Quick & dirty online teaching: a list of tools

Leave a comment

Tools and more tools. Image by HOerwin56 from Pixabay

Over the past few days, after a large number of colleges and universities moved their courses online, the avalanche of information has been overwhelming. Organizations, professional societies, and different groups have started sharing documents or published lists of resources related to online teaching. Moreover, many providers of online resources (publishers, companies making lab simulations etc) are offering their resources for free. So right now it seems like we are facing this tantalizingly rich buffet of options. Personally, I tend to freeze in the face of too many options, and I suspect that many instructors new to online teaching may feel the same. This blog post is to offer a list of tools/resources I have personally used in the past that worked for me.

Disclaimer: my online experience is predominantly Blackboard and previously eCollege. I have dabbled a bit in Moodle, but not with Canvas (which is very widespread these days) or Desire2Learn.

General online teaching resources

  • I got my online teaching chops through the @One Online Network of Educators, a California organization providing online training (and more) to community college educators. If you are a CC faculty in CA, this is an amazing resource.
  • If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed me often re-tweeting Michelle Pacansky-Brock, who was one of my instructors at @One. She is an amazing person and an expert in how to build community online and broadly how to humanize online learning.
  • For science education, the CIRTL Network is a great resource. It is associated to specific institutions but they have a broad online training scope, from basic evidence-based science teaching to online teaching. They do webinars and courses. The system I currently use to record my lectures was adopted from one of their trainings.
  • In my previous post I recommended taking an online course to experience it from the receiving end. There are plenty of online courses through Coursera and EdX and others, but they are MOOCs, so there is no direct interaction with instructors. Examples of online courses (both taken and taught, apologies for the shameless promotion here) are Open Networked Learning and ASBMB’s Art of Science Communication course.

Lecture recording

This is, for me, one of the most technically demanding parts of online teaching. Basic guidelines include short length (less than 15 minutes, ideally) and captions or transcripts (ADA compliance). Also, decent video and audio quality.

  • My to-go system to record lectures is this:
    • Prepare powerpoints for a topic (max 20 slides)
    • Prepare the transcript for the powerpoint. Note: there are ways to get automatic captions (youtube will do that), however that has not worked for me as 1) science words are often misunderstood, 2) I have an accent. Also, in the beginning I would go talking about my slides spontaneously, resulting in lots of um and hm. When on the receiving end, that is quite annoying.
    • Years ago I got hooked on Camtasia video editing software. It costs $ but I really like it, and I am used to it. So I record my screen and do the voiceover there.
    • In Camtasia, then I add titles, callouts, and even pictures on top of the slides.
    • Export as mp4, and upload to a shareable place.
  • Your institution may have embedded recording options available. We have a connection with Kaltura, which allows direct recording and uploading, with options to edit.
  • Youtube have lots of good options also.
  • There are a number of free screencasting programs/applications. My major beef with those is that free applies only to short videos/limited space.

Live interactions

There are a number of video conferencing tools available. Seems like a lot of people are using Zoom. Learning Management Systems (LMS) have often such a tool embedded, for example Blackboard has Bb Collaborate. Other options are good old Skype, or Google Hangouts (or whatever it is called these days). Whatever system you use, it is important to check available time (free versions of zoom, for example, may be limited in time) and number of users allowed.

Some tips & tricks

  • Setting: good lighting, no distractions in the background or foreground (messy room behind, closet door left open, wine glass on the desk-yes seen that too!). Seems like a lot of people are using virtual backgrounds (that is cool, but be sure that your real background is not too messy in case it does not work). I have a folding screen room divider placed behind me when doing official business.
  • Internet: when doing video conferencing, it is really critical to have good internet. I recommend to check the wifi speed when doing video conferencing ahead of time. If it gets slow, turn off the webcam (have a nice profile pic saved).
  • Practice screen sharing and use of whiteboard.
  • Online meetings require a bit more planning then onsite, especially with students. To get them involved, one can use anonymous means such as polling, use of whiteboard for them to type answers, or divide them in breakout rooms and then ask for the group to report back.
  • Record the session so students who couldn’t attend can still benefit from it.

Asynchronous interactions

Not all students can be present in synchronous sessions, but there are other ways to have them involved.

  • Discussion boards are useful. I try to post questions that are open-ended and result in diverse perspectives. If students need to work on a specific research topic they will post about it and explain why are they interested in it. Sometimes to gather different opinions about the same issue, it may be useful to hide others’ postings before the student post their own. For DBs to be fair, word limits and content requirements are necessary.
  • There are many other tools to get diverse opinions asynchronously, in different formats. Some that I have tried and liked are: Voicethread, Padlet, and Flipgrid. In this page, to the right, there is a list of collaborative tools.

Assignments

  • One of the basic tenets of scientific teaching is to combine low and high stakes assignments, as well as formative and summative assessments. These categories tend to overlap- a homework graded for completion and/or of low value versus a high value exam. In Covid19 times, considering the massive disruptions in everybody’s lives, it may be kind to offer more low stakes assessments, relax the deadlines, and offer more than one take at online exams. If students are new to the online environment, it is a good idea to offer practice assessments.
  • How to makes exams and quizzes online is a posting by itself, but basically it can be made from scratch or imported/reused.
  • Written assignments can be usually graded within the LMS environment or downloaded, reviewed, and uploaded back when grading.

Well this is all for today. Our university decided to go fully online couple of days ago. The courses I am responsible for have plenty of online material, but it is still a bit stressful for faculty and students alike. Stay safe and healthy!

Online teaching quick & dirty: COVID-19 edition

Leave a comment

https://pixabay.com/images/id-1850218/

Academic Twitter and email lists are full of both angst and advice regarding moving to online teaching in a very short time due to the coronavirus epidemic. I sympathize. As somebody who teaches both onsite and online, I can attest that the first online courses are hard, even with enough time and support. It takes a lot of work to set up a decent online course, and it is an ongoing process to keep it engaging, interactive, attractive, up to date with technology etc. So my blog post here is dedicated to those colleagues who are new to online teaching and have to switch in a very short time, based on my experience of more than 10 years in the online realm. This is focused on undergraduate biology courses.

First of all, “keep calm.” Chances are, students will be quite comfortable with the online environment. But, also be aware that this will not be an optimal course.

Stand on the shoulders of giants (including textbook providers). There is no need to reinvent the wheel, and no shame in taking something that is already developed (especially if the time is short). Most textbooks (at least in my field, biology) will have some kind of online support website. Many will have short videos, embedded quizzes, and other activities that can be used as low stakes assignments and homework.

Structure, organization, guidance. Decide on the structure of the course. Weeks? Topics? It is simple to create content folders/modules based on the major structure. Make them repetitive (each module/folder containing the same type of materials/assignments). Routine and predictability is good. Students need guidance about what to do and where to find it. It is not a bad idea to have a Task list somewhere with all assignments and due dates.

Lectures. Recording lectures is a major task. There are courses and workshops dedicated to how to do it. There are tech requirements. They take time and effort to make them right. In a summary, it may be worthy to decide if such effort is necessary if time is short. There are plenty of great video collections (and that includes Youtube) already available. The more is outsourced, the more time and effort can be dedicated to the really important stuff.

Exams etc. Some people make exams from scratch. Others use testbanks or software such as Testgen. The latter usually allow exporting as a file that can be imported into the LMS. In the case of Blackboard, it is a zip file. Again, if time is short, it may be worthy to use a testbank and edit the questions later. Note: plagiarism is obviously much easier online. Check that the question prompts are not “googlable.”

Labs. Well, that’s a complex issue and a lot depends on the kind of lab. I have no problem using fully virtual labs or take-home kits for non-majors’ lab classes. Some schools are ok with virtual science labs for almost everything. In any case, there are all kinds of simulations and virtual labs online (check out HHMI Interactive). And there are specialized companies who make them, some quite good. Another option is to have students buy a kit that they use at home. Or use labs using household supplies (deshelled eggs for diffusion! catalase activity using diced potato and peroxide at different pH!) Again, it depends on the lab and the audience.

Interaction. Well, while online classes don’t have the face to face aspect, instructors may be pleasantly surprised that they will get the voices of shy students if using tools such as Discussion Boards. Have one for each week or topic, and ask an open-ended question with no right/wrong answer. Or ask students to share something from the class or from science websites. Note: for DBs to be worthy, requirements such as minimum word number should be clearly stated. Oh and have students comment on each others’ postings.

Live interactions. Zoom and other videoconferencing tools can be used for a one per week meeting. Many things can be done with practice and technology (drawing on a whiteboard, polling, asking for feedback, place students in breakout rooms), but for starters it can be fine just to lecture on a powerpoint and have the floor open for questions via chat for example.

The personal touch. Online teaching requires being responsive and proactive. Reach out to students regularly via announcements or email. Respond quickly when students have questions. Be aware that some students may not have steady internet access or computers with software we take for granted. Be flexible. Be kind.

So these are my thoughts for instructors who are not familiar with online teaching and need to set up online courses in a short time. Hopefully there will be plenty of tech support for this transition. Personally, even in onsite courses I tend to do as much “flipping” as possible, to give students flexibility and time. Lectures are recorded, low stakes quizzes are online, practice quizzes are available before exams, and written assignments are also submitted online. One last thought- if you are new to online teaching, take an online course to experience how it is. Being on the receiving end is a great eye opener to the good and the bad of online teaching.

ps. I left out on purpose pointing to specific vendors or websites. Needless to say, the more sophisticated the tool, it tends to cost. On the other hand, shinier is not always better- in fact a tech tool requiring fast internet to work just brings problems and is discriminating. Less is more!

On constructive feedback

Leave a comment

Comments & feedback are useful!

ONL192 started for our group (#2) at full speed. Not to brag, but we already had two synchronous meetings spanning several time zones, with participants taking commitments and procedures seriously. That does not mean we are a “serious” bunch- there have been plenty of laughs and smiles during the meetings. So far, so good!

A question came up in the group about feedback to blog postings, and guidelines are being developed to make it a straightforward process. As the group brainstorms a way, this made me curious: is there a science about ways to give feedback? Here I will focus on feedback in teaching/learning.

There is no doubt that feedback is extremely important for learning. Ambrose et al (2011) discuss the importance of practice together with feedback for optimal learning: “First, feedback should communicate to students where they are relative to the stated goals and what they need to do to improve. Second, feedback should provide this information when students can make the most use of it, based on the learning goals and structure of activities you have set for them.” This is obvious: students need to receive feedback on their work as soon after the task has been completed, so it is still fresh on their minds and also to allow time for further practice before the next task. There is extensive literature about feedback, both internal and external, please see the reference at the end of an extensive review by Butler & Wenne (1995) about feedback and self-regulated learning (too technical for this blog post).

A short list of effective feedback strategies include:

  1. Make it specific: that way students know what they need to improve
  2. If applicable, make it goal oriented- if we know exactly what is the goal, tailor the feedback as to what is needed to reach that goal.
  3. Make it the right amount: too much feedback may overwhelm the student and/or may make them focus on the simpler errors that are easy to fix (spelling, format) instead of addressing major conceptual issues
  4. Mix positive and negative constructive feedback. Most of us are worried about being criticized, even when we know that the idea of feedback is to help us improve. So it is a good idea to combine positive feedback as a reinforcement and suggestions for improvement.
  5. Mix the types of delivery formats. Traditionally, feedback is delivered in a written form (or sometimes orally). With the expansion of online and blended models, the use of alternative forms of feedback such as audio or video clips has been promoted (see Estes et al, 2014, van Vliet et al, 2015). Especially in the case of constructive criticism, an audio or video message may be more personable, and make it easier for the instructor to convey the message.

Over the years I have gathered nuggets of wisdom & advice as to how to provide feedback. Being on the receiving end of criticism has given me additional insight. As an instructor, I scaffold my teaching so assignments increase in complexity (and stakes), with feedback level paralleling them. So I won’t be burying a student with comments after a first minor assignment, but build up both expectations and feedback as time passes. And I use the “sandwich” model of feedback- start and end with a positive aspect and sandwich the negative constructive portion in the middle.

References

  1. Ambrose SA, Bridges MW, DiPietro M, Lovett MC, Norman MK, Ambrose BSA, Michael W, Lovett MC, Norman MK. How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. How Learning Works. 2011;5(2):106–115.
  2. Butler, D. L., & Winne, P. H. (1995). Feedback and Self-Regulated Learning: A Theoretical Synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65(3), 245–281. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543065003245
  3. Estes. M. D., Ingram, R., & Liu, J. C. (2014). A review of flipped classroom research, practice, and technologies. International HETL Review, Volume 4, Article 7, URL: https://www.hetl.org/feature-articles/a-review-of-flipped-classroom-research-practice-and-technologies
  4. van Vliet, E. A., Winnips, J. C., & Brouwer, N. (2015). Flipped-Class Pedagogy Enhances Student Metacognition and Collaborative-Learning Strategies in Higher Education But Effect Does Not Persist. CBE life sciences education14(3), ar26. doi:10.1187/cbe.14-09-0141 link

Airmanship & Learning: Musings Before ONL192

Leave a comment

“After jump” picture in Mesa Verde National Park, Arizona

When I started the ONL191 journey in February, I posted a picture of me jumping in the Anza-Borrego desert (California) as the image for my blog posting. Jumping pictures have become a requirement of my travel pictures since a few years back, and I thought about posting another, but instead this one is “after jump.” You can still observe the scenery: this is Mesa Verde National Park in Arizona, where ancient Pueblo Indians established cliff dwellings in crevices of the canyons. This was part of a recent vacation road trip that allowed me to happily ignore emails and news headlines.

After two weeks of camping, returning to civilization was both rewarding (hot showers! soft beds!) and depressing (meetings! conferences! writing a syllabus!). Being now a co-facilitator for ONL192 is a nice counterbalance to the onslaught of routine coming my way. It has become my modus operandi to pile up as much work as possible in the fall, when shorter days and longer nights make it easier to be in front of the computer, and leave springtime for conferences and traveling.

Reading interesting articles was part of my catching-up with civilization, and a deep analysis of the two recent Boeing 737-Max tragedies was one that made me think about education. In fact, I had a great conversation with two faculty colleagues about how it related to our struggles of assessing student learning, particularly critical thinking. Please note that I understand the issue is very complicated, and there are a lot of social-economical-technological factors in play. My and my colleagues’ reflection was around expert and novice knowledge, problem solving, critical thinking, and how to promote it in students. And one of the things we discussed was the importance of process versus result.

Since ONL191 I have become more sensitive to the process of learning and decision making. The weekly meetings around the PBL topic brought multiple perspectives, some of which had not even occurred to me. It was humbling and exciting at the same time. A group of us at my university are currently involved in developing a grant proposal to address equity in STEM education, and I brought in some ONL tools, including the brainstorming document and the color codes. The tools are helpful, although I sometimes wish for more of “what” and less of “how” at this stage.

The author of the above article refers to “airmanship” as a visceral sense of navigation and a deep understanding of the forces governing flying an airplane. This knowledge, of course, is not magical- it comes from experience, both in normal and abnormal situations. Much has been written about the difference between novice and expert knowledge, and how to promote the transition from one to the other. And part of it is to transmit the need to learn the process and not only try to remember/guess the right answer.

So as I head into ONL192, I intend to explore even more the “science of the process,” the deliberative group work to tease aside complex situations, looking at it from multiple perspectives, over several iterations of thought and discussions. As a participant, I could observe the quiet work of facilitators, indeed, facilitating the process. As a co-facilitator now, I am eager to see the other side. But I do “trust the process.”

It is Saturday afternoon here in California, and I know this posting was a bit of this and a bit of that (no references!), but I hope my readers will forgive me. Still in transition to the real world!

A nice view of the mountains near Silverton, Colorado.

#ONL192 category import successful

Leave a comment

Well done! You imported a post and all categories of the Open Networked Learning course homepage. You can edit or delete this post, then start blogging by creating a new post!

You might also want to consider to connect your blog to the ONL course homepage.

We shall not cease from exploration…

Leave a comment

A lovely card I got from a friend on my birthday- she knows I love hummingbirds

…and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I do not recall when I discovered this quote by T. S. Eliot, but it was long time ago. And it still speaks to me, both in scientific or life explorations. Particularly, it applies to the ONL191 journey.

I came to the course with curiosity about Problem Based Learning, which was for me the least known territory. After being many years in the digital space teaching and collaborating, as well as taking and designing online courses myself, I did not expect to get major aha moments in that area. Indeed, while I noticed and appreciated the care taken with the course design, most of the elements were familiar.

The FISH process intrigued me. Focus-Investigate-Share based on an online document. Wondered how could it be done without confusion and overlapping research. But then, again, it worked. We met synchronously, and amazingly, each of us saw something different when looking at the scenario. I realized how narrow my vision was when looking at it…or maybe not narrow, just looking at it from my perspective based on my experiences, culture, background, personality, you name it. Each of us, each individual, brought in the richness of their lives when looking at the same scenario.

The group process also concerned me a bit in the beginning. Yes we had a connecting week, but besides exchanging a couple of slides about ourselves, we still did not know much about each other, and in the beginning the meetings were a bit steely. But, after a few weeks, we started to get the hang of it. As in any team, we have different personalities and as such bring in different contributions, all valuable. If everybody was a cheerleader, we would not get quality control. If everybody was detail oriented and meticulous, we would miss the big picture. And so on. But, just as in a flavorful meal, the different flavors of our personalities meld together into our very colorful FISH documents and final products.

And being responsible for a topic and struggling with technical issues made us humble and empathetic. If things did not work, that was ok. And most of us had things coming up…family emergencies, travels, delays, conferences…we communicated it and we tried to solve it. And if you think about it…IRL (=in real life) getting a group dynamics work may take quite a time. And we did it online! By seeing each other on video for 1-2 hours per week (or less)!

This is my final official ONL191 posting, and per the rules, I should put some literature references to support what I shared, that is the importance of the “human touch.” Funnily enough, my university just had an online training to improve retention, and a lot of it was about 1) early warnings, and 2) early interventions. For the latter, we had to design empathetic responses. Oh, and positive feedback was suggested for high performers! Our group was very generous with praise and gratefulness overall.

Thank you, ONL191! Hope to join you again, maybe as a co-facilitator?

References

Cuseo, J. (2012). Student Retention: The big picture. Retrieved from https://www.se.edu/dept/native-american-center/files/2012/04/Student-Retention-The-Big-Picture.pdf

Lehman, R. M., & Conceição, S. C. O. (2013). Motivating and retaining online students: Research-based strategies that work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Why be normal?

Leave a comment

Millennial anti-theft device, aka the stick shift

This is not a deep posting on science education. It is just a Friday commentary about some of my weird things.

I drive a manual transmission car. Here in the States. Not only that, but when I finally decided to look for a new car last year, as my trusty (manual) Toyota Matrix passed the 200k mile mark, I knew the main condition for the new car was to have a stick. As a result, my car shopping became very simple. I test drove TWO cars (a Subaru and a Jeep) and loved and chose the Subaru right away. Which makes me part of a dying species in the US. Quirky and eccentric. In fact, almost like part of a cult. Why? Not sure I can explain. Automatics just bore me. Driving a stick makes a commute interesting.

In 2011, as I was getting into more video and photography stuff, I went from PC to Mac. I clearly remember my trepidation when I started that MacBook Pro (the same I still have) up, and the joy when everything worked right away. I never looked back after that. The machine has worked all these years as a charm, of course with all kinds of upgrades, and refuses to fail. So I have no excuse yet for a new one. I also got into iPads, and love my current one with the Apple pencil. But. But. I refuse to get an iPhone. In fact, I am stubbornly committed to pure Android phones. Had the Nexus 5, then the Nexus 7, which sadly died on me. I am on the Pixel 3 now. Now, does it makes sense to have an Android phone when everything else is Apple? Probably not. I do know the reason here. “You cannot own me, and I do not want to commit to one system.”

At the end, probably it has to do with surviving in an ever-changing world. To be prepared. To be able to handle different systems and navigate diverse ecosystems. Few days back I was showing a powerpoint trick to my 20-year old research student, and he said “You are much more techie that I’d give you credit for.” Bless his heart, I actually felt quite proud. Of course old dogs know lots of tricks, right? But I think being non-conventional and yes, contrarian, can give one some advantages in life. More tricks to learn along the way. Happy weekend, y’all!

Older Entries

about flexible, distance and online learning (FDOL)

FDOL, an open course using COOL FISh

Enterprise WordPress hosting, support, and consulting - WordPress VIP

Our best-in-class enterprise WordPress hosting platform, expert consulting and support, and diverse partner ecosystem free you to focus on your business objectives.

#Microjc

An Online Microbiology Journal Club Broadcast on YouTube

barralopolis

Teaching and learning reflections around science education

Disrupted Physician

The Physician Wellness Movement and Illegitimate Authority: The Need for Revolt and Reconstruction

The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog. Tim is an author of 5 #1 NYT/WSJ bestsellers, investor (FB, Uber, Twitter, 50+ more), and host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast (400M+ downloads)

Here is Havana

A blog written by the gringa next door

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

Jung's Biology Blog

Teaching biology; bioinformatics; PSMs; academia, openteaching, openlearning

blogruedadelavida

Reflexiones sobre asuntos variados, desde criminologia hasta artes ocultas.

Humanitarian Cafe

Think Outside the Box

Small Pond Science

Research, teaching, and mentorship in the sciences

Small Things Considered

Teaching and learning reflections around science education

1 Year and a 100 Books

No two people read the same book