Category Archives: Online Learning

Be Sure You Pack Your Librarian

Nearly two years ago on campus, Dr. Joellen Maples waved in my direction, “Get ready!” she laughed. “I am taking my capstone course online… and I am taking my librarian with me!” While I had no idea of the details of her statement, I was thrilled to be included. Joellen’s remark acknowledged the value of Lavery and research skills as a vital part of the course experience. So, let the adventure begin.

Piece of cake, right? Hundreds of times I had conducted 55-minute face-to-face library sessions that positioned students to perform research efficiently and effectively. What could be so difficult about using yet-to-be-determined technologies to transform that same 55-minute session into a virtual experience that would occur without a physical classroom and within a flexible timeframe that allowed students to work at their own pace? Looking back, without a doubt I have had a marvelous growth experience and a ton of fun partnering with Joellen and the College’s Educational Technologist, Katie Sabourin to create an online Library Module tailored to a specific course.

Between Katie and Joellen, I had two capable folks to help me. And, I knew my material well. Still, I had no idea where to start. So as I do when planning a face-to-face session, for my first step I met with the professor so that I could understand my role in the course. Dr. Maples was ready for me. She explained that Week 2 would be where the students would complete the Library Module. The timing was selected so that students would have time beforehand to determine the focus of their literature review. Week 2 signaled the beginning of their literature review research. I would be entering the online dynamic at the optimum moment that librarians call “the point of need”. Student motivation and engagement are at their peak at the moment students are poised to begin research.

My second step was to complete the College’s Online Education Workshop and Fundamentals of Online Teaching, both offered by Katie Sabourin. These are definite Must-Do’s. The structure I learned gave me the theoretical framework for all that I created; it also provided guidance concerning my online interaction with students in the course.

Next, I identified technologies I’d use. For a few weeks I immersed myself in TechSmith’s Camtasia. I broke apart the face-to-face session’s material into 11 segments and wrote scripts explaining each segment. Then, using my scripts and the library’s databases, I created 11 brief online tutorials totaling 26 minutes viewing time. In this way students would be able to view and review each video as needed. I also used Camtasia to create and record a step-by-step overview of the components of the Library Module. All of this material I uploaded to YouTube and then into the Library Module folder in Blackboard. Here is one of the mini-tutorials I created:

Using Doodle, I created a calendar where each student could schedule his or her follow-up one-on-one virtual meeting with me via Blackboard Collaborate. I posted the Doodle link in Blackboard with instructions to the students. I prepared for each virtual meeting by reading the course discussion boards in Blackboard to gain an understanding of each student’s area of research so that when we met online I was able to efficiently discuss their research needs. During our meeting, Collaborate’s screen-sharing feature allowed me to share my screen with a student so that I could model search strategies and database use. For the weeks that followed, I monitored the discussion board in Blackboard in order to make research suggestions if needed.

Dr. Maples selected the Library Module as one of the course’s “accountability moments”. As a result, she requested I create a quiz in Blackboard. Students were required to complete the library quiz with 80% or better in order to continue in the course. Each student was given two attempts to successfully complete the quiz. I structured the quiz with feedback for each question. In this manner, for any incorrect answer, I was able to indicate to the student the specific video in which the correct answer could be found along with a suggestion to review the video before re-taking the quiz.

Each term since summer 2013, I continue to assist Dr. Maples by providing the Library Module for her capstone literacy course. The course always culminates with an evening of student presentations. Dr. Maples plans for two or three virtual performance rooms in Collaborate. In each room over the course of the evening, students present their capstone research to a virtual audience of peers, family, and friends who are able to attend simply by logging onto a computer anywhere with an internet connection. The evening is taped for later access. I have the honor of hosting one of the rooms. What a joy it is to participate in a moment filled with such student accomplishment.

Joellen and I are thrilled by our observations regarding student engagement in the Library Module. The online library module demands active participation by each and every student in the course. To both of us the quality of research being performed in the literature review appears better since moving to the online format as a result of student engagement in the library module. Occasionally, we are even amazed and amused by the unprecedented student embrace of library resources. For example, a student once exclaimed, “Oh, I just love Ulrich’s! It is such a lifesaver!” Haha, rarely does a non-librarian articulate such passion for a library resource.

At the end of each semester, we confirm with each other what we observe individually. When we are engaged, students are engaged; they participate, they support each other, and they enjoy the online experience. In the future, I hope to work with additional faculty to provide a virtual library module as part of their online course. Is every course meant for the online format? Probably not. Still, if you have thoughts of taking your course online, take your librarian with you! The course experience will be the richer for it.

Chatting It Up in the Classroom: How Synchronous Chat Tools can Change your Classroom

If you’re like me, you love and thrive on discussion in the classroom. Too often, though, timing and/or logistics present obstacles to the facilitation of the rich, constructive discussion on which our students’ critical minds rely. So, what tech tool can we use, in the face to face classroom, which would afford us the ability to coordinate multiple small group discussions in one classroom? The answer is a synchronous chat tool. Now, to the techies out there, this will seem old school or basic, but a lot of professors that I talk to are unfamiliar with the synchronous chat concept or unsure how to use it or afraid to use it. So, in this post, I’m talking to the newbies, the undecided, the unsure. Most professors have experimented within the asynchronous world (blogging, posting discussion questions through Blackboard, having students post responses). Few, however, perceive the benefit of using a synchronous chat (real time chat) forum within the classroom. Today, I’d like to discuss the benefits of such while talking specifically about one space in which I’ve found the synchronous tool to be effective:  Zoho.com. This site helps students with collaboration and productivity and boasts an array of business applications. I, personally, gravitated to the collaboration applications when Katie McDonald pitched it to me as a way of continuing my Web Pen Pals project when I lost the previous platform I had been using. My Web Pen Pals Project is housed within EDUC 418 and it’s a telecollaborative project between Fisher pre-service secondary teachers and local high school students. They meet in a secure, online setting throughout the semester and discuss young adult literature. Through this project, I began to see the value of such a tool inside my own college classroom. I had previously used discussion posts, but felt that students were just posting to meet a number and the discussion that occurred would, inevitably, seem forced and artificial. There was not much overlap or interruption, and the comments lacked the type of community building that I value within the compiled posts.

So why chat online in a face-to-face classroom? Well there are many reasons I can offer as a rationale. First, chat builds classroom community and if that is something you value as an educator, the synchronous chat tool can only enhance your classroom community. Most of our students are tech-savvy in the sense that they use chat tools when checking  Facebook and maintaining multiple side chats. Chat technology is ever present in video games, apps, texting, etc. It is a tool with which our students are familiar and a skill that they have developed. Furthermore, this particular chat tool in Zoho offers the capability of archiving the chats to be printed out and assessed upon demand. This aspect is one of the reasons I like the tool so much. I can finally see the discussion in its entirety! No longer do I have to worry whether the discussion is turning from academics to football as I walk away. Students can further analyze their discussions to see when instances of authentic dialogue evince themselves. What types of questions were asked that facilitated and encouraged talk? What types of questions/comments stifled talk—silenced participants? Professors could easily use this tool as a way to improve their students’ ability to have discussion. Any aspect could be analyzed and explored in the face-to-face classroom. How were arguments constructed? What rhetorical devices were used? Who dominated the talk? What quantitative data occurred, meaning what were the numbers in terms of participation and turn taking? These may seem like basic, rudimentary components of a discussion, but I’m often amazed at how our students fail at having a discussion. Most of them say that the first time they learned to have a discussion was in a college setting. In addition to these reasons, online chat provides a medium for those less likely to talk in class to feel empowered and emboldened to speak out and participate. Are you sold? If not, here’s some more info on Zoho.

Setting up groups for group chats is another appealing perk of using Zoho in the classroom. Zoho is connected to gmail accounts, so Fisher students are already set up to log in. As a professor, you set up your account, accept your students as your friends, and create chat groups within your class. I usually set up no more than four in a group. Students can connect in an on-campus lab or remotely—even through their smartphones. After setting up the discussion topic, you can move from group to group, just as you would walk around your classroom to monitor the discussion. The zoho chat allows for private chat, instant messages that are also archived for the instructor and the students to review. Emoticons and colored font are available for student use, allowing them to personalize their online identity. In addition to archiving the chats so that students can print copies and bring them to class for review or to turn in for a participation grade, the instructor also has access to the semester’s chat history. With this tool, teachers can go back and review the archived chats to see how students are progressing with their discussion skills. Another feature that I like is the upload feature that lets students use pictures, articles, and papers to emphasize their points while chatting, giving them access to supporting documentation, as well. In this way, you could use this and have students show you the work they have created during group project meetings outside of class. They can also access google docs and work on papers and projects in real time. There are so many applications that are housed within Zoho that can only enhance your face-to-face classroom. Check it out! I’d love to hear if any of you are using synchronous chats in your courses or, if you look at Zoho, what features you think you would be willing to try out.