Momenta Learning

A blog on topics related to Elearning, online education, and instructional design.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Discussion Questions (week 3)

  1. How does teamwork in an online class change the course dynamics?
    The dynamics change because now the learning objectives become a common goal for the group as opposed to individually achieving the same goals. There is the added advantage that a group will pool the strengths of each individual member to make a more cohesive group, one individual would not have all the strengths that a group has. Plus the collaboration between individuals create a stronger bond that can last for a long time beyond the duration of the course.
  2. How do you prepare, help and facilitate learners to work in teams in an online course?
    What I have use in the past is an activity that the students complete at the beginning of the course. This can be in the form of answering some questions in the discussion forum or filling out a survey. The idea here is to collect data on why the students are taking the course, their motivation, which subjects they are interested in learning more, and maybe their backgrounds. Based on this, I created forums with subjects collected from this activity and the I invited students to join whichever they wanted. At this point I laid the rules for the forum and them let them work together on a project of their choosing. I would monitor the discussions to make sure they were making progress on their projects and would ask questions when necessary. I will try to use this same approach in my new course, but I will also add the progress presentation so that I can have a better idea of what they are doing.
  3. How do you move the community through the phases of learner engagement and evolving expectations?
    The first two weeks of the class are very crucial because this is the time when the student will decide that the class is worth the effort. How can we engage the student during this time? I think I can design a few activities such as posts answering questions about the material or questions from other students, or from the me, the instructor, that I would ask the students from time to time. Thus, it is very important that the activities in the beginning of the course are designed around interesting questions about the material and subjects being exposed in the lessons. One very useful tool is designing case scenarios where they can apply what they just learned. During this activities I expect the students will ask questions about the scenarios, which will add to the discussion. I think we can also add questions about some of the resources provided in the lesson, which hopefully will bring more questions from the students. At some point after the second week, it would be important to ask the students to start discussion sessions among them, I could be also monitor these sessions making sure they stay on topic.
  4. How do you use prompts to move discussion through the cognitive phases, of Triggering event > Exploration > Synthesis > Resolution?
    I think I would like my students to post initially what they are interested in the class, if I identify some that may not have a clear idea of what they would like to post, I will initiate the forum by explaining some of the key parts from the class structure. Then, for those who actually expressed an interest in some subject, I would provide another post with some key explanations and resources they could use to start exploring. Then I would start posting questions oriented towards applications of those subjects mentioned in the first postings and I will monitor the following week to assess the response from the students. I will try to keep the conversation towards the research they are doing at this point, I will post questions related to their findings to assess if they are actually doing research. Then in the following week I will post questions where they can apply what they have learned from the research process, case scenarios, examples, applications will help the students apply their new knowledge. Finally, I will ask them to propose new applications where they think their new knowledge would apply.
  5. How would you facilitate and guide students who are “lost or off track” to help them reach the stated course objectives and outcomes?
    The first thing I would do is arrange a one-on-one session with each student, either by webinar or by phone. I will ask them if they are aware that they have fallen behind the course, and then I will listen to the reasons they have fallen behind. Depending on the reasons for this, I will help them create a plan to move forward, they can start drafting a plan that suits them to catch up with the course. If they are not motivated by the course, I will ask them what was the reason that made them sign up in the first place, if they are finding the course not what they were expecting, I will write down their reasons and take note for future improvements, and then maybe leaving the course would be a better option for them. It might be that they are finding the material difficult to assimilate. In this case, I will develop supplemental material that will help them understand the material in the course.
  6. Discussion Forums
    1. What were the characteristics of online discussion posts that you thought were of exceptionally high quality?
      I think I can point out first to the characteristics around the format and layout areas. The best posts I have seen contain no grammatical errors (I wish I was that good), and you can tell that the author spent a deal of time going over different versions of the post until the right one finally came out (another thing I wish I could do better), also the post is easy to read because the author made sure the sentences were short and the paragraphs contain a few lines only. Regarding the layout, in the best posts there is always the issue being presented in the first lines, then come the supporting arguments and finally a way of conclusion showing why the author was either agreeing or disagreeing with the first post. Then finally, the best posts have the best content (references, supporting material like videos, links or images). The most important characteristic of them all is that the you can tell the author is not just vomiting words to fill out space, and I think anybody can tell a post with this issue, you can follow the author’s line of thought and understand instantly his/her position on the issue at hand.
    2. How would you create a discussion to elicit deep meaningful learning?
      The best way one can create such discussion (and I have seen it being used here) is to create a series of questions from the lesson content that the students may have not considered before. For example, we could look at a different point of view on the subject, other than the one presented in the material. Or we could pose a question in which we ask the students to think about a case in which the presented material would apply. Another type of question is to use a case that seems to contradict what was presented as the general case, we can ask what is wrong with the case and if it in fact derails all what was exposed in the lesson. My favorite one is when we can ask a question about what would happen if a rule, law, principle did not exist and how that would affect the presented cases or examples in the lessons.
    3. What criteria would you use in a rubric for assessing a discussion?
      I think the first one would be a minimum number of words, then I would add in the rubric an item for “were all the questions answered?”, if the post is related to an opinion I would add a criterion for the side of the issue they were on, especially if it was clear which side they were abrogating. Another criterion I would add is related to follow up to initial post so that a conversation is happening. Of course, another rubric would pertain to their attendance, if they just post once in awhile they should not be getting a grade for it.
  7. Live Interaction
    1. What are the benefits and limitations of emerging types of synchronous online learning?
      I think the best advantage of synchronous activities is that the instructor has close contact with the students, and if the instructor is willing to grant the microphone to the students, it add human touch to hear their voices. The students also get to know the instructor because he/she can make sure to use icebreaking introductions to ease the students in the session. The instructor also gets to present supplemental material not included in the lessons posted online. If the instructor also has a webcam, the students have the opportunity to meet the instructor in person, the same goes to the students who have a webcam. The limitations on the use of synchronous tools seem to fall on the technology side. If the student has bad internet connection, the experience can be frustrating. On the same topic, students that are not technology savvy will have difficulty using the technological tools used in synchronous learning. Another disadvantage of synchronous tools is that students may not have enough time to digest the material being conveyed, and collaboration from the will be limited because they have not had time to analyze the content.
    2. How can asynchronous and synchronous e-learning complement each other in learning online?
      In many cases it is related to how fast a response time the student needs while working on a class activity. Most of the lessons and content are posted for the student to review at their own pace, but then if they have questions or clarification in a particular subject, then the synchronous session will provide the opportunity to ask questions to the instructor. On the other hand, the student can send emails to the instructor, the instructor may decide that the answer will require a live explanation, in this case it makes sense to have a synchronous session to review the questions. In collaborative projects, the students may decide to use the discussion forum to keep updated on the progress, or they may decide to use a live session to have a more dynamic interaction. It seems to me that most of the activities in an online course can be made asynchronous one way or another, but the synchronous version may be adequate in some circumstances when the activity requires immediate feedback.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sensemaking Artifact week 2

This week my sensemaking artifact is a video presentation about connecting with my students and what tools I would use to start connecting with them. I hope you enjoy it, please leave any feedback on my blog.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Essential question (week 3)

Essential question: If vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change how can you teach your students to be more creative using the Internet?
I was struggling a little bit understanding the question. The reason being that I was taking on it on the technology side, that is, how can my students use the technology out there on the internet to come up with creative and innovative solutions? Then I realized that the point of the question is not to break fears that many of us have on fully using the technology that the internet offers. I think the point lays in the definition of vulnerability: to put yourself out there completely and honestly, with no regard for the judgement and criticism that your work will surely garner. A great way to help my students putting themselves out there and at the same time, help them generate creative and innovative solutions is by inviting them to create a blog where they can express their ideas and bounce around possible solutions and scenarios with others. The discussion forums I will create for the students to manage on their own while they work on their projects, will include directions on how to set up a blog and I will add that all of the participants interact with those blogs by visiting them and comment on the posts from the author. My hope is that some of them will eventually use the blog as a creative tool later on, on a permanent basis. I will also invite them to create a profile in systems similar to LinkedIn (professional associations) because this exposes you to others that can take a look at your work and provide feedback. Creating projects that can later be shared with others online is a great creative process, at least is working for me so far.

Discussion Questions (Week 2)

  1. What tools/techniques/strategies/approaches are you considering to connect with your learners? How will your choices impact student engagement, intellectual development, and develop personal connections?
    I am planning on using BigBlueButton for live interactions, since I will probably be running my course using a WordPress site, I will use the Disqus system for discussion forums. We will also exchange communication using e-mail. I will probably try to arrange a phone conversation with each student at some point during the course run. One of the things I want to implement is the class project. I am planning on asking the students to post, on a special forum I will create, on what is that excites them about this field of online teaching. Then I will probably try to get groups together with common ideas and preferences by introducing each student so that they can form groups or work alone, if preferred. I will arrange their work forum and let them work together without my constant monitoring, I will ask them to present me what they are doing in a live session later on. I will post once a week questions related to the material they will be reviewing for the week, but I will not be asking them to cover many topics since I am more interested in them spending time in their projects.
  2. Rapport is not something developed by announcement. Rapport is developed by actions—the results from things you do. How can you actively apply the following 5 factors to build rapport with your online students?
    1. Respect. Teachers and students must show respect for each other, for the learning process, and for the institution where it is occurring.
    2. Approachability. Students have to feel comfortable coming to faculty and faculty must be willing to speak with students, during office hours, via email, on campus.
    3. Open communication. Faculty must be honest. There needs to be consistency between what faculty say and what they do.
    4. Caring. Faculty must care about students; they must see and respond to them as individuals. They also need to care about learning and show that they want students to learn the material.
    5. Positive attitude. Faculty should have a sense of humor and be open to points of view other than their own.
    I am very curious about this rapport concept. What I have seen in the university setting is that students look up at these old professors because they are experts in their field, it seems to me that is the only respect they have earned from the students. In many cases, classes are so large that it is almost impossible the teacher will ever be able to see all the students one by one, and he has to rely on teaching assistants to run the course. This happens in the online setting as well. So, the students get to know the TAs (teaching assistants) most of the time and relate to them more than to the instructor, some may even never set foot on the instructor’s office. On the other hand, when classes are small (usually at higher level courses) the instructor does get to know the students, talk to them in an informal manner, conduct classes in a more participatory way. I think at this level the student is mature enough to understand why they respect their instructor in this class, they feel they can approach the instructor at any time, there is usually open discussions that lead to great interaction, and the students get to understand that their teacher actually cares that they leave the class knowing something else. I think the first action I will take when online course opens is to conduct a live session where the students can participate and ask questions about the course and about me. I will present for 15 minutes on my background, why I am teaching the course, why the subject fascinates me, why I expect from each students in the form of class participation, this first interaction will help to show the students information on how to contact me during the day. I will make it clear they can call me when I am in the office, or e-mail me at any time. I will make the point that I am interested in knowing each student and I will make an effort to memorize their names so I can address them by their first name. I will make the case that no question is unimportant and that they need to speak up when they have not understood something from the material or the instructions to the class. I will make it clear at that point and during the semester that I will following the progress of each student to pick up any problems when I see that they are lagging in the course. I tend to be something like the devil’s advocate in many situations, always trying to account for extreme possibilities, which usually tend to be negative. I am changing that for my online class, I will carefully craft my responses to students so as to not sound negative or gloomy on my assessment on their work, or when they present to me their current progress in their projects.
  3. Describe the challenges you have building rapport with online learners. Describe how you build rapport between yourself and your online students? Does it work? How do you know?
    I think my personality and the way I usually communicate might present a challenge to me but I am working on changing that for a more adequate style for the online environment. I am learning to be less judgmental when reading posting from students, I am always trying to read between the lines, maybe there is nothing there. I think the best way to build that rapport is by showing them that I respect their opinion and their ideas, I would express this in replies to their posts, after carefully reading their post I will try to ask some questions that will help me understand what they are trying to accomplish, but if it clear to me, I will praise their work, thank them for their effort and let them know I am looking forward to more postings from them. The best way to know if this is working is by monitoring the forums and see if the students respond to my comments, my questions, if the amount and depth of their posts is increasing and so on. I think I have to establish some kind of protocol to determine the success of my approach.
  4. Surprisingly, it’s often not the energy, the appearance, or the mannerisms of the teacher that make us want to listen and engage, it’s rather whether or not we felt connected. How do you invite learners to connect with you in a shared mental space in ways that stimulates them to learn?
    I think the best time to achieve this is during the introduction process when the course is starting. I have to reach to each student to understand what they are expecting from this course and me. I would like to address all their questions at the beginning, talk informally about what they expect from this course and from me, and reassure them that I am here to help them in any way possible. This is also the time when I would set the ground rules for discussion participation. I want to create an introductory video about myself and why I think this a great course to take. Again, showing past experiences and interesting cases would create at least some amount of curiosity in them, which hopefully will compel them to start working on the course activities and materials.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Activity Reflection (week 2)

I created one case study scenario for my online course. This case has questions aimed at gauging how much the student has learned the material related to connecting assessments to learning objectives. I am planning on having a whole lesson on how to build assessments and activities. We presented a model for learning objectives and assessments related to those objectives (supposedly) and we ask the students if the assessment actually supports the objectives and if not, what would they change? This case is from courses we have run here at UF, later on new improvements to the assessments were added based on reviews on the objectives, so they are real cases.
So what?
  1. Describe why you did what you did. What are your feelings about what you did?
    The best way I can describe it is by explaining that I got the idea from a couple of papers that studied online courses in the health sciences area. They definitely showed that case studies as activity materials were more effective than textbook exercises in supporting learning. I feel that this approach is very effective because you can model these case studies in a way like what Dan Pink showed with the candle problem: something that would encourage creativity and non-conventional solutions.
  2. How will this help you?
    This is going to help me design more activities that I can use in my discussion forums. I think meaningful questions that invite the student to conduct research, analyze the findings, and finally coming up with a new solution are more effective activities in this online course than any multiple choice assessment I could come up with.
  3. What did you learn from the experience?
    I learned from this activity that the best way to help students learn in the online environment is to provide the tools for them to go and create something freely, that I can trust that they will come up with something that is going to amaze me.
What now?
I will continue developing more case studies and then will dive into creating questions as discussion topics. I think the best way I can start this whole process is by developing this “rapport” this lesson talks about. If I cannot gain the trust and respect from my students through this type of communication, I really doubt I will succeed in the classroom if we were in a face-to-face setting.
  1. What changes did you make?
    One of the first things I will be changing in these activities is the way I will be giving feedback to the students. I tend to be critical and a bit negative when giving feedback. Now I understand that sometimes I will have to just thank them for the presentation on their projects and then give some feedback that asks meaningful questions about the project, but I will not suggest that they go another route that I believe would be more convenient. It is certainly important to let the student know that you respect the work they are developing.
  2. What will you do differently in the future?
    I will start by creating introductory material where they can see examples from previous classes (I will have to borrow that from somewhere during the first run of the course), they get to know who I am and what I have done as an online instructors. I think it is very important to lay out what is expected of them and how to conduct themselves in the forums, I want the students to understand that respect to one another is crucial to their success in the course.
  3. What do you still have to learn?
    I think I need to work more on my discussion questions, I want the students to analyze and respond to the class questions, but the actual mechanism to accomplish that is something I am still working on.

Essential question week 2

In the context of the online setting it is very important to find the “motivator” (like in that show “Wipeout”) that is going to set in motion the creativity and effort from the learners. That is why I believe that projects are very important in online classes. I also believe that working in groups or alone has to be an option. One important step the instructor has to complete is creating a setting around the course that empowers the students. The student needs to know at every time that they are in control of the project and that the instructor is in the sidelines ready to help but does intervene or interject, even if they know that the students are taking a difficult approach. In Daniel Pink’s video the premise of workers or anybody for that matter, achieving the level of motivation that leads to creative breakthroughs is apparently achieved by creating the right conditions described by those three steps of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I believe that one approach would be to start asking the students in an introductory presentation what makes them work to the late hour, what excites them, what compels them to do something beyond of what is expected from them. Then, after careful review of the answers, the instructor could facilitate the introduction of students with similar ideas, and maybe group them for a group project. The instructor could set up a discussion forum for each group so that they could come up with a project that would test their creative powers, and encourage them to follow their own ideas. I think that letting them know the project will carry a grade would cause the project to derail, since that could cause the students to believe that they just have to do enough to earn the grade to pass the course. As an encouragement I would present to them past examples of what it can be achieved by working this way, and that they can take this beyond the course setting, to their workplace, for example. As an instructor, I would have to pay attention all the time to their progress by checking on the discussion forums and probably weekly reports that they can send me. I could also arrange live meetings to hear from their project too, the point is then to keep in touch with the groups and students working alone every week.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sensemaking artifact (week 1)

This week my sensemaking artifact is a video presentation about MOOCs and what I would change about them. I hope you enjoy it, please leave any feedback on my blog.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Discussion Questions (week 1)

  1. How do you want to teach online?
    I believe a combination of both models is what I want to apply to my online course. I want to convey information and also design activities and materials that will help them use this knowledge to learn to do something. For example, I will add content in the lectures on how to create effective lecture videos for online setting, the theory and research behind the recommended practices, but I also want them to go ahead and develop a demo applying what they just learned. During the whole lesson, I will schedule live interactions where they can ask questions, I will elaborate more on some of the topics covered on the lessons, I will give also feedback on the demos they will be posting on the course site. In my case, I will be creating the content for a new online course, I will not be converting material from face-to-face setting to online, which means I am very open to new things and new technologies to achieve the learning goals.
  2. What ‘mix’ of face-to-face and online learning will be best for your course, and why your “mix” is best.
    My course is completely online, there will be no face-to-face contact, unless live webinar sessions count as that. I believe this course has to be online because it is directed towards professionals that are probably already working and have families. The convenience of an asynchronous course that can be taken online has many benefits to this particular audience. I will have many technology tools and human resources to create the content and applications for this course. I consider myself a good instructor in the classroom setting and now I want to prove myself that I can do the same thing in e-learning.
  3. Why do you need to focus just as much on student activities, what they need to do, as on creating original content for your courses? Describe the activities do you plan to focus on.
    Because we want the students not only to memorize material, so that they can face a final assessment but we also want them to learn how to do something. I believe that any subject can be adequately converted into an online course, the bottom line being what resources I am willing to put up in order to develop that course. When I am developing the content I have to see how I can create an activity that will make good use of the information being presented. The student activities are going to reinforce the knowledge they just reviewed in the lesson, and it has to be done immediately after the material in the lesson has been covered. I am planning on creating short multiple choice questions when there is material that requires to be learned by the student, such as concepts, rules, laws, processes, etc. Then, during the lecture material, I will add more multiple choice questions that will test what the student learned during the lecture. This will help the student assess how well they acquire the new information.
  4. Describe how you create a strong structure for you online course, so students are clear about what they are expected to do, when it has to be done. How do you ensure that students have adequate online activities? Describe the trade-offs you have to make between content and activities if the student workload is to be kept to manageable proportions?
    The first thing I would like to develop is some kind of syllabus that contains the rules of the game: policies, how to get help, and most important, the course structure. In my case, I like to develop courses that follow a rigid structure because I believe that in the online learning environment, since there is hardly any instant human contact, it is necessary to guide the students at any point in the course. I am planning on creating a course with ten lessons that will follow the next template: definition of lesson objectives, reading assignments, some kind of short lecture (audio or video), and activities. Until they are able to complete these activities then they should be able to move on to the next lesson. Since my course is oriented on how to develop online content, I am planning on creating activities that are more hands-on (around learning how to do something as opposed to did you memorize it?). I will set up the LMS system so that they cannot move to the next lesson until they submit their assignments and complete their activities. Before we launch the program we will use testing students that will provide feedback on the effectiveness of the activities laid out in the lessons, and I will adjust accordingly. Again, the activities will be centered around learning how to do something, there will be also questions that will invite critical thinking and analysis. This is supposed to be a short course (40 h max), which means we cannot introduce content that is not going to support learning. We will introduce meaningful resources that the students can use later on, but they will not be required to cover that material. Our lectures will be short (max 15 min), and most of the time the students will be working on their activities and assignments, there is reading but we will keep it at a minimum to cover important definitions, rules, suggestions, but we will no assign reading of whole book chapters.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Suggested Reflections (week 1)

In week 1 I learned the steps on how to build an online course, some of them I have been doing for quite some time (although I did not know I was doing it that way). The first step is very important and one I did nor consider before. Do we really need to develop an online course? The teaching philosophies is a good point I have not thought about before. In some subjects the objectivistic approach is required (chemistry, for example) but other courses can be conducted using the individual development approach (I can think of a writing course, for example). But I think I am sold on the idea of combining both, the benefits are obvious. In my work setting we actually start at step 2 where we are deciding what kind of online course we want. This is the part where we decide the kind of content we need in the course. It is very important to determine this because then we have to look back and figure out if the resources to develop that kind of content are available. The final step is one of the parts I am trying to get involved with because evaluation and improvement are nowadays being driven by decisions based on data. Analysis of data from student activity and data collected from their own input has become a valuable tool to make decisions on the course offering, improvements, things that require change or plain eliminate other that did not work. I believe education will be driven by big data in the future as well.
This is a very different MOOC. It has allowed me to express my thoughts and what I have learned through the use of my own blog. This is a tools that I have helped set up before, but have not actually used extensively as an educational tool. Now I can see the potential in future course developments I happen to be involved in later on. I think this is one of the things I like best about this course.

Activity Reflection (Week 1)

This week I came back from a conference with the determination of completing this MOOC. I have been trolling around Coursera and Udacity, signing on for very interesting MOOCs that I never complete. But this MOOC is different. This one is actually giving me the freedom of developing content for what I hope to be my own online course on how to create content for online learning. Working on my posts has given me the opportunity to reflect on many topics related to online teaching, which I haven't done in quite a while. So, as soon as I came back to the office on Monday, I started working on my assignments for the past two weeks, and covering the material for both weeks as well. I have not been just skimming or going through the material with no analysis whatsoever. In fact, I have done quite the opposite. The content offered in this course actually has offered new ideas that I have not considered before.
This week I created my first artifact about blogs. In the materials for week 0 this topic was amply covered by both the instructor and the invited speakers in the webinars for that week. Even though most of the content related to blogging was directed towards developing a full blog system, I actually just skirted my artifact around the use of blogs for educational purposes. I have no intention in becoming a professional blogger, but the application of technology in developing this tool fascinates me. I also like to develop content for blogs which will serve as assignments or activities for an online course. The part of creating blogging activities that can be linked to a learning outcomes has a great appeal to me because it demands the use of my analytical and critical thinking skills in order to create an activity that both fulfills the learning outcome and conduces to learning.
Before I only consider blogging as another way to create a discussion forum, in fact, I was against the use of blogs a few months ago when we were developing a new project because the amount of work the instructor would face since it was required to produce a grade from the posts. But now I understand that blogging is a more personal issue that actually helps in developing critical and analytical thinking skills. A discussion forums is for very short responses on topics the instructor would like the students to weigh in.
One aspect of the whole blogging tool that I need to discover is how to use media to enhance the activity. I would like to encourage my students to not only develop a blog post, but support the post with media that they produce or that the could curate from other sources (for educational purposes). Does media actually help the blog post in conveying the information to the student, and what is required from them? Is media distracting in a blog post? Do I need to place restrictions on the type and quantity of media that students can use? These and other questions, that I think would like to ponder for a while, make blogging an attractive tool for education.

Sensemaking artifact Week 0

Blogging as an educational tool is a new concept that has circulated the internet for some time. It is being used by colleges, universities, and educational organizations as another tool that aids and supports learning. It is true that blogging started as a communication medium for the masses. Now everybody can put forth their thoughts at any time and place, and millions of people will have access to that content. Unlike live interaction over the internet (webinars, chat, etc.) this can be used as an asynchronous interactive tools, since communication does not happen immediately, the receiver of the message will not read it until later on. There is also a period of time while the message is being elaborated. This is a very important and crucial step in the whole process. This is the part where the blogger lays out the ideas that will be sent, reworks the structure of the message and finally makes sure that the message is clear and free of typos and errors. One can tell when a blog message was made on the fly, with no final review whatsoever. While the blogger thinks about on how to structure the message, critical thinking and analysis is happening, and learning is happening. The blogger will consult other resources and do research before or while elaborating the blog content. All these activities are done by students in a classroom setting when they are asked to work on a project. Blogging can also be conducted individually or in groups, just like classroom projects.
So, nowadays the question is not if you can blog, it is why are you not? The technology is here to do it for free (although it was not the case some time ago), the second question is how can I make my blog visible to others? Social media is an answer but word of mouth still works, networking is the most effective way of growing your audience these days. It is no secret that a successful blog is not the one with more content, but the one with meaningful and valuable content. Building a reputable blog still takes time and effort, blogging is a work of its own. The most important part of building a blog still involves some cosmetics; I also believe that making the navigation in a blog easier is as valuable as the content it contains. I cannot tell you how many times I have left a blog because the internal navigation is so confusing, I get frustrated and quit.
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But blogs started as a way to communicate your own ideas. How about we use it to prod ideas out of people who would not use blogs regularly? I am guessing somebody actually had that idea at some college or university when pondering what tools to use to make student interaction easier. A blog requires analysis and critical thinking, if done properly. If you ask the right questions to students, or suggest the best way to express an idea, then blogging becomes a powerful learning experience. Many students on their own will not be able to come up with the ideas themselves, they are not used to employing the tool. That is why the involvement of the instructor is very important in this setting. In a MOOC that can be a nightmare because the enrollments in these types of online courses are in the thousands. But in many cases the use of supporting staff ameliorates the problem, but even in this setting instructor involvement is very important.
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Most interesting of all is when blogging is utilized as an educational device in hard sciences and mathematics. I am currently actively involved in utilizing blogging for learning activities in engineering, physics, mathematics, and chemistry online classes. I believe that learning can be facilitated if the student is allowed to express concepts in these subjects through the use of blogging tools. By expressing their ideas on a particular subject, critical thinking is allowed to happen, and the instructor can assess what the students actually understand from the subject. The hardest part though, is creating the right questions and subjects to discuss in a blog. Yes and no questions do not help the process; you need to create prompts that can be expanded in a blog after some analysis from the student.
I believe the future of blogging lies ahead in educational settings, but there is still room to amplify its use for communication of ideas over the internet. Blogging is not a tool that everybody can use with no previous knowledge or practice. Students enrolled in online classes will learn how to use this tool and will gain a skill that can use in their future workplace. More instructors will start using this tool to communicate with students and gage their understanding of the subject being taught. They need to be more involved in the process to fully take advantage of this device that supports learning in the online environment.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Essential Question to answer (Week 0)

Question: Creativity comes through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things. How can you help your online students to be more creative?
I think one of the first things I would do is to ask them to describe a situation in which they believed they were being creative. Asking questions as to what kind of environment they were in, what resources they had at hand, what mood they were in, if they were alone or in a group. Then I would ask them for another example in which they were faced with a problem that required a creative solution, but they failed to come up with something novel. Again, I would ask what state of mind they were in when that happened, if they were alone, in a group, outdoors, indoors, etc. I think by comparing both situations they will understand the ideal situation they have to be in that will foster creativity.

What I have learned this week (week 0)

I think the most important thing I have learned this week is that a blog can be a powerful educational tool. Collaboration among peers through blogs is a medium to share ideas, thoughts, insights, and pass on information that can help our personal growth. I have also learned that building a community in an online class is dependent on the instructor's ability and will to participate at all times in the process. The instructor needs to be engaged, which in turn will make students engage.
I will participate by attending as many webinars as I can, share my thoughts through the blog, and participate in discussions with other learners. I will try to complete the assigned materials on time every week.

Best teacher and worst teacher (week 0)

I guess I will have to talk about my graduate work experience. My best teacher in graduate school was on a class called colloidal science. My worst teacher in the same setting was my instructor on a class called Separation processes in chemical engineering.
I think the most memorable moments in that colloidal science class was the fact that the class was conducted in a very informal matter. By informal I mean that the subject of the day was mostly presented by the instructor but he will devote the rest of the class asking us questions about the material and how to apply what we just learned. The course did have a structure and we were handed out a syllabus at the beginning of the semester. He always started the class with a picture or video that would convey the subject of the day. This facilitated the learning process because we saw a real world application of what we learned today.
Based on this, I have elaborated a list for four DOs:
  1. Use external resources that help students understand the subject being exposed,
  2. Ask questions to students, call on them and ask for their opinion so that you can assess how much they know,
  3. Conduct the class in a way that students feel relaxed in your class,
  4. Prepare a final project that requires student collaboration and encourages discussion.
What I think are four DON'Ts
  1. Be too rigid in class just because you have a Ph.D. and you look down on your students,
  2. You talk must of the time, make students participate,
  3. Present only text material with no media that helps understand concepts,
  4. Rely too much on an assistant to keep in touch with students.
I am planning on using these two lists when I design online courses by developing material that is engaging by adding activities where the students are asked to comment on something or make an analysis on the subject being presented. I also plan on treating students as colleagues and not as pupils, conveying that respect during the live interactions planned for these courses. Even though it is difficult to create that "human touch" in an online environment, something that is easy to accomplish in a classroom, I will set up discussion forums, chat sessions, and live video sessions that include personalized messages so that the student would not feel as another number in the enrollment.

About myself (Week 0)

My name is Julio Castro and I am an instructional designer at the University of Florida. I learned about this course from one of those alerts that I have set up in Google Alerts. I am ready to start developing an online class on how to teach online, and I want to see how this one has been set up. Although this is not the approach I will be using in my course, I found the method very interesting. It also happens to be that I have never taken an online class (I am a Gen X guy, all my formation happened in the classroom), and I thought this one would be the one I would choose to be the first one.
To me, the most important issue in teaching online is how to create engaging content that can keep the students interested in your course. I think another issue is the technology we want to use in our courses. How much is too much? Creating games is still expensive and time consuming, but there must other ways to design games that teach something and would not require that much money and time. Another issue I find fascinating, the fact the nowadays anybody can publish an online course. The technology is already here and it can be done cheaply and fast. I think online or e-learning will eventually go through the same process that books and music (and movies) went through: the self-publishing movement.
I think I can contribute from my experience designing online courses. But I also need to take the next step to becoming and online teacher or instructor. I love developing content for online courses, I have done that in the past when I taught courses at UF in a classroom setting. I also have a technology background since I have used web programming and computer programming for a long time. I am also trained in the use of development tools (software) extensively used in instructional design.
I think I would like to develop strong relationships with others in this course, learn more about them and maybe continue the chat and sharing of information beyond this class, maybe through other social media tools. I see this community morphing into a collaborative group in the future.
I don't consider this fear but mostly a lack of grit on my side. I am intended on overcoming this by catching up with the class and keeping up by taking small steps everyday to complete the activities and attend the live or recorded sessions when I can't attend. The feedback from others once my content is out there is what is going to be a challenge to me since I will not have the chance of meeting my fellow classmates personally, but I plan on following on any feedback received, make an analysis and identify the merits to the suggestions provided.

My presentation at the FDLA Annual Conference 2013

I am again at the office and I have decided to share with you what I learned at this conference. I found great interest on the subject I presented. I was dreading the moment when I was finally going to face my public because to tell you the truth, I though I was going to preach to the room walls. I saw some presentations that had only one person present, that was not a good sign. The attrition rate was high in this conference. A lot of people showed up the first day but by the third day there were only a handful of people around, but the last presentations did have great attendance (even though there were a few around only). I was ecstatic that people were genuinely interested in what I have to say. I received lost of questions and I even received a couple of requests for my information for later contact. If you have the interest of seeing the slides from my presentation, please send me a message through this blog.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Join me at the FDLA Annual Conference in Orlando

FDLA Conference Presentation

Come join me at the FDLA Conference in Orlando from September 11 - 13 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in 4955 Kyngs Heath Road Kissimmee, FL 34746.
I will be presenting on Friday September 13 at 11:00 AM the talk titled "How to build your own online course on a budget". I am attaching the abstract below, see you there!


Many professionals, who are experts in a particular subject, are looking for ways to develop and sell online courses. When exploring options on how to actually design and produce the course, one can find many choices that have a wide range of quality and price. In many cases the course does not justify a large investment in content production (like high definition videos, games, activities that require computer or web programming) or hiring freelancers to produce the material (there is a wide range of prices on instructional designers for hire). There are currently online tools that professionals can use to develop adequate content for online settings. This is just the first part of the process. The final step is selecting a LMS (learning management system) that will host the course. This is needed because in many cases the course has to grant a certificate at the end, the instructor runs the course synchronously, a gradebook is required, assignments need to be delivered, and assessments are offered during the course, and other required activities for the course. Here too, many options can be found out there. One option, which requires an investment of less than $500.00, is using a site run by a CMS (content management system) , which can be converted into a LMS by using available tools that most of time are downloaded for free. In this presentation we will show how to use a WordPress™ site (a CMS) as a LMS by using plugins and other tools available for free or at a low cost.

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