eLearning Technology Blog

Not on an Island

by WSU Online 6. May 2014 14:33

We all know that quasi-existential question about being alone on an island, but if you could have one . . . something . . . what would it be? I had a similar thought while preparing to teach an online course for the Global Campus.

This summer, I will be teaching my first online course:  English 201, Writing and Research. In all my previous courses at the Pullman campus, I utilized Angel as a place to collect most student work. I feel very comfortable using Angel, but I was still somewhat circumspect about what an online course would entail. I had heard, informally, that online courses are “pre-built” and that all one needs to do is show up and teach. Well, Yes and No. In my particular course, the textbook previously used was out-of-print. The new book added a chapter and combined two other chapters, which then changed the page numbers for exercises and assignments.

Here is where the Course Verification process stepped in. The fine production team at WSU Global Campus had already changed the dates to match the Summer of 2014 and had prepared several specific questions for me to work through regarding the revised textbook. As I worked through each section—especially the General Maintenance Tab—I discovered the innumerable tweaks the course needed in order to be updated to coincide with the new textbook. I ended up copying and pasting each lesson into a Word Document so I could make alterations and tracking everything with Track Changes. I also made other changes. The course had a couple of quirks. As a best practice, I prefer to have one place where all dates are kept so as to ensure accuracy. I also needed to delete some activities that the previous instructor used, and I added some of my own. Even though the course was “pre-built,” I still played an integral process to putting the course in its best and most applicable form. When it launches in just a few weeks, I will certainly feel a sense of pride over the materials.

The process went very smoothly and efficiently – to such an extent that I decided to opt for the Virtual Mentor to see me through this summer. And that’s just it. If I was on an island, teaching a course, what would I want? Easy answer. The support team from the Global Campus.

Sometimes, online education is cast as an isolated experience, for students and teachers alike. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, especially when instructors realize that the supposed “island” is really a community of people dedicated to making the course a success for students.

Aaron M Moe, PhD

Instructor, Department of English


Just How Good Do I Need To Be?

by Susan 8. April 2014 15:07

For the past six weeks, I have been participating in a free, open-to-anyone, online course, better known as a MOOC (massive open online course). The title is Digital Literacies I. This course, offered through San Diego State University, is designed for educators to improve their digital literacies.

Personally and professionally, I’ve worked with technology for many years; longer than some of you have been alive! In fact, early in my career, I was the go-to knowledge expert in my organization for technology-related issues. That’s scary to think about, realizing that in a shockingly short period of time, I’ve moved from expert to competent to merely capable. Isn’t that backwards? Doesn’t our normal understanding of learning mean that we know more and improve our skill set and capabilities?

So I started my MOOC with great expectations! I was going to once again become a master using these different tools. Well, that has not been the case. I’ve struggled to complete all the assignments by the due dates while getting all my regular work done. Fortunately, much of the course material is not completely new, so I’m getting helpful tidbits showing ways to more efficiently and effectively use what I already know. I have learned a number of great tips, tricks, and techniques. I’ve also tried a couple of new technologies and found that they were easy to use, and that step-by-step guidance is available for nearly anything (YouTube is a godsend). I also realize that I don’t need to become an expert user. It’s fine to be just capable. The important thing is that I’m taking incremental steps to learn new things and slowly expand my knowledge.

I realize that the sheer pace and volume of technology and digital knowledge makes it virtually impossible to keep up with everything. In my job, I have to learn enough to be competent using a large number of different applications, and what’s really daunting is the realization that “large number” is just a tiny, tiny segment of what is available. So from that perspective, it makes sense that I might experience a reverse trajectory in skills, from expert to competent to capable. Perhaps digital literacy, like other worthwhile endeavors, means focusing on what interests me or what’s needed to get the job done, and letting go of the rest. Mastery may not be required.

Reflecting on the presentations from the recent faculty-led workshops in late February, those instructors were a powerful example of this conclusion. There are many different ways to increase student activity and engagement in the classroom. Each method offers different approaches, benefits, and values. These presenters, however, had each identified a strategy, something they liked and that resonated with them, and they delved into it with enthusiasm, and then applied it in their classrooms. They also admitted that things didn’t always go as planned, so making tweaks, adjustments and improvements are vital to long-term success.

As a participant in that event, the variety and suggestions were tremendously helpful. I was excited to learn about the ways others have used to successfully increase student engagement and involvement. So if you are investigating new teaching techniques that include technology, that’s good. Thinking and learning more about the various options is the right first step. Let your interests be your guide. Do a little research; ask colleagues what they use, read a few articles, consider how an approach or a technology fits with your teaching style and academic discipline. What are the learning outcomes you are committed to accomplishing? Will the selected strategy or technology allow you to deliver on that? But don’t stop there! Pick something new and different and try implementing it in your classroom. Bringing a fresh approach to your teaching will benefit your students and you.

My MOOC assignment for today requires that I use an audio recording software. Last week I added a plug-in to my web browser and then recorded a short screencast video demonstrating its use. Now when I collaborate with the faculty I support, I can explain, first hand, how these technologies function and honestly assure them that they are easy to use and implement. Am I an expert user? No way. Capable? Definitely! Am I having fun knowing just enough to be dangerous? You bet!

Susan Fein, eLearning Consultant
WSU Global Campus

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