My teaching with technology comment this time was stimulated by a conversation I had with another instructor who knew I teach online classes. His daughter was going to take a class at Palomar and he asked my opinion about online versus on-campus classes. After listing the pros and cons of taking an online class, I concluded by saying “If someone can take a class online or on-campus, I almost always recommend that he/she take an on-campus class.” The reason is that the social dynamic in an on-campus class cannot easily be replicated in an online class.
Shortly after having that conversation I read an article published in the Journal of Information Systems about using Twitter in higher education. We’ve all heard or read about people using Twitter to comment about immediate, ongoing events such as during natural disasters and political events but is there a place for Twitter in education? After all, the 140 character limit that Twitter imposes encourages short, ungrammatically constructed posts and discourages deeper, reflective discussions. Or so I thought.
After reading some articles about how professors are using Twitter in higher education though, I am starting to change my mind. I’ll mention two articles that influenced me to reconsider my bias against using Twitter in higher education.
Dunlap and Lowenthal in Tweeting the Night Away: Using Twitter to Enhance Social Presence, argue that Twitter can be a valuable tool to increase “social presence” in an online class and point out the positive correlations that exist between (a) social presence and student engagement in the class and (b) with student satisfaction in the class. The authors cite 10 constructive ways they have used Twitter in their online class. One example: A student, puzzled by something she read in the textbook or with a class assignment, tweets (posts) her question to the class from her mobile phone. within 10 minutes she receives two clarifying responses. The ability to tweet and receive tweets from anywhere is very powerful.
Dave Parry, blogging at AcademHack, was initially very skeptical about using Twitter in education, and now argues for its educational value. Parry uses Twitter with his on-campus class and provides a number of examples of how he believes Twitter has enhanced the students’ experience of the class. One of the first observations Parry made was that communications among students increased – both inside and outside the classroom as a result of Twitter. Parry found that Twitter enabled students to develop “more productive classroom conversations” and become more engaged with each other, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Bottom line for me: While not yet ready to drink the Twitter cool-aid, I now see how others have used it to promote their educational goals and I am ready to experiment with it myself. What are your views: To tweet or not to tweet?
Many professors make an effort to get to know their students – at least as many of them as they can. Educational research supports this effort as many studies have found that developing a personal connection with the course instructor is more influential to student success than a class with great content but a remote or unapproachable instructor. And when students rave about a wonderful class they took, they are almost always talking about the instructor more than the content.
While many techniques exist to help on-campus instructors get to know their students, it is a little more difficult with online students. One of the Blackboard tools I have found to be helpful is the student homepage. Student homepages allow students to introduce themselves, comment on their academic pursuits, hobbies, and so on. They can upload a photo and personalize the page by adding favorite web sites. Other students can visit the student homepages and discover common interests they share with their classmates, develop friendships, form study groups, or even agree to carpool to on-campus classes. I ask students – in both my online and on-campus classes – to develop their student homepages as it allows me to review them and even print them for a class record. It is an easy way for me to find out things about my students that I probably wouldn’t discover otherwise.
See the following “How-To” video if this idea interests you.
When I first started teaching a Palomar College I asked one of the senior professors in my departmentwhat he did the first day of class. He said “Oh, you just hand out the syllabus and tell them to go buy their books.” Many years later and now a senior professor myself, I recognize this as very poor advice.
So, with the first day of the new semester right around the corner, I would like to offer some different words of advice to consider. First as many have observed, we only have one chance to make a first impression. With that in mind consider the following points gleaned from surveys of successful instructors who were asked what they would advise instructors to do the first day of class.
visit the classroom a week before class to make sure it is set up the way you want and has the equipment (i.e. data projector and internet) you’ll need
arrive early the first day and write your name and course name on the board
begin by introducing yourself and telling the students a little bit about yourself
be well organized and prepared: explain the course organization, requirements, assignments, and policies – it is a mistake to simply direct students to “read the syllabus”
on the first day use some of the teaching methods you will use throughout the semester such as giving a short lecture, showing a video clip and asking for responses, arrange small group discussions if you do this during your classes, use the “clickers” to get students actively involved right from the beginning – give students a good idea of what your class will be like
make sure you use the full amount of class time as this communicates that class time is valuable and something important will be accomplished each class period
What about with large lecture classes? See the videos linked below to observe how one award-winning professor handles large classes (the link will open in a new window).
We all have a lot of material and resources we want to make available to our online students but there are so many ways to do this. Are there some guidelines, some best practices when it comes to organizing our online class?
It turns out that many people at many institutions have given this question a great deal of thought. Recently at Palomar, the Academic Technology Committee (ATC) was asked to develop a mechanism to “validate” online courses. This request came directly from Palomar’s recent Accreditation visit. One of the recommendations of the Accrediting Committee was that Palomar needed to develop some means of validating the quality of distance education classes. During the Fall, 2009 semester, the ATC reviewed the literature on high quality online classes and programs.
After reviewing the tools and strategies other insitutions used to develop exemplary online classes, the ATC constructed a best-practices, checklist document. The checklist is intended to assist online instructors as they prepare their online classes. The checklist will be pilot-tested during the Spring, 2010 semester. TERB, the committee at Palomar that develops standards and practices for evaluating classes/instructors, has modified the ATC checklist slightly and the modified checklist will serve as the instrument that faculty will use when they evaluate online classes.
If anyone reviews the checklist (see link below), I would be very interested in hearing your opinion – about what you like, don’t like, as well as any suggestions you have to improve it. If any of you would like to be involved in the pilot testing during Spring, 2010 (either as a reviewer or as a volunteer to have your course reviewed), please let me know.