Form an Online Connection: Part 1

Ask any online student what they like about eLearning and they are likely to respond “the flexibility and convenience to study as it fits my schedule.” Ask them what they dislike and you may hear “the lack of personal connection.”

While students enjoy online learning, they sometimes feel isolated and detached from their instructor and peers. This is why instructors must look for ways to connect with online students. One way to connect is vocally.

Speak up.

Instructors can record audio messages to add a personal touch to the course. By posting a sincere, warm-hearted greeting, a professor can help online students feel welcomed. I have taught online speech courses for several years and have found that it is common for students to be terrified of public speaking. They are often extremely nervous about the class, so my goal with this message is to lessen that anxiety right off the bat:

Transcript-Form an Online Connection Part 1

Audio can also be used to provide assignment feedback. Because written words can be misinterpreted, hearing the instructor offer constructive criticism gives clarity and promotes learning.

Wolff-Hilliard & Baethe (2013) conducted a study comparing the use of text feedback, audio feedback, and video feedback. They found that appealing to multiple senses not only helped students to meaningfully connect with the instructor, it also aids the understanding of course content.

Use a free tool.

Numerous free online tools can help you record audio for your course. Audacity is a free, easy-to-learn audio recording software that can be downloaded from the web. It not only allows recording but also editing of audio files. Evernote is free, downloadable software that allows users to record a “voice memo” and send it via email.

As a professional announcer, I have the benefit of owning a home studio. But you do not have to be a seasoned broadcaster in order to effectively incorporate this form of technology into an online course.

Here are a few tips on what to do and how to do it:

Provide a recorded introduction for each week that gives an overview of the learning to take place.

  • Don’t “wing it” and don’t read it.
  • Take time to prepare. Script out what you would typically say in a face-to-face course when introducing the week’s lesson.
  • Although you will be using your script, you want to sound conversational—read through it several times prior to recording and work at achieving a natural vocal tone.

Provide verbal evaluations of student work.

  • It is important to give affirmation and encouragement—allow your recorded comments to supplement your written feedback.
  • Be specific; tell the student not only what is “wrong” with their work, but also what is “right” with their work.

The main thing to keep in mind is to be conversational.

  • Audio comments should be brief and engaging.
  • Use good vocal variety and strive to sound authentic, not rehearsed.
  • A simple trick for adding natural warmth to your voice is to smile as you speak.
  • Also, don’t be afraid to incorporate facial expressions and gestures. Although they can’t be seen in an audio recording, they can be heard. The more animated the speaker, the better the vocal delivery and overall sound.

Using your voice to connect with students in the online environment is just one way to add a personal touch. In my next post, “Form an Online Connection, Part 2,” I will help you discover how you can make eye contact with your online students. How does that work? Stay tuned.

References

Bhat, S., Chinprutthiwong, P., Perry, M., & International Educational Data Mining, S. (2015). Seeing the Instructor in Two Video Styles: Preferences and Patterns.

Boling, E., Hough, M., Krinsky, H., Saleem, H., & Stevens, M. (2012). Cutting the distance in distance education: Perspectives on what promotes positive, online learning experiences. The Internet And Higher Education, 15 (Special issue of the American Educational Research Association’s online teaching and learning special interest group), 118-126. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.11.006

El Mansour, B., & Mupinga, D. M. (2007). Students’ Positive and Negative Experiences in Hybrid and Online Classes. College Student Journal, 41(1), 242-248.

Wolff-Hilliard, D. d., & Baethe, B. b. (2013). Using Digital and Audio Annotations to Reinvent Critical Feedback with Online Adult Students. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 80(2), 40-44.

author-michelle

5 Ways to Write Relevant, Engaging, and Useful eLearning Content

Pen, Paper, and Laptop
This royalty free image is from www.pexels.com.

Writing content for an online or blended course is different than lecturing in a face-to-face course. Great eLearning content doesn’t just happen—it is intentionally designed to reach the student at their moment of need. As you develop your course, keep these five tips in mind to write relevant, engaging, and useful eLearning content.

Know your audience:

Consider the learner’s needs as you write your course content. Elearning demographics are shifting. Online learners are oftentimes older than the traditional campus student. It’s likely the online student studies around a full-time job and raising a family.

How can you frame the course to include their life experiences? What information is most meaningful after graduation? Do they need to pass an outside certification exam? What insights can you share to make that process smoother?

Tell a story:

From a young age, we discover our world through story. Stories inform and inspire; we’re more likely to retain what we’ve learned if we’re engaged on a personal level.

In “Wired for Story (2012),” Lisa Cron explains:

“We think in story. It’s hardwired in our brain. It’s how we make strategic sense of the otherwise overwhelming world around us. Simply put, the brain constantly seeks meaning from all of the input thrown at it […]” (Cron 8).

Storytelling works well with interactive scenarios. Instructional Designers use tools such as Articulate, Camtasia, and Captivate to build the scenario—all they need is your content to make them stellar!

Be real:

In academic writing, we’re taught to remove the “I” (first person) to create an objective distance. Elearning content is not as formal (nor impersonal). I’m not suggesting that you write in emojis and text speech. Your tone should be authoritative yet conversational. If you address the student as “you” and use inclusive language such as “we” and “us,” he or she will see you’re authentic and relatable.

Provide relevant content:

Quality content delivers useful information to the learner. Research current ideas and trends and remove any content that doesn’t meet the student’s needs. Museums curate art pieces around a theme or topic. Your content should curate links to relevant articles, books, videos, etc.

Encourage growth:

Marketers use calls to action as milestones to guide users to an outcome. In your course content, use learning outcomes to engage students and create a meaningful learning community. Ask questions at critical points in the course. Use the Discussion Board forums to invite student interactions. Include journals and blogs as spaces for online instructors to work with each student as an individual.

Are you an Instructional Designer, eLearning subject matter expert, or online instructor? How do you provide relevant, engaging, and useful content to students? Comment below to join the conversation.

Cron, L. (2012). Wired for story: The writer’s guide to using brain science to hook readers from the very first sentence. New York, NY: Ten Speed Press.

So you want to be a subject matter expert?

Sure. You’d be glad to develop an online course. How hard could it be? You’ve been teaching for years now. This should be easy. Maybe you can focus on the project next weekend.

warning-400px-copyWarning: get ready for a moving experience.
That is, moving away from how you are accustomed to approaching teaching and learning. And moving toward an environment where your curriculum is masterfully designed for interaction and success.

Imagine a course without lectures!
Or a course that is never cancelled!

Imagine a course with:

  • a syllabus that is complete before class begins and is NOT subject to change
  • a readable list of criteria and points awarded for successfully attaining each requirement in every assignment.
  • space for meaningful and specific content-focused interaction between students
  • space for one-on-one interaction with each student at the point of need

Warning: you have to answer some questions.
The good news is that teaching and learning is not fundamentally changing. It’s always been about leading students to a new level of knowledge. But today, through the process of developing online learning, instructors have no choice but to re-think every corner of the content and employ refreshing and engaging routes of delivery.

In our eLearning department, the first questions we ask a subject matter expert (SME) are:

“What is it that you want your students to come away with from the course?”

“Who will your students be at the conclusion of this course?”

“Ten years from now, what will your students say they gained from the course?”

In reality, those are difficult questions to answer. But the answer becomes the learning outcome. Once it is clearly articulated, every course decision must align with it. Here are some learning outcomes from some of our university’s online courses:

Doctrines of the Christian Faith:

Discover the relevance of Christian doctrine for personal life and the practice of ministry in church and society.

Human Biology for Social Work:

Demonstrate the ability to guide my clients in making appropriate and informed decisions regarding their personal and family health issues.

China, India, and Japan:

Use evidence from selected readings on China, India, and Japan to defend the conclusion that individual human beings are both shaped by and shaping events that define their cultures.

Warning: it’s not about you.
Traditionally, the college professor is on stage for an hour dispensing knowledge. In the online and blended environment, the professor is on duty for the duration of the course – facilitating discussion, providing feedback, inserting relevant media to support the weekly topics, and interacting with students with questions and concerns. You will be busy, but it’s really not about you.

Student-centered is becoming a buzzword — but the eLearning world is convinced that it is the future. When you develop an online course, you must address who the student is, and make adjustments to get on his/her level. Teaching becomes a process of leading students from Point A to Point B. The journey that you take with your class will result in a milestone – a learning outcome that will be lasting for your students (and rewarding for you).

Warning: after this course development, the way you teach may improve.
Instructional designers often hear their SMEs say things like:

“It’s wonderful to see students participating in discussion that relates to what they were assigned to read and study. This course has so much value!”

“Can I use that video we developed in my face-to-face class as well?”

“Those rubrics worked so well, I think I’m going to provide grading rubrics for every assignment in my face-to-face classes from now on!”

So if you want to be a subject matter expert — we can’t wait to meet you!

author-gwen

Blended Learning, Part 2

8 Tips for Implementing Blended Learning in Higher Ed

Blended courses are gaining traction in higher education. In 2015, 42.3 percent of academic officers said the blended format held more promise than online courses (Allen, Seaman, Poulin, & Straut, 2016, p. 31). If you’re considering implementing blended learning in your program or higher ed institution, here are lessons I’ve learned from Spring Arbor University’s launch of a blended nursing program.

1: Start with the why.

Before investing time and resources, determine why you’re offering blended courses. Are you jumping on an educational bandwagon? Are you offering it because it’s new and innovative? Or are you meeting a need in the marketplace?

At SAU, we offer the RN-MSN program in the blended format. Students are typically practicing RNs who work 12-hour shifts while balancing family and other responsibilities. They don’t want to spend hours in a face-to-face classroom but they don’t want a completely online program. Blended learning makes sense for them.

2: Speak the same language.

As an institution, define blended versus face-to-face versus online learning. If you establish terms and criteria, it helps reduce confusion because people are talking about the same thing.

Oftentimes an instructor will contact our design team because they want to create an online course. When we ask a few questions, however, we realize the instructor really wants a web-enhanced face-to-face class. Having clear terms helps determine the format and how it should be designed.

3: Create a process.

You’ve established the why and the what. Now determine the how.

Establish criteria to determine whether a course can be offered in a blended format. Is it being offered in a blended format to accommodate the instructor’s busy schedule? Or is it for sound pedagogical reasons? Who makes the decision to make it a blended course? Is there a process that needs to be followed within certain deadlines so everything is set for financial aid or the registrar’s office? Does a blended course require help from your institution’s instructional design team (if you have one)?

At SAU, for example, we use a rubric to determine whether to offer an on-campus class in the blended format. Find a process that works for you and stick to it!

4: Spread the word.

Make sure your recruiters, advisers, and other relevant people have a basic understanding of blended learning. If they don’t know what it is, how can they accurately communicate it to students? It’s not fair to students who sign up for a blended program thinking it’s 70 percent face-to-face and 30 percent online only to discover it’s just the opposite once they begin.

Communicate clearly and communicate often.

5: Don’t neglect the administrative end.

Make sure it’s set up with the registrar’s office. How will blended courses be transcripted? When students register for a class, it needs to be clear they’re signing up for a blended versus a traditional face-to-face class or online class. This step reduces student frustrations and administrative headaches.

Years ago, a co-worker took an online class and later discovered she was required to come to the main campus (which was hours away) to take the final exam in person. She was angry and rightly so. If it’s a blended course, make sure it’s listed that way.

6: Set an attendance policy.

Blended courses are unique because you have students attending both online and face-to-face. Some students may blow off the face-to-face classes and/or some of the online weeks. In online courses, attendance typically is recorded when a student completes assignments and interacts with the learning management system.

Why is this important? Financial aid! Say it with me again: Financial aid! If students aren’t attending classes, they lose financial aid. Very important.

Create a clear attendance policy that is communicated in the student handbook and in the syllabus so students know what’s expected.

7: Set students up for success.

Studies show many students experience anxiety and stress about using technology to complete online coursework. To help students, SAU requires attendance of a blended orientation before they begin the program. The orientation is designed like a blended course. Students complete coursework online so they become familiar with the learning management system and then they meet face-to-face to wrap up the orientation.  In a future post, I’ll discuss the orientation design in detail.

8: Set instructors up for success.

While instructors are content matter experts, they may be novices when it comes to blended learning. Instructors shouldn’t waste valuable face-to-face time lecturing from a PowerPoint. Instead, classroom time should be engaging, interactive, and collaborative. Spend time on group activities, presentations, guest speakers, etc.

Figure out a plan for faculty training so instructors and students have a great experience in the blended format.

So what do you think? Did I miss anything?

Hit the comment button and share lessons you’ve learned when launching blended courses.

References

Allen, I. E., Seaman, J., Poulin, R., & Straut, T. T. (2016). Online report card: Tracking online education in the United States. Newburyport, MA: Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC. Retrieved from http://onlinelearningconsortium.org/read/online-report-card-tracking-online-education-united-states-2015/

author-susan

Journey of a Teacher

Even though it was decades ago, I vividly remember my first high school science classroom. I was right out of college and totally terrified. My professors opened a new world for me, and I wanted more than anything to step into that classroom and show students the beauty of what I had learned. If God gifted you with the heart of a teacher, you understand what I am talking about. I conquered my fear, walked into that classroom, and enthusiastically started my journey of a teacher.

Sometimes on life’s long road it is helpful to pause and reflect on the journey. Marcina Wiederkehr in her book Behold Your Life: A Pilgrimage Through Your Memories (2000) encourages us to reflect on our memories so we can move into the future with new wisdom and strength. As I look back and reflect on my journey of a teacher, two memories surge to the surface.

The first memory is my growing awareness that no two classrooms of students are the same—each classroom has its own personality and characteristics. If I was going to be an effective teacher I couldn’t always do things the same way.

I needed to change along with my students. I needed new strategies.

The second memory is the realization that in my classroom, I was the novice. My students were growing up in a world that was dramatically different than the one I knew. The students arriving in my classroom only knew of a world with computers—the internet, smartphones, Google, and cloud technology swiftly following.

I was not the expert in everything—I was ignorant too. I needed a teacher.

But in my journey, the one constant was my heart of a teacher with its love of learning. And I still want more than anything to share the beauty of what I have learned.

If you have been on the teacher’s journey, I am confident you relate to the transformational insights I shared about my own personal journey. I am also assured of your love of learning.

The truth is we all need new strategies. We find ourselves novices in many areas, and we need a teacher. This is why the eLearning team is taking time to create this blog. It is our attempt to come along side you to provide tips, strategies, and information that might be helpful as you continue your journey of a teacher.

Welcome to Model eLearning.

author-gary

Course Development: It’s not magic

It’s tempting (and common) for members of the academic community to think that converting a face-to-face course to an online or blended course produces a special brand of magic. It’s just not true.

After building over 100 online courses, I have come to believe that the process is anything but magic! Of course, I’m always looking for that one spectacular experience…but honestly—even if it is spectacular—it involves hard work.

It is good old-fashioned respect and communication that seems to be the magic—not the new 5-week format, the online portfolio, or the 5-star learning management system. Of course technology needs to be there and work well, but it’s the human involvement that makes it sparkle. The next time you face a course development, incorporate these five tips for success!

1 Mutual Trust

Can you begin with mutual trust? The instructional designer (ID) and subject matter expert (SME) are often placed together without introduction or a previous working relationship. If you are starting from scratch—work hard on establishing trust. Believe that your partner knows what they are talking about, and decide to listen and consider their contributions seriously.

2 Establish Clear Guidelines

Can you define the project? Do you both understand the back story? What kind of course is it? What purpose will it serve? When will it be running and who will be taking it? Talk openly about what you know. The SME often has more information than the ID, but sometimes it’s the other way around. Come together to understand exactly the project’s parameters. Before you begin, take the necessary time to get clarification from others if needed.

3 Workable Time Frame

You must develop a workable time frame for both ID and SME. Melding two demanding work schedules can be problematic. Be open about the time you have to give to the project. Is it better to do it all in one week or spread it out over a few months? Then, acknowledge that circumstances out of your control may impact your plan. Consider several options before landing on a schedule and agree to go all in.

4 Communication

Why is it that we never talk about how we’re going to talk about it? In your very first encounter, establish communication paths. There are many paths to take today—choose one or two. Keeping communication lines clear and accessible in one place is important. Will you text, email, instant message, or make phone calls? Will you schedule face-to-face or virtual meetings? Make a plan for communication that respects comfort and accessibility.

5 Use Web Tools

Keep things manageable by using Web tools for sharing information. Email attachments are a default information-sharing tool—but other options can work much smoother. Think tools like Google Drive, BOX, Trello, and Dropbox. A web tool gives you both access to the same filing cabinet, at any time of day or night. Decide on one and use it.

So the next time you are told that converting a face-to-face course to an online or blended course requires a quick wave of the magic technology wand, take a deep breath, because you know it isn’t so!

It takes good old-fashioned respect, trust, and intentional communication to make the project shine.

And well, everyone else will think it’s magic.

author-gwen

 

Blended Learning, Part 1

Effective blended learning doesn’t happen by accident; it happens by design. When done well, it can be a powerful learning environment. When done poorly, it can be a frustrating mess for students, instructors, and administrators.

As the instructional designer for SAU’s new blended RN-MSN program, I’ve learned some valuable lessons on implementing this format. In a series of posts, I’ll discuss some practical tips you can use when designing blended courses.

In this first post, I’ll give a quick overview of blending learning.

Blended learning and what it means

The blended format is touted as the “best of both worlds” because it provides the flexibility of online learning while enabling face-to-face interaction and social support for students. Well-designed blended learning courses are not only effective in terms of learning outcomes, but they rank high on ratings of satisfaction with students and instructors.

In a blended format, the face-to-face and online components are integrated pieces of a course. Some definitions focus on percentages—that is, the percentage of content that is delivered online versus face-to-face. Other definitions focus on the integration of face-to-face and online learning experiences.

In online courses, 80 percent or more of the content is delivered online. In blended courses, 30 to 80 percent of the content is delivered online.

You say hybrid, I say blended

You’ll often see the terms blended and hybrid used interchangeably. They basically mean the same thing. I prefer the term blended instead of hybrid. Why?

  • Hybrid implies the face-to-face and online components are two separate distinct aspects of a course.
  • Blended implies the face-to-face and online components are integrated parts of a course.

Instead of thinking in terms of the online classroom and the face-to-face classroom, think of the course’s learning outcomes and how the two components can work together to provide the best possible learning environment for students.

Another way to look at it…

When designing blended courses, I find it helpful to think in terms of informational versus transformational learning. What do I mean by that?

  • Informational learning mainly happens outside of the face-to-face classroom. It’s reading, watching videos, and taking quizzes.
  • Transformational learning happens in the face-to-face classroom. It’s taking the information you’ve learned and applying it, so you’re transformed by what you’ve learned.

What does that look like?

In a nursing theory course, students read, watch videos, and take online quizzes about different theories and theorists. In the face-to-face class, students work in groups and apply the theories to case studies. They take information (facts about nursing theories) and critically think through how to apply this information to real-world situations.

What do you think? Does blended learning live up to the hype?

In my next post, I’ll share 8 tips for implementing blended courses in higher ed.

author-susan