Lesson Learned 2: Online Discussion Boards

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In my last post, we talked about synchronous meetings. One complementary counterpart to synchronous meetings are asynchronous discussion boards. One of my instructors recently had good success with online discussion, which was exciting for me to hear!

If you want to see my video about effective online discussion, have a look. But let me summarize my main ideas here:

Because you can change the settings to allow students to only see others’ posts after they’ve posted, online discussion boards take away the tendency of students to piggy-back off of their peers so much in class. They have accountability, and I like that! I also like that I can see each person’s response, and respond myself.

Three things to make sure of with online discussion:

  1.  Make sure you have “round 1” posting and “round 2” responding/commenting with due dates included in your discussion prompt.
  2. Make your discussion groups small. 5-7 people in each group. Can you imagine how overwhelming it would be as a student to jump into a discussion thread that’s miles long? Small groups allow for more interaction and accountability.
  3. Make clear to your students how they get points for the discussion. Give them a rubric. Give them examples or explanations so they have a model in their mind about what makes a good post and a good response.

These three things will keep your students more engaged with the online discussion posts, and it’ll be nice to mix things up if you’re only using synchronous tools. In part three, I’ll talk about using pre-recorded videos.

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Lesson Learned 1: Synchronous Meetings

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Lesson Learned #1: Synchronous meetings don’t always mean engaged students.

We all saw a huge spike in interest with synchronous meeting tools. These very tools have been there all along (Google Meet, Zoom, FaceTime, etc) but many had never tried them before.

About a year before COVID, I started an online webinar series for my instructors (since they are scattered across 3 counties) to share best teaching practices and tips for using Canvas. So at least my instructors had seen me giving online presentations and interacting with each other in that setting. I shudder to think what would have happened without them having some experience with it.

Here are some benefits to synchronous meetings (this is not exhaustive):

  1. They provide some “face-to-face” interaction that you might miss with a phone call.
  2. Real-time interaction means questions can be answered, and concerns addressed in an upfront way to a large group at one time, and hopefully the meaning is conveyed.

Drawbacks I noticed as instructors would use synchronous meetings:

  1. They would attempt to teach like they had in their classrooms, or for the same amount of time as they had in their classrooms (some of our classes are about 4 hours long! Can you imagine??)
  2. Lack of understanding synchronous meeting etiquette (muting, commenting with the chat, etc)
  3. They couldn’t tell if students were engaged because they were just delivering lecture-style information.

If you are an instructor wondering if synchronous meetings can be improved, I say YES! Here are my suggestions if we should plunge into another surge of COVID cases and need to go online for yet another semester or two:

  1. Let your students take turns presenting online. It will give you a break from lecturing online, and be a good learning opportunity for the students. Only do this if you feel the students have the technical expertise and enough preparation and guidance from you.
  2. Bring professionals from your field into an interactive discussion! Imagine if you taught a music history class and you could get an opera singer to Zoom in one day to talk about a certain genre, or even perform. Use your imagination!
  3. Use slides. But design them well, use them intentionally, and please, do not write sentences on slides.
  4. Use polling. Zoom has this built-in, but Google Meet does not. However, Poll Everywhere can be integrated into your Google Slides pretty easily. A little bit of interactivity goes a long way to stimulate discussion and creates greater accountability.
  5. Use breakout rooms. Again, Google Meet doesn’t have breakout rooms (yet… I’ve been sending feedback all the time about this), but Zoom does. Let students talk to each other and collaborate!
  6. Keep your meetings to less than 1 hour. I try to keep my webinar presentations to under 20 minutes so the rest of the scheduled hour is more interactive.
  7. Record your meetings. Google Meet only does this with enterprise G-suite for education, but Zoom will let you record meetings for later. Then students who couldn’t make it can see it. In the midst of an unplanned pandemic, we must make allowances for connectivity issues when students did not know they’d need a webcam prior to enrolling in your course, so being flexible here is key.
  8. Before the meeting, assign homework! If students come prepared to class (whether virtual or not) they will be more engaged in whatever you’re talking about. So don’t just schedule these meetings. Assign readings, quizzes, or something that makes them accountable for the information before they join your synchronous meeting.

I promise that if you will do these things, you’ll have more engagement in your synchronous class meetings! In the next post in this series, I’ll be tackling Online Discussion Boards. See you there!

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Blog Series: Lessons Learned from COVID

Keep Your Distance Photo

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Online learning. Remote learning. Homeschooling.

These key words may bring pangs of frustration to teachers, parents and students everywhere, now that much of the country has been “learning online” for the past several months. While many will be happy to move back to their traditional in-class procedures, I keep hearing over and over from my instructors things like,

“We want to take what we’ve learned and improve our use of Canvas.”

“This really forced me to look harder and deeper at how to use technology.”

Instructors who use Learning Management Systems regularly for day-to-day teaching, whether in a blended program or not, were much better prepared for the sudden COVID shutdown than their colleagues. But still, those instructors were caught off guard, and as a result COVID produced quick online teaching that neither teacher nor student was fully prepared for. I’m not the only expert who has been saying this.

Over the next few days, I am going to dive into several topics that came to the surface often as my instructors faced “teaching online”. I will address what good things we learned and pitfalls of quick course design.

A little bit of background about myself. My dissertation was about blended and online learning in K-12. After writing a literature review, I analyzed teaching competencies to determine if the wording indicated whether the skill involved technology use or expertise or not (for example, “provides an inviting classroom environment” is not specific enough wording to denote whether the skill is done in an online space or a physical classroom space, and the skill itself is different depending on whether you’re using online tools or in class tools, so some instructors might think they can do this in an online environment if they can do it in-person, and this is not true). In a complementary research project, I scoured the country looking for what higher ed teacher preparation programs were doing to prepare instructors to teach in a blended environment. I helped edit and update the National Standards for Quality Online Teaching that were published last year. And currently, I coordinate blended teaching and LMS administration at a technical college, so I’m thinking a lot about these things every day.

My instructors have no formal training in teaching (as many in higher education do not have, I might add). They are industry professionals who become instructors. And some of them are very hands-on professionals to the point that using technology to help students learn becomes very cumbersome (welders need their machines for practice hours– hands on is where its at!). I will pull some examples from working with instructors but will not use their names or be specific enough that you will know who they are. I respect my colleagues very much for the work they do and do not intend to disparage anyone who is a beginner with using learning management systems and other software.

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The First LDS Instructional Designers

Putting a new church together is hard work! Joseph Smith didn’t do it alone, but with help and delegation to responsible and honest men.
One such man was William W. Phelps who was in the printing business. Joseph Smith was inspired to give him a responsibility that is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants section 55, verse 4.
“And again, you shall be ordained to assist my servant Oliver Cowdery to do the work of printing, and of selecting and writing books for schools in this church, that little children also may receive instruction before me as is pleasing unto me.”
These two men were given an important charge–compiling curriculum about spiritual things so that children could understand them. That must have been a daunting task but I bet with a lot of evaluating information and prayer, Oliver and William were able to produce materials to help teach the children.
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