Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Syllabus language for participating in an online or remote course

I have included versions of the following on my online course syllabi for many years, and I recently further crafted this information to account for our collective move to remote learning. The goal is to address straightforwardly at the start of the term some primary concerns students have about learning online. 

Participating in an Online Remote Course 

As you know, [course name] is an online remote course. We will meet both synchronously and asynchronously, using the many educational technology tools available. Synchronous meetings, which include classes at the listed times as well as one-on-one conferences, will take place via Zoom or Blackboard (Bb) Learn Collaborate Ultra [your video platform]. We will try both and see which one works best for you. For asynchronous interactions, we will work primarily on [your LMS] Discussions. Such conversations are a component of most of my classes, and I especially use them in online courses. [Describe other asynchronous methods you might use.

Those of you who are nervous about working in this way should contact me immediately. [Describe here briefly your experience teaching online if you like.] 

Video Presence 

Unlike your typical class experience in which you sit in a classroom, you will be participating in much of this course via synchronous video media, and, in many ways, you have more freedom to choose how you present yourself. Consider that your instructor and your peers can see and hear you: How will you want to present yourself and your environment?

While I would like you to use your camera as much as possible, I am empathetic to those who do not want their cameras on at all times. You don’t need to have a reason. However, if you don’t have your camera turned on, you must periodically post a comment in the course chat. 

Factors to Help You Succeed in an Online Course 

This may be your first time in an online remote course. You’ll no doubt find this a different experience than that of an onsite class. Following are some things to consider as you begin this online learning course. 

*Follow the course schedule.* I create a careful course schedule to help you stay organized. If you closely read and follow the schedule, you significantly increase your ability to succeed in the course. 

Deadlines. It is crucial that you adhere to the class deadlines. 

Motivation. Research about student behaviors in online courses has shown that students who participate early in these courses, particularly on message boards, have higher grades in the courses overall. You can’t control everything, but you can control when you get involved in class discussions. Post early—and often—during our online asynchronous conversations! 

Contact. You can contact me via: [Tailor this based on your communication preferences.]

  • Phone. Don’t hesitate to call the number listed on the syllabus. 
  • Discussions. We can have conversations on our Bb Discussions. 
  • Email. You need to become familiar with your school email account. That account can easily be forwarded to another account, but I will use your school account to send you mail. We’ll do a lot of corresponding that way. 
  • Chat. Sometimes we will correspond via chat, particularly the day before an assignment is due. 

I will spend time checking email and Discussions for course messages each day. Basically, I will be quite plugged in to what is happening in the course. 

You may be tempted in an online course to think of your professor as a robot who never sleeps. While you are college students, and you may do some of your most productive work at 2:00 a.m., I am an old(ish) man who goes to sleep at 10:30 p.m. Remember that when you email me in the wee hours of the night. If you want to meet in person, the three-dimensional me can be found in [office location].

Space and time. You’re working online. Where should you do this work? Sitting at a desk or a table in a space with minimal distractions is ideal. 

There is a big difference between working at home and homework. While we will work in a primarily synchronous way, when we have asynchronous work, you need to treat that time when you are writing and thinking about the class material as real class time, and, again, you need a quiet work space. In fact, you will have a lot more success in college if you learn to carve out a space when you study. When possible, ask your friends, roommates, and/or family to give you a break during a set time each day. I know you are probably all skilled multi-taskers, but if you get into bad study habits early on, they will be hard to break later. 

Feeling isolated? Remember, while our class is online, I’m a real-live human being. If you have concerns, reach out to me.

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

New teaching modality terms: chrono-hybrids and spatio-hybrids?

The frenzied move this spring to remote and online and distance learning pushed the limits of how we characterize our courses. Teachers, administrators, and schools ran into a classic language problem: Our experiences became more nuanced than our words allowed, so we needed new words.

I’ve been exploring some new terminology to account for increasing ways teachers are using--and being asked to use--our teaching time and spaces: chrono-hybrid and spatio-hybrid.
A spatio-hybrid is a more specific term I am using for what has commonly been called a hybrid or blended course, one in which students meet onsite in a room one day a week (or so) and engage in a range of online work for the rest of the week.
A chrono-hybrid is a course that has scheduled synchronous videoconferencing some days and  asynchronous activities other days. Chrono-hybrid courses are different from remote courses in that a remote course implies that all classes will meet synchronously throughout the term. As an example of a chrono-hybrid, this spring, in my MWF course that was scheduled remotely, I conducted three chrono-hybrid weeks. Twice I replaced the Friday Zoom meeting with a two-post, two-deadline discussion conversation of a complex reading, and one Friday I assigned a robust, structured discussion board peer review. I designed this work to be equivalent to the work of that Friday hour--for both me and my students.

So, let’s tease this out with these new terms:
  1. Onsite/face-to-face: We understand this.
  2. Spatio-hybrid: This means you’re going to be in a room at some point with other people and you'll also be teaching some of your course online.
  3. Remote: You're in a fully digital course with regular, scheduled synchronous meetings.
  4. Chrono-hybrid: This is similar to remote in synchronous scheduling, but some of the work will instead be asynchronous.
  5. Online/distance: Asynchronous with no scheduled synchronous meetings.
  6. Low-residency: Some version of one of the options above (except #1) with a rare (once a month, perhaps) onsite meeting; this might be a version of #2, although campus low-res programs have generally not been called "hybrids."
Why introduce these terms? I had a good conversation to help me think this out with my friend Jason Snart of the College of DuPage, who is an expert on hybrid writing instruction; some of the material in this post is from emails I sent to him.
For one, it's clear we are going to see increasing examples of chrono-hybrid teaching, so we need to think about what that means, and I think applying a term to it will help a great deal.
Two, in our online writing instruction community we have come a long way in helping people understand that asynchronous modalities are effective and maybe preferable for writing instruction, and I see us losing some ground in the recent rush to remote, for many reasons: e.g., parents don’t think asynch is valuable, students think they must have a camera running for a class to be "real." If instructors understand the concept of a chrono-hybrid, they will be able to better develop asynchronous components of remote courses, using the kind of careful planning that should categorize online learning.
Also, we must account for teaching time in higher education. While there are flaws in the Carnegie Unit as a  model for the traditional onsite three/two-day-a-week set-up, it’s how things are for now. Accreditation bodies want to know that you’re filling the time—I’m stating that a little pejoratively, but teachers must show that their asynchronous lessons meet established time structures. These terms help do that, I believe.

Finally, over the past few months, working with teachers at many levels across the country, I have repeatedly run into issues resulting from conflating remote and chrono-hybrid. Faculty can easily get their minds around the idea they have to be in front of a camera several days a week on a schedule; quality, training, and preparation are separate issues, but the concept of how to spend the time is not. What I am referring to as a chrono-hybrid gives us a “classifiable” method of taking remote synchronous days and, and as I said above, developing quality asynchronous instruction instead.

Simply put, the terms spatio-hybrid and chrono-hybrid could help us communicate more precisely how we are using our time and our spaces to teach our digital courses.

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Friday, May 29, 2020

Students paying it forward

How will students know what to expect in your online writing course (OWC)? How will they know what they have to do to succeed?

Let them hear from students past.

While I have many activities and instructions early in the term to help my students understand what they need to do to do well in our course, I began to realize that perhaps the best way for them to understand what the class would be like would be to hear from those who had already done it! (1)

So, at the end of the term, I offer students this discussion board extra credit opportunity:

SUBJ: Advice for extra credit
Hi all,
Some of you have asked about a little extra credit. There's so much work--and so many grades!--in the course, plus you get extra credit for high-level participation on the Discussions--which many of you have earned--that I'm always reluctant to give other extra credit.

However, in the spirit of the final week, let's do this: If you can write a succinct, one-sentence piece of advice that you would provide to a student in a future iteration of Prof. Warnock's online English 102 course, I will provide you with a little extra credit.
Curious to see these,
ProfW

In response, they give smart, focused advice to future students.

For instance, they provide specific information about the so-important discussions:
  • The amount of thought and originality you put into discussion boards posts will equal the amount you enjoy the class. 
  • The path to success in this class relies on a personal decision to be proactive on the discussion boards, and a strong drive to gain from other views. 
  • My advice would be to take the discussion posts pretty seriously because they're a major part in this class and they make the writer think before writing. There are many posts that are designed to help you become a better writer and also learn from other students. 
  • My advice would be: Be early and active in the discussions.
  • A big part of the discussions that Prof Warnock likes (but many forget) is citing sources and using them in order to support your claim.
  • Don't treat discussion board posts as homework, treat them as actual discussions, try and get involved in actual discussions. (It goes by much quicker when you do that) 
  • The key to earning a good grade in this online course is to stay on top of the course discussions, they are responsible for the majority of your grade and all it takes is to log in once a day and share your thoughts. 
They have some thoughts about time management:
  • Also, start doing your work as soon as possible instead of doing it all at once. 
  • My advice would be to stay up-to-date on reading and writing discussion posts and to reach out for help in the early stages of projects and assignments if needed.
  • If you came into an online class expecting to do less work then a traditional class, you are greatly mistaken.
  • Do not wait until the very last moment to start your posts for the week because you will forget about the deadlines and miss them.  
They give some ideas about reading:
  •  Read the homework readings closely and carefully, this will help you on quizzes and discussion boards but will also truly benefit your writing overall. 
  • My advice would be to read everything -- your classmates can be your biggest asset. 
The even offer general advice about writing in a first-year course:
  • Try to develop a passion for what you are writing about because it will certainly help you with writing a paper and it will make the final product better… 
  • My advice would be to not let yourself get intimidated when it comes to writing, you'll get more out of the course if you start off just letting yourself write freely. 
I offer a curated version of this ever-growing list to students at the beginning of the term. I feel that while of course I hope they listen to me as I prepare them for the weeks ahead, there's no better way for them to set some expectations than to hear from those who have been down that virtual road already.

Note:
(1) This was the thinking that drove Writing Together: Ten Weeks Teaching and Studenting in an Online Writing Course, which I co-authored with former student Diana Gasiewski.

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Monday, March 30, 2020

GSOLE crisis support for remote writing instruction

Many of you have experienced the recent upheaval of having to convert/migrate your courses into remote formats.

A few weeks ago the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators (GSOLE) began building resources and support for teachers and schools faced with sudden CoVID-19-related campus closures. Little did we know that that would soon mean almost everyone.

GSOLE now has available a robust set of materials to help:
  • The Just In Time Hub is a gateway to our various resources, including those below as well as excellent written materials to help you think through course conversion/migration. This material has continued to be updated: www.glosole.org/justintime.html
  • Just Ask GSOLE provides a direct link to discussion forums moderated by GSOLE online writing/literacy instruction experts who can answer your specific questions: www.glosole.org/justaskgsole.html
  • Walk-In Webinars is a direct link to live Zoom sessions hosted by GSOLE members. Every week, the schedule of facilitators is listed there along with specific topics: www.glosole.org/walkinwebinars.html
Specific questions can be directed to JustAskGSOLE@glosole.org. You can also follow GSOLE on Twitter @gsoleducators for updates on GSOLE's efforts and visit our general website at www.glosole.org for other material and information.
We have been chugging away for about three weeks with this project, and it is important that I share with you the names of the people behind this effort. Following are the primary contributors, including their role in GSOLE and institutional affiliations:
  • Amanda Bemer, Webmaster, Southwest Minnesota State University, is facilitating our interfaces and communications.
  • Collin Bjork, Member, Massey University-New Zealand, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars.
  • Amy Cicchino, Executive Board At-Large Member and Affiliates Chair, Auburn, is coordinating and curating many of the Just-in-Time resources.
  • Jenae Druckman Cohn, Webinar Co-Chair, Stanford, talked with me about the initial ideas for our response and is helping coordinate the Walk-in Webinars.
  • Jennifer Cunningham, Member, Kent State, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars.
  • Kevin DePew, Certification Committee Co-Chair, Old Dominion, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars.
  • Miranda Egger, Executive Board At-Large Member, University of Colorado Denver, is coordinating and moderating the JustAskGSOLE email and message board questions.
  • Tess Evans, Secretary, Miami University of Ohio, has contributed to the Just-in-Time resources.
  • Brendan Hawkins, Florida State University, has contributed to the Just-in-Time resources.
  • Lyra Hilliard, Member, University of Maryland, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars.
  • Cat Mahaffey, Treasurer, University of North Carolina Charlotte, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars.
  • Kim Fahle Peck, Communications and Membership Chair, York College of Pennsylvania, is coordinating the social media communications for this effort.
  • Dan Seward, Vice President, Ohio State, developed the Just-in-Time web presence and interface and is the point person for maintaining it.
  • Jason Snart, Online Literacies Open Resource Editor, College of DuPage, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars and has helped with our communications.
  • Mary Stewart, Webinar Co-Chair, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has created the schedule and plans for the Walk-in Webinars is facilitating Webinars
  • Natalie Stillman-Webb, Member, University of Utah, is facilitating Walk-in Webinars.
  • Jessi Ulmer, Executive Board At-Large Member, Texas Tech University, has contributed to the Just-in-Time resources.
I’m really glad that the resources and support that this group has provided have been useful to members of our professional communities, and we're going to build on these materials as we  continue what for all of us are untrodden educational paths.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

GSOLE's annual online conference this week!

This Friday, January 31, the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators (GSOLE) will be hosting our third annual fully online conference, "Visions and Sites of Online Literacy Education."

This event brings together a range of professionals interested in online literacy education (OLI). The conference portal is ready to go, which includes the conference program, the Virtual Poster Hall, and a short welcome video message by the GSOLE president, yours truly. These links will provide you with plenty of helpful information about how to participate in the conference and get the most out of the experience.

There's still time to register, and you can purchase an individual or institutional registration here. Individual registrations include a year membership to GSOLE, and $150 institutional registrations include:
  • One-year GSOLE membership for the institutional point person (the individual making the purchase through the Cart feature).
  • Local meeting-room access (single room) for onsite colleagues through the point person's login (allows participation in one session at a time).
  • Free remote conference access for all other GSOLE members at the institution (a list of member usernames must be provided).
  • Five individual remote conference logins for non-GSOLE members at the institution (names and contact information must be provided prior to the conference date to allow login setup.)
We're especially grateful to PowerNotes for sponsoring this year's conference, and I hope attendees take a moment to check them out.

The conference has several new-and-improved elements that I describe in the welcome message, and we're looking forward to connecting this Friday.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

VEXT: An application for idea generation and academic integrity

VEXT is an application designed for use by administrators, teachers, and students (and others) to change approaches to academic integrity as well as to help see source and idea relationships in documents. According to its website, "VEXT offers an ethical approach to idea generation, data visualization, and plagiarism checking."

On the student side, VEXT provides a visually attractive way of approaching source usage and idea relationships. From the faculty/admin site, it offers ways to manage information from a cohort and deal with academic integrity.

At its "heart" is what VEXT calls a "paper fingerprint" (see the site), a rectangular, strip-like image consisting of thin, vertical bars that helps students visualize data so they can recognize "themes, patterns, and sentiment" in their writing: This "code bar" provides, essentially, a map of their ideas and how they are using sources in their writing.

VEXT, in some ways, was born of frustration with contemporary plagiarism software paradigms, which can place faculty and students in adversarial roles. VEXT's site urges users to "Evolve from Plagiarism Detection to Data Driven Insights," and one of the blog posts on the VEXT site declares that "The old paradigm of plagiarism detection is dead."

The app promises to offer a different approach. Using machine learning algorithms, it instead helps users visualize "the DNA' of your papers and pedagogy."

For faculty, the app has a dashboard (1) to help spot data trends in assignments while also allowing for "crowdsourced plagiarism detection"--seeing those trends in certain contexts. For administration, there is a broader dashboard that helps administrators make decisions and see analytics to determine the effectiveness of curriculum across a swath of instructors; this includes an open, searchable database so administrators can access knowledge being created across an institution.

Note:
1) I have been interacting with the company since the summer, and they are fast at work improving the back-end dashboard tools.

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Friday, September 27, 2019

Annotate PRO for responding to student message board posts

Annotate PRO is a tool, developed by 11trees, that helps teachers streamline response to student writing by providing a library of common comments that they can easily insert into writing projects.

The Annotate PRO site asks teachers, "Do you ever feel like you say the same thing over and over again to students?" While acknowledging that of course teaching often involves repetition, the site asks what would happen if teachers could streamline that process when responding to student writing, thus putting more energy into deeper feedback and teaching. A series of screenshots show how to use Annotate PRO:
  • Once downloaded as a Chrome Extension, Annotate PRO appears as a sidebar.
  • Users simply click anywhere that feedback can be provided within a browser: "Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Dropbox, Box, Blackboard, Canvas, Google Classroom, Schoology, Gmail – just about anywhere you can type feedback into a webpage."
  • From there, users add a comment.
  • Groups of comments can be saved to create personal, program, or even institutional libraries.
Annotate PRO allows for "smart automation." Teachers can use it to reduce repetitive keystrokes, but they can customize it using a "Free Form Comment" function that pops up in sidebar when using the tool.

Annotate PRO has great functionality for helping teachers respond to digital papers, and, I suppose, such is still the traditional framework of teacher writing feedback: A teacher giving feedback to a student essay/report/paper. 11trees provides a video description of this core use here.

However, I want to focus on another aspect of Annotate PRO: Its use in developing a library of responses for electronic forums like discussion boards.

As I have written about numerous times, a large component of student writing, and not just in OWCs, involves short, informal writing on electronic platforms. In many courses, students compose most of their words in these environments.

Teachers want to encourage this, but how do they respond/moderate in ways that are helpful for student learning? I've come across and written about a number of strategies--a favorite source is the book Facilitating Online Learning: Effective Strategies for Moderators by George Collison, Bonnie Elbaum, Sarah Haavind, and Robert Tinker--and I think Annotate PRO is a smart tool that offers another possibility.

With Annotate PRO, after installation, I simply opened a Discussion in Blackboard Learn (my LMS) and clicked in a message. Voila! I could instantly drop in a comment that had been stored in a library.

It was impressive and powerful in its simplicity, and I saw immediately how Annotate PRO reduces the literal keystrokes and would free up time for for more substantive teaching. Library comments could help me with the frequent encouragement and questioning posts while I used "Free Form Comments" for more specific moderating and commenting posts.

A common--and, at times, legitimate--complaint from students is that they feel no presence from their teachers on discussions. Teachers are seeking strategies and pedagogies to work more fully and carefully with students in discussion environments. (The Community of Inquiry framework [1] offers a way to think about teacher presence.) Annotate PRO provides them with a technology to help them do that.

Note
1) As described by Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher educationmodel. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

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