My first time teaching online

was ages ago. Nearly a decade. Wow. But I recall my decision-making process fairly well….well, at least I think I.

I’ve created a brief overview of the experience, which I’ve presented by way of slideshare, as follows:

Reflections on the experience of creating the slideshare:

I found it fairly easy to upload my powerpoint, but I wanted to use music instead of me talking as the audio. That I found to be fairly difficult to do! In fact, I had to have help to figure out how to upload an mp3 (thanks Ted!).

Also, if I ever try this again, I will need to do much, much better with the timing. I either need many more slides or a much shorter music track!

A room of my own…

…would be pretty cool.  As it is, my work seems to be spreading out in our home, creeping across and into spaces formally designated for cooking, dining, living, and so forth. A pile of papers here, a stack of books there, an unattended computer displaying a page I was viewing at some point or another.

Photo credit: Ted Major (but I did upload it to my new flickr account!)

Ah, who am I kidding?  Even if I had a room of my own, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t stay put. Isn’t that what better tech is all about? Access to information, the ability to connect and create, anytime and anywhere?

Glad to be getting back into the swing of things this semester!

Summary and reflection

Hello potcert people,

I offer you my mid point summary and reflection:

Week 1 Interesting times: I learned how to set up a blog!  It was a good experience to do it, and I’m planning on adding another one next term, on dissertation writing!

Week 2 Ko and Rossen’s overview: I wrote two posts this week, one just reporting my “where am I results” and this one. I picked this one to include in my reflection because it’s where I realized that people were actually paying attention to what I was blogging…which was an interesting realization that I think changed the way I wrote future blogs…writing as self reflection is different from writing to encourage discussion!

Week 3 Course design: What are we missing? I enjoyed writing this post because it really made me think about the process of course design, but even more than that, I enjoyed discussing the ideas about course design and the questions we should be asking with colleagues. I thought the people who wrote comments had some great points, and one of the things that I really liked was thinking about course design as a set of questions.

Week 3 Thinking about a course on college and university teaching. Wow I had forgotten all about this post!  In it, I was noodling around with the idea of “what is a course” or what a should a course be.  I wonder if what a course is onsite is something fundamentally different than what a course is online (one of our questions asked about this, I think in the mind point survey).  I think I think that it is! And I think I need to think about that idea a bit more.

Week 4 On multimodality and course design. This week, I became more aware of Todd Conaway’s ideas, and they have informed my thinking. I like his ideas of space, and aesthetics, and art and how those related to teaching online.

Week 5 Just enough and not too much. This week, I learned that not all courses taught through an lms have to look exactly the same.  Jim and Lisa’s video about the interactive syllabus was pretty eye opening about the possibilities (and limitations) of an lms.

Week 6 Open and distributed learning.  This week I learned that having different paths to the same goals is actually an intentional _feature_ of some online classes!  You know, I talk the talk about that in my own writing, particularly about collaborative learning and problem-based learning. But I’ve realized that in those methods, there still can be a good deal of control, even if you are trying to let go of it. Online, there really may be multiple paths and we may not get everything. If I don’t Facebook, for example, I’m missing out on part of the conversation of this course.  Am I ok with that as a student? Am I ok with that as a teacher? It’s an idea that’s definitely taking me some time to adjust to (even though I’ve championed it myself). So I guess the take away for me is that talking the talk and walking the walk really are different things.

Week 7 Neither here nor there. This week, I worked out that we really don’t have an understanding of what community online is or how to get it; I mean we have some good ideas about it, but it’s a bit elusive, isn’t it? Pilar’s video made me think about the relationship between physical community and online community. One of the best things for me this week was that Laura P pointed me to a book on online community that I had overlooked during a full-scale search for stuff on online community.

Week 8 Be there or be square. This week, I learned that it’s possible and perhaps likely that an instructor could inadvertently squash community, but that at the same time, the instructor may not be able to induce it. Lisa had some great insights into this point that really made me think.

Week 9 On vampires and bunnies. In week 9, I learned more about teaching persona, and I met Cris and found out about her cool work in SecondLife.

Week 10 come again? This week, I learned that I’m not so savvy on the techno terms as I’d like to be.  I’m still pondering the multiple meanings of “open.”

Week 11 Free the fractals–but tell us where to find them. Nearly there now!  I learned that I”m more in favor of open resources than I realized. This realization will likely have a big impact on my future work (as a writer). But I also realize that there’s a challenge that attends openness.  That is, there is so much information, that it’s easy for things to be lost in the deluge. How do we siphon through the noise to find what’s good and useful?

A note on quality: Our instructions ask to talk about the quality of our posts. I confess that I’m not entirely sure how to do that. I don’t know how to judge the quality of a post.  Is it whether it’s useful to me? If so, I’d say that my postings were strong…I learned a good bit from doing them.  Is it their utility to others? If so, then I don’t know the answer to that. I think I had some good exchanges with some interesting people, but who’s to say whether they found them useful? I hope so, anyway. Or does the quality of the post have something to do with the form and style? If so, I hope that I have improved since that first post, and I hope that I’ll continue to do so.

TL/DR: I have learned way more from other folks than from anything I have done on my own.  Thanks potcert people!

free the fractals–but tell us where we can find them

I love fractals. The symmetry of them appeals to me.  So when I set up my potcert blog, I wanted to use fractals for the banner image. I found some really great ones online. Perfect! Gorgeous! So satisfyingly symmetical. I was set.

The only problem was that I couldn’t actually use them. They were copyright protected and not freely available for use. I couldn’t just cite the source and move on.  Drat!

I next turned to Flickr. I know that there are some really cool things out there that are free and available for use, some requiring attribution and some not.  I tried to search for fractals under a Creative Commons license there, but I didn’t turn anything up. Surely there must be something?

I next turned to a Google search, where I simply put in the terms “Creative Commons” and “fractals” and “public domain” and searched. A little more digging there, and I did in fact turn up some nice images that I could use (from Flickr; why didn’t they turn up in my search?).

It strikes me that much of what I come across related to IP is about what we can’t do. I like to read about things like Creative Commons and OER (as Ko and Rossen discussed in their chapter) about what we can do.  It makes me happy to think that people want to share their art and other works, to let others use it.

I think an issue that warrants consideration, however, is related to access, and I mean a different kind of access that what we (potcert people) normally mean when we say access. It strikes me that those things that are free and available for use are not always the easiest things to find. So they are available but perhaps not so accessible.

To provide an example of what I mean, I recently had been working on a book chapter on online community.  I had scoured databases, catalogs, bibliographies, Web sites, etc. for works on community in online courses. I thought I had done due diligence.  Then Laura P left me a nice comment on one of my blog entires about an open access book on online community.  It had not turned up in my searches.

I wonder how we will strike the balance between open access and easy accessibility. How do we let information be free without it overwhelming us? Without us creating or having so much of it that we cannot manage it?


You’re invited!

Hello fellow potcerters,

I have a guest speaker coming to talk about intellectual property to my “technology in higher education” course tomorrow (it’s a course we offer through the doctoral program in higher education administration). Chad Tindol will be our speaker; he’s the Director of Risk Management for the University of Alabama System (in short, he’s a lawer-type who does stuff on IP in higher ed; he’s also a nice guy and a fun speaker).

I would like to invite you to participate in this synchronous session by joining us through Blackboard Collaborate. Here are the details:

Date: Tuesday, November 13th

Time: 2:00pm Central (check the World Time Clock for time in your area)

Access: Join the session by clicking on the following link:

Hope you can attend the session!


on blogs and blogging

Jim Sullivan suggests that we consider the following question in our blog posts this week:

“What might be the advantages and disadvantages of using a class blog or student blogs for your class?”

I have enjoyed the blogging aspect of potcert. And I thought Lisa’s and Jim’s videos were interesting and informative. Lisa’s video was a useful overview of blogging for courses (I liked the chart), and Jim’s provided good examples of applications. (Honestly, I did wonder whether it would have been useful to see these vids earlier, say soon after we started with all of this blogging stuff, but then again those of us new to blogging, which includes me, may not have been ready for that much information without some experience first).

All of this has made me think about incorporating blogging into my courses, replacing the discussion board aspect of them (which as I’ve noted previously, I’ve never been very good at pulling off anyway). And I have been considering using a blog instead of an LMS in order to do so. In thinking about this, I have indeed considered the advantages and disadvantages of blogs and blogging.

I think the advantages are fairly clear.  When we blog, we have a good bit more freedom of what to say, how to say it, to whom to say it, etc. than when we respond to a prompt.  We have to think more about what we are saying than when we respond to a prompt (at least I think we do). It’s sustained writing. It’s creative writing. It’s reflective writing. And if we don’t do it in an LMS, then it’s out there for the world to see (should it want to look, that is). And I like all of this. I also like that I can respond to those posts that I find particularly interesting and that I’m not forced to comment on a specific prompt, whether I have anything to say about it or not.

The advantages are also the disadvantages. I wonder whether blogging too “me-centered” and not “idea or topic centered” or “discussion-centered” enough. I wonder about what I’m missing after I’ve responded to 10 or so blogs and am just “done,” when I don’t have time or energy to cull through all of the comments. I wonder whether, because there is so much freedom, we really ever advance the conversation. It is easy to miss a thought in a post or comment and then post the idea again as if it were a new one. Are we getting anywhere or just spinning our wheels?  Are we getting there together? Is that important?

Freedom, creation, reflection, interest. Those are big things. They may well outweigh the disadvantages. But the disadvantages certainly are worthy of consideration.

come again?

Hello potcert people,

I realize that I’m probably way over thinking things (such sometimes happens for me about this time in the semester), but I’ve been puzzling over the terms “open” and “platform” and what these terms might mean when you stick ‘em together.

The term “open” seems to me like it’s showing up everywhere these days: “open source,” “open course,” “open resource” (per Ko and Rossen), “open learning,” “open forum,” etc, etc, etc. The meaning of the term seems to vary from “free and freely available for use” to “free-for-all.” What do we mean by it?

The term “platform” shows up in many different ways, too. I think generally it means something that you can build stuff on, a foundation. When I’m thinking about computer technology, I tend to think of an operating system or a programming language as a platform. (Sorry folks. I’m not a techie! Just trying to slog my way through the terminology!). Or perhaps it is more basic, like the general definition. So we might use an LMS, social media, an immersive environment, upon which to build a course or module. Is that what we mean?

So “open platform.” What exactly is that? It seems like it might mean some technology upon which you can build stuff that’s free and available to others to use (and perhaps change as they want, without attribution). On the other hand, it could mean technology (software?) upon which you can build something that allows opportunities for free and open learning.

So given the week’s assignments, I’m thinking maybe it’s the latter: something different, “alternative” (not the typical LMS) that can allow for learning that can take many directions, to allow students to learn in a way that is more open than other methods. Is that right?

“Open.” “Platform.” “Open platform.” Come again?

on vampires and bunnies

Fang Li took the potcert bama cohort on a tour of Second Life last Wednesday afternoon (here’s his interesting blog post about SL). I enjoyed the tour, and it made me really think about SL and its viability (for me at least) as an instructional option.

On one hand, I wondered whether from an instructional perspective at least, it’s kind of window dressing for something I could accomplish by video or chat through an LMS. I also wondered whether it’s just one more thing students would have to learn to do to be successful in an online course.

On the other hand, it seemed to me in some ways a much more natural virtual setting (hmmm) than an LMS. At least students don’t have to click one place for content, click back, click another place for discussion, click back, click another place to post an assignment, click back, and so forth.

What I did find particularly intriguing was the idea of creating myself, much more intentionally, as an instructor, than I typically do. I know I choose a persona for any class I teach, but if I were to use second life, I would really in fact have to choose a persona, an avatar.  I’d pick what I am to look like, from character type, to face shape, to hair color, to eye color, and so forth, all of which provides a signal to who I am as a teacher. Students do the same, right?

So we put on our teacher faces and we put on our student faces and we get together in this virtual world to talk things over, to learn things.  Do the personas that we choose influence teaching and learning?

It seems like they might. It seems like they might suggest things about the nature of the teacher-student relationship, the roles that participants take up, the approachability of the participants, the level of distraction caused by the avatars, and so forth.

To put the question to the extreme, what does it mean when a bunny shows up for a class taught by a vampire?  Or vice versa, a vampire shows up to be taught by a bunny?

be there or be square

I’ve been thinking lately about the relationship between instructor presence and community. I think there must be a very fine balance to achieve between “being there” and letting community happen (in other words, not squashing community by virtue of “being there” as instructors).

In a response to Felton Square’s interesting post about community, I mentioned that in a course I was recently teaching, a student said that when instructors had “gone missing” in  courses, community had really developed as students had to cling together to survive the courses. I was suprised, not only by the fact that instructors (notice the plural word form there) would “go missing” in the middle of a course, but also that doing so would open up opportunities for community. The instructors left the virtual building, but the course and students went on…

Lisa Lane notes that she does not intentionly structure for comunity. She states that it either happens or it does not. She asks the question whether community is up to the students anyway. Perhaps it is. And perhaps it should be. A more natural, virtual approach to community is an appealing idea.

For me, all of this has raised some questions:

  • In online courses, how do we know when we have moved from communication to community?
  • Who is responsible for developing community in online courses?
  • Can a strong instructor presence be an impediment to community in online courses?
  • How do we balance between “being there” and “being square” (squashing community)?
  • Do we need to let students know that community is at least in part up to them? If so, how do we do that?
  • Do we need to prepare students to assume roles in a community? Or at least make them aware of the possibilities? How would we do that?

Tough questions to be sure, but I hope to hear some of your thoughts about how to (at least in part) answer them!

neither here nor there

Given our assignments and readings and Todd Conaway’s synchronous session (as well as some academic writing I’m doing at the moment), I’ve been thinking a good bit about community  in online courses this week, both what it is and how to get it.

It seems to me that community in an online class is something of a different animal than other kinds of community that we think about as teachers. It is not the same as community in an onsite course, which we establish quickly by sizing each other up by appearance, telling jokes, agreeing or disagreeing with each other, either verbally or non-verbally, etc. Yet it’s not the same as online communities which are based on interest (and sharing knowledge and information, and thus learning, if informal) and are completely voluntary. These take a long time to establish, and members can engage in legitimate peripheral participation, or lurk (as Lave and Wenger suggest), prior to moving to engagement and then ultimately involvement and leadership in the community. So community in online courses seems to me to have characteristics of these two types of communities, but it cannot be characterized as either.

So what is that different animal?  That is something I’m not at all sure about. And it seems to me that it’s difficult to figure out how to get/establish “it” if you don’t know what “it” is.

That said, I think community in an online course is one of those things that you seem to know it if you’ve got it and that you sure know if you don’t. And I think some of the activities in the book and some of the things Pilar suggested in the video are great, and they seem like legitimate/useful suggestions for how to get “it”.

It might be an interesting exercize to look at what our practical experiences suggest works and sort of reverse engineer a definition of what community in an online course really is, which might in turn help us come up with even more ideas about how to accomplish it.