice tools since I’d like to interact this way  outside of TurnItIn.com.  I experimented with using Adobe Pro’s voice embed tool and I thought, “This is slick and easy!” I saved their essays as pdfs with my comments and just clicked Insert voice memo.   Nope!  Several of my students couldn’t see the speaker icon in the pdfs.  I researched this but got completely overwhelmed because it seems students with different hardware and software will experience different luck with this.  Forget it!

So, then I tried ScreenCastOMatic which is also easy and slick. ( I had contacted my instructional tech team about all this and they recommend it again.)  I loved it because I could scroll through the essay on the screen and talk my written comments, etc.  But, I’m hearing from students who say they can’t open it with  their media players.  Harrumph!  I’ve tried both ScreenCastOMatic options of QuickTimePlayer and WindowsMedia MP4s and AVI files.  I’m also experimenting to find out if Laulima/Sakai limits the size of the attachment sent via Messages.  I think it does.

So, these are the challenges that instructors face when experimenting.  If anyone has any tips, I’d love to hear them!  I don’t want to give up on this.

Mahalo,

Tanya

 

Reaction to John Thompson’s talk- re: Discussion forums

Question for my fellow MOOC-ers:  Any tips on promoting interaction  in whole class forums where let’s say 20 students are reaction to a reading or what not? How can I help students get past the “post-‘n-go” mentality? I want them reading each others’ posts and respond.  I will say: “Post AND respond to at least two other students’s posts,” but it seems stilted and generally it seems like a lot of “Oh, good job, Johnny” that doesn’t lead anywhere. I also don’t want to get into nickel-and-diming them points in the gradebook for posting/failing to post these kinds of responses to each other.  How can we help it become a more organic process for them? (This is for a community college writing class where some inexperienced students and a range of abilities.)  Also…

~Thank you, John Thompson, for encouraging instructors to be involved in discussion forums.  A colleague and I have discussed this – ie., does it highjack the students’ interactions if the instructor inserts herself?  I tend to chime in and highlight students’ posts that show quality thought, supportive interaction, etc.  I also try to refer students to other students’ posts (eg., “Did you see Jenny’s post?  She said a similar thing but added a point.  What do you think?  Neat to see the same line of thinking here!” )  Otherwise, I fear forums are just another place where students submit  their writing and walk away without reading each others’ posts.  In fact, that’s the hardest part of whole class forums for me:  getting students to interact. Small group peer review forums are more interactive, but sometimes I want the whole class posting in the same place.  I think my presence helps there, but, yes, it takes a lot of time!

Week 2: Response to What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain

I appreciate the list from Ken Bain’s book.  Given my experience teaching community college writing online in a really diverse community here in Hawai’i, I think he hit the nail on the head.  The Canadian h.s. survey, however, included some suggestions and teaching practices that worry me a bit.  I understand the survey focused on adolescents who may need a different online experience than adults, but I question suggestions like — ie., be willing to allow as many resubmissions of work as students need and engage socially (to the extent where you may become a counselor, it seems to imply). This goes hand-in-hand with some comments in this MOOC that students need to know we’re available 24-7 online. Hmmm…

As a recovering workaholic (ha!), I’ve been talking lately with another dedicated writing teacher about how to make our jobs sustainable.  We’ve also been talking about how to make students more accountable for problem-solving, using the resources we provide (“Did you read the assigned sample essays and analyze them as we asked?”), and not blaming the instructor as a first reaction.  Comments made in this MOOC in the webinars and readings acknowledge that teaching online requires an enormous amount of time and personal investment.  That’s both wonderful and challenging.  But, I do think we need to train students to understand there is a balance… We are there to support them in a genuine, connected manner, but we also have to find ways to make this work sustainable.  For example, for me, this semester, it means I cannot read every draft of every paper my students write and allow repeated graded revisions. There are too many of them, too few hours in a day, week, semester.

I am reminded of readings I’ve encountered about the “milleniums” — this generation of students who have been described as highly distracted, multi-taskers who want things to be spoon-fed (ideally through multi-media), etc.  They want what they want –now! I don‘t agree with a lot of the negative descriptions, but the conversations that arise out of trying to define this generations’ qualities do make me question: How far do online instructors work within a culture of “give me what I need now”?  Can instructors really keep up and provide these students with the “quick hits” (quick responses, immediate feedback) that social media, etc., sets as the norm?  Just thinking…

Last thought:  In the community college setting where adjunct faculty are underpaid and where full-time faculty are saddled with committee work, etc., how do instructors commit to the level of involvement needed for a successful online class?  More and more, we’re asked to think about “engagement” as an answer to curing the horribly low graduation rates and swelling numbers of developmental students.  Cracking the code to “engagement” is hugely important, and I do agree that small efforts can have great benefits.  Ex: I’m try to show my personality, add humor, motivate with cool quotes and images, respond immediately to questions/concerns, grade work quickly, post announcements and reminders, use voice memos, pick up the phone to call struggling students, and generally cheer on students daily.  That’s all do-able. And, I love it actually.  I really do.  Compared to the 1.5 hours/2x/week that I get with my f2f students, I do enjoy the on-going rapport with my online students tremendously.

But, over- individualizing instruction or extending ourselves too far in an effort to engage students who come to online education without really understanding their role or without the necessary skills can drown us and make us feel like we’re bending over backwards in a setting that doesn’t necessarily support us.  (Examples:  A college allowing students to register and begin an online class 3 weeks into the semester.  Or, a student who wants feedback on every draft every step of the way and thinks nothing of messaging me 3-4 times a day. ) That’s a recipe for burnout.

  To an extent, the learners need to find it in themselves to show and do the work and take charge of their educational experience.  So, that brings me back to Ken Bain’s last point: “Understand your students’ ambitions.”   I’d add “Help your students define their own ambitions and help them seek the many resources that can assist them (not just you).

In What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain (2004) discusses some of the major ways that teachers can connect with students through the practices of effective teaching. Below is a list of suggestions to help you connect with your students.

  • Spend time online with students to nurture their learning.
  • Invest in your students by not fostering a feeling of power over them.
  • Have the attitude that, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”
  • Create an online environment where everyone can contribute and each contribution is unique.
  • Foster the feeling that teachers are fellow students and human beings struggling with mysteries of the universe.
  • Provide task praise (you did that well) and avoid person praise (you are so smart.)
  • Give students as much control as possible over their learning.
  • Provide lots of non-judgmental feedback.
  • Encourage collaboration and cooperation.
  • Provide many opportunities to revise and improve work.
  • Avoid language of demands and promises.
  • Make a promise to your students that you will try to help each one achieve as much as possible.
  • Understand your students’ ambitions.

Response to Tony’s Step 4: Build on existing resources

With each new semester, I have become more and more convinced that using available resources is helpful and necessary.  When I started teaching writing online, I produced a ton of original content to supplement the textbook.  In a way, it was an important step in my evolution as a f2f and online teacher. Like Greg and Tony mentioned in the webinars, it made me focus, articulate, and refine my goals and strategies.  (Yes, online teaching has improved my f2f teaching greatly!)   However, now, I definitely see the value in “using existing online resources rather than re-inventing the wheel” and  Tony’s other point:  “Indeed, if several of you are developing a program, then there is considerable scope for working collaboratively to develop high quality materials that can be shared.”  Of course, the work involved in further tailor what I have gathered from others can be labor-intensive, but it’s often better than starting from scratch.  For example, our department recently re-purposed and revised a online Library Competency Unit created by the main library staff that is better suited for our students at our smaller branch campus of the college. Now that we have this nice resource, more and more instructors in various departments want to use it.  That’s terrific.  This sharing has also led to valuable questions like : “Wait… in which classes should students be covering this content?  If they encounter the same material in different classes, is that bad or is it positive reinforcement?  etc.”  

Finally, I loved this reminder: “The main question is whether you as the instructor need to find such material, or whether it would be better to get students to search, find, select, analyze and apply information. After all, these are key ’21st century skills’ that students need to have.”   I can see myself doing more of this! Food for thought…