Making Students Feel Connected

I read an article today ( Faculty Focus that “some organizations are projecting that by 2020 students will take up to 60 percent of their courses online” (not sure their source). The article goes on to talk about the human experience, etc. and how Drexel University does things like contact the students by phone to welcome them, etc. Unless they go further than that, it looks to me like all the are doing is adding fluff and trying to protect their investment.

A call to welcome me is nice, but what I want from an online course and what I hope to give would be a continual presence. Students sometimes need help and to know their instructor is accessible. We want to be able to virtually raise our hand and know the instructor will call on us. But how can s/he do that with 25 students in perhaps as many as four courses? That’s 100 individuals wanting the instructor’s attention!

One way the instructor can show presence in the classroom is by being on the discussion boards and chime in on the conversations. They also can answer emails quickly during working hours. What about virtual office hours with video conferencing? Would that be a way to balance students with time? If there were scheduled times for students to be able to meet, could students also help each other? Would it make the experience more productive and enjoyable for the instructor and the students? Anyone have any experience in this? It’s new to me.

A WebQuest or a Regular Assignment?

I created a WebQuest as a workshop activity for professional development. And when I finished, I realized that it was very much like an assignment in a class! The WebQuest goes something like this:

  1. The “teacher” gives some background knowledge.
  2. Then we are given something to do, a task in WebQuest language.
  3. Sometimes we are given a procedure on how to accomplish our task.
  4. Then we often directed to some links to read more about the subject and perhaps some additional reading materials to download.

Except for building a website to house the lesson plan, a WebQuest looks pretty much like an assignment!

Given the amount of work that goes into a WebQuest, and the fact that it looks very much like a lesson plan, should a website be added to the assignment or is it just busy work? I admit that I like a finished project to look professional and refined. A website can certainly do that. And I might not have created the website if I short on time. Too much to do and too little time.

Working on the Wiki

Wiki work is collaboration work. So far it looks like most of the work on the class wiki is cooperation rather than collaboration. I think Americans are very sensitive about stepping on each others toes. I know I am. I don’t want to offend anyone. Editing work from someone else may be perceived as walking on someone else’s property. Keep out!

I wonder if trespassing on other people’s property is the mentality of why, in schools, we were basically taught to work on our own papers and 99% of the work we did in school (at least in my case) was individual. Most of us aren’t farmers anymore. And most of us don’t work in the same spot on the assembly line. So in today’s world, doing that much individual work in school is kind of dumb when you think about it. Most of the time when we go to work, we have to learn to work with others. A lot of the work in the “real world”  today is collaborative.


Now this WebQuest is an interesting project. But it can be a little tricky to get it right. I find myself reading over what Dr. Ingram said about webquests.

Here’s what you want to do as you get into writing the WQ itself. Focus on a single task or product that the students will (or at least might) find interesting. This shouldn’t be of the form look up information, then discuss it, then write a blog post, then…. then…. then…. It should be something that that they will design or write or create or analyze or DO something with.

It seems so easy when I read the quote, but actually doing it is a challenge.

My First WebQuest

Sometimes I was a little frustrated with the Instructional Technology M.Ed. tract at Kent. It’s a good program. The professors are excellent. But the material is definitely slanted toward K-12, which is great if you are a K-12 educator. So quite honestly, when I saw the WebQuest assignment and looked at the San Diego site, I shook my head, rolled my eyes and wondered when in higher ed I would EVER use that.

Then it hit me–self paced training, workshops, and the like. Since I want to be an instructional designer in higher ed and one of my responsibilities might be to develop professional development workshops that include technology, I think an awesome WebQuest would be one that explored effective tools for the classroom. The WQ can focus on a single tool, a wiki for instance. A WQ like this could be used by a participant individually at their own pace. Or if it was part of a workshop, different participants could choose different tools and discuss their finding within the group.

If the tool in the WQ was a wiki, the task would be to research a wiki, and to discuss ways the wiki could be used in the educator’s classroom. One of the tasks would also be to sign up for a wiki. Part of the tasks would be to read about wikis and watch videos on how they can be used, etc.

I like it; I hope I can make it work.

More on Blogging

I write my blog for me. I started it shortly after I read Richardson’s book the first time. I write about any research I’ve read and things I have discovered while getting this degree. At this point it is a selfish blog.

But I look forward to the blog being more than that. I look forward to when my blog expands to the social aspect of connecting to others. I love this quote:

Writing stops; blogging continues. Writing is inside; blogging is outside. Writing is monologue; blogging is conversation. Writing is thesis; blogging is synthesis … none of which minimizes the importance of writing.

But really blogging goes so much further. Another quote from Richardson’s book: (he quotes Ken Smith, a writing instructor at Indiana University)

Blogging, at base, is writing down what you think when you read others. If you keep at it, others will eventually write down what they think when they read you, and you’ll enter a new realm of blogging, a new realm of human connection. (Smith, 2004)

That’s the kind of blogging I aspire to, the kind Ken Smith is talking about.

Will Richardson. Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (pp. 30-31). Kindle Edition.

Developing an Instructional Website

There has been much debate as to the mechanics of building an instructional website. Many are choosing Blogger and other are choosing WordPress. And there will be some that will write the code using a text editor or perhaps Dreamweaver. It really doesn’t matter what format is chosen to build the site. It only matters that the content is good, your audience can navigate the site, and that it looks nice.

I do think the site needs to look nice. If not, I think some credibility is lost. How many times have you been to a site that looks like your cousin put it together? Do you trust that site? I don’t. I keep looking. Now it doesn’t need to be slick like a Fortune 500 company. But I do think it needs to be clean and professional. I should be able to navigate the site, be able to know the name of the site, and be able to read it five minutes without an advertisement popping up on the screen. If the developer used more than three colors, I’m out of there. Too much information. And I can tell they don’t know much about design. Sound snobbish? Maybe it is. Maybe it is my background in publishing. But I think that if we are going to teach 21st Century Skills, part of the skill is publishing digitally in a professional manner. And a black background with yellow type is not only hard to read, it is bad design, not to mention it has accessibility issues.

Let’s face it, the kids of today will be working, at least some of the time, virtually. They need to know how to present themselves. Design is showing up in front of a judge in a suit and tie, bad design is shorts and shower shoos. I think we need to show them how to dress.