Saturday, January 31, 2015

Interaction Entre Nous... NOT Machines

This blog post is prompted by a back-and-forth I had via email with a really nice person in my campus IT who wrote to ask me what I thought about a particular elearning authoring vendor. I wrote back to say that I didn't think much about the vendor (Versal) one way or another because authoring content was not something that interests me. Instead, I am much more interested in my STUDENTS as authors and designing classes in which the goal is to enable and encourage the students to be creating new, original content as part of the class. As a result, I think my time is better spent helping the students to create content, as opposed to creating content myself.

And here's what prompted this blog post: the very nice IT guy wrote back and said, "I think your focus on the student is correct although I've had at least a few faculty approach me with an interest in making their lessons more interactive."

ALARM BELLS RING: Interactive... do we all agree on what that word means? Clearly not.

To me, interactive means human beings interacting with each other. Inter-action. You do something, I do something that is somehow connected to your action: we are inter-acting. It is something that humans do together, and it requires humans to do that. Or, okay, cats. My cats are definitely interactive; they interact with me, they interact with each other (not nicely, alas).

But I do not believe that computers can interact with humans. We can use computers for all kinds of purposes, and one purpose of a computer can be to facilitate interactions with other human beings . . . like right now: I write something in a blog, and if you are prompted to comment here, and I comment back, glory hallelujah: we will have interacted, even if we have never met face to face.

But I am not prepared to use the term "interaction" for a computer's action in response to something that I have done. There is NO ONE THERE to interact with. If you say a computer is interactive because it makes a happy bleep when I answer a quiz question correctly would be like saying that Rice Krispies cereal is interactive because it goes "snap, crackle, pop" when I pour milk on it. Or like saying that the door to my house is interactive because it opens when I turn the key. And so on, ad infinitum ... and ad absurdum.

So, yes, it is essential that learning be interactive: we need human feedback of all kinds to keep our learning process moving forward. Making my online classes highly interactive is a primary goal for me. Just today, I wrote up notes on an important new strategy I am trying to improve the student-to-student interactions in my classes: New "Comment Training" Strategy.

But that does not mean I need an elearning vendor to sell me some product to create so-called "interactive" quizzes, etc. (scare quotes intended). Instead, I am interested in products that facilitate person-to-person communication online. Right now, for my classes that means mostly blogs and Twitter, along with that vintage standby: email. (I far prefer blogs and Twitter.)

So, what say ye, people? Has the word interactive become so empty of meaning that online quizzes now qualify as an "interactive" component of a class? Was the word "dynamic" not good enough? If so, heaven help us. It means I will have to find a new word to use for what I consider real interaction, if that word has indeed been kidnapped and emptied of meaning by the elearning vendors.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

January 25: OpenTeachingOU News Update

Okay, it is always a colossal effort to get a new class up and running every semester. I keep making changes to the course materials (the students keep giving me so many good ideas to try!), and then there's the real effort: connecting with and getting to know all the new students, helping them to get online and start blogging, etc. I'm amazed and happy at what we have accomplished in the past two weeks, and I think the students are also very pleased — as usual, for almost all the students, it is the first time they have had a blog, and that really can be exciting... I still get excited when I make a new blog after all those years!

All that work, though, really wrecks the rest of my online life: reading, writing, keeping track of things. Luckily, though, I put a new content development plan in place that has kept me more-or-less on track, so I am REALLY happy about that. Even in the midst of all this work, I've made huge progress on the Indian Epics UnTextbook, and I've kept on publishing stories at Ocean of Stories (I finally got started on the jataka part of that project just yesterday), and I've managed to carry on with the Bestiaria Latina faithfully. At Twitter, I'm being really diligent about keeping up with following OU people (but I have not really kept up with anything else), and I've done a good job with the class Twitter stream too. In the blogosphere, I am hopelessly behind, and I have barely been keeping up even with what people are sharing at Google+. Luckily, though, both Twitter and Google+ are very forgiving and starting this week I should be able to get back into the swing of things!

What may save me, though, is this use of the #OpenTeachingOU hashtag. I'm not able to write up a news round-up today (I'm too far behind!), but I can do an #OpenTeachingOU round-up... which is better than nothing ha ha. Meanwhile, you can watch the #OpenTeachingOU feed over here on its own page, thanks to the power of the Inoreader omnifeed: Laura Gibbs - #OpenTeachingOU.

So, in order to write this OpenTeachingOU round-up, all I have to do is scroll through that HTML clippings feed, grab the best items, and add a little context. Even in the midst of chaos, that is something I can manage to do, and I think I've had #OpenTeachingOU stuff every day. I really didn't intend the use of this hashtag for my own housekeeping, but it has sure proved very useful for that. And, thanks to Cody Taylor this weekend, I am hoping that maybe ... maybe ... other OU folks will start using it as well!

Meanwhile, the notes below go back to my very first use of the hashtag. Maybe I'll be able to do bigger/better news round-ups as the semester settles down, but if I can manage to do this in the midst of chaos thanks to the hashtag, that's good enough for now. :-)

OU News:

Thank you, Cody! I was so excited that Cody Taylor used the #OpenTeachingOU hashtag for a post, and very appropriately since it was re: the very generous way in which Katherine Pandora and the DH crew are putting course materials online! (see next item)

Katherine Pandora Digital Humanities Intro. At Twitter, I learned about Katherine Pandora's DH class. Very exciting: course materials, group blogs, student blogs... such a fantastic use of!

PR Pubs Goes Online! Another other great experiment I learned about via Twitter is Adam Croom's PR Pubs course. You can read details here in his blog.

David Vishanoff. And via Twitter I learned about David Vishanoff blogging and teaching in the open: yes!!!

OUTechExpo. This is a link to the Twitter stream for OUTechExpo... not much Twitter, but something is better than nothing. Will the Jim Groom magic last? Will it have pulled some people into the world of open? It was Jim's visit to campus that prompted me to start using #OpenTeachingOU...!

Beyond OU:

Dealing with the Blog Flow. Fantastic post from Alan Levine about blog flow management. So fascinating to hear how other people work with this! A note about my blog workflow here and here.

How Interactive is Your Online Course? Self-Assess with this Rubric. Very helpful post from Debbie Morrison.

A shift in education: Teachers who create content, not consume. I learned about this great blog post (interview with Stephen O'Connor) via Twitter.

New Feature at Wikimedia. Helping to raise people's awareness of image sources, licenses, and citations.

21st Century Skills and Attributes
. A nifty self-assessment from Jackie Gerstein.

9 Barriers to Personalized Learning And How We May Work Around Them. Very powerful and useful post from Pernille Ripp.

Modern Learning Routines. Great graphic from Silvia Tolisano via Twitter:

Teaching and Scholarship. I loved this quote from Jesse Stommel at Twitter: The scholarship OF teaching should not be limited to scholarship ABOUT teaching. Teaching is itself scholarly and a product of research.

Teach While You're At It. And on that subject, Stephen Landry has a very nice piece about teaching and research in the Chronicle.

My Blog Posts:

Indian Epics UnTextbook: Table of Contents Emerging. I am going to try to do a better job of documenting the UnTextbook this time around, esp. since I learned a lot from my mistakes with Myth-Folklore UnTextbook last time! :-)

Hashtags for curation: Saved by #OpenTeachingOU. More about this hashtag thing is working for me.

Martin Luther King Day Edition. I spent most of the day on Sunday learning more about Martin Luther King in honor of Martin Luther King Day on Monday... and making quote posters — and I ended up with about 50 of them! My favorite quote: We must always maintain a kind of divine discontent. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ten Reasons for Week Zero (a.k.a. Soft Start). Wow, Week Zero seems like forever ago! But here is a blog post about how important it is.

My Google+ Quasi-Blog:

Siren Song of the Deadline. Thoughts on student autonomy, and lack thereof. The ringing of the bell: Pavlov warned us about that, didn't he???!

Indian Epics Overview. I am super-happy with the changes I made to this Overview activity in Indian Epics; results so much better than last semester!

Writing Assessment: Spring 2015. The ritual update from yours truly about how the proofreading assessment went this semester. Very consistent with past semesters and, as always, I am glad to have engaged with the students re: this dimension of the class already in Week 1.

Peer Comments. I'm trying out a new series of assignments to help students develop better commenting skills. So far, so good with the first assignment!

Reading Diaries: Happy Update. I'm really pleased with tweaks to reading diary instructions. Overall, diaries definitely better this time already starting in the first week of reading: more reflection, less plot summary.

UnTextbook Reporting. And the Google Form with student feedback on the UnTextbook is filling up... with the new extra reading option, I should get feedback on a lot more units this semester!

Why I Love My Job. Just one of many great moments thanks to student blog posts... and also here and here.

Helping Students with Blog Post Images. Yes, it is worth getting into the nitty-gritty of details like this students, esp. when they run into problems with broken images as a result of remote linking.

Inoreader Update. I am SO PLEASED with the way Inoreader now updates items. That is a huge help with my students, esp. as they are revising blogs early in the semester in process of learning ins-and-outs of blogging.

Pinterest Experiment. Update on Pinterest experiment: going great!

Reading a Powerpoint Aloud. Extended and very lively discussion erupted at G+ from Stacy Zemke's share of this meme!

Notes from the Twitterverse:

Tweets about Pinterest experimenthereherehere, etc.

Tweets about D2L Twitter widget integration: here, here, here, etc.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hashtags for curation: Saved by #OpenTeachingOU

Well, it is time to pause and say: WOW!!!!!!!!! The semester has gotten off to a fantastic start for me. I am seriously overenrolled in my classes (usually about 10% of people who are enrolled drop, and I plan on that... but, yikes, that has not happened this semester, so I am still at over 90 students right now)... but thanks to Inoreader and other improvements in my work flow, I think I should be able to cope. And it is going to be so exciting having all these people blogging, writing stories, sharing ideas. So many great students as always.

But........ BUSY. That overenrollment is definitely going to eat into the time I might normally have available for blogging and stuff.

Which is why I am so glad that I started using the #OpenTeachingOU hashtag.

In honor of Jim Groom and the Academic Tech Expo we had here earlier this month, I started using an #OpenTeachingOU hashtag at Twitter, at Google+, and also at my blogs, hoping that might be a way for those of us who are into open teaching to connect up with one another. That has not happened yet (although there was a seriously awesome post from Adam Croom in that spirit!) ... but even just using the hashtag for MY OWN CURATION has proved really useful. I haven't had any time to do any posting at this blog for the past week or so, but the #OpenTeachingOU hashtag does provide a glimpse into what I am thinking about and how things are going this semester so far!

I've created an #OpenTeachingOU OmniFeed page which shows all my posts with the tag (Google+, Twitter, blogs... and Pinterest too... although I don't think I've pinned anything for open teaching yet), and you can also see a standard Twitter hashtag widget in the sidebar of this blog. Isn't that cool? I love the way I can create these "omnifeeds" with Inoreader thanks to their Google+ and Twitter integration!

So, for those of you who are not interested in my Latin LOLCats and stories from India and random blah-blah-blah-whatever that shows up in my feed, the #OpenTeachingOU Omnifeed is for you, ha ha. It is a glimpse into my teaching eurekas... and a promise of blog posts to come.

Hashtags: they are powerful!

And I saw this infographic about history of hashtags thanks to Ian O'Byrne over at Google+ today. To be honest, hashtags kind of suck at Google+ (even if I am one of Google+'s biggest fans)... but I do use #OpenTeachingOU there too, in hopes that Google+ hashtag culture might improve.

And someday........ someday.......... I will get up on all the posts I am behind at this blog, ha ha.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ten Reasons for Week Zero (a.k.a. Soft Start)

So I just had such a nice week!!! It was "Week Zero" of the semester; in other words, classes start officially on Monday (Jan. 12), but I opened up my classes a week early (on Jan. 5) so that people who wanted to get a head start could do so. This is something I have always done from teaching online, from the very first semester back in 2002. I recently posted here a list of Ten Reasons for Orientation Week, so I thought it would be good to do a list of Ten Reasons for Week Zero (a.k.a. Soft Start).

1. Helping students get ahead. Working ahead is one of the best strategies for any class, and that is especially true for online classes. It is consistently the top advice that students recommend to future students, as you can see here: Peer Advice - Time Management. Having the classes open in Week Zero is all about getting ahead!

2. Taking advantage of slack time. Once students' other classes start, I am competing for their attention. Because I teach Gen. Ed., my class is understandably not a high priority for many students; classes for their majors must come first. So, if I really do want these students to get ahead (see reason #1), then taking advantage of the slack time before the official start of the semester is really important!

3. Making sure students know what they are getting into. Not all classes are a good fit for all students. My classes, for example, are writing-intensive, which is not something students expect from a Gen. Ed. class. By opening up the class early and encouraging students to give it a try or at least to see the course materials/assignments, they can see what they think. If they decide to drop, they will obviously have a better chance of finding another class to add instead if they are looking in Week Zero as opposed to looking for an open class in Week One or, worst of all, in Week Two, when you can only add with instructor permission.

4. Checking to see if the courses really are ready. I am so grateful to the students who alert me to broken links, instructions that are not clear, etc. The more I tinker with the courses (and over this winter break, I tinkered way more than I usually do over winter break — there were just so many good ideas from students last semester that I wanted to try out!), the more likely that there will be typos, broken links, etc., that I need to fix. I really depend on the pioneer students during Week Zero to help me find the things I need to fix!

5. Refining Inoreader folders, rules, and labels. By having incoming blog posts from the students, I am able to make sure my Inoreader folders, rules, and labels are going to do what I need them to do. Last semester, I found Inoreader too late to do a really efficient job with the rules, but I learned a lot from my mistakes in order to set things up more efficiently this time. Of course, I thought I had it all figured out... but when actual student blog posts started coming in this week, I realized lots of little tweaks that would help make my folders, rules, and labels work even better. I need actual student blog posts in order to match the workflow to reality!

6. Bringing the class blogosphere to life. Not only do the live blogs help me in configuring Inoreader, it is also a big boost for the students who who will be starting the class next week: they can see the posts that students wrote in Week Zero, and seeing actual examples of the assignments is just as important as the instructions I provide. Indeed, for some students, it's even more important because they might just skim the instructions, getting their real sense of how to do the assignment by looking at the work of others. Thanks to Inoreader's rules and feeds, I can automatically share those assignments; here, for example, is the first blog post assignment: Favorite Place(s). I love the way it updates 24/7 automatically as the blog posts come in!

7. Getting to know the students. I love the way I have time to read and respond to all, or almost all, of the blog posts during Week Zero. That is less true in Week One, and then in following weeks, it's the students replying to each other mostly, with the blogs being more "their" space in the class while I focus on their projects. During the soft start, though, I have a chance to really get to know the students who start early, reading all their work, getting a sense of who they are, their goals for the class, etc. It is always such a pleasure: my students are a fascinating bunch, and I really like having time just to get to them know them in a more leisurely way during Week Zero. This week during Week Zero, appx. 40 students set up their blogs (but not all of them have started posting in their blogs), and I made 87 comments on actual blog posts.

8. Setting up lines of communication. When I release the classes to the students, I start using the different channels of communication that we will be using all semester long, so the students can begin getting used to that, even if they aren't doing work for the class. So, I start posting in the Announcements blog, I revive my class Twitter feed, I start pinning regularly to my class Pinterest Boards, etc. In most of the classes at my school, the focus is 100% on D2L BS (our course management system), but for my classes, D2L BS is not important at all for the content or communication in the class, and I want the students to be aware of our Class Announcements blog, the different websites I use the class, etc. So, the emails I send them about the soft start are not lengthy emails. Instead, they are just a few key links to get them started — link to the Class Announcements blog, link to the class websites, etc. Not D2L.

9. ENTHUSING. One of the most important ingredients for success in my classes is enthusiasm: the students' enthusiasm and my own enthusiasm combined. By starting the classes early, I can demonstrate and share my own enthusiasm with the students, hoping to be a catalyst for some enthusiasm on their part — and my enthusiasm for these classes is ENORMOUS... even though I have fun during the school break, I am always so excited to get back to work and make sure the classes are ready to go.

10. Getting myself into school mode. I love my job, but I also love the holiday vacation. I stay up too late, watch too much Netflix, read mountains of stuff, start new projects, indulge my own obsessions without restraint. Luckily for me, some of those projects and obsessions are school-related, but there's still a HUGE difference between my daily routine when school is in session and when it's not. Having the soft start is a way for me to make that transition so that when the craziness of Week One arrives, I am ready for it! Well, sort of, ha ha.

... yes, I do get up early when school is in session! Here is a rhyming Latin proverb on that subject.

(Latin: Est sanum plane de lecto surgere mane.)



Update on #OpenTeachingOU Hashtag: Happy!

So, just a quick post here to say that I am really happy with this hashtag I have started using, #OpenTeachingOU. Given the hectic time at the beginning of the semester, with all the work I'm doing to get ready for classes, I haven't had time to be keeping up with my news rounds-ups, etc., but the #OpenTeachingOU hashtag is a way that I can label tweets and posts and items at Google+ so that they don't get lost in my online space which is full of teaching stuff, yes, but also full of LOLCats and Indian images etc. etc. So, the hashtag is proving to be a really good way for me to think about open teaching as I participate in these online spaces each day, and that is a good thing to be thinking about!

I'm also REALLY grateful to know about the ClassicRetweet extension for both Chrome and Firefox since that allows me to add the hashtag when I retweet. :-)

Of course, most of all I am hoping... especially after Jim Groom came and worked his magic at the Tech Expo on Friday... that the #OpenTeachingOU hashtag might catch on! There are all kinds of people and programs at OU that are moving, slowly or quickly, in the direction of open teaching and connected learning, so in addition to just using it for my own curation purposes, I'll also keep hoping that the hashtag will serve a more social purpose too.

Below is the HTML clippings feed for the #OpenTeachingOU hashtag via Inoreader (see it on a page of its own ... and here's the RSS). That's a bit different than the widget in the sidebar of this blog: in the sidebar, you are just seeing the Twitter stream for the hashtag, but Inoreader is pulling anything with #OpenTeachingOU, which means all the blogs I am subscribed to, plus my Google+ stream, along with Twitter. Inoreader searches through all that stuff with a rule I created, and then it combines the matching results into a new consolidated RSS feed.  Plus, I can add that label manually to items I find in Inoreader myself if I want to pull them into the RSS feed for OpenTeachingOU. So powerful! I am really enjoying the different uses I find for Inoreader, and this is a good one. :-)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A fun first day with #OpenTeachingOU hashtag

Hashtags are one of my favorite things about Twitter. They are great for indexing AND great for connecting. I'm not sure if it will be possible to get #OpenTeachingOU to really work for connecting people at OU (there are just not that many OU faculty using social media, alas...), but even if it is not something that takes off in a social sense, I realized yesterday how useful this can be for me simply as an indexing strategy.


Here's what I mean by that: as I tagged my own content yesterday and also used #OpenTeachingOU when I retweeted and shared at Twitter and at Google+, I was able to focus more clearly on what part of my content stream is about open teaching. Open teaching is something I care about very much, and it can go in so many different directions: open syllabuses, open educational resources, sharing narratives about our work as teachers, sharing our students' work, and on and on. Connected Courses really affirmed my commitment to open sharing online, so I will be hoping good things for open everything in 2015!

In particular, I'll keep hoping good things for online conversations about teaching at OU in the new year (more about that here in my previous OpenTeachingOU post), and I'll also enjoy having the #OpenTeachingOU hashtag as a way to index my own blogs and tweets and posts.

So, after Day One, here's how it is looking at Twitter: #OpenTeachingOU ... and thanks to the power of Inoreader to turn all kinds of things into a feed, you can see even more via the Inoreader RSS or the HTML display for the tag! I've embedded that HTML view below. Just click on the title of any item, and away you go!

Next: I need to add a Twitter widget for this hashtag to this blog's sidebar. Hashtags! Widgets! RSS! Connect and share everywhere! Yes!!! :-)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

#OpenTeachingOU hashtag ... high hopes for 2015

Connected Courses was an experience that really helped me to re-commit to open: open courses, open teaching, open learning materials... open everything! In the spirit of open, I'm going to start using an #OpenTeachingOU hashtag at Twitter in the hopes that I can connect with other people who are also interested in sharing their teaching knowledge and experience with others. Will that maybe take off...? I'm thinking that would be pretty cool!


It seems like this would be something easy to promote via OU CTE (Center for Teaching Excellence) and maybe the Academic Technology blog, too. It could also be something to bring people together in online course program in my college (since open teaching is of special importance to online instructors, making things up as we go along, pioneers in a new world), along with people in other online course programs at OU, like Liberal Studies. It could even be of interest to the OU Writing Center (those of us who really work on the teaching of writing can help each other in so many ways), and of course it connects with the great work that is happening in the OER initiative through OU Libraries.

In all the years I have been at OU, there really has not been much conversation about teaching that has happened in the open; instead, those conversations about teaching happen in departmental spaces, person to person, and also in face-to-face workshops which are the only kind of faculty development that I've seen at OU over the years. Face-to-face has its advantages to be sure, but it also has some serious limitations also. If we want to promote long-lasting, wide-ranging conversations about teaching, especially conversations that reach across departments and colleges at OU, and which can also involve our colleagues at other schools, well, we really need some online conversation, too!

So, I'll be using that hashtag at Twitter, and thanks to the magic of the "Classic Retweet" extension, I'll try to remember to retweet with that tag when I find posts from OU folks that are about open teaching. I'm doing my best to keep up a list of OU faculty at Twitter. Who am I missing? Let me know! I also have a list of OU programs, departments, etc. at Twitter: again, please let me know what I'm missing here!

In addition, I'll try to maintain a steady #OpenTeachingOU outgoing feed with the magic of Inoreader; you can see the HTML clippings view, and you can also subscribe with RSS (Inoreader: it's magic!). With Inoreader-Twitter integration, that means I can pick up the Twitter items there too by creating a rule for that. In fact, I'll go grab some open teaching tweets and blog posts from OU folks and tag them in Inoreader! (pause) Success: it was fun grabbing items in Inoreader to add to that feed!

I really enjoy all the conversations I get to have about teaching in virtual spaces with colleagues at other schools, but it sure would be nice to have more OU conversations too. Twitter has been a great way to connect with OU people, and I hope I can make good use of #OpenTeachingOU as a hashtag to help us connect and share even more in the new year to come. We all have so much stuff to share! Open the doors, everybody! 

Ten Reasons for Orientation Week

I've just put the finishing touches on my Orientation Week, so I think it is all ready to go, and I'll be sending a note around to the students tomorrow, Monday, to let them know they can get a head start if they want. I've always opened up my classes a week early to encourage people to get ahead in this class before they have anything going on in their other classes, and there are always quite a few students who take advantage of this option. It's great for me, too, because it helps me find any snags to fix and gaps to fill before the rest of the students show up when classes start officially on Monday, January 12. There were actually a couple of students who started today (Sunday), which was really excellent: it gave me a chance to test out some things about the blog feeds with real student blogs... and so far, so good! Whoo-hoo!

In this post, I want to explain some of the advantages to having an Orientation Week... and there are SO MANY advantages that I'll just limit myself to ten. So, this will be a list: Ten Reasons for Orientation Week! I'm pretty sure that every online class can benefit from an Orientation Week (see reason #1 below), but my guess is that all classes could really benefit from an Orientation Week approach. Do you use an Orientation Week or something like it in your class, online or blended or f2f...? Let me know in the comments here or over at Twitter! Here are my Orientation Week activities.

This is such a fundamental part of my classes that it is kind of hard to tease out the reasons WHY I do this; it's just something that seems natural to me at this point — I can't imagine doing otherwise! (In fact, I've been doing it since the very first semester I taught online back in 2002.) But anyway, here's a best guess at my Ten Reasons for Orientation Week:

1. I make class procedures explicit. In an online class, this is essential. If you are teaching a classroom-based class, the fundamental class procedure — go to class at the scheduled time — is something you can count on. For an online class, though, there is really no class procedure that you can take for granted. For many of my students, this is the first-ever online class they have taken. In addition, online classes are so different from one another (much more so than classroom-based classes) that you cannot count on the procedures in one online class being applicable to another class. So, a key feature of Orientation Week is to make sure students are aware of class procedures: class schedule and deadlines, class "location" (i.e. what they will find at the LMS, what they will find at the class website, etc.), class announcements, etc. etc. etc.

2. I help the students start building their online presence. Another key element of the Orientation Week is building presence so that the students can get to know me and I can get to know them and they can get to know each other. Again, presence in a classroom is easy: you show up, you are "present," and that's your presence — although students don't really get to say/do much just by being "present" in a classroom; there's simply not enough time. Online, though, there is more time for everyone to build their own presence and interact with one another that way, getting to know each other already in the first week. In my classes, the students' blogs are the essential space for creating presence, so for their first assignments, students set up their blogs and start posting. By putting the blog assignments first and foremost, I hope to convey to the students how important that will be! During the Orientation Week, they complete several blog posts: Favorite Places, a Storytelling post, an Introduction, a Storybook Favorites post, and a Course Overview post. That's a lot of posts... which results in a lot of online presence. By the end of the first week, everybody has shared a lot about themselves, their interests, and their plans/hopes for the class. It's so exciting for me to watch that happen, and those blog posts also provide a really strong foundation for connection and sharing during the rest of the semester.

3. I want everybody to have fun! It is really important to me that the students should have fun in this first week of class. Of course, everybody has a different idea of what fun is... I try to make sure that all these assignments are ones that seem like fun to me, and then each semester I watch to see how things go. If I've guessed wrong and some assignment is not fun and engaging, then I tinker with it, or I remove it and replace it with something else. I am really lucky that for many of the students this is the first time they have used a blog or played with Pinterest, etc., so the sheer novelty of things can add to that sense of fun. The one assignment that is least likely to be fun is the Proofreading Practice that comes at the end of the week, but even that assignment is one I have tinkered with over the years so that it has an element of fun: originally I did a kind of quiz (ugh, totally not fun), then I switched to having the students work on a folktale instead (I picked a really fun one: the Mouse-Bride story from the Panchatantra), and then I went to the current assignment: instead of one long folktale, there are now six short tales, and each student chooses two of them. The stories themselves are fun ones, and the process of choosing adds an element of fun, too. Proofreading is still proofreading, yes... but even this is an assignment is one I want to make fun!

4. I need everybody to work hard! I also make sure that the workload for the Orientation Week is comparable to the workload for the rest of the semester: about six to eight hours of work. It's important for students to know that this is a writing-intensive (but no midterm, no final, lots of options to work ahead, finish early, etc.). Students have complete add-drop freedom during the first week of classes, so that means any student who is unhappy about the workload can drop this class and find a more compatible class. For students who "have" to take the class (i.e. they need a Gen. Ed. class, they can't find another one that fits their schedule), at least they will have a clear picture of what awaits them, even if they are not able to switch to another class.

5. I try to provoke curiosity about the class. I am convinced that curiosity is the single most important factor in learning, so I try to excite the students' curiosity during this first week. One good way to do that is by having them look at past student projects (Storybook Favorites); seeing the great work that students had completed by the end of the class in past semesters is a great way to get people to start thinking about what they want to achieve. I also have a "Course Overview" assignment (MythFolklore - Indian Epics) which is meant to provoke the students' curiosity about what the coming weeks will bring and also to get them to start thinking about the choices they will be making; both of my classes involve lots of student choice in terms of the reading, the class project, etc.

6. I explain the "why" of the class. The first week is a great opportunity for me to not only set out class procedures, but also to explain just why these procedures are important for the overall learning experience: why it's important to have a blog, for example, and why the focus of the class is on creative storytelling, etc. I want students to realize that this class is not just an arbitrary set of hoops for them to jump through, but instead a chance for them to grow and learn in all kinds of ways.

7. I give the students things to DO, not just reading/listening. One of the biggest problems in school as I see it is the way that it is often very passive: in some classes, the main thing the students do is either read (often without taking notes) or sit and listen (maybe taking notes, maybe not). In my classes, I really want the students to DO things, both so that they will be actively engaged and also so that they will have something to show for it when they are done. By the end of the week, they have a lively blog (with comments too), along with a Pinterest Board of their own that is starting to fill with pins. By making learning visible in this way, I hope to get the students to focus on the evidence of their own learning, rather than focusing on the grade.

8. I do explain in detail how the grading works. I really dislike grading, but I have to give grades. So, I give the students information about how the grading works, and I also explain why I grade the way that I do.  As the week progresses, they see their points accumulate in the Gradebook, and thus they see that the grade is totally up to them: I actually do not do any "grading" per se in this class at all. By the time the week is over, I hope to have completely removed any anxiety that the students feel about grading. At first, they are anxious because my grading system is different from most other classes, but by the end of the week I hope they can see it for what it is: a totally no-stress system designed to encourage them to work hard, get ahead, and do well.

9. I provide tool tutorials. I ask my students to use several different online tools, and these are tools that they will be using every week for class, so it's important that they know how to use them well: Blogger, GoogleDocs, Google Image Search, and Pinterest. I make sure to provide a good introduction to each tool with opportunities to practice those tools during the Orientation Week. Then, as the semester progresses, I introduce one more important tool (Google Sites; it's too confusing to introduce that the same week as Blogger), while also providing tips on making good use of the other class tools. Some of the students get really excited about the extra credit Tech Tips and do a bunch of them in the first week, which I think is just great. The Tech Tips are a way for me to give the students who are interested in the digital world some fun things to explore, without putting any pressure on the students who are tech averse.

10. I emphasize writing. Overall, I'm in despair about college writing; writing takes TIME, which is something that is in short supply for both students and instructors. In most college classes, written papers (if there are any written papers) are often just exam-proxies where students demonstrate their mastery of content and/or of research skills; they do not get detailed feedback on the writing itself, and they rarely (or never) revise their writing in order to practice their writing skills and work on their writing deficits. Although I do not ask students to do any revising in the Orientation Week, I ask them to write A LOT (including some creative writing), and I also ask them to proofread carefully (and I am not shy to include in my comments on their blogs a suggestion that they spend more time on the proofreading). Then, I can build on that Orientation Week foundation in future weeks as I ask the students to learn how to revise their work, how to provided detailed feedback on other's writing, etc.

So, it's a lot of work for me to make sure this all goes well, but I have such a good time during the first week of the semester as I meet all the students and start to learn about them. Just reading the first "favorite places" posts from the students who started today was so exciting for me. In addition to making sure the students have fun during the Orientation Week, I make sure that I have fun too... so: let the fun begin!!! Happy New year and Happy New Semester, everybody!

So, I'm tagging this for #ccourses (because it's #notover...), and also for #OUCTE in the hopes that something will come of Adam's blog hub, and also with #OpenTeachingOU in the hopes that more people will share about their teaching in the open in 2015. I'll have more to say about that in my next post here. :-)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Quotes of the Week: January 2

I've gotten behind on doing my quote posts, but I have some great quotes and graphics and such to share, so I'll start getting caught up now! Luckily, Inoreader comes to my rescue here, letting me tag the quotes and graphics that I want to share, and then when I do finally get around to doing the post, the material is there waiting for me. :-)

I'm labeling this for Connected Courses since that experience is what reinvigorated this blog and got me started doing these posts, and also OU CTE (Center for Teaching Excellence - here's the RSS) because I keep hoping something might come of Adam's plan to run a kind of blog hub to get a bigger, better online conversation going at OU in the coming year!

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Presumably Connected Courses will not be over until the last connected course is over. That is, never. (source)

You can describe it forever but it’s the doing that will convince people. (source)

Isn't part of the "problem" with fostering change the fact that most institutions put faculty development resources towards face-to-face workshops? (source)

The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them. (source)

The academic definition of research is far too narrow. Research is also what we don't yet understand — what we don't yet have language for. (source)

Grades are good at measuring levels of task completion and bad at measuring the impact those tasks have on meaningful & sustained learning. (source)

I remained convinced that it is absolutely impossible to create a useful cheap standardized test for writing. The repeated attempts to do so are a destructive expression of a nearly nihilistic impulse, the thinking of people who believe a picture of a bear rug is as good as a bear. (source)