Sunday, January 28, 2007

Online Teaching is like juggling... timing is important

Timing E-Learning Delivery

I still get nervous before a class. I keep checking the course tech, clicking links, trying to find the inevitable chinks in the armor. With two classes (almost 40 people) starting at UW-Stout tomorrow (E-Learning for Educators & Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits. Today is the last chance before an intense first week to work. Too often those first weeks feel like an avalanche (for the teacher and the student).

Things do settle down quickly, but only if you help folks feel safe, get oriented, and realize that an online class has people, not a machine, at the heart of it all.
There’s nothing more powerful when it comes to retention than making that personal connection.

I’ve poured my nervous energy into blogging and working with the calendars & timing elements of Desire2Learn and My Moodle site. (I give students full instructor level access to Moodle in the third module.) D2L lets you set release conditions for nearly everything. I wish there was a way to set global default timing calendar for everything, but I always want the software to do more.

If I get the timing right, I can forget about the mechanics of presentation and focus on making personal connections with all of my students.

Module Release Timing: I’ve set the opening dates for all of the modules on two different classes. We run the modules from Monday through Sunday, with each new module opening on Friday. This way the ‘weekend warriors’ can catch up or work ahead. I’ve tried dozens of configurations, but this one works best for me. (Of course, I work weekends on the class so I can monitor transitions fairly closely.)

Can I see my grades? I’ve also set the timing on the gradebook. I only want one new module to show up in the student gradebook each week. If learners see all the assignments waiting in the wings I think they get discouraged… or perhaps intimidated. Better to limit the view to what’s been done and what lies ahead in the coming week. I broadcast through the News menu that I wrap my grades over the weekend, but some still write worried over the points if they don’t see an almost instant update.

Gradebook Comments: I use the gradebook comments a lot. Students don't see the comments until I real ease them for view. I often make notes as I read in the comments area, and then pull it all together at the end of the module. Then I release the grade for the week. That’s where I want to deliver individual feedback. I think it has more impact if the assessment and evaluation comments are in the same personal space. This takes a lot of time. My biggest stressor during online classes is supplying meaningful (specific) feedback. That’s why I like to co-facilitate with Sara. We can share the eval duties and go deeper into discussion facilitation.

News Bulletins: I also time the news sections so critical info pops up at the right time. This is tricky with D2L. I have to set both an opening date and an order of presentation. In some cases I need to set a news item closing date too. This news section is a pain… but it’s better than Blackboard and eCollege. Moodle is more primitive. I can set the weeks of a class and what students see, but it’s all manual. I’ll bet some Moodler has figured out a plug in for timing, but I haven’t had the time to look (nor do I have the skills to install and tweak an open source plugin.

Hmm... what's left to do? I should do an audio overview for the writing class. Home I get it done in time.

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