Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Online Course Evaluation

The fall semester is coming to a close, which means students will be completing their end-of-the-semester course evaluations. Traditional course evaluations serve to inform instructors after teaching and learning activities are completed. The best instructors can do with such data is to make adjustments for upcoming courses. This process does little to inform instruction as it is happening.

Mechanisms to allow instructors to make adjustments to instruction in a timely manner are one way to gather feedback to improve teaching effectiveness and to ensure that students are being served in the course. However, next semester, you may want to consider accessing this feedback early in the course which allows instructors to make adjustments to benefit current students while they are in the course.

If instructors consider this type of assessment strategy, some authors suggest teaching three to four weeks will provide the students with a good representation of the teaching, the assessment, and the expectations. This typically results in more substantive comments.

  1. Remind students that this is only to improve teaching and make adjustments to improve learning.
  2. Express the need for candid and constructive comments.
  3. Encourage students to write comments.
  4. Let students know you will discuss the main points of the feedback with the class.
  5. Organize responses into categories such as strengths, weaknesses, plans for modification, etc.
  6. Create an action plan to address the most critical items.
  7. Discussing the feedback with the class is an important way to establish trust and credibility.
  8. Thank students for responding.
  9. Limit the discussion to 3-4 main points that you can control.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Being Present: Communicating and Connecting with Your Students Online

Guest Blogger:  Heidi Ashbaugh, MA, MLS, LMT, Online Program Director, Department of Health Studies, Texas Woman's University

We can all probably remember those days in grade school, junior high, and high school when the teacher took roll. She would call out our name and we would answer “Here!”, and then slouch back down in our seat and start daydreaming, confident that we had fulfilled our task of being counted present in the classroom. Well, now many of us are the teachers and if we are teaching in the online classroom we don’t even have the benefit of showing our student’s a body in a seat to try to convince them that we are “present”! So, how do we communicate our presence in the online classroom?

Studies show that one of the main needs expressed by online students is instructor responsiveness and presence in the classroom, and that effective instructor presence can positively affect student satisfaction, engagement, and retention in online classes (please see the literature review by Credence Baker referenced below for more information). Students want us to respond to them and talk to them, and it’s even more important that we find ways to do so since they don’t have our physical presence to look to. However, it can seem daunting when trying to determine what being present “looks” like in the online environment.

An excellent book on this subject is Creating a Sense of Presence in Online Teaching: How to “Be There” for Distance Learners by Rosemary M. Lehman and Simone C.O. Conceição (http://www.amazon.com/Creating-Sense-Presence-Online-Teaching/dp/0470564903/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1322672440&sr=1-1-fkmr0). I like this book because it breaks down different times of the course in which instructors can be present - the beginning, during the course, and end – and then provides ideas of activities and interactions that can be used. Here are just a few examples from their book that can be put into place quickly in any course, and which require minimal technological effort.

Before the course instructors can create a welcome letter that lets students know more about the course and the person who will be teaching. In addition, a scavenger hunt is also a great way to break the ice in the course and help students become accustomed to the online course environment. I have used this technique with great success in my courses and have found that it helps students investigate the more important aspects of the policies and procedures of the course, which gets everyone off to a good start. Another excellent beginning of the course activity is introductions. These can be formal, but there are ways to make this a fun, ice breaking activity, as well. I have heard examples of instructors who had their pets “introduce” them to the class. Or, if you want something a little less wild, you can always just have students answer an interesting question. I have had them provide me with the usual information (name, major, hobbies, etc.) and then had them provide an answer to “Why did the chicken cross the road?” I was amazed at how creative some of the responses were, and it added a nice element of fun to start off the class.

Once the class is in session, there are several tools that you can utilize to help keep students aware of your presence in the course. Announcements are easy ways interject your voice throughout the semester. Some announcements can be created at the beginning of the course and then set to deploy throughout the course at specified times. For example, I like to post announcements for students at the beginning of a module reminding them of the important due dates. I also include a word of encouragement. This is something that can easily be constructed ahead of time. Also, you can add announcements that come up around midterm and close to finals that help encourage students. If you then sprinkle in a few announcements throughout the rest o the semester addressing projects or assignments that were especially well done by the class overall, or providing important information to help clarify ideas and/or keep students on track, you will have a pretty good amount of communication going on using this tool. Feedback on assignments is another area that can be addressed during the class, and students respond well to the simple act of being addressed by name in your response to them. This let’s them know that you distinguish them as an individual, which is important in any classroom environment.

Once the course is over, I like to create a final announcement for my students that wraps the class up, but also lets them know that I appreciate their hard work over the semester. I also offer them a chance to provide me with feedback regarding their experience in the course, which is usually different than the evaluation that the university uses. I want to allow them the opportunity to have a voice, which is another way of acknowledging them as individuals with different needs, likes, and dislikes.

These are just a few of the ideas out there for creating instructor presence in the online class. And, while they may appear simplistic – no fancy tools here! – using this type of multiple approaches at the appropriate times during the course, and on a consistent basis, can provide a good sense of presence and help you connect with your students in the online world.

Additional Resources:

“The Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation” by Credence Baker - http://www.thejeo.com/Archives/Volume7Number1/BakerPaper.pdf

“Instructor Presence – The Key to Success” – University of West Florida Academic Technology Center - http://uwf.edu/atc/Guide/Teaching/InstructorPresence/index.cfm

“Eight Ways to Increase Social Presence in Your Online Classes” by Hong Wang - http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/eight-ways-to-increase-social-presence-in-your-online-classes/

“Increasing Instructor Presence in an Online Course” by Jeff Borden - http://www.ecollege.com/Newsletter/EducatorsVoice/EducatorsVoice-Vol10Iss4.learn

Community of Inquiry - http://communitiesofinquiry.com/welcome

Monday, November 28, 2011

Online Tutoring

Two online tutoring services are available to both undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in distance education programs at Texas Woman's University (TWU).

  • The Online Writing Lab (OWL), which is sponsored by TWU's Department of English, Speech, and Foreign Language, and,
  • SmartThinking, a service purchased by the Office of Distance Education.

It is good to know that online students can improve their writing skills with these services.  Don't forget to encourage students to use one of them before submitting their writing essays or projects.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Teaching with TurnItIn

Guest Blogger:  Jessica Gullion, PhD, Assistant Visiting Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Work, Texas Woman's University

Most Friday mornings you can find me over at Jupiter House grading memos. My memo assignment has become notorious among my graduate students. They are required to synthesize their weekly readings into a one-page synopsis to be used in class to guide discussion. While many of my undergrads would be thrilled to only write one page, the graduate students have to cover a significant amount of material in that space, and they often struggle with brevity.

One particular morning I sat sipping my chai, a pile of papers on the table in front of me. I picked up one of the memos and started to read. The first paragraph was fantastic. Well written, concise. I knew this would be an easy memo to grade.

The second paragraph was also well written. And it sounded awfully familiar. I recognized each of the sentences. Because I had written them. The entire paragraph was copied verbatim from a paper I’d published a couple of years ago. At the end of the paragraph, I saw my last name in a citation, but there were no quote marks anywhere in the paragraph.

Nor in the paper at all. The third paragraph read the same way. Not ripped off from my work, but from one of the assigned readings. The student included a citation at the end of this paragraph as well, but no notation that the paragraph in full was a direct quote.

The next week, I called the student into my office.

“We have to talk about plagiarism,” I said.

The student looked confused and didn’t say anything.

“When grading your paper, I discovered that you copied entire paragraphs from articles you were assigned to read. You also copied a paragraph from one of my articles.”

The student smiled. “Yeah, I thought it was cool that I found your article.”

Now I was confused. “But you plagiarized it.”

“No I didn’t! I cited everything!” Tears welled in the student’s eyes.

And then we had a lesson on plagiarism.

TWU has policies on how to handle academic dishonesty. I could have given the student a zero on the assignment. I could have reported the student to Student Life. The trouble is, I do not believe this student meant to do anything wrong. In fact, this student thought I would be flattered by the use of my own work.

After that incident, I started using a program through Blackboard called Turnitin to check papers for plagiarism. I’m not on a witch hunt. I use it to help students understand what constitutes plagiarism.

Turnitin generates an Originality Report that both the student and faculty member can view. This report identifies any string of words known by the system to be nonoriginal work. Algorithms are built into the system to account for very short strings and to discount words in quotations. Student work is compared both to internet sites and to work previously submitted to the system. As more instructors use the system, more papers are added to its reference bank. The Originality Report highlights nonoriginal strings and includes a link to the original source. It also generates a percentage of the paper that is not original. I have seen this percentage range from zero to ninety percent (ok, 90% student got an F).

Due to the ease of information collection over the internet, students can cut and paste work together from all sorts of sources. Some cheat knowingly; but some cheat and don’t realize what they are doing is wrong. For them, Turnitin is a good teaching tool.

Turnitin is not foolproof. But it can be used to help students – particularly those who have grown up in a data-rich environment – to understand intellectual property and the proper use of citations and sources.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

QM Implementation Plan for Online Programs

As we come to the end of this month-long series, Allison Peterson, Instructional Designer III, closes with a discussion on TWU's Quality Matters Implementation Plan.

Programs which have made a commitment to implement the Quality Matters Rubric across the online/hybrid curriculum over an extended period of time, are eligible to apply for Quality Matters Recognition of an implementation plan.

In order to qualify, the program must submit for approval by the Quality Matters Academic Advisory Council, a multi-year written plan for QM implementation. There is no cost to the subscriber for submitting a plan.  The plan:

  • Should be a reflection of the specific goals and objectives of the program.
  • Must be approved by a senior academic officer of the institution: Dean, Provost or President.
  • Should include formal QM course reviews.
  • May include informal reviews, faculty self-assessments, faculty development workshops, other QM training, and other components that are unique to the program.
  • Must establish benchmarks over a three-year period
  • Must include the specific language the program will use to publicize Quality Matters Recognition.
  • Requires a brief written report to the QMAAC each year.
 The new program-level designation will include permission to display an approved QM seal and an accompanying statement on Internet and print materials.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2011-2013 Quality Matter's Rubric Update

In this month-long blogger series, Allison Peterson, Instructional Designer III, continues to cover TWU's Quality Matters program process.

Last week I introduced Quality Matters (QM) to those who may not have heard about it, or have heard, but did not really know what it is. This week, I want to reach out to those of you who are already QM savvy. In August of this year, QM released the 2011-2013 Edition of their Higher Education Rubric. While the general standards remain largely unchanged, the importance of some of the specific standards has changed along with some of the wording, language and annotations. Some of the most significant changes include moving from 17 to 21 essential 3 point standards, having 41 specific standard totally 95 points and needing a minimum of 81 points to meet expectations.

The best way to learn about the changes to the rubric is to sign up for a free Rubric Update session offered by QM. The online workshop is completely self-paced and asynchronous. QM advises that completing the workshop will take about 1 hour. If you are a QM Peer Reviewer, you are required to complete the update by December 31, in order to remain eligible to act as a Peer Reviewer. To register for the update, go to MyQM http://www.qmprogram.org/myQM/ and login. If you have participated in TWU’s Applying the QM Rubric Workshop, were part of the initial QM Pilot Project, or have had a course officially reviewed, you will have a MyQM account. Your username will be your TWU email address, you@twu.edu, your password is assigned by QM. If you do not know or remember your MyQM password, use the Find MyQM Password link on the left-hand side of the login page.

Happy Updating!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Quality Matters at TWU

Guest Blogger: Allison Peterson, MLS, Instructional Designer III - Denton Campus

So, you might be saying to yourself, “of course quality matters at TWU!” Texas Woman’s University has a long history of providing a quality education for its students. It is because of this tradition that the Office of Distance Education sought out a nationally recognized program to showcase and improve the quality of online and blended course design. At its heart, Quality Matters (QM), is a faculty-centered, peer review process designed to certify the quality of these courses.

QM began life as a FIPSE grant. You may read more about its origins at the QM website; http://www.qmprogram.org/ . Today, QM is a self-supporting organization, run on a subscriptions and fee-for-service model. TWU has been a subscribing member since March 2007. Through our subscription, we get access to QM materials and discounts on QM trainings and course reviews. To date, we have had 12 courses nationally recognized for meeting expectations of the QM rubric and process. You may find a list of these courses both on the QM website and our own TWU QM webpage; http://www.twu.edu/de/quality-matters.

Quality Matters is a voluntary program at TWU. All of the Distance Education Instructional Design team has been trained in the use of the QM rubric and regularly uses it as a basis for conversations on good online/blended course design. We like QM because it is centered on course design, not delivery. It is all about making your course easier for students to navigate and succeed in the tasks you set for them.

The first step to learning more about Quality Matters at TWU, is participating in the Applying the QM Rubric (APP) workshop. The APP is a two-week workshop, currently offered asynchronously online. It introduces participants to the Quality Matters program, process and rubric. Watch your email for registration information about upcoming workshops!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Using Early Warning System to Reduce Attrition in Online Learners

 One of the most important tools faculty can use to reduce attrition rate in non-traditional students enrolled in online courses is Blackboard's integrated tool - Early Warning System.  When set up properly, this tool alerts the instructor to students who are at-risk of failing their online course.

Here is how it works.  The instructor sets the criteria and can communicate the particular warning to the student(s).  In addition, the instructor has control over the message each time a warning is created, and also has the choice to use the default message or to modify it to more accurately communicate the seriousness of the situation.  By keeping track of online students' at-risk academic behavior, faculty can plan successful interventions that will scale down attrition rates and improve retention. 

It is still early in the semester and you have time to explore the use of this tool further.  If you are interested, go to http://twuid.pbworks.com/w/page/22561339/Early%20Warning%20System%20Bb9 for a handy help sheet on setting up an Early Warning System in your course or you may contact the Instructional Design Specialist that is assigned to your College, School or Department for additional assistance. 

Also, feel free to leave comments of your success of challenges in using this tool.  We would love to hear and learn from you!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Five Communication Tips Using Blackboard's Announcement Page

Announcements can be used in a variety of ways to push important information to students in a single course and is one way for you to communicate to everyone in the course. In online and blended courses, they are the equivalent of standing at the podium and giving general information to the class.
Announcements are an important communication tool because they allow you to “write once so many can read.” This allows you to provide general information from a single location with the assurance that all students are receiving the information.
The Online Instructor Tips for Using Announcements in Online/Blended Courses:
1.      Use Announcements primarily for time-sensitive information (emergencies) and to talk to the entire class (general information).
2.      Develop a routine to post general information Announcements.
3.      Query your class about options such as pushing Announcement via email. This is a good feature for certain students and an annoyance for others.
4.      Learn how to “pin” an Announcement to the top of the Announcements page to control the order in which Announcements appear to students.
5.      Don’t use Announcements as your only communication tool in a course. 
We are constantly trying to think of new, innovative ways to communicate to online students, and would love to hear your comments, ideas, and what you are doing in your course.  Please add your comments below and thank you for reading.

Student Health Services Open House

Wednesday, September 14, 2011
11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Student Health Services (Located next to the DPS in Hubbard Hall)

  • Tour Student Health Services and learn about their services

  • Receive Door Prizes

  • Munch on Healthy Snacks

Contact Student Health Services at 940.898.3826 for more information.

Monday, August 29, 2011

5th Annual OES was a Success!

Guest Blogger: Cynthia Johnson, MS, BS, CHES, Instructional Designer III - Dallas Campus

Now that TWU's Distance Education's 5th Annual Online Educator Symposium is over, I can honestly say I am rejuvenated and have found a "second wind" to tackle Fall 2011 semester!  So, you ask, what made this one so special?  Being on the Denton campus with one of the most diverse groups of online professionals - ranging from graduate teaching assistants, staff members, adjunct instructors, professors, higher education administrators, including Provost, Dr. Robert Neely and Vice-Provost of the Graduate School, Dr. Jennifer Martin - created synergy that promoted discussion and learning opportunities for the experienced and inexperienced online educator!  The engaging workshops and poster presentations offered on course design, instructional technology, and teaching and learning provided strategies and techniques empowered both new and tenured faculty. 

But the most rewarding aspect for me was conversing with workshop presenters and the audiences on their views on online learning.  Participants became transparent about their personal successes and failures of teaching online and left the sessions with learned lessons and solutions.  It was an honor to be in the midst of like-minded distance education professionals who teach and prepare TWU's "Next-Generation"online college students for the real world.  I look forward to next year's symposium!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why In The World Should You Use Campus Pack?

This past summer semester, TWU upgraded Learning Objects’ Campus Pack in Blackboard 9.1.  According to Campus Pack, several improvements have been made, such as:

·        Mobile accessibility
·        Social networking for everyone
o   Connecting/ Friending
o   Internal messaging
·        Template enhancements
o   Ability to create personal templates
o   Easier to create and share templates
o   Maintain templates within the Personal Learning Space
o   Ability to develop hard coded templates
o   Using the Learning Objects Community, upload and access templates from other institutions, and others!

So you ask “Why in the world do I need to use Campus Pack in my online course”?  Well, their social media tools, including wikis, blogs, journals, blogs and podcasts, empower online instructors to build and implement assignments and activities that encourage collaborative work.  But what I like most is students are able to develop collaboration and peer evaluation abilities to prepare them for the workplace.  For additional instructions on Campus Pack tools and general Blackboard documentation, click on the following link: Blackboard 9.1 Documentation. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

5th Annual Online Educator Symposium  
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Join us at Denton Campus


  Presentation Tracks 

  • Research in Online Education - Planned or ongoing research on topics related to online education
  • Teaching and Learning - Successful online teaching techniques and/or activities
  • Creative Uses of Technology - Successful uses of technology tools
  • Student Success - Ideas related to services or projects that lead to increased success for students
  • Faculty Showcase - TWU Faculty Award for Distinction in Teaching, TWU Faculty Award for Distinction in Distance Education, and Non-TWU recognition related to Teaching and Online Course Design  
Register Today! – Registration Deadline: Tuesday, August 23; 5 p.m.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Pencil and Paper Prototyping: Time To Lay Out Your Course

Just when you are beginning to wrap up the summer semester, you realize that there is less than a month left to design your online course for the upcoming semester. Online student enrollment is growing, but you quietly cringe at the thought of all the time it is going to take you to have the course(s) ready by the first day of class!

One of the things you might find useful as you think about designing a course is to put it to paper. By that, sketch out major sections of the course to give yourself a sense of how the course will look to students. You already know the menu will be on the left side of the screen. Sketch out a rectangle and write in your menu items. Take another sheet of paper and plan out your module structure. Since most modules are a series of folders and items, sketch in small rectangles and label accordingly.

It is much easier to make revisions on your paper than within the Course Management System. Don’t worry about your artistic ability at all. This is just a quick planning guide that will help you visualize the flow of the menu and the modules.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Texas Blackboard Users Group (T-BUG) 2011 Conference

I am thrilled to announce the upcoming T-BUG 2011 Conference, hosted by University of Texas at Dallas to be held November 10-11, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency North Dallas in Dallas, Texas.  Although this year's conference theme "Transforming Education with Blackboard: From Caterpillars to Butterflies" will focus on the use of emerging technologies, several members of our instructional design specialist team will present on creative instructional design techniques and innovative experiential learning projects. 

However, this conference is not just for distance education staff.  We would love to see other TWU faculty members submit proposals and/or attend the conference this year, as well.  It is not too late!  Registration is still open!  For additional information, visit their website at http://www.t-bug.org/.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Two Views of Teaching

by Keith Restine

There are two very different ways to prepare for teaching. One approach looks almost entirely at the actions and behaviors of the instructors. This approach, often referred to as the "transmission model," views instruction as something that is provided to students. Many authors characterize this view of teaching as an attempt to cover as much content as possible; a generalized view of this would be reviewing material at a breakneck speed, interspersed with examinations to determine how well students can retain and restate content.

However, another approach suggested by Ken Bain is that highly effective teachers "thought of teaching as anything they might do to help and encourage students to learn ... by engineering an environment in which they learn." Highly effective teachers also found teaching to be "an important and serious intellectual (or artistic) act" contextualized by "what they want students to do intellectually rather than about what they should learn."

Bain considers four questions in characterizing this rich and complex approach to students:
  1. What should my students be able to do intellectually, physically, and emotionally as a result of their learning?
  2. How can I best help and encourage them to develop those abilities and the habits of the heart and mind to use them?
  3. How can my students and I best understand the nature, quality, and progress of their learning?
  4. How can I evaluate my efforts to foster that learning?
It is also important to reflect on your efforts to impact student learning. How will you know if you are hitting the mark? How will you determine your grade as the instructor? Dee Fink discusses what students will remember about your course one or two years later, and Bain also lists four important considerations when reviewing your teaching:
  1. Is the material worth learning?
  2. Are my students learning what the course is supposedly teaching?
  3. Am I helping and encouraging my students to learn?
  4. Have I harmed my students?
These are important questions to consider as you begin working on a new or existing course. Define, in your own terms, not just what you want students to know, but what students should be able to do and think about at the end of your course. Course objectives and goals copied from a textbook or a publisher's companion website do little to change student learning. These goals and objectives are well-stated and well-intentioned efforts to help, but they lack your insight, experience, and passion about your discipline. Write your own goals and objectives in straightforward language that tells your students what you hold important. Clearly describe what success and learning will look like, both for the final products and for the process.

Use these goals to inform your development of activities and assessments. Consider how the products you want students to develop will help them learn the skills and knowledge you want them to possess at the end of your course. Think carefully about the types and the frequency of feedback you will provide to students to help them understand how they are progressing, and what important, specific skills they still need to master in individual activities.

After you have purposefully designed your personalized course goals and objectives on paper, you will then be ready to consider how you will manage tools in Blackboard or other technologies, as well as additional resources on campus, to reach those goals and objectives.

  • Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Fink, D. (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Intengrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.