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I started teaching composition online in 2008. Here are some things I've learned over the years (a thread). #onlinelearning #digped #teamrhetoric #WPAlife
There are REASONS why online courses have higher DWF (drop/withdraw/fail) rates. One huge reason is that these courses can feel impersonal. Another is a lack of feeling accountable. Anything we as instructors can do to the improve the affective element of the course is critical.
I make many choices in my online courses to humanize the student experience. One key element of my #pedagogy is to respond to students' work via screencasting. Screencasting allows students to hear my voice and see my screen as I am grading their papers/digital projects.
I use @screencasto for responding to student work. It allows up to 15 minutes of recording, is free, and requires no special software for the students. All they have to do is click on a link and listen/watch.
But don't record 15 minutes of comments! That's way too much. I try not to record more than five minutes of comments for work in a first-year composition course.
Screencasting isn't only good for grading. You can use it to show students how to use the LMS (learning management software-Canvas, Blackboard, etc), record lectures or labs, how to do particular assignments, etc. There are many uses for this technology!
Another way to humanize your course: video. I post weekly video updates, during which I preview the week ahead, significant upcoming deadlines, and patterns I may be seeing in student work (i.e., here's what the class did well on the recent assignment/here there be dragons).
These videos don't have to be fancy. I have recorded mine on desktops, laptops, and phones, using iMovie and @screencasto. I don't use special backgrounds or effects, and I don't edit. Again, keep them short (5-7 min). Students will tune out if you drone on.
Communication is key, and multiple methods of communication are critical. The weekly update videos are one format; another is an FAQ forum on the discussion board. That is where I compile common questions I receive. I teach students to look at the FAQ threads before emailing me.
I also create questions threads, where students can post any question. Many times, other students answer the questions before I do. Now that I think about it: I encourage students to post ?s there *before* emailing me, so they're reading FAQs and posting ?s online first.
This strategy works well, because it encourages students to value each other's knowledge and develop self-efficacy, rather than seeing me at the only source of knowledge in the class. Bonus: it cuts down on my email volume as well!
Of course, email is an important communication medium, but I put boundaries around it. I only answer email 9-5, Monday-Friday. No email on weekends or breaks. The students get used to it and learn to respect those boundaries. That cuts down on feeling like I am always "on."
I don't use a lot of synchronous activities in my online courses, but I hold office hours synchronously. I have used chat rooms in my institutional LMS, as well as other chat technologies, FaceTime, and Skype. It's important to have ways in which students can "drop by" and talk.
Similarly, I still conference with students. They sign up for an individual conference using tools like @YouCanBookMe, and once again I have used video conferencing options built into the LMS, as well as FaceTime and Skype, for these conferences.
It is vital to remind students to TEST THESE TECHNOLOGIES before the conference. They need to make they're logged on, volume is up, etc, before they're appointed time. Otherwise, they may run into problems and spend the entire conference time trying to log on.
Ugh, tons of surface errors in that last tweet in particular. *make sure they're logged on, *their appointed time
And just like I offer to meet with students f2f (face to face) by appointment, I do the same online. We set up a mutually convenient time via email and then talk via Skype or FaceTime. I don't give out my phone number, only my AppleID for FaceTime.
I used to video chat occasionally via Facebook, but now Facebook is for The Olds and my students don't use it any more.
Because I am one of The Old, I'm not on TikTok, but I could totally see using TikTok as a fun way to make announcements and send short messages to the class. Heck, I may have to try it, in spite of being #old.
Using the announcement function in the LMS is a key way I communicate with students. At my former institution (Blackboard campus), I had to set announcements so that they would be emailed to students simultaneously. Canvas, @miamiuniversity's LMS, does this automatically.
Again, the goal is to communicate with students in multiple ways. They'll see the announcement in their email, when they log on to the LMS, etc. Students are not always great about checking email AND clicking on tabs AND etc, so anything you can do to cover all the bases helps.
Speaking of clicks: when designing a course website, whether in a LMS or building your own, you want to minimize the number of clicks for students. Do you like to click on something, only to have to click 2-3 more things to get where you need to go? No? Neither do your students.
As much as possible, get important elements in your course down to one click. Don't say "Why link my syllabus on the course calendar? They can get to it by clicking on the syllabus tab!" Yeah, they could, but they're a lot more likely to find the syllabus if it's RIGHT THERE.
Okay, it's late, I'm sick, and I need to turn off my brain so I can sleep tonight. I will adding more to this thread tomorrow (and as things occur to me), so stay tuned. There will be more!
Good morning! Let's get back to it, shall we? #teamrhetoric #WPAlife #onlinelearning #digped #COVID19
Important context: the strategies I've developed over the years have been for #borndigital courses--courses that were only EVER online. That is why I don't use a lot of synchronous technologies; there was never a time when I knew *every* student would be available.
Given this new context many of us are facing, synchronous class meetings may be possible, since students presumably have the f2f class time slot open. But please remember: your students may become ill. They may need to care for others. They may not have their normal availability.
YOU may become ill. YOU may need to be a caretaker for sick loved ones. YOU may not have your normal availability. As a member of a #COVID19 high-risk group (asthmatic), and as someone whose entire family is high risk, I am not counting on my normal availability. #Disability
Don't assume your students or the faculty and staff you supervise will be able and well. They may not be. Those of us with disabilities and chronic conditions are students, faculty, and staff. SEE US. #Disability
This is not to say you should completely rule out synchronous learning. Try it, but do everything you can to keep it accessible for all, not only in terms of health and caretaking, but also in terms of technology.
Your students may not have high-speed internet access (or any access at all). They may only be able to use their phones to go online, and those phones may have limited abilities in terms of apps, document creation and editing, etc. How will you account for these challenges?
As more institutions move their classes online, we're also going to have to account for capacity issues. Synchronous technologies like Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts, etc may become overwhelmed by demand. Just like you need a backup plan f2f, you'll need one online, too.
If you are still meeting your students f2f, ask: what is your internet access like wherever you live? For students living on campus: what is your access like at home? What devices are available to you? This will give you a sense of what your options will be if you go fully online
Capacity problems may be an issue for your LMS and institution as well, especially if your university typically doesn't offer a lot of online courses. Again, have a plan. Be willing to extend deadline and work with students when servers are overwhelmed and they can't log on.
And to return to an earlier point, please remember your students who have #disabilities. Are your videos captioned and/or transcribed? Will a screenreader to able to read what you've posted online, including your PDFs? Are you using image descriptions? #accessibility
As someone who spent over 8 months on medical leave and who rarely left the house except for medical appts: social isolation is HARD, especially if you are unwell. Make sure your class is accessible to all, and as much as you can, enhance the affective elements.
Getting students talking to each other on the discussion boards. Some LMS have large and small group chat rooms; encourage students to use them and/or to exchange phone numbers, social media accts, usernames, etc. Create an "off-topic" discussion board where students can talk.
In my FYC online courses, I usually create a "Question of the Week" thread, in which I ask the students a question about the reading/writing assignments. They respond to me and each other; I require a fixed number of responses (comments) to earn credit. I grade on completion.
Grading on completion=either you do it or you don't. Create the required number of posts=credit. If you don't, no credit. I design a simple rubric within the LMS for this.
In FYC, upper-level, and grad courses, I have students share on the discussion board the "greatest hits" of their reading responses--a paragraph or two they're particularly proud of, a summary of the longer response, etc. The students comment; # of comments depends on class size.
Only I see the full reading response. I grade the "greatest hits" discussions on completion. Criteria: was the post created and does it meet length/topic expectations (paragraph, actually focuses on the readings due that day)? Were the required # of substantive comments posted?
Substantive comment, defined for FYC students: at least a couple sentences that add information or argumentation to the discussion. “I agree” or “That’s so true”=not substantive. Make those comments when appropriate, but they will not count toward your grade.
That's all for now. I will continue to add to this thread as other ideas come to me, but I think I have addressed the major elements of my online courses. Thanks for reading and retweeting!
Further reflection, especially now that my campus has moved all courses online, I want to make sure I’m very clear: do not kill yourself trying to do ALL THE THINGS.
Getting an online course off the ground is hard. Transitioning a f2f course online mid-semester is a nightmare. If you’ve never taught online before, it’s downright hellish. #teamrhetoric #WPAlife #digped #onlinelearning #CovidCampus
PACE YOURSELF. You wouldn’t revise a f2f course by trying to add every possible technology at the same time, so don’t do that for courses you’re transitioning online. Allow for the learning curve—both your own and your students.
If you have never used a LMS before, then you need to focus on learning the basic tools--getting your materials on the course site and using the communication tools (discussion boards, chats, etc). Reconfiguring the curriculum and learning those tools is more than enough.
If you're familiar with your campus LMS and already have a good grasp of the basic tools, then take it a step further. What is one technology you don't know that may be useful to you and your students? Focus on learning that ONE thing and integrating that technology.
Example: I have taught online for a long time, but I have mostly relied on asynchronous tools for that teaching (recorded videos, discussion boards, email, etc), with some use of chat rooms. The only new tech I'm going to try out over the next month is @Webex.
I'll try a few synchronous class meetings with @Webex, and we'll see how it goes. Not sure how well it's going to work if all 30 students join in, but we'll give it a whirl. There are some good collaboration tools I'm excited to try.
I'll also use @Webex for virtual office hours, but I've used similar tech for that purpose before and have no apprehensions there. But I've never tried to do large synchronous meetings in an online course, so this will be a new experiment.
So, moral of the story: don't overwhelm yourself with new-to-you tech. PICK ONE. Try it. Think of it is as an experiment. Some experiments "fail," but that's okay. You'll learn a lot from what doesn't work. You can then try something else. You will model resilience for students.
Please remember: be kind to your students AND *yourself.* We are all stressed and overwhelmed by the many things we have to do, the changes we're facing, the uniqueness of the situation. Don't expect greatness, from them or yourself.
I will definitely be relaxing my rules about late work, and I'm not going to enforce attendance for any synchronous meetings. I anticipate some of my students will get sick. I anticipate I will get sick. That is going to require some grace from all of us.
Again, there is a learning curve for online courses. Be patient with your students and yourself during this time. I will be cutting back on readings and assignments to help my students (and myself) make this transition.
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