September 9, 2019

10 Online Teaching Tips... for Daily Announcements

Via Mike Wesch at Twitter, I saw this #onlineteachingtips and thought I would join in. I'm such a list-making nerd that I decided to do 10 tips based on how I use the daily announcements in my classes. This was fun and easy to do, so I think I'll make some other "10 tips" lists looking at different features of my class in the future, like "10 tips for online orientation" or "10 tips for student blogging," etc. The daily announcements are a kind of gateway to everything that's going on in my classes, so it seemed like a good place to start!

1. Use daily announcements. If you go to one of my courses in Canvas, you will see the daily announcements blog, which is what I use for the homepage in Canvas. For example, here's the Myth-Folklore class: I never know what schedule my students will be on, but every day of the week, there's somebody checking in, and some students do a little bit of class work every day. This way there are fresh announcement each day: something's always going on! I prep the announcements to go live at midnight; I'm asleep then, but the announcements never sleep. :-)

2. Emphasize key information on top. I make sure that the most essential information students need is at the top of the announcements. The links to current assignments are at the very top, with class procedural reminders below. I try to keep it focused too, with just two or three reminders each day. One of my long-term goals for online teaching is minimizing email, and these daily announcements with key info up top have really helped with that.

3. Share lots of content for fun and curiosity. Especially teaching Gen. Ed. courses, one of my goals is to expose students to lots of stuff: online resources, books, art, music. There are students from all kinds of backgrounds, majoring in all kinds of subjects, with all kinds of career plans: I cannot know in advance what will click with a specific student, but I use the announcements as a place of serendipity!

4. Feature current students in the announcements. Each day in the announcements I include something from the student blog network (here's our blog network). For example, today I featured an extra credit Tech Tip that someone did, learning how to make her own LOLcat; here's the LOLcat she shared in her post: so cute!

5. Feature past student work  in the announcements. Each day I also include a student project from a past semester; those past projects can be a source of inspiration and ideas for the current students, plus it reminds them that the work they are doing is important... the content they create now will be an important part of the class for future students (here's our archive).

6. Use randomizers to surface even more content. In the sidebar of the announcements blog, there are various randomizers so that every time the page loads (including in Canvas), there's new stuff going on. So, in addition to the student project in the main announcements, random student projects are showing up in the sidebar too. I use a free tool, (created by one of my students) to create these randomizers; here's how the randomizers work. With hundreds of past student projects that I want to feature, random is the way to go!

7. Collect and share videos. I teach writing classes, but I know a lot of students really enjoy videos in addition to reading text, so I have lots of YouTube playlists where I save videos that I think might be useful/interesting, and I include a couple videos every day in the announcements, plus random videos in the sidebar too. Crash Course Mythology videos are a fantastic resource for my classes for example:

8. Model digital skills. All of my students are blogging in their own blogs, and for most of them it is the first time they have created their own personal web presence online. I try to model different kinds of content in the announcements blog, like embedding videos, embedding tweets, etc. in order to inspire them to try similar experiments of their own. If they want, they can learn more about that at the extra credit Tech Tips.

9. Promote a culture of learning. I include content in the blog that focuses on the kinds of learning habits and skills that I hope the students will be able to take away from the class and to use in life-at-large. I include lots of graphics and videos about reading and about writing, along with "meta" content for learning about learning. Take the growth mindset cats, for example. Each mindset cat is linked to a blog post at my Mindset blog. You never know when a student might be curious and click to learn more. This cat, for example, will take you to an infographic about 29 ways to stay creative. (If you want to use the mindset cats yourself, they're available as a Canvas widget here.)

10. Build the announcements into an assignment. I'm a big believer in all kinds of extra credit (I should definitely write up 10 tips on using extra credit in online course design!)... and one of the extra credit options is a back-up and review option each week (here's a typical week) where students can look back through the past week of announcements, picking out a few favorite items which they write up in a blog post. That then becomes a great learning experiment for me; I am always very interested to find out what kind of content in the announcements attracts people's attention.

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