Social Media as an Educational Innovation: Tips

Two weeks ago I gave a presentation at AECT about social media as an educational innovation. The presentation was part of a session brought together by Bob Reiser, and the other presenters were Clark Quinn (Mobile Learning), David Wiley (OER), and Curt Bonk (MOOCs). We were each tasked with providing our best tips or advice on our topics, with a 10-minute time limit.

It was an interesting task, trying to distill my thoughts on social media use in formal learning settings into a rather brief presentation. In the end I came up with 9 tips (and having passed them in front of my students first I feel confident that I hit on the main points I typically cover in a full semester’s class).

Here are my slides, as well as some thoughts on each tip:

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Presence is a blessing, omnipresence is a curse

I’ve been thinking about an instructor’s social presence in learning environments a lot lately. I just wrapped co-editing a special issue of Distance Education on Social Presence and Identity (still awaiting issue assignment), and also facilitated a module on social presence for online educators (for those who are interested, see some of my teaching resources on this topic linked below). Plus I’m teaching online all summer, and I find that I’m constantly thinking about how I am — and am not — present for my students in different ways and at different times.

Instructor presence in a course is expected. In classrooms, it cannot be avoided other than through absence. If an instructor is teaching, she is present. Even if she speaks softly and doesn’t exude much personality, she is still present. We can describe how she speaks, how she dresses, how she moves, where she stand, and how her gaze falls as she faces the class. We learn a lot about her from these things. She is more than just a volume of information tumbling across the room.

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Guess Who’s Taking My MOOC?

The Social Media for Active Learning MOOC starts in less than a week. I’m so excited! People are hearing about it (we only started marketing last week) and signing up.

I was surprised when I found out who one of the participants was — and that she really wants to participate. Want to learn more? Watch the video.

 

(I’ve started making a few little videos, each about a minute long, about different elements of the MOOC. If you would like me to make one of these videos on any particular topic, feel free to leave a request in the comments.)

Eek! A MOOC! (The why and how of it)

So, I’m about to embark on a MOOC adventure on the instructor side of the fence. It’s not unexpected. I’ve been thinking about doing a MOOC for a while, and I have a really important reason why: my students.

(An aside — to find out more about the MOOC, click here. Or to enroll in the MOOC, which is on Social Media for Active Learning and which will be active from March 24 – April 20, click here.)

My graduate students in Instructional Systems at FSU kept asking why no one from FSU was doing a MOOC. They indicated an interest in being involved in the design and development of a MOOC. They were interested, plain and simple. And while I couldn’t answer for the university or other faculty regarding other MOOC initiatives, I could decide to offer a MOOC … with their assistance. 🙂

Thus the idea for the Social Media for Active Learning MOOC — which we’ve been affectionately calling SMOOC — was born. I offered a seminar during the Spring 2014 term on Open Learning and MOOCs. I determined the topic for my MOOC (gee, it conveniently aligns with my own scholarly interests and expertise). I began to design the MOOC. And then, as the Spring 2014 term began, the students began to work with me on developing the MOOC. When it begins in two weeks, they’ll be the instructional support team.

The process of developing a MOOC as a course project has been an interesting one, and I’m sure to write more on that later. In the meantime, I’m busy with finishing touches on the MOOC itself and opening it up to enrollments. Everyone keeps asking if it will really get massive. I honestly have no idea — either how we might define “massive” or whether it will reach that level of enrollment. I’m not sure that it matters. It’s been a great experience for us so far, and I’m confident it will be for our MOOC participants as well.

So, if you’re reading this post feel free to join us, and feel free to spread the word:
Social Media for Active Learning (web site — or enroll here)
Course Dates: March 24 – April 20, 2014
Brief Description: A 4-week professional development course designed to help instructors, trainers, and instructional designers learn how to better use social media to support learning, whether in an informal networking sense or by embedding social media into more formal learning contexts. Designed in a modular format for maximum flexibility — each week a new topic.

Thoughts on online course design, teaching, and learning

I was recently notified — appropriately enough while at the e-Learn conference — that I have been selected to receive an award from my university’s Office of Distance Learning. This award, for Excellence in Online Course Design, will be made during National Distance Learning Week.

One of the award’s criteria involves being evaluated against the Quality Matters rubric. I’m proud to say that I met the criteria despite having designed the course without ever having reviewed them. But then again I teach instructional design, so that would (ideally) be the case, right?

As part of the award experience, I was asked to come in for a video shoot and answer some questions about my experiences with online learning. I believe there will be a video of the awards winners (and perhaps others?) playing at some point during the award ceremony.

I was provided with the questions the week before the video was shot. To prepare for the video, I sat down and typed out my answers to the questions. I enjoyed the process, which gave me a chance to really reflect on my own experiences. I’m not sure how effectively I hit these points on the video itself (I wasn’t reading my answers, but rather giving a live, unscripted response), but since I actually had my responses typed up I figured I might as well post them here:

How did you utilize the online course environment to engage your online students?

I focus heavily on communication and interaction in my online courses.

Although I don’t think the online and face-to-face classrooms should really be compared – they’re like apples and oranges – for me the essence of the face-to-face classroom has always been that it’s a space to work through ideas and engage with others. I want my online course environment to be the same kind of space.

I require students to interact with me and with each other through discussion. Together, we work through core concepts related to the course. We construct and deconstruct examples. We clarify muddy points, and intentionally muddy points that on the surface seemed clear. I require students to share work and provide each other with feedback. I communicate with them on the discussion board, taking the role of an expert co-learner. I share, I probe, and when necessary I provide extra bits of instruction.

I use bi-weekly synchronous sessions, which are recorded for those who can’t make it live, to give students the chance to interact with me in real time. Rather than giving a standard lecture during those sessions, I tend to speak about relevant current events, work through examples, or address misunderstandings or interesting tangents that pop up on the discussion board.

Note that I’ve not yet mentioned course materials. That’s intentional. In my view, course materials are just that – materials. They provide information, and give us a starting baseline for learning. They provide fodder for discussion. Some texts, graphics, or videos may communicate concepts better than others, and ideally I’d like to think that I choose or design (whatever the case may be) the best of them to incorporate into my classes. However, sometimes there is no “best” or “ideal” that is readily accessible. Also, “best” can, itself, be rather subjective and context-specific, and “not great” can often provide a superb launching point for discussion. So, whether the materials used in a class are the best or the worst, what matters most to me is the way that we use those materials in the class.

What is the most challenging aspect of teaching online? What is the most rewarding?

For me, the most challenging aspect is the silent students. I am, by nature, a communicator. In a face-to-face class, the students who do not speak much at least provide visual cues – body positions, glances, and gestures – that show how they feel and whether they’re paying attention, struggling to understand a concept, etc. Online, it’s much more difficult to differentiate the quiet student who understands the course material quite well from the disengaged student from the student who is struggling but fearful of saying something.

The other challenging aspect – and this may be magnified by teaching instructional design students – is what I call design laid bare. In other words, your course design is visibly posted from the start of the class in front of the students, where it can readily be critiqued and questioned. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It pushes me to plan my courses thoroughly and at times raises some interesting discussions of alternate ways in which a course topic might be taught online.

The most rewarding part of teaching online is getting to know my students so well and see their learning process unfold week after week, documented via our course interaction and communication tools. The discussion board is like a window into their minds in some ways. I get to know the students so well by reading their ideas in the discussion, and I believe strongly that the process of writing out their ideas – as opposed to speaking off the cuff in a synchronous setting – really pushes a deeper understanding of the course material for some students.

I also find that I’m more readily able to individualize courses for online students, or track them in groups with like interests. So, a class with 30 students who have interests in K-12, higher ed, and corporate learning can be split into conference-like tracks and have more focused discussions each week.

Finally, the biggest reward is when an online learning skeptic tells me that after taking my course he or she understands the value of online learning.

Please describe the project or course that was recognized for the award you’ve received (Excellence in Online Course Design)

The course is Mobile Learning, EME5077. In this course, student learn about the basic definitions, pedagogies, and technologies used to support mobile learning and the process to design mobile learning activities. Through the assignments, they get to design ebooks and QR-code based learning activities and create prototypes of a learning app.

Discuss some of your methods for designing your online course. How did organization and design impact the quality of your course?

When I design a course I focus on four main things:

  1. Alignment of objectives, course content, learning activities and assessments
  2. Opportunities for peer feedback and interaction
  3. Opportunities to interact with the instructor
  4. Consistency from week to week and assignment to assignment

Typically I create both a content roadmap and communications plan for the course.

The content roadmap helps me get an overview of how the content, learning activities, and assignments fit together and helps me determine the best sequencing for the course.

The communications plan helps me visualize the overall participation workload, the points at which students become interdependent for completing assignments, and the ways in which I plan to interact with the students.

In the Mobile Learning course, for example, I included:

  • weekly announcements
  • weekly discussions for most weeks of the course
  • bi-weekly synchronous sessions
  • student contributed “tech smackdowns” during some of the bi-weekly sessions
  • personalized pulse-check emails at the 1/3 and 2/3 points
  • peer critiques using VoiceThread

The key is to find the right amount of interaction and communication, knowing that students will desire and take advantage of it to varying extents and that it has be manageable or it cannot be sustained.

There’s also a small bit of my courses that I consider to be designed for serendipity or intentionally undesigned. I find this to be particularly important when teaching adult learners. In other words, I want to be prepared to incorporate my students’ interests and experiences, events and opportunities that arise, and current events into the class experience to keep it as up-to-date and relevant as possible. That intentionally undersigned element also keeps the course really interesting for me each time I teach it.

Did the design process cause you to rethink any strategies in your other classes?

Every course design and teaching experience influences the subsequent ones, whether face-to-face or online.

One thing I’ve clearly learned in the context of teaching online is the value of planning personal pulse-checks with the students. In a campus class, just as in an online class, students can feel isolated or as if they lack a connection to the professor. They may be shy about articulating the challenges or struggles they’re experiencing. My pulse-check emails invite students to share with me what’s working and not working for them personally. It takes far less time to do this than you might think. Most students indicate they’re doing fine and the conversation goes no further. The others, who say more, either provide me with positive feedback, which motivates me to keep going, or indicate areas where they need help or the course might be improved. Those messages open dialogues through which I can help students identify strategies that will improve their course performance or explain why the course is designed in a particular way. Sometimes they give me ideas for ways in which I might change course materials, activities, assessments or policies. I get far more useful feedback in this format than I do on end-of-course evaluations.

Dean’s Symposium Follow-Up

It’s been two weeks since our Dean’s Symposium on Online Learning Quality, and in some ways it’s taken me that long to recover and be ready for follow-up.

The whole symposium was recorded, and may be watched here:

http://learningforlife.fsu.edu/deansSymposium

I had the honor of being the warm-up act for the day, providing an introduction of sorts in which I shared bits of my personal story of online learning and touching on some of the major concerns and issues. I was pleased that our panelists and keynotes throughout the rest of the day followed through on those themes and threads that I introduced.

Some highlights:

  • Deb Adair of Quality Matters stressed the need for a common definition of quality in the context of online learning. There are so many out there right now (we all have our own), which poses some challenges for effectively discussing, designing, and implementing quality. She also noted that while QM focuses on quality in course design, they likely will not take up the facilitation component — although all speakers of the day seemed to agree that facilitation is critical. There are some political challenges in tackling quality facilitation — one thing we know about excellent facilitators is that they don’t all look alike, and instructors typically don’t react well when they feel they are being taught how to teach.
  • Andrew Ng of Coursera discussed some of the pedagogy behind their courses. As a commenter noted at the end, it was nice to see non-ISD folks implementing some of the tried-and-true instructional strategies of the ISD world.
  • Resources seem to be scarce all around, and course development — particularly when one must pay for faculty time and do sophisticated media development — can be costly.
  • Everyone seemed to take an even-tempered view toward MOOCs. They’re now part of the educational landscape, but just how much of a place they’ll find in formal (degree-seeking) higher education remains in question.
  • Andrew Ng’s stats on MOOC enrollees showed that the vast majority already have a bachelor’s degree (I think it was around 80%) and about half of them have an advanced degree (so, around 40%). To me, these numbers confirm that MOOCs are well suited for continuing education and informal learning.

FSU COE Dean’s Symposium – October 7

I’ve put in plenty of time organizing this event, may as well spread the word.

On October 7 the College of Education at FSU will be hosting the Dean’s Symposium, and this year’s theme is Quality in Online Learning. Our two keynotes are Deb Adair of Quality Matters and Andrew Ng of Coursera. We have panelists from Florida institutions as well. It’s sure to be an interesting day, full of ideas. (And lucky me, I’m on the agenda, too — I get to introduce the topic at the beginning of the day).

All are welcome, and registration is free. The link with more info and a registration form is here: http://bit.ly/fsudeanssymp

We will be streaming and live tweeting as well. More details to come next week on those options. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments.