‘Lacking in Technical Details’ – A Response to Mshin

Mshin, in “Discussion Questions” (9/22/13): I haven’t taught online yet and don’t know yet if I want to. That’s the main reason I joined this MOOC. I knew absolutely nothing about teaching online before and now I feel I know a lot more about the philosophy and the type of student who signs up, but I feel very lacking in technical details: what are my resources? how do I use them? How do I grade? How do I manage the class? I have no idea!!!

Response

Mshin, you’re asking good questions, which means you’re already identifying the critical issues for yourself. As it turns out, these are basic universal issues for anyone teaching or planning to teach online.

Mshin: [If I teach online,] what are my resources and how do I use them?

You’re already publishing in a blog, mshinblog. Consider what that means. By sending its URL (mshinblog.wordpress.com) to colleagues and friends, you can easily share your essays beyond the TOMOOC audience. And this is the cool part: You could easily create another blog for, say, an English 200 class and call it mshin200 with mshin200.wordpress.com as the URL.

The moment you send the URL to your students, you create a teaching platform. You could publish a syllabus, schedule, assignments, activities, resources, etc., and each of these posts would have a unique URL (or permalink). Thus, in an email announcement to the entire class (more on this below), you could ask students to read the syllabus and turn the word syllabus into a hyperlink. Students would open the email, read the announcement, click on syllabus, and be taken directly to your syllabus.

You could insert the syllabus reading exercise into the course schedule in your blog. Students would click on the word syllabus and find themselves on the syllabus page. Apply this hyperlink principle to readings, guidelines, assignment descriptions, and the universe of online resources and you begin to realize the power of a “simple” blog.

For an example of what’s possible with blogs, consider that our TOMOOC hub, How to Teach Online, is a blog. It’s a lot more complex than yours, but that’s only in degrees. You could easily learn how to post photos and videos on your blog, creating multimedia learning resources for your students. You could also learn how to use the sidebar (area on the right of the mainpage) to insert additional info links.

One of the organizers’ strategies is to ask participants to create personal blogs devoted to TOMOOC activities. As a teacher, you could do the same with your students, i.e., ask them to create their own blogs to share their papers, projects, etc. with their classmates and you.

You mention Laulima, the University of Hawaii’s LMS (learning management system), and this means that you have access to its features. The mailtool allows you to quickly send eblasts (email announcements) via UH Mail to an entire class. If you’re teaching multiple sections of the same course, you can easily combine them into one so that you set up only one Laulima learning platform instead of, say, three. This means one eblast goes to students in all three classes; this also means only one blog for all three classes.

The other great feature of Laulima is the discussion forums. Once you get comfortable with it, you’ll learn how to set up interactive discussion forums for different activities that inform, support, or serve the writing process. TOMOOC’s week 3 is devoted to the problem of creating dynamic and educative discussions.

You’re already using UH email, and all your students will have UH accounts. This means you have a uniform, standard, and secure means of communicating with them privately, 24/7. Think of email as your office and hallway chats with individual students.

Mshin: [If I teach online,] how do I grade?

In your blog schedule, you can post assignments. For example, you could ask students to post preliminary drafts of a paper in their course blogs and to log in to their classmates’ blogs to review their drafts and leave comments. (The blog URLs would be shared in a Laulima discussion forum.) You could then ask them to use the peer comments to publish revised drafts that serve as their final drafts. You would then log in to their blogs to read and evaluate their final drafts as well as the preliminary draft and comments. You could then email your comments and scores to each.

You could also require certain levels of participation in Laulima discussions, and simple rubrics could be used to evaluate and grade student performance.

Mshin: [If I teach online,] how do I manage the class?

You could use an Excel spreadsheet to keep records, and email to contact individuals to praise or encourage. The amazing advantage of online classes is the “paper” trail. Everything is archived: all drafts, comments, posts, email, etc. You could mine this data for instructional purposes. For example, when reviewing a student’s current paper, you have instant access to all her/his previous drafts as well as your and her classmates’ comments on those drafts.

More on resources and how to use them:

With a Twitter account devoted to your online classes, you could easily tweet reminders and tips to students. This is also a quick and effective way to share interesting comments from discussions or memorable lines from student papers.

With YouTube, you and your students have access to literally millions of videos, and you can easily share them with one another for various purposes.

Technically, the whole wide world of the web is the classroom for you and your students, 24/7, and it makes even the grandest MOOC look like an ant in comparison.

In time, I think you’ll find that you no longer need a required text for your course, saving students a bundle. It’d be easier and even better to pull together resources from the web to form your own course text, and you could even ask students to contribute useful links to it.

Thus, re feeling “lacking in technical details,” I think you’re actually not lacking at all. You’re already using the basic technology and simply need to figure out how to remix and repurpose what you already know to develop and deliver an online course.

At this juncture in deciding whether or not to take the plunge, perhaps the most important question is “Why?” Why do you want to teach online? The fact that you’re taking this MOOC and participating in a big way (you’ve written a LOT in your blog!) tells me that you have a why, that you think this may be an important step for you.

I don’t know what your reason is, but I’m guessing it’s a gut feeling that online may be a better way to learn or at least it may offer advantages to strictly F2F approaches. I’d suggest taking the plunge in going completely online with a course — rather than going blended. Blended is like slowly entering the ocean. First a toe, then a foot, ankle, etc. but stopping short of diving in and getting completely wet. You’ll never experience the joy of swimming and diving, the graceful feeling of flight, the sense of weightlessness.

No matter what they say, those standing knee- or waist-deep in water are not swimming. Those teaching blended classes will never know or experience the freedom of completely online courses — freedom from the time and space constraints that have kept us chained to brick ‘n’ mortar campuses for hundreds of years.

Okay, swimming and education are like apples and oranges, and the analogy can only go so far. By the same token, comparisons between online and blended, too, are like apples and oranges. They can only go so far. These are different modes of teaching and learning. To argue the merits of one over the other is pointless. Perhaps the only sensible view is to say that they both have their merits, and leave it at that.

Thus, the most important question for online teaching may be: What are the truly authentic strategies for teaching online? And I think this is the question that you, Mshin, are asking.

Mshin: Online Classrooms seems like a lot of juggling plates in the air and having to remember to toggle between all of them. That part kind of blows my mind. Right now I am only juggling between checking my email and doing this blog!

I like this analogy! Blows my mind, too, and I’m guessing that this comparison isn’t completely negative for both of us. Multitasking — good or bad? I think good, despite “research” that seems to show that performance suffers when we try to do more than one thing at once. In my mind, thinking itself is a multitasking phenomenon, remixing and repurposing continually across wide ranges of data and information. Thus, tools that help us to multitask are aids to thinking — not obstacles.

In the context of online education, we’ve taken teaching and learning out of the single-tasking teacher-centric mode into the multitasking student-centric mode. Students can read their email while pausing in a jog at the beach, complete a class reading at Starbuck’s during a lunch break at work, post a draft to their blog while watching a football game, and participate in a class discussion while traveling in China.

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4 Responses to ‘Lacking in Technical Details’ – A Response to Mshin

  1. mshin11 says:

    Wow. I never expected someone to give me such a detailed, thorough, awesome reply! Thank you so much! I definitely think I want to use a wordpress blog at some point and have the students comment to my posts and create their own. Laulima’s discussion forum is a bit daunting right now–wordpress looks easier and nicer, but I hear once you figure it out it is good.

    Again, thanks for all the tips and careful explanation. Your response to me is one example of how you are a master at juggling plates!

    • JimS says:

      Hi Mshin. Setting up Laulima discussions may seem daunting at first, but like most everything, once you do it, you’ll realize how simple it is. A quick overview: (1) Click on the “Discussion and Private Messages” link. (2) Click on the “Manage” link in the menubar at the top. (3) If you don’t want the default forums, click on each and delete them. (4) Click on “Add.” (5) Fill in the “Forum Name” and I’d suggest including a date in the name to indicate a deadline. (6) Select the “Category” — usually “Main.” (7) In the “Description box, add a brief instruction for students. I usually insert “See guidelines in our class blog.” (8) Scroll to the bottom of the window and click “Update.” (9) Click on “Discussion List” in the toolbar at the top to review the newly created forum. (10) To edit a forum setup, return to step #2 above. That’s it. Anyway, if you run into problems, feel free to email me at jamess@hawaii.edu

  2. Art says:

    I was thinking that multitasking is good for me, but once I tried do not multitask for a one week. On third day I became sure that single-tasking makes me at least 2 times more productive. I’m using pomodoro and http://single-tasking.com

  3. JimS says:

    Art, good point. If you try to write an essay and pay your bills at the same time, both tasks will suffer. In this and similar cases, focusing on one first, then the other — single-tasking — is the way to go. In other words, when it’s obvious you can’t do two things simultaneously, you do them sequentially. The point is that the benefits of multitasking are relative. My comments were meant more for the thinking process, where flexibility and fluidity are valuable tools. For example, in writing an essay, you have a main point or thesis in mind but you range about in your memory and desktop for ideas to construct your paper. While composing on your computer screen, you may open a second window on a second monitor to google a source, and finding that, you may open a third window to follow up on a lead from the second window. In quick order you may have six to a dozen windows open and spread out over two monitors. One of the open windows could be a photo editing app, which you’re using to prepare a graphic, which turned up in a search, to insert in your paper. The point is that thinking is not a linear activity. It’s recursive. It doesn’t remain at and move with the blinking cursor from point A to point B. And with technology, it doesn’t stop at the limits of our physical senses. Thinking, at its most productive, has always been multitasking, and technology is extending the reach of our minds in amazing ways. Now, what was I doing before I stopped to respond to your comment . . .

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