Connecting People in Online Classrooms

Connecting Online Students

We all dream of some sort of seamless integration of a myriad of tools (or a myriad of features) that allow us to connect and perform certain tasks. Text, voice, video, real-time and recorded, presentation mode, all-platform, aesthetically pleasing, easy to set up and use, free of course, and with on-demand tech support are primarily the requirements for any type of tool we would consider. While Blackboard has a built-in tool, it’s not always the most intuitive to use, nor does it meet the tough requirements from above. We just want to connect, we want it to be convenient, and while we can stop to wonder at the amazing opportunities the last century has brought about, we usually don’t. We want it here and now. The table below summarizes some of the more formal communication tools that an instructor may use in an online course. Keep in mind, just like there is nothing wrong with black font on white background,… Read More >

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A Story of Two Emails: Using best practices to construct an effective email

Writing Effective Emails

Email. When it comes to communication it is the best and worst of tools. Most of the time it’s quick and easy. While we all know and accept that occasional typos will happen, there are a few ‘mistakes’ that are truly unforgivable. As you might expect, online graduate students use email to correspond with their instructors, university staff, and peers. I think it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway, “Accuracy and formality count in graduate school!” Therefore, let’s take a look at what you can do to make your emails as effective as possible. Constructing the Message Identify yourself.  Your name will display on the email, but keep in mind your instructor is working with many students, researchers, staff, and colleagues. For this reason, if you are contacting your instructor (or any other recipient) for the first time, or if it’s been a while since the last communication, it is helpful to include some information that explains who… Read More >

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6 Communication Rules for Success in Online Student Groups

Group Project

“In this course you will have a group project…” I think it is fair to say we’ve all been let down by a working group or by individual team members. No matter the setting, there seems to be an aura of dread when group projects are announced.  Add in the fact that online graduate students work within virtual spaces, and it is easy to understand why nervousness sets in. With a few simple communication rules, the group experience can become one of the highlights of your online education. The foundations of great group projects… Here at the University of New England, we value appropriate and productive group experiences because we are preparing students for the modern workplace – and teamwork is almost always part of the job. Our group projects are designed by instructional designers and subject-matter experts using the best-practices of online education design, instructional pedagogy, and assessments. It is critical to design group projects for learning success, and… Read More >

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Sending email messages to students from a Blackboard course

Blackboard grade center view

We all have our workflow preferences and places that we check to stay connected. Some prefer using Course Messages (which in our configuration won’t send the message to a student’s email, unfortunately), and others prefer using actual email service. There may be a practice compromise to accommodate both the need for convenience such as emailing a student (or a number of students) without leaving the course, and using email as a system, so that both students and instructors will get alerts when they receive messages. Blackboard has emailing capabilities. While it email as a tool has been also disabled in our configuration, the workaround exists and instructors can choose to send an email directly from the course when using the Grade Center. Here is how. STEP 1: Visit Grade Center In both Edit On and Edit Off views you have access to the “Email” button. Select a student you want to address, or several at once, and use the email… Read More >

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Discussions in Online Courses

speech bubble

The apparent convenience of online education is what attracts a lot of students in the first place. Imagine sitting on your couch with a bowl of cereal, still in your pjs and with uncombed hair, and working away on your assignments and readings where no one can see you. The flip side of the coin, the absence of the physical presence is one aspect of online/distance education that makes students feel isolated so much more than in a brick and mortar college program. Isolation is one of the primary complaints. It is also an important factor to account for when designing activities for online students for success. At SSW here at UNE, we often include group activities or at least group and whole class discussion forums, to both mitigate this increased isolation and to have students practice working with other individuals. Some groups and some group activities work well, a frequent complaint is that students don’t always enjoy group projects. The… Read More >

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Feedback Focused on Revision

studying supplies

Lori Rand is a guest contributor this week. She has been providing writing support for UNE students since 2009 and has taught English Composition courses for over 15 years. In her current position as an online writing tutor, Lori uses web conferencing to help students practice independent revision and editing. Today’s post relates to one of the most important ways tutors provide feedback on student writing. Feedback Focused on Revision Assessing students on two levels – comprehension of content and communication of ideas through writing – is challenging. Content feedback is usually concrete, but as Olga has written in a past post, giving feedback on writing is not as straightforward. Initial feedback focused on revision vs. editing can significantly help students improve the quality of their writing and thinking. Instructors who provide feedback on early drafts know the benefits, especially if the writing project is weighted heavily in the final grade. Reviewing even a partial draft can help you catch… Read More >

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CAST: About Universal Design for Learning

CAST: About Universal Design for Learning. We at MSW are very ambitious about making sure that our course design offers learning opportunities to diverse students, not the proverbial “middle”, or only fully-abled English as-a-native-language speaking students. By including additional content formats (transcripts for videos and audio, alternate text for images for example), we open opportunities for students who may either need assistance with the language itself, can’t hear very well or simply don’t have the time to listen to the spoken track and prefer reading a transcript and making notes in the margins, which increases their productivity and adds meaning to their interaction with the material. Any digital text can also be searched quickly for particular terms, which again improves efficiency. In addition to making our content accessible, if we follow UDL, we will have opportunities for students to engage with the content in different ways – and possibly engage with different content as well. We should also offer a variety of… Read More >

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We have already touched upon the subject of feedback, and its peculiar and often subjective qualities and content. Today we resume the topic of feedback and challenge you to an exercise in feedback. We know that good feedback is always contextual, and is often tricky. Some of the trickiness is in the object of the feedback. Usually, it’s easy to give your opinion and it’s hard to refraining from sounding judgmental. “Your essay was great!” or “The paper is poorly written” are examples of such. These don’t provide the student with enough context and a direction for improvement, or in the former case, don’t point out what exactly the student did right so she can carry it over to her other assignments. The Judge, the Transparent Reader, and the Transparent Reader Plus Advice Giver Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Anderson in Effective Grading bring up a concept of the “transparent reader”. I haven’t been able to find any other literature where… Read More >

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Instruments, and the Craft, of Feedback


Feedback is a craft, and like any craft it is simultaneously distinct from and defined by the tools we use to practice it. Quality feedback can go through any communicative medium—text message; youtube comments section; a waxed string strung tautly between two paper cups—because the properties of good feedback are universal… Good feedback is honest Good feedback is encouraging Good feedback is mindful of its own context relative to the course’s Learning Objectives, and also Good feedback is mindful of the unique context created between the course, the student, and yourself (perhaps by connecting the specific assignment to which it responds to other examples of the student’s work, that student’s personal life, or even your own personal life) …though it never hurts to use the right tools for the job. That’s not a great list. The properties of good feedback are so subjective…maybe it would be better to ask y’all to list some of the properties you consider most important… Read More >

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Blackboard: Customize Posts, Notifications, and Home Page

Blackboard: Customize Posts, Notifications, and Home Page

Many of us, both students and instructors, are enrolled in several, or even dozens of courses. Here are some tips on how to manage the flow of posts, notifications and the courses you see on the home page. To see how you can leverage the post stream from the Dashboard, view the video below. Please note that “@me” option is not enable in the UNE eLearn system. Additional information about posts and other notifications is also available in this video. I am including a few screenshots: Under UPDATES: Click on the gear in the top right-hand corner. You can uncheck all the courses you don’t want to see. To change the notification settings, click on “View Notification Settings.” This will launch Notification Settings. You may edit General Settings, or Individual Course Settings. For General Settings, choose from the following options. You are not currently part of any organization, so don’t worry about that. For individual course settings, check all that… Read More >

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